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At This Hour

Deadly Outbreak Of Tornadoes Kills 7 Across The South; Special Counsel To Investigate Biden's Handling Of Classified Docs. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired January 13, 2023 - 11:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: So, you know, we may or may not see you next week.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I claim half of those two for the record.

HILL: Interesting, interesting claim. Thanks to all of you for joining us today. I'm Erica Hill. Good luck with your lottery winnings.

SCIUTTO: And Jim Sciutto, hoping. At This Hour with Kate Bolduan starts right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone At This Hour, a deadly tornado outbreak. Dozens of twisters carving a path of destruction in the south and severe weather is on the move. Plus, President Biden is now facing a special counsel investigation. Why did it take the White House two months to disclose classified records were found in his home? And remembering Lisa Marie Presley, the tributes for Elvis's only child. This is what we're watching At This Hour.

Thanks for being here. I'm Kate Bolduan. We're going to start in the south today as we were tracking what is left behind really from a deadly tornado outbreak. Dozens of them have been reported in Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky, at least seven people were killed, six of them in a single Alabama County. One of the hardest hit areas was the historic city of Selma, where a tornado caused widespread damage structures just torn apart, lives shattered. This morning, authorities are getting a clearer picture of the extent of the damage, what they're going to need to pick up and clean up and they're also still searching for more survivors. Let's go to Selma, Alabama right now. Ryan Young is standing by for us. Ryan, look at that.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's just devastating behind us. And I can tell you in that close county, Autauga, they say they are finding more bodies, but they haven't been able to update us they are still doing surveys all across the state. But we wanted to show you just how powerful this storm is. And close to six feet tall. Look at this, look how tall this tree is. And look at this metal that's just wrapped in all over this tree, like it's an ornament.

This is what we're seeing signs of destruction all over this city. We are on Broad Street, which is the main street here in downtown Selma. And as you look this direction, you can just see how the storm plow through this area. We're going to walk this way to show you that building in the background, as we were looking around and even doing our own assessment, there are houses that they still haven't been able to reach, because they are trees down throughout this area.

Power companies have been surging in trying to restore some of the power and phone service is very spotty throughout this area. The terrifying part about this, we were talking to people who did not know this storm was going to be that powerful had to run for a closet because they were terrified by what they were hearing. Take a listen.


DEBORAH A. BROWN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: We had to run for cover. We had to go run and jump in the closet. Oh, oh my God. Oh my God you all look. Oh, my God, just to be able to beside us. Oh, my God.


YOUNG: And Kate just tell you how dangerous some of this area is. Look, there are pieces of wood all throughout this area just like this one. But you can tell the nails are still sticking out. This was a projectiles that was going through people's windows. And as you look across the way here, you can just see the damage that's been left behind cars have been destroyed, houses have been torn to pieces. And we still don't know what the total assessment is just yet. A helicopter was just flying over from the state as they were trying to figure out exactly when to send their emergency crews, you can tell they're going to be doing this for quite some time, the cleanup is going to be massive. And this stretched all the way to Georgia.

So as you understand as first light comes up, people are still shaking their heads trying to wonder how the storm was so powerful, and how it hits so quick, leaving a lot of people just sort of caught off guard. And now today they're trying to figure out who's left and how many more bodies will they find today. Kate?

BOLDUAN: And Ryan, where you started and what you show really is a terrifying depiction of just how powerful the storm must have been and how powerful the tornado was to see that metal wrapped around that huge tree like I don't like tin foil or tissue paper. I mean, it's -- we've seen destruction from tornadoes, unfortunately many times in the past. That is quite an image to be seeing and to be waking up to today.

YOUNG: And this is -- absolutely, and this has been a very active year already. I mean, this area's used to having tornadoes but to have this one come on top of everyone so quickly, and then to have everyone sort of trying to scramble to get cover. It had to be very terrifying yesterday.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Ryan, thank you for being there. We're going to continue. Ryan is going to continue to do great reporting on the ground for us. I appreciate it. Ryan mentioned Georgia. In Georgia one death has so far been confirmed. A little five-year-old was killed after a tree fell on top of a car. Derek Van Dam is in Griffin, Georgia with a look at the damage there. Derek, what are you seeing?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kate, tragically the one fatality in the state of Georgia was in an adjacent county to where I am now in Spalding County. And it was likely part of the same tornado that cycled up and down causing the destruction you see behind me. What you're actually looking at is the top roof a large shopping center. You can see a hobby lobby in my back here. There was a gas leak that's since been contained.


But when we arrived on the scene after the tornadoes ripped through this area last night, you could smell the gas, and you could hear the gas escaping as well. As Ryan said, it has been such an active year for tornadoes just with this latest round, there were 35 tornadoes. But to date, we've had nearly 100 tornadoes across the country in 11 different states occurring in places like California and Illinois.

In Georgia, we've had three days of tornadoes so far this year, that's nearly a quarter of the days of 2013. So we are four times the average number of tornadoes. So far and 2023 to date, that's just incredible. Here in Spalding County, Kate, we actually heard about four middle schools that had to shelter in place during the height of the tornado as it moved through. The damage was so bad leading up to the schools that they actually had to keep the children in the school up until about midnight last night, when authorities deemed that it was safe for them to take the buses home to return them to their residence.

So tragically with the fatality and Butts County, which is directly to my east, a child losing their life. Yet, another story to report from in the south of above average tornado season, a very, very difficult year already. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Yes, sure thing. Sure has been. Derek, thank you for that. Let's -- let me bring in meteorologist Chad Myers on this. And Chad, you've been looking at these live shots from Derek and Ryan along with me and just the damage that we've seen. I mean, dozens of tornadoes in the south. We're showing this is a live picture we also have in Selma as well. I mean, how strong are these tornadoes to do this?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, the one that moved over Selma kind of skipped a bit and then set back down as a very, very violent tornado in the Autauga County area. And the weather service from Birmingham picked up pieces of debris. Now the radar can distinguish between twigs, leaves, shingles, and raindrops. I can't tell you if it's a stick or a twig or a leaf, but it can tell you that it's not a raindrop.

And some of that debris was 200, just 20,000 feet tall, 20,000 feet in the air. That's how much it was sucking across parts of this area. Just taking this tornado, taking this damage and just throwing it outside on the top of this tornado. This is just going to be devastating. Weather service out there right now trying to look to see what it was, was it an EF3 or maybe something stronger. They're not rare. But certainly, the number that we've had so far this year, certainly would be rare. There are the fringes. But because we have 35 and I see so many dots so close to each other. I'm thinking maybe that was the same tornado on the ground for quite some time. There right there is where the rain is now. It is not severe across parts of Florida, just a cooler air mass. Colder behind it and the Buffalo that's where it's snowing, also some snow trying to get to Nashville right now could even make its way all the way into North Georgia, as we work our way into tonight.

Out to the west, yes, this is where it's going to rain and snow again, but only for just maybe three more days, maybe four. There's going to be rain, there's going to be snow in the mountains. But by the time we work our way into next Thursday, the forecast is for below normal preset. And the forecast for that is bad as good as you can get for the people in California.

BOLDUAN: OK. Thanks, Chad. I really appreciate it having you watch all this for us. Really appreciate it. Joining me now let's talk more about Alabama and the destruction that has been wrought there. Ricky Adams is joining us. He's the Director of Field Operations for Alabama Emergency Management. Mr. Adams, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me. We're just seeing some of the pictures coming out of Alabama are just heartbreaking. We're looking right now we're showing people live look in Selma this morning. What's your top priority today?

RICKY ADAMS, DIRECTOR OF FIELD OPERATIONS, ALABAMA EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Yes, you're right. It was a very significant weather day yesterday. Our top priority today, again, it continues to be lifesaving in any of those areas where search and rescue is being conducted. And after that there will be an assessment or ongoing assessments of the damages and needs of the citizens so that we can help the county provide them with the resources that they need.

BOLDUAN: Yes, the latest that we've heard is at least six people have been killed in your state. The corner in Autauga, I'm sorry if I'm mispronouncing it, County told CNN that they're finding more bodies still this morning. Where does the death toll stand right now?

ADAMS: Yes, it's accurate. The death toll is increased to seven in Autauga County. And search and rescue efforts continue. I spoke to Ernie Baggett, who is the EMA director in Autauga this morning. And the reason that the search and rescue is continuing is because of where the fatalities occur there was a combination of occupied and unoccupied dwellings or homes there. And they want to make sure that they get a third all the debris and account for any of the individuals that may have lived there. It's a horrible mess.


BOLDUAN: A horrible mess. I mean, we've been told that the tornado that hits Selma was likely on the ground for 50 miles. I mean, the National Weather Service described it as, you know, being on the ground for a long time. Chad Myers, our meteorologist describing just how high in the air some of this debris was sucked up just showing the force of this tornadoes. How do you describe what's happened there? ADAMS: Well, as you said earlier, Alabama is no stranger to tornadoes. It was a very intense storm and may have even been on the ground more than 50 miles. We'll wait for the National Weather Service to assess that. We estimate that at least 30 or more counties were impacted and one degree or the other by this particular storm system.

BOLDUAN: That's a lot. I mean, you know, the thing about tornadoes that's -- I always is coming from, you know, I come from a state where tornadoes were a regular thing, the thing that's always most terrifying of tornadoes is just the unpredictability of them, how quickly they can develop, how they can hit one home and skip over the one next to it. And I was struck how people describe it after the fact. I'm going to play for everybody just one person in Mount Vernon, Alabama said.


ALDRICK LANT, TORNADO SURVIVOR: I got the alert on my phone that a tornado warning was going to hit. And Just out of nowhere. I heard a sound I never heard before, it sound like a freight train come through here. And we picked up so strong, I had to jump out and I ran up because everything was shaking, like never before.


BOLDUAN: And thank goodness for those alert systems truly. But from what you're hearing, did people get alerts in time, heed the warnings?

ADAMS: Yes, the National Weather Service did an excellent job getting warnings out in advance of the storm, or as quickly as they knew the public knew. And that's why we encourage people that they had -- need to have more than one way to receive these warnings so that they can make sure that they get it. And another safe place ahead of time whether it be inside of a well-constructed home or in a nearby shelter because when the warnings go out, and again, the weather service did a great job, when the warnings go out. They're only minutes if that to respond.

BOLDUAN: It sure is. Well, Ricky Adams, thank you so much for your time. Good luck. You've got a lot of work ahead. Thank you.

ADAMS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Thank you very much. Well, President Biden, he is now under a special counsel investigation for his handling of classified documents not only raising questions about what this could mean for him, but also raising real questions about the government's classification system in process. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales joins us next.



BOLDUAN: Donald Trump's family business has just been sentenced in New York for running a decade long tax fraud scheme. The former president's company was convicted last month of 17 felonies you'll remember. And now they have the punishment. Kara Scannell has more details on this for us. She's joining us right now. Kara, tell us more about this sentence.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kate, the judge sentenced the Trump Organization entities to the maximum amount allowed under the law $1.6 million. And as you said this follows the conviction last month of the Trump Organization entities for running a decade long tax fraud scheme where they gave off the books compensation to their top executives, including company apartments and company cars.

Now in this case, no individual went on trial, so no one will go to jail or prison as a result of the sentence today. But it is a symbolic moment because it is the first time former President Donald Trump's companies has been held accountable, convicted and sentenced amid numerous investigations that have been swirling around the former president. One of the prosecutors had argued to the judge that Trump organization should get the maximum amount under the law, saying that it is the only way to deter companies from committing crimes is to make it as expensive as possible.

The Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said that this closes one chapter in their investigation, but he emphasized that their investigation into the Trump organization continues and that's something that's that they will continue to work on. Now, the Trump Organization issued a statement after the sentencing saying that they did nothing wrong and that they will appeal the verdict. Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Kara. Thank you for that.

Let's go now to the federal investigation into President Biden's handling of classified documents. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to examine how classified records from Biden's time his Vice President ended up in a garage at his home and in a closet as his former private office. Paula Reid is tracking these developments for us. She joins us now. Paula, what is the latest? I'm going to cut him real quick, Paula, stand with me. We're going to go over to the White House right now because President Biden is about to be as welcoming right now, the Prime Minister of Japan to the White House.


A handshake a picture and into the White House, they go. The Prime Minister, the President, they're going to be meeting in the Oval Office. There will -- we'll see if cameras go in. And if they take any questions, we will have that. And also after that there's going to be a working lunch with the Prime Minister of Japan. This is his first visit to the White House since becoming Prime Minister, a lot to discuss there. We'll get to more of that a little later in the show.

Let's get back to Paula Reid, as we're talking about the other issue, that the President Biden is very much dealing with kind of in the backdrop or maybe hanging over everything at the White House right now. What is the latest that we had -- know now about the special counsel, that the special counsel has been selected to investigate? PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, is definitely hanging over the White House and will be for quite some time. The first thing that's going to happen is Rob Hur is going to have to assemble his team get his office set up. Typically special counsel's operate in a separate space, apart from the main justice building here in D.C. That was the case for Robert Mueller, Special Counsel Durham and Jack Smith.

That will take some time. But once he gets his office set up, he will be overseeing a criminal investigation into classified documents found in three locations connected to a sitting president, this is quite an undertaking. But you will have the ability to of course review these documents, you could subpoena either witnesses or other evidence, as he tries to examine whether any criminal charges are appropriate here.

Now in terms of who could potentially be asked to sit for an interview. We know the U.S. attorney in Chicago who was originally tapped to review this matter and make a recommendation about whether there should be a special counsel, he interviewed at least one Biden aide we know of. Kathy Chung is a former assistant to President Biden during his time when he was vice president. We know she was interviewed. She's currently an official at the Pentagon.

Now, other people who could potentially be interviewed other people who were involved in the transition, who may have packed those boxes. And anyone who could have been in any of these three locations where these documents were found. So Kate, we'll be busy, and we'll probably be talking often.

BOLDUAN: Yes, it's good to see you, Paula. Thank you for that. Joining me now for some more perspective on this is Alberto Gonzales. He served of course as U.S. Attorney General, under President George W. Bush. He's now Dean of the Belmont University College of Law. It's good to see you, Attorney General. You've said before the announcement that you -- that before this special counsel was announced and appointed that you thought a special counsel should be selected. Now that one has what do you think of the choice of Rob Hur?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I don't know him personally. He apparently worked in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland, during the last few months of the time that I was the attorney general. I may have met him during one of my visits. But based on what I understand to be his history, he appears to be very well qualified to take on this task.

But more importantly, of course, in the mind of Attorney General Merrick Garland, he's well qualified. You know, and I have to think that hopefully, putting politics aside, Republicans won't have any problem with himself being a Trump appointee. So I think it's a good choice. And I think he's got a lot of work to do.

And, you know, one of the things that I do wish, this is a huge distraction for the White House, and it is a distraction for the President as it should be. Obviously, he's going to pay attention to this. But if I think if I were advising the President, I would try to move this out of the White House. Have the lawyers be the ones that speak for, in connection with the investigation to the public, have a private spokesperson so that the White House Press Secretary hasn't -- doesn't have to deal with it again, because there's so much need of attention of the White House in the White House staff, the President.

And so as much as possible, you try not to let this be a distraction. Of course, it's going to command some attention. But to the extent you can try to move this out of the White House.

BOLDUAN: Are you surprised that they haven't already?

GONZALES: Well, maybe not. You know, again, a special counsel disappointed yesterday. So it may happen. It may not happen. They may -- they may feel comfortable with this. But I think in the Bush administration, we tried to move things out. We did -- when I was White House counsel. And there was a possibility of President Bush being perhaps spoken to by a special counsel in connection with the Valerie Plame leak. You know, I didn't have anything to do with it, because I'm a government official, this related to perhaps personal conduct.

And so we went out and hired personal private counsel for President Bush even though the role, his role in connection with the possible leak was very, very limited. So I think the White House should think about trying to move as much of this out of the way as possible because there's so much work that needs to be done for the American people.

BOLDUAN: Yes, that's really interesting perspective. You know a lot of people of course are speculating very quickly about what this I'm just going to call it the Biden issue what this Biden issue means for the Trump investigation, do the Biden documents impact prosecutors decision of whether to bring criminal charges against Trump? Can you speak to that?


GONZALES: Yes, I think it's important for the American public to understand that it is right that because of the circumstances are similar in terms of we're talking about classified documents, government records, not being with the archivist, that there'll be an investigation, but from there, there has to be a divergence. Why because in each case, the facts are going to be different, they're going to be very, very different.

And that you have prosecutors that are very different. They have different perspectives, different judgments, different views about discretion and connection with criminal cases. So I can understand what you might say, you know, that cannot be a double standard, in terms of there has to be at least an investigation initially, as to both President Biden and former President Trump.

But after that the paths diverge, as far as I'm concerned, because the investigations have to follow the facts. And the facts are going to be different. And of course, the other things that the that are going to be different are what's the level of cooperation, you know, what -- how much damage or harm has been to the United States as a result of the -- these documents not being protected?

So there are things are simply going to be different. I think it's important the American public to understand that what happens in one investigation doesn't mean it's going to happen in the other investigation. And it doesn't mean that the other investigation, perhaps the prosecutor isn't being diligent. Again, these are experienced prosecutors, they're going to make judgments based upon their own experience, and based upon their own discretion, and based upon the facts as they find them.

BOLDUAN: And you everyone should hope that every prosecutor would follow the facts in that particular situation, you would want the same, we would each want the same for us if it was an investigation to us and not someone else. You've talked about how you were caught in something related when you were in the Bush administration over meeting notes that you took about a classified program. And knowing that, and with your experience, what did you learn from that experience that could help figure out a way to, if possible, prevent this from happening with future presidents?

GONZALES: A lot. I am not sure that you can prevent it from happening for future presidents simply because at the end of at the end of the term during the transition, the president former president now, doesn't have the time to look at every document, every classified document, I think certainly, the lesson that will come with respect to the former president is that you instruct your staff very clearly. OK, anything that's classified, needs to be protected and needs to be accounted for, and needs to be turned over in an appropriate manner.

And that goes with respect to every government record that belongs to the archivist as soon as a presidential term is over. And so obviously, there needs to be additional directives. We need to be follow up with staff to make sure that everything has been done according to the book. But in terms of, you know, personally, being accountable and personally looking at every document, you just, you don't have the time to do that.

So it really is going to depend upon the staff and depend upon the former president to be diligent in making sure that the staff clearly understands what the responsibilities are going forward.

BOLDUAN: It's great to have you on I'm sure we'll have many more conversations ahead about this. Thank you so much.

GONZALES: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Appreciate it. All right, so President Biden as we were just saw him welcome the Japanese Prime Minister, they are in -- heading into the Oval Office right now. We're going to see if President Biden and the Prime Minister if they take some questions today. That's next.