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Ohio Residents Ordered To Evacuate After Train Derails; China Urges Calm After U.S. Shoots Its Spy Balloon; Judge To Rule If Murdaugh Alleged Financial Crimes Relevant To Trial. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 06, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KRISTIN FISHER, CNN ANCHOR: A really dangerous situation developing right now in Ohio. Emergency crews are working to prevent a massive explosion after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed. Officials have ordered residents within a mile of the crash site to evacuate.

CNN's Gabe Cohen is following this for us. Gabe, that is a massive fire and smoke out there. What is -- what is the very latest on all these evacuations and trying to get all this under control?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Or, Kristin, you mentioned there are serious concerns about a potential explosion. And at this point, they really center on just a single rail car. Just one of the rail cars within that mess that you're seeing on your screen. Inside of it is a chemical called vinyl chloride. It's used to make PVC pipes, plastics, things like that, and it is extremely flammable.

And the safety valves on that rail car which would typically release the chemical after a derailment like this aren't working, which has trapped that vinyl chloride inside the rail car.

And as this massive fire that you've seen on your screen is burning, that railcar has been heating up. And so, officials are concerned that if it gets too hot, it could actually explode and send potentially deadly shrapnel flying up to a mile in any direction, creating, as you said, that extremely dangerous situation.

And so, right now, crews are on the ground trying to figure out how to get that chemical out of the railcar before something like that happens. And as you said, they're also evacuating people. They've evacuated everyone in East Palestine within a mile of that derailment site, and they've even evacuated the police department's communication center. It gives you a sense of just how seriously they're taking this. Here's the warning from the fire chief.


KEITH DRABICK, CHIEF, EAST PALESTINE FIRE DEPARTMENT: We need to get everybody who remained within that mile radius or decided they needed to come back within that mile radius. We need you to leave now.


COHEN: And the county sheriff added that there are likely toxic chemicals that have been pouring out of that train. So, people who don't leave the site, not only might be putting themselves in harm's way but they could also be arrested, the sheriff said because of those evacuation orders if they don't comply, especially if they have kids in the house. Kristin.

FISHER: Wow. Yes, I mean, you really feel for those firefighters who are having to go towards the smoke right now and towards this potential explosion of all that hazardous material. Gabe Cohen, thank you so much.

So, we are now going to two planes that have narrowly avoided colliding in Austin over the weekend. And this was really a new --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Southwest abort. FedEx is on the go.


FISHER: So, this was -- it really a near miss happening on Saturday as a FedEx cargo plane was forced to abort its landing after a Southwest Airlines flight was cleared to take off on the same runway. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. The FAA and the NTSB are investigating the incident.

Now, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is downplaying concerns about a recession after Friday's astounding jobs report. Listen to this.


JANET YELLEN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: You don't have a recession when you have 500,000 jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in more than 50 years. So, what I see is a path in which inflation is declining significantly, and the economy is remaining strong. And really that path, I believe, is possible. And it's what I'm hoping we will be able to achieve.


FISHER: And, so it comes as a new poll shows that Americans are still pessimistic about the U.S. economy. Rahel Solomon, live in New York with more. Hi, Rahel.


RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kristin. Yes. And I should say Secretary Yellen look is not the only person who believes that we're hearing over the last month or so from other economists -- many other economists and officials who say that look, we may avoid a recession. And yet Kristin, it seems like Americans aren't exactly buying it. Take a look at these poll numbers. So, you can see only 33 percent of Americans have a good view of the economy now. That is higher than last week -- slightly higher than last week, but certainly still in pessimistic territory. A few reasons why. Of course, inflation is the elephant in the room, right?

Prices are higher by about six and a half percent compared to a year ago. Off the peak of 9.1 percent, but still painfully high. And, Kristin, those higher prices has meant that for some, you either have to tap your savings, below through your savings, or potentially even use credit cards.

Part of the reason why people are feeling crummy about the economy, also wages. For most people, even if you have made more in the last year, inflation has probably outpaced that. So, even if you are making more, it probably feels like you're bringing home less. All of that explaining why Americans still feel pretty lousy about the economy.

And, Kristin, I should say it's not just the feeling that's out there. We're also starting to see it in the data. When you look at consumer spending, when you look at retail sales, Americans starting to pull back on their spending and pull back on their discretionary spending. So, also showing it with their wallets.

FISHER: The feelings backed up by the data. Rahel Solomon, thank you so much.


FISHER: So, China's brazen act to fly a surveillance balloon over the U.S. is escalating already fraught relations between the U.S. and Beijing. We're going to discuss where things go from here. Next.



FISHER: China is urging both sides to remain calm after the U.S. military shut down a Chinese spy balloon that flew over America for days. China's bold move further straining already tense relations between both countries.

So, joining me now is CNN national security analyst David Sanger. He's a White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times. Hi, David, thank you so much for joining us.


FISHER: Yes. So, I was reading, you've got this new analysis piece in the Times where you write "for pure gall, there was something different about this balloon." Now, what do you mean by that?

SANGER: Well, I think part of what was different about this was visibility. This wasn't by a longshot, the biggest hack we've seen by the Chinese. Think about this. They stole the designs 15 years ago for the F-35 fighter, the most expensive fighter in the American arsenal, and built their own version. They took from the Office of Personnel Management the security clearance files of 22 million Americans, including 6 million fingerprints.

And that gave them great detail about who works on what. I doubt they got as much from this. But the fact that you could be out in Montana or Kansas City or off Myrtle Beach and see the collection instrument right above you, I think drove home the nature of the U.S.-China competition, much more viscerally to most Americans.

FISHER: Yes, you bring up such a good point about visibility, and just your average American being able to see this thing in the sky. Do you think that the Chinese really understood the risk that they were taking was such a visible intrusion?

SANGER: It's a really interesting question, Kristin, because one of the big issues here is did they mean to send this straight across the continental United States? We now know from the White House that there were at least three or four previous incidents. It's not clear that the Trump administration recognized at the time that they were trying these balloon launches, but in retrospect, people have begun to piece these back together.

But they didn't run straight across the country. They came to the edges of the coast. They were over islands, and one was over Florida. But they did not do what this one did, which was to transit the entire country. I don't know how anybody in China could have thought that that wouldn't have been noticed.

FISHER: Yes. Well, CNN actually has some new reporting out within the last hour that under President Trump, those three suspected Chinese spy balloons flew over the U.S. but they were only discovered after President Biden took office. And this is reporting coming from Natasha Bertrand. How is that possible? Do you have any idea how these balloons could fly over the U.S. and that they were not discovered until after President Biden took office?

SANGER: It is a pretty remarkable thing because when you think about it, it's hard to imagine that you could miss anything this big. Now, maybe they thought that there was a domestic cause for it. Maybe they thought they were weather balloons. Maybe they just failed to pick it up. But it does raise an interesting question.

It also raises the question, why didn't the Biden administration when they saw this on January 28, coming over the illusions, make a bigger deal of it both to the Chinese and maybe to the public? They really started under-communicated at the beginning part of this. So, they were playing catch-up after it was seen by the public.

FISHER: All great points, David. And, you know, it's just going to be so interesting to see how President Biden chooses to handle this, and what he chooses to say during the State of the Union Address tomorrow night.

SANGER: And to see how President Xi just -- yes.

FISHER: Very true -- very true, David --

SANGER: That's right. And to see how President Xi handles it.


FISHER: Very true. David Sanger, thank you so much.

So, the judge is about to make a key decision in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh -- in that trial. And we're going to be discussing what exactly it means, coming up next.


FISHER: We are about to learn if the judge in the murder trial of Alex Murdaugh will let jurors hear evidence of his alleged financial crimes. Prosecutors want the jurors to hear it is a possible motive for killing his wife and son. Randi Kaye, live at the courthouse. Randi, the judge is speaking right now. What has he said so far?


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. They have been listening in court without the jury present. They have -- the state has brought many witnesses to talk about these alleged financial crimes that they believe as part of the motive that Alex Murdaugh had for killing his wife and son. They want these alleged crimes included in the case and they want the jury to hear them. The judge has now ruled that those are allowed. Listen to what he just said.


CLIFTON NEWMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE: That there's a critical element that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Evidence of motive may be used in an attempt to meet that burden. This evidence of other crimes is admissible and it's non-compensatory, as it does not suggest --


KAYE: And what the state has been saying, Kristin, is that Alex Murdaugh's back was up against the wall that he was running out of options, and that's why he believed his financial schemes were about to be exposed and that's why he killed his wife and son.

The backdrop to this is this boat case in part, Mark Tinsley, an attorney, testified just before the judge made his ruling. He represents the Beach family. 19-year-old Mallory Beach was killed in 2019 on a boat that Paul Murdaugh was driving. And the Beach family was suing Alex Murdaugh because he was the owner of that boat.

So, Tinsley said that he wanted Alex Murdaugh to prove that he had the financials to pay the Beach family. He wanted him to expose his accounts in a -- in a hearing that was upcoming on June 10, 2021. The murders took place on June 7, 2021. So, they are looking very closely at that specific hearing on June 10 as the reason that he was very concerned that all of his fine -- alleged financial schemes were about to be exposed, Kristin.

FISHER: Randi Kaye, I'll let you get back to listening to what's going on inside that courtroom. Thank you so much.

Joining me now is criminal trial attorney Sara Azari. She is the host of the new crime show on Death By Fame on Investigation Discovery. Sara, thank you so much for joining us.

And you're joining us at such a critical time in this trial. This has been such a major question whether the judge will allow any testimony about Alex Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes. What is your reaction to what we've heard just minutes ago from the judge?

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL TRIAL ATTORNEY: Well, Kristin, good to be with you. I feared this ruling -- I feared this ruling because the prosecution has a very weak case for murder and then they're using a very weak motive theory to bolster that case, essentially doing a trial within a trial, a white-collar fraud trial, to bolster, you know, their weak case of murder.

And my concern was that to help the jury or try to sway the jury that he was under tremendous pressure that he would not only kill his wife but blow his son's head -- you know, brain out that they would have to show tremendous evidence. The more the evidence, the more the pressure. And this is why I was concerned that the judge would open up the floodgates to all of this coming in.

This is really, really consequential because it's going to go to whether or not Alex Murdaugh can take the stand and testify. In South -- in South Carolina, there's a three-strike law and a breach of trust of over $2,000, very draconian is a strike. Now he's got 99 charges and 19 indictments. He's got way beyond three. When he takes the stand -- if he takes the stand, he's essentially going to have to admit to these financial crimes, and that subjects him to life without parole just on the financial stuff.

So, the question becomes for the defense, do we put them up and get them off murder, hopefully, or does he get elbow up on the murder? Does he get elbow up on the financial crimes? It's a very difficult decision that is already difficult but even more difficult now for the defense.

FISHER: Yes. Well, as you say, the judge has now decided to open up the floodgates. And for those of you just joining us. Just minutes ago, we learned that the judge has decided to allow evidence of Murdaugh's alleged financial crimes in this murder trial. The prosecution wants this as -- you know, to demonstrate a potential motive for why he would kill his wife and son.

And we have just learned that the jury has now been allowed back into the courtroom in South Carolina. So, Sara, if I'm a part of that jury, what is now -- what am I going to learn about next? I mean, this is probably a critical moment for them as well as they listen to everything that's been said from the prosecution and the defense. AZARI: Yes, Kristin. So, so far, this testimony was outside the presence of the jury. And so, I don't know what order. The state has been very methodical and the presentation of their evidence in their case in chief, so I'm not sure if they're going to continue with the agents and other witnesses, and then put up these witnesses that we heard from with respect to the financial motive, or you know, they're going to put these people up first. But you know, I think it's going to also be a double-edged sword for the prosecution because the defense team has done focus groups before this trial.


And it's been very difficult to convince the mock jurors that this was the motive, that this would lead him to kill his wife and son. So, you know, it -- if the prosecution loses credibility, they might lose credibility on other parts of their evidence as well.

FISHER: All right, Sara Azari, thank you so much for being with us on this big breaking news in the Murdaugh trial.

And thank you so much for watching. I'm Kristin Fisher in for Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING" starts right after the break.