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At This Hour

Outraged Residents Demand Answers On Toxic Train Derailment; Georgia Court Releases Parts Of Fulton County Grand Jury Report; CBO: Unemployment Likely To Surge, Inflation To Ease Slowly. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired February 16, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): Let's go now to Ohio where residents are expressing outrage after the railroad company at the center of that hazardous train derailment recently skipped a community meeting last night where they were expecting to get answers. Jason Carroll has the very latest on this.


JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): Frustration, anger, and unanswered questions and East Palestino, Ohio.

LENNY GLAVAN, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO RESIDENT: Are my kids safe? Are the people safe? Is the future of this community safe?

CARROLL: The mayor leading the meeting at times speaking through a bullhorn to answer questions from distressed residents still worried about returning to their homes despite evacuation orders being lifted last week.

TRENT CONAWAY, MAYOR OF EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: The railroad get us wrong. So far, they've worked with us and they're fixing it. But if that stops, I will guarantee you I will be the first one in line to fight that.

CARROLL: Officials trying to answer the community's questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The evacuation radius was determined by the Department of Transportation and other subject matter experts based on previous incidents. Is everybody satisfied with my answer?

CARROLL: As many residents are demanding more testing of air, water, and soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not letting them stop the testing until you're satisfied. That's when the testing will stop.

CARROLL: Not present at this community meeting, Norfolk Southern Railroad.

CONAWAY: Now, Norfolk Southern didn't show up. They didn't feel as safe.

CARROLL: In the 11th hour, the company that owns the train that derailed sent a statement saying, unfortunately, after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees.

KELLY FELGER, EAST PALESTINE RESIDENT: OK. Well, if you're afraid somebody from Palestine is going to hurt your employees, what exactly did you do to us?

CARROLL: Do you feel the anger and frustration?

FELGER: I'm scared for my family. I'm scared for my town I grew up here. I'm related to 50 percent of them.

CARROLL: Cleanup efforts are underway. The governor telling residents Wednesday the municipal water is safe to drink. His statement comes after new test results from the state environmental protection agency found no detection of contaminants. Officials say the toxic spill was largely contained the day after the derailment, and that tests have shown the air quality is safe. They are still suggesting those with private wells, get their water tested.

CONAWAY: I need help. And I'll do whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to make this right.


CARROLL: And, Kate, right now, we're at Leslie Run, this is a creek that runs through portions of East Palestine. The cleanup effort well underway here. The EPA saying they're going to be here as long as it takes. The residents here, not so sure. Kate.


BOLDUAN: Yes. Jason, thank you for that reporting.

Let's turn to this now. President Biden and his team, they're debating whether he should speak publicly about the mysterious series of airborne shutdowns we've been tracking. First, of course, was the Chinese spy balloon that was taken down by the U.S. military nearly two weeks ago. And then the three other unidentified objects found over North American airspace. Now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, they have been pushing for Biden to speak about this, especially after they've received a series of classified briefings on it all.

Arlette Saenz has the very latest for us. She's at the White House at this hour. Arlette, what's behind this deliberation at the White House still? I mean, why can't they make their mind up about this?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, there's a few factors at play at this moment. And one thing that officials have been trying to keep an eye on is that exactly how much information they are able to get relating to those three unidentified objects. But President Biden could potentially be speaking about this as soon as today. And when he does address both that Chinese -- suspected Chinese spy balloon and these three aerial objects that were shot down over North America just last week, and it will really reflect the most extensive remarks that we've heard from the president about this issue that has prompted both fascination and concern.

Now, officials here in the U.S. are increasingly confident that those three objects that the U.S. shot down over the U.S. and Canada between Friday and Saturday that they were benign objects. But there are still other details that are unknown, including who exactly they belong to, whether it was a country or a private entity. And, of course, over the past two weeks, officials have been trying to glean as much information about that suspected Chinese spy balloon that was shot down nearly two weeks ago.

One area that intelligence officials are analyzing is whether that balloon which originated in China, inadvertently accidentally made its way, changed course to the continental United States. Now, I will note. President Biden is currently at Walter Reed receiving his physical, expected to come back here to the White House, so we will see whether he might add any potential remarks about the balloon and the unidentified objects later today.

BOLDUAN: All right, we'll stand by for that. Thank you, Arlette. Joining me now for more on this is CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger. He's the White House and national security correspondent for The New York Times, of course. David, what have you been hearing about the maybe-maybe not nature of this kind of discussion behind the scenes at the White House, and the -- with the president and his team about him speaking publicly on this?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, he wants to speak publicly only if he has some news to convey here. And part of the problem is that the news about the Chinese balloon, the initial one that was shut down in South Carolina, has been pretty much classified that we're beginning to get more and more detail, including what you just heard, which is that, as the Times reported last night, we believe that this balloon started in Hainan Island and was probably intended to go over Guam and Hawaii and that they didn't really intend for it to go over the continental United States.

The other three balloons look to be the equivalent of a sort of low- altitude space junk. The best guesswork that they have right now is that they were not surveillance. They were probably leftover weather balloons or other experiments. And therefore, you know, the kind of thing that probably would have gone by with no one shooting at it three weeks ago.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And something else your colleagues at The Times are reporting, I thought it was some interesting detail also that it took -- the reporting is it took three days after the kind of -- I'll call it the balloon crisis if you will, kind of became public. For Chinese officials to tell the United States that they were trying to move it out of U.S. airspace kind of suggesting a real misreading on the part of the Chinese on how serious this was quickly becoming. You know, is Biden's -- like, are they concerned about what this means in the broader context of kind of the potential conflicts with China? SANGER: Sure. Kate, I think this is really the bigger issue. I mean, long after we've forgotten the balloon element of this, we'll be remembering the fact that we've set up all of these hotline systems with the Chinese, many of them created after the 2001 incident in which a Chinese jet fighter crashed with a U.S. intelligence gathering plane well off the coast of China, killed the Chinese pilot, the Americans had to crash land in China. And after that incident, where President Bush also couldn't get Chinese leaders on the phone, they set up all of these procedures. And none of them really worked here.

And what that tells you is that if we got into something that was really significant, say a crisis over Taiwan or in the South China Sea where the Chinese have been building these islands on sandbars and creating new military bases, or in the Philippines, we might have a very difficult time getting actual decisions made and communications. The Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, could not get his equivalent to answer the phone at the Chinese defense ministry.


BOLDUAN: Yes, I -- that was something that I -- that really stuck out to me when that reporting came out. This also speaks to -- there's been -- the reaction from lawmakers, kind of coming out of these briefings has been noteworthy. I mean, the administration gave the Senate a classified briefing on the kind of the overall threat from China now with relation to this. And senators from both parties coming out. They had some pretty stark warnings. Let me play this.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R-FL): China today is the single most formidable adversary the United States has ever faced. Soviet Union was not an industrial power, technological power, or commercial power.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D-CT): The Chinese have become a more vigorous and real threat than ever before in our history.


BOLDUAN: Are you seeing it that way in your reporting?

SANGER: What's interesting, Kate, is that this has been basically the accepted wisdom of sort of the foreign policy world for many years, and you'll see it in the president's own national security strategy. That's because of the cyber threats from China. It's because of the industrial competition and semiconductors and software in AI and quantum computing. And that was all true before the balloon incident. And what's interesting is that it took something that was relatively low tech, a balloon, with a -- probably a sophisticated sensor pack in it, but one that you could see to wake up Congress.

The concern I have right now, Kate, is that Democrats and Republicans are sort of in a competition to show who can be tougher on China. And in China, you see a mirror image of that in their own internal debate. And that's how you get two countries to descend into confrontation. And so, I think part of what the president's seeking to do if he does speak on this, I suspect he will soon, is to try to come up with some ways that China and the U.S. can talk to each other again. It'll be interesting to see here in Munich, where I just arrived for the Munich Security Conference, whether it's Secretary of State Blinken and his Chinese equivalent, Wang Yi, actually ended up meeting. And it's unclear if they will.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely very interesting. Always great that you're there for that. There's so much that does come out of that conference. Thank you, David.

So, ahead for us. We are still poring through -- looking through the special grand jury report that was just released out of Georgia. How will former President Donald Trump and his legal team react to what's been released -- these tidbits released so far? Details in a live report next.



BOLDUAN: And back to our breaking news at this hour. Portions of the special grand jury report out of Georgia have now been released. The panel in Fulton County has been investigating efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election results there. And they say in this report that they believe one or more witnesses who came before the panel may have committed perjury. The grand jury's report also concludes that there was no widespread voter fraud, of course, rejecting Donald Trump's repeated conspiracy theories surrounding the election.

Kristen Holmes is live in West Palm Beach, Florida for us. Kristen, have we heard from Donald Trump or his legal team yet?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We'll, Kate, we're expecting to hear from them any moment now. I'm told that they are going through that report, crafting a response right now and that shouldn't be out again any moment. But I will tell you that I spoke to multiple advisors ahead of this release who said that they were really concerned about these potential criminal referrals. And Donald Trump himself grew agitated recently when talking about this Georgia probe.

I spoke to him just a few weeks ago, and he repeated that constant defense that he's had for himself where he says it was a perfect phone call. But he went a step further. He continued to say that it was free speech, that it was his opinion, that it wasn't actually a crime. There was nothing wrong with that phone call.

Again, this is with his Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger at the time. And that he was just giving his opinion. And that there were so many lawyers on the call that there was really nothing wrong with it. It was not something that was done in secret.

So, we'll see if he addresses this when they do finally get us that response. The other thing to notice here, Kate, is it is very clear that he will take issue with the part of that probe -- of that release of that report, when he talks about how they unanimously decided that there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election, something he still believes or at least still repeats today, Kate.

BOLDUAN: That is for sure. Kristen, thank you so much for your reporting.

There's also this for us this hour. The most recent jobs report shocked everyone about how strong it was, of course, but a new independent forecast is pouring some cold water over all of it saying the good news won't last long. Details next.



BOLDUAN: A new warning about the U.S. economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office now says unemployment is likely to surge from 3.4 percent where it is now to over five percent this year. And that's what they project. They're also forecasting a slower exit from the struggles with inflation we've been battling for so long.

Joining me now for more on this is CNN Economics and Political commentator, Catherine Rampell. She's a Washington Post opinion columnist. Catherine, keen to get your thoughts on what we hear from the CBO. I mean, the outlook from the CBO is -- I mean, it's pretty bleak with it saying where unemployed -- with unemployment rising, inflation sticking around longer. I mean, what do you see?

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, yes, it's not good news, relative to some other potential scenarios of like a terrible recession.

BOLDUAN: Armageddon? OK.

RAMPELL: Yes. I mean, I realized that's damning with faint praise.


RAMPELL: But five percent unemployment would not be good, but it's obviously much better than some of the recessions past --



RAMPELL: -- including the most recent one. But, you know, we have to take all of this with a grain of salt because you know that expression that predictions are always difficult to make, especially about the future. It is especially difficult right now to tell what the heck is going on in this economy. And there's a ton of uncertainty surrounding all of these projections.

BOLDUAN: Well, this gets to -- exactly to your latest column that I read with quite a bit of fascination that you're -- your headline was, don't believe -- what you said in your column, don't believe what anyone says about the economy, including me. And you also wrote this. It's the best of times the worst of times, the spring of hope, the winter of despair, everyone is looking at the same set of numbers, and somehow coming to opposite conclusions.

Why do you think this economy is so difficult to predict, to really see a pattern in and be able to predict the future? Is it just -- is it the -- is it just that the pandemic was so disruptive to everything?

RAMPELL: I think that's part of it. We have -- we don't really have a previous period that is quite comparable --


RAMPELL: -- to learn from, to extrapolate from, I mean, we've obviously dealt with recessions before but this was a little bit of a weird one. We've had government interventions in the face of recession before but this was a different and much more expansive version, you know, that the kinds of stimulus that we had this time around. So, it's very hard to learn from the past because we're out of sample as economists would say. But beyond that, you know, the data themselves are not as necessarily good as they could be because survey responses are so much poor today.

BOLDUAN: So, interesting. Great comments. Great to see you. Thanks for coming in. I always appreciate it.

RAMPELL: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: And thank you all so much for watching us at this hour. I'm Kate Bolduan. "INSIDE POLITICS WITH JOHN KING" starts after this.