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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Finland's Leader Announces Support For Joining NATO; CDC Investigating 100 Plus Mysterious Hepatitis Cases Nationwide; Trump And His Allies Worry About A Barnette Victory In Pennsylvania; California Wildfire Incinerated Expensive Homes; Greg Norman Defends His Saudi-Backed Golf Series. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 12, 2022 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, homes burned to the ground in one of California's healthiest neighborhoods in just -- neighborhoods in just a matter of minutes. Inside the fire that took even meteorologists and scientists by surprise.

Plus, new warnings about a deadly and mysterious hepatitis outbreak among children across the U.S. CNN talks to the parents whose child just underwent a liver transplant.

And leading this hour, Russia making new threats following the announcement that Finland is one step closer to joining NATO. The prime minister and president of that country that shares an 800 mile border with Russia said today they support joining the Alliance. CNN's Melissa Bell joins us now Kyiv.

And Melissa, the chief of NATO says Finland would be quote, "warmly welcomed" into NATO if Finland were to apply for membership. Isn't this the exact opposite of what Putin wants? I mean, isn't he achieving the opposite of all his goals?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Precisely. And what's going to happen is expected to go pretty quickly, Jake, since we've heard from the Finnish president and the Finnish prime minister today saying that they want now Finland to join NATO officially. The formal request will come on Sunday. The vote will go through parliament next week, no doubt.

What we expect, according to Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO, is that the process should go fairly quickly after that. And so you're right, Vladimir Putin finds himself, having said that he was going into NATO to prevent that eastward expansion of NATO with a border with NATO that is now twice as long or will be twice as long as it was before all this began.

As the Finnish president said today, if he wants to figure out exactly how he came to this, he really just has to look in the mirror. Now the Finnish describe this as responding to a sentiment that comes from their people before this began just over three months ago, the Finnish population believed about 20 percent or 25 percent of them were for NATO membership. That figure is now 76 percent, less than three months later as a direct result of the Finns believing that their national security, given what's happened here in Ukraine, now depends on joining NATO.

TAPPER: And a Ukrainian official says the situation along the Luhansk front lines in the Donbass region of Ukraine is quote, "significantly deteriorated." Are the Ukrainians making gains anywhere?

BELL: They are, Jake. And I think that's one of the things that we've seen at the beginning of this week is a turning point that's been reached in this war. That is certainly the feeling of Presidents Zelenskyy.

What's been happening is that because Russian forces have been retreating to their positions in Donetsk and Luhansk, trying to expand what was their stronghold before all this began just over three months ago, they've diverted their resources back there, they've brought them back to try and focus on making gains from that area, because they've been on the back foot and trying to strengthen those strongholds. And because of that, up in the north of the country around Kharkiv, we've seen Ukrainian forces make advances, take several towns towards the Russian border with the first Russian civilian dying today as a result of cross border shelling. That is a significant change in the balance of power.

Now, even as Russian forces find themselves unable to make those southward advances that they are moving to, in fact, making losses up in the north, that front line now along a good stretch of river, North East of Luhansk, North of Donetsk is where the forces face each other off, with the Russians trying to cross the river they've managed to do so at one point, they're being held back in another way. Ukrainians have repeatedly been blowing up their pontoons. And it is that static nature of the frontline that means that they really are kind of stuck.

Now the question is, how Vladimir Putin now responds with his forces really at a standstill in much of Ukraine. And again, politically such a huge loss with Finland now joining NATO. What is his response to that at this stage, Jake?

TAPPER: Melissa Bell reporting live for us from Kyiv, Ukraine, thank you.

The world has watched in horror as Russian artillery has devastated Ukrainian cities and Ukrainian lives seemingly with impunity. The United States and the international community have accused Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. But what's been difficult is tying specific generals to specific crimes, which is the key to actually carrying out war crimes prosecutions.

In Kharkiv, CNN has seen the aftermath of attacks targeting civilians using indiscriminate cluster munitions. That's a war crime. And a two month long investigation CNN can now reveal the commander responsible for these attacks and the string of atrocities he's committed not just in Russia's latest war in Ukraine, but also in the 2014 War in Donbass and in Syria.


Chief International Investigative Correspondent Nima Elbagir has this exclusive report for you now. And I'm warning you might find some of the images in this report disturbing


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A devastation of civilian homes and lives. Throughout the last few months, we have witnessed atrocities in Ukraine.

(on camera) More and more of these strikes, very, very close. They want us to start moving.

(voice-over): While we know these are Russian actions, it's been difficult to draw a direct line from individual trustees to a specific Russian commander. Until now. CNN can exclusively reveal that this man, Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov, commander of the Western military district is the commander responsible for this, munitions targeting civilians in the city of Kharkiv, East Ukraine, a war crime under international law.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You can see more artillery rockets apparently be firing from Russian territory towards the territory, I would say around Kharkiv. I don't know if you can hear this right now.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): This is the start of the war. CNN Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen witnessed artillery being fired from inside Russia within Zhuravlyov district towards the city of Kharkiv.

Sam Kiley was in Kharkiv, and could hear the shelling moments later.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You could feel the concussion against the glass.

ELBAGIR (voice-over): We soon learned from experts, these were Smart Rockets. This is what they're capable of delivering, cluster bombs.

One Smart Rocket releasing many smaller explosives, scattering bombs, amplifying the devastation. These attacks captured on social media both in Kharkiv and both from the same day are a clear example of that indiscriminate nature. When used in this fashion against civilians, it's considered a war crime.

The use of Smart Rockets are key in our findings of who is responsible because they are unique to one unit here, one commander. After months of forensic work, we can reveal the trail of evidence leading to Zhuravlyov.

Using social media videos to guide us we return to some of the scenes of the attacks focusing on February 27 when three civilian targets were hit, and eight more on February 28. We start in the Pavlovo Pole, neighborhood of Kharkiv.

This is shrapnel from those missiles that fell on our neighborhood, Lilia (ph) tells us. This shrapnel was found in one of the rooms.

Lilia takes us to see a Smart Rocket that fell 200 yards from her apartment block in this once affluent area.

I remember the whistling sound of the missiles. I know that the missiles were fly and that they were accompanied by fighter planes or drones.

(on camera): You can see the hole that it came through. You can see the way that the rocket buckled when it hit the car. You can also very clearly see that this is a smudge.

(voice-over): It's not the only rocket coming from this direction on this day. Less than a half mile down the road, another hit.

(on camera): Helping to situate us, this kiosk, that water cooler their key landmarks. The bodies landed here down this road. Those blue doors you see that's where the cluster munition shrapnel embedded.

(voice-over): This video filmed moments after the attack where four people, including a child were killed. Another smash launching cluster bombs. We know this because one of the unexploded bombs was found on the 280 yards away. Notice the date, 2019.

Russia stopped selling arms to Ukraine in 2014. This confirms this is a Russian cluster bomb. One and a half miles away, another strike more suffering and no sign of any legitimate military targets.

People queuing for food and then something just hit. People started running here, she says.

This is the exact moment of impact. Look at it again, frame by frame, you can see the scale of the rocket and proximity to innocent civilians.

We are here in Kharkiv, notice the five hits along this line from the 28th. They're pretty much in a line, apart from three here, which line up with the hits from February 27. We can trace these lines 24 miles to a point of convergence here across the border in Russia well within the range of a Smart Rocket where we have a satellite image from the 27th showing the launching position. Notice the plume of smoke and the telltale burn marks of a smart launch, here, here and here.


In collaboration with the Center for Information Resilience, we can also tell you who is firing from this position, the 79th Russian Artillery Brigade, part of the Western military district, which borders Ukraine and is under the command of Zhuravlyov. According to open source information reviewed by CNN, military experts and intelligence sources, they are the only unit in this district equipped to launch Smart Rockets. And only the commander has the authority to order the 79th Artillery Brigade to launch the rockets.

One expert told CNN, "Smerch is a district level asset. There are very few of them in the Russian Armed Forces and therefore they're dedicated to special missions at the order of a military district commander."

Colonel General Zhuravlyov love is this commander. And he's no stranger to these brutal tactics, atrocities targeting civilians.

They're very similar to what we saw in Syria in 2016. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Zhuravlyov also led Russian troops during the siege of Aleppo. He is the architect of the devastation you see here.

For leveling Aleppo, he was awarded the highest honor granted to Russian officers, hero of the Russian Federation. Yet Syrians have documented his war crimes.

(on camera): Russian?

(voice-over): Despite the direct line from the impunity the world afforded Russia in Syria, so the atrocities suffered by civilians here today. The question remains, what will the world do to stop this cycle?


ELBAGIR: We reached out to the Russian Ministry of Defense and we haven't received comment, Jake. But noting the lack of action by the U.S. against Zhuravlyov and other key Russian generals, we also asked them for comment. They said they can't comment on specifics, but that they continue to track and assess reports of war crimes and other reports of ongoing violence.

It still doesn't quite answer the question whether if more had been done sooner to hold Zhuravlyov and others like him accountable, would we be seeing what we are seeing now in Ukraine today, Jake.

TAPPER: Nima Elbagir, incredible report. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

The January 6 subcommittee just sent subpoenas to the several Republican lawmakers including the top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy. Lawmakers react to the news, that's next.



TAPPER: Breaking news, the House Select Committee investigating the deadly capital attack of January 6 has subpoenaed House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy along with four of his Republican colleagues who have rejected the panel's requests to voluntarily cooperate. In addition to him McCarthy, the panel is subpoenaing representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, all of whom have been outspoken supporters of former President Trump and his baseless fact free lives about the 2020 election. CNN's Ryan Nobles is live for us on Capitol Hill now.

And Ryan, you've spoken with several members of the bipartisan January 6 panel. What are they telling you about this extraordinary step to subpoena the House Minority Leader?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there's no doubt that this is a decision that the committee wrestled with for a significant period of time, not really knowing if subpoenaing their fellow members was a step that they wanted to take. But what became clear today after talking to several of them is that they just believe that this investigation is in a place where there's information that they need that can only come from these Republican members. This is what Pete Aguilar from California told me earlier today.


REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): Clearly these individuals, and I'm happy to go by, you know, each one individually. No things that happened on January 6 and the events that preceded January 6. We feel they have an obligation if -- to tell the truth, and to help us move forward and heal. We can only do that if we have the truth.


NOBLES: As an example, Jake, they repeatedly pointed to that phone call that Kevin McCarthy had with Donald Trump on January 6, they want to know what that phone call was all about. Also, Jim Jordan had potentially multiple phone calls with Trump on that day.

And they're also hinting that there is some information that they've discovered in their investigation that's connected to these members that hasn't been brought out into the public. As a result, Jake, they believe these conversations are necessary. The question still remains, will they actually happen?

TAPPER: Yes. And if they won't testify, why not? What are they hiding? Some of the people who have been subpoenaed already speaking out. What are they saying about the likelihood they'll comply and share what they know?

NOBLES: Yes, Jake. To your point, many of these Republican members have been very much opposed to any of the actions of the January 6 select committee. They've turned out any opportunity to cooperate even under voluntary conditions.

And so far, Mo Brooks put out a statement today saying quote, "The partisan witch hunt committee," which he said "Pelosi Republicans' don't count," talking about the two Republican members on the committee have "yet to personally serve me with a subpoena." He said it'll be in a "better position to respond to its purported contents if and when actual service happens."

So far, none of these Republicans have outright said they're going to not comply with the subpoenas. But in Brooks's statement, he puts a list of conditions of which he may consider complying with the subpoena. One of which is testifying publicly at one of these upcoming hearings.


Now, Chairman Thompson did not reject the idea of some of these members testifying publicly, but he said it would come after a private deposition.

I also talked to Jamie Raskin from the January 6 select committee about public testimony and he said that they're done negotiating at this point. That this isn't a game, it's not Parcheesi or checkers. He said, that they've issued the subpoenas and it's time for these members to comply.

Again, Jake, the question is, will they? And if they don't, what enforcement mechanism will the committee use to try and get them to participate?

TAPPER: Ryan Nobles on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

Coming up, kids hospitalized and even dying from a mysterious hepatitis outbreaks. CNN talks to a family whose two year old daughter just had to undergo a liver transplant due to this illness. Stay with us.



TAPPER: A non COVID story in our health lead today, the CDC is investigating more than 100 cases of severe hepatitis in children in the United States. Doctors right now are not exactly sure what is causing this outbreak but symptoms are ranging from a common cold to a stomach bug and even severe liver inflammation.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke to one family whose case is currently being investigated.




DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first thing Kelsea Schwab wanted to show me was that her two year old daughter Balan (ph) had always been fiercely independent.

SCHWAB: Balan was Balan, she just kind of tooth serum drum and does her own thing.

GUPTA (voice-over): But on April 29, everything changed. And a true medical mystery began.

SCHWAB: We woke up and she had hives all over her body. So I took her to the doctor and they did give her epinephrine and then sent us over to the E.R. to be monitored. Everything was fine. She went home. The next day, we woke up and I was like her eyes look a little bit yellow.

GUPTA (on camera): She wasn't acting any different.

SCHWAB: No. And her eyes were just a little bit yellow. It was just a little bit of jaundice. A couple hours later, we got a call back saying we need to get to the hospital now and they're going to fly you there.

DR. HELI BHATT, PEDIATRIC HEPATOLOGIST, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Over the next couple of days Balan's numbers didn't improve. Normal liver numbers are in 30s. I think at one point it was 7,000.

GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Heli Bhatt is a pediatric hepatologist. That's a doctor who specializes in the liver. She was one of the first doctors to treat Balan after she was airlifted to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.

(on camera): In your career, have you seen something like this before?

BHATT: No. I think I have definitely seen multiple cases of accurate hepatitis an accurate liver failure. But the fact that there are so many in such less time, I have not seen an outbreak like this in my career.

GUPTA (voice-over): What happened to Balan is extremely rare. But at least 109 times over the past few months, it's been the same story, a relatively healthy child whose eyes start to turn yellow, loses their appetite, and within days, their livers severely inflamed. According to the CDC, at least 98 children in this hepatitis outbreak had been hospitalized, 15 had liver transplants, five had died. And there is no clear explanation why.

BHATT: What is striking about this is the number of cases in the period of time and kind of all over the world and also following this huge pandemic.

GUPTA (on camera): Do you draw a connection then between the pandemic and what is happening with these kids hepatitis?

BHATT: One of the things that I question is, did these kids ever have COVID, you know? Kids can go asymptomatic with COVID, but then have all these inflammatory side effects.

GUPTA (on camera): Should that be part of the diagnostic testing? Should these kids be getting tested for their antibodies to COVID?

BHATT: I do think that is something we should be testing so that we can know whether it is related to that or not.

GUPTA (voice-over): Balan did have COVID, but for many others, we don't know. For now, the CDC isn't currently recommending testing for COVID antibodies in these children and instead focusing on adenovirus, a virus that is usually linked to the common cold and more than half the children have tested positive for. Doctor Bhatt isn't so sure, because while Balan did test positive for adenovirus in her blood, there wasn't any evidence of it in her liver. BHATT: So this is adenoviral staining. This is a control and this is Balan's liver. So it did not stain at all.

GUPTA (on camera): But you weren't seeing it her liver?

BHATT: In the liver, yes.

SCHWAB: Her muscles like she would start shaking and she would, you know, had a hard time sitting up and like she couldn't hold their head up. And just like watching her go through that was like, this is not my kid.

GUPTA (voice-over): Even though her doctor struggled to understand how this all happened, it was clear what needed to be done to save her, a transplant. And within two weeks of Balan first breaking out in hives, remarkably, she had a donor, a 16-year-old who was a match

SCHWAB: My happiest day is their saddest day and that's been one of the biggest struggles for us, I guess, is trying to come to terms with like tragedy is going to happen whether we need the liver or not.

GUPTA (voice-over): Simply fitting the lobes from a 16 year olds liver into Balan was a challenge. But the seven hour operation a success.

(on camera): How quickly did her numbers after the transplant returned to normal? Does it happen immediately?

BHATT: Yes, it happens within days. So within hours, two days.

GUPTA (on camera): How is Balan doing now?

SCHWAB: She's playing with playdough and starting to talk a little bit more and she's asking for food and asking for juice. So, we're slowly getting back to Balan, but I'm not very patient.


GUPTA: So Jake, it's still a mystery. I mean, we don't know the exact cause here. There's some things that they can rule out.


For example, the COVID vaccine, I mean the median age of these children is two, vaccines not available to them and a vaccine wasn't available to moms even when they were pregnant with the children who are now getting these strange cases of hepatitis.

And, Jake, it's also something that we're seeing around the world. I mean, there's some been some 450 cases now, all over the world. Again, no known cause. Common hepatitis viruses don't seem to be what's causing this so they're still investigating.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much.

A new and last minute twist in the Pennsylvania Senate primary race for the Republican Party that could really put Donald Trump's influence to the test. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our politics lead, primary season has former President Trump feeling nervous That's according to a Trump adviser who tells CNN that the competitive Pennsylvania Senate primary race might be shaking out quite differently than Donald Trump had planned.


This after a new Fox News poll shows Republican candidate Kathy Barnette rising to a statistical tie with the two other main Republican contenders TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz, whom Trump has endorsed, and hedge fund manager David McCormick. The Trump adviser says quote for the past five months, he has been told the only threat to Oz is named David McCormick. This is a twist no one saw coming.

Let's discuss. Let me start with a former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent. Congressman Cathy Barnette, this third candidate who is rising in the polls, she has refused to answer basic questions about her biography, and her discharge from the military. She's tweeted some truly insane things about Muslims and about gays, how worried are your fellow Pennsylvania Republicans that she's actually going to get the nomination, thus likely securing a democratic win in the general election?

CHARLIE DENT, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN: I think it's safe to say that Pennsylvania Republicans are in full panic mode, not just on her situation. I mean, again, you just mentioned that there she's just a, an opposition, research document dump just waiting to happen. That's the first problem.

And then of course, she and the gubernatorial candidate, Doug Mastriano, they've endorsed each other, and they are both leading. So this is a double nightmare scenario for Pennsylvania Republicans, both of those candidates are perceived as ones, you know, who could easily blow the races for a statewide and what otherwise would be a good year, even worse, down ballot races are very important too.

And, you know, there will be a lot of independents and Republicans who will be pulling for the Democrats for governor and Senate if those two are nominated. And that will affect down ballot Republicans and again in a year that Republicans should be cleaning up. So and this is absolutely a nightmare for Mitch McConnell to there's no other way around it.

TAPPER: Nia-Malika Henderson, another Trump ally tells CNN that this strategy shift is tough coming so late in the race, quote, you can go negative on her, but you only have a week to introduce her in a negative way. And I don't think there's much from a conservative perspective. I haven't heard of anything where I thought, Oh, yes, this will be very effective, unquote. This afternoon, Donald Trump issued a statement saying that she, Barnette, will never be able to win the general election, unquote. Is that going to be enough?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, listen, people said the same thing about Donald Trump that he was unelectable and could never win a general election. And guess what? He won a general election. So if you're Kathy Barnette, you could sort of turn that around and use that logic as well.

I think anytime campaigns start to sound like political strategies, strategies that's not a winning strategy. If you think about primary campaigns, voters actually vote much more with their hearts than their heads. And if you listen to the folks who are liking Kathy Barnette's a campaign and candidacy so far, they do talk about feeling that she's authentic, that she's one of them. They like her story, as much as they know about her story, right? She was born in Alabama. She was on a product of a rape when her mother was 11 years old and has some powerful things to say on that particularly pro-life voters very much like.

I think the second part of Donald Trump's statements are talking about her not being vetted. I think that probably is some potential way that you can eat into some of her popularity so far. But again, they don't have much time. It's Thursday, folks have already started to vote, obviously, the end of the polls close on Tuesday.

So we'll see if they're going to be effective enough at arresting her momentum, but you want to be where she is, if you're in this race. The race is closing and she is the one with the momentum right now.

TAPPER: 100 percent. Charlie Dent, Congressman Dent, last night Dr. Oz went on Fox to talk about her. Take a listen.


DR. MEHMET OZ, (R) PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: She was she's a mystery person. We don't know much about her. We have to be able to learn and she's not willing to share. So it raises additional red flags when every day, every hour of every day since she came on the radar screen. I've been finding out things that are very alarming to me. And it will be fodder for the Democrats.

This is our seat to lose, folks. But we don't want to throw this away with a candidate who is not well vetted.


TAPPER: Is that effective?

DENT: Well, well, I don't know how effective it is. But I think Oz is actually right. She is unvetted. What we know about her, she ran for Congress in 2020 and she lost by 19 points, still hasn't conceded that race, you know, is also complaining about the 2020 presidential election, you know, again, has aligned herself with very extreme fringe elements, you know, who are, you know, again, I think unelectable and I think Oz is correct, that we simply don't know a whole lot about her and that is the fear.

You know, maybe there's nothing there. But there is this great fear that there is a lot of opposition research out there that we're going to learn about after the primary. Should she win the nomination. [17:40:00]

And as I said, this is a double problem when these Democrats -- when the, you know, between her and Mastriano, you know, Republicans are -- could blow off what is a, you know, a rare opportunity to win two seats like this. I mean, there's that, by the way, more news today, Jake. The pro tem of the Senate, Jake Corman just announced that, you know, he's backing Barletta for governor to stop Mastriano.

I mean, this whole race at the State Committee of -- the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania really didn't do anything to direct voters in this race. They didn't endorse anybody. I mean, that's the whole point of a state committee is to do things like that.

But there's been no leadership from much of the Republican establishment to try to direct this thing. And so now, we have two guys who spent in the Senate race, spent all this money just ripping the bark off each other. And now, it appears that Kathy Barnette's coming up the middle. And there's no money ahead of time.

TAPPER: Sean Hannity zeroed in on some of her old tweets, they're all out there. That's not really opposition research. Here are a few he highlighted in 2016 quote, don't we get it Obama is a Muslim, 2015. Did you see the last presidential debate Trump 2016 was a horrid. Hannity also highlighted this homophobic tweet from 2013, please pray for my babies and me. We're about to board the plane to California and there's a homosexual female. Hannity obviously brought these tweets up because he's endorsed Dr. Oz, he supports Oz. He wants to make a case to Republican voters that she's a bad candidate. Kind of an interesting moment, though.

HENDERSON: It is an interesting moment. I mean, when I first read these tweets I said, of sort of fits in with the language of Donald Trump, a language of Fox News of the language of a lot of Republican primary voters, so I didn't necessarily think they would hurt her. So we'll see what she's able to do.

Some folks are pointing out that she also has backed our racial justice initiatives that might hurt her among Republican primary voters, but they've got such a hot contest on their hands and probably regretting in some ways that Donald Trump has involved himself in this at all.

TAPPER: Thanks to both of you. Appreciate it. This is what happens when you mix a mega drought with wind and fire. Million dollar homes burning to the ground and a fire that is surprising even scientists. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Now to our Earth matters series, this video capturing the flames destroying 20 homes in one of Orange County, California's wealthiest neighborhoods. CNN's Nick Watt takes a look now at how routine wildfires are now turning disastrous in a matter about. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Multimillion dollar mansions eaten up by fast moving flames. This is one of California's most affluent neighborhoods.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Feel like it's fun to the world honestly, and I just hope we can all get through this.

WATT: Nearly 900 homes as well as a luxury Golf Resort evacuated. Firefighters dousing homes in the hope of saving them so I'm using water pulled from the country club pond, one firefighter injured.

TJ MCGOVERN, ASST. CHIEF OF FIELD OPERATIOSN, ORANGE COUNTY FIRE AUTHORITY: We have a fresh group going out today. They're going to be out there for 24 hours.

WATT: This is no back country fire. This is near the beach and densely populated Orange County just south of L.A., damage assessment already underway in the ashes. Winds are gusty pushing the flames but the winds aren't terrible or unusual. It's the acres of bone dry brush. That's the major problem.

CHIEF BRIAN FENNESSY, ORANGE COUNTY FIRE AUTHORITY: With the climate change. The fuels beds in this county throughout Southern California throughout the West are so dry that, you know, fire like this is going to be more common place.

WATT: The fast moving fire seared through that dry brush ballooned to roughly 200 football fields in just a few terrifying hours. January just 1 percent of this state was in extreme drought. Today it's 60 percent. The January-April 2022 period was the driest on record for California. So says the US Drought Monitor.

MCGOVERN: This fire is not controlled or contained yet. We saw a lot of work to do. It's very steep terrain out there. We're going to get a little more heat nothing significant. We are going to get those west winds again.

WATT: This fire broke out yesterday afternoon the coals the spark as yet unknown.


WATT: So this is basically how this fire happened. The winds whipped in off the Pacific across that golf course through this canyon, pushing flames through the ridiculously dry brush up the hillside threatening these ridge top oceanview homes, destroying many of them. A few of them including this, a $10 million home. Back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: Nick Watt, thanks so much. Turning now to an extraordinarily lame excuse from a golfer Greg Norman in our sports lead. Greg Norman was trying to explain his continued ties with Saudi Arabia and an interview promoting his team based golf league which is backed by the Saudis. Norman brushed aside questions about lending his prestige to a country whose leadership particularly Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or MBS is blamed for the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Norman said quote, we've all made mistakes.

Generally, we've all made mistakes. It's the kind of thing one says about a teenager who has been caught shoplifting not about a brutal dictator who ordered armed thugs to murder a newspaper columnist and cut up his body with a bone saw.


But I suppose if there is money to be made in that brutal dictator's land exceptions might be made by people like Mr. Norman. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: The United States is marking a grim milestone, 1 million American lives lost to COVID. Each victim leaving behind a story and a scar felt in their families in their communities and across the country. These are just some of the stories.


NICOLE SPERRY, LOST 10-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER TO COVID-19: She made a point make sure to make friends to everybody.


TAPPER: You Are My Sunshine and I love you, lovingly drawn in red and blue crayon. These are some of the last drawings by 10-year-old Teresa Sperry. Last fall she came home from elementary school with a headache.

SPERRY: We thought it was just a simple headache.

TAPPER: She passed away just a few days later, just weeks before children her age became eligible for the vaccine.

JEFF SPERRY: My family was happy. She was healthy and strong, and it took her down less than five days. If they can take her, they can take anybody.

TAPPER: 39-year-old Naomi Esquivel on July 2nd, 2020 at her funeral her husband of 24 years, Carlos Garcia said goodbye with their two sons, a 14-year-old Isaiah and 11-year-old Nathan. Less than a month later, the boys were attending their father's funeral.

NATHAN GARCIA, LOST MOTHER AND FATHER TO COVID-19: I didn't get to say goodbye to my mom, or my dad. No. That's what I hate to be the most.

TAPPER: The boy's uncle and aunt took them in.

Jonathan Coelho, a cancer survivor was just 32 years old. His wife Katie found a goodbye note he had written on his phone to her and their children shortly before he passed away.

KATIE COELHO, LOST HUSBAND TO COVID-19: And the only ever know their dad through pictures and memories and videos and this note, and to me, I feel like that's the worst part of this is that they won't feel the love that I felt for the past 10 years.

TAPPER: Mary Schneider, 91, and her husband George, 88, had been married for 63 years. They passed away within three days of each other. They loved the Phillies and attending orchestra concerts.

Ben Luderer was a coach and teacher. He was just 30 years old. He was discharged from the hospital after receiving oxygen for his initial symptoms. A few nights later, while isolating at home. He texted his wife,

BRANDY LUDERER, LOST HUSBAND TO COVID-19: He said, you know, I'm struggling like this is this is too hard. He finally settled in after taking his bath, humidifier was on and it was ready, like, try the night you know, go to sleep, you know. So I came back out to the couch and I could hear through the door that he was still breathing and I fell asleep and then, you know, when I woke up that morning, he wasn't with us anymore.

TAPPER: Hadwick Thompson was the uncle of lead producer Blake Jones. Hadwick served in the U.S. Marines during the Vietnam War, and was awarded a Purple Heart. For the next 16 years he was an Oakland police officer. In his free time, he loved windsurfing and sailing on the San Francisco Bay and riding his motorcycle.

Barbara Birchneough was a nurse for 46 years who was just days away from retirement when she was admitted to the same hospital, where she cared for patients.

82-year-old Sarah Washington loved singing and playing music serving as a high school choir director for 25 years. This little light of mine was one of her favorite songs.

For Joan Bartlett, the smell of her 84 year old father's aftershave still brings her comfort. Her dad John Richardson was a math teacher and special ed coordinator for more than 20 years.

JOAN BARTLETT, LOST FATHER TO COVID-19: I want the world to remember my dad, just the contribution that he made raising a beautiful family and having a strong work ethic and a good human being and a person I care for others.

TAPPER: Robert Bobby Grimaldi passed away this past February from complications due to COVID. His daughter Angelica, the senior editorial producer for our show, says he made friends everywhere he went.

Florida siblings Byron and Mychaela Hicks traveled to Orlando right before they got COVID in June 2020 and passed away just days apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Byron was a gamer. He loves his game. He loves his family. Kayla (ph) was the light of the family. Her smell can light up a room.

TAPPER: Miguel Moran was an immigrant from El Salvador, he washed trucks for a living. His 23-year-old son Daniel prayed at his hospital bedside wearing protective gear and a face mask. A final farewell to his father dying of COVID. 16 days later, Daniel had a fever and trouble breathing. He climbed into an ambulance passed out and then he died too. He was buried in the same grave and as his father.

42-year-old Joe Lewinger was a basketball coach, Assistant Principal father of three and a husband who left love letters in his wife's lunchbox every day.

MAURA LEWINGER: My husband gave 110 percent to everything he did.

TAPPER: When he was hospitalized the doctor called his wife to tell her Joe did not have much time. She asked to FaceTime him.

LEWINGER: Thanks for being the most amazing husband, making me feel cherished and loved every single day. I thanked him. And then I prayed. And then the doctor took the phone and he said, I'm sorry, but there's no more pulse. And then I played our wedding song for him. And then and then that was it.

TAPPER: One million Americans gone, so much loss.


TAPPER: I'm so sorry. May their memories be a blessing. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."