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Explosion Levels Virginia Home; Trump Loses Bid to Expedite Appeal; FBI Director to Testify on The Hill; Fetterman Trolls Menendez; New Lawsuit in Gabby Petito Case. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 05, 2023 - 09:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, a huge explosion levelled a home in Arlington, Virginia, where police were serving a search warrant. Virginia police say they were investigating a man who fired a flare gun dozens of times from the home. A short time after they arrived at the house, authorities said they heard shots fired from inside, and then things took a turn.



CNN's Gabe Cohen is in Arlington, Virginia.

Gabe, what's the latest from there?

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, John, I spoke with Arlington police just a little while ago. They still are not confirming whether or not this man who was inside that home, believed to be inside the home when it exploded, survived. But, of course, you can tell from the video just how extreme that blast was.

If you look behind me, that's what's left of the house right there across this park. You can see the debris still smoldering this morning. There is debris up in the trees. A burnt-out car it looks like right outside of the house.

Miraculously, there were several police officers and police vehicles right outside the home when this blast happened just after 8:00 p.m. local time last night. None of them seriously hurt.

And it was a massive explosion as you can tell from that video. The home wasn't just leveled. Windows across the neighborhood were blown out. The entire neighborhood was shaking. People five miles down the road in D.C. could feel and hear the blast and see that smoke rising from the area.

As I mentioned, that dramatic scene had started hours earlier, four hours earlier, when police came to the area. They say they were dealing with the man who lives inside that home who was barricaded in the house, firing flares into the neighborhood, a flare gun, shooting 30, 40 flares across the neighborhood. [09:35:13]

Eventually, police got a search warrant. They said they tried to enter the home. That's when witnesses in the neighborhood said they could hear the man opening fire with a gun into -- toward police. Police retreating. And shortly after that is when the home exploded, John.

Now at the scene here we have seen a lot of law enforcement vehicles. The FBI is here, ATF, working with local law enforcement. We are hoping to get an update later this morning as to what pieces they can put together of who this man was inside the house, why all of this unfolded, and hopefully we can get an update on whether or not he did survive the blast, John. But it's obviously grim looking at that video.

BERMAN: Yes, it seems unlikely, Gabe, but please keep us posted. I've got to say, debris being found in the trees, Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's -- I mean can a flare gun blow up like that?

BERMAN: I mean, I don't know that it's enough to cause the house -- it could have ignited maybe the gas -- a gas leak in the house.

BOLDUAN: I mean that is so crazy.

BERMAN: Maybe he had other combustible things.

BOLDUAN: That is so crazy.


BOLDUAN: All right, much more to learn about that one. Goodness.

Coming up next hour, Donald Trump's legal team is back in court. A key witness being called back to the stand. This week, Donald Trump's son, Eric, he's set to testify again tomorrow. Donald Trump himself also preparing to take the stand once again, this time in his own defense.

CNN's Kara Scannell outside the courthouse in New York for us.

Kara, what's going to happen today? And what is it all building up to as this - as this case is coming to a close?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, we are in week ten of this trial, and it is beginning to wind down. You know, Donald Trump's team has been putting on their defense, calling a number of witnesses to counter these claims by the New York Attorney General's Office that they inflated the value of the properties to get better rates on loans and insurance.

So, we have been hearing over the past few weeks various witnesses to support Trump's defense that they -- there are many different ways to value assets and that they didn't violate accounting rules. So, on that theme this week we are expected to hear today from some more real estate experts, people who have an expertise in valuation. One of the experts expected to take the stand today is a person who has said that Mar-a-Lago could be valued anywhere from $1 billion to $1.5 billion. So, the judge has already found that Trump had inflated the value of Mar-a-Lago on his financial statements. But this person is going to testify based on the various factors and potential buyers saying that it could be anyone from a head of state or royalty who could pay that much for Mar-a-Lago.

So, this is all part of Trump's defense that they didn't inflate the value of these assets, that there are different ways to value properties. So, this will be a day where we'll hear from several witnesses, including the valuation experts. Then Eric Trump will be on the stand. We think Donald Trump will come to court on Thursday, and he will be the final witness in his case on Monday when he takes the stand to testify again in his defense.


BOLDUAN: All right, good to see you, Kara. Thank you.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Expelled Congressman George Santos' latest role -- cameo troll. Why a Democratic senator bought his services on Cameo. That's ahead.



SIDNER: Next hour, FBI Director Christopher Wray is expected on Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Topping the agenda, oversight of the FBI.

CNN's Evan Perez is following this story for us from Washington.

Evan, these days, when the FBI testifies, there are usually fireworks. I think back in July we saw Republicans calling for defunding of the FBI. What are we expecting to hear this time?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Sara, this is before the Senate Judiciary Committee, so we're probably going to see a little less of that, but there's still some members there who have some very tough questions for the FBI director. A lot of it, of course, related to the fact that the FBI investigated former President Donald Trump, and a lot of them don't like what the FBI has done. But a lot of what the FBI Director Wray is going to focus on today is trying to urge members of the - of Congress, members of the Senate, to renew this authority called 702. It's a law that allows the collection of -- for surveillance, international surveillance, by the FBI, collection of data from people around the world, including sometimes pieces -- data that belongs to Americans. And so that's part of the controversy that's been hanging over this law that is due to expire and that Wray says needs to be renewed or else it's going to cause some problems.

I'll read you just a part of his prepared testimony where he says that, "given the whole host of threats that have grown more brazen from Iran trying to assassinate former officials in the U.S. government and the People's Republic of China, which poses a generational threat to our economic and national security, stripping the FBI of 702 authorities would be a form of unilateral disarmament. That is his very, very strong urge, really, trying to implore members of Congress to renew this authority that is due to expire just in the next few weeks.

Of course, because this is an oversight hearing, you can expect the Republicans are going to ask questions about a lot of things, including, of course, the Hunter Biden investigation and the ongoing investigations of the former president, the prosecutions of the former president, and whether the FBI overstepped some of its authority.


So, there's a lot of fireworks we expect to ensue in the next hour when the FBI takes a seat before this Senate hearing.


SIDNER: Evan Perez, thank you so much for your reporting.


BERMAN: All right, this morning, serious political shade. Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman trolling his indicted colleague, Bob Menendez, with the unwitting help of recently expelled from Congress, George Santos. Fetterman bought a cameo video of Santos offering support for someone named Bobby from New Jersey.


GEORGE SANTOS, FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Hey, Bobby. Look, I don't think I need to tell you but these people that want to make you get in trouble and want to kick you out and make you run away, you make them put up or shut up.


BERMAN: So, Santos has been charging $200 for cameos. And if you're wondering who else charges that much? Well, Ted Lange, better known as Isaac the bartender from "The Love Boat," $200. Ian Ziering, or is Ian, from "Beverly Hills 90210," $200. Then something named Valentine's Turkey. Not sure exactly what that is, but it definitely sounds naughty. Now, $200 is less than the going rate for some disgraced former politicians. Rudy Giuliani was charging $375. Then, for that much money, though, you got something like this.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I'm a little teapot, short and stout. This is my handle. Here's my spout. When I get all steamed up, hear me shout. Tip me over and pour me out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: So, with us now is CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon.

And, John, I guess my first question is, is it Ian or Ian Ziering?


BERMAN: I think it's Ian. I think it is Ian.

AVLON: That's just a weird choice.

BERMAN: For 300 you get to choose, though, I think, either way.

What's going on here?

AVLON: What you're seeing is troll-tastic politics. You know, the politics of shade elevating. And you're seeing Senator Fetterman actually trying to make a serious point beneath the troll, which is that, look, he's been calling for Senator Menendez to resign pretty steadily. And I think as we saw with Santos, a lot of politics depends on people standing up to the extremes of their own side. He's doing it through cameo. He's mocking Santos. He's mocking, you know, Menendez. And he knows it will get a lot of pickup in pop culture which indeed it has.

Serious point beneath the trolling, and that - that's the point I think we're focusing on.

BERMAN: I have a colleagued whose name rhymes with shmara shmidner (ph) who wonders if anyone should be giving George Santos money for this, if he should be rewarded for what he did in Congress.

AVLON: Look, I don't know that he should be rewarded with attention, but there's no law that makes grifters not to be able to grift or to accept the mocking that comes with, I guess, a cameo. I mean you played Rudy's clip earlier. That's just tragic. But, hey, there's $300 in it I guess.

BERMAN: So, for John Fetterman, he's got a serious point. He has been suggesting, or urging Bob Menendez to resign or get thrown out of the U.S. Senate.


BERMAN: How much of this is a distraction from what Congress or members of Congress can and should be doing?

AVLON: That, I think, is such an important point. We spend a lot of time covering the car crashes of the American politics. The absurdities. The extremes. We don't spend as much time focusing on the folks who are trying to find solutions to problems. And that work is still going on, even if it doesn't get as much attention.

Right now we heard earlier, our reporting, there's a desperate attempt to try to create funding for Ukraine and Israel. These are two countries facing existential threats. And yet this funding is being derailed in a larger negotiation involving the border wall and possibly Taiwan. The Biden administration trying to link them all to create bipartisan win-wins.

You've got senators like Langford and Murphy really trying to lead this effort, Tillis and Sinema, to come up with some kind of compromise. You have other senators, like John Corbin, saying this is a negotiation. Give Republicans what they want at the border.

The point is, this is all happening in real time. The consequences are real. They are real in terms of war and peace in Ukraine and the Middle East, and they're real in terms of our border and the need to strengthen those defenses as well. Putting a focus on the people working towards the solutions, that's the other piece of democracy. That's the most important piece. And that should get at least as much attention as people who troll.

BERMAN: And Ted Lange, Isaac, the bartender from "The Love Boat."

AVLON: Isaac the bartender. I - that was a (INAUDIBLE).

BERMAN: He was by far my favorite character.

AVLON: I appreciate it.

BERMAN: He was by far my favorite character.

AVLON: I mean, of course. Obviously. Obviously.

BERMAN: All right, John Avlon, thank you very much.


SIDNER: All right, coming up, Gabby is, quote, "gone." That's what Gabby Petito's parents say Brian confessed days before she was even declared missing. What we're learning from a new court filing from the Petito family ahead.



SIDNER: This is new this morning. A lawsuit filed by Gabby Petito's parents alleges that Brian Laundrie called his parents to tell them Gabby was, quote, "gone." They claim that call was made three weeks before Gabby's remains were found. Joseph Petito and Nicole Schmidt are suing Laundrie's parents and their attorney claiming they purposely withheld information about their daughter's death.

CNN's Jean Casarez joins me now.

We were just talking about this. This lawsuit has been in play for quite some time, but this is brand-new, correct?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. This is the third amended complaint. This is information and detail alleged we have never known before.

Now, one thing that is fact, we do know that Gabby Petito was the victim of homicide. And we know that it was committed by Brian Laundrie. He said so in his own hand in the journal that was found after he committed suicide.

But let's look at the timeline of what they're now saying actually occurred in all this. This is according to the civil complaint by the Petitos.

First of all, August 27th, that is the date that it is believed that Gabby was that victim of homicide. Two days later, August 29th, it is alleged in this complaint that Brian Laundrie called his parents and said, Gabby is gone, I need a lawyer.


It goes on to say that on that date the parents contacted Steve Bertolino, who was their lawyer, who is now, by the way, a co- defendant in this case. And then, on September 1st, Laundrie, Brian, arrived back in Florida. Then, according to this new complaint, September 2nd, important date, Steve Bertolino, the attorney, got a retainer, money, from the Laundries. He contacted a law firm in Laramie, Wyoming, but additionally contacted even before that the public defender -- they only take on criminal cases -- in the county where her remain were found. And just as, Sara, you said, September 19th is when her remains were found. And they were found by campers, by people that were there.

And this case is brought civilly, intentional infliction of emotional distress, saying, we were panicked. We were searching for our daughter. You said to us, we hope she's found through a letter by your attorney but you wouldn't return our calls, you wouldn't return our texts, you blocked us on Facebook. This is outrageous behavior under the law in Florida. And they're asking for civil damages because of all that. But this is very interesting.

SIDNER: That is - wow.

CASAREZ: We've reached out to the attorney, Steve Bertolina, and the Laundries themselves. No response yet.

But, Sara, there's an investigation that has been going on, there has to be, of a civil nature. They have their own attorney.

SIDNER: Right.

CASAREZ: Because this is information that you have to have a sworn belief when you file a complaint.

SIDNER: Correct.

CASAREZ: You can't just throw anything out you want to, right?


CASAREZ: So, this should be taken seriously right here. Now we'll have to wait for a response. SIDNER: Yes, especially there are ways to prove some of this. They

will have to do that. But, wow, what a revelation if all of it turns out to be true. And this lawsuit will continue and I know you'll be continuing to follow it, Jean.

CASAREZ: Absolutely.

SIDNER: Thank you so much.


BERMAN: The next Republican debate stage is set, so who is the candidate who made the debate that some republicans are now pleading with to get out.