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Don Lemon Tonight

U.S. Killed Al Qaeda Leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri; Precise Planning Confirmed By U.S. Officials; Nothing Stops Speaker Pelosi; D.C. Police Officer Recalls Former POTUS' Mood; Flooding Killed 37 In Kentucky; Wildfires Burned 55,000 Acres Of Land. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired August 01, 2022 - 22:00   ET




LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: That's it for us tonight. DON LEMON TONIGHT starts right now with, of course, Don Lemon. Hey, Don Lemon!

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Hey, Laura, thank you so much. I'm going to get to the breaking news immediately. I'll see you tomorrow night.


And just in, new details on our huge news the United States killing one of the world's most wanted terrorist, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al- Zawahiri, with a $25 dollar reward on his head. Osama bin Laden's right-hand man.

Now President Joe Biden addressing the nation from the blue room balcony at the White House where he is in isolation with a rebound COVID case declaring that justice has been delivered and warning that the United States will defend the American people.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and take you out.


LEMON: We're also learning more tonight about how it all went down. Ayman al-Zawahiri killed in what is being called a precise tailored air strike using two hell fire missiles fired at the balcony of a safe house in Kabul 9.48 p.m. Eastern Time, happened on Saturday. The president saying, he gave final approval for a mission a week ago after months of highly secret planning.

One official is telling CNN that members of the Zawahiri family who were in other areas of the house were not harmed. Zawahiri helped to mastermind the deadliest attack on American soil alongside Osama bin Laden when planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field at Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing 2,977 people. Remember this picture? This is the situation room. Check it out.

Eleven years ago. There it is. As the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was unfolding, Vice President Joe Biden was there in the front row seat.

And it took 11 years, but now, President Joe Biden says justice has been delivered. So straight now to our experts and our correspondent at the White House, Jeremy Diamond, CNN international security editor, Nick Paton Walsh, and CNN military analyst retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Good to have you all here, gentlemen. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jeremy, I want to get to you at the White House immediately, incredibly significant day for the United States and the war on terror. Here's more from the president tonight and then we'll talk.


BIDEN: Our intelligence community located Zawahiri earlier this year, he had moved to downtown Kabul to reunite with members of his immediate family.

After carefully, considering a clear and convincing evidence of his location, I authorized the precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield, once and for all.

This mission was carefully planned, rigorously minimized the risk of harm to other civilians. And one week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him. And the mission was a success. None of his family members were hurt and there were no civilian casualties.


LEMON: So, Jeremy, you're getting additional details about the timeline in precision involved in killing al-Zawahiri. What are you, what are you learning?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Don, we got some significant details from a senior administration official earlier this evening about the timeline of how this mission was planned and some of the details about the execution of this mission.

This is a painstaking process of intelligence gathering and confirming that intelligence that took place over months. U.S. intelligence officials we're told, learned earlier this year that al-Zawahiri's family had moved into a safe house in Kabul. They later then learned that al-Zawahiri himself had moved into that safe house.

And over the course of several months U.S. officials were able to solidify that information. White House officials, top national security officials here at the White House were briefed in April. The president was briefed very shortly thereafter. And then over the course of May, June and July, there were several meetings involving the president as they worked to towards this operation that we are told ultimately took place this weekend.

Now, one of the key factors in this we're told that President Biden was asking about was how they could minimize the possibility of civilian casualties when conducting this strike. And this senior administration official says that al-Zawahiri was killed while he was standing on the balcony of this safe house with two hellfire missiles.


But over the course of the last several months, including during a July 1st meeting inside the situation room intelligence officials brought in a small scale model of this safe house that they brought to the president to describe to him how exactly they could conduct this strike with a drone and ensure that the building would remain structurally -- that the structural integrity of the building would remain that the people inside the building, the civilians, including al-Zawahiri's family would not be killed.

And ultimately, that's exactly what U.S. officials say happened here with this two-hellfire missile striking al-Zawahiri while he was on this balcony. And U.S. officials say that there were no civilian casualties in the process.

LEMON: Colonel Leighton, I want to bring you in, because during the coverage in the beginning of the war in Ukraine we learned so much about the, you know, the military capabilities of the United States military and the weapons there that they were offering to the Ukrainian.

So, no civilian members of this family were killed in this one. Talk to us about how complex an operation like this would be, especially without having boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Don, that makes it really incredibly hard to do because when you have boots on the ground, you've got people who can tell you certain things, everything from the wind direction on a given day and what the weather patterns are like, you know, from that perspective as well as, what the pattern of life of an individual is they could be following that individual and finding out what their routines are.

If you don't have people on the ground, it -- you can do those kinds of things, but it's a lot harder to do them because you need to rely on technology. You need to rely on satellites, you need to rely on, you know, perhaps instruments that are left behind by, you know, by others, and those kinds of things.

So, it's a very difficult thing that relies on the architecture of the intelligence system and the communications architecture that goes along with it. So, it's tough to do, but obviously it's not impossible.

LEMON: Can you talk to us more about these hellfire missiles? I mean, to strike a balcony without destroying the rest of the building, how does that work? LEIGHTON: Yes, that's -- that requires precise targeting

intelligence, Don. And what did, they did with these hellfire was they gave them the coordinates. They gave them the exact location where they needed to be. They decided exactly what the impact points would be. That means, you know, where they're going to be hitting that particular structure.

And, you know, as Jeremy mentioned they talk about -- they talk very in great detail about how they would hit the building so is not to make the building collapse on top of itself. That was critical if you want to avoid civilian casualties. And the fact that we went through that painstaking exercise to do this kind of operation really speaks volumes as to how the United States conducts these kinds of things.

Luckily it worked this time, sometimes it doesn't work. But the effort is made very much to use precision intelligence to find exactly where things are, exactly where the vulnerable points are and exactly the place where you need to target.

LEMON: Nick, it's good to have you here in New York, it's been a while. I think since Syria that we've actually been on, on the set together. Listen, you spent so much time in Afghanistan covering it. I've been with you on the anchor desk, because you're actually in the field covering this, covering this region. What does it say to you that al-Zawahiri was in downtown Kabul and not some remote area?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. I mean, look, this is startling, but also not that surprising too. We should be very much in the mind that the Taliban haven't suddenly turned into some fluffy institution, which now happens to be in government.

This is the Taliban who sheltered Al Qaeda as they planned 9/11, putting those same individuals back in a very comfortable area of Kabul. You say, this is not some remote. He's not hiding in a cave and a valley in Tora Bora. This is the nice part of Kabul where the fancy villas were.

I was talking to a former Afghani official. He says he thinks this house was a matter of doors down from where he used to live. So yes, this is certainly as one counterterrorist man I was talking to was saying, it's impossible for this to have occurred without at least a small number of Taliban knowing that he was there, inviting him, putting him there. Unclear how long he was there. It sounds like a number of months.

It's also startling, frankly, that the United States was able to pull this off. We shouldn't underestimate these things. We're sort of so used to the ebb and flow of counter terror and operations.

LEMON: Why do you say it's astonishing?

WALSH: Well, because they found this man one of the most wanted men on earth in a country where they don't have any boots on the ground anymore.

LEMON: Right.

WALSH: But they had to leave a year ago in something of a mess. Yet still they're able to take him out on a balcony without it seems knocking down the rest of the house. And you know, so however much I think we need to worry about what it meant for the U.S. to no longer be in Afghanistan and where they would lose that ability to gain intelligence in the way that they needed to. This is an extraordinary feat.

LEMON: I think his last public appearance was on July 13th.


LEMON: Do you think that he got overly confident? Do you think he let his guard down?

WALSH: Well, that's what seems to obviously have been the case here. One analyst I was talking to saying there was a sort of sign in some of these messages that he was more relaxed. He was talking about more recent events, perhaps not feeling he had to delay things to hide his whereabouts.


So this is possibly part of the reason why he was caught the complacency. Possibly too on the side of those who were looking after him, maybe if, well, hang on, we're the government here now. We can do whatever we like. We can invite guests around as we wish. Maybe they felt perhaps Al-Qaeda were no longer a target, but certainly they clearly are. U.S. never forgot 9/11, and clearly is still pursuing justice.

But it's a very important moment for Afghanistan here too, because remember the Taliban said, we don't have foreign fighters in this country. We will not allow Al Qaeda to be here. Well, you can't get much more senior Al Qaeda than this. It hasn't stopped the U.S. going after them, but it will certainly, I think meek -- make people who are trying to fill the Taliban might be someone we could do business with have another thought.

LEMON: Hey, Jeremy, let's pick up on something that Nick just talked about not having boots on the ground. It is, you know, this month marks one year since a chaotic and deadly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. What does this politically, right? What does this victory mean for the Biden administration?

DIAMOND: Well, listen, I think a as to the capabilities of, you know, their ability to conduct this strike without boots on the ground, this is a validation of something that Biden administration officials and the president himself talked about during that withdrawal from Afghanistan last year.

You'll recall that at the time as president Biden was announcing that withdrawal, he vowed that the United States will -- would still maintain, quote, "over the horizon capabilities." And what are over the horizon capabilities. It's exactly what we saw this past weekend with the ability to carry out this drone strike.

The president and administration officials had said that even without boots on the ground, they would make sure that they would have the capability to go after terrorist and terrorist organizations that could pose a harm to the United States. That's what he was able to accomplish here.

Now, I think there's this other question that Nick was raising, which was the knowledge that Taliban government officials had about this. The senior administration official we spoke to this evening actually confirms that senior Taliban officials in particular, officials associated with the Haqqani network that they were aware of his presence in Kabul in the capital city.

And that spells a whole, a whole load of questions. Not only did this official say that that's a violation of the Doha agreement that ultimately led to the U.S. withdrawal of. Meaning the Taliban said that they would not allow terrorist groups to have a safe Haven in Afghanistan. But it now raises questions about the future potentially of U.S.-Taliban relations, something that has potentially been on the horizon in the -- in the long term. Now all of that very much even more in question with all of these revelations.

LEMON: Colonel Leighton, I see you're shaking your head. You want to get in on that? What do you --

LEIGHTON: Yes, sure. I --


LEMON: -- what he's talking about.

LEIGHTON: I think what Jeremy said is exactly right. And the other thing to talk about here when it comes to over the horizon capabilities, Don, is the fact that the intelligence picture has to be well nearly perfect in order to pull an operation like this off.

So, the horizon capabilities are the operational capabilities that we see with these drone strikes, but also the intelligence that goes into making these drone strikes possible. And the very fact that we did this shows that there's this really robust intelligence architecture that is watching over Afghanistan at this point in time.

LEMON: And it we've been talking about this, you know, war on terror, right? What does this mean for the U.S. priorities when it comes to counter-terrorism and actually, what does this mean for the world to have someone like al-Zawahiri now gone?

WALSH: Yes. I mean this obviously a man who clearly it seemed to have his hands in the operations of Al-Qaeda. They've had a lower profile because obviously the attention focused on ISIS.

I think one important point to make is the last major instant we had like, this was a death of Baghdadi, the ISIS leader in Syria. That's something that U.S. special forces pulled off as they were withdrawing from northern Syria because of that instant with Turkey moving in there, that was a remarkable feat.

This still occurs us intelligence leading this when a year after the U.S. has pulled out of Afghanistan. So clearly, their reach is pretty remarkable. And there's now a question I think, to, as to what for Al Qaeda who takes his place. There's a man called Saif Al-Adel who the U.N. has said is in Iran, neighboring Iran.

The question of course for Iran is except that's the case, does he stay there? They're effectively harboring the new leader of Al-Qaeda. These are urgent questions, certainly for the region and certainly too, what can Taliban do to try and reclaim the idea that it is not going create another haven for Al-Qaeda.

I think frankly, that was a slight fiction. Most people who heard it thought it was convenient to justify the U.S. departure from Afghanistan. They couldn't publicly say we're just got to let it go back to what it was pre-9/11. But they've got a very difficult moment here. Many of the reports we did about Al Qaeda still be in Afghanistan before the U.S. departure.

We had a lot of push back from U.S. officials saying, nah, that isn't really so much the case. Now we have something quite as public and blatant as al-Zawahiri living in plain sight, as you said earlier on in one of the nicest parts in a safehouse, almost certainly with Taliban acquiescence. That is utterly startling for Afghanistan.

Certainly, it won't change life on the ground. There have people struggling to find food, dealing with the collapse of basic services, but it's a remarkable moment I think for the Biden administration, they had to deal with frankly the abject humiliation of what happened in August of last year. And still, this is quite starting.


LEMON: Listen, we're so grateful that you're here. Usually you're on the ground, as I said before in Afghanistan. And we just happen to have you here in New York. So, thank you for joining us.

Thank you, Jeremy. Thank you, Colonel, as well. I really appreciate it. We'll continue on with our coverage now. We've got a lot more to come on the United States drone strike that killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri near 21 -- nearly 21 years after 9/11. Does this make Americans safer? That's a question.


LEMON: One of the world's most wanted terrorists taken out by two American hellfire missiles hitting the balcony of a home right in the middle of Kabul.

Joining me now, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. Secretary. Thank you. I -- I appreciate you joining us. I should say Ambassador Cohen as well.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good evening, Don. LEMON: Listen, it has been nearly 21 years since 9/11, an attack that changed the United States and the world, really. Tell me how significant a moment this is.

COHEN: This is a really historic moment. And you pointed out that nearly a new generation has grown up since the 9/11 attacks. Many of those who are serving in our military today and in the intelligence service weren't even born then.


And so, you've got young people coming up who'd have no sense of history of what took place, who Al-Qaeda was, why are we after them? Why were they after us? And we had to remind people what happened during 9/11, show the attack upon the tower, show the attack upon the Pentagon. Think about flight 93, the USS Cole.

And I remember the father of one of those sailors who perished who stood up at the ceremony honoring those sailors, he said, remember the Cole, remember the Cole. And this is part of remembering what took place and why we're still suffering from it.


COHEN: People who are serving today still remember that, that event and those events that followed. So, it's a very important day for America and for the freedom of people throughout the world who are under the threat of terror.

LEMON: Well, secretary, you bring very good point. I mean, obviously the most significant was 9/11 and you also mentioned the Cole -- Cole. There was a U.S. embassy in Kenya and Tanzania, right that he was in indicted for. There was 1981 Anwar Sadat.

I mean, there have been a number of things that he has been responsible for and also, should be faced -- should have faced the consequences for and now has faced paid the ultimate price.

My question is, you can respond to that, but are you surprised to hear that al-Zawahiri was in downtown Kabul?

COHEN: Somewhat surprised. Not at all, not really astonished by it. Taliban is not someone, a group that you can put any faith and trust in notwithstanding their agreements. But I want to go back to him personally, Zawahiri, that he carried out mass attacks, killing civilians, hundreds and thousands actually here in the United States.

And what is so striking is the kind of precision and patience and consideration that President Biden and our entire intelligent community exercised. This is what separates us from the terrorists who are attacking civilians. It's what separates us from, let's say the Russians who level entire residential buildings, killing hundreds, if not thousands, without any concern about innocent civilians.

And I can only tell you from my experience when I was at the Pentagon, I would have regular meetings, almost daily meetings with President Clinton going over the targets picked out for that day in, excuse me, one second picked out for that day, that we would go over the targets, we would go over the type of munitions that were being used, what the damage was, what the collateral damage was because we wanted to minimize the killing of innocence civilians. And that's who we are.

So, we know who Al-Qaeda is, Zawahiri and we want the people in this country to know who we are, and that's something that we can take a great deal of pride. And President Biden deserves a lot of credit for the kind of leadership, quiet leadership that he's been exercising.

LEMON: Why don't we listen to some of what the president said tonight? Here it is.


BIDEN: When I ended our military mission in Afghanistan almost a year ago, I made the decision that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of boots on the ground in Afghanistan to protect America from terrorists who seek to do us harm.

And I made a promise to the American people that we continue to conduct effective counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and beyond. We've done just that.


LEMON: So, secretary Cohen, there was a lot of concern after the U.S. pull troops out of Afghanistan. And what leaving would mean for our co counter-terrorism abilities. Does this answer those questions or is there more that the U.S. could be doing if there were troops physically there on the ground?

COHEN: I think it's always better to have troops on the ground to the extent that you can have them in smaller numbers if at all possible but having on the ground presence and intelligent gathering. I'd have to suspect that there was someone who was cooperating with our intelligence gathering capability to give precise indications of what the building was constructed of, where the rooms were, what kind of damage would a hellfire make or cause if it's appointed at one, just the balcony.

I mean, you could ask the question, what happens if he wasn't out of the balcony, would we have hit the target anyway regardless of whether he would've killed his children or his family. So those are the kind of question.

But to get back to a question you asked at the closing of your previous segment, you said, are we safe?

LEMON: Safer? Yes.

COHEN: The answer is we're safer but we're not safe. We're never going to be safe from acts of terrorism. It's always going to be with humanity and it's not in Afghanistan. It'll be in some other country. And that's just the nature of what we face, historically have faced.


And so, we have to be, as we say, ever vigilant, and we have an intelligence capability second to none that can pick out a license plate from deep space that can take a person or a target out from a drone hovering some pretty high in the sky.

So, we have that technology. Would it be better if we have on the ground capability? Obviously, but I think, President Biden has kept his promise. He said, we will go after the terrors wherever they are whenever we can and give due consideration to protecting innocent civilians. So, promise made, yes.

LEMON: In the spirit of educating people who may not remember things, as you said, you were rightfully so. We all remember this at least those of us who, you know, of a certain age, we remember the then president, this photo of the then President Barack Obama, and the vice president then, Joe Biden and other officials inside the situation room, including the then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and others, when Bin Laden was killed.

What does this strike mean for President Biden and his presidency?

COHEN: Well, it shows what we can do, what our capability is, what our commitment is, in terms of telling the American people in the world that we will not allow terrorism to go unchecked. I remember the speech that I gave when we received the bodies of those who were killed in the embassies, our American embassies in east Africa.

And I remember the speech I gave. I said, we are going to reach out wherever you are, the long arm of justice is going to reach out and touch you in ways that you can't quite imagine today. And it took a long time for that to be a reality, but that's the commitment every president has made and will continue to make.

So, Joe Biden, he gets a lot of credit for the patience, for carrying out and keeping that promise. And so, now we go forward saying there are always going to be someone out there looking to attack us and to undermine our democracy and our credibility throughout the world. We have to have leaders who will appoint competent people.

And this comes back to something that we've been talking about where another former president wants to come in and clean out the whole so- called deep state. You're seeing the deep state in action the kind of military intelligence, intelligence gathering capability, the kind of advisors that are sitting in that White House giving the president counsel. That's the deep state.

That's the state that will protect us, not hiring a bunch of incompetence and simply because that they've been major contributors to your campaign and are yes man.

So, Joe Biden, the team he's put together is great. The team that was seen in that White House situation room when they went after Bin Laden, many of them are still with us, still within the White House or giving advice to the president. So that's the deep state in action.

LEMON: Yes. Grownups, adults wisdom. Thank you.

COHEN: Good to be with you, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. And speaking of, you as well, secretary, for a moment I called you ambassador, but secretary, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Senator Dick Durbin is here to talk about the killing of Ayman al-Zawahiri and what it means going forward.

Plus, what is going on with the Secret Service in those missing texts? We're going to talk about that too. That's next?



LEMON: We're back with more now on the huge news tonight, President Joe Biden announcing the U.S. killed Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone strike over the weekend.

And joining me now, Democratic Senator and chair of the Senate judiciary committee, Dick Durbin. Senator, thank you. I appreciate you joining us on this night with just incredible news.

This was an individual who helped to mastermind the 9/11 attacks, took over Al-Qaeda after the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden, Americans in the world safer tonight with him gone?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): I think so, the bottom line is that, this was the number two man with Osama bin Laden responsible for 9/11. And the fact is that at least three American presidents and maybe more have been in pursuit of this man ever since. He's alluded all of the efforts to capture, kill him until now.

This closes an important chapter. I hope it brings down a terrorist operation that could still threaten America.

LEMON: Yes, it was a year ago this month, in fact that President Joe Biden withdrew the U.S. from Afghanistan, there was chaos, a lot of criticism and he paid for it in the polls. Do you think this will reassure people that President Biden is keeping the fight against terror a top priority?

DURBIN: Well, I certainly believe it does because, he has achieved something which others have tried for years to achieve. I was not one of the critics in the withdrawal of Afghanistan. I felt that after the longest war in the history of the United States, we had to be very honest about the prospects of finally resolving it in any way comfortable to the United States.

I think the president did the right thing. He might have done it a little differently. We can always second guessing, but at this point, thinking al-Zawahiri out is -- Zawahiri, I'm sorry I mispronounce his name, is an indication that the pursuit of the terrorists have not stopped.

LEMON: I want to talk about another big international story, if you will. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to take a trip to Taiwan. White House officials are warning if China escalates tensions over this, it will be entirely on Beijing. Do you believe this trip is worth it?

DURBIN: Well, I can just tell you that trips to Taiwan are almost routine by members of Congress. I've been invited a half a dozen times. I haven't taken up the

invitation, but over the years it was just considered a routine visit.


Now the Chinese have decided they're going to dictate the schedules and visits of members of Congress into Asia. Where do they get off doing that? She is, has a right to make this decision. I think she'll make the right decision as to what to do, but to think that China is going to clear the schedules of those who wish to visit Taiwan, you ought to see what they're doing to a tiny country like Lithuania that had the nerve to say they were going to do business with Taiwan.

Chinese are trying to freeze them out on the world stage. They're bullies. And they're trying to push Nancy Pelosi around and I don't think that's going to happen.

LEMON: Listen, we have so much, usually they call these a summer doldrums. Right. But we have so much news to get to another subject. I want to talk to you about those missing Secret Service texts.

Top House Democrats are calling on the Homeland security inspector general to recuse himself from this investigation. I mean, this comes after CNN's report that showed investigators knew more than a year of than a year that a text had been erased. Does he need to recuse himself, do you think?

DURBIN: I think it's time for the, attorney general to appoint a U.S. attorney to take over this investigation. This is about the destruction of critical evidence, whether it's material to the January 6th episode or not. The fact that that this man Joseph Cuffari, inspector general, could not get the information that should have been transferred from one administration to the other, and didn't report it properly to Congress or to the agency that he's working at.

We may have jeopardized some very critical evidence when it comes to the historic record on January 6th and he treated it as almost a routine event rather than something that should have been highlighted.

LEMON: I want to ask you about the attorney general Merrick Garland or anyone at the DOJ. Have they responded to your request to investigate the missing text?

DURBIN: Not yet. That doesn't mean they aren't on the case. It just means that they don't respond to every congressional inquiry. I have a good relationship with the attorney general and I respect him. He has a lot on his plate at this point. The January 6th committee has given him a lot to work with considering the possibility of future prosecutions. But to think that critical evidence from the Secret Service of the Department of Homeland Security relative to this insurrectionist mob on January 6th somehow magically disappears when the Trump group leaves the offices.

I mean, that raises a lot of suspicions. I'm not assuming that this is relevant or important evidence until I know that for sure. But at the very minimum, we should have that evidence and take a close look at it.

LEMON: Let me just clarify here though. You say you're not assuming anything, but do you think the I.G. was acting in bad faith by not telling the House select committee sooner?

DURBIN: As a choice bad faith or incompetence, you know, the bottom line is when this kind of critical information is not transferred from one administration to another, that isn't routine. And he treated it as such.

LEMON: Yes. Another aspect of this January 6th story is this a rioter who carried a gun to the Capitol and threatened the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi getting sentenced to more than seven years in prison. I mean, that's two years longer than any other prison term for a capital rioter. Do you think the sentence is fair?

DURBIN: I can tell you when you bring a firearm into the capitol with that kind of intention, or even near the capital with that kind of intention there's a price to be paid.

We've got to send the message out whether the administration is one party or the other here relevant. Violence is unacceptable. And this man was prepared to use that weapon, I suppose or he never would've brought it to Washington,

LEMON: Senator Dick Durbin. Thank you so much. And I appreciate you joining us.

DURBIN: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: Thanks. Next, an officer who was in the presidential motorcade on January 6th tells me what he knows about Trump's heated discussion with his security detail. This is his first in an interview since testifying to the committee after the break.



LEMON: More and more testimony corroborating then President Trump wanted to go to the Capitol after his rally on January 6th, including testimony from retired D.C. Metropolitan Police Sergeant Mark Robinson who was in Trump's motorcade that day.

Robinson testified that the Secret Service agent responsible for the motorcade said that Trump had a heated discussion with his detail about going to the capitol.

And there he is. Sergeant Mark Robinson. He's here with me now.

This is his first time speaking out on CNN, but first, I just have a reminder for you. This is his key testimony to the January 6th committee. Watch this.


UNKNOWN: Was there any description of what -- of what was occurring in the car?

MARK ROBINSON, RETIRED POLICE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: No. Only event on the only description I received was that the president was upset and that was adamant about going to the capitol. And there was a heated discussion about that. So, at the end of the speech, we do know that while inside the Limo, the president was still adamant about going to the capitol that's being relayed to me by the TS agent.

And so, we did part the ellipse and we responded back to the White House. However, we, the motorcade, the POTUS motorcade was placed on standby.


LEMON: Sergeant. Good evening. Thanks for joining.

ROBINSON: Good evening, Don. Thank you.

LEMON: Tell us more about how you learned that then president was adamant about -- adamant about going to the capitol.

ROBINSON: Well, I mean, the communication comes directly from the Secret Service agent and to the lead officer in the car. So, you're constantly, you know, concerned about the movement, you know of the president. So, you need to know and that communication's coming directly from the -- the agent.


LEMON: What did you, what did, what was conveyed to you? How insistent, just how insistent was he about going?

ROBINSON: Well, I mean, we've heard it several times while I was on the motorcade, I think during the speech shortly thereafter, he had finished the speech that the president was getting into the motorcade and he was upset and he, you know, adamantly wanted to go to the capitol.

And even when we departed from the ellipse, it was repeated again that the president, it was a heated argument in the Limo. And he wanted to definitely go to the Capitol. So, when we arrived at the White House, the motorcade was placed on standby.

LEMON: So how did that as we say, in the vernacular now, how did that hit with you guys on that day?

ROBINSON: I mean, for me, I really didn't know what was, you know, what, what was actually happening outside the ellipse. I could hear, you know, transmissions from the radio that, you know, large crowds were going up to the capitol, but I didn't know exactly what was happening.

So, for me, you know, to know that there are armed subjects outside, to know that there are large crowds responding that was alarming because one, we weren't prepared to do that. Normally when you move a presidential motorcade, you have a secure route. So, we didn't have sufficient personnel to do that. So, we weren't comfortable with, with that move.

LEMON: Yes. Were you saying, what on earth does he want to go back to the capitol? Is that what you guys were thinking?

ROBINSON: I mean, absolutely. I mean, now knowing what actually happened, that would've been horrible. You know, had, you know, the motorcade responded, you know, to the capitol. I think it would've been just far worse.

LEMON: This is pretty bad. Do you think that what far worse? How so, you mean lives? Possibly.

ROBINSON: Meaning that, I mean, I think it, it would've, you know, probably encouraged, more riding, you know, and they felt supported, you know, if the presidential motorcade came in support of them. So, I think the insurrection is probably would've felt as though they had the support of the president.

LEMON: What did you say? You said that you had been in over 100 motorcades with Trump before, but never heard anything like that ever?

ROBINSON: Well, it's not necessarily 100 motorcades with President Trump. So I've been in the -- in the motorcade since 2011.

LEMON: You just mean in several --

LEMON: Right.

ROBINSON: -- in general.

LEMON: Right?

ROBINSON: Over a hundred. So, I'm sorry, what was your question, Don?

LEMON: Yes, I said you had been in one, OK, one, OK, over 100 motorcades and nothing like that had ever happen.

ROBINSON: Right. So, I mean, when a president is moving, you know, in my experience, if a president is going to a destination, we go. And there are some moves that just pop up along the way. But it's always, it's communicated. It's always worked out and we go.

I've never experienced the mo -- you know, when the president wants to go somewhere and there's a heated argument and dispute and a debate of whether or not the president can go somewhere and then we actually don't go. I've never had that experience before.

LEMON: Yes. There's been this, you know, sort of whole false narrative out there about, no one was armed. There were no fire arms in the crowd of people who were out there. You mentioned that you heard over the radio, that people in that crowd had weapons. I mean, wouldn't president be removed immediately from any situation where there are individuals with weapons nearby?

ROBINSON: Well, I mean, I believe the Secret Service were comfortable meaning that they, you know, they -- they had their security and they had the protection. They have, you know, probably routes and they have security measures in place to keep the president safe. I can hear, you know, the police radio that subjects are armed.

I can hear officers responding, you know, to that. And there's. Footage to support that which was played, you know, during the testimony as well.

LEMON: What do you, I guess, you know, I'm asking you to, let's put it this way. With the experience that you have, why do you think someone would want to go into what appear to be danger on day?

ROBINSON: I -- I can't imagine anyone, especially in that position wanting to go to the capitol. You're talking about the president.


ROBINSON: I just couldn't imagine someone wanting to go to the capitol under those conditions.

LEMON: Yes. So despite all of that, him wanting to go to the Capitol, the motorcade take us inside the motorcade wanted to go back to the White House. How -- how was that decision made, sergeant?

It's always made through the Secret Service. And so, through their, you know, their managers and their supervisors. And so, they're, they are form, you know, the, the lead agent they'll inform the TS agent who will inform the lead -- the lead car. That would be myself, you know?

And so, we inform the motorcade, you know, whether or not because we have to be prepared, whether or not a movement is going to be made. So, we have to prepare for that, you know, to secure a route, to actually get there and to get back and to keep the -- protect and being safe.

LEMON: And then the standby. Were you like, wait, what, now? We understand the standby go possibly go back into danger?

ROBINSON: I mean, you know, we were, I'm just so thankful that it did not happen. And so, I didn't, you know, had we, we made that move. I thought it would've been an insane movement. And I think, the sentiment was fell even with the Secret Service.


They weren't prepared for that. And so, I'm just glad that it did not occur.

LEMON: Yes. Did you, did you, do you -- did you feel pressure over coming forward or are you worried about the threats for sharing what actually happened? The truth about what happened on that day?

ROBINSON: No, I mean, the truth is the truth, you know, so I don't have any pressure about it, whether I was still employed, while I was still working. I mean, we are called upon sometimes to give testimony. And so, my experience is to, you know, to tell the truth, to tell what actually happened. So, I'm not ashamed of that.

LEMON: Sergeant Mark Robinson, I'm grateful that you're here. I'm grateful that you're safe and thank you for protecting American democracy and for speaking out, speaking the truth. I really appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Thank you. You be well and be safe.

ROBINSON: You be well. Thanks for having me.

LEMON: At least 37 people are dead in catastrophic flooding in Kentucky and heavy rains are expected tonight which could make things much, much worse for people already in desperate straits.

The latest details next.



LEMON: We're going to get now to the deadly weather slamming the us California's largest wildfire of 2022 has now burned more than 55,000 acres ripping through homes and forcing nearly 2,000 people to evacuate. At least two people have already died.

And in Kentucky, the death toll from the catastrophic flooding rising to at least 37 people tonight. Look at the pictures in your screen, unbelievable, but with hundreds still unaccounted for officials fear that number will rise. And the threat is far from over.

A flood watch is in effect for the Eastern part of the state. Thunderstorms could dump inches of rain an hour making already difficult search and rescue efforts even more challenging.

We'll continue to follow for you.

Osama bin Ladens right hand man is dead tonight after President Biden approved a drone strike to take him out more on that, next.