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Wisconsin G.O.P. Senators' Evolution to Conspiracy Spreader; Inside the World Trade Center on 9/11, The Final Flight of America's Longest War. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired September 05, 2021 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CYNTHIA LEE SHENG, JEFFERSON PARISH PRESIDENT: We've lost more people post-storm than we did during the storm. And we're day-by-day trying to put our community back together.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the crisis of our generation. We have to act now to try to protect against the future risks that we're going to face.
AMARA WALKER, CNN HOST: We're two weeks away from the date the Biden administration is set to start rolling out COVID booster shots for adults.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We were hoping that we would get both the candidates, both products, Moderna and Pfizer, rolled out by the week of the 20th. It is conceivable that we will only have one of them out, but the other would likely follow soon thereafter.
WALKER: I'm Amara Walker in Atlanta and you're in the CNN NEWSROOM.
It has been a week since Hurricane Ida charged ashore in Louisiana and it is still claiming victims and adding to its horrors. In Louisiana, more than 600,000 homes and businesses are still without power. And the merciless heat proved fatal for an elderly man in New Orleans. It could take several more weeks to restore power to everyone in the state.
In New York, heroism and heartbreak from Ida's deadly visit there. This is a New York police officer wading into chest deep waters Wednesday to investigate reports of people in a flooded basement with stuffed animals and toys bobbing in the filthy, murky water. The officers were blocked by locked doors and live electricity. Firefighters then brought in specialized equipment and discovered the bodies of three people, all of them had drowned.
Let's begin our coverage in New York with CNN's Polo Sandoval.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Amara. We're in one of those Queens neighborhoods that was hit particularly hard by last week's flash flooding. All weekend, there are many residents here that have spent it basically clearing out the damage in their homes and throwing a lot of their damaged belongings onto the curb here. And I had to tell you, there are a lot of Queens residents that are basically just watching and waiting to see what the federal government will do to come forward and to help them in repairing or replacing what they have to. That there was damage by that storm here and a lot of them are certainly hopeful that that will happen soon.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul calling on the Biden administration just today to expedite this kind of financial support not just for local governments to take care of damaged infrastructure but specifically and especially for New Yorker as well. Again, those folks in communities just like this. In fact this weekend she did spend some time in these communities, witnessing firsthand the kinds of repairs that have to be made.
I spoke to one gentleman here who -- replace his boiler, for example. They're little things, and costly things, that they would like to get to and they would need this kind of support to actually get that done. The governor's disaster declaration, it still would need to get approved by the Biden administration. And that could potentially set the way -- lead the way to individual assistance that one Queens resident told me would be basically crucial in getting the help that she needs to make some repairs to her home.
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BARBARA AMARANTINIS, FLOOD VICTIM: I came by here today because I thought I might be able to get assistance. My hot water heater is shot. You can't get a plumber. My boiler also gone. And all we've been told with everyone that's here today is call 311 and file a complaint, which I did and was closed out. I don't know what to do. We need financial assistance. We need to get back on our feet.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
SANDOVAL: Well, also, this weekend the NYPD releasing just some dramatic footage that was originally taken on Wednesday here in Queens at a home where first responders were attempting to rescue, when initial reports indicated were some people that were stranded in one of those basement apartments. They had to pull back due to various concerns and it wasn't until they were able to pump the water out of the area that divers went in and recovered three bodies, that of a 2- year-old little boy and his parents -- Amara.
WALKER: Just horrifying. Polo Sandoval, thank you.
All right, let's go now to Kenner, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans. And our CNN's Nadia Romero is in the neighborhood. As we can see right behind you littered with downed power lines and poles. What does this mean for the residents in that neighborhood?
NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Amara, they are living by the sun. So during the day when the sun goes up, it is boiling hot. And now that the sun is starting to go down, finally some relief for them because they don't have power, they don't have air-conditioning. Take a look behind me. This is what we're seeing all across the street. Downed power lines and poles.
So about a couple of blocks from here, just down the road is a Red Cross van. It's a mobile unit, an emergency respond team that comes out and they will give people water and meals. And it's because so many people are in need.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL HILL, RED CROSS EMERGENCY RESPONSE VEHICLE DRIVER: What they need is to understand and believe that there is going to be an end to it. That so many of these people are native Louisianans. They've been through this over and over again. They like to think that people will learn from the past and that things will be better each time. But unfortunately, you know, it seems like it's happening over and over again too often.
So they need their electricity back. They need it in a quick manner. They need a smile and a hot meal, and I can only give the last two.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
ROMERO: And they are doing a good job giving a hot meal and a smile. Now you're taking a look live through our mass camera down the same street I'm standing on right now, and you can see, if you can count them up, five power line, poles that are along the street here, barricading, blocking people, trapping them inside their homes. They're not able to get out in their vehicles and people are having to do a dance really to try to go around the power lines, not touch them but get in and out of their homes.
It's so dangerous. They're hoping to get their power back on by Wednesday. That's their timeline there from the power company here but many people are not optimistic -- Amara.
WALKER: Even that feel so far away, right, in that brutal heat. Nadia Romero, thank you for keeping us updated. Appreciate it.
We are nearing a week since the end of the 20-year military mission in Afghanistan and there is still no clear number of Americans waiting to get out. White House chief of staff Ron Klain told CNN this morning that the administration believes there are, quote, "around 100 Americans still there."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We are going to find ways to get them, the ones that want to leave, to get them out of Afghanistan. We know many of them have family members, many of them want to stay, but the ones that want to leave, we're going to get them out.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP) WALKER: Klain also touted the 124,000 people the U.S. was able to evacuate before the deadline. The White House vows to keep working on getting more Afghans who helped the U.S. out of the country.
Meantime, a massive resettlement operation on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War ended is underway to help Afghan refugees. The Homeland Security Department says the total number of evacuees admitted into the U.S. tops 40,000.
Here to share their perspectives on this challenge are Jeanne-Aimee de Marais, Save the Children senior director for U.S. emergencies, and Marc Polymeropoulos, a former CIA senior intelligence officer who has worked on Afghanistan issues for decades. He is the author of "Clarity in Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the CIA."
Welcome to you both. Let's start with you, Marc, because, you know, you've been involved in helping CIA assets resettle during your time at the agency and know how much harder this will be in a piece you wrote for the "Washington Examiner," saying this, quote, "The Afghans and their families will need to learn English, go to school, get a driver's license and learn a new trade. We will need Americans to rally together. We will need to work with members of Congress, religious groups and other charities. We have a moral obligation to assist these heroes who I will be proud to call my neighbors."
Marc, given what happened with the evacuation, all the chaos that ensued, do you think America is up for the challenge?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, FORMER CIA SENIOR INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Well, you know, this is the United States of America. So I'm never going to say that we're not up for the challenge. But it's going to be a staggering one. And I would say it's one of the great ethical and moral challenges of our time because make no mistake, many of these Afghans, you know, really work with us.
I was the CIA officer on the ground there for a year, and our Afghan allies saved my life and many of my team members. So I think we have to do all we can. But this is an extraordinary challenge in terms of getting them, you know, assimilated into the United States. Learning English, you know, learning kind of navigate through the bureaucracy of local government.
You know, I think we're up for the challenge. You know, I know that I live in northern Virginia. There's a lot of people here who are ready for it, too. But make no mistake, this is a staggering undertaking.
WALKER: And, Jeanne-Aimee, I know your agency helps, you know, refugees navigate through the bureaucracy. I mean, this is a traumatized population, right? I mean, we saw those images. We have reporters on the ground, you know, showing us how people are fleeing in a very chaotic, violent, life-risking evacuation. Can you tell us more about the condition of the Afghan people who are arriving?
JEANNE-AIMEE DE MARAIS, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR U.S. EMERGENCIES, SAVE THE CHILDREN: Yes. So Save the Children has been working at Dulles Airport and also at the Expo Center, which is a transit shelter set up right near the airport. Thousands and thousands have come through over the last couple of weeks especially. And when the children arrive, they're in very dire straits. Most families evacuated with nothing but the clothes on their back.
Many children don't have shoes. They're extremely dehydrated. Many people have not had a regular meal in days if not weeks. So when we receive them at the airport, Save the Children is there to help provide immediate humanitarian relief. And then also when they transfer over to the Expo Center, we're able to give children a moment's respite, to help children play and again, just have a break and start the coping process of adjusting to being here and having come through all the trauma.
WALKER: And Jeanne-Aimee, could you just talk more about the next steps, you know, for this population? I mean, and also, if you can compare this refugee crisis to others that your organization has responded to.
DE MARAIS: Well, yes, so next steps for the families, once they are here, they're COVID tested, they're processed, their visa paperwork is initiated for many of the families. They're then transferred to military bases where we are also working on those bases. They're saying it could take weeks, if not months for many of the families to be fully processed, and then they'll start to enter communities.
As Marc said, they're going to have to start the whole process of learning to go to school in this country, learning to restart their lives. I met a dad this week who was there watching his three beautiful daughters do a little bit of coloring. And his eyes filled up with tears and he said, you know, I used to be a translator for the American embassy. I had a home, and a car, and a good life. And now I have nothing and I have to restart again. And that's the challenge that these families are facing in the days ahead.
WALKER: It is going to be a monumental challenge for many years.
And Marc, you know, when we look at how we got here, you know, you spoke about this many times, you wrote this about accusing President Biden of gas-lighting the Afghan army, saying, quote, "Dissing the Afghans publicly was a terrible idea. More than 60,000 Afghan soldiers died over the last 20 years. Afghan Special Operations units trained by the U.S. Military and the intelligence community did not give up. They fought until the bitter end. My heart burns with pride thinking of these units as they held the line, protecting U.S. forces during the evacuation."
Marc, as Afghans try to start a new life in the U.S., what do you want Americans to know or understand about the Afghan people that we may not know? And how they may become our neighbors?
POLYMEROPOULOS: What an amazing question because I think -- you know, I hope Americans are going to welcome them with open arms. You know, they were my brothers on the ground there. You know, there's a lot of American, you know, intelligence officers, diplomats, and U.S. service men and women who are alive today because of them. It's an incredible culture, you know, it's a vibrant, dynamic people.
I think Americans are going to be excited that they're coming. And look, you know, America is a land of immigrants. We're a melting pot. This is going to be a tremendous addition.
WALKER: All right. It looks like we lost our signal there.
POLYMEROPOULOS: Get caught up in some political rhetoric.
WALKER: All right. It looks like we lost the signal there. We're going to have to leave it there. A very important conversation, I'm sure we'll continue to have.
Marc and Jeanne-Aimee, we thank you both for that conversation.
Up next, will people be able to mix and match different vaccines when they get COVID booster shots? Dr. Anthony Fauci explains. Also tonight, the man behind the mission.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COL. ALEX PELBATH, AIRBORNE MISSION COMMANDER: Instead of focusing on the danger, what all the operators is you focus on the mission you've got at hand.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER: CNN speaks to the commander of the final five flights out of Kabul. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAUCI: Well, it's better to wait, Jim. We are doing what is called mix and match studies right now where you take a look at one who gets Moderna followed by Pfizer, Pfizer followed by Moderna, et cetera. We'll have all the necessary information in a few weeks. It may not be exactly the being of September 20th but it will be very soon thereafter.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER: Dr. Anthony Fauci talking with our Jim Acosta earlier. Yes, boosters are a good idea. But we should wait to get a booster that matches the vaccines we already have. Dr. Fauci says data from the U.S., U.K. and Israel indicate that a three-dose regimen ultimately may be the standard for COVID-19 immunization.
Joining me now to discuss the thinking behind not mixing and matching COVID vaccines, Dr. Megan Ranney, emergency physician and associate dean of public health at Brown University.
Hello to you and thanks for joining us. So, Dr. Ranney, tell us more. Your thoughts on mixing and matching and whether or not it is a good idea.
DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY DOCTOR, BROWN UNIVERSITY: So there is actually some preliminary data suggesting that mixing and matching may work well. You know, that's what a lot of folks got in the U.K. they got AstraZeneca and then one of the MRNA vaccines afterwards. We just don't know. What Dr. Fauci is basically saying is that we don't have the studies, we don't have the science.
Not surprising to any of us that we'll likely need boosters. That's true for almost every vaccine that's out there. If you remember back to your childhood vaccination series. The question here is what type of booster is going to be the most effective, the safest, and is going to give us all the most durable protection against not just this version of COVID but other variants that are doubtless yet to come.
WALKER: Yes, Doctor, I've had this conversation with, you know, several friends. You know, some who have had the Pfizer vaccine and they read the studies that show that the Pfizer vaccine tends to produce a lower antibody response in older people compared to Moderna. What do we know about the makeup or the difference in the ingredients in the Moderna vaccine versus the Pfizer?
RANNEY: So it's a slightly higher dose in the Moderna vaccine. The other big thing about the Moderna dosing is that it is an extra week in between that first dose and the second dose. That extra time in and of itself may be part of what is creating the increased antibody response. But time will tell. I'm telling folks who are asking me about whether to get Moderna if they originally got Pfizer, whether to get Pfizer if they originally got J&J. Listen, we just haven't seen the data yet.
The FDA is going to come out with recommendations on what's safest and most effective. I certainly know a lot of folks are taking it into their own hands and just showing up at pharmacies. But my top recommendation right now is to wait until the FDA has weighed in.
WALKER: Especially because we're almost there, right, we're almost there to knowing the science and the facts on the safety of that. And also a stunning statistic today, I mean, if you compare the rate of infections this Labor Day weekend with Labor Day, what, a year ago? I mean, it's skyrocketed more than 308 percent. That's just nuts. I mean, what are you seeing in the E.R.?
RANNEY: So my E.R. in Rhode Island like ERs across the country is seeing an increasing number of COVID patients, increasing number of folks hospitalized, that's despite our tremendous rate of vaccination in my state. But here's the important thing. Everyone that I'm hospitalizing is not vaccinated. We are by and large across the country not needing to hospitalize people that have gotten both doses of the vaccine.
This is a disease of the unvaccinated right now. Unfortunately, as surges go up, those people who haven't had an adequate response to the first two doses or the single dose if they got J&J, are sometimes caught in the crosshairs of a community surge. But the takeaway for everyone is get your shots and certainly wear a mask for that added layer of protection if you're in public indoor spaces right now.
WALKER: You know, what would you say to parents of young children who are not eligible to be vaccinated? I'm asking for myself to be clear. You know, because, you know, I have a child in school required to wear a mask. All the teachers -- everyone is required to wear a mask. But, you know, I have moments where I'm very concerned that that is not adequate protection because of course, her classmates are not vaccinated because they can't be.
RANNEY: I'm in the same boat. One of my kids is vaccinated. The other one is not old enough yet. I'm sending them both back to school on Wednesday to our local public schools. I am putting them both in good quality masks. The other things that I am strongly suggesting to schools are to improve ventilation, open windows if you can, turn that HVAC system on. Get air filtration if you can to help scrub the air of any viral particles and have frequent testing.
Because, you know, that's what we're doing at universities across the country to catch outbreaks before they spread. That's at last part of a comprehensive prevention plan. But I'm still sending my little one back to school with, like you, a little bit of trepidation about what's to come.
WALKER: Yes. Same here. And lastly, let's talk about the new variant which has been detected in, what, 48 out of 50 states? Although health officials are saying look, we're not that worried about it yet. But the WHO. says this variant could possibly be more vaccine resistant. So why aren't we worried about it just yet?
RANNEY: We just don't have enough data. But we are keeping our eyes on it. I would think of the new variant as being like any of a number of other variants that will doubles emerge in the weeks and months to come. As long as most of the globe is not vaccinated, we are going to have new variants. The best protection for now is getting your full vaccine doses and then wearing a mask when you're in those public spaces until we can get more vaccines in arms.
WALKER: Very good advice. Appreciate it so much. Dr. Megan Ranney, thank you so much.
RANNEY: Thank you.
WALKER: And Tom Brady revealing to the "Tampa Bay Times" he got COVID after a Super Bowl championship boat parade in February. The quarterback went on to say he thinks COVID will be an even bigger problem for the NFL this year because of the league's scaled back COVID protocols. Brady's comments come a week before the new season starts. His team, the Buccaneers, have a 100 percent vaccination rate.
From riding the Tea Party wave to falling down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, some Wisconsin Republicans and former supporters are wondering what happened to Senator Ron Johnson? We'll have more on that ahead.
WALKER: He has gone from Tea Party insurgent to conspiracy theory fan boy. Tonight, our Sara Murray is charting Senator Ron Johnson's dramatic transformation since he arrived in D.C.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Senator Ron Johnson toys with running for a third term, it seems there is no controversy the Wisconsin Republican won't wade into. Whether it's fueling misinformation on vaccines --
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Neurological problems, clotting, strokes. It's a cornucopia of problems that people certainly believe are associated with the vaccine.
MURRAY: Dismissing the climate crisis as BS --
JOHNSON: I think climate change is think climate change is -- as Lord Monckton said (EXPLETIVE DELETED), OK?
MURRAY: Or suggesting the FBI had inside knowledge of the January 6th insurrection but didn't thwart it.
JOHNSON: So you think that the FBI had fully infiltrated the militias in Michigan but they don't know squat about what was happening on January 6th?
MURRAY: His apparent willingness to deny facts and spread conspiracies has left some in the state wondering, what happened to Ron Johnson?
MARK BECKER, FORMER BROWN COUNTY, WISCONSIN REPUBLICAN CHAIRMAN: I mean, he was -- he was our guy.
MURRAY: Mark Becker, former head of the Brown County GOP went from rallying behind Johnson to campaigning against him in a few short years.
BECKER: Everything that he's done since, since Donald Trump, it's been so devoid of reality.
MURRAY (voice over): Still, Becker called up Johnson to air his frustration over the Republican's peddling unfounded claims of election fraud. When Johnson surprisingly returned his call --
BECKER: I said, Ron, Joe Biden won the election. He said yes, but 1.5 million people voted for Donald Trump. I'm not -- I'm not stupid. I'm not going to piss those people off.
MURRAY (voice over): Becker wrote a column about their exchange and pressed Johnson to voice his faith in the election results.
MURRAY (on camera): Did you hear from him at all after you wrote an editorial about that call? BECKER: He sure did. You know I did. So, yes, crazy.
So I got a text on January 7th. So, this was the day after the insurrection. "Mark, it is my sincere hope to never have to see or speak to a low life weasel such as yourself again. Please stop trying to contact me."
So they are still picking up glass on the floor of the Capitol and that's what his -- what he is concerned about.
MURRAY (voice over): Johnson declined in interview, but as previously said, Becker called him under false pretenses, and Johnson expected the call to remain private.
According to Johnson, "Months later, he went public with what he claims the conversation was about, and what I had said. Anyone who would do that is a low-life weasel and nothing they say should be given any credence."
This week Johnson was recorded by a liberal activist again admitting Trump loss Wisconsin.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): The only reason Trump lost Wisconsin is that 51,000 Republican voters did not vote for him.
There is nothing obviously skewed about the results. There isn't.
MURRAY (voice over): In a statement, Johnson says those remarks are " ... consistent with what I've been saying publicly on the 2020 election," and pointing to interviews where he admits Biden won, but he also continued to raise unfounded claims of election irregularities.
To Michelle Litjens, Johnson is the same guy she first brought to a tea party event back in 2009.
MICHELLE LITJENS, REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: He has always been a frank talker. He doesn't skirt around issues. He is not looking to make friends necessarily all the time.
MURRAY (voice over): She says he won over the crowd with a personal story about his daughter's heart defect and his concerns about government run healthcare.
LITJENS: When Ron spoke, you could have heard a pin drop.
MURRAY (voice over): But she was skeptical when he wanted to challenge Democrat incumbent, Russ Feingold in a 2010 Senate race.
LITJENS: I said yes, I don't think you really want to do that. He wasn't from politics. He ran a business. Like a campaign is county fairs, in theory breakfasts, and shaking hands. It is seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
MURRAY (voice over): But she helped him make inroads with conservative operatives and talk radio hosts, combined with millions of his own cash and buzzy ads highlighting his manufacturing and accounting background.
Johnson built a Washington outsider campaign dedicated to shrinking government, and he won, ousting Feingold in a G.O.P. wave election.
JOHNSON: We need to restore fiscal sanity to this nation.
MURRAY (voice over): Democrats were so convinced Johnson's victory was a fluke. They ran Feingold again in 2016.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
MURRAY (voice over): and Johnson notched another victory, this time alongside Donald Trump.
MURRAY (on camera): What do you say when people are like, what happened wrong with Ron Johnson?
GREG GILBERT, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL: Well, I get two kinds of questions. One is what happened to Ron Johnson and the other is like why is he saying all this stuff? And why is he doing all this stuff?
MURRAY (voice over): Greg Gilbert has been covering politics since the 1980s and following Johnson since he was elected in 2010.
GILBERT: It's unusual to have a member of the Senate from a 50/50 stay as conservative as Ron Johnson is, it's not necessarily great general election politics, to be kind of -- to be where Ron Johnson has been on some of these issues.
MURRAY (voice over): Those issues include questioning safe and effective vaccines.
JOHNSON: Should you be exposing yourself or should a parent expose their child to a vaccine that we don't know the long term safety effects of these?
MURRAY (voice over): While touting COVID-19 treatments that health officials have found ineffective, or as the F.D.A. warned, dangerous.
JOHNSON: It's not just hydroxychloroquine, there's ivermectin. There's other things that we just completely ignored.
MURRAY (voice over): Johnson spokeswoman says he is opposed to vaccine mandates, but "Like everyone, he wants the pandemic to end and hopes the vaccine will play a key role in ending it."
She says Johnson is also an advocate for early COVID treatment. "He is agnostic regarding which drugs might be effective. He wants them all researched."
G.O.P. strategist Brian Schimming insists Johnson's frankness appeals to voters.
BRIAN SCHIMMING, G.O.P. STRATEGIST: He is telling it as he sees it, and there's a lot of voters who say that's what they want. MURRAY (voice over): As the senator grapples with whether to
backtrack on his 2016 campaign pledge to seek only two terms.
JOHNSON: I'm going to serve one more term. That's it, two terms, more than enough time, 12 years. Feingold is there for 18 years.
MURRAY (voice over): Controversial comments, like saying Black Lives Matter protesters are threatening while Capitol insurrectionists are not are already reemerging.
JOHNSON: I knew those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement would never do anything to break a law. So I wasn't concerned.
Now, had the tables for attorney and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.
MURRAY (voice over): Johnson's spokeswoman says he condemns the violence that day, but respects those who protested legally.
Meantime, Johnson's remarks are invigorating a crowded field of Democratic Senate hopefuls in this politically divided state.
MANDELA BARNES (D), WISCONSIN SENATE CANDIDATE: He is a person who is more into the guy who's going to say the racist part out loud. You know, we're talking real Archie Bunker here now, on top of the conspiracy theories.
MURRAY (voice over): With candidates like Mandela Barnes already using Johnson's words against him.
BARNES: He speaks his truth and unfortunately, he is delusional.
AMARA WALKER, CNN HOST: Our thanks to Sara Murray for that report.
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I'll talk to two French brothers and the New York City firefighter behind the only video from inside the World Trade Center after it was attacked.
[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]
WALKER: Gedeon and Jules Naudet and James Hanlon will join me next.
WALKER: Next week, we will mark the 20th anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11th that launched the U.S. into war in Afghanistan. Our next guests have a unique perspective of that day. They were
filming a documentary on New York City firefighters in Downtown Manhattan when the first jet and then another hit the World Trade Center towers.
They accompanied the firefighters to the Trade Center and captured gripping footage of the immediate aftermath of the attacks, including the only footage shot inside the towers on that day.
Tonight, CNN Films presents "9/11." Their film tells the story of one New York City firehouse on September 11th.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I didn't even have time to think at that point, I just -- I just ran. Then I feel someone jumping on top of me, and then the dust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALKER: It's so gripping. Joining us now are Gedeon and Jules Naudet, directors of the "9/11" film, and James Hanlon, a retired New York City firefighter and producer of the film.
Thank you, gentlemen, for joining me for this conversation. Gedeon, let's start with you. Watching the film, 20 years later, what stands out to you the most about what you captured on tape that day? And are you overcome with the emotions that you felt 20 years ago?
GEDEON NAUDET, DIRECTOR, "9/11": Yes, just watching those images give me goosebumps. But at the end of that, the end of that day, and 20 years later, it's still the same thing. To be completely in awe with what we witnessed, the three of us, the extraordinary courage and the selflessness of those people who came to rescue.
What we forget to say often is that the police and firefighters and some civilians rescued almost 15,000 people from those towers, which is extraordinary.
WALKER: It really is when you think about the numbers in the lives. And Jules, you were at the World Trade Center when the first tower collapsed and actually had to use the light on your camera to help the firefighters find a way out.
I vividly remember that part of the film when I watched this many years ago when it first came out, what do you remember most about those moments when people were relying on that light -- your light?
JULES NAUDET, DIRECTOR, "9/11": It was, you know, these moments which are -- moments where you realize time becomes fluid. You know, it's elastic. You have minutes, which you have the impression lasted for hours and, and hours we have the impression lasted for seconds. But that light was, you know, it was kind of a little beacon of hope, because through that light, we were all being able to not only find our way out, but unfortunately being able to find the first person that we would see -- that they would retrieve the bodies -- the body of Father Judge, the fantastic Chaplain of the Fire Department.
But it was -- for me, it was just a small way to help, you know, in a significant way, but any -- you know, it was a day where I saw, yes, we saw the worst of humanity, which is terrorism. But I think all of us really hang on to the best that we saw. That selflessness, that courage, these acts of, you know small heroism of the first responders and the civilians.
So moments where everything goes horribly wrong, you see the best of human nature rises to the surface.
WALKER: And I like how you use beacon of hope to describe those moments. It surely was, and James, first responders like you and the firefighters you've worked with were hailed as heroes, rightfully so, after the attacks.
WALKER: A whole new generation of firefighters have joined the department since 9/11, right? I mean, I can't believe it's already been 20 years. How does the legacy of those 9/11 firefighters carry on today?
JAMES HANLON, PRODUCER, "9/11": Well, I think that if you think about legacy and the word that you use, there's been so many, you know, firefighters, when they passed that day that their children have come along now, and they are firefighters on the job, and they call them legacy kids.
We did a piece of it on the last update, and you look at somebody like Josephine Smith from 39 Engine whose dad died in the towers, in the North Towers, and she has gone on to become, you know, a firefighter.
And so many people have stepped up and so many people have come back from Afghanistan and Iraq that were in the military have now joined the ranks of the New York City Fire Department, which has really boosted us and helped us in a lot of ways, you know, and strengthened the fire department.
WALKER: Yes, I can only imagine it strengthened the fire department. And Gedeon, you've kept in touch over the years with some of the firefighters you followed on that day, and everyone has dealt with, and remembers that day in their own way. Right?
But is there a common denominator in how that day impacted them and how they look back on it now?
G. NAUDET: I think the -- it is really a band of brothers, it must be the same in military. I'm just guessing. But those tight group of people who put their life on the line every single day when they leave home and say goodbye to their family. It is this band of brothers and you see it whenever they meet again, and they meet very often, whether it's the firehouse or for coffee and it's --
You know, it's like, no matter if 20 years pass, it like this is the same. It is like it was yesterday, but they help each other. It's extraordinary to see that.
WALKER: It really does feel like it was just yesterday. You know, my husband and I have moments where we talk about 9/11, and we'll meet someone who is 19 years old and will say, oh my gosh, she is too young to even know about 9/11. Jules, for all those who are too young to remember or who weren't born yet. What do you hope the film will provide to them?
J. NAUDET: Well, I think especially our documentary is filmed in such a way that for the new generation, which is so visual, it's almost for them like it was filmed with an iPhone in a way and so you have that proximity in a medium that they understand of seeing it next to these firefighters as every second is everything is happening, you're there with them.
And I think there is a proximity to it, that maybe you know, history books, or historical documents are less -- have less of an effect on them. Here they can really be alongside these firefighters, alongside these incredible human beings.
And seeing, you know, on that terrible day, the way that all of -- not only the firefighters and people inside the towers, people in New York City, but the entire country really showed that resiliency of all being there for each other in the aftermath also.
So, this -- they go through that journey of what was supposed to be a normal average day, and becomes something else. And yet, you know, that's for me, the heroes as my good friend, Chief Pfeifer, which I followed on that day always says is, a hero is an ordinary person doing extraordinary things during an extraordinary time, and I think that's what they can see upfront and personal this way.
WALKER: It was supposed to be an ordinary day. You're right about that. James, what about you? What do you hope people would take away from watching the film on the 20th anniversary of 9/11?
HANLON: It's the heroes. It's the -- it's the men that went up into the building. You know, you just spoke about a band of brothers. I don't think there's a day that goes by that I haven't had a conversation with somebody that I worked with from that day, that, you know, made it out alive.
I mean, recently, I was talking to a firefighter, Terry Rivera from Ladder 10. It was his first fire. He was a Navy Corpsman. And he just returned back to the firehouse that morning when he went out, you know, and was at that fire.
And, you know, I think of people like Tim Brown who ran into Terry Hatton from Rescue One that was coming through and they met and they were best friends, and they met right in the middle of the lobby and Jules's camera is actually on them. And Terry Hatton went over to Tim Brown and said, "Brother, I don't know if we're going to see each other again." And they hugged and they said, "I love you" to one another.
And you know, Tim went off to the South Tower and Terry went up with Rescue One and they all perished up there, and Tim was in, you know, he was in the collapse of the South Tower and found himself buried alive within the lobby of the Marriott Hotel, and then dug himself out and took 10 people along with him and rescued.
HANLON: And I think if the people today watching the film realize that there are people that walk around them every day that did, you know, just you know, extraordinary things. And, you know, that is one of the reasons why we made the documentary to begin with was, we wanted to show what it was like to be, you know, a first responder and put your life on the line every day, and I hope people can watch the film and see these great men for who they were, you know, and their legacy, as you mentioned earlier, will live on.
WALKER: I think so many of us still feel the emotions that many of us felt 20 years ago and it is a very raw, very gripping film, and it really does capture the bravery and the heroism of everyone involved.
Thank you so much for this conversation. Jules, Gedeon Naudet and James Hanlon, thank you for the conversation.
We will be right back.
G. NAUDET: Thank you so much.
J. NAUDET: Thank you.
HANLON: Thank you.
WALKER: He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2001, just weeks before 9/11. Twenty years later, he was the Mission Commander for the final flights out of Kabul.
CNN's Oren Lieberman has Colonel Alex Pelbath's incredible story.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The approach into and out of Kabul allowed little margin for error.
Mountains surround Hamid Karzai International Airport, and the valley is prone to bad weather. Thousands of Afghans on the field and thousands more desperately trying to get in.
Nearby, a terror threat from ISIS-K.
In this environment, Lieutenant Colonel Alex Pelbath had a mission, the end of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
LT. COL. ALEX PELBATH, U.S. AIR FORCE, AIRBORNE MISSION COMMANDER: Instead of focus on the danger, what all the operators do is you focus on the mission you got at hand, so you focus on your individual tasks. You focus on success, and you focus on doing your part of the mission as well as you possibly can.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): Pelbath was the Mission Commander of the final five flights out of Kabul. He snapped this picture of another C- 17 taking on Afghan evacuees. In the background, the cars and baggage in hangars, about to be left behind.
PELBATH: I graduated the Air Force Academy in 2001, and a couple of months later, September 11 happened, so my entire career has been spent with a conflict in Afghanistan and to see it come to an end, it does make a mark, I think.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): Pelbath knew time was precious, every second on the tarmac was added risk. And with the final troops loading up, the danger was at its peak.
Major General Chris Donahue, the Commander of the 82nd Airborne was the last soldier to step off Afghan soil, the military says.
Pelbath later snapped this cellphone picture of his own flight, then Pelbath gave the order, clamshell, close the cargo doors.
Minutes later, flushed of force, the order to take off.
PELBATH: I was able to see in front of me the first aircraft had just made their left turn. The second aircraft right behind them. The third aircraft had just lifted off, the fourth aircraft on the runway. I have the entire picture of the C-17 force in front of me, for sure, an image that I will never forget.
LIEBERMANN (voice over): The five C-17s had been on the ground a total of three hours, he says. The end of a 20-year war was his final flight.
LIEBERMANN (on camera): Part of what made this so special for Lieutenant Colonel Pelbath is that his own grandparents were on a U.S. evacuation flight. They lived in Hungary and fled to neighboring Austria in 1957. They were removed from Austria by U.S. military aircraft in 1957 as part of Operation Safe Haven, and that made this very personal for Pelbath.
I also asked him at the end of the interview if you had any thoughts and he said, look, this isn't just a credit of one person or any individual. It was all of the 80 or so crew members on board those five flights who made the final evacuation and withdrawal happen and made it happen safely.
Oren Liebermann, CNN, at The Pentagon.
WALKER: Extraordinary story. Thanks so much, Oren.
And thank you for joining me this evening. I'm Amara Walker.
CNN Films presents "9/11" starts next.