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CNN Projects Newsom Landslide, Will Remain Governor; Investigating the Afghan Drone Strike; "Wicked," Hamilton" and More Reopen to Packed Houses; Nicholas Weakens, Flood Threat Continues. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 15, 2021 - 04:30   ET



HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: Right now, Newsom's approval rating, north of 50 percent. But more than that, you know, you think about the issues, right.

Coronavirus was the number one issue according to the exit polls and the folks who said that the coronavirus was number one issue voted overwhelmingly for Gavin Newsom. So, you know, Larry Elder tried to play the coronavirus against Gavin Newsom, it didn't work and therefore, the result Newsom keeps his job.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: And what message does this send Larry Elder and of course Donald Trump and do you think some Republican governors would be looking to California thinking maybe I'm reading the room wrong here?

ENTEN: Yes, I mean, look, Larry Elder's favorability rating in the exit poll was 34 percent. 34 percent, that's not particularly good. And Larry Elder was, you know, as you mentioned a conservative talk show host who was backed by Donald Trump. Donald Trump as I mentioned earlier, lost the state of California by 29 points just a year ago.

So, I think the message here is two-fold. Number one, you can't run Trump-like candidates in deep blue states and expect to win. You got to pick candidates who fit the state well. The second thing I'll point out, you know, on the coronavirus, Larry Elder ran very strong against the mask mandate and the fact is for kids in school, and the fact is, 69 percent -- or 70 percent of voters supported that. And so, I think as you sort of transform that across different state lines, to me a big sort of takeaway here is that if you are going to run on the coronavirus as a Republican, do not run against the mask mandates. They are quite popular.

CHURCH: So, you do see that there is national implications here, it's not just specific to this being this big blue state?

ENTEN: I mean, look, California is very blue, right? So, you know, I don't think the fact that depending where the no on the recall ends up, if it is 25, 30 points, I wouldn't necessarily read too much into that. But the fact is that the coronavirus was such a large issue in this campaign and if you just looked and pore over the data and you see as I mentioned earlier on that 70 percent of the California recall voters said that they supported mask mandates in school. And then you team that up with the national poll data that we see that voters overwhelmingly across the nation support mask mandates in schools.

I think Republicans are fooling themselves if go to the rallies and they say, oh, my voters really, really hate the mask mandates. Therefore, I should hate it because the people hated. No, it's the Republican base that hates it. But the center of the electorate, whether it's in California or throughout the nation, they do like mask mandates in school and I expect that Democrats are going to be running on that issue the rest of this year and heading into the midterms in 2022.

CHURCH: Yes, we'll see how this plays in some of those Republican states where they don't want kids in school to be wearing masks. Interesting message, right? Harry Enten, always a pleasure to chat with you, many thanks.

ENTEN: Thank you.

CHURCH: Well, the U.S. Justice Department has asked a federal judge to temporarily block the controversial new law in Texas banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. It comes after the Biden administration sued the state arguing the law is unconstitutional. Tuesday's emergency motion seeks to halt enforcement while legal challenges play out. Earlier this month the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law to take effect but did not rule on whether it's constitutional.

Well, still to come, the U.S. military claims it thwarted an ISIS attack on the Kabul airport. But now evidence suggests the deadly drone strike targeted the wrong person. The CNN investigation, next.



CHURCH: For the last two weeks, CNN has been investigating the U.S. military's final drone strike on a car in Kabul, Afghanistan just hours before U.S. troops were withdrawn. The U.S. military claims they hit a legitimate terrorist target, but CNN's investigation raises some very serious questions about the U.S. government's accounts of what happened that day. And we want to warn viewers, this report contains scenes that are graphic and may be hard to watch. CNN's Anna Coren has been working this story and is joining us now live from Hong Kong. So, Anna, what all did you find here?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, there are serious doubts as to whether the U.S. military actually hit an ISIS-K target possibly killing ten innocent civilians. As you say, this has been a two-week investigation for our team here at CNN. And what we have found paints a very different picture. Take a look.


COREN (voice-over): Screams of horror in a Kabul neighborhood on the last Sunday afternoon of August. As residents desperately try in vain to extinguish the fireball caused by a hellfire missile airstrike.

SAMIA, DAUGHTER OF ZAMARAI (through translator): At first, I thought this is an attack on the whole of Afghanistan. I did not know the attack was only on our house.

COREN (voice-over): The target, a white sedan that had been under U.S. military surveillance for the past eight hours according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the operation. It had just driven into the residential compound with father of seven and NGO worker Zamarai Ahmadi behind the wheel.

SAMIA (through translator): I saw my father lying in the car, there was shrapnel in his chest, throat everywhere. Blood was flowing through these ears.

COREN (voice-over): But the strike didn't just take out the 43-year- old father. According to the family, two other men were also killed along with seven children, three of whom were toddlers.

Our children were in such a state that we tried to identify them from their hands, ears, or nose, says Zamarai's cousin. None of them had their hands and feet intact and in one place. They were all in pieces.

Charred body parts, pieces of skull with chunks of hair and a foot melted into a sandal were among the remains taken to the morgue.

Zamarai's two-year-old nephew lies on a gurney as a relative gently strokes his face.

Ten coffins filled with only partial remains. Their names written in black marker, the only distinguishable feature.


COREN (voice-over): U.S. claims to have intelligence there was explosive material inside the car that was to be used in an imminent attack on Hamad Karzai International Airport by ISIS-K.

Just days before an ISIS-K suicide bomber had blown himself up at Abbey gate. Thirteen U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans were killed.


But for the past two weeks, CNN has been investigating the U.S. military's claims about the drone strike. Interviewing more than two dozen people, family members, neighbors, NGO staff and multiple bomb experts that paint a very different version of evidence. We've also been given access to the CCTV hard drive of the NGO office that day and reviewed all the footage.

For 15 years, Zamarai worked as a technical engineer for Nutrition Education International, a U.S. based NGO that introduced soybeans to Afghanistan in 2003 to help feed the poor and reduce malnutrition.

STEVEN KWON, FOUNDER, NUTRITION AND EDUCATION INTERNATIONAL: He is always a caring for the people who are in need and has compassionate heart. COREN (voice-over): The organization's founder says the Toyota Corolla Zamarai was driving belong to the NGO and he was responsible for picking up colleagues distributing soybeans to Afghans in refugee camps and running operations.

U.S. military officials have told CNN, they had been monitoring chatter from an ISIS safe house in Kabul for 36 hours, when a car pulled out of the compound around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. It was from that moment U.S. surveillance aircraft began following the car, not knowing who the driver was.

But in an interview with one of Zamarai's colleagues who was with him all day, he claims Zamarai picked him up at about 8:45 a.m. And around 9:00 a.m., they stopped at the country director's house to collect a laptop to take to work.

KHAN, ZAMARAI'S NEI COLLEAGUE: Because he forgot his laptop bag there and we took his laptop bag.

COREN (voice-over): The U.S. has told CNN there was intelligence that the car was being directed from the safe house on a route around the city, instructing the driver to meet a motorcyclist and that it did.

Zamarai's colleague says after collecting the laptop, they picked up another colleague and then stopped at a busy cafe to get breakfast, claiming they did not come into contact with any motorcyclists on their journey to the office. The only motorcyclists they did talk to was the security guard at the NGO office seen here with his bike on CCTV.

For the next few hours, Zamarai and his colleagues carry out various tasks, visiting Taliban security stations for permission to resume operations since the Taliban takeover. They also visit a bank and return to work for lunch at 2:00 p.m. Around 2:30 p.m., Zamarai begins filling water containers to take back home to his family who have no access to running water, a task he'd been doing for months according to his colleagues. They say they then helped load the containers into the car before leaving around 4:00 p.m.

The U.S. military says around the same time, drone footage showed the driver loading heavy packages with other men into the car, which they suspected were explosives, possibly for the imminent attack. Colleagues says Zamarai dropped them off before he drove to his family compound, also home to his three brothers and their families.

Around 4:45 p.m., the U.S. says the car arrived at a residential location and another male approached the car. The military claims it had reasonable certainty that they had a legitimate ISIS-K target and took the shot. It was only afterwards that the U.S. realized there were three children within the vicinity of the car. The family says there were actually seven.

A U.S. official tell CNN there was a significant secondary explosion, possibly caused by a suicide vest or explosives in the car that may have killed the children. Two bomb experts we spoke to who both viewed the same footage CNN film from the scene, say there is no evidence of a significant secondary explosion. Stating there would have been major structural damage to the surrounding buildings and vegetation and that the nearby SUV would have overturned.

One of them noted if a secondary blast was seen from U.S. surveillance, it most likely was the vehicle gas tank exploding.

BRIAN CASTNER, SENIOR CRISIS ADVISOR, WEAPON AND MILITARY OPS, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: This over the horizon, having incomplete information, but conducting the airstrike anyway, this is the modus operandi for the U.S. military now. And there's just so many risks and harm to civilians that comes with that.

COREN (voice-over): A U.S. military investigation into the drone strike is underway.

MILLEY: That at least one of those people that were killed was a ISIS facilitator. So, were there others killed? Yes, there are others killed. Who they are? We don't know. But at this point, we think that the procedures were correctly followed and it's a righteous strike.

COREN (voice-over): A Pentagon statement released over the weekend defended the strike based on good intelligence, preventing an imminent threat and that no other military works harder than we do to prevent civilian casualties.


But many questions are being raised as to whether they got the wrong target.


COREN (voice-over): How do you know from the sky what is here says Zamarai's brother. There were children in and around the car and you targeted them. Isn't it a crime? You came here and shattered our hearts into pieces.

The following day, ISIS-K launched a rocket attack towards the airport from a Toyota Corolla. The attack was countered by the missile defense system. That same day, Zamarai's family buried their dead.

Ten graves on a desolate hillside overlooking Kabul, belonging to a family demanding answers and justice.


COREN (on camera): Now, Rosemary, we are in touch with Zamarai's family who are obviously struggling, not only are they grieving the loss of ten family members but they are also under threat. Their safety is at risk because they have been associated with the terror network ISIS-K.

Now, Zamarai, he was the breadwinner of the family. Financially supporting everybody. His brothers had previously worked for the former Afghan government and for the military. And since the Taliban takeover, they were unemployed. So, this is another issue that they are having to deal with.

And I think that it is really important to note, Rosemary, that Zamarai had applied for a P-2 visa to the United States through his Californian based NGO which described him as the best local humanitarian they had ever known just days before the strike. This was a man who wanted to leave Afghanistan and start a new life in America.

CHURCH: It is a tragic story. An incredible report though coming from Anna Coren. Many thanks to you, appreciate it.

Well, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still working to decide how long to pause flights of Afghan refugees to the United States because of measles cases. An official says there have been six confirmed cases and contact tracing is under way. Measles and chickenpox vaccines are being administered to refugees already in the states and abroad, but the vaccines need time to take effect. There are CDC teams at each of the eight bases in the U.S. that are housing refugees.

Well, CNN is projecting that California governor Gavin Newsom will keep his job defeating a yearlong recall effort to remove him from office. We'll have much more coverage ahead on "NEW DAY" and ahead for us.

Hurricane Nicholas is now a tropical depression, but flooding is still a concern especially in areas hard hit by hurricane Ida. The latest when we come back.



CHURCH: Well, four of Broadway's biggest blockbuster reopened to New York crowds on Tuesday. Anxious theater fans waited in line to show their proof of vaccination and face masks. Measures adopted by all Broadway venues. "Hamilton" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was on hand at the Richard Rogers Theater to welcome patrons back to the room where it happens.


LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, WRITER AND CREATOR OF "HAMILTON IN AMERICAN MUSICAL": I don't ever want to take live theater for granted ever again, do you? It took six years to get this on the first time and I'm so glad it didn't take six years to come back. Thank you for getting vaccinated and wearing a mask and for supporting live theater.


CHURCH: Amen. Well meantime, the reopening of Wicked had fans feeling like they were defying gravity. Excited cheers and vigorous applause forced performers to wait until they could be heard from the stage. And these were the first performances, of course, for each production since shutting down at the start of the pandemic.

Well, tropical depression Nicholas is slowing to a crawl and threatening to dump up to 20 inches of rain in some parts of Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states. The National Hurricane Center is warning of the possibility of life-threatening flash floods especially in urban areas. And there's also a state of emergency declared in Louisiana where almost 88,000 homes and businesses are without power as some are still recovering from hurricane Ida.

CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has the latest forecast -- Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Rosemary. Yes, watching what is left of tropical depression Nicholas and you know, people often get caught up in the satellite depiction and the wind speeds and the categories but it really doesn't change much when it comes to exactly how much rainfall a system is going to produce. And it is still a tropical system.

It is still tapping into quite a bit of tropical moisture and you'll notice in the past 24 hours, upwards of almost 14 inches of rainfall fell in Galveston, Texas. Houston picking up about 6.5 inches. The concern is this amount of water potentially works his way across an area that was very hard hit by hurricane Ida not too long ago.

So, notice radar this morning still producing strong thunderstorms around southern portions of Louisiana. At least 7 million Americans nearly the entirety of the coast of Louisiana under flood alerts as a result of this system moving off toward the east. And frankly it is moving very slowly, about 3 to 5 miles per hour over the next 36 hours. So as the system moves very slowly, it will rain itself out across this region. And it's really the last place you want to see heavy rainfall in place as people of course still in full recovery mode across this region.

4 to 6 inches widespread, some areas could get close to 10 inches of rainfall before it is all said and done. And again, the system will gradually shift all the way toward the east into the panhandle before it rains itself out. And you look at the Weather Prediction Center, they have issued a level 3 on a scale of 1 to 4. Some moderate risks in Houma, New Orleans, some of these parishes that are very hard hit are once again going to see some heavy rains over the next few days.


Now out across the Atlantic, we do have a couple areas of interest, a 20 percent, and a 90 percent chance of tropical systems to form, and closer to home, a 70 percent probability. So, the Eastern Sea Board, we're going to be watching this carefully as well was the system potentially develops over the next few days.

Around the Northeastern U.S., there is a severe weather element to tell you about. A frontal boundary coming in, about 50 million people in line here for strong storms potentially producing some damaging winds. Take a look at the temperatures about the middle 80s around New York City, 78 in Atlanta and temperatures in Phoenix into the 100s -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Thank you so much, Pedram, as always. Well, in the coming hours SpaceX will launch the world's first space

flight entirely staffed by non-astronauts. Billionaire Jared Isaacman is participating in and funding the charity driven mission called Inspiration 4. He will be joined on the flight by a cancer survivor, a geologist, and a raffle winner. The crew is expected to orbit earth for three days before splashing down off the Florida coast.

And after disappearing thousands of years ago, giant woolly mammoths may soon roam the earth once again. A new bioscience and genetic company named Colossal has raised $15 million to resurrect the prehistoric creature. They plan to use DNA extracted from a mammoth's frozen remains mixed with elephant DNA to create an enormous elephant/mammoth hybrid. But the animal would be virtually indistinguishable from its extinct ancestor. Proponents say bringing back the mammoth in an altered form would be useful in fighting the climate crisis and help to restore the fragile arctic tundra ecosystem. Colossal's co-founder says they aim to create the first calves the next four to six years. So, fans of Jurassic Park will love that story.

Thanks for watching us. I'm Rosemary Church. Be sure to connect with me on Twitter @rosemaryCNN. "NEW DAY" is up after a short break. Do stay with us and have a wonderful day.