Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Ukraine Closer to Joining E.U.; Russia's War on Ukraine; January 6 Hearings; Colombian Fuel Prices May Affect Elections; U.S. Economy; U.K. Approves Extradition Order for Julian Assange; Montana Floods; Dangerous U.S. Heat. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired June 18, 2022 - 03:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Live from CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and all around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber.

Ahead this hour, hundreds of Ukrainian civilians stuck in a key city in Eastern Ukraine. I'll speak with an American, who lived there for years, about what makes Severodonetsk so crucial.

Plus --


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The greatest danger to America is the destruction of our nation from the people from within.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Donald Trump there, doing what he can to flip the script in response to the recent January 6th hearings. We'll have more from his first public appearance since they began and what we can expect next in the next round.


BRUNHUBER (voice-over): And Colombia is poised to lead Latin America's green energy initiative. We'll tell you how politics are getting in the way of that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Kim Brunhuber.

BRUNHUBER: We begin in Ukraine, which has just cleared the first hurdle on a path to join the European Union. Ukrainian and E.U. flags flew side by side in Kyiv on Friday after the European Commission recommending, they be given candidate status.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is OK with that because the E.U. isn't a military alliance like NATO. British prime minister Boris Johnson made a surprise visit to Kyiv Friday. He offered Ukraine a major military training program he said would fundamentally change the equation of the war.

And new videos appeared on pro-Russian sites that appear to show two U.S. volunteers missing in Ukraine. This is a photo of them posted earlier. CNN isn't showing the new videos because the two men appear to be under duress.

The Kremlin claims it knows nothing about their fate but President Joe Biden has a message for any American who might want to go to Ukraine. Here he is.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to reiterate, Americans should not be going to Ukraine now.


BRUNHUBER: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is praising the decision on the E.U. candidate status, despite the fact that the move doesn't guarantee membership anytime soon. But as Salma Abdelaziz explains, it still has symbolic significance.


SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One small step toward Ukraine's major goal of joining the European Union. The president of the European Commission on Friday recommending Ukraine for candidacy status.

The president of the European Commission saying that Ukrainians are willing to die for European ideals and welcoming them into this next step. We'll wait to find out more next week from the European Commission.

But President Zelenskyy, of course, welcomed the news and said it would make Ukraine safer and stronger. Take a listen.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Ukraine deserves this positive. Ukrainian values are European values. Ukrainian institutions maintain resilience, even in conditions of war.

Ukrainian democratic habits have not lost their power even now and our approach mall (ph) with the European Union is not only positive for us. This is the greatest contribution to the future of Europe in many years.


ABDELAZIZ: This past week has been very important in healing divisions in the European alliance. President Zelenskyy has been vocal in particular against two European leaders, the German chancellor and the French president.

He said he believes they, in the past, were soft on President Putin, soft on Moscow. In particular his grievance with German chancellor Olaf Scholz is around sanctions. Germany has yet to ban oil and gas from Russia and instead saying they're going to phase it out by the end of the year.

When it comes to president Emmanuel Macron, Zelenskyy feels he strikes too conciliatory of a tone at time to try to bring President Putin to the negotiating table. That's why they're at this very important visit a couple of days ago in Kyiv.

Three European leaders, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy, arriving by train, making their way to President Zelenskyy's bunker, standing alongside him, a very important photo opportunity.

And, of course, this recommendation for candidacy status from the E.U., all of that to try to bridge the divide, try to make clear that Ukraine's commitment, Ukraine's fight for Europe at large is recognized.

And President Zelenskyy has repeated this over and over again. He believes that those fighting on the front lines, Ukraine soldiers dying on the front lines, are not just dying for Ukraine; they're dying for Europe at large.

So a real recognition that the security, the stability and the sovereignty of Ukraine matters to the larger region -- Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, Kyiv.



BRUNHUBER: In Eastern Ukraine, negotiations are underway to evacuate hundreds of civilians stranded at a chemical plant in Severodonetsk. That's from a Ukrainian regional officer, who says the talks include a possible cease-fire.

The city is taking the brunt of a Russian offensive in the Donbas region, including brutal street by street battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces.

We're now joined by Brian Milakovsky, an economic expert, who lived in the city for years, to talk about why Severodonetsk is so crucial. He is speaking to us from Riga, Latvia.

Thank you so much for being here with us. Before we talk about importance of the city, you and your wife and your 5-month-old fled the city. You've been in touch with folks there.

What have they been telling you about the situation there?

BRIAN MILAKOVSKY, ECONOMIC EXPERT: It's incredibly dire. I was also involved in fundraising and coordinating with local volunteers to get civilians evacuated from the city. And the conditions have become just absolutely hellish. People are afraid to even get out of their bomb shelters at this point.

Perhaps 10 percent of the city's population is still there, despite urgent pleas from local government for people to use official and volunteer evacuation opportunities. So, unfortunately, there is just total war in our little city right now.

BRUNHUBER: Total war and total destruction almost. Seeing what's happening now to the city that you spent so much time in, it must be heartbreaking to see what's happened there.

MILAKOVSKY: I spent six years in Severodonetsk and the surrounding Luhansk region, the government-controlled areas. And for me, it's intensely difficult to watch everything that I knew there be destroyed or occupied and placed under a regime of intense ideological pressure and terror by Russian occupying forces.

I can only imagine how difficult it is for people who spent their entire life there.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. That seems to be the Russian MO with these cities; where there is resistance, they go in and destroy as much of it as possible. So explain to us why Russia has spent so much capital trying to take the city.

Is it vital from a military point of view?

MILAKOVSKY: It really isn't. That's what's very interesting here. It's entirely important for them from a symbolic point of view. They've already damaged the city so badly that its economic potential is largely wrecked.

They also have a terrible track record of managing the economy in their occupied territories of the Donbas over the last eight years. So even if they haven't wrecked it, they would have done so by other means.

But it really is symbolic. Strategically, taking the city doesn't open new paths to new territories for them. It doesn't -- it places them across the river from an excellent Ukrainian position, in the city of Lysychansk, which is up on a high hill, that's historically in many different wars been very hard to take.

So it's about them being able to claim that they, quote-unquote "liberated" the entirety of Luhansk oblast, which is one of the two Donbas provinces, where, in their world view, they are welcome, although there is very poor objective evidence of that during this war, and it's really part of their Russian world.

And Ukraine in response also has to take consideration for the symbolic value of Severodonetsk now. It wants to prevent Russia from that triumphalist victory, which will probably be followed perhaps by annexation. That's where a lot of those signals are pointing right now.

And Ukraine also wants to simply force Russia to expend the maximum number of soldiers and arms on taking what is already, unfortunately, a largely wrecked city, so that that force can't be thrown on other cities like Kramatorsk and Slovyansk.

BRUNHUBER: For the civilians, you talked about the efforts to get people out of there, do you have any confidence in Russia in terms of establishing those humanitarian corridors, given the situation we saw in Mariupol?

And what do you think it would mean for the folks to evacuate but Russia is only allowing them to go to Russian controlled territory to the north?

MILAKOVSKY: Well, I mean, for many of them at this point, of course, it's a life-saving question. I wish so sincerely that they had taken earlier opportunities to evacuate on to Ukrainian-controlled territory.

There was an enormous, sincere and very well-organized attempt by Ukrainian government and volunteers to get people out. And they got hundreds of thousands of people out of Luhansk oblast war zone.

Now, of course, these people may make this choice because they need it to save their lives. But it will mean they are subjected to intense propaganda push by Russians.


MILAKOVSKY: I was speaking yesterday to mayors of cities up north that have been in the occupied territories, who are now in exile. And they said people evacuated from war-torn cities right now to the occupied areas are really worked over, to try to convince them that it's entirely Ukraine's fault that their cities were destroyed.

And then they're basically stuck in those territories, unless they have the money, which many don't, to make an enormous arc through Russia into the Baltic states, back down through Poland and back into Ukraine, even though there may be 25, 30 kilometers, 50 kilometers away from government-controlled territory.

BRUNHUBER: It's just a tragic situation for so many people there. We're out of time. But thank you so much for talking to us about this, Brian Milakovsky.

MILAKOVSKY: Thank you.


BRUNHUBER: Russia's president struck a defiant tone Friday as Vladimir Putin aired his grievances against the West in what was billed as major speech. And as Fred Pleitgen reports, the Russian leader is also vowing to press on with his invasion of Ukraine.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin laid out his plans to counter U.S. led sanctions. Putin making clear Russia will not back down from what they call the

special military operation. Old goals of the military operation will be accomplished, he said.

Putin also claiming Russia was forced to invade because the U.S. was bringing Ukraine into its orbit. Russia's decision to conduct a special military operation was forced, he said, difficult, of course but forced and necessarily.

Putin then threatening the U.S. moment as the world's top power is coming to an end. When they won the Cold War, the U.S. declared themselves God's own representatives on earth, he says, people who have no responsibilities only interests, they have declared those interests sacred.

The U.S. and its allies reject any notion of fueling the conflict in Ukraine and have hit Moscow with massive economic sanctions. But Putin says the measures aren't working. The calculation was clear, to crush the Russian economy with a swoop, he says, obviously, it didn't work.

The U.S. accuses Russia of worsening world hunger by blockading Ukrainian ports and causing a massive spike in gas prices. Putin again blaming the West. Even higher prices threatening famine in the poorest countries, and this will be entirely on the conscience of the U.S. administration and the euro bureaucracy, he said.

As Western companies pull out of Russia in droves, Moscow was trying to reorient its economy. A top Russian Senator saying he believes Russia's invasion of Ukraine prevented a larger war with NATO even as Russia's own losses mount.

KONSTANTIN KOSACHEV, RUSSIAN SENATOR: We are all aware about the losses, which take place now. But I am absolutely sure that we have managed to prevent a huge war, probably a third world war.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And Vladimir Putin says the operation in Ukraine will continue until Russia feels it has achieved its aims -- Fred Pleitgen, CNN, St. Petersburg, Russia.


BRUNHUBER: Former president Donald Trump is speaking out against the January 6th hearing. Friday was his first public experience since they began. Despite bombshell evidence in the hearings that Donald Trump committed numerous crimes, he appeared unconcerned and defiant as ever. Here is CNN's Jessica Schneider.


TRUMP: I never called Mike Pence a wimp. I never called him a wimp. Mike Pence had a chance to be great. He had a chance to be, frankly, historic.

But just like Bill Barr and the rest of these weak people, Mike -- and I say it sadly because I like them -- but Mike did not have the courage to act. JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former

president Trump using his platform at a conservative political conference to deny the evidence against him and blast the January 6th committee.

TRUMP: They con people. They're con artists.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Trump's attacks come as the committee is gearing up for several more hearings. CNN has learned Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will at Tuesday's hearing with his deputy.

TRUMP: All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): They'll testify about Trump's efforts to pressure them to change the election result.

The committee also wants to talk to Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, about her communications with Trump attorney John Eastman.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Eastman devised the scheme to pressure then- vice president Mike Pence to block the certification of Biden's 2020 electoral win.

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The teller is verified, it appears to be regular in form and authentic.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Something Pence ultimately refused to do.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): We have sent Ms. Thomas a letter asking us to come and talk to the committee. We look forward to her coming.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Ginni Thomas issued a short response to the committee via the conservative publication, "Daily Caller," saying she can't wait to clear up misconceptions, "I look forward talking to them."

Eastman denying he ever discussed election litigation that might before the Supreme Court with Ginni Thomas or with justice Clarence Thomas.

Eastman writing, "We have never engaged in such discussions, would not engage in such discussion and did not do so in December 2020 or anytime else."

While the committee has requested cooperation from outstanding witnesses, it has so far refused to share full transcripts of all of its interviews with the Justice Department, but the committee says it will not be an obstacle to Justice Department prosecutions.

THOMPSON: We are not going to stop what we're doing to share the information that we've gotten so far with the Department of Justice. We have to do our work.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): CNN has learned the panel is running into problems securing witnesses for an upcoming hearing about Trump's efforts to pressure the Justice Department to support and promote his false election fraud claims.

While Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, the top two officials at DOJ in the final weeks of the Trump administration, are expected to appear, the committee is so far striking out with Pat Cipollone.

Cipollone is the former White House lawyer credited with talking some sense into Trump by threatening to resign. Sources say Cipollone is not expected to join the hearing in person, despite already talking to the committee privately.

SCHNEIDER: And "The New York Times" is also reporting that the committee could start sharing transcripts of those witness interviews with the Justice Department as soon as next month -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.


BRUNHUBER: Colombia was once intent on being a green energy leader and now it's rethinking that strategy. Coming up, why the country is considering old energy ideas as the price of fossil fuel soars. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: Colombians will head to the polls Sunday in a runoff election to pick their next president. They'll be choosing between left wing Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez.

Some of the key issues dominating the election are the country's economy, income inequality, corruption and a rapidly degrading security situation made worse by criminal drug gangs.

Colombia has sets its sights on being a green player, hoping to eventually phase out fossil fuels. But with energy prices soaring, Colombia's revenue from oil and coal has nearly doubled. Stefano Pozzebon reports it's sure to factor into Sunday's election.


STEFANO POZZEBON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Deep in the bush lands of northeastern Colombia, something of a gold rush is taking place. Its prospects are not minerals but energy, clean power to lead the country's transition toward a sustainable future.

The desert, swept by sea breeze every hour of the day, offers optimal condition for wind turbines and investors are jumping in. This park is made up of 15 towers and should start producing power soon. At least a dozen more are on the way.

The target is to increase renewables production a hundredfold.

POZZEBON: Colombia has invested millions over the last four years to try to become a leader in clean energy production in South America. But that was, of course, before the price of fossil fuels spiked up due to the war in Ukraine.

POZZEBON (voice-over): As a consequence of the conflict in Europe and the energy crunch that has followed, Colombia's coal and oil export revenues are up, almost double compared to last year.

While phasing out fossil fuels doesn't seem so inevitable anymore, president Ivan Duque also reneged on a campaign pledge by allowing the first exploration license for fracking in March.

This weekend, the choice between renewables and fossil fuels will play out at the ballot. Left wing candidate Gustavo Petro is leading the polls on a decisively anti-drilling campaign.


GUSTAVO PETRO, COLOMBIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): They are three poisons. The ugliest one is coal taken out of our Caribbean coast. Then it's oil and the third one is cocaine.


POZZEBON (voice-over): His opponent has other plans.


RODOLFO HERNANDEZ, COLOMBIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (through translator): Our transition plan to wash (ph) renewable energies cannot take less than 10 years. We must do it step by step.


POZZEBON (voice-over): The war in Ukraine has already had an impact here. Not far from the turbines lies Cerrejon, the largest open pit coal mine in South America.

Although its owner, Glencore, pledged to wind down production by 2034 as part of its climate commitment, it also requested permission to partially deviate a stream to expand the mine.

When Germany announced it was banning imports of coal from Russia, Colombia quickly offered to increase production. Activists, who oppose the expansion of the mine, believe the Colombian environment will pay the price for Germany's decision.


LEOBALO SIERRA, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST (through translator): The Germans said they were not going to use coal anymore, lead this clean transition. But now there is a war up there and they want to buy coal here.

So where does that leave us?



POZZEBON (voice-over): What we may be seeing is the so-called butterfly effect, when a seemingly minor action in one place leads to enormous consequences on the other side of the globe -- Stefano Pozzebon, CNN, Naguahila (ph), Colombia.


BRUNHUBER: I'm Kim Brunhuber. In North America, I'll be back with more CNN NEWSROOM in just a moment. For our international viewers, "AFRICAN VOICES: CHANGEMAKERS" is next.





BRUNHUBER: Welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States and Canada. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

Another January 6th rioter has pleaded guilty; 57-year-old Mark Mazza carried a concealed revolver with hollow point bullets into the Capitol that day. During the riot, he is also seen hitting a police officer with the officer's own baton. He could face up to 20 years in prison for assaulting the officer.

Now over the course of three public hearings so far, the select committee has laid out vivid new details about what happened that day. On Thursday, the panel presented chilling testimony of how rioters came dangerously close to finding vice president Mike Pence while chanting that they wanted to hang him.

Donald Trump continues to deny the evidence building against him. On Friday, he appeared at his first public event since the hearings began and lashed out at the committee members as, quote, "con artists."

Meanwhile, two prominent election officials in Georgia are expected to testify at the next hearing on Tuesday. Trump is heard on tape, pressuring them to, quote, "find thousands of nonexistent votes" after he lost the election.

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is heading to trial for contempt of Congress after defying a congressional subpoena for documents. Bannon's defense team and the Justice Department are already trying to set the ground rules for that trial. Bannon's lawyers say any testimony, video or other evidence of the

January 6th riot should be excluded. Federal prosecutors say they want to keep Bannon from turning his trial into a circus. They've asked the judge to bar Bannon from talking about his personal politics or from claiming executive privilege as justification for defying the subpoena.

Markets were rattled again on Wall Street after the U.S. Federal Reserve announced its largest interest rate hike in decades in an attempt to get inflation under control. Stocks tried to stage a comeback on Friday but failed to offset the effects of the prior day's selloff.

The S&P closed marginally higher but still wound up with its worst week since 2020. This comes as the U.S. President says he is confident about the economy. Joe Biden told the Associated Press that America is in a stronger position than any other nation to overcome inflation. He also addressed rising fuel costs. Here he is.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In the United States, I'm using every lever available to me to bring down prices for the American people. And our nations are working together to stabilize global energy markets, including coordinating the largest release from the global reserve -- from global oil reserves in history.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile, American home buyers are already feeling the pinch of the Fed's latest interest rate hike. Mortgage rates jumped to nearly 6 percent this week, the largest one-week increase in decades. CNN's Brian Todd has the story.



BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dana Burns got some sticker shock recently when shopping for a new house in the Phoenix area.

BURNS: $500,000, I don't think so. I know not.

TODD: Dana certainly not alone in navigating higher home prices and steeper mortgages. At the end of 2021, 30-year fixed rate mortgages in the U.S. had interest rates of only about 3 percent. Now, the rate is approaching about 6 percent.

And with the Fed's interest rate hikes just announced, getting a mortgage could cost some home buyers hundreds of thousands dollars more.

BILL KOWALCZUK, REAL ESTATE BROKER, COLDWELL BANKER WARBURG: For an average home buyer, it could cost upwards of six figures, more than $100,000 over the course of a 30-year loan today versus if they had purchased perhaps six to seven months ago.

TODD: What's the first thing a perspective home buyer should do right now as interest rates climb?

MICHELLE SINGLETARY, PERSONAL FINANCE COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The first thing you ought to do is sit down and look at all your debts. Because before you go look at the house, before you fall in love with that house, look to make sure you can handle that payment.

And here's something else that I'm going to tell you that a lot of people don't tell you. Don't go by what the bank says that you can afford, because they're going to look at your gross income. They're going to look at all your debts and they're going to look at your gross income.

But guess what?

You don't take your gross income home.

TODD: Most financial experts advise put as much money down for your home as you can. One key component home buyers have to navigate, whether to get a fixed rate mortgage of 15 to 30 years with an interest rate that never changes, or a so-called ARM, an adjustable rate mortgage with interest rates that go up and down depending on the markets and when the government raises or lowers rates.

KOWALCZUK: If you think that you'll be there for less than five years, an adjustable rate mortgage would definitely be the way to go, because it's a lower monthly payment.


KOWALCZUK: If you think you're going to be staying longer than five years, a 15-year, or a 30-year mortgage would be great. It just depends on what monthly payment you're able to carry.

TODD: With mortgage interest rates climbing, is now even a good time to buy?

Our experts are torn.

SINGLETARY: Renting does not mean that you are a financial failure. Renting in an environment where we might have a recession will allow you to pick up and move maybe where the jobs are.

KOWALCZUK: If you are able to make a downtown and qualify for a mortgage, it will cost you less to own that home than it would be to rent the same property.

TODD: Now what's a common mistake people make when taking on a new mortgage, buying a new home?

One expert we spoke to said many people simply buy too much house, overestimating the affordability of their mortgage, not factoring in the maintenance costs of the house -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: The U.K. clears the way for Julian Assange to be extradited to the U.S. But the WikiLeaks founder isn't out of options yet. The charges he is facing and his next steps -- after the break.

Plus, a dangerous heat wave is affecting much of the U.S. this weekend. We'll get the details from the CNN Weather Center later in the show. Stay with us.





BRUNHUBER: Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange say they will fight plans to extradite him to the U.S. He has been in a British prison for the last three years. He is also accused of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, which can carry a five-year prison sentence.

On top of that, there are 17 charges under the Espionage Act, each of which has a maximum 10-year sentence. These relate to the release of thousands of classified documents and diplomatic cables. Nic Robertson has more.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The British government is saying that Julian Assange's extradition can go ahead because it's not oppressive, because it's not unjust, because it's not going to lead to an abuse of power and it's not going to violate his human rights.

Now there had been an earlier judgment by a judge some time ago, many months, saying that Assange shouldn't be extradited because his mental well-being could not be guaranteed.

Now the British government is saying that they believe that he will get fairly and properly looked after, that his health and welfare will be properly looked after and that he will have the freedom of expression.

They also have a bar set on extradition, that the subject cannot be exposed to the death penalty and, in this case, that would not happen to Assange and also that the extradition charges would be the charges that he would face in the United States and that also is a given in this case.

But Assange's family is calling this a very dark day for journalism. His wife is saying that she will fight for him in every way she can.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) STELLA MORIS, ASSANGE'S WIFE: We're not at the end of the road here. We're going to fight this. We're going to use every appeal avenue and we're going to fight. I'm going to spend every waking hour fighting for Julian until he's free, until justice is served.


ROBERTSON: Well, Assange's wife and his lawyers have 14 days to appeal. They can appeal through the British high courts, the magistrate's courts.

But they also say if they sort of run out of all possibilities within the U.K., then they'll turn to European courts for help and that could, indeed, slow down the process. They're also appealing to the Australian government, reminding the Australian government that Julian Assange is an Australian citizen.

And they'd like the Australian government to stop his extradition and get him freed as well. At the moment, though, 14 days for the appeal, this process has been running a long time and looks like it continues to run longer -- Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


BRUNHUBER: Flooding is devastating a beloved U.S. national park.

But where was the state's governor as the high water caused serious damage?

We'll answer that question after the break. Stay with us.






BRUNHUBER (voice-over): Well, you're looking at video of historic flooding at Yellowstone National Park, which is currently closed. Now Republican congress woman Liz Cheney is requesting emergency funding from the Biden administration.

She is asking transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg for money to make repairs to the park's infrastructure which has been devastated. The U.S. Geological Survey calls it a one in 500 year event.

Heavy rains and rapid snow melt caused rivers to destroy bridges and sweep away entire sections of roadway. It forced more than 10,000 visitors out of the park.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: So as historic flooding devastated parts of Montana, many residents around Yellowstone National Park were wondering where the state's governor was. CNN's Nick Watt explains.


GOV. GREG GIANFORTE (R-MT): We're open for business. We want you to come.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Finally, the governor is here.

GIANFORTE: We have basements filled with mud. We had homes washed away. We had bridges that have been washed away. But we're committed to rebuild this.

WATT: He's here days after the flood waters that slammed the state have -- well, they've already left. No one knew where the governor was all week while his people wrestled with the aftermath.

T.J. Britton's house sailed away.

T.J. BRITTON, MONTANA RESIDENT: I spent 16 years of my life there in that place.

WATT: Governor Greg Gianforte wouldn't say where he was. He was all over social media during the destructive historic high waters along the Yellowstone River that closed the national park.

"We are closely monitoring the flooding in south central Montana," he tweeted Monday.


WATT (voice-over): Didn't say where he was monitoring the flooding from.

Turns out, it wasn't anywhere inside Montana. Questions started Tuesday morning when the lieutenant governor, not the governor, signed the state's disaster declaration.

Gianforte's office told local media he left the country Saturday with his wife on a personal trip. So the day before the waters rose and he'd be back ASAP. They wouldn't say where he was, citing security protocols.

The federal disaster declaration came Thursday but still, no sign of the governor in the flesh. These floods are a big deal for Montana. Millions of dollars worth of damage, the state's north entrance to the national park will be closed for months leaving residents of the gateway town of Gardiner fearing for their future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It became this ghost town. I mean, there's nobody here.

WATT: The last time the national spotlight was so on the Treasure State might have been in 2017 when Gianforte body slammed a reporter during his congressional campaign.

GIANFORTE: I'm sick and tired of you guys.

WATT: This week's game of the governor's "Where's Waldo" has echoes of Senator Ted Cruz, heading to Cancun last year during a cold snap and power outages in his home state of Texas. Cruz caught heat.

Today in Montana, the postdiluvian governor is now back in the saddle.

GIANFORTE: Montanans are resilient. We're going to get this rebuilt.

WATT: So the governor was in Italy on vacation. Now his office says that he handed over his authority to the lieutenant governor, quote, "with whom he worked closely over the last four days to take swift, decisive action."

I will just note there is an eight-hour time difference between Montana and Italy. Listen, many people have been caught on vacation when something big happens. But maybe just be a bit more honest about it. Maybe come home a little sooner.

And full disclosure, I am reporting tonight on Montana politics from California. I flew out of Montana this morning, not long after the governor flew back in -- Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


BRUNHUBER: A dangerous heat wave is impacting much of the U.S. Authorities in the Tennessee Valley announced a new June record for electricity demand was set on Thursday.

In Texas, Homeland Security says they're investigating whether a possible human smuggling attempt was behind the deaths of two migrants from heat exposure or dehydration.



BRUNHUBER: That wraps this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. Thanks for watching. I'll be back with more news in just a few minutes. Please do stay with us.