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Republicans Block Health Care Bill For Veterans; Efforts Continue To Free Americans Held In Russia; More Missing Text Messages In January 6 Investigation; San Francisco Declares Monkeypox Public Health Emergency; At Least 16 Killed In Kentucky Flooding. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired July 29, 2022 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: This quick programming note.

Join CNN as we explore the extremes of Patagonia's far south, where the land is a wind-blasted tundra, but the sea is teeming with life, "Patagonia: Life on the Edge of the World" Sunday 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific, only here on CNN.

Thanks for your time today and this week on INSIDE POLITICS. Try to have a safe and pleasant weekend.

Fredricka Whitfield picks up our coverage right now.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New York. Ana Cabrera is off today.

We begin this hour in Kentucky. The death toll has doubled today and is expected to double again. At least 16 people, including children, are confirmed lost to catastrophic flash flooding in the eastern part of the state. The floodwaters were so strong and violent, they swept an elderly man and woman from their homes.

And in some areas, the homes themselves were washed away. At last count, about 300 people have been rescued. Some had scrambled onto their rooftops and some just ran for their lives.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D-KY): We have never seen something like this. Folks who deal with this for a living, have been doing it for 20 years, have never seen water this high.

We still can't get to a lot of people, though. There's so much water, the current is so strong, it's not safe for some of the water rescues that we need to do. We will be in the search-and-rescue certainly today and tomorrow. And then we're going to be looking at a year's worth at least of rebuilding.


WHITFIELD: President Biden has declared a major disaster across Eastern Kentucky.

And the National Guard is helping to rescue people.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro joining us now from Clay County.

So, Evan, what is the situation where you are?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, it is really hard skill to get to the worst of this, because this is an ongoing situation.

We're not really in the aftermath yet. My CNN crew, Dave and Chris, we pulled over on the side of the road to talk to you and give you a catchup on where we are, what we're seeing so far.

And the important thing for people to know at home is that this is an active situation. We're not really in the aftermath yet. As you drive around, the radio comes on with that emergency broadcast system, saying, prepare for more floodwaters, prepare for flash floods.

This is still happening, 17 counties so far affected, as you said, that death toll now 16, expected to rise. That's across four counties. These flash floods are so terrifying. I have covered them a couple of times. And the thing that makes them so scary is how fast they happen. These waters just rise out of nowhere and take houses and cars and lives along with them.

Listen to some sound from people who went through the worst of this flash flood so far.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said, you better be getting some clothes on, getting your backpack, because we got to get out of here.

And by the time we got out to the neighbors, actually, to Tony's double-wide, it was -- it had went from the back of the trailer to the carport.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Completely crushed.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just relieved to get out of there. I'm going to lose everything I have, for sure, but it's better than losing my life.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Just absolutely devastating to hear that, hear the people talk.

You mentioned the governor at the top of the piece. He talked a little bit about what has gone on so far. We expect to hear more from him this afternoon. My crew is making their way towards some of the worst of these floodwaters, and we will have more for you and more for the audience as we go.

But, for right now, we are in an active situation here in Kentucky, people just absolutely devastated by these floodwaters, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Yes, a terrible situation and seemingly worsening.

Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you so much.

Our next guest works for a public charity that helps people in Eastern Kentucky and is now collecting relief funds for flood victims.

Kiristen Webb is with the nonprofit Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky.

Good to see you.

More than half of Kentucky is made up of farmland. So,how disastrous is this flooding, particularly to the farming community?

KIRISTEN WEBB, FOUNDATION FOR APPALACHIAN KENTUCKY: I know that the word devastation keeps floating around,but it's gone.

Several of my farmers, one of which we were actually really concerned. We couldn't find her. And that story is common. As your colleague was talking about, this is an active situation, and we're still in search- and-rescue. So it's a matter of even finding people right now. Thankfully, she was located, but her farm is gone.

And so we work hard to -- we're working hard to develop a local food network. And that has just -- it's devastated...


WHITFIELD: Yes. Oh, my goodness. I mean, how do you do that, especially since you say right now the priority is search-and-rescue?

But, along the way, in looking for people, you're also seeing the damage that is left behind by this kind of flash flooding.

How are you mapping out a plan to try to assist people as best you can? I know you are collecting funds, but then how do you prioritize and in what ways you're going to be able to help people?

WEBB: Well, I'm glad you asked that, because that is something I really want to drive home, is that this is not just today and tomorrow, this week, and next week or the next two weeks.

And I think that the governor discussed that too. This is going to be months, maybe years of recovery. And so, right now, we are focusing on, what do people need right now, what do people need this weekend, what do people need in two weeks, what do people need in a year, and dividing those things up and focusing on priorities that way.

WHITFIELD: Kiristen Webb,thank you so much for your time. All the best in your endeavors to try to help as many as you can.

And, of course, everybody at home, you can help the victims of the Kentucky flooding. Just go to to get more information.

All right, now let's take a step back for the big picture here.

CNN's Allison Chinchar is in the Weather Center.

So, Allison, is the worst over for folks in Eastern Kentucky in terms of rainfall damage, potentially more flash flooding?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, well, there is going to be a little bit of a short-term break.

And that will be at least good news for the recovery, the cleanup process, but then there is going to be more in just a few more days. So, that short-term period is very short-term in terms of getting a break from the rain.

Let's take a look back at the last several days. This is since Monday. And, really, that focal point here is basically from this West Virginia, Virginia, Eastern Kentucky period, all the way stretching back towards Kansas City. And you can see some of the pink areas right here in Eastern Kentucky and also areas around St. Louis.

Those were the places where we have seen the eight to 10 inches of rain in those shorter periods of time, and then even higher amounts when you start to factor in two, three, even four days worth of rain.

Now, some of the smaller creeks and streams, the good news there is that most of them have already crested. We're starting to see them come back down, and pretty quickly. And they're expected to remain low. The problem is that water has to flow somewhere.

And so a lot of the bigger rivers, where all of that water ends up going downstream, they have yet to crest. So take, for example, this is the Kentucky River at Heidelberg. Notice we still have not crested yet. It's not likely to happen for at least the next 12 to 24 hours. Then we will finally start to see that water begin to recede.

But for areas right there in the communities right there along that point, you're going to continue to see that water go back up. These are the areas where we anticipate having the flash flood threat, at least for today.

And again, Fred, you can see it's a pretty widespread area.

WHITFIELD: All right, Allison Chinchar, thank you so much.

All right, turning now to the monkeypox outbreak, San Francisco has become the first major American city to declare it a public health emergency, as vaccine demand surges there. And the state of New York has declared monkeypox an imminent threat to public health. New York and California are the two hardest-hit states.

They account for almost half of the nation's confirmed monkeypox cases.

CNN's Camila Bernal is in San Francisco.

Camila, how will this emergency declaration help people who have been exposed to or are seeking the vaccine there?


So, ideally, this gets them resources quickly, because that's what officials here are saying. They're saying they need outreach, they need testing, they need vaccines, and they need treatment. And this state of emergency should help get all of those things a little bit quicker than expected and without any roadblocks.

What officials here are saying is that they're seeing these cases increasing and increasing, and doing so quickly. And that's why they feel like they need more in terms of logistics and resources.

But, beyond that, what they're really saying is that they want to get the attention of the federal government because they say they need those resources from the government, especially the vaccines. Mayor London Breed here saying she reached out to the Department of Health and Human Services, expressing her concerns, and really asking for more vaccines.

She says that San Francisco needs about 70,000 doses. And she says, so far, they have only gotten about 12,000. So she says there is a huge need for these vaccines in this area.

Take a listen to how she described it.


LONDON BREED (D), MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: We want to make it known that San Francisco has one of the highest case rates already of monkeypox of any other major city in the country. We don't want to be ignored by the federal government in our need.


So many leaders of the LGBT community have also, weeks ago, asked for additional help and support and assistance.


BERNAL: And, look, a lot of local leaders are saying that this is kind of a deja vu moment for them.

They remember the time when the federal government was not very helpful during the AIDS crisis. So what leaders here are saying is that they're going to try to do everything they can to help people, to also fight the stigma and the hate, and instead show their support and their affirmation for the LGBTQ+ community -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then when can cities like San Francisco expect to see more vaccines coming their way? BERNAL: That's a great question.

And even the people and the leaders here are asking that same question. When are we going to get those vaccines? This emergency -- or state of emergency goes into effect on Monday, but it really is unclear when they're going to get more vaccines.

They say they have had to shut down some of the clinics because they do not have enough vaccines. And they're also saying that people who need a second dose are going to have to wait until those vaccines come. For no, they're only allowing people to have that first dose just because there is not enough and they don't know when they're going to get that second dose or even the first dose for others who need it at the moment -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Camila Bernal, thanks so much.

So, as the federal government scrambles to meet the demand for the monkeypox vaccine, work is well under way for an updated COVID booster for this fall.

"The New York Times" reports that the Biden administration plans to offer new versions of the Moderna and Pfizer boosters in September. They're expected to provide stronger protection against the BA.5 subvariant. It's become the dominant strain in the U.S.

The White House says it will buy about 171 million doses from the two companies, pending authorization and CDC recommendation.

All right, straight ahead this hour, the principal of the Texas elementary school where a gunman went on a rampage is back on the job today. We will explain.

Plus, an update on an Indiana abortion provider who is the target of a state investigation. Her lawyer says the complaints against her are unfounded.

And, later, lotto fever is in full swing. Tonight's billion-dollar jackpot just got even bigger. A live report coming up.



WHITFIELD: All right, the criminal investigation into the January 6 attacks seems to be heating up.

In a significant move, the House Select Committee has agreed to share 20 of its transcripts with the Justice Department. Committee Chair Bennie Thompson has said the DOJ is interested in individuals connected to the Trump campaign's fake electors scheme.

CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz joining us now with more on this.

Katelyn, so we just learned last hour that the committee interviewed former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, months ago, in fact, and now there's reporting that some of his text messages are missing. What more can you tell us?


Well, Fred, the committee seems to be making great progress. But every time we're learning about the progress we're -- they're making, there seems to be more work that they need to do then.

And what we are now learning as of last night because of a "Washington Post" report is that there are missing text messages, more missing text messages, at the Department of Homeland Security than was previously known.

So "The Washington Post" is reporting, based on sources and on documents they received from a nonprofit called the Project on Government Oversight, that there are text messages of Chad Wolf, the acting secretary at DHS, and his deputy, Ken Cuccinelli, from the days leading up to the January 6 attack, so that crucial period where the House really wants to create a complete record of what happened, especially in leadership of important agencies like DHS.

The House basically was able to say that they learned this just now. But this is something that has been known within DHS and also by their inspector general watchdog for some time now. And this pattern of learning about these text messages quite late after they have gone missing, that has already happened once to the House committee.

This happened with the Secret Service recently too, where text messages of key agents were also lost because of a technical migration within the department. So the chairman, Bennie Thompson, he said that this was extremely troubling in a statement last night.

And, of course, there is the possibility that they could have gotten better records, he says, from senior administration officials if they had known this earlier, perhaps at the time that they had interviewed Wolf.


OK. And then you and Evan Perez also have exclusive reporting that the DOJ is preparing for a court battle with former White House officials over executive privilege. So what's happening there?

POLANTZ: That's right.

So we don't know if a case has been filed at this time, but the Justice Department is gearing up to have a very significant separation of powers court fight related to their criminal investigation in the D.C. District Court.

So what's happening here is that, in recent weeks, there have been people that have gone into the grand jury, specifically from the office of the vice president, that Evan Perez and I have learned about who were unable to talk about certain things that Donald Trump may want to still protect as secret around the presidency. And so the way to get around that is the Justice Department may have

to go to court, take it through judges, to create a situation where they can compel those people to share what they know.


So they don't know everything yet, but they are going to move toward trying to get that. And what's important about this -- it sounds like a court fight. You might not follow every single step of it. But one of the things that's important about it is that it's very aggressive.

This is the sort of thing that happens in a very significant criminal investigation that's trying to nail down not just what was happening around Donald Trump, but what Donald Trump himself was saying up to and on January 6 -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.

And this just into CNN. We have just learned that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have spoken today. This is on the heels of a CNN exclusive report that the administration has offered to exchange Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for detained Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

CNN national security correspondent Kylie Atwood is at the State Department with more on this.

Kylie, what more are you learning?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're just learning from the secretary that he did have a phone call earlier today with the Russian foreign minister.

We should note that this is the first time that these two diplomats have had a conversation since Russia's invasion into Ukraine. And what he said is, it was a frank discussion. And he pressed the Russian foreign minister for the Russians to accept the substantial offer that the United States has put on the table, in hopes of securing the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

Just listen to what he had to say.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We had a frank and direct conversation.

I pressed the Kremlin to accept the substantial proposal that we put forth on the release of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner.


ATWOOD: Now, what the secretary of state wouldn't do is characterize the Russian response to his pressing them to accept this offer that is on the table from the United States' side. He also wouldn't characterize if this offer, if any deal was any more

likely or less likely after this phone call today. But we did hear from the Russians earlier this morning, talking about -- the Russian foreign minister saying he would be having a phone call with Secretary of State Tony Blinken.

But he also said that President Biden and President Putin had talked about prisoner swaps last year when they met. They had directed the appropriate folks to deal with that, saying that the Foreign Ministry was not that group of people, so indicating that they -- the Russians may think that this is going to be an issue that is solved through other channels, perhaps through the intelligence community.


And then, Kylie, Brittney Griner's trial. With all of this negotiating potentially happening, the trial continues next week. She's facing drug charges in Russia. How does her trial play into these efforts to get her home?

ATWOOD: Yes, well, listen, we know that Biden administration officials have been frustrated that they haven't gotten a substantial response from Russia in response to this proposal they put on the table.

But there is also this ongoing trial, as you note. And we have talked to U.S. officials who say that they believe there probably wouldn't be any prisoner swap that is now under discussion until that trial is concluded, until there is an actual sentencing for Brittney Griner.

So we know that there is another hearing next week on August 2, on Tuesday, as part of this ongoing trial. So we will watch for that and, of course, whatever sentencing comes out of that, because that could impact when this deal actually does potentially come to fruition -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, indeed, lots of moving parts.

All right, Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thanks so much.

All right, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be leaving tonight for a tour of Russia (sic), but, last hour, she dodged questions on whether her travels will indeed include a stop in Taiwan. The possibility has escalated tensions between the U.S. and China.

Pelosi is a longtime critic of China. And Beijing objects to foreign visits to Taiwan. The government sees them as a show of support for independence. A Pelosi visit has triggered warnings from Beijing and has provoked alarm in Washington.

Next: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion that overturned Roe vs. Wade, is mocking foreign critics of that decision. What he is saying -- when we come right back.


[13:29:10] WHITFIELD: All right, a lot of anger and finger-pointing today after Senate Republicans blocked a multibillion-dollar bill that would help millions of U.S. veterans who suffered toxic exposure to burn pits during their military service; 25 GOP senators who previously supported the legislation voted against it Wednesday.

Veterans activist Jon Stewart slammed lawmakers blocking the passage.


JON STEWART, COMEDIAN/ACTIVIST: America's heroes who fought in our wars outside sweating their asses, with oxygen, battling all kinds of ailments, while these (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sit in the air conditioning, walled off from any of it.


WHITFIELD: Earlier today, CNN spoke to Army veteran Le Roy Torres, who has health problems caused by his exposure to burn pits during his service in the Iraq War.