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More Missing Texts, This Time From Trump DHS Officials, Raise New January 6 Questions; At Least 16 Killed In Catastrophic Kentucky Flooding; 9/11 Families Slam Saudi-Backed LIV Golf Tournament In New Jersey. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 29, 2022 - 14:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Victor Blackwell. Welcome to CNN Newsroom.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota. We begin with the fight for evidence in the investigations of the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The Washington Post reports that more texts are missing, this time from President Trump's senior Homeland Security officials related to the days surrounding the riot. So now it's more than just the Secret Service. They cannot produce critical texts connected to the Trump supporters who tried to overturn Joe Biden's win.

BLACKWELL: We're also learning about the latest moves from the Justice Department as investigators pursue interviews with top officials from the Trump administration. CNN is exclusively reported that prosecutors are preparing for a major court battle on executive privilege.

It's the clearest sign yet that federal investigators are focusing on Trump's actions in his attempts to prevent the transfer of power to Joe Biden. Trump's former acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, who testified yesterday to the House Committee probe in January 6 said this today.


MICK MULVANEY, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Now this information that you've presented in the last couple of hours, gives some evidence that the DOJ investigation is now moving closer and closer to the White House, and that they're starting to talk to people inside the Trump orbit as opposed to just the rioters themselves, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.

So I think that -- that's probably the most significant piece of information we have in the last couple of days regarding the DOJ investigation.


CAMEROTA: OK, let's get the latest from CNN law enforcement correspondent Whitney Wild and CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez. So Whitney, you first tell us about these missing texts and why the inspector general in the Homeland Security Department is also under fire.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this has been really a pattern over the last few weeks that we've seen these key agencies unable to retrieve data from it, albeit about a year and a half ago. And what we're learning now this is, again, according to The Washington Post is there appears to be an inability for the inspector general to retrieve key information from as you pointed out, Ken Cuccinelli and Chad Wolf.

The reason that this is so important is because, again, they held these very high profile positions at an agency that really has a lot to answer for not only for the intelligence sharing prior to January 6, but also for what happened on January 6, then, and, you know, in and honestly, in the days that followed as well.

So, but the issue here is different from what we've been reporting on with the Secret Service. So the issue here, again, this is according to The Washington Post, and information that we've collected here at CNN as well is that these two men when they left their posts, gave their cell phones back to the Department of Homeland Security.

And then apparently, those were wiped to presumably hand off to another person, or at least just because these two men had left the Department of Homeland Security. Chad Wolf is responding on Twitter saying he gave his cell phone back to the Department of Homeland Security was fully loaded. He says that he abided by all records retention laws. I reached out to Ken Cuccinelli, we have not yet heard back.

But certainly as you point out, this is riling members of oversight committees, who -- who's just basically one of their big jobs is to oversee the DHS watchdog, Joseph Cuffari, and this is not welcomed news to the chairman of the department -- of the House Homeland Security Committee, Bennie Thompson, who sent in a statement to CNN pointing out that this again follows this pattern. He says it's extremely troubling that the issue of deleted text messages related to the January 6 attack on the Capitol is not limited to the Secret Service, but it also includes Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, who were running DHS at the time. It appears the DHS Inspector General has known about these deleted text messages for months but failed to notify Congress.

They're also upset with him that he failed to notify Congress about the challenges in retrieving information from the Secret Service. We have reached out to the department -- the Department of Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General, but we have not yet heard back.

BLACKWELL: Yes, certainly troubling. Evan, let's turn to you on CNN exclusive on the criminal investigation on January 6. What are you learning?

[14:05:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, we're looking at what the Justice Department is preparing to do which is to try to get closer to the people who were interacting directly with the former president.

And, you know, they confronted this issue, recently the issue of executive privilege, which, you know, a couple of members of for Vice President Pence's staff, Greg Jacob, and Marc Short testified before the grand jury, and they declined to answer certain questions that they said was protected by executive privilege.

The Justice Department believes that obviously, this is something that they can get passed, because and we really, as you pointed out, really shows you how they are trying to get to the center of all of this issue, which is the pressure on Mike Pence to, you know, to block the certification of the election results in 2020, as well as trying to get these fake electors to keep Donald Trump in office, who's at the center of that Donald Trump himself.

And so, at this point, we know that the Justice Department is looking to go to court to try to compel some of this testimony. And it really shows you that, you know, again, some of that is going we expect is going to take a little while, but they are planning to try to get to some of that testimony that gets to the center of all of this. Victor and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, Whitney, thank you for the reporting. Evan, I want you to stay with us and let's bring into the conversation CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, former federal and state prosecutor and he's also the author of "Hatchet Man: Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutors Code and Corrupted the Justice Department."

Elie, the committee stayed away from taking on this fight because of the calendar. How sensitive is the time constraint for DOJ?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, time matters here quite a bit, Victor. Part of the reason Robert Mueller's team did not go to court and did not try to fight to get these highly sensitive conversations that might be covered by executive privilege they said, it just wasn't worth the fight. It wasn't worth the timing. We didn't have enough time.

DOJ, according to our new recording, is preparing to have that fight to go into court and say we need these conversations between Donald Trump and key advisors Marc Short and perhaps even higher ranking advisors.

Now, the bad news is those disputes historically have taken at times a ridiculously long time over a year if you think back to the Don McGahn dispute. The better news though is recently earlier this year, the January 6 committee went to court on some of these things and got decisions just in a few months. And really, it's up to DOJ to push judges. Hey, Your Honor, we need this really quickly. This is really important. But judges just have to do their jobs in a more quick, more timely manner because these are crucial legal questions. These are crucial separation of powers questions, and this will determine whether DOJ gets access to Crucial Conversations.

CAMEROTA: Elie, can I ask you about these missing texts, I have to believe that you have been involved in some cases where texts couldn't be found. And so the fact that these texts can't be found from the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security, is there anything that can be done to get them?

HONIG: So let me try to explain this as a non-technological person to our audience. There are times when it appears that texts are gone. I had a case once where we seized the phone and it looked like all the texts had been deleted. But when you send the phone into the forensics experts at the FBI lab, they're able to resuscitate them. Again, not speaking technologically, but sometimes it looks like texts and emails are gone. But they're really not.

It depends on how long it's been, which is why it matters, by the way, that there was this time lag between DHS notifying DOJ that these things were missing, you could have lost them in that time that matter. It depends on the technology, the provider, the SIM card, all the put but it is possible to raise these texts from the dead.

However, there serious, serious questions here. I mean, best case scenario for DHS, Secret Service, by the way, as part of DHS best case scenario, gross incompetence, maybe worse than that we don't know.

BLACKWELL: Evan, I'm going to say a name now most viewers have never heard Ken Klukowski, former DOJ official under the Trump administration. He's important. He's now cooperating with the Justice Department. Tell us why it's significant.

PEREZ: Well, Victor, it is significant because this is the part of this investigation, this criminal investigation of the Justice Department, that we from our sources believe it, you know, is at its most advanced stage. This is where you see a lot of activity.

Recently, there was a search at Jeffrey Clark's home, where they took out some of his electronics, John Eastman, who was involved in some of this fake electric stuff. They stopped him outside of a restaurant and searched his telephone as well.

And now the fact that Ken Klukowski who is working with Clark on some of these issues, which was essentially to try to convince the state of Georgia that there was enough fraud to essentially, you know, shelve their election results. He was it was key to some of that effort.

So, the idea that he is now cooperating with the Justice Department is very, very helpful to prosecutors. It also tells us that perhaps they're a lot closer to some kind of decision on what to do about Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, those a key people who were involved in this conspiracy to try to keep Donald Trump in office.


Another person involved in that, of course, is Rudy Giuliani. Those are the three names that you often will look at as people who are deeply involved in this effort. And then, of course, there's the President himself that we believe is somewhere some far distance off, because the Justice Department has to do some more legal work.

CAMEROTA: Elie is the fake electors scheme and all of this morass of different possible crimes and things that went horribly in terms of the election, and people trying to overturn it. Is the fair collector scheme, the most cut and dry for prosecutors?

HONIG: I think it is, and I don't think anything is cut and dry, per se. But I think if you had to choose one, this is the one I mean, as Evan said, it does appear that this appears to be where DOJ's focus is most. And I think the reason why is because there's a certain tangibility, if that's a word to all of this, because there is a document. There is a piece of paper that people signed and sent into the federal government saying, Hey, we are the electors, the undersigned, and prosecutors are drawn to that because it's something you put in front of a jury and you say, right there that document. Those signatures, that is fraud.

It's a lot easier to explain to understand than a sort of conspiracy that relies on the spoken word and meetings and that kind of thing. So I think that's why we're seeing prosecutors drawn to this, but as you say, it's part of a larger mosaic of separate but I think overlapping conspiracies.

CAMEROTA: OK, Elie Honig, Evan Perez, thank you very much for all of the new information. Meanwhile, Kentucky's Governor warns that the death toll from the catastrophic flooding will rise. Rescuers are still scrambling to reach more rural areas. We're going to speak to the state's Director of Emergency Management about all of those efforts.

BLACKWELL: And San Francisco becomes the first major city to declare monkeypox of public health emergency and getting your hands on a vaccine. It is not easy. We have more on that just ahead.



CAMEROTA: Historic flooding across America. In St. Louis, Missouri a new round of storms yesterday left people trapped in their homes with some areas under seven feet of water. This follows days of record breaking rainfall there the left at least one person dead. Las Vegas, one of America's driest cities got a soaking.

BLACKWELL: Rain pour through the ceilings of casinos. Look at this. This is right on the Vegas Strip. In Kentucky catastrophic flooding has killed at least 16 people. The governor expects that number to double. Rescuers are still working to reach people in areas where the roads are gone. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in Hazard, Kentucky where the threat continues. What are you seeing?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, the most ominous thing we're seeing and hearing here is heavy storm clouds and the sound of the Emergency Broadcast System warning people in this area that more floodwater could be coming. This is an active situation here still. As you mentioned, some roads are washed out, rescue has been difficult. 17 counties affected overall. And that really sad number 16 people dead so far, a number of the governor says is expected to rise.

You can see here in Hazard they're in the cleanup phase. I mean, the thing about flash floods is they come out of nowhere. They move quickly into an area and then they move quickly out. So all of a sudden you're standing there with the aftermath of that water washes away houses, washes away cars, washes away lives.

And to experience that is such a terrifying thing to hear about. Listen to one woman who went through the worst of it a couple of nights ago here in Kentucky.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This relief 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: Now Victor and Alisyn, my crew and I are, we're moving around the area. We're checking out what's going on. We're looking at the aftermath of the early days of this flood. As I mentioned, everywhere we go, we constantly hear that sound that maybe they're going to be more water is coming, which is a real challenge for rescuers and a real challenge people who are trying to dig out of the waters so far. Alisyn and Victor.

CAMEROTA: Yes, the video here is just incredible. Evan McMorris- Santoro. Please be careful. Thank you very much for recording.

Let's bring in Jeremy Slinker. He's the director of Kentucky Emergency Management. Jeremy, thank you for your time. We know how busy you are.

Those numbers that the governor released at least 16 people killed, many still trapped in their homes. I don't know if you have any updated numbers or can tell us why so many people are still trapped.

JEREMY SLINKER, DIRECTOR, KENTUCKY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: No, and thanks and great questions. At this time, that is the number we have that is confirmed. As stated, you know, we could see that number rise, although we hope for the opposite but we could see that number rise.

And as was described before this unbelievable catastrophic event has devastated the area, but the communication lines were significantly impacted, as well as the roadways and bridges. So access is became very difficult to reach people or for people to call for assistance and notify us that they are in need. So we are very, very active still in search and rescue mission. That includes both water, ground and air.

BLACKWELL: We're seeing video now of sactually neighbors saving one another. We know of course that they are first responders out trying to save citizens across as part of the state. Can you give us an idea of the scope of the rescue effort underway and the challenges you're facing getting to some of these communities?


SLINKER: Yes, so one, you know the aerial assets that we have called in. The Kentucky National Guard has spent significant amount of air support in helicopters, and many with hoist capabilities. The Kentucky State Police has provided multiple helicopters, one with hoist capabilities. We've also called on our neighboring states National Guard's in West Virginia, and Tennessee, who has provided aircraft to assist in those missions.

Because again, many, many of those areas are just not accessible by vehicle or foot. And so that is the only option we have. And again, we're answering all calls for assistance. But we're also actively putting an aircraft out for observation. Because a lot of the rescues from something they just see from the air, and then we respond to it because there was the victim was unable to make the phone call, or to get assistance, as well as many, many water rescues by boat and getting them from one area and across some dangerous waters to another area.

Our Fish and Wildlife Department here in Kentucky, along with Kentucky National Guard and multiple mutual aid, local search and rescue teams are all coming together to do effect those rescues.

CAMEROTA: We're watching some video of one of those helicopter rescues right now just the Herculean efforts that the emergency teams go through to get people off their rooftops and everything. Jeremy, the governor had said that children were among the 16 people killed. Do you know the circumstances? I mean, were these families that were asleep in their homes when the flash flooding rolled in or in their cars?

SLINKER: You know, we're still confirming those details. And all the details, you know, are heartbreaking. But I'm hesitant to give specifics just yet while they're still active investigations and confirming those but it was, as you can tell by what you're seeing, it's a wide variety of different things. It's not just one type of incident. It could encompass many of those that you mentioned.

BLACKWELL: Jeremy, you mentioned that communications were damaged, obviously, telephone lines down, roads washed away, do you have a clear understanding of just how damaging these floods have been to the infrastructure across the eastern Kentucky?

SLINKER: You know, we are starting that process now, here in the state, and we're working with our federal partners with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and many others to start that process. But to be honest about it, we're still so active in the response and the rescue that, you know, we're focusing on saving lives right now. And once we feel like we've accomplished that, then we'll move on to some of those evaluations and assessments.

BLACWELL: All right, Jeremy Slinker is the director of Kentucky Emergency Management. Thank you for the work you're doing and thank you for spending a little time with us. The controversial LIV Golf Tournament just teed off it a Trump course despite heavy backlash. We're going to speak with the widow of a 9/11 victim who just was outside of that course. And she'll tell us what she thinks about it.

CAMEROTA: And Will Smith is now speaking out about that infamous slap the Oscars will tell you what he says about the night he hit Chris Rock.



BLACKWELL: The Saudi backed LIV Golf Tournament is going on now at Donald Trump's New Jersey Golf Club and so are the protests. 9/11 survivors and family members of those who died in the attack strongly oppose this Saudi funded event.

CAMEROTA: 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia though the kingdom has denied involvement. The family say the tournament being played 50 miles away from Ground Zero is offensive, disrespectful and hurtful.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Bedminster, New Jersey. So Polo tell us what's happening there today.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn and Victor, there's certainly going to be no shortage of anger and frustration into the weekend as that golf tournament does continue through the weekend here. Just a short while ago, we did hear from some of those members, the 9/11 Justice and basically united their voices hoping that their message is heard loud and clear at least resonates a few miles away from the LIV Golf Tournament where that is being held currently at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster.

What we heard today was really a response to what was a very stunning defense from the former commander-in-chief Donald Trump as he seemed to dismiss concerns from 911 families that there were potential Saudi ties to the attacks and 21 years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you help me appreciate your decision to host this event?

DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I've known these people for a long time in Saudi Arabia, and they've been friends of mine for a long time. They've invested in many American companies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're so closely associated with the city of New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have all people understand the passion surrounding 9/11. What do you say to those family members who protested earlier this week, and we'll be doing so again on Friday.

TRUMP: Well, nobody's gotten to the bottom of 911, unfortunately, they should have.