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Hurricane Ian Blamed for at Least 101 Deaths in Florida; Lawyer Refused Trump Instruction to Tell Archives All Docs were Returned; Oath Keepers Face Charges of Seditious Conspiracy; Biden to Announce New Guidelines to Protect Reproductive Rights. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 04, 2022 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The event was paused because of the pandemic. The team from Villafranca secured first prize with a 43-foot tower. Now we should note there is some risk here. Organizers say 71 people --


BERMAN: Seventy-one people were treated for injuries, 13 of them taken to the hospital.

KEILAR: There some risk indeed.

All right, CNN's coverage continues right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm very glad you're with us, I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim has today off. And we begin again with the hurricane.

One Fort Myers Beach official called it, quote, "an apocalyptic scene: after surveying the extensive damage of Hurricane Ian. The storm has killed at least 101 people in Florida across 11 different counties. Ian's wrath is also to blame for at least four deaths in North Carolina. And right now, urgent search and rescue operations remain under way. More than 2,000 rescues have been carried out so far across Florida.

The Red Cross says it housed nearly 2800 people in their shelters there Sunday night. The state has distributed some 2.3 million meals and more than 83,000 residents have applied for federal assistance.

This morning, Fort Myers Beach remains closed even for residents. Crews are searching for survivors still. They're working around the clock to try to restore power. More than 400,000 people there remain without electricity. An official warns that it may be weeks or months for some to get it back on.

Well, tomorrow, President Biden fresh off a tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico is set to visit parts of Florida.

So let's begin this hour in Fort Myers, Florida, with CNN anchor and our fellow correspondent Boris Sanchez. Boris, good morning to you. Thanks again for being with us. That is a

really significant jump in the death toll from when we spoke to you yesterday morning. At the same time, officials haven't given up hope that there are still some survivors, right?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. Obviously, this is a heart-wrenching process for residents because so much was lost here in southwest Florida. You noted that Fort Myers Beach was closed off even to residents. We spoke with the sheriff of Lee County yesterday and he explained that essentially it's because the search and rescue effort is transitioning into search and recovery.

And as they start to rebuild and clean up these communities when they're going through debris, they are discovering morbid scenes and cadavers, and that is why you've seen the death toll, the number of fatalities go up as dramatically as it has because as they clear out rubble, they are finding bodies. Sadly, the sheriff here essentially said that he wanted as little interference in that process as possible. He wanted as few people, as little foot traffic as possible, so that obviously is a very delicate process.

I want to give you an idea of where we are right now to sort of give you an example of the hard work that is still going on here in Fort Myers, not far from Fort Myers Beach. This is another marina that was simply gutted by Hurricane Ian. You see the size of these fishing vessels. Many of them are shrimping boats. Commerce here in southwest Florida is largely based on marine life and fishing, and fishing charters.

And these enormous boats were picked up by the storm surge and tossed across the landscape. There are heavy machines in the distance that are moving debris and all sorts of trash and people's personal items out of the way. And in the midst of all that, obviously, is the strain that this community is facing because a lot of folks haven't been able to get back home and figure out the extent of what they've lost.

And just to give you a sense of the impact that's being felt here in Fort Myers Beach, we've heard that four out of the town's five city councilmembers actually lost their own homes. So as they're in the process of trying to help these folks get back on their feet they are dealing with their own sense of loss -- Poppy.

HARLOW: No question, Boris. Thank you to you and your whole team who remain down there bring us these developments.

Let's talk about what Boris just went through with us, to discuss the ongoing rescue and recovery missions in Florida, Major General James Eifert. He is the adjutant general of the Florida National Guard.

General, thank you very much for your time this morning.


HARLOW: You know, Boris just described to us the reality when he said as they clear out rubble, they are finding bodies. And it is many of your folks that are there helping with that, that are having to go through clearly what is a traumatic rescue and recovery effort. And you sent us some video that I was really struck by and some still images of just what they're dealing with. As I play that, can you describe for our viewers what we're seeing here?



HARLOW: I'm sorry, I apologize, you can't see it. So I'm playing the video for our viewers that you sent us. So talk about what your folks are up against.

EIFERT: Sure. So we have over 5,000 Florida guardsmen deployed really in a number of counties across southwest Florida. And I think the images typically have been of the hard-hit areas along the coastline. But I think the images that you're looking at now are more inland in counties like Hardy County, Desoto County, and these other inland counties that are really more impacted by the amount of the rain that came.

So it's not the storm surge or the wind impact, but it's really what you're seeing is the rain that has caused flooding in rivers like the Peace River, the Myakka River, and these are totally inundated communities, in Arcadia and Wauchula, and other areas inland. And so we're dealing with those types of responses through water recoveries. Our high water vehicles are rescuing people from their homes and we're also setting up points of distribution throughout the county to try to get food and water to those areas that are cut off by the flooding.

HARLOW: We know the death toll stands at 101 and could likely rise but over 2,000 people have been rescued. Right, so there's the good news, so many successful rescues. Are your teams still carrying out rescues?

EIFERT: Absolutely. As they pursue their presence missions which are really just us getting out in the community to make sure that they understand that people care and we're there to help them. Whether it's recovery or rescue or even just providing security so that they feel secure that their homes and belongings aren't going to be looted, those are all parts of the missions that we're accomplishing so it really covers the entire gamut from helping with the recovery, debris removal, providing commodities, food and water, as well as tarps, but also doing the security so that they're feeling secure in their communities.

HARLOW: We're seeing some images of your teams of Florida National Guard members going out in the field, training, preparing the supplies. I know some other states have offered to send members of their National Guard down to help you. Do you need that? Has that happened?

EIFERT: Yes, absolutely. We have five different states that have provided primarily. We've had some assistance with our mobility for people that help to receive those forces and send them out in the field. But mostly it's been the helicopter support from states like Tennessee, Louisiana, New York, Mississippi. All of them have provided these helicopter resources which they've been really flying around the clock and getting supplies primarily into the barrier islands which have been cut off from land by the bridges that have gone down.

So really the air transport has been the primary mode that we've been able to get them both security assistance as well as supplies and road-clearing equipment to help them get back on their feet.

HARLOW: You know, we say, you see the best of humanity come out when the worst of times happen. And we're certainly seeing that from all of the members of the Florida National Guard and elsewhere. I'm glad they're coming to help. Thank you very much and good luck.

EIFERT: Yes, ma'am, take care.

HARLOW: Well, amid all of this tragedy, we want to share an amazing rescue story with you. A Naples, Florida, man saved his 85-year-old mother from rising floodwaters by swimming to her house. Take a look at this. After his mother who uses a wheelchair called him and said she was rushing -- water was rushing into her home, former police officer Johnny Lauder swam half a mile to reach his mother as Hurricane Ian ripped through her neighborhood. He recorded his trek through the floodwaters. Watch.


JOHNNY LAUDER, RESCUED HIS MOTHER FROM HER FLOODED HOME: We're looking four feet of water. And I've been swimming forever. Oh, my gosh. We're arriving at grandma's, or I'm arriving at grandma's. I don't know what time it is. 3:41. All right.


HARLOW: Even a little humor there, along with, wow, along with what he was doing. Take a look at this. He took this photo through a window when he arrived at his mother's home. The water was up to her neck. She was clearly relieved and excited to see her son. He was able to get her out of the water, wrapped her in a blanket to keep her warm.


LAUDER: Status update for the family. It's now 6:30, it's the aftermath of Ian, with my mom. I got her up on the table, wrapped up so she doesn't go into hypothermia. She only has one leg, so it's going to be very difficult to get her out of here.


HARLOW: They did. Both of them eventually made it out of the home. Lauder says his mother is now in the hospital. She's being treated for a bacterial infection. Overall, though, he says she's doing well. He spoke to CNN about all of this. Watch.


LAUDER: It was a sigh of relief. As I was approaching the house, I couldn't get through the front door.


The water was up to the windows, and I heard her screaming inside and she's actually on the phone with my youngest son who's giving updates to her. And it was a scare and a sigh of relief at the same time. Scare thinking she might be hurt and a sigh of relief knowing that there was still air in her lungs. And when I got to the back window and I got it opened, I snapped a picture so the family would know she is fine and I've never seen her happier to see me.


HARLOW: Talk about a great son. We will keep you posted on how she is doing. Hopefully, she will be out of the hospital soon.

Still to come, new CNN reporting, former President Trump instructed a lawyer of his to inform the National Archives that all of those classified documents at Mar-a-Lago had been returned but the attorney refused to do so. We'll explain why.

Plus, Republican Senate candidate in Georgia, Herschel Walker, who has supposed a nationwide abortion ban is denying new accusations that he paid for a woman's abortion over a decade ago. We'll tell you what we know on that.

And a scathing new report accuses coaches and owners in women's professional soccer widespread abuse and sexual misconduct. This investigation -- and investigators warn that the problem is so deep it begins in some youth soccer leagues. A live report ahead.



HARLOW: Well, right now, it is the second day of a seditious conspiracy trial tied to the Capitol insurrection that is under way in Washington. Five alleged members of the Oath Keepers, that far right group, are facing charges of seditious conspiracy for conspiring to oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power by force. They've all pleaded not guilty.

And it was a dramatic first day in court yesterday where the prosecution cast the charges of seditious conspiracy in the starkest possible terms invoking the earliest days of American democracy, saying, quote, "Ever since our government transferred power from George Washington to John Adams in the year 1797, we have had a core custom of routine and peaceful transfer of power. These defendants tried to change that history. They concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy," close quote.

The defense, though, argued the defendants, quote, "had no part in the bulk of the violence that occurred January 6th." Defense attorneys claimed their clients were there simply to provide security.

Well, meantime, newly released correspondence show that the National Archives alerted former President Trump's attorneys in May 2021 about those missing classified records. Among the missing documents were letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, former President Obama as well as two dozen boxes of other records.

CNN has also learned former President Trump instructed one of his former attorneys to say all the records had been returned to the National Archives but -- and here's the news, the attorney refused to do so.

So let's go to our CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz for more.

Explain why it matters so much you now that you have this reporting that the lawyer said, no, I won't do that.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, there is an ongoing criminal investigation and one of the things that's important in that sort of situation is the backstory. And what we're learning here from both of these new developments is more of the backstory. In this particular situation, the National Archives general counsel was writing to three Trump lawyers in May 2021. So shortly after the end of the administration.

And at that time, it was quite clear to the Archives there were a number of presidential records that they were missing. That Donald Trump still had in his possession. And this shows how the lawyers for Donald Trump that were in his White House and also working with him after he left the White House were quite aware that these needed to be returned. They were federal records.

What Gary Stern, the general counsel of the Archives, said was missing, he said there were two dozen boxes of presidential records that the Archives knew Trump had that they did not. They also knew that there was a letter that Barack Obama left for Donald Trump for his first day in office, the sort of traditional letter presidents leave for next presidents that is clearly a presidential record. That was not in the possession of the Archives.

And also this. The original correspondence between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Gary Stern wrote that those, "were not transferred to us. It is our understanding that in January 2021, just prior to the end of the administration, the originals were put in a binder for the president but were never returned to the Office of Records Management."

So this is this pleading from the Archives to get things back into their possession. Eight months later, 15 boxes were delivered to the Archives from Mar-a-Lago including the Kim Jong-un letters. But even at that time, Donald Trump wanted this additional lawyer Alex Cannon to say that was it, there was nothing else that he had. Alex Cannon refused, he was not onsite at Mar-a-Lago.

All of this now, Poppy, is likely to become part of the ongoing criminal investigation.

HARLOW: It's a very good point. Katelyn Polantz, thanks very much for that reporting.

Let's talk about it with senior CNN legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Elie Honig.

Elie, I think it's interesting your analysis of this is that this is, in your words, quote, "a waving red flag." Why?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Poppy, we're seeing a pattern here which is Donald Trump repeatedly has made statements or claims publicly that his lawyers have been refused to repeat in court or to investigators, and the reason for that, Poppy, as you know, is as a lawyer, you are not ethically permitted to knowingly make a false statement. Yes, you have a duty to aggressively defend your client but know you cannot officially go to a court or certainly investigators, that would be a crime, and make a false statement.


And so we can piece together what happened here and it's really important to go to Donald Trump's knowledge and intent. Trump says to his lawyer, tell them, tell the Archives this is everything and the lawyers says, no, I can't do that or I won't do that. And so that should put Donald Trump on notice that he's wrong. That these are false statements. And so I think DOJ is going to have a real interest in that.

HARLOW: What about how it plays into the intent argument? I mean, that's really at the crux of this. Was it an honest mistake to take all of these many documents, including many classified, or was there an intent here to break the law?

HONIG: I think that's exactly the point the prosecutors are looking at. If it was the case that Donald Trump was just mistaken, maybe there were boxes everywhere, he didn't keep track of everything. He genuinely thought OK, this is all we have, then his lawyers would have said, fine, I'll say that to the Archives.

But when his lawyers says, no, Mr. Trump, I can't say that or I won't say that, because presumably any reasonable lawyer would explain because it's not true, I can't say it. At that point, if that's the way it played out and I think it's reasonable to assume it did, then Donald Trump knows these are not all the documents. That statement you want me to make to Archives is a misrepresentation.

HARLOW: Let's turn to the lawsuit -- the case, the trial going on right now for five members of the Oath Keepers including the leader, Stewart Rhodes, and the high bar that prosecutors, that DOJ needs to meet here to win, to prove seditious conspiracy, while at the same time explaining, Elie, if you could the difference between these charges and the obstruction charges that so many others involved in the insurrection have faced.

HONIG: Yes, Poppy. So seditious conspiracy charges are quite rare in our judicial system. It's been over a decade since DOJ has charged them. And what differentiate this from the other champs that we've seen primarily is the use of force. There's really three parts of the crime here. Conspiracy which is just an agreement between two or more people to obstruct Congress and we've seen obstruction of Congress charges elsewhere, meaning to block them from counting the electoral votes, but in a seditious conspiracy you have to show that the agreement was to use force.

And in my view, the evidence here is quite strong on this. If you look at the indictment the prosecutors here have all sorts of electronic communications, texts and coded chats where these defendants are talking about doing just that, tactical gear, training, gathering guns and firearms, tactics that they're going to use to storm the Capitol. So I think on its face, prosecutors have a fairly strong case here.

HARLOW: It was interesting in court yesterday, in opening arguments, because prosecution in its opening tried to poke holes in what the defense case is largely going to be about. For example, one of the key defenses here, defense attorneys say, look, our clients were there basically as hired security. And I wonder how strong you think that defense may be or may not be, and then how effective do you think the prosecution was at poking holes in it?

HONIG: So it is a fairly common tactic that you'll see when prosecutors make their opening argument. You don't want to make the defense argument for the defendant but you do want to anticipate it and yes, poke holes in it. I think these defenses don't carry much water. First of all, the first argument is what you said, we were just there for security or we are waiting for Donald Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act.

I mean, the fact is Donald Trump did not invoke the Insurrection Act and they went far beyond providing security, they actually attacked the Capitol. Some of these defendants. The other defense, and you said this in the opening, Poppy, the defense attorney actually got up in front of the jury and said these defendants were not involved in the bulk of the violence on January 6th. I mean, what a ridiculous argument.

Imagine a defense lawyer standing up in front of a jury in a common case saying my client was not involved in the vast bulk of the robberies that occurred in this city on a certain day. OK, but if you were involved in some of them, then you are guilty. So I'm not particularly persuaded by what I've seen so far from the defense.

HARLOW: OK, Elie Honig, thank you

HONIG: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Well, soon President Biden will announce new steps that this administration is going to take to try to protect reproduction rights and access to abortion in this country. We'll take you live to the White House after this.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Later today President Biden is expected to announce new steps to try to boost reproductive rights and abortion protection in the United States. This comes 100 days after the Supreme Court upended 50 years of what was a constitutional right, abortion access. This also comes five weeks before the midterms.

Let's go to our colleague Arlette Saenz, she's live from the White House.

Arlette, good morning. Look, there's only so much because of what the Supreme Court did in terms of giving states these rights that the Biden administration can do. But what will they lay out?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, President Biden is set to announce two new actions as he convenes a meeting of the Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access. Vice President Kamala Harris will also be on hand for that meeting which is the second such meeting of that group. And the White House is set to unveil two sets of actions that will be announced today. The first relates to the Department of Education. They will be reissuing guidelines reiterating that Title 9 requires universities and institutions to protect students from discrimination, based on the basis of pregnancy. And that includes those who seek abortions.