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Florida Death Toll Soars To 102, Search For Survivors Intensifies; Five Oath Keepers Accused Of Plotting On U.S. Capitol; North Korea Fires Missile Over Japan In Major Escalation. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired October 04, 2022 - 14:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello everyone, I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell, good to be with you.

Rescue efforts are intensifying across Florida right now. It's been six days since Hurricane Ian made landfall and we still do not know how many people are missing. Across the country, the number of people killed by this storm, it's up to at least 106. Florida accounts for more than one hundred of those lives. And that makes the hurricane the state's deadliest storm since 1935. Half of those deaths are in Lee County, and the sheriff gave an update on recovery efforts this morning.


CARMINE MARCENO, LEE COUNTY, FLORIDA SHERIFF: We're probably still another three to four days left in search and rescue and recovery, so that's a rough timeframe that could go in either direction. These are not numbers. This is -- this is family members. People didn't just lose their homes, we can rebuild a home, we can get another boat. But when you lose a loved one, there's just no words that can describe how we feel for that family. So we hope and pray those numbers to stay as low as possible.


CAMEROTA: More than 430,000 people remain without power across Florida. And some in places like Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island could be without power for more than a month. Crews are already trying to reconnect the hurricane-ravaged Barrier Islands to the mainland. A temporary gravel bridge to Pine Island could be done by the end of the week.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Boris Sanchez is there in Lee County. Boris, we know that it will take months if not years to put these communities back together. What's the latest on that path that you know now?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Alisyn, this is a painstaking and heart-wrenching process for both residents and the officials tasked with cleaning up these communities. We heard from the Sheriff of Lee County just a couple of hours ago describing this as still a search and rescue operation instead of a recovery operation. He does not want to give up hope. But they will still find survivors even though the chances of finding a survivor almost a week after Hurricane Ian made landfall with nearly Category 5 storm force winds, that hope is dwindling.

Of course, the sheriff has had to cut off certain areas of Southwest Florida in Lee County because he wants as little foot traffic, as little influence or interference as possible in the ongoing effort to clear the rubble. In that effort to clean up communities that are now unrecognizable, they have discovered cadavers and bodies. And that is why the death toll continues to climb specifically here in Lee County. I got a chance to ask the sheriff of the county about that process and how difficult it is. Here's what he shared with us at a press briefing earlier today.


MARCENO: We have a difficult time identifying property at times because the property is no longer there. Get us the information. And the second we're able to, the strike teams will follow up and do the best that we can to identify your loved one that hopefully is safe.


SANCHEZ: He was essentially saying that in some communities, it's difficult to tell where there were homes and businesses because there's just debris everywhere. He also mentioned that there are still several bodies -- human remains that remain unidentified and they are working through that process to get loved ones of those still missing confirmation. They don't have a number though, as you noted as to how many still remain unaccounted for.

Meantime, we're awaiting a press briefing here from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We've just learned from the White House that President Biden is expecting to be briefed by Governor DeSantis tomorrow when he arrives here to survey the damage in southwest Florida, the president likely meeting with business owners and residents who have been affected by Hurricane Ian, Victor, and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Boris Sanchez, thank you for the latest.

So, crews evacuated more than a thousand people from Sanibel Island. Residents should be able to return by boat to survey the damage to their homes tomorrow. The mayor of Sanibel, Holly Smith, joins us now. Mayor, thank you so much for being here. I know people are very anxious to get back to their homes, of course, as we all would be, but it sounds like it may not be safe enough for people to return tomorrow. Let me just play you what the fire chief said about the condition of Sanibel right now.


WILLIAM BRISCOE, SANIBEL FIRE & RESCUE CHIEF: You have places that are off the foundation and it's very dangerous out there. There are alligators running around. There are snakes all over the place. And things are just -- everything, if you can get cut on, you can get cut on.



CAMEROTA: I mean he says alligator -- there's alligators running around, snakes all over the place, and everything you can get cut on, you will be cut on. So is tomorrow too soon for people to return?

HOLLY SMITH, MAYOR OF SANIBEL, FLORIDA: No. I think that what our goal has been to make sure that the urban search and rescue teams did their job and make sure that we had had an analysis of all of the properties. All those properties have been flagged with a different color, whether you -- whether it is damage, major damage, inhabitable, if it's even there. What the community needs to be able to get out there and see for themselves, their own properties. Many areas, a lot of the streets have been cleared. We need to give them the opportunity to get out there.

But we have been very clear. It is extremely unsafe. I have been on the ground twice. Chief Briscoe was at our meeting last night, that's when he spoke to it. I've seen that damage. And I think a lot of people, they need to understand because they've seen pictures that make it look like they're clear streets, that their houses are fine.

That does not tell the picture that they're going to see when they get to those islands. Those houses might look fine from the outside, but when they look and they look inside, and it has been bombarded with water for hours upon hours inside, they're going to understand what they need to say.

And my heart is breaking, knowing what we're all going to be facing tomorrow. I'm going to see my home tomorrow as well. We all are as council members. We all are as a community. So it needs to happen. And then we hope they safely get off the island and understand what we've been trying to do and send that message out that it is critically important that no one lives on that island.

CAMEROTA: So, Mayor, so you haven't seen your home since this happened. And how is it going to work tomorrow? You just go and take a look. How long can people stay?

SMITH: Well, we have allowed for a 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. That's the hours that they may be on the island. There are homes that are going to be able to be salvaged. And those homes are going to be what our community will be as we try to rebuild. So, if there are piling homes or different structures that can be salvaged, that's going to be our new community. And if we can get them out there to be able to mitigate some of the areas and get that damage done so those can be habitable, we want them to be able to do that.

CAMEROTA: Do you know what condition your home is in? SMITH: I have seen -- I've been in the flyover. My house has been breached. Do I know the house -- if it's habitable or not? I do not. So that's what I'll be out there. My husband Jason, my son and his fiancee, we're getting on --

CAMEROTA: We just lost her audio because as you know, there are so many communications issues so she was saying they're getting on a boat tomorrow and they're going to be laying eyes on their home for the very first time since the storm, as so many people will be tomorrow.

BLACKWELL: Yes. I'm speaking with a council member in Fort Myers Beach. She is one of four of the total five council members there who lost their homes. So, all of these leaders who were trying to navigate all of the variables to try to keep people safe and put things together are dealing with the losses themselves.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Let's go to Washington now where the leader and four alleged members of the far-right militia, the Oath Keepers are on trial. They're charged with seditious conspiracy for plotting to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Well, today, prosecutors played an audio recording of the group's leader, Stewart Rhodes, and others allegedly discussing plans to bring weapons to DC and to fight to keep Donald Trump in power.

CAMEROTA: Now their defense attorneys claimed that their clients were only in DC to provide security. In opening statements yesterday, they added that while what they did may look inflammatory, it was not illegal. CNN's Whitney Wild joins us now from outside of the courthouse to tell us about this new audio recording the prosecutors played today.

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a recording that was captured by an attendee. It happened in November of 2020. It was about a two-hour meeting mostly led by Stewart Rhodes and it was intended to plan for the Oath Keepers to go to Washington in November of 2020. Remember, on November 14, there was a pro-Trump rally here in Washington. There was another one in December of 2020 as well. Those two rallies are pretty critical as they preceded January sixth.

But again, this meeting was a planning meeting four -- November 14. And throughout that meeting, Stewart Rhodes was saying that people should pressure the former president to invoke the Insurrection Act. And when he did, the Oath Keepers would be standing by saying that they wanted to bring -- wanted to bring weapons outside of Washington to basically right up to the line here, basically to Virginia just over though -- the river into DC.


And they were saying that they wanted some Oath Keepers in Virginia standing by, fully armed when the former president, in their mind, invoked the Insurrection Act. Here's a quote from that meeting. Here, Stewart Rhodes, again, the alleged leader of the Oath Keepers talking about potential clashes with what they believed were Antifa or possibly other counter-protesters.

"If things go kinetic, good. If they blow bombs up and shoot us, great because that brings the president reason and rationale to invoke the Insurrection Act. Our mission is going to be to go into DC but I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside and stay fully armed and prepared to go in if they have to."

So, again, later in this recording, there are other people who are also named as co-conspirators, in this case. Kelly Meggs and Jessica Watkins discussing what type of weapons they could bring to Washington. So they said that they could bring pepper spray, they said they could bring tasers, and they said it didn't hurt to have a metal pole with a flag on the end of it.

And the Department of Justice is trying to build this case that the conspiracy here began very shortly after the election and that it lasted for several weeks. And there were so many moments along the timeline in which Stewart Rhodes was commanding his top lieutenants of the Oath Keepers to plan for violence within Washington, Victor, and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: So, obviously, these plans what -- you know, if it goes Connecticut, let the fight come. What's the defense trying to do with these recordings, maybe recast them?

WILD: Well, here's an interesting way that the defense is trying to flip the script on what you're hearing. So the defense is saying there are so many references to what they perceive to be legal. So, for example, saying which weapons they thought were legal. This emphasis on what would have been legal under the Insurrection Act.

And the defense is trying to recast these words, as actually the Oath Keepers trying to work very, very diligently to stay within the confines of the law. And finally, at one point, the defense just said, look, these are bombastic comments, but that doesn't make them illegal. Back to you.

BLACKWELL: Whitney Wild for us there watching the trial, thank you very much.

Let's bring in now CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. Elliot, so what do you make of that the defense trying to say you may not like it, but you hear here, they're trying to work within the laws, work within the rules? Is that a strong defense?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's a defense. Look, I think -- well, let's back up. Let's talk about what the law is, right? Seditious conspiracy is using force to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law of the United States. And they're saying we're not here to prevent, hinder or delay the execution of any law. We're just lawful citizens who are protesting, talking on signal, and stashing our guns outside of the city.

Now, each of those things in isolation, Victor, is perfectly legal. But when you put them all together, it defies common sense to say that these folks did not come and act in a manner that explicitly violated the statute. So, yes, it's a defense. And you know, that's their right to do but it's hard to see how that holds up.

CAMEROTA: But just help me understand this, Elliot. They brought weapons to DC.


CAMEROTA: They dressed in paramilitary gear. They, as we just heard, were caught planning for violent revolt on audio tape. They also -- their transcripts are caught on social media. They're also on videotape. We see them on videotape storming the Capitol -- I'm sorry.


CAMEROTA: Are their defense -- are their defense attorneys -- I mean, is this exercise in futility for the defense, or do they actually stand a chance of not being found guilty of these?

WILLIAMS: No. Look, you just got to get in one juror's head and one way that a defense attorney wouldn't a case like this is trying to cast the conduct as legal. Usually, the hardest thing, Alisyn, is to prove intent. What did they intended? Were they just protesting or not?

But if you look at the text messages leading into this, they talked about, number one, a bloody revolution. Those are words used, I believe, by the leader of the Oath keepers. They say the time for peaceful protest is over is another line suggesting that they knew they were not there to peacefully protest, what they were coming to do was engaged in acts of violence.

And so you know, it's entirely a fair question to ask, Alisyn, how much does this actually make sense as a defense but look, our system is set up in a way that doesn't entitle them to raise any defense whatsoever. They merely have to just poke holes in the government's case, which here, it all happened on video. It's relatively strong as a prosecution, I think.

BLACKWELL: We heard from the attorney for Stewart Rhodes. He says that Rhodes and the four others, they were not involved in -- "they had no part in the bulk of the violence that day." Is that of any value --


BLACKWELL: To create that distinction. They weren't involved in most of what happened.

WILLIAMS: No, Victor. And that -- and that's a great question. If -- that's not how the conspiracy works.


You merely need to have had an agreement to engage in the acts of violence. And you have that in spades in those text messages and communications and meetings before of the sort that Whitney talked about earlier. Now, the fact that other people might have engaged in more significant acts of violence, look, they can say that, but at the end of the day, once the agreement is hatched and the weapons are procured, and they stepped foot in -- on the grounds of the Capitol intending to interrupt the proceedings, that's the crime of seditious conspiracy in effect.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, back to your point, Elliot. When you as an attorney, have this level of evidence? I mean, does -- is there often a surprise, I mean, when we're talking about video, audio, social media messages?

WILLIAMS: Yes. Look, every prosecutor and probably every defense attorney in America has have their heart broken by a jury at some point, Alisyn, where you just thought you'd laid out your case quite clearly and there was something that just got a juror's head to give them pause. This is a very rare crime, though, where the actual most of the events of the crime happened on national television. Everybody, even perhaps some of the jurors saw this play out.

Now, of course, they didn't see the text messages forming the agreement, but that'll all be presented as evidence. And so as far as prosecutions go, this isn't that bad. Now, to be clear, the last time this was charged in 2010 or 2011 in Michigan, the case got thrown out by the judge because it's just hard to prove seditious conspiracy sometimes. But look, you got a lot of video evidence here. It's hard to see how this comes out.

CAMEROTA: Now, that's a really good context that it's hard to prove seditious conspiracy. Elliot Williams, thank you very much for all the expertise.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me.

BLACKWELL: North Korea fires a nuclear-capable ballistic missile over Japan.



BLACKWELL: We've heard warning sirens there. How the U.S. and Japan are responding?

CAMEROTA: And Georgia Senator, hopeful, Herschel Walker is denying a report that he paid for a woman's abortion, but his son is publicly calling his father a liar.



BLACKWELL: Officials in South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. are condemning North Korea's launch of a long-range ballistic missile last night. Now, the test launch was the first to go over Japan in the last five years and prompted take shelter warnings in parts of the country.



CAMEROTA: Yes, those are certainly ominous sirens. These alerts were sent out via those sirens through community radio stations and to cellphones. CNN's Oren Liebermann is live from the Pentagon. So, Oren, how's the U.S. responding?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've seen the North Koreans carry out a number of tests since the beginning of the year by a CNN count, this is the 23rd either missile test or missile launch of ballistic missiles or cruise missiles since the beginning of the year, and there have been several of those just within the past few weeks. But until now, those most recent tests were short-range ballistic missiles. This missile went nearly 3000 miles, had an altitude or a trajectory height of 600 miles, and traveled well over Japan crashing down or splashing down east of Japan in the Pacific Ocean.

In terms of the U.S. response, a big part of that emphasis is the alliances with South Korea and Japan. Shortly after this North Korean ballistic missile launch, the U.S. conducted an exercise with South Korea with the air forces there in which there was the launch of a JDAM, a precision air-to-surface munition, essentially the U.S. and South Korea trying to showcase their capability and their ability to work together.

At around the same time, the U.S. and Japan also conducted a joint exercise, U.S. Marine Corps fighter jets and the Japanese Air Force flying together there as well. And that's a big part of the emphasis here showing North Korea that the U.S. stands with its partners even from a distance here.

And it's not just this statement here, you also saw calls between the U.S. Defense Secretary, U.S. Secretary of State, their counterparts, President Joe Biden spoke with the Japanese leader and it's not just this timeframe, either. We saw just recently the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier in the Pacific exercising with South Korea for the first time in several years. So, it's very much a statement from the Biden administration that the U.S. stands with its allies.

All of this, Victor and Alisyn, as we see this increased pace of testing from North Korea. And the key question, when and will and if North Korea will -- North Korea will conduct a nuclear test its first in quite a few years the U.S. has worn they've been ready to do this for several months now?

CAMEROTA: OK. Oren Liebermann, thank you.

BLACKWELL: A scathing report finds soccer players in the U.S. National Women's League endured years of emotional and sexual abuse. The report actually claims it begins in youth leagues. We've got details next.


[14:28:38] CAMEROTA: Herschel Walker, the Republican Senate candidate in Georgia is denying a report that he paid a woman to have an abortion more than a decade ago. The Daily Beast reports the woman says she became pregnant by Walker in 2009. The woman even claimed she has a receipt for the procedure, a signed personal check from Walker, a record of a bank deposit, and a get-well card allegedly signed by Walker.

BLACKWELL: Now, Walker denies the allegations. He calls this a political attack.


HERSCHEL WALKER, REPUBLICAN SENATE CANDIDATE, GEORGIA: I have no -- I had no idea but it is a flat-out lie. And now -- and now you know how important this seat is. The seat is very important that they'll do anything to win this seat, lie because they want to make it by everything else itself what the true problem that we have in this country is. I can tell you right now, I never asked anyone to get an abortion. I never pay for an abortion and it's a lie.


BLACKWELL: Crucial context here. Herschel Walker opposes abortion. And he supports no exceptions. No exception for rape or incest or the life of the mother. Now, his son, Christian Walker, took to Twitter to criticize his father.


CHRISTIAN WALKER, HERSCHEL WALKER'S SON: Family values, people, he has four kids, four different women wasn't in the house, raising one of them. Don't lie on the lives you've destroyed and act like you're some moral family man. You all should care about that. Conservatives.


BLACKWELL: Abby Phillip is CNN's senior political correspondent. Lisa Rayam is a host of Morning Edition on Atlanta NPR station WABE, welcome to your book. Abby, let me start with you.