Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Soon: Biden Gets Briefing On Hurricane Ian Recovery Efforts; Federal Appeals Court To Expedite Case Weighing Of Mar-A-Lago Special Master; Secret Tapes Released Of Oath Keepers Planning Violence At Capitol. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 05, 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.

President Biden and the First Lady are in Florida right now to survey the damage one week after Hurricane Ian tore through that state. At any moment, the president will be briefed by local officials and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Ian killed at least 110 people across the country, 105 of those in Florida. On Sanibel Island, it will be an emotional day. CNN cameras are there as many residents are returning for the first time to see what remains of their homes.

BLACKWELL: Listen to one woman here describe that bittersweet moment that she found her home largely intact, although the storm damaged so much of the community, she lives in there.


TONY TABOR, SANIBEL RESIDENT: We just thought everything wouldn't be lost. We thought we'd come home and we thought those windows were broken and we thought we'd find water and that we've lived here for seven years and it's paradise and we thought we would come back and find everything wrong. And I mean we just have to fix up our yard. But then our neighbors -- I mean their house over there, that we know all these people.


BLACKWELL: Among the priorities Governor DeSantis says are those temporary repairs on key bridges to Sanibel, Pine Islands, those have been closed off since the storm. And just hours ago, he announced that the road to Pine Island will open today. And that's a day sooner than expected.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Boris Sanchez and Kaitlan Collins are there in the hardest-hit county, Lee County, so, Boris, what's the latest around you?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn and Victor, a big moment for those residents of areas like Sanibel and Pine Island, very emotional moments as they get back to areas that were previously cut off by Hurricane Ian. We heard from some residents of Sanibel just moments ago, many of them don't know what they are going back to. That community decimated by hurricane Ian and its nearly Category 5 storm force winds. As far as Pine Island goes, Governor DeSantis vowing that he will try to reopen a bridge into that area by no later than today. Here's what he shared just a few moments ago.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R-FL): Later today, the public will be able to access this bridge and be able to get back. I think we have a chance to bounce back a lot quicker than people think. I think there's a lot of -- there's a great spirit on the island. And I think folks -- you know they just wanted to be able to stay there and be able to go about their lives like they will. You obviously can't do that effectively without this bridge.


SANCHEZ: And some of those islands are not far from where we are right now in Fort Myers. And we want to give you a snapshot of what President Biden is going to see and has been seeing during his visit to Florida. On one side of the street, there was a marina. It got washed away.

Right now, there are dozens of utility vehicles just like the one you're looking at right now, helping to put up power poles, getting this community back online, back on its feet. More than 300,000 people in Florida remain without power right now. You see, boats are still kind of in the way. There's heavy machinery to try to get them out. There are crews from Florida Power and Light and the Florida Department of Transportation to assist in that process.

And the meantime, on the other side of the street, the remnants of what Hurricane Ian decimated. You see there are boats, vehicles, children's floaties, all of them washed into this marsh that's a few 100 feet away from the -- where the Marina used to be. And part of the dock somehow still intact and pushed into this mangrove swamp, obviously, a long recovery still ahead for this community as for many across southwest Florida, Victor, and Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's go to Kaitlan now. As we said the President will speak very soon next hour, in fact, after his briefing and his meetings with people live there. Which we expect?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the president is no stranger to storm damage this week. He was in Puerto Rico on Monday. Now he is here in Florida getting an aerial tour of this, about to get that briefing from officials here on the ground who have been surveying the damage, assessing the damage, not just people like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis but other local and state officials as well who've been coordinating with the federal government as they are processing you know how long this process is going to take and what this is actually going to look like.

I mean, you see the boats behind me here. This is not where boats belong. There's a handful of them behind us. You can see a few people on them. And you know we were just talking to someone who was saying they were going to get a crane to come pick up these boats, move them over to where that Marina was that Boris was showing you where it was -- once was, and to really start assessing the damage from that.

And there's actually a motorcade driving by us now. This -- it looks like it's the President of the United States motorcade going to this operational briefing that where he's going to be speaking with these officials about what this looks like. And that comes after the aerial tour. You will hear remarks from President Biden.


And he's also going to be meeting with people who have lost loved ones as the death toll has only continued to grow here in Florida, especially in Lee County, which has been the hardest hit since that storm happened. He's going to meet with people who lost their livelihoods because if you see these boats behind us, a lot of them are boats that are for entertainment purposes, for trumping purposes, taking people out. And you see businesses where the entire building has been wiped off its foundation. There's so much damage here.

And so you know, it is promising to hear Governor DeSantis talking about building back faster than they initially believe. That it is going to take some time. And there is a lot of recovery. And you can see that already underway here. And that's what President Biden is getting a firsthand look at today.

As he is doing something that you don't typically see where he's meeting with these officials where they have publicly feuded over so many issues. I'm talking about Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rick Scott, and Governor DeSantis, but the White House says this isn't about politics today, it's not going to be talking about those issues, it's focused on what people lost here, and what their recovery effort is going to look like.

BLACKWELL: All right, we'll stand by for those remarks. Kaitlan Collins for us, Boris Sanchez as well, thank you.

Let's bring in now Dana Souza. He's the city manager of the hard-hit community of Sanibel Island, good to have you. This is the first day that the people who live there, the business owners, and people with these hurricane passes can go back only by boat because obviously the causeway is damaged. Do you know if many people have taken this opportunity to go back? And what did they find there?

DANA SOUZA, CITY MANAGER, SANIBEL: Yes. And first, thank you for continuing the coverage of Sanibel. I don't know personally how many people have returned to the island today. I've spoken with our police chief a number of times, who's been -- who is on the island today. And there are a number of people who have made the journey from the mainland to the island. And they are doing so by their own watercraft of a higher -- hired watercraft because the city cannot provide those that shuttle service for our residents.

And so there are a number of people who have made it. And so far, no injuries have been reported to me, which is great because that's our primary concern is the safety of people who are returning to the island under extreme conditions with large fields of debris and you know, their homes are damaged or destroyed. Pretty much every structure on the island has some level of damage.

CAMEROTA: Dana, you've said that they're in for a shock when they see their houses for the first time. And we understand that. And I guess I'm wondering, why are they being allowed to go back today? Since they can't stay past sunset, they obviously can't start rebuilding or fixing anything. We've been told it's very dangerous there still. Is this just for them to get their heads around the shock?

SOUZA: It is exactly that. You know, we started to develop a plan that was going to allow residents to return in sections of the city, and then in a very controlled fashion. But you know, there's winners and losers in that. And people who are trying to save their home from mold, transferring from low levels to upper levels, there is a really a race against time in order to do that. So we are discouraging people from going to the island because of the unsafe conditions that we have there, no water, no electricity, no sewer, and large debris fields. But we also understand the need for people to get to their homes, get their possessions, whether it's clothing or valuables or pictures, whatever that might be.

Some folks just want to see their home. And you know they might have had a reported level of damage to the home through the assessment tool that's on our website, but they still have a desire to see that and we understand that. We can't facilitate it, we don't encourage it, but we know that people have their own means to do that so we're allowing for that to happen. And we hope it all goes well.

BLACKWELL: People are allowed on the island from 7:00a to 7:00p, that will be enforced. Will this be daily access that they can go back to tomorrow? And if they can't take generators at what point will people who don't have as much damage be able to get to work?

SOUZA: Well, it can do a lot by hand. The storm surge that we had on the island was between eight and 15 feet so a lot of drywall that is wet that is you know within that mold will begin and then can spread. You can take a lot of that out by hand. You can use hand tools to get that out and put it out on your front lawn or by the road so it'll eventually be hauled away. And that's one of the primary focus is getting carpets out. You can do that without power tools.

You know the -- one of the reasons that we don't want people to bring generators is that we don't have pressurized water lines throughout the community. That means we have very limited fire service.


SOUZA: And the fire chief on Sanibel Island is concerned about that.

CAMEROTA: Dana, we only have a few seconds left. Is there any way to estimate when that island of Sanibel will be livable again?

SOUZA: 1I can't estimate that. You know we're still moving assets in by barge so we can start moving debris and that's been a challenge.


You all know that our bridge is out. We're thrilled to hear the news from Governor DeSantis yesterday that he thinks that the bridge can be opened by the end of October. And I know that DOT is moving quickly to get their contractors in place. And that will really accelerate any improvements on the island, especially to infrastructure.

Electrical is completely destroyed and the transmission lines. And by that, I mean, the lines might be able to be used again, but the poles that support them, the majority of them are destroyed. So it's going to be a big effort in order to re-energize the island, both from sewer power and water. And without those, we can't allow people to really go back and live there.

CAMEROTA: Dana Souza, thank you very much for helping us understand the breadth of what we're looking at here. We really appreciate your time.

SOUZA: Yes, thank you for your continued coverage of Sanibel and we hope --

CAMEROTA: Here are some live pictures right now of President Biden obviously meeting with Governor DeSantis there. They are in Fort Myers, I believe. And the president's about to be briefed by Governor DeSantis as well as local officials on just what that cleanup and recovery look like.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, after this briefing, we're expecting to hear from the governor, from the president. We'll bring you those remarks live there from Fort Myers.

Prosecutors play secret recordings of the Oath Keepers as they plan for violence in Washington. Hear it for yourself next.

CAMEROTA: And a show of force overnight, the U.S. and South Korea respond to North Korea's latest provocation and launch four missiles off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula. We had the latest on the tension there.



BLACKWELL: New today, a federal appeals court has decided to expedite a case related to the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Kara Scannell has the latest for us. Kara, what does that mean?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Right. So, the Justice Department has appealed the entire special master process, that whole designation where, you know, the -- Judge Cannon in Florida had approved Trump's request. So they have appealed that to the 11th circuit. And today, the 11th circuit is saying, we're going to expedite that process. So they're asking both parties, Trump and the Justice Department to complete all of their briefings by November 17. And then they'll set oral argument, and then we'll have a decision. So that is a much faster track than what we often see with appeals. I mean some appeals can last for years. And obviously, this is super time sensitive.

Judge Cannon has set the deadline for the special master, Raymond Dearie to complete his review of all these documents by December 16, so these two dates now really jetting up against each other. And certainly, you know, the 11th circuit today saying, OK, we're going to -- we're going to make this review quick. We're going to hear the oral arguments on this.

Now, this is separate from the issue that we discussed yesterday, where Trump's legal team went to the Supreme Court and asked them to get involved in one piece of the special master's review that is trying to get the appeal -- the justice -- excuse me, the Supreme Court to reinstate the special master's review of classified materials that had been removed by the 11th circuit. These are two separate things. So there are a lot of legal arguments here in all in a relatively short time period.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kara Scannell with the latest, thank you.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, the five members of the Oath Keepers currently on trial for their roles in the January 6 insurrection are hearing their own words played in court as evidence. The secret recording released by the Justice Department reportedly comes from a November 2020 Oath Keepers' meeting.

BLACKWELL: So, the audio reveals talk of violence against the U.S. Capitol and being prepared to fight on behalf of former President Donald Trump. CNN's Senior National Correspondent Sara Sidner is with us. So, first, tell us about the audio and specifically what and when they're talking about here.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We have heard a lot of the secretly recorded audio from someone who was in this group who was listening and who was clearly alarmed by it. This is from November of 2020 so we're talking about the time around and after the election. And there are lots of things said, mostly you hear from the Oath Keepers founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, who was charged along with the others of seditious conspiracy, among other charges.

And I want to let you hear some of what he said. You hear a lot about exactly what they're planning on doing and that they really are trying to stop President Biden, who was the duly elected president from taking office, and they want to keep Donald Trump in his position. Listen to this.


STEWART RHODES, LEADER OF THE OATH KEEPERS: We're in an era now, where everything you say have been monitored, but now these phone calls being recorded by the NSA and FBI and CIA, I'm sure. And everything you say can and will be used against you. So that's why you guys got to have discipline. Don't make it easy for them to pop you with a conspiracy charge and do what you did to those guys in Michigan because they got them out of the collar, probably after a few beers, and they got them talking smack. So be disciplined.


SIDNER: So that's Rhodes telling his cohorts to be disciplined, not to get popped for conspiracy. Interesting enough, that is exactly what they got popped for allegedly doing, conspiring -- seditious conspiracy. And he is a trained lawyer -- a Yale-trained lawyer. He did eventually get disbarred from being a lawyer, but he is really giving instructions here.

Now the defense, in this case, is saying, look, this was before November 14, and there was another rally that was supposed to be happening in DC. This is long before anyone ever heard of January 6. And so they're saying look, they were preparing for this march. This is what they do. They go to rallies. They prepare in case of emergency.


And one of the attorneys says, look, they were simply waiting for the eventuality that President Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act and they were preparing for that to be what the defense says we're peacekeepers. A lot of their language is not peaceful, they realize that but they said, look, they can talk a lot of game, but that doesn't mean that that would -- what they did was illegal. However, there's lots of video of them, some of them going into the Capitol as well.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sara, please stay with us. We want to bring in Elliot Williams. He's our CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

So, Elliot, yesterday, you were basically disabusing me of the notion that this would be a slam dunk of a case and you were saying seditious conspiracy is very hard to prove. Let me play for you a little bit more of this audio that Sara's talking about and you can tell me if you've changed your mind now. So here they are, that same November meeting reportedly, talking about the weapons that they'll be bringing. So listen to this.


KELLY MEGGS, FLORIDA CHAPTER OATH KEEPER LEADER: Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal. And stun guns are legal. And it doesn't hurt to have a lead pipe with a flag on it. For example, when I was walking through the streets of Portland, I was "unarmed," but I had my helmet in my hand. Guess what that was for? That was to whack someone right across the face if they're going to come at me.


CAMEROTA: OK, Elliot, what do you hear?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: OK. Now, in my own defense, Alisyn, let's be clear. Part of the practice of law, and I think this is important, is anticipating the kinds of arguments that opposing lawyers will raise, right? So prosecutors go into court, they prep their case, but think about, wait a second, if a defense attorney were to see this, what are the arguments that they would use to rebut it and how can they get out of it?

Now, what you see here in these two clips, the one -- the one played by Sara and the one just now is that they're trying to evade the law. They are simply aware of what the law of conspiracy might be or some of these firearms offenses and trying to skirt them. Now, a defense attorney can say these are just lawful citizens just trying to obey the laws. But I think a very smart prosecutor doesn't have to do a ton of work to say no, what they were doing is trying to structure their conduct so the authorities didn't get them. They're trying to be cute here, but really what they came there to do was break the law.

BLACKWELL: Elliot, let me stay with you for this because, during the cross-examination, the FBI agent on the stand acknowledge that this conversation was about November 14, and not January 6. If there's so much evidence, why play these tapes where you know they're not talking about the 6? Is that -- is that damaging that the case the government's trying to put on?

ELLIOT: It's a few things. One, juries, when they hear the voices of defendants that sticks with people because it sort of adds a level of realness to the charges that are being brought. So there's an element of stagecraft or theatrics on the part of the prosecutor. Number two, crimes take a long time to be formed and build.

And you can make the argument -- I think the prosecutors are doing this, that the violence and acts of obstruction of government that happened on January 6 were hatched months before and these folks intended to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of the laws of the United States, which is right out of the seditious conspiracy statute. So, whether they did it on January 5 at 11:59 p.m. or weeks before, what they were doing was planning and preparing to engage in these acts.

CAMEROTA: Sara, you just brought up the Insurrection Act. And these defendants keep bringing up the Insurrection Act and they keep waiting for President Trump to issue the orders. So here is a moment from these tapes, in their own words of them talking about that. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RHODES: I do want some Oath Keepers to stay on the outside and to stay fully armed and prepared to go in. But that QRF will be awaiting the President's orders, OK? That's our official position. And the reason why we have to do it that way is because that gives you legal cover. Don't make it easy for them to pop you with a conspiracy charge.


CAMEROTA: So, Sara, help us understand that. Why would the Insurrection Act give them legal cover?

SIDNER: Look, this -- I do want to mention what the QRF is for people who aren't following this very closely. That's a quick reaction force. And that force, which was allegedly headed up by Thomas Caldwell had weapons. So they were putting in Virginia in case they needed them later on, on January 6, or at any time during some of these rallies in Washington, DC. But they're saying look, we are a -- we are a potential militia.

The president has these great, huge powers to decide when it is that they believe that they're being usurped. And so in their minds, they're saying this is an insurrection. The voting process was rigged if you will. Their words, not mine. And the president can invoke this Insurrection Act and therefore call up the militia which by the way, is usually the National Guard and you know things that are already set, not you know these folks that have come up with their own version of it.


But in their minds, they're trying to say, hey, we're sort of like a militia, we can be called up, and we're going to be there as peacekeepers. That is what their defense is. In part of this is that they were waiting for the president to do so. Here's where the problem is. He never did. And they've still, some of them went into the Capitol and formed this group. So the question is how they're going to get around that? I'll be curious to see and be there watching.

BLACKWELL: All right, Sara Sidner, Elliot Williams, thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK. So President Biden, as we've told you is in Florida right now, here are live pictures. He's there with the First Lady and they are meeting right now with it looks like Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott, it appears, maybe. And they are being briefed on all of the recovery efforts after surveying the damage left behind by Hurricane Ian. So we're going to say on top of all these developments and bring you the latest.