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Tornadoes Rip Through Texas and Louisiana; Jerry Mouton Jr. is Interviewed about Deer Park Hit by Storms; Biden to Speak about Support for Ukraine; Classified Documents Found at Pence's Home. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 25, 2023 - 09:00   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Wednesday morning. I'm Erica Hill.


Happening right now, tornado watches in effect for parts of the southeastern U.S. This after severe storms struck parts of Texas and Louisiana yesterday. More than a dozen tornados reported tearing across the south. Goodness, look at these pictures here. Just making homes, businesses, buildings disappear. This video from Deer Park, Texas, just one of the towns feeling the brunt of this storm. We're going to speak with the city's mayor just ahead.

HILL: Plus, new this morning, Germany will send those highly-coveted Leopard II tanks to Ukraine. The announcement comes after weeks of diplomatic pressure and also comes as the U.S. is finalizing plans to send dozens of Abrams tanks to the Ukrainian front lines. Bottom line this morning, is it enough? We'll discuss.

We do begin, though, this hour with those destructive tornados slamming parts of Texas and Louisiana. You just saw some of the pictures.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Pasadena, Texas, with more here.

Rosa, what have you found this morning?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, this tornado, this tornadic activity was just so powerful. Let me show you what we're seeing here on the ground. This was a power pole that simply snapped. And if you look down you'll see that there's a mangled piece of metal that's actually wrapped around parts of the debris and the rest of the pole is back here.

Now, beyond the pole you'll also see that it is just shear devastation. There's a trailer that's turned on its side. It's upside down. There's another one that's turned on its side. There's a destroyed car.

And if you walk with me this way, you'll see that some of these buildings, all you see is the insulation that was ripped out and portions of the building were completely ripped out.

Now, this is a gym. We've been talking about this gym because there were four people inside at the time of the tornado. And you can just see what's left. The individuals described the intense moments when they were hearing loud noises. And you can see that the metal is completely mangled. The roof is completely collapsed. So these people were inside this building and they described the chaos and the horror and what they did to make sure that they were safe.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were right here. Like, the overhead door was right here. Like, you can see where it's at. So, I was shutting that. And then we ran into the restrooms right here. And that's when everything just come down. Everything. All the beams, everything just come down on top of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't even know where that trailer came from, by the way.


FLORES: Now, as you can see also, we're on the other side of this gym. And you can see that a lot of the gym equipment was just moved around, flashed (ph) around and also the building just collapsing on top of this.

Now, the owner of this gym says that those four people that were inside, they actually went inside a bathroom. That's how they protected themselves. And then imagine, Jim and Erica, when they finally came out and they saw all of this, what they were saying was that, yes, this is a lot of destroyed property, but they were counting their blessings because they're alive.

Erica. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Goodness, yes. The guidance is always try to find the strongest room in the building, or the home. That's often the bathroom.

Rosa Flores, thanks so much.

With us now on the phone is the mayor of Deer Park, Texas, Jerry Mouton Jr., this morning.

Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

MAYOR JERRY MOUTON JR., DEER PARK, TEXAS (via telephone): Yes, sir. Good to be with you guys.

SCIUTTO: Listen, as I understand it, you've lived in Deer Park since 1985. Your wife is a life-long resident. Have either of you ever seen anything like this there? MOUTON: No, we have not. Actually, when I got home late last night,

that was one of the comments the wife made to me, in all her years of living in Deer Park she's never seen anything like this.

HILL: It is - it is remarkable as we're seeing these pictures of the destruction and hearing about what people lived through.

How is Deer Park doing this morning? What types of destruction did your city suffer?


MOUTON: Well, obviously, we're still assessing things as the sun come up this morning. So, we've got public works crews out still clearing the streets. There's a lot of downed power poles. And Center Point (ph) is coming in now en mass to try to get power restored. A lot, if not most, of Deer Park is still without power, including a lot of our city facilities. But we're all operating well on generators.

So, in the big scheme of things, we're just taking one step at a time assessing things. We've still got a massive amount of work to see how bad it is because from the time it hit yesterday evening around 2:49, it was just really an emergency response of dealing with the evacuation of the senior assist facility and just making sure no one was injured. And, fortunately, there was no injuries or casualties. So, we feel tremendously blessed and thank God that he kept his hands on us.

SCIUTTO: You said earlier there were no deaths or injuries you were aware of so far. I'm certain you're still assessing that to be sure. But if that remains true, you must be counting your lucky stars this morning.

MOUTON: Yes, no question. To the best of our ability and the reports I've got just a few minutes ago, we still had no confirmed casualties at all and the injuries are very, very, very minor. So, just scratches and stuff like that.

So, you know, there's a lot of cleanup. People are kind of assessing all their properties, as we are on the city level, and trying to get power restored is going to be a big deal for the next 24 hours.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. A major focus.

Mayor, really appreciate you taking the time to join us. We know how busy you are this morning and grateful to hear that --

MOUTON: Well, in an unfortunate scenario, it was -- it was great to be with you guy this morning.

HILL: Yes.


HILL: Yes, we appreciate it. And best of luck as you continue that assessment. SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN, the White House has announced that

President Biden will speak at noon today about ongoing U.S. support for Ukraine and its war against Russia. It comes as we have new CNN reporting that the U.S. is now finalizing plans to send approximately 30 U.S. Abrams tanks to Ukraine. That according to two U.S. officials familiar with the decision.

HILL: Also this morning, Germany announcing it will send some of its tanks to Ukraine. These are tanks, of course, that President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pleading for. And the statement - the announcement, I should say, comes after weeks of negotiations and diplomatic pressure -- a lot of public pressure. The German federal government announcing it will bolster its military support by delivering 14 of these Leopard 2 tanks.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Oren Liebermann joining us this morning, as well as CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson, who's live in London.

So, Oren, first to you.

So, Germany's announcement, the U.S. decision, is there a sense that Germany is sort of factoring in what other nations are pledging in that decision?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have heard officials here say that Germany is a sovereign country that will also - that will make its own decisions. But we've also seen how this has played out and the timing with which it has played out. Last week Germany openly stated that it wouldn't send its own Leopard II tanks or approve other countries sending it until the U.S. announced its own decision. And despite a U.S. pressure campaign to get Germany to give that approve, it now appears this is playing out basically with the same timing, a German announcement and this week, perhaps even in just a couple of hours, an announcement from the U.S. that it will send its own M1 Abrams tanks. So, the timing of all this can't be ignored, especially on top of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asking for tanks for months now.

Now, it's a different question in the timing of when these will arrive. Poland, Finland, other countries have said they're ready to go to sending Leopard II tanks. Of course, that still requires training and maintenance. So there is time there.

As a question for when will the U.S.-made tanks arrive, we hope to learn more about that. But our understanding is, these may take much longer. First, Ukraine has to train on a number of new systems, and that now includes, as we've just learned, Leopard II tanks.

But there's also the patriots, the U.K. tanks and other systems that they still have to learn on. So in terms of when we might see U.S. made M1 Abrams in Ukrainian hands on the battlefield, that still may be months away.

But, Erica, Jim, as you said, we will learn more hopefully either today or in the coming days here. SCIUTTO: Nic, this has echoed some other debates about weapons systems

there where you have some public disagreement and then a coming together here. I wonder, based on your conversations, is the view here that this is mostly about a show of unity, giving Ukraine what it says it needs right now, as opposed to a sense that these tanks, particularly in small numbers, will actually change the course of the battle there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's key to send a signal of unity to Moscow, not only in support of Ukraine, but to President Putin, so that he knows whatever he's planning for spring, and the concern is a spring offensive, and some of these tanks, if they arrive in time, may be useful in that context, although they have plenty of other uses on the battlefield, like trying to maneuver and push troops further forward and crush Russian lines.


But the sense is that Putin needs to understand. And given the reaction we've heard from his ambassador in Washington and his ambassador in Germany, Russia is getting the picture that there are pretty much, in military terms, no limits at the moment to what NATO partners will provide Ukraine.

The number of tanks that Ukraine has said it wanted, about 300 it said it needed, it's unlikely to get that, at least in this first push. The numbers we're hearing in Europe, and if you add in the Abrams as well, is perhaps we're looking at maximum, as far as we know at the moment, maybe about 100 tanks.

The Germans have said they want to send two battalions and the Germans have said they're going to coordinate with partners to do it. But it's really been a big German decision here. And the chancellor was at pains today to spell out how it's been done step by step in conjunction with allies and partners so as not to project Russia as a principle protagonist. In Russia's eyes at least, a sort of escalating this war.

SCIUTTO: Nic Robertson, good points, no question. Longer term trends we'll be watching.

Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thanks so much as well.

Coming up next, both Donald Trump and President Biden seize on the news that the former vice president, Mike Pence, also had classified documents in his home. Now Congress may launch a bipartisan investigation into this whole question. How does it happen? What does it mean? We'll be watching.

HILL: Plus, disturbing new details about the suspect in the mass shooting Monday afternoon in Half Moon Bay, California. The suspect once accused of trying to suffocate a co-worker. What you can expect from his first court appearance today.

And a bit later, the Justice Department now going after Google for how the company dominates online ads. Could the lawsuit actually rein in this tech giant, though?



HILL: First on CNN. A new discovery of classified documents, this time at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence. Sources say a lawyer for the former VP found about a dozen documents marked as classified at Pence's home in Indiana last week and then turned those records over to the FBI. The FBI and DOJ are now reviewing the documents and also how they ended up in Pence's home.

SCIUTTO: Well, this latest discovery comes after Pence had repeatedly said he did not possess any classified documents.


DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS (November 14, 2022): Did you take any classified documents with you from the White House?

MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. (November 14, 2022): Uh, I did not.

PENCE (January 10, 2023): When the current president of the United States is found to have had classified documents in his possession after leaving office, I think it just - I have no words right now. It's just incredibly frustrating to me.

PENCE (January 11, 2023): Our staff reviewed all of the materials in our office and in our residence to ensure that there were no classified materials.


SCIUTTO: What did those reviews miss?

With us now CNN's senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid.

OK, do we know how they made it, these classified materials, into Pence's home and the extent of them?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, Jim, according to our colleague Jamie Gangel, there were from the vice president's residence when there was a different process there for packing things up than there was at the White House. We've learned that these four boxes travelled from that residence to a temporary home in Virginia and then made their way to Indiana. But they were not in a secure storage area.

Now, the president -- the former vice president's attorney insists that he was not aware of these classified materials and they have pledged complete cooperation with whatever happens going forward.

At this point we don't know what these documents were. We don't know the level of classification. But the Justice Department is reviewing this matter. And that's exactly what they did when classified documents were found at an office in the home of President Biden. They started with a review and that's what prompted the appointment of a special council.

SCIUTTO: If I heard correctly there, the former vice president did say they checked both office and residence and didn't find any.

HILL: So, the big question, I think, for a lot of people, based on what we've seen is, any sense that a special counsel would be appointed here, Paula?

REID: It's possible, Erica. Based on what we know now, though, it appears that this was inadvertent. They immediately did searches of both the home and an office following the disclosures about classified documents found at the home and office of President Biden. And they have been cooperating so far.

I mean there are factors related to President Biden's situation, and certainly former President Trump's, that make those cases a little different. But we don't know what we don't know. The biggest problem is, who would be a special counsel. The short list was already pretty short and it's unclear how many options the attorney general has, but they're reviewing that right now.


REID: And they'll make a decision about whether this needs to be a full-blown investigation.

SCIUTTO: Yes, at some point the special counsel, not that special anymore.

HILL: Well, well, yes. Maybe - may be on that road.

Paula, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining us now to discuss, Toluse Olorunnipa, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post," and former U.S. attorney Michael Moore.

Good to see both of you this morning.

You know, as we look at where things stand, I have to say, I was having this conversation with my producer Laney (ph) yesterday before we knew about even the Pence documents. And we were saying huh, I wonder if any of the former presidents are also looking to see if they may have anything home -- at home just as a preemptive strike. We do know representatives for former presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama say they turned over all classified documents as per the rules for National Archives when leaving office and they have no plans to conduct additional searches.

You know, Michael, I'm curious, if you were an attorney working with any of the former presidents, would you advise them to do a search just to be sure given where things are going?

MICHAEL MOORE, PARTNER, MOORE HALL IN ATLANTA: Well, I'm glad to be with all of you. [09:20:01]

I would have advised them to do a search back when they left office. This is -- we're now letting the tail wag the dog a little bit on this. And so, you know, the time to check and when you're packing boxes and that type of thing is when - actually, you know, when you're doing it, when you're leaving.

Look, the reality is that people in these positions, the president, vice president, certain members of Congress, they need access to classified documents and they're not able to just review them in a SCIF, like some members of Congress, like run down the hall and take a look. It's a very mobile job they have. They're in the Air Force One, Air Force Two. They need to be able to see documents and briefings and things like that.

So, you know, we're worried about the perception, are we going to have a special counsel here? Are we going to treat this case fairly? How are we going to do that?

What we need to be doing, and I hope - what I hope Congress will focus on is, how do we fix it? Do we overclassify things? I think we do. Do we need to have a better way to track who has documents and how to recover documents? I think that's right. So, hopefully that will become the focus in the months ahead -


MOORE: And not trying to figure out why somebody had a document after they served as president or vice president.

SCIUTTO: Michael, just given your legal background, looking backwards given that you have investigations of Trump, Biden and now presumably of Pence as well. You've been a public prosecutor. For an attorney general this is a legal decision but also a political one. With each new discovery, has an indictment for anyone involved become less likely?

MOORE: Yes, absolutely. I mean I felt like that once they found the Biden documents, it pretty much neutralized the Trump case. Certainly when they found the Pence documents, it neutralizes some of the attacks on Biden and I think further goes to show that Trump - the cases are very different. I mean let's be real. I mean some of them have voluntarily turned over documents. The former president held on to them like they were his trophies on the wall. And despite repeated requests, and letters denying that there were other documents in his house, we know that there were boxes of information that he kept.


MOORE: Those are very different cases. But when you look at it overall, it is both in the court of law and in the court of public opinion. And so there's a need to make it look like the scales of justice are balanced.

But, you know, Pence coming out, that was rich, I thought, of the criticizes he made of Biden. You know, when you go out there like the attack dog, sometimes you end up biting yourself.


MOORE: And that's what happened in his case.

HILL: Well, as we watch all of that play out and wait for the next, I guess, document dump to drop.

Toluse, let's look at what's happening elsewhere in Washington.

So, we see this letter yesterday from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, making clear that he is following through on his promise to make sure that Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell will not be on House Intel. It's interesting that he also referenced in that letter integrity, honesty, which raises genuine questions about what then you do with people in your own camp, see George Santos, if we're talking about integrity and honesty. Does that matter?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It should matter. But when you have a slim four vote majority in your own caucus, it's going to be very difficult for Kevin McCarthy to hold a similar standard for Democrats and Republicans. And he's going to be accused repeatedly of hypocrisy when he, you know, attacks and calls out Democrats, when he calls out President Biden for his handling of classified documents but doesn't do the same about president - former President Trump, when he calls out Democrats for alleged misbehavior and he ignores the things that are happening within his own caucus, with people like Rep. George Santos and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, people that he has put on committees, high-profile committees, despite the fact that they have, you know, spots in their records as well.

So, I do expect Kevin McCarthy to try to navigate the very precarious, political situation he finds himself in just by attacking Democrats and taking on the incoming and the accusations of hypocrisy and just moving forward with trying to appease to his caucus and the Republicans within his - within his group as well.

SCIUTTO: Well, it wouldn't be the first sighting of political hypocrisy in this town, no question.

Has it cleared up the possibility of a Biden announcement for 2024 because that had been the plan, the talk, right, as we came into the year. Then the classified thing raised lots of questions about that. Has it brought that back into the near term, Toluse?

OLORUNNIPA: I do still expect President Biden to announce his re- election. We're not expecting it to happen before the State of the Union, which is going to take place in a couple of weeks. But Biden has said he's all, you know, all systems go when it comes to running for re-election. He believes that he is the person for the moment. He's been spending a lot of time touting his accomplishments from the first two years. And I do expect his re-election to be about talking about what he did in the first two years of his term. We're not expecting there to be much legislation for the next couple of years, but he's going to spend a lot of time implementing those laws and talking about the historic things that he was able to do in the first two years. And he seems like he's gearing up for re-election and thinking that the classified documents will not have impacted his timetable at all.

SCIUTTO: Things move quickly.


Toluse Olorunnipa, Michael Moore, thanks so much to both of you.

HILL: Just ahead here, chilling details about a deadly shooting at a gas station in Washington state. The gunman killing three people in cold blood. Then, just hours later, asking a stranger to borrow her phone. What she overheard that prompted her to call 911.


HILL: The suspect in a shooting rampage in Washington state is now dead after taking his own life. Yakima police say the man who allegedly shot and killed three people at a convenience store yesterday shot himself before officers reached him.

SCIUTTO: The police chief says they tracked him down after he asked a woman to borrow her cell phone so he could call his mother.