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California Faces Flood Risk As Storm Brings Heavy Rain, Snow; DeSantis Visits Iowa As He Weighs White House Run; Adviser: Sen. McConnell Eager To Be Released From Hospital. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 10, 2023 - 14:00   ET




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

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: And I'm Bianna Golodryga.

We begin this hour with a powerful winter storm that's threatening the West Coast. Right now, 17 million people across California and Nevada are under flood watches.

This storm is known as an atmospheric river basically a firehose of water. The big concern, flooding from rising rivers and melting snowpack. The ground is already saturated in much of the state from weeks of heavy rainfall.

BLACKWELL: Take a look at Oakland. Parts of Interstate 580 were shut down today in both directions because of flooding. Some lanes just reopened.

East of Oakland, the roof of the Dollar Store, look at this, collapse from the weight of the rain on top of the snow still there from earlier storms. The store now said to be a total loss. But the good news here no one was hurt.

Evacuation warnings are in effect for at least five Central California counties. Officials are telling some people there to move to higher ground now. And we are covering this from all angles.

CNN's Nick Watt is in Felton just outside of San Jose. Meteorologist Derek Van Dam is at the CNN weather center. And let's go to --


BLACKWELL: We'll start with Nick. Nick, tell us what you're seeing there.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Victor, we are seeing a lot of water here in Felton. We're just a little bit upriver from Santa Cruz, the San Lorenzo River. And as you can see, Dimir (PH) if you pull out, this place has been hit before hard. And very recently back in January, another one of these atmospheric rivers flooded neighborhoods around here. The people just recovering from that now getting hit again.

Now, the river here has been dropping for the past couple of hours. But the fear is there is more to come because here's the thing, Victor, there has been a lot of snow falling on uplands. And the weather we're getting right now is a little bit warmer. So, we're going to get all this rain and the weather is going to melt some of that upland snow and all of that water is going to come down to places like Felton.

Some of the numbers here we're talking about an inch of rain per hour in places, above 9000 feet. We're talking about another eight feet of snow is going to -- is going to fall. Now, here in Felton and other places, there were evacuation orders triggered just after midnight. We were on the road at the time. And the rain was unlike anything I've seen before outside of a hurricane. The windshield wipers just could not keep up.

A lot of the roads, the road that we came in on has been closed because of slippers. We're hearing from people further inland who say that they haven't seen anything like this in 40 years. And the village of SoCal which is just down by Santa Cruz, we're going to head down there shortly, their main street has just been washed away. One of the residents there says we are now an island.

So, right now, we are in a little bit of a lull in terms of rain. It's going to carry on but as you can tell, it's not that strong right now. But the problem is going to be the 11th atmospheric river of the winter is now forecast to hit Central California sometime early next week. These are these huge systems of low pressure from the north meeting moisture-laden air above Hawaii and basically aiming a fire hose at California.

Listen. California needs water. The whole West needs water. We've been suffering from a drought. It would just help not to get all of this water in such a concentrated period of time, guys.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, every week it appears we are covering yet another wetter weather catastrophe in that state. Thank you, Nick.

We want to go now to CNN's Derek Van Dam. So, what could we see from this new storm? Just how dangerous could it be?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, listen. You know the Weather Prediction Center really upped the ante when they increased their alert level to their highest level for excessive flash flooding today and overnight last night. That's a level four of four from Monterey County southward into Ventura County. That also includes portions of the central Sierra Nevada coastline or mountain range, I should say.

And just as Nick was talking about, this is a different atmospheric river compared to the previous ten that we've covered this winter because of its deep connection with the tropics. You can literally track that trail of moisture and cloud cover from Hawaii all the way to the state of California. And why that's important is because this particular atmospheric river event will be milder compared to the previous storms, so that means more rain at higher elevations falling on deeper snowpack.


Now, considering that this atmospheric river in the sky more or less, has the ability to produce and carry as much as 25 times the amount of water that is carried through the Mississippi River. It reaches the mountain ranges of California, cools, and condenses as it rises. And because that freezing level, is literally a thousand feet higher than what we anticipated just a day ago, for instance.

We're going to see higher snow levels and more rain out of the system falling on a already deep and historic snowpack. So, that means excessive snow melt flash flooding, landslides, and mudslides will continue this weekend for much of California. Victor, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, residents there really should be heeding local warnings as well. Derek Van Dam, our thanks to you.

Well, we turned out to New York where former President Donald Trump is now invited to testify before Manhattan grand jury. It's all part of their investigation into alleged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election.

BLACKWELL: So, this is a potential sign that prosecutors are zeroing in on an indictment. Let's turn now to CNN's Kara Scannell. Kara, what do you know?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's right. So, sources tell us that this invitation was made to the former president's lawyers in recent days to appear before the grand jury. And this is a sign that this investigation is coming to a conclusion that a decision of whether or not to seek an indictment is likely to happen more in the next few weeks than months.

I -- you know, we've also seen a parade of witnesses going in, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks, you know, all signals that this is getting toward the finish line. You know, also today, Michael Cohen went in to meet with the district attorney's office. Our cameras caught him. And here -- let's take a listen to what he had to say.


MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I have to applaud District Attorney Bragg for giving Donald the opportunity to come in and to tell his story. Now, knowing Donald as well as I do understand that he doesn't tell the truth. It's one thing to turn around and to lie on your untruth social. It's another thing to turn around and lie before a grand jury. So, I don't suspect that he's going to be coming.


SCANNELL: Now, sources tell us that among the charges that prosecutors are weighing, they relate to the hush money payment. But hush money payment itself is not a crime, so they're looking at how this payment was reimbursed. And remember Donald Trump signed those checks to Michael Cohen. So, prosecutors are looking at how the Trump Organization accounted for that in their books and records. So, they're looking at possible falsifying business record charge, which is a misdemeanor, or falsifying records in to -- in order to commit or conceal another crime. In this case, that could be campaign finance violations.

Now, I mean, this is not an easy case. It's a novel legal theory and Trump's lawyers will certainly have a lot of defenses that they'll throw up at this. We spoke to one of the attorneys, Joe Tacopina.

And in a statement, he said. The DA and the former DA have been scouring every aspect of President Trump's personal life and business affairs for years in search of a crime and needs to stop. This is simply not what our justice system is about.

And as we know, Trump is facing a number of other legal challenges, other criminal investigations having to do with the 2020 election, both in Fulton County, Florida, and at the Justice Department level as well as the handling of classified documents. So, certainly, a lot coming to a head for the former president. This one looks like it could be the first move.

GOLODRYGA: A long time coming too. Kara Scannell, thank you.

Well, let's bring in legal analyst Elliot Williams. So, Elliot, the president has been offered an opportunity to testify. Does that -- the former president. Does that signal that an indictment in your view is likely?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It signals that one could be coming. Now, New York is one of the jurisdictions in there any number across the United States that gives defendants an opportunity -- potential defendants an opportunity to come in and make their case prior to charges being raised. Now, sometimes people can use that as an opportunity to sort of say, you know, look, I might have engaged in those actions but here's why, and there's a legal basis for why did them and so on.

The problem is it's fraught with peril to do that because number one, he would have to waive what's called his immunity. So, any statement he made could be used against them. And number two, he can't control the questions that he's asked. So, for any number of reasons, we're probably not likely to see him come in and testify here.

BLACKWELL: So, Kara described this as a novel, legal theory. Does novel, in this case, equal weak case? What's your take on on the approach here?

WILLIAMS: That's an excellent question, Victor. And look, the way our law works in this country is that you bring cases based on what has come before. And there are some cases that simply the situation hasn't presented itself before and it's legally complex.

And to back up Kara's point, it's sort of a case within a case within a case. You would have to prove first that there were hush money payments, but then not just that the payments happened, that they happened in knowing furtherance of another criminal offense. So, it's not just writing a hush money check to quiet down somebody who might have embarrassing facts about you is because you know, you're violating campaign finance law.


That's never been done. And that's a big leap and a big step for what ultimately could be a misdemeanor or a very, very small penalty that doesn't even carry -- doesn't require -- isn't required to carry jail time. So, yes, they can do it and you know, there's certainly a path to what's happening, but it's not particularly straightforward legally.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. Talk more about the potential charges because it could range anything from a misdemeanor to a felony. So, in terms of sentences that they may carry, what are -- what's on the horizon here?

WILLIAMS: Sure. Starting with the felony. Even if -- so let's pretend that the prosecutors even are able to establish, look, these hush money payments were made to suppress or cut --- to suppress or commit a campaign finance violation. Even that has a maximum four-year sentence. And nobody gets a four-year sentence for a campaign finance violation. And it's not even required to send them to jail. So, it would be maybe for probation or something like that.

That's a lot of legal wrangling to go through for somebody that may never end up going to jail in the first place. So -- and then -- and if that doesn't happen, it's just a misdemeanor, which doesn't even carry less than a year in prison. So, there's just no significant penalties that even under the best of circumstances would come from this case.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about Michael Cohen. We just heard from him. He was there at the Manhattan DA's office today. A source tells CNN he'll be back there Monday.

And it's been pointed out that yes, he's a convicted felon. He's a proven liar. But he lied on behalf of Trump, right? How problematic is that for this case and how much of the case really hinges upon Michael Cohen's word?

WILLIAMS: Sure. Well, based on what's publicly available right now, the strongest evidence they have is Michael Cohen's word. And I want to be clear. He testified under oath before Congress as to the facts of this -- of this case here. So, that itself is powerful evidence, it's under oath, it's sworn, and so on. The simple fact is he is a convicted felon based on honesty issues.

And any defense attorney is going to hammer him and hammer prosecution here over the fact that the star witness has serious credibility issues. So, you know, when Kara mentioned earlier in the segment that they were bringing in a number of other witnesses and trying to get other evidence, I think that's to insulate around the fact that the evidence that you have and Michael Cohen just isn't that strong.

He might be telling the truth but he's got credibility issues. And in court, all that matters is can a jury believes the evidences presented to them and when they have a witness who will himself admit on the stand that he's got a felony conviction. It's just harder to believe them in order to convict them.

BLACKWELL: All right Elliot Williams, thanks so much.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: The labor market is still hot ahead of what this could mean for the Fed and a potential rate hike.

GOLODRYGA: And Republicans descend on Iowa. They must stop on the possible road to the White House. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis among those speaking to key voters there. We'll take you to the State ahead.



GOLODRYGA: Top Republican presidential contenders are flocking to Iowa right now. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has yet to officially launch a White House bid visited the key primary state for the first time this morning.

BLACKWELL: Nikki Haley is also campaigning there today. And on Monday, former President Trump will make his first visit to the state ahead of the 2024 caucuses. CNN's Jeff Zeleny has details for us. Jeff?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Victor and Bianna, it is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's first visit here to the state of Iowa, clearly promoting his book but selling the idea of his presidential candidacy. That will be formally announced we were told in either May or June. But clearly, getting a sense of Iowa Republicans and he wants them to get a sense of his policies in Florida, he visited Davenport, Iowa earlier today with this message.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R-FL): There's no drama in our administration. There's no palace intrigue. They basically just sit back and say, OK what's the governor going to do next? And we roll out and we execute and we do things and we get things done. And in the process, we beat the left day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.


ZELENY: The Florida Governor making his way to Des Moines. He'll be meeting with state legislators this afternoon, a private meeting. Also, influential Republicans clearly trying to get into this Iowa caucus campaign that is just beginning. Of course, former President Donald Trump will be coming here on Monday. Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has been spending most of the week here in Iowa.

So, when you talk to Iowa Republican voters, they are in a couple of different camps. You either support Donald Trump or you're looking for an alternative. The question is, is the Florida governor that alternative?

So, many voters here have been -- really had high anticipation for his arrival. They lined up by the hundreds to see him earlier today. We'll be doing the same this evening here in Des Moines.

Now, the Iowa caucuses that start off this presidential nominating contest are less than a year away. That's why he's coming here today. Victor and Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

Let's bring in Paul Begala. He's a CNN political commentator and a Democratic strategist. And Scott Jennings, a CNN senior political commentator, as well, and a former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.

So, Paul, let me start with you because this is a question we typically throw out at Scott. But now I'm going to lob it your way. And that is how closely are Democrats watching the rise and potential announcement from Governor DeSantis if he does decide to run for president?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, very closely. Most of the people I know are terribly worried that he'd be a stronger candidate than Trump. I'm a dissenter. I'm a DeSantis dissenter. He is -- he's going to take on Trump the same way Leonardo DiCaprio took on the bear in the Revenant, OK?

Trump's got a mall and he's going to shred him. He's going to clog. He's going to bite him. He's going to -- then, he's going to bury him in leaves and come back and eat him later.

Mr. DeSantis -- Governor DeSantis isn't. I respect his landslide reelection flood. I really do. It took a lot of talent. But that was against Charlie Crist.

Charlie Crist is not Donald Trump. I think he has no idea what he's about to get into. He got to call Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, or all the other people that Trump destroyed the last time.


BLACKWELL: DiCaprio survived that though, right? I mean yes, it was -- he was in a rough fight.

BEGALA: That's a good point, Victor.

BLACKWELL: But he came out at the end. I just point it out.

BEGALA: That's a good point.

GOLODRYGA: I saw his mind, like thinking, how am I going to (INAUDIBLE) after that?

BLACKWELL: OK. all right, Scott, let me come to --

BEGALA: That's a good point, Victor. You got me there, buddy.

BLACKWELL: Scott, let me come to you on. On DeSantis, what is the goal? What's a win for this phase? Because he's pre candidate. Is this the time to just give the big speeches not do the kind of, you know, eggs and issues and glad-handing in living rooms? What does he have to do right now?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the win for him right now because he's obviously strategically decided not to launch a formal campaign, the win is to remain at the top of the heap of the non-Trump candidates. And right now, he's doing that. I mean, he's in a different universe. Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, all these other folks. They're nowhere in the near where DeSantis is in terms of his overall favorability ratings, his net faves.

Even visa vie Trump. He has a higher net favorability rating in a lot of surveys in a lot of states and is really matching Trump or in some ways better than Trump in Iowa, which we're talking about today. So, the win is to stay at the top of that heat and then file your campaign at the end of the legislative session in Florida, which is apparently, strategically, what they've decided to do.

The other thing is, is to keep people on the hook and not see them leak off as disinterested as time moves on, I've been wanting to think here that somebody is going to have to take on Trump directly and pretty soon.

BEGALA: Right.

JENNINGS: Because he's kind of like the terminator in Terminator Two, just when you think you've melted him, like he really coagulates and comes back, you know, with spears in his hands to stab you. And so, he's got -- he's got to find a way to keep Trump from reconstituting himself, while not having that campaign committee to take him on directly.

He started to do that today, by the way in Iowa and said, hey, look what we do in Florida, no drama. You know, there's no mystery and palace intrigue about what we're doing. We just go forward and execute and win. I think you're going to see that kind of put the -- be the confines of how he engages Trump as time moves on here.

GOLODRYGA: OK. so, Scott, let's talk about Nikki Haley because she's also there in the state and she has officially announced that she is in this race. She's also the first Republican to really lay out a plan and a strategy in terms of how to tackle Medicare and Social Security in these popular entitlement programs.

And she's proposing to raise the retirement age for Americans who are currently in their 20s. And she says that it's to do with matching life expectancies in order to preserve these entitlement programs and also to maybe take away some of these benefits for wealthier Americans. How's that going to resonate or how is that resonating already amongst Republicans?

JENNINGS: Yes, you hear this thrown out from time to time. I think there are two different issues on the changing in the benefits or reduction of benefits for wealthier people. That'll probably play fairly well. I don't think it does a whole bunch to solve the Social Security solvency over time but that'll play.

I think the raising of the retirement age is trickier because, you know even if you're just saying it's for younger voters, the idea of having to work into your 70s before you can collect your Social Security is likely to run into resistance from a lot of other Republicans and Republican candidates. And so, I'm less sure that that's going to be the panacea she wants it to be. Overall, I'm not sure this issue is the one that's going to determine the outcome in the Republican primary.

It certainly is going to have some impact on the general election because this will obviously be a debate between the two parties, as Paul knows. And it always is. So, I just -- I'm unsure the retirement age piece. The wealthy benefit thing probably flies a little bit in our popular stage.

BLACKWELL: Paul, as we await a potential indictment from Manhattan DA's office related to the Stormy Daniels payments, what's the potency do you think? I mean, Donald Trump has been impeached twice and is still the front-runner for the Republican nomination. What do you think that this would mean?

BEGALA: That's a good point. I don't think it'll penetrate his Republican base support very much at all, if at all. Because he seems impenetrable there. And I think Scott's right if you get four or five or even three anti-Trump Republicans in the primary, Trump win. He is a plurality candidate.

And by the way, this is just the beginning in the banquet of Trump criminal probes. The Manhattan DA is the amuse-bouche, right? They are more common. He's got problems in Fulton County. He's got problems with the federal government of Special Counsel.

The problems won't end legally, but actually politically with that, and it's 30 or 40 percent I believe, that the Republican -- but Scott can correct me. I don't know his party as well as he does. But I think 34 --30 or 40 percent of Republicans are impenetrable for Trump. And the only way the Republicans can avoid having him is not if he's indicted. It's if there's one opponent who has the talent, the courage to defeat him not three or four.



JENNINGS: Yes, I think Paul's right. If all these people stay in through the period of the voting, it will endure to Trump's benefit. I don't expect that to be the case. On this legal case, you know, he called it an amuse-bouche, which indicates this food would be edible for humans. I think this is low-grade dog food. This is a seven-year- old misdemeanor novel legal theory to get it over to a felony, maybe.

I mean Donald Trump is being investigated right now for trying to overturn the outcome of a free and fair election, for trying to whip up a mob to hang Mike Pence, for committing serious election fraud in the state of Georgia, and this is your leadoff hitter for all these legal troubles is this paperwork misdemeanor? They'd be better off in New York of shelving this and letting the feds and the people in Georgia do their work. Because I think if they go first --


JENNINGS: -- it's going to destabilize what -- you know, the overall legal case against Donald Trump. So, if you're somebody who wants to get Trump, my advice would be to call up Alvin Bragg and say put it on the shelf and let the Special Counsel and the folks in Georgia get to the real meat, the real issues that people care about surrounding the end of his presidency.

BLACKWELL: All right, low-grade dog food, amuse-bouche -- GOLODRYGA: Who wins the metaphor competition here?

BLACKWELL: Terminator Two, The Revenant, we got it all in.

GOLODRYGA: You came ready for this Friday, guys.

BLACKWELL: Scott Jennings, Paul Begala --

BEGALA: It's -- yes, it's Oscar weekend. We had the -- we had to come with all of it.

GOLODRYGA: It sure is.

BLACKWELL: Well done -- well done -- well done.

BEGALA: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, we have new details on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's health after being hospitalized for a concussion.

BLACKWELL: CNN Chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju joins us now. What are you learning, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I just spoke to a top political adviser to Mitch McConnell, someone who has spent pretty much the last two days with him at the hospital after McConnell fell on Wednesday night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, hit his head and is being treated for a concussion, has been remained the for observation. This top adviser tells me that McConnell is doing quite well. In fact, he's lobbying staff to release -- hospital step to be released. He's getting quite impatient.

I'm told he wants to get out of the hospital. He's acting normally, starting to get brief as a top adviser, Josh Holmes told me that. The first question that McConnell asked as he walked into the room was what -- did you meet with those candidates today? Referring to political candidates, Senate candidates, as Mitch McConnell, of course, tries to plot his could chart -- the party's path back to the Senate Majority. He also got a briefing about yesterday's Republican lunch in which he missed. He made a quip about missing the halibut that was served by -- for -- a courtesy of Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska saying I'm sorry, I missed the halibut. Now, I'm also told by a person familiar with the matter that there are no visible wounds from -- to the -- Mitch McConnell. He fell when he felt. He hit his head. He was taken to the hospital, but he is acting normally despite being treated for concussion.

And this top adviser, Josh Holmes, told me that there was no question that Mitch McConnell will be able to continue to serve his term out as Republican leader. Of course, he's the longest-serving Republican leader in history, 81 years old, and has hit his head on that fall. But there's no doubt that he'll be continue -- be able to continue his role. So, positive news about McConnell on the health front from this top adviser saying that he expects to be out wants to get out soon, but at the moment expected to continue to remain at home -- in the hospital for observation. Releasing, potentially, we'll see in the next couple of days, guys.

GOLODRYGA: Well, that is really good news. And we wish him a continued speedy recovery. Manu Raju, thank you.

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