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CNN International: Millions In U.S., Canada Under Air Quality Warnings; U.S. Justice Department Informs Trump He is a Target in Its Classified Documents Probe; Former VP Mike Pence Launches Presidential Campaign; Impact of Dam Collapse in Ukraine; Top U.S. Diplomat on Middle East Mission. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 08, 2023 - 04:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Bianca Nobilo.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Max Foster joining you live from London. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been living in New York for the most part of 35 years and I never experienced anything like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dense smoke has blanketed much of the northeast, portions of the mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley today with just incredible amounts of smoke filtering in the city.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Former President Donald Trump has been informed that he is the target of a federal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to find a way to move our country forward and restore confidence in equal treatment under the law in this country.


ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Max Foster and Bianca Nobilo.

FOSTER: And it is Thursday, June 8th, 9:00 a.m. here in London, 4:00 a.m. on the east coast of the U.S. Where tens of millions of people are under health risk due to wildfire smoke pouring in from Canada.

NOBILO: Officials warn the smoke could blanket much of the U.S. and Canada for the next few days. This smoke is coming mainly from the more than 100 fires active in central Quebec.

FOSTER: And this time lapse shows the smoke engulfing New York City over a three-hour period on Wednesday. The skyline nearly vanishes behind a thick orange haze by 2 p.m. The air quality has slightly improved in recent hours, dropping from the most severe hazardous level to now being very unhealthy. Officials are urging people to stay inside and use a mask if you have to go outside.


ERIC ADAMS, NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: I want to be clear, while there may be potential for significantly improved conditions by Friday morning, smoke predictability that far out is low. It's difficult to predict the movement of this smoke as Commissioner Iscol stated earlier. This is an unpredictable series of events and we cannot provide guidance more than a day in advance at this point. As a result, we're encouraging New Yorkers to stay home indoors tonight and tomorrow whenever possible, especially our vulnerable New Yorkers. All New Yorkers should limit outdoor activity to the greatest extent possible.


NOBILO: CNN has reporters all across this developing story. Meteorologist Jennifer Gray is at the CNN Weather Center looking at where the smoke is heading.

And New York City's medical correspondent Meg Tirrell looks at the health impacts. Also in New York CNN's chief climate correspondent Bill Weir, with a look at how air quality hit the worst levels ever recorded.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Canadian wildfires have burned an area 15 times above average for this time of year. And in a world connected by climate crisis, fire and when are now creating other worldly scenes across the American Northeast. And on the streets of New York, a mixture of amazement --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been living in New York for the most part of 35 years and I've never experienced anything like this before.

WEIR (voice-over): -- and concern.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For years we've been wearing masks indoors and taking them off outdoors and now it's the reverse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well we're from Australia and we have a lot of bush fires in Australia, so we're used to this. This season hasn't as bad, but it did shock me how quickly it came in last night in the air quality was bad later in the evening.

WEIR (voice-over): The sky over Lower Manhattan turned from dirty yellow to a frightening orange in just a few midday hours. The smoke forcing ground stops at LaGuardia and street lights in Central Park to come on in the middle of the day.

WEIR: If you get any glimpse of the sun at all on these surreal days, it's this apocalyptic glowing ball in the sky. The air quality index today on par with New Delhi, India, a city four times larger with much lower air quality standards, of course. And just today the American Lung Association dropped a new report

where they examined how many lives would be saved if the U.S. could electrify its vehicle fleet by 2050. It'd be almost 90,000 lives saved and that doesn't account for the prevalence of wildfire smoke now more common on a planet heated up by fossil fuels.

WILLIAM BARRETT, NATIONAL SENIOR DIRECTOR, AMERICAN LUNG ASSOCIATION: Yes, the study is really only focused on emissions from those power plants and the vehicle tailpipes.


So we really need to take a comprehensive view and that new study really illustrates that making these changes today can help bring out major, major public health benefits over time.

WEIR: Any number above 300 on the air quality index is considered dangerous for everyone regardless of health. And since parts of New York topped 400 today, doctors are bracing for what comes next.

DR. DANIEL STERMAN, DIRECTOR OF PULMONARY MEDICINE, NYU LANGONE: In the short term I could say that I'm very worried as a pulmonologist who takes care of patients with COPD and lung cancer, asthma. That I'm very worried about all of my patients. Patients who've had COVID. They had COVID injuries who may not have had other lung injuries but survived COVID only to have this exposure and the risk to them of re- exacerbation of their underlying lung disease, many, many health problems that I'm worried about four for all of my patience.

WEIR: Now when it comes to that little particulate, the really dangerous pm 2.5, research shows that when there are 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, emergency rooms for asthma attacks tend to double. Well indoor air monitors, the last couple of days, have shown levels above 150. It take so much solace of being inside most of our lives and thinking that is a protected space. But health officials also warning, check the filters on your air conditioning. Make sure it's recycling the air if you have one that goes out through the window as well. And check those filters. Make sure that they're quality enough to get you through what could be a smoky summer regardless of where you live.

Bill Weir, CNN, Brooklyn.


JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Dense smoke has blanketed much of the Northeast, portions of the mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valleys today with just incredible amounts of smoke filtering in the city. The pictures that we've seen out of New York City have been incredible. It looks like there the smoke is peaking and will start to improve by the time we get into later today.

But look at these pictures from Wednesday throughout the day, progressively the smoke just got worse and worse. You could barely see the skyscrapers during part of the afternoon. In fact around 4:00 Eastern time on Wednesday, New York City ranked number one in the world for the worst air quality of any major city. But New York City has been on the top ten list really for the last couple of days while the smoke has really been a problem.

And so, what's driving all of this is the stagnant weather pattern that we've been in. This area of high pressure to the west, this area of low pressure to the east, and winds are basically being funneled right in between that out of the north. And so, that northerly wind is just pushing that smoke into portions of the U.S. And we're really not going to see much of a change until we change the weather pattern and that could be quite some time.

So while the smoke may temporarily get better for New York City, it means it's going to get worse for portions to the west. So we could see better air quality in New York City by the time we get to Thursday, but we're going to see those winds driving down into the Ohio Valley and that's where the smoke is going to get worse.

And you can see that on this map right here. New York City, this is Wednesday 9:00, you can see we have very, very thick smoke over New York City. But then by the time we get into later this morning or into this afternoon, it really starts to improve across New York. We see a little bit of it in D.C. but then the deep areas of red really start to push down into the Ohio Valley by the time we get into Friday afternoon. And so you can see while it improving for some, it will worsen for others. And I think that that will be the trend moving forward over the next couple of days and unfortunately weeks to come until we can get a change in the weather pattern.

Here are the fires and you can see the satellite picture from space all of the smoke just diving straight south. And also reminder still very early in the fire season for Canada. We're just getting going. And so we probably have a lot more of this to deal with. But it's been a staggering year for wildfires. For 2023 so far, we've already burned more than 9 million acres, that's almost triple what we've burned for the entire year for 2022. And also for 2020, it was a low year. But we are really up there. And again, it's early in the fire season. So we could continue to see smoke across portions of the U.S. for most likely weeks to come.

FOSTER: There are new developments in the multiple investigations of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Sources tell CNN the U.S. Justice Department has informed Trump he is a target in its classified documents probe.

NOBILO: Prosecutors have spoken with or subpoenaed two former Trump aides in the January 6 investigation. CNN Senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid has details.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Former President Donald Trump has been informed that he is the target of a federal investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents. This is a sign that prosecutors could be moving closer to indicting Trump.


And he was informed about this through what is called a target letter that his lawyers received. Multiple sources have had that letter described to them but none of the sources have personally seen the target letter. But most of the time when you receive a target letter, it means that you can, if you would like, appear before a grand jury. Though it's unclear if the former president would avail himself of that option.

We know the former president's lawyers met with the Justice Department earlier this week and he has repeatedly insisted that he has done nothing wrong. But the fact that he has been informed that he is a target of the investigation, it's clear that prosecutors are looking not just at the people around him but they are specifically looking at the former president.

Now in the other special counsel investigation into the events surrounding January 6, we have learned that long time Trump ally and former White House adviser Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed to testify in that probe. Though it's unclear how cooperative he'll be as a witness. He is currently facing prison time for being held in contempt of Congress.

Now, for a more cooperative witness, we have also learned that Alyssa Farah Griffith has been talking to investigators. She sat for a voluntary interview where she was questioned at length we have learned, about former President Trump's state of mind. The extent to which he really believed the lies that he was pushing in and around January 6th. That is a sign that investigators are still focused on Trump's mindset in and around January 6th, but also shows that the January 6 investigation is likely not quite as far along as the other special counsel investigation into possible mishandling of classified documents.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


NOBILO: The newest candidate in the Republican race for U.S. president was asked about the documents investigation during CNN Town Hall on Wednesday. And Mike Pence pulled some punches.

FOSTER: Now the former vice president said he doesn't want to see the Justice Department indict his former boss. Arguing it would send a terrible message to the world. But during his official campaign Launch, Pence took a much tougher tone towards Trump. CNN's Kyung Lah explains.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Former Vice President Mike Pence in his Town Hall, we saw an unabashed conservative. Someone who took strong conservative positions. Someone who displayed his faith proudly. And then someone who was also running against the president he served under. Trying to do a high wire act of separating himself from Donald Trump yet trying to work on that legacy to parlay it into a strength. And we saw this play out in the Town Hall as he tried to answer question about the possible indictment against Trump and the classified documents case. Take a listen.

MIKE PENCE, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those classified -- I had no business having classified documents in my residence. And I take full responsibility for it. President Biden had no business having them in his residence from when he was vice president as well. In the same with former President Trump.

But I would just hope that there would be a way for them to move forward without the dramatic and drastic and divisive step of indicting a former president of the United States. We've got to find a way to move our country forward and restore confidence in equal treatment under the law in this country.

LAH: The difficulty was also seen at the rally during those lines, the most forceful attacks against Donald Trump where he talked about the Constitution, trying to admonish Trump as being unfit for the presidency because of what happened on January 6th. Those were not his strongest applause. There were some people in the crowd who were standing up giving him a standing ovation and others who simply remained silent underscoring the challenge ahead that lies for Mike Pence in Iowa.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Des Moines.


NOBILO: Up next, rescuers work to reach residents trapped in the flood zone in southern Ukraine after a major dam collapses. The latest developments in a live report ahead.

FOSTER: Plus, the top U.S. diplomat meets Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia. We'll have a look at the top issues on their agenda.

NOBILO: And a little later, it's a family feud on Capitol Hill. We'll explain why some hardline Republicans have shut down the House and why Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy says that he is not even sure what some of them want.


NOBILO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is issuing an urgent plea to the international community requesting a clear and swift humanitarian response following the devastating dam collapse in the south. He calls the damage there catastrophic. A regional military commander said at least 600 square kilometers of Kherson Region is now flooded, hundreds of homes are under water. And Mr. Zelenskyy says, Ukrainian forces are rescuing as many people as possible despite ongoing Russians shelling.

FOSTER: So far more than 1,500 residents have been evacuated from the Ukrainian controlled areas of the Kherson Region. And now the United Nations has stepped into help as Ukraine claims Russian forces are offering no help to get residents out of the areas occupied by Russia.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The situation in the occupied part of the Kherson Region is absolutely catastrophic. The occupiers have simply abandoned the people in these dreadful conditions without rescue, without water, they are left on the rooftops in flooded communities.


NOBILO: CNN's Clare Sebastian is following developments and she joins us here in London. Clare, what are the latest images that you're seeing and responses from the government that you can tell us about?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, Zelenskyy is clearly stepping up his appeal, his very direct appeal to the international community. He has now just put out on Telegram that he is on a working visit to Kherson. He didn't say exactly where and the images provided don't show him outside. But he's certainly taking the situation extremely seriously and is personally involved in this. Take a listen to a little bit more of what he said in his nightly address about what is needed and his key concerns.



ZELENSKYY (through translator): A clear and prompt response from the world is needed to what is happening. It is even impossible to accurately determine how many people in this temporarily occupied territory of Kherson Region may die without rescue, without drinking water, without food, without medical assistance. Our military and special services, to the extent possible, despite shelling, are saving people.


SEBASTIAN: So, he is emphasizing the situation in the occupied part of Kherson. Don't forget, this is only partially occupied by Russia. But we're hearing from the governor, Ukrainian governor of that region this morning, who said 68 percent of the flooded territory is actually in Russian occupied land. And we have extraordinary footage the Ukrainian military brigades were out yesterday as a drone -- drones by the way that have been recently used to drop weapons -- dropping bottled drinking water into people. And this is in Aleshki, which is on the eastern bank of the Dnipro, in Russian held territory.

So this is the Ukrainian military trying to help people who are in Russian held territory. I want to zoom out to show you the situation in that town of Aleshki itself. We have some new satellite image from Wednesday that show the before and after, the before on the left there in May. And then you can see on the right pretty much every street it looks like in that town has been inundated with water. And there's another image that we'll show you further upstream, Nova Kakhovka, the adjacent to the dam.

This is a grain facility, a granary basically almost entirely submerged. And this is part of the environmental impact that we're seeing. This is a huge agricultural area. You can see the agricultural infrastructure there. The Ukrainian government estimates 10,000 hectares of agricultural land would have been flooded. And that is only, they say, in the Ukrainian occupied territory. So this is a widespread disaster. They're now worried about lack of drinking water, potential landmines that have sort of been dislodged by the flooding, a huge amount of danger. And meanwhile, the Russians -- certainly, Zelenskyy is accusing, there are now teams on the ground that have heard a lot of artillery and mortar fire continue to shell the city of Kherson even as this disaster unfolds.

NOBILO: And then meanwhile were seen, as you've mentioned, Ukrainians using drones in a humanitarian capacity as, which is obviously distracting from the military effort for them as well. But I think you're pointing out to them every life matters. Clare Sebastian, thank you so much.

FOSTER: In just a few hours British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet with The U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House. Mr. Sunak is in the U.S. to forge stronger economic ties with Washington. He held meetings with Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday evening. Ever since Brexit British leaders have hoped to sign a full free trade deal with the U.S., so far it hasn't happened though.

NOBILO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Saudi Arabia for talks with Gulf leaders. Earlier he hosted a ministerial meeting with the global coalition to defeat ISIS.

FOSTER: Blinken says the U.S. is committed to its Gulf partners and aims to make the region more stable, secure and prosperous. He scheduled to hold a news conference with the Saudi foreign minister later today. CNN's Scott McLean is following developments from here in London. What are the issues, the main issues, Scott, that will come out of this?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a whole ton of them. And Max, you know obviously, normalization of relations between the Israelis and Saudis is something that is definitely on the agenda, the situation in Sudan, the situation in Yemen, the list goes on and on.

And oftentimes on the world stage, you have the U.S. talking about shared values, you know, democracy, freedom, human rights, that kind of a thing. But no one is under the impression that the Saudis share those values. And so, instead the U.S. is stressing the importance of shared interests, like peace, security, economic prosperity. And there is plenty of economic prosperity to be had.

Saudi Arabia is the largest buyer, biggest customer of the U.S. defense industry. And U.S. exports to Saudi Arabia help support 165,000 jobs in the United States. That's according to the Americans. And so, while Joe Biden may have wanted to make Saudi Arabia a global pariah, the Americans have quickly realized that you can't just ignore or marginalize Saudi Arabia given its immense wealth and global -- and growing influence. The LIV Golf Tour is just the latest example.

And so, if the U.S. isn't engaged, others will fill the void. We've already seen China trying to be more assertive in the region. And the Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince was on the phone with Vladimir Putin less than 24 hours after meeting with Antony Blinken. Today as you guys pointed out, the focus is on terrorism and the global fight against it. And Secretary Blinken is clearly trying to catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Thanks to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its significant contributions to our shared work to defeat ISIS. As a founding member of this coalition and through its leadership today. Global community, so much of it represented here today, faces no shortage of security challenges. Recent years have demonstrated the progress that we can achieve with steadfast determination.


MCLEAN: So it's still an open question just how much human rights are the focus of these meetings happening in Saudi Arabia. Even in advance of this trip, the U.S. officials were asked whether or not the U.S. would try to secure specific commitments from Saudi Arabia on human right. They didn't give any specifics.


And even after Blinken's meeting with Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, they said that look, Blinken did raise human rights generally with the Saudis and also specific issues. But they didn't say which ones. And so, while the U.S. may have human rights as a pillar of how it engages around the world, it doesn't seem at least on the surface that human rights is the top priority on this particular trip -- Max, Bianca.

FOSTER: OK, Scott, thank you.

NOBILO: Still ahead, out of control wildfires have triggered air quality warnings for millions of people in the U.S. and Canada. Our medical correspondent shares tips on how to protect your health from that smoke.

FOSTER: Plus, Disney's newest movie star is getting lots of praise for her performance in "The Little Mermaid," but some audiences in Asia are reacting as warmly.


NOBILO: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo.

FOSTER: I'm Max Foster. If you're just joining us, let me bring you up to date with the top stories this hour.

75 million people in the U.S. and millions more in Canada are breathing a noxious smoky haze spewed mainly by wildfires in Quebec. The air quality has slightly improved in recent hours, dropping from the most severe hazardous level, to it now being just very unhealthy. Officials warn the smoke could blanket much of the U.S. and Canada for the next several days. Authorities are urging people to stay inside and use a mask if they have to go outside.

NOBILO: Doctors at Johns Hopkins Asthma Center in Maryland reports seeing double the usual number of patients on Wednesday, as noxious wildfire smoke from Canada smothers much of the Eastern U.S. Many of the patients were suffering from respiratory issues. The particulates in wildfire smoke can be extremely dangerous.