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Powerful 6.8 Magnitude Earthquake Hits Morocco; President Biden Attends Meeting Of Global Leaders In India; Interview With Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) About G20 Summit, China, And Former President Trump; Trump Ramps Up Charged Rhetoric After Criminal Indictments; Secretary Frank Kendall, U.S. Air Force, Discusses Tuberville's Continued Hold On Military Nominees, Enabling China; Dallas Newspaper Devoting Entire Month to Fentanyl Crisis. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired September 09, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. And we begin this hour in Morocco.

You can hear the sirens there. A powerful 6.8 magnitude earthquake has rocked the county. And minutes ago the death toll jumped to 1300.

This is the moment the earthquake struck. The initial panic has given way to new fears. Strong aftershocks are expected threatening damaged buildings and adding to the number of injured.

CNN's Sam Kiley joins us from Marrakech.

Sam, I understand it's about 9:00 p.m. there. How are the recovery efforts going?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this -- I'm in the Medina of Marrakech here in the old city, that is. This is a very, very ancient city. And you can see the remains, the glorious remains of its past, and now here is much of its present.

This devastating earthquake killed 13 people here in Marrakech. Mostly here in the Medina because the city is ancient, and it is very tightly packed. There are buildings here that if there's another quake that have riven already by cracks, Jim, that could come down. But elsewhere in the country things have been even worse, Jim, with 13 people, as I say, killed here Marrakech, 1300 as you reported there across the country.

That figure is expected to climb because in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains where the devastation was most keenly felt, there are whole villages, Jim, that have been destroyed, utterly flattened. We've seen that in pictures coming in to us from the authorities and from the local media. And it's those areas that the government is desperately trying to get to.

Now the king of Morocco Mohammed has declared three days of national mourning. The whole country is being mobilized to try to cope with this, but it's coming at a time when there have been very serious aftershocks, particularly south of the city. If you look here up through here, this is a building that has collapsed from within. I'm standing on what was up there. That black hole there is the sky, Jim.

The whole thing just plummeted down and landed under where I'm standing. Now there is a fear, of course, that these walls could collapse in further. So as a result of that, this major tourist destination here in the Medina is being evacuated. Large numbers of tourists are being moved out of this Medina, and that's for their own safety. So far it's kind of on the edge of feeling like a ghost town, and of course a little bit frightening every time there's a fall of dust or rubble. But that wasn't enough to shock -- it was just me being a little jumpy, Jim.

ACOSTA: Totally understandable. Sam, are you still feeling these aftershocks, and what are the needs there right now? I have to think that you have scores of people who are displaced. Where will they go? Where will they take shelter?

KILEY: Many thousands of people have been displaced. Last night they camped out in the open areas out of the Medina, this old city, which is where they feel most vulnerable. People have been flooding into open spaces. There is, of course, a pressing need with the government mobilizing to find them accommodation, temporary accommodation being set up, tents and so on. But the main effort is to get out into those Atlas Mountains where the death toll is much higher.

Jim, a lot of the access there is almost impossible because the earthquake has broken the roads. There have been landfalls across the roads. Entire villages are reported to have pretty much slid down hills with total devastation of those environments. A lot of these accessible only by air, and that is really where the main effort of the government is being put at the moment.

But elsewhere in this city, there is much reduced presence of people, but in the safer areas, particularly in the big, open squares, where nothing can fall in on people, there are still people trying to sell vegetables, there's still people having a cup of sweet tea, and trying to -- particularly tourists -- trying to get on with their holiday. But there has been a very significant movement, indeed, of tourists out of these more vulnerable areas.

ACOSTA: All right, Sam. I'm sure you have to watch your step wherever you go. Please be safe. We'll get back to you. Thank you very much.

Sam Kiley in hard-hit Marrakech in Morocco.


In the meantime, learn how you can help victims of the Morocco earthquake, go to or text Morocco at 707070 to donate.

Also on our radar this weekend, Hurricane Lee. It is a dangerous category-three storm right now, expected to gain strength over the Atlantic this weekend.

CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray joins us now with the latest.

Jennifer, what are you seeing?

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Jim, we're looking at a 115 mile-per-hour storm, gusts of 140. This is still a major storm, category three. Little ragged overnight. But we are expecting some strengthening as we go through the next couple of days. Most likely maintaining category-four strength once again by the time we get to Monday, and then significantly slow before it makes that hard right turn. And depending on how soon that happens will determine the impacts to the U.S. if any.

So right now good news is staying well north of the Caribbean Islands. However, we are going to see some swells, some rough surf. We can actually start to see some swells and even rip current concerns across the U.S. East Coast as early as tomorrow -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And do we have any sense at this point, Jennifer, whether this is ever going to pose a threat to the mainland, or it's just unclear?

GRAY: Well, we'll really have a better idea once we start to see that turn which is expected to happen by the middle part of the week. If it turns sooner, then we may not see any impacts. But maybe some rip currents. If it makes that turn a little bit farther to the west, then our impacts could be a little bit higher. But it is still far too early, unfortunately, to tell. That's the million-dollar question, as to the impacts to the U.S.

ACOSTA: And it's such a big powerful hurricane right now.

Jennifer Gray, thank you very much.

Let's go to India now where President Biden and other world leaders are gathering for the G20 Summit. Earlier today they agreed on a joint statement laying out shared views on climate change and economic development but notably stopped short of condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

CNN's Ivan Watson is in New Delhi for us.

Ivan, they were able to put out a consensus declaration, but it's not what some countries wanted.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true. You know, there were concerns that there wouldn't be total agreement here in New Delhi because of largely one enormously divisive issue, and that is the war in Ukraine. Russia's ongoing full-scale invasion and occupation of parts of that country. In the end, Ukraine did come up early on in this joint statement, but it did stop short of condemning Russia, instead talking about the fact that no state should be allowed to threaten or use force against another state to acquire its territory, saying that the use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.

Another statement that was in there was that, quote, "We welcome all relevant and constructive initiatives that support a comprehensive, just, and durable peace in Ukraine." The Biden administration, top officials have been saying that they're happy with this kind of wording. One country that is not, one government, is Ukraine. Last year at the G20 Summit in Bali the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, he was beamed in and addressed the gathering.

He was not invited to this one. And a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Ukraine has come out with a statement saying that it's grateful to countries and its allies who supported it, but then going on to say, quote, "At the same time the G20 has nothing to be proud of in the part about Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Obviously the participation of the Ukrainian side would have allowed the participants to better understand the situation, the principle of nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine remains as key as ever."

Beyond the Ukraine issue, there were other areas of agreement, Jim. One of them to invite the African Union to be a permanent member of the G20 going forward which would technically make it the G21 from now on -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Very interesting. Ivan Watson, thank you very much.

Let's discuss this more with Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee. He's also the ranking member on the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party.

Congressman, great to see you as always. Thanks for being here. Let's get your reaction to the statement from the G20 that avoids condemning Russia for the war in Ukraine. What's going on there? Are you concerned that this could have some effect on support for the Ukrainians? What do you think?

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): I don't think it will affect support for the Ukrainians, but I would have liked to have seen stronger language. But they did get -- made it very clear that nobody should violate another country's sovereignty, but they didn't come out and say Russia was the aggressor. On the other hand, that possibly would have meant there would have been no communique which might have been worse than having something.


And I think that their other achievements with the communique and the rail and seaport deal are pretty significant, as well.

ACOSTA: Yes, but what message does this send to Vladimir Putin if the G20 can't get together and condemn what Russia is doing?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think it sends the message that he has sway in the G20 unfortunately. I do wish that they had condemned Russia. On the other hand, I think that this statement proclaiming that no nation's sovereignty should be violated is important, and I hope that they can build upon it going forward.

ACOSTA: And Congressman, as you know, both Putin and China's Xi Jinping, they skipped the G20 altogether. Are you concerned that China snubbing this summit could be part of a larger shift for them? What message are they sending?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, I think they were absent, and I think that that was actually to their detriment because I think that Joe Biden was able to kind of fill the holes left by both Vladimir Putin and China at this particular summit, and I think that he was able to at least so far be able to really show kind of a muscular presence on the part of the United States at this -- at this particular G20 Summit.

I like the photo op with him and the other democracies in the, quote- unquote, "BRICS" alliance including South Africa, Brazil, and India. And that goes to show that the United States is here and is present and willing to work with anybody.

ACOSTA: And during the summit in India, President Biden pitched in China's backyard essentially that a global alliance led by the U.S. is a safer bet for the world in China. He's heading to Vietnam to strengthen ties with that country, and of course they're always worried about China's aggression.

As a member of the House Select Committee on China, do you think the president is taking the right approach here? What does he need to say during this trip overseas in reference to China?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: He's absolutely taking the right approach. And by the way, Vietnam has kind of upgraded the status of its relations with the United States to its highest level which they've never done before. And I think that what he's going to say is that, you know, now is the time to establish a rules -- international rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. We can't have a situation where the Chinese Communist Party, for instance, draws a map laying claim to the entirety of the South China Sea or to states in India which it claims are its own. There has to be a situation where also differences are resolved peacefully, not by force.

ACOSTA: And I'm not sure if you've seen this news that just came in to CNN in the last several minutes, apparently the U.S. has seized about a million barrels of Iranian oil allegedly bound for China. Just wanted to get your quick take on this, if you've seen it yet. What's your response to that? That is potentially a fascinating development.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: I have not seen that news. I think that obviously Iranian oil bound for any country could violate any number of United Nations sanctions. And so I think that the U.S. is probably acting within its interests and within international law.

ACOSTA: And Congressman, you know, I did want to ask you about politics a little bit, talking about the 2024 election. As you know, Democrats are growing increasingly concerned that the president is taking too many punches from Trump, not hitting back hard enough. Wondering what your thoughts are on that, and also I wanted to see what your take was on the former president ramping up his rhetoric following these four indictments. Listen to what he said last night in South Dakota.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have to get out, and you have to fight like hell because these are dirty players and what we have to do is we have to take back our country. We have to scrape that whole situation out.

We fight, we fight like hell. And if you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore.


ACOSTA: Congressman, that second bit of sound obviously is what Donald Trump said on January 6th of 2021. But it is almost word for word, very similar, to what he said last night at this event in South Dakota, excuse me. And I'm wondering, you know, what are your thoughts, him using that same kind of language that he used on January 6th?

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, you know, having lived through January 6th which was a harrowing day for our democracy, a day when I believe that he did incite a mob to march and then to riot on Capitol Hill, it feels like this type of language again is being used to incite potentially provocative action.


In the minds of his followers, it's interpreted a certain way and it would just contribute to the rise in political violence that's happened ever since Donald Trump appeared on the scene. We can't go that direction. We just can't.

ACOSTA: All right, Congressman Krishnamoorthi, great to see you as always. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, sir.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

And speaking of the former president, Trump is making new threats against his political opponents. What happened at his first public appearance since he was indicted. That's next on CNN. We'll talk about that in just a few moments.

Plus, the growing impact of one senator's hold on military promotions. The secretary of the Air Force joins us live in just a few moments.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: Former president Donald Trump is once again complaining that the 91 criminal charges against him are politically motivated. And yet during his first campaign rally since surrendering in Georgia last month, Trump seemingly threatened to do the very thing he's accusing others of doing -- using the Justice Department to go after his political opponents. In this case, President Biden.


TRUMP: That means that if I win and somebody wants to run against me, I call my attorney general, I say, listen, indict him. Though he hasn't done anything wrong that we know -- I don't know, indict him on income tax evasion, you'll figure it out.


ACOSTA: Criminal defense attorney David Oscar Markus and Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg join me now.

Ben, let me go to you first. After everything that this country has been through including the four indictments now facing the former president, what do you make of these threats that he was making last night? Obviously the Trump people will be tempted to say, oh, he's just kidding, but I think we know otherwise.

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: Yes. I mean, it gets pretty serious because there are people who actually do take this rhetoric that he's -- that he comes up with literally and act on it. And we kind of seen that already.

I do think there's an element, Jim, of he doesn't have a second act. I'm not sure he knows what to say. He isn't going to drop into a discussion of policy. And so I think this overheated rhetoric is just kind of the act we're going to be seeing for the next 14 months.

ACOSTA: And David, you're a criminal defense attorney. If Trump were your client, would you want him out there doing rallies and saying this kind of stuff?

DAVID OSCAR MARKUS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's every criminal defense lawyer's nightmare to have their client out there speaking. But in this case, you know, he's trying to speak to potential jurors. He thinks he can sway potential jurors out there. And nobody's really stopping him. There hasn't been a motion to stop him from speaking. And I think it would be dangerous if there was. No judge has really stopped him. So he's out there trying to persuade jurors.

ACOSTA: And Ben, let's talk about this. This is a pretty I think important ruling that came out. Yesterday a judge rejected Mark Meadows' bid to move his Georgia criminal case to federal court. According to the court filing this week from Trump, Trump is also looking into moving his case out of Georgia.

But, Ben, isn't this a troubling sign for him if Mark Meadows wasn't able to do it?

GINSBERG: It is, which is why Mark Meadows said he was going to take it up to the quite conservative and Trump judge-dominated 11th Circuit. But yes, it is very serious for him. What Mark Meadows tried to do was to draw an argument that anything he did was protected as an official act. And the judge saw right through that and recognized that while he may have some sort of privilege for official actions he took, what he did for the Trump campaign, making the calls to Georgia, was really outside the scope of official duties.

ACOSTA: Yes, David, what do you think?

MARKUS: Well, I'll tell you, Ben has got it exactly right. The play has always been to go to the 11th Circuit and the Supreme Court. They were in front of Judge Jones in the trial court. And while a very nice man, Judge Jones rules for the prosecution like many trial judges often. So the play has always been let's go to the 11th Circuit where Trump has six of the 12 judges that he placed on that court and seven of the 12 are Republican nominees.

So he's got a much more sympathetic audience just like the Supreme Court. So I think they're still very hopeful that they have a sympathetic audience in the 11th Circuit and the Supreme, so they haven't given up hope on this Meadows issue yet.

ACOSTA: You know, and Ben, in this hearing that we had this past week, it was televised, Judge McAfee denied a motion from Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell to sever or separate their trials from the other defendants. The judge set a joint trial date for October 23rd for both. How does this affect the defense strategy if defendants can't break up their cases? It sounds like the way this has been proceeding it has not been very favorable to the defendants in any of this.

GINSBERG: No, it hasn't, but there are a lot of cards left to play here. I mean, what is not clear is how many defendants will actually be on trial at the end of October. It would be a monumental logistical task to try and get all the defendants in the courtroom as early as October. And so it looks like so far the courts are ruling to keep things sort of as in line as possible, but I think that's not possible over the long haul with that many defendants in these complicated charges.


ACOSTA: And David, we also got some bombshell information from this Georgia state judge, the special grand jury had actually recommended charges against 39 people including Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, former Senator David Perdue -- and David, walk us through why the D.A. may have decided against charging Graham. What did you think of all that when we saw that this came out?

MARKUS: Well, I wouldn't overreact to the grand jury's recommendation. Remember, only prosecutors get to go to a grand jury. There's no defense lawyer. There's no defense argument there. The standard is probable cause, not even preponderance of the evidence, not even close to beyond a reasonable doubt. I think there are -- putting aside Lindsey Graham for a second, the Trump defendants and Trump himself, I've heard rumblings that they were actually happy about the release because what you saw from it was there was not a unanimous vote to recommend charges for Trump and the others.

And so they couldn't even get unanimity from a grand jury where there was no defense and a very low standard. So I heard rumblings from the defense that they were happy with the grand jury report because it was not unanimous. Remember, they're going to have to get all the jurors a unanimous verdict beyond a reasonable doubt in the criminal case, and that's really, really hard.

ACOSTA: All right. I have a sense there are more twists and turns to come in all of this.

David Oscar Markus, Ben Ginsberg, thanks very much. Appreciate it.


MARKUS: Thank you so much.

ACOSTA: All right. Thank you.

In a rare public move, the heads of the nation's three biggest military branches are calling out a Republican senator for blocking military promotions. The Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, he's sitting next to me right now, he joins me next to talk about this right here in the CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us.



ACOSTA: How much power should a single Senator have over the United States military?

That's been the question for more than six months as Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville has been blocking the confirmation of more than 300 senior military officers.

All because he disagrees with Pentagon policy allowing servicemembers and their families access to reproductive health treatments, including abortions no matter where they are stationed.

This week, the secretaries of the Navy, Army and Air Force wrote an op-ed in "The Washington Post" saying, "Tuberville's actions or inactions are putting our national security at risk," a quote from all three secretaries.

Joining us with more is the Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being here on a Saturday. We appreciate it.

What are the most troubling effects of this? If this continues on, the stalemate keeps going?

SECRETARY FRANK KENDALL, U.S. AIR FORCE: Basically, it puts us in a situation where a great many of our organizations are being led by temporary leadership. People are holding down, you know, the position until the person who's intended to come in with come in.

Basically, the organizations will defend the country, there's not a grave risk there. But the organizations can't move forward. They can't do the things they need to do to improve their posture relative to the threat. They can't do things to increase efficiency. They can't put a strategy

in place. And it's very debilitating to the morale of our people as you can imagine that these holds are in place.

ACOSTA: Yes. And has this ever happened before, something like this?

KENDALL: It's totally unprecedented. The Senate routinely confirms general officers and lower-ranking officers by unanimous consent.

So but the way the process works, as we're seeing, a single Senator can stop that. It's never been done before.

Senator Tuberville has no experience in the military. This is his first time I think in public service. And I don't think he appreciates how much of an impact this having and how negative an impact it is for the military.

ACOSTA: And let's listen to Senator Tuberville, Republican from Alabama, his reaction to his critics on this. Let's listen.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): I'm not budging, I've told them that. If I thought I was harming our military, I wouldn't be doing this.


ACOSTA: He says, if I weren't really -- if I were harming the military, I wouldn't be doing this. But you're saying he is harming the military.

KENDALL: Absolutely. I think he doesn't understand what's happening here. Every year, we move about a third of our officers to new assignments, including our general officers.

Every year, a number of people retire. And they leave positions vacant that need to be filled by new people.

So by not allowing people to move forward through the promotion process, we're simply stopping all of that. We have people all over the country who cannot move to a new organization.

It's having a big impact on their families. It's disruptive, debilitating. It is like throwing a monkey wrench into the works of the Department of Defense.

ACOSTA: Have you gone to the Senator, Tuberville, have the other secretaries gone to the Senator and try to explain this to him? Is he receptive to having these conversations?


KENDALL: He has spoken to the secretary of defense, I think, at length about this. There are a number of people that I know have talked to him. I have not personally since he started doing this.

ACOSTA: Would you like to do that, if he would be willing --


KENDALL: I would have no objection to doing that. I know nominees who are up and have had interviews with him recently for four-star positions, for example. They've had that opportunity to explain it to him.

ACOSTA: And does this pose a national security threat? I mean, maybe that gets to the crux of what the Senator is saying is that, well, you know, we can do this, hold things up for a while, but it's not really causing a national security threat.

What's your --


KENDALL: It is a national security problem. We need leadership in place that can be there and can move our organizations forward.

We're obviously watching closely, what's happening, assisting Ukraine. China's becoming an increasingly severe concern over time.

We cannot be -- we cannot afford to stand still while our potential adversaries are moving forward.

ACOSTA: And can you speak to the strain and stress that this is putting on military families?

Because I have to imagine, if promotions are being held up, there might be a general in Colorado, who thinks he's being transferred to the Pentagon or to a different installation somewhere, and the whole family's got to put everything on hold.


KENDALL: That's exactly right. Spouses who may have to move for their profession with the general officer or whoever's being transferred, they're caught in limbo.

They can't work for a job in the new place. They may not be able to work in the old place. I know specific examples of that.


ACOSTA: And they have kids, too, in this situation.

KENDALL: The kids can't be enrolled in school. So they're stuck where they are until they have to move. And then, potentially moving during the middle of the school year, which is a lot harder, of course.

We've had cases where one officer, who had a son who was going to live with him in his new quarters when he moved to his new position, but now he's having to pay for rents for that son to -- for tens of thousands of dollars to go to college in the new location he was going to move. ACOSTA: Lots of different unintended consequences.

KENDALL: Lots of consequences across all across the board.

ACOSTA: All right, Secretary Kendall, stay with us. We'll take a quick break, talk about China and some other things on the other side. We'll be right back.



ACOSTA: And we're back with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, talking about Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville's ongoing block on vital military promotions.

Secretary, let's talk about some specifics here with this policy. Senator Tuberville is trying to change the social policies inside the Pentagon as it applies to members of the armed services around the world.

Is there any chance the administration would change that policy to meet his demand?

KENDALL: Let me be clear about what the policy is.

The policy basically -- when we force someone under orders to live in a state, which no longer provides certain medical services, reproductive health care, elective abortions, we will now pay someone to go out of state if they have to for that kind of reproductive health care and others.

That's all we're doing, OK? We don't give these people a choice about where they have to live. This is a relatively minor accommodation over the fact that we require them to live in the state where we order them to.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you, because one of the things that's come up in recent days is, even some of your senior members, senior officers have heard from their foreign counterparts, needling them a little bit about this. Is that --


KENDALL: One of the officers that's being held up, Jim, was at an embassy event in Washington fairly recently.

He was essentially taunted by a colonel in the People's Liberation Army from China, you know, talking to him about how well our democracy was functioning, basically, and making fun of the situation.

Our adversaries are watching and they see weakness when they see things like this.

ACOSTA: They can use this to their advantage politically at home, too.


KENDALL: Absolutely. We can reinforce what they say -- what they would accuse us of being dysfunctional.

ACOSTA: On the subject of China, let's talk about China a little bit.

There's this G-20 summit going on now, China and Russia are sitting it out obviously.

One of the things that has come out of this G-20 summit is that the G- 20 members have not forcefully condemned Russia for its actions in Ukraine. Does any of that concern you?

KENDALL: I'm not going to get into foreign policy.


KENDALL: That's not -- not my --


KENDALL: My responsibilities are to organize, train, equip the Air Force and Space Force.

We've been supporting Ukraine ever since this started. We're going to continue to do so. And I'm very impressed by their resilience and their courage and how well they've stood up to Russian attacks.

ACOSTA: One of your colleagues, General Mike Minahan -- I hope I'm saying that correctly -- raised the prospect of a conflict with China by 2025.

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about that. What are your thoughts on that, when he made those comments? What are your thoughts on it?


ACOSTA: Is that something that you have to be leery of?

KENDALL: He expressed a personal opinion, and it was not certainly policy. And he's walked back from that. He was inappropriate when he made that comment.

No one knows when a war will occur. And war is certainly not inevitable. We'll do everything we can to deter it.

The first requirement. Our military is to be strong enough that we deter conflict, and that's what we're trying to do. We also want to be strong enough that we win if we get into one. And that's the objective, as well, of course.


ACOSTA: Is it -- is the U.S. prepared for military conflict with China, in your view? Is it hampered at all by what's happening right now with the top -- Senator Tuberville and his holdup of military -- KENDALL: We can and will do any mission, any mission we're called upon

to do. The U.S. is still, by far, the most powerful nation in the world.

I've been concerned for quite a long time about China's modernization program, which is aimed directly at preventing the U.S. from projecting power in the western Pacific.

They've been at it for about 20 years. They've made a lot of progress on that. And what I've been doing as secretary is trying to respond to that.

ACOSTA: And, Mr. Secretary, did you see this -- I'm sure you saw in the news that there's some talk of Putin and Kim Jong-un potentially getting together, ratcheting up their relationship, perhaps some weapons sharing and that sort of thing.

What can the U.S. do about that?

KENDALL: Again, you've got me sort of outside of my area --


KENDALL: -- of expertise or responsibility.

ACOSTA: Is that a concerning prospect?

KENDALL: I think whenever the powers that have different values from us get together to do things that are not in our interest, it is a concerning prospect, certainly.

ACOSTA: Yes. All right.

Mr. Secretary, Secretary Frank Kendall, of the U.S. Air Force, we really appreciate your time. Thanks for coming in on a Saturday.

KENDALL: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Best of luck to you.

KENDALL: Good to be here.

ACOSTA: All right.

KENDALL: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Let us know if you hear from the Senator.

KENDALL: I will.

ACOSTA: We appreciate that. Thank you so much.

The Fentanyl crisis, in the meantime, deserves much more attention than it's getting right now across this country. Down in Texas, it is front-page news. The "Dallas Morning News" is keeping that story front and center for

the rest of the month. I'll talk to the newspaper's executive editor next. That's coming up in a few moments.


You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: Fentanyl has overtaken heroin as the leading culprit in U.S. drug overdose deaths. And it's quickly becoming one of the deadliest drugs in American history.

In Dallas, the drug is now killing on average five people every day.

And Katrice Hardy is the editor of the "Dallas Morning News."

The newspaper, we should note, is devoting the entire month to doing a deep dive on the Fentanyl crisis and the impact it's having on the community down there in north Texas.

The series is called "Deadly Fake, Inside Fentanyl's Grip on North Texas."

Katrice, kudos to you and your team. Thank you so much for joining us.

Let's just dive right into this. Covering the single topic for 30 days is unusual for a major city newspaper. Why did you decide to do this? It must be really wreaking havoc in north Texas.

KATRICE HARDY, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": Absolutely. You know, it's not just in north Texas.

But I'll have to say that, for me and for our staff, the wake-up call really was news that three young people had died in a middle school right outside of Dallas in one school year. And more than a handful of others had overdosed, some multiple times.

It was just time to step back and think, what is going on in our community? So we wanted this project to really -- I mean, it started off as let's see what's out there.


And the more we learned, we realized we had to do something bold because we really want our community to understand this impact and to be prepared.

ACOSTA: And you report that Fentanyl killed an average of five people every day in north Texas last year, if I have that right. Or if I don't have that right, please correct me.

Is that unique in north Texas? Is that sort of what sort of tipped the scales for you guys? HARDY: So it's five people every day last year across Texas. And about

500 of those were in our area. Since 2021, 1,100 people have died in our region, which consists of Dallas and Fort Worth.

No, that's not typical, especially when you look at the nature of this. I mean, they're people who were young and old, a lot of young. But people from all walks of life.

Money doesn't matter here. Access to education doesn't matter here. Whether in a private school or public school, you just saw this just really impact every community in our region.

And so we felt like a couple stories on this issue wasn't enough. We had to go deeper.

ACOSTA: And, Katrice, I have to say, I was a local reporter at a station in Dallas back in the late '90s, and I remember, back in the day, we were covering heroin deaths.

And it was just -- just having a tremendous toll on the community and communities like Plano.

And I know your newspaper now is covering this explosion in overdose deaths in young people, many of them involving these fake pills containing Fentanyl. That is just terrible.

Tell us about that.

HARDY: Absolutely. You know, what's been eye opening is, yes, there are some people who know they're taking Fentanyl. They want to take Fentanyl.

And let me just stop and say Fentanyl is the most potent, addictive drug ever created. So it is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

If you think about the heroin crisis, this drug is far more powerful than that.

And so, for us, it really was, you know, this idea that a number of people are getting an over-the-counter -- sorry, a Percocet from online or thinking they're taking a pill for anxiety from a friend and Fentanyl is inside of it.

It's also the most easily disguisable drug. So many of these people were poisoned with Fentanyl.

ACOSTA: How were kids getting ahold of this stuff?

HARDY: A number of ways. Again, you know, the story we kicked off the series with -- and these stories will just -- they're heartbreaking for these families and these communities.

But there was a young woman who thought she was getting a Percocet from her friend. She was a 16-year-old cheerleader. And her parents come home to check on her and find her in the bed dead. Many stories like this.

So people think, you know, I'm going to take a pill to stay up all night and study, or I'm going to get a pill online, I know this person, I'm sure what they're giving me is what I think it is. And it's not.


Well, Katrice Hardy, kudos to your team. Thank you so much for the reporting that you're doing.

This is what local newspapers, major newspapers like yours and regional -- important regions of our country where they can do great work, and you've done it here.

Katrice Hardy, with the "Dallas Morning News," thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

HARDY: Thank you so much for having us.

ACOSTA: All right. Good talking to you.

In the meantime, several GOP candidates hope a college football tailgate might give them some big support down the road as we're heading into the Iowa caucuses. We'll talk about that in a few minutes. Stay with us.

And we're also following the breaking news out of Morocco. The death toll from a massive earthquake is now more than 1,300 and it could go higher. Latest on that coming up, as well.

And a woman spent more than a decade convincing California to build the world's largest overpass for wildlife over a freeway in Los Angeles. What was her inspiration to do that?

It's all part of today's "IMPACT YOUR WORLD."


BETH PRATT, NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION: P22 was the love of my life. He is the Brad Pitt of the cougar world. He was a Hollywood A-lister, tracked by paparazzi and fans alike. But he's a mountain lion.

I think what P22 did, he showed us that wildness had not been banished even in a place like L.A.

When I met with the national park biologist, he told me mountain lions were going to go extinct. I remember thinking, not on my watch.

They are literally inbreeding themselves out of existence here. Picture if you were on Tinder and swiping and all you're getting is family members. That's what mountain lions south of the 101 here are getting.

They are trapped by this freeway. It's an environmental problem that there's actually an easy solution for. You don't want the animals to get hit, you build the crossing, they

use it, done.


But nobody's ever been crazy enough to try to put it in one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world and over one of the busiest freeways on the globe.

But we did it. And these mountain lions and wildlife all around here now have a future.

In a time where it's hard to know how to make a difference, we did.




ACOSTA: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta, in Washington. Good evening.

We begin this hour with presidential politics colliding with college football and the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.