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Iran Warns U.S. Of Strategic Mistake After Strikes In Iraq & Syria; Parts Of Southern CA Upgraded To A Rare High Excessive Flood Risk; Fani Willis Admits Relationship With Trump Case Prosecutor. Aired 3-4pm ET

Aired February 03, 2024 - 15:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

And we're following new developments in the Middle East where the U.S. has launched a punishing barrage of airstrikes. Russia is now calling for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting over the operation. The U.S. retaliatory airstrikes hit 85 targets across Syria and Iraq on Friday, all linked to Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force and affiliated militia groups. It's a response to Sunday's attack on U.S. troops in Jordan which killed three soldiers.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is saying this is just the beginning of the United States response. Iraq, Syria and Russia are warning that the U.S. is fueling the conflict in the Middle East. Iran says the U.S. has made a strategic mistake.

CNN has teams around the globe covering all of these developments. Let's go first to CNN is Ben Wedeman in Jordan. Ben, Jordan's Air Force is denying any involvement in these U.S. strikes, but a source tells CNN that there was some cooperation. What more are you learning?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, the -- the statement that was given to CNN by a U.S. official was that there was Jordanian participation. Now, what that participation might be is not clear.

Now, Petra which is the Jordanian Official News Agency came out with a statement saying that the Jordanian air force categorically denies that any Jordanian aircraft were involved in airstrikes along with the Americans on Iraq.

However, it does not mention Syria. So it's not clear if perhaps they were involved there. But at this point, there's been no comment from Jordanian officials.

Now, back during the war against ISIS. Jordan was a member of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition and Jordanian war planes did participate in those strikes at the time. But clearly, we're still trying to get to the bottom of what exactly Jordan did if it did anything. As part of these this American operation, which of course, is not over and is expected this is going to go on.

I must stress also Jordans in a rather sensitive position. The Jordanian Street is very much in opposition to -- to the U.S. in general because of its diplomatic and military support for Israel. But the Jordanian government has traditionally been a very close and cooperative partner of the United States in the Middle East. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right, Ben Wedeman, thank you. CNN's Oren Liebermann is at the Pentagon. Oren, Defense Secretary Austin says these strikes were just the start. What else are you hearing?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It'll be interesting to see how this plays out from here. We are very much expecting more. But in terms of when and what that looks like that the Pentagon and the White House are at this point keeping quiet. It wasn't just Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who said this is the start of the response. President Joe Biden as well hinted there would be more to come.

The question is, how does that play out? There is no expectation, at least not right now that the U.S. is going to strike inside of Iran. In which case it's what else do you go after in Iraq or Syria? Or do you look elsewhere? Notable in the list of targets we were provided yesterday from U.S. Central Command, they didn't go any after any of the leaders of any of these militant groups backed by Iran. So perhaps that is something they seek to do in the future.

There are plenty of options here. And there is quite a spectrum of what the U.S. could do, short of striking inside Iran itself. The U.S. very closely watching the region. I think the U.S. made it clear there would be a response. Officials have described it as multi-tiered or multi phased. And when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was asked, why not just go big on one night and carry out strikes earlier this week, he said, look, our enemies don't see this as a one-day operation, and neither do we. They have a lot of capabilities. I have a lot more, he said at the end of a press briefing.

So at this point, Fredricka, it seems like it's just a matter of time until we see what other U.S. capabilities they have in mind.

WHITFIELD: Oren Liebermann, thank you.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez now in Los Angeles where President Biden is traveling. Priscilla, what more is the White House saying about these strikes?


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, as you heard there from Oren, this is really just the beginning, that is what President Biden signaled in his statement on Friday where he said, quote, "Our response began today. It will continue at times and places of our choosing. He goes on to say, "The United States does not seek conflict in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world. But let us -- let all those who might seek to do us harm know this, if you harm an American, we will respond." Of course, that resulted in the strikes that hit those 85 targets in Iraq and Syria on Friday afternoon.

Now, U.S. officials have told CNN that President Biden reach that decision on Monday, of course, there was a bit of a lag between his decision and when these strikes were carried out. And part of the reason for that had to do with the weather, they were looking for clear skies to determine their targets, and also avoid any unintended casualties.

Now, going into this, the question has been, whether they can have -- whether they can hit those capabilities without being pulled into a regional war. And that's really what they were seeking to do here is essentially deter these Iranian proxies from carrying out additional strikes while also hitting their capabilities. And that is what we may continue to see in follow up strikes.

But all of this just goes to the delicate balance that President Biden is trying to strike here in deterring these proxies, while also making clear that U.S. will retaliate and forcefully if U.S. service members are killed. And also the President trying to make clear that he does not want the tensions in the -- in the Middle East to escalate any further. That is what we have continually heard from U.S. officials and really speaks to this region being on edge and the U.S. in this precarious position of responding when Iranian proxies strike, but also trying to avoid any type of escalation. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right. Priscilla Alvarez, Oren Liebermann, and Ben Wedeman, thanks to all of you.

All right, let's get more on this now, with me now is Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, he is a CNN Military Analyst and former Commanding General of the U.S. Army, Europe. Good to see you. So the Defense Secretary says, you know, this is just the beginning of the U.S. operation, what do you think is likely to come next?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it's just the beginning, Fred. I think we could see a variety of things happening various course of actions, as part of a campaign, we may see another strike tonight, it's about hour -- an hour before midnight, right now in Baghdad. There could be more strikes not only in Iraq, and in Syria, but also in other areas of the Middle East to include Yemen, against the Houthis.

We are going to see the potential for a day's worth of strikes, there may be delays, which puts the enemy in this case, the PMF forces on the alert that something may happen, but they don't know when and where. So I think it's a very good campaign plan of not announcing any further strikes and making the enemy try and figure out when it's going to come next and where it's going to come next.

WHITFIELD: How does the U.S. retaliation not escalate into something bigger in the region?

HERTLING: Well, from the very beginning, Fred, I mean, the administration has said they wanted deterrence. In this case, what you have is not only a further deterrence of don't do this anymore, we're going to conduct these strikes against your location. And it takes away capabilities.

Last evening strikes as well as a couple of the ones that preceded it has actually contributed to -- to not having the PMF Forces and the Houthis have the capabilities that they had before the strike.

So what you're seeing is, yes, it appears like an escalation. Perhaps it is. But it's an escalation to the point of saying that these forces that are putting U.S. forces and dangers, knock this off. We're not going to allow it anymore. And we're going to strike targets of our choosing.

WHITFIELD: How severely do you think it brought down capabilities?

HERTLING: Well, in one night, you can see some of the effects. And I'm sure that the conduct of the battle damage or the bomb damage assessment, whatever you want to call it, the BDA is occurring right now. Did they strike the targets they wanted to last night? How is it going to affect future capabilities of the various PMF Forces?

And then the third thing I'd say is, you know, in terms of an assessment of signals intelligence and overhead intelligence, whenever you strike a target like this, like I've seen so many times in combat, other forces move, they try and react to what's happened already. And it falls into a cycle of act, react by the enemy and then counteract that reaction by the friendly forces.

So right now, as we're -- as the U.S. is conducting their assessment of what they struck last night, they're also determining how did the various PMF forces, how did Iran, how did the Houthis react to that attack? And where might be vulnerabilities in the future?

And by the way, we're just talking about kinetic attacks right now. There have been other attacks like on the economic realm. There have been several individuals sanctioned in Iran this morning, that is causing some repercussions on the financial scene. There will be continuous diplomatic actions by the U.S., specifically with Iraq to say, hey, if we're going to station armed forces on your soil at your request, you've got to ensure that these Iranian military or militia forces don't conduct attacks against us.


So there are diplomatic, economic, informational elements of this campaign as well.

WHITFIELD: I think a lot of people might have presumed that if the U.S. were going to carry out, you know, strikes, it would be with the arsenal that's already in the area. But instead, we've learned that these B-1 bombers -- U.S. B-1 bombers flew from Texas, to the Middle East before, you know, hitting the targets. What do you believe is behind that kind of strategy?

HERTLING: I think it is sending a signal when you launch aircraft or the -- that are the most capable aircraft that the military has in terms of payload. And I think this is going to surprise a lot of people. The B-1 can actually carry more munitions than the B-52, that big old aircraft that -- that is so emblematic of the United States Air Force.

The B-1 has more capabilities, it can drop more ordinances in a short period of time than the B-52 can't. So when you're sending a foresight dad from Dyess Texas -- from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, that's telling the Iranians we can strike with a multitude of capabilities against the targets that we're looking at. And they can return tomorrow night from a safe haven 7000 miles away. All of those things are part of the calculus of how do you put munitions on target and put the enemy off guard.

And by the way, Fred, mentioned you -- you talked about the Jordanians and their capability of contributing. The Jordanians said they didn't contribute as part of the strike package, but knowing the Jordanian air force, which is very capable, they have other aircraft, like refuelers and intelligence collections and command and control aircraft. So they may have not participated in a strike. But I think they're leaving it open to say, what did -- how did they participate?

WHITFIELD: And then after all, you know the -- the initial strike that killed three Americans happened on Jordanian soil.


WHITFIELD: All right, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you so much.

HERTLING: You're welcome, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. And this just in, parts of many --



WHITFIELD: All right, this just in, House Speaker Mike Johnson says the house will vote next week on a standalone funding bill for Israel. Johnson's announcement coming in a letter to his house colleagues today where he attacked senators for excluding him and the House from bipartisan negotiations over a border security deal.

Let's go back to CNN White House Reporter Priscilla Alvarez, who's in Los Angeles where the President will be at some point later on today. So what more have you learned on this?

ALVAREZ: Well, the Speaker seems to be upping the pressure on Democrats here by now planning to introduce a bill that would provide $17.6 billion to Israel with no offsets.

Last year, he introduced a bill that would be about $14 billion, but it included partisan IRS cuts that Democrats were opposed to. So here, House Speaker Mike Johnson is saying that he is going to put this on the floor to provide aid to Israel. But, of course, Fredricka, the priority for the White House has been not only getting aid to Israel, but also doing -- getting money to Ukraine, as well as funding border security, among other priorities. And I asked the White House about this latest letter. I haven't heard

from them yet. But the general line from the White House has been the President's supplemental request that he introduced last October is just is an emergency request. That's what it is in in nature. And so by not -- by only putting Israel on the floor, that puts Democrats in a difficult position when they have repeatedly said that it's not just Israel that needs the funds, but also Ukraine.

Now, as a reminder, there are continuing border security talks that have been ongoing for the last few months, those talks have been attached to the supplemental request, because Republicans have said they weren't going to move on any additional funds for any of these administration priorities without border policy changes.

Now, those negotiations have been happening on the Senate side with Senate negotiators. And that is what House Speaker Johnson is criticizing here that the House wasn't involved and that they did not provide any input. And he's saying this as we're on the cusp of potentially seeing a deal and a vote in the Senate next week.

And so all of these things coming together in this moment where the White House is repeatedly saying that they want to see all of these priorities get the additional money that they need in an emergency request that has been stalled in Congress for months for border security, Ukraine and Israel. The House Speaker now putting Democrats on the spot by saying that he will give a -- or at least put a floor vote on the House floor for aid, but only to Israel. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right. Priscilla Alvarez, thanks so much.

And we're also following this breaking news, parts of southern California just upgraded to a rare high excessive flood risk for tomorrow. That's a Level 4 of 4 for the new update from the Weather Prediction Center, next.



WHITFIELD: All right, we're following breaking news out of California where several evacuation orders have been issued in Ventura County as officials brace for damaging landslides and debris flows through Sunday. And it comes as Weather officials just added a rare high excessive flood risk for parts of southern California.

Rainfall could exceed one inch an hour bringing six months of rain in just a few hours. CNN's Camila Bernal is live for us in Los Angeles. And Meteorologist Elisa Raffa is in the CNN Weather Center. Let's begin with you, Elisa, what should be expected?

ELISA RAFFA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're looking at intense heavy rain something that this part of the country really doesn't see all too often. Here's that risk you were talking about. And you see that pink area that's where that new high risk was just added. It does include Santa Barbara and it's just to the north air of Los Angeles for Sunday we're looking at intense rain. Now, there's risk incredibly rare, issued less than 8% of our days in

a year but responsible for 80% of our flood damage in a year. Flood watches extend for those three to six inches of rain for a lot of California, 40 million people were at risk.


Here's a look at that atmospheric river that really takes aim at Southern California Sunday into Monday and it's being fueled by ocean temperatures that are one to three degrees above average, that's adding extra juice into the sponge that gets squeezed out even more.

So we're looking at dangerous life-threatening flooding. River and urban flooding, debris flows and landslides down trees and powerlines could cause some problems with power as we go into Sunday. So all things that we'll have to watch out for.

Now, L.A. has already gotten almost a month's worth of rain in a day as we started out the month of February. So those grounds there are already saturated.

Here's a look at that rain by Sunday morning. And then into Sunday evening. It's pretty heavy from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. And then the plume of moisture continues to fill in by Monday and into Tuesday. They continue with that threat of heavy rain. So we're looking at widespread, three to six inches of rain. We could even get some totals over eight inches, which is why that high risk was added.

And look at the snow totals too, where it's colder in this year in Nevada as you're looking at some feet of snow there, which they do need that will help the snowpack which will help their water reservoirs as well.

WHITFIELD: All right, Elisa, thanks so much. Camila, to you now, how are people preparing for this?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred. Officials really say there's a few things that you can easily do before the storm. So no unnecessary travel, having an emergency kid and just having that information on hand.

The other thing you can do that is very easy. If you live in an area that normally floods is go to your local fire station, like where we are right now and fill up those sandbags. A lot of the people that I spoke to throughout the day have told me either they have leaks on their roofs, or they've seen water coming in through their garages. And, look, we've been here throughout the day, and they may need to bring extra sand here because they're starting to get low, just in this area where I am right now.

Now, officials also say that's the before the storm during the storm, they say that the personal safety is the most important thing to do, especially when it comes to those areas that flood because of course there is that risk of drowning so they say do not drive, do not walk in areas that are flooded. Because those currents can be very deceiving. If something does happen, officials are prepared. Take a listen to what the L.A. Fire Chief had to say.


CHIEF KRISTIN M. CROWLEY, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT: We've got our swift water rescue apparatus, boats. We also have our teams that will be fully staffed, ready to respond to any water related emergency.

Now, these teams are highly trained in swift water technical rescues. They stand ready to respond on a moment's notice. We've also bolstered our air apparatus or helicopters or air resources, adding skilled pilots and rescue teams to our helicopter fleet.


BERNAL: Now, officials say they also have crews ready in case of power outages and in case of downed trees. There are also teams out right now all over the Los Angeles area speaking to homeless individuals, especially if they are in those areas near the river or areas that normally flood. And they're asking people, look, if you have a relative that, you know, is a homeless individual, try to reach out before the storm so that they can prepare. They're telling everyone here in Los Angeles and really across California that this is serious and that people should take it seriously because it could be dangerous from.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, and people behind you, are working really hard, feverishly. There's nothing easy about bagging sand but thank goodness it is being made accessible for people because there's a great need for it right now. That's for sure.

Camila Bernal, Elisa Raffa, thank you so much.

All right coming up, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is admitting a personal relationship with a lead prosecutor and Donald Trump's election subversion case, why she says it doesn't disqualify her?



WHITFIELD: Fulton County, Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis admits to having a relationship with the lead prosecutor in her 2020 election interference case against former President Donald Trump. But Willis says that does not disqualify her from prosecuting the case. Here's CNN's Nick Valencia.


NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fulton County DA Fani Willis responding for the first time to an explosive court filing last month accusing her of an improper romantic relationship with her top Deputy Nathan Wade, writing in her response, "While the allegations raised in the various motions are salacious and garnered the media attention they were designed to obtain, none provide this Court with any basis upon which to order the relief they seek." And for the first time both she and Wade acknowledging that they developed a personal relationship in addition to our professional association and friendship. But they said that happened after Willis appointed Wade and 2021 to investigate efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia.

And Willis strongly pushed back against defense attorneys who she says are wildly speculating that she somehow benefited financially from the arrangement. Willis also addressing allegations that Wade paid for them to take lavish vacations together, with money he earned on the case, writing financial responsibility for personal travel taken is divided roughly evenly between the two, with neither being primarily responsible for expenses of the other and all the expenses paid for with individual personal funds.

A hearing on the alleged conflict of interest and the effort to disqualify Willis is scheduled for February 15, where Willis, Wade and some of their colleagues could be forced to testify. But Willis argues in her response that such a hearing is unnecessary. And she continues to defend Wade's appointment as her top deputy like she did the last time she spoke publicly in church in January.


FANI WILLIS, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The Black man I chose has been a judge more than 10 years, run a private practice more than 20.

VALENCIA: Well-known Atlanta Attorney Randy Kessler told CNN that Willis' written response on Friday was smart.

RANDY KESSLER, GEORGIA FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY: I thought it was the right thing to do. And she came straight out said, look, yeah, we had a relationship. It wasn't before I hired him. And it's not a terrible thing. We work together, we developed a relationship, but it's a distraction. Let's put it aside. Let's focus on the real issue. There's no conflict. There's no legal reason why I can't prosecute this case.


WHITFIELD: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you so much for that reporting.

I'd like to bring in now former Federal Prosecutor Ankush Khardori to discuss. Ankush, great to see you again. So what do you think of a Fani Willis' response?

ANKUSH KHARDORI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know, I thought it was actually pretty good. You know, when you and I spoke about this last week, you know, we were talking about how we needed to sort of take this one step at a time, and the plan is filing, which was quite unreliable, but it seemed to have something, you know, in there, that seemed to be true, and Willis and Wade have now acknowledged that they were in a relationship.

But as you know, your package explained the -- the claim is that the relationship didn't begin until after Mr. Wade was appointed, that they've split their travel expenses, which is really I think the material allegation concerning any financial impropriety was this notion that Mr. Wade was paying for all of her travel. They've now denied that.

And also, one thing that wasn't mentioned in the package, but I thought was quite useful in the submission was Mr. Wade mounted, I thought, a pretty energetic defense of his qualifications, and his experience for a case like this. And so I think you put all those things together, and I would say, the DEA is on much stronger footing today than she was a week ago.

WHITFIELD: So you -- it sounds like you don't think this will have an impact on the case against former President Trump?

KHARDORI: If this is the sort of the -- the factual lay of the land, I don't think she should be disqualified. I think practically speaking, like the burden now kind of shifts back to the defendants who made all these allegations largely --

WHITFIELD: Michael Roman and others?

KHARDORI: Exactly, largely unsourced, right? And now you have responses from Ms. Willis and Wade that are under their own names. Now, what are these folks going to do? Are they going to now start to present some more evidence or is it just going to be more sort of insinuation? And if it's just more insinuation that I think the record is kind of what it is, and the judge should probably let the case proceed?

WHITFIELD: So on February 15, that scheduled evidentiary hearing I mean, they would have to those who are accusing or making these accusations would have to prove bring something. Fani Willis is saying that evidentiary hearing should be dismissed? You know, it has to be, but it has to be more than just you don't want, you know, to appear at an evidentiary hearing. What does have to be established?

KHARDORI: Well, I mean, look, practically speaking, the judge would have to be sufficiently concerned that there are facts that are only within Ms. Willis' knowledge that are -- have not been addressed, and that need to be resolved. That's the practical issue here. Because let's just be honest, if -- if Ms. Willis, the D.A. has to take the stand in her own case, that would be extremely embarrassing. It's something that prosecutors fight tooth and nail not have to -- not to have to do in a situation like this.

So, I think the judge, and judges tend to be pretty deferential to prosecutors in these contexts, precisely because of that dynamic. So, you know, I think there's a pretty good chance and unless the defendants have some actual evidence here, you know, the judge may say, you know, it's really not -- this isn't supposed to be a forum for fishing, just putting prosecutors on the stand and hoping it gets something out of them.

WHITFIELD: And the co-defendant, Michael Roman, while again, you had mentioned that there were a lot of accusations, none of it really, you know, had evidence but that these were the statements that he made, that he is alleging that there was a relationship even before, you know, Nathan Wade became a prosecutor. Nathan Wade has said in the affidavit that the relationship came afterwards, in 2022. Fani Willis say it came after, you know, working together, et cetera. The sequence of events, the -- when the relationship began, is that going to be critical in whether there's real merit, you know, whether an ethical line or whether, you know, in any way their relationship undermines the overall subversion case?

KHARDORI: It's a good question. So, I think the timing of the relationship -- we talked a little bit about this last week, I don't think it's that crucial, because it's not the relationship per se, and the D.A. got this exactly right in the brief. It's not the romantic relationship, per se, lawyers on the same side, or even on opposite sides of the case, can be romantically involved in it, not rise to a legal ethical issue. So that -- that is not the thing that's been problematic here. It has been this specific allegation, that thing that has concerned me and other lawyers, that this was designed to extract sort of a financial benefit from Mr. Wade and Willis.

And, you know, at this point, Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade have put in these responses under their own names about when this relationship began is not going to be enough for Mr. Roman to say, oh, we have these anonymous sources, who say it's sooner than that. It's really now put up or shut up time.


WHITFIELD: And then finally, a subpoena, you know, from House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jim Jordan, Capitol Hill, you know, it was released yesterday and it he is demanding documents proving how, you know, federal funds, you know, were being spent by Willis' office. How do you see Willis and her team responding? I mean, is there a certain, you know, obligation, because this is coming from a lawmaker on Capitol Hill?

KHARDORI: There might be a very limited obligation. And there's actually some precedent for this, because Republicans also subpoenaed Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan D.A.'s office, after they indicted Trump asking very similar questions actually were federal funds use for this and all that. And that was a big news story. And there was some concern that it would result in a lot of litigation, but that sort of fizzled out.

At the end of the day, Congress does not have much oversight over local criminal prosecutions, except to the extent that they might have some funding imperatives at issue. Otherwise, this is really supposed to be a matter of local concern.

WHITFIELD: OK. Ankush Khardori, thank you so much for joining us again.

KHARDORI: Thanks for having me.

WHITFIELD: All right. And this breaking news out of the Middle East, now as the U.S. strikes Houthi cruise missiles in Yemen, much more after this.



WHITFIELD: All right, more breaking news into CNN. U.S. Central Command says the U.S. strikes six Houthi cruise missiles in Yemen on Saturday. Oren Liebermann is live for us in the Pentagon with more on this. What are you learning?

LIEBERMANN: Fredricka, earlier today, U.S. forces in the Middle East struck six Houthi anti-ship cruise missiles, that U.S. Central Command says we're preparing for launch and therefore posed an imminent threat not only to international shipping lanes, but also the U.S. warships that have been operating in the region.

This has been part of the ongoing campaign we have seen from U.S. forces operating in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to try to disrupt and effectively try to stop the ongoing Houthi attacks on commercial vessels and U.S. warships in the area.

And it's not just this, yesterday, we saw in three different instances eight Houthi drones were shut down, four more were destroyed on the ground by U.S. destroyers as well as U.S. fighter jets.

So you see this continued effort to try to go after the sorts of weapons the Houthis have used to threaten international shipping. In the past couple of weeks, a few ships with ties to the U.S. have been hitting have suffered some minor damage one oil tanker not belonging to the U.S. suffered a hit and -- and also had to issue to distress signal where U.S. destroyers responded to -- to try to essentially help put out what was a burning tanker.

So you see there the threat of these ongoing attacks and the U.S. effort to try to go after these. It has not been able to stop them, not at all. We have seen the Houthis continued to launch their attacks and vowed to keep doing so. But this -- this strike on six -- six anti-ship cruise missiles by the Houthis is part of that effort to try to disrupt their ability to threaten one of the world's most critical waterways.

WHITFIELD: All right, Oren Liebermann, thank you so much.

When we come back, we'll remember actor Carl Weathers.



WHITFIELD: All right, we should never forget the brave men and women who helped bring world war two to an end. And now a new series from the producers of Band of Brothers and the Pacific is attempting to do just that. Masters of the air is on Apple TV. It chronicles the courage and sacrifices of U.S. bomber groups who fought behind enemy lines. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All than we do, day in, day out, the sun go guide and fight the monsters. The things these people are capable of, they got it coming. Trust me.

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly through the great spaces of the sky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are we Tuskegee airmen or what?

MEN: Sir, yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Be with them traversing the air, in darkening storms.


WHITFIELD: Joining us right now, series creator John Orloff. John, great to see you. I mean, you're well known for your work on HBOs Band of Brothers and the Pacific. And now here we are with the Masters of the Air. I mean, how does this feel now after working all this time, what it was about 10 years or so working? And then now seeing it to fruition?

JOHN ORLOFF, CREATOR, "MASTERS OF THE AIR": It's -- it's been an amazing experience. Yes, indeed. It's been 10 years trying to make this and making it, it's just been the most complicated, ambitious thing we've ever tried to do. So we're all very excited it's done. And that the world now gets to see it.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. And complicated too, because of just capturing the personal stories, right? Because I mean, look, my dad's a Tuskegee Airmen. My late dad -- he was a gunner, right --

ORLOFF: Really? I didn't know that.

WHITFIELD: Right. But you know, for --



ORLOFF: I should be interviewing you.

WHITFIELD: Well, no, I mean, I -- I don't have all the stories because my dad is of that generation of men and the Tuskegee Airmen who did not share those stories.


WHITFIELD: So I'm a consumer of what you've got there. Because I would love to hear, you know, fill in all the blanks, because it was a very difficult time. I mean, of course, they are proud warriors. But it was a very difficult time. And so that generation, you know, of men and women kind of suppressed that they didn't want to impose, you know, those hardships, that experience on everybody else. ORLOFF: Very much so.

WHITFIELD: I mean, we could go on and on about it. But so I'm wondering --

ORLOFF: Very much so.

WHITFIELD: -- how were you able to capture those stories in order to, you know, bring this depiction?

ORLOFF: Well, this -- this one was a little more difficult than being under the Pacific because the guys were no longer with us as they were when we made Band. And interestingly, they would talk to people that weren't their family. So when we made Band's, they would talk to us, and often their family members would come to the interviews so that they could hear the story for the very first time.

This time, though, we didn't have that luxury. And so it required an awful lot of research from me and a whole bunch of other people to sort of figure out all the true stories that really happened to these men, and to capture that and put it onto the screen. That was our challenge.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, and it's challenged because it's -- it's huge. I mean, there are so many people so many individual stories, so you -- you know, kind of truncated it down to let's talk about two men specifically and their journeys, right, Major John Egan and major Cleven, is it Cleven?


ORLOFF: Correct, yeah.



WHITFIELD: OK, and how did you, you know, how did you select those two? How did it come down to getting the bulk of the story?

ORLOFF: What I can say -- I can say that one was a decision by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks before I came on the job. I think it was Steven who read Masters of the Air, the book first. As soon as he read this book, he was like, we should make a series about these two guys, Buck and Bucky as their nicknames are.

And they're just an amazing two men who volunteered in 1940, almost two years before the war began. And they became best friends in 1940. And they remained best friends until the day they died. And it's -- it's really at the core of this story, is their friendship. And it's an amazing, an amazing friendship.

WHITFIELD: Oh my god.

ORLOFF: Amazing journeys and adventures and you going in unexpected places in the show, but all of it true. WHITFIELD: Yeah, I know there going to be a lot of tears in watching it. So what are you hoping, you know, people who are going to be watching Masters of the Air? What are you hoping they're going to learn? They're going to, you know, really gained from this?

ORLOFF: Yeah, well -- well, you know, people don't really know what happened up there in the air. Because the technology to make a movie has never existed to show the scale and the extreme nature of combat at 25,000 feet and 40 below zero in unpressurized cabins. And so I'm -- we're really excited for people to see the scale of the war and the unbelievable sacrifice that this generation of men made to free Europe and keep the rest of us free and build a world absent of Nazism.

WHITFIELD: Right. Hey, thank you, Tom Brokaw. That's why they are the greatest generation.

ORLOFF: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: I mean --

ORLOFF: He was not wrong.

WHITFIELD: -- there isn't --


WHITFIELD: -- there was not a more fitting title for all of them. All right, John Orloff, thank you so much. What a pleasure.

ORLOFF: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: Congratulations.

ORLOFF: And wow, I'm kind of amazed at you, being the daughter of Tuskegee Airmen. It's just amazing to me.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll talk another time.

ORLOFF: OK, great. Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: He was a pretty awesome, man. Very awesome, man. Thank you so much.

ORLOFF: I'm sure.

WHITFIELD: All right. Meantime, people are mourning the death of Actor, Director and former Football Player Carl Weathers. Weathers is best known for his roles in "Rocky," "Predator," and "Happy Gilmore." Your kids probably know him as the voice of Combat Carl in Toy Story or as Greef Karga in the Star Wars series, "The Mandalorian." Weathers manager says he died peacefully at his home. He had recently turned 76 years old.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Carl Weathers debuted on the silver screen in 1975 in the blaxploitation film Bucktown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is keeping him up, Bill? I don't know.

ELAM (voice-over): But he became a star playing the cocky boxing champ Apollo Creed in the 1976 hit, "Rocky."

What started out as a low-budget sleeper won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

CARL WEATHERS, ACTOR, DIRECTOR, FORMER FOOTBALL PLAYER: The whole world's going to see the real Apollo Creed, lightning fast and hard to catch. No plan, no job and just business.


ELAM (voice-over): Weathers appeared in three Rocky sequels, playing Rocky's nemesis, manager and friend. The former linebacker with the Oakland Raiders earned a degree in drama from San Francisco State University. He said he was inspired to become an actor watching Sidney Poitier in the 1958 movie The Defiant Ones. Years later, Weathers starred in its TV remake. Along the way, he embodied the 80s strongman, sharing the big screen with Charles Bronson in Death Hunt.

WEATHERS: Make it easy on yourself, Dutch.

ELAM (voice-over): And later, Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Predator."


ELAM (voice-over): Weathers also took charge on the small screen on shows like Fortune Dane and Tour of Duty.

But one role Weathers felt gave him a chance to go deeper as an actor was chief of police in "In the Heat of the Night." The part allowed him to grapple with tough social issues.

WEATHERS: Now you're threatening to commit a serious crime, Mr. Beaufort.

ELAM (voice-over): Weathers appeared in the show's last two seasons and said the more cerebral role was a happy break from years of back- breaking stunts.

WEATHERS: Damn alligator bit my hand off.



ELAM (voice-over): Weathers found comic relief in his career as Adam Sandler's alligator-hating golf instructor, Chubbs Peterson in Happy Gilmore. In Arrested Development, he played a penny-pinching acting coach.

WEATHER: All I know is no chain codes. Do you want the check or not? ELAM (voice-over): In 2019, Weathers found a new young audience in the popular Star Wars series, "The Mandalorian," playing the leader of an intergalactic bounty hunter Guild. He received an Emmy nomination for that role and directed many episodes of the show.


WEATHERS: It's always such a joy to provide entertainment for people who really enjoy what you do.

ELAM (voice-over): Carl Weathers, an action star who lit up screens with heft and heart.


WHITFIELD: What an incredible body of work and a real beacon in many ways. All right, thank you so much for joining me today, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The Newsroom continues with Alex Marquardt right now.

And don't forget keep watching throughout the evening because tonight Gayle King and Charles Barkley are getting real on the week's top stories, make sure to tune in to "King Charles" tonight at 8 p.m. right here on CNN.