Return to Transcripts main page

CNN This Morning

Ohio Residents Demand Answers on Chemical Leak; Special Counsel Subpoenas Mark Meadows in January 6th Probe; Memorials Held for MSU Victims; Two Tennessee National Guard Killed in Helicopter Crash; Biden to Get Physical Exam as Age Looms Over Reelection. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 16, 2023 - 06:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Down across the Deep South where the swarms will be the strongest. Some of them will spin, which means some may have tornadoes -- Christine.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Some will spin, some will have tornadoes. Thanks. Nice to see you, Chad.

And thanks for joining me. I'm Christine Romans. CNN THIS MORNING begins right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody that came here expects a hell of a lot more than what we're getting right now!



DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: You know what? They're angry. And they have every right to be angry.


LEMON: Because they're not getting a lot of answers. Their health, their lives are in jeopardy.

Good morning, everyone. It's good to have you back.

HARLOW: It's good to be back. I missed you guys.

LEMON: Do you think she missed us?

COLLINS: I know. We like having the threesome back.

LEMON: She didn't miss us. Did she?

HARLOW: Of course I missed you.

LEMON: We have a lot to discuss, concerning outrage growing in an Ohio village after a toxic train crash. Families demanding to know if their own homes are safe. We're going to take you live to East Palestine, as they struggle to get answers.

COLLINS: Plus, a CNN exclusive this morning. The special counsel investigating former President Trump has now just subpoenaed his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. We'll tell you why Meadows could be such a crucial witness.

HARLOW: Also, stunning video shows a Blackhawk helicopter falling from the sky and crashing in the middle of an Alabama highway. What we're learning about the tragic training flight that killed two National Guardsmen.

LEMON: We'll get to that and more, but we're going to begin in East Palestine, Ohio, where there are reports of fish and animals dying. The air smells like chemicals.

The residents ae demanding answers nearly two weeks after a train loaded with toxic chemicals derailed and burned in their town.

There was a heated town hall meeting last night. Families wanted to know, can they drink the water? Can they breathe the air? Can they even live in their own homes anymore, or will they get cancer?

Thousands of fish have been turning up dead in local creeks. People say their pets are becoming sick. And there is a stench that residence say smells like burning plastic and nail polish remover.

Our Jason Carroll was at last night's meeting, and he joins us now, live from East Palestine.

Jason, hello to you. They have a reason to be concerned. This train was carrying vinyl chloride, which has been associated with liver, brain, and lung cancers.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, we heard all these concerns last night, and there are a lot of them. One of the main concerns that a lot of folks talked about, Don, was will there be long-term health monitoring for the people who live in the affected area? And who's going pay for that and for how long?

Those who left really left with a feeling of feeling like this is something that is going to take more than one town hall to make sure that all their questions are answered.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody that came here, we expect a hell of a lot more than what we're getting right now.

CARROLL (voice-over): Frustration, anger, and unanswered questions in East Palestine, Ohio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My kids' sake, for the people's sake, is the future of this community safe? CARROLL (voice-over): The mayor leading the meeting, at times speaking

through a bullhorn to answer questions from distressed residents, still worried about returning to their homes, despite evacuation orders being lifted last week.

MAYOR TRENT CONAWAY, EAST PALESTINE, OHIO: The railroad did us well. So far they've worked with us, and they're fixing it. But if that stops, I will guarantee you, I will be the first one in line to fight that.

CARROLL (voice-over): Officials trying to answer the community's questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been determined by the Department of Transportation and other experts, based on previous incidents. Is everybody satisfied with my answer?




CARROLL (voice-over): As many residents are demanding more testing of air, water, and soil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to let them stop the testing until you're satisfied. That's when the testing stops.

CARROLL (voice-over): Not present at this community meeting: Norfolk Southern Railroad.

CONAWAY: No, Norfolk Southern didn't show up. They didn't feel it was safe.

CARROLL: In the 11th hour, the company that owns the train that derailed sent a statement saying, "Unfortunately after consulting with community leaders, we have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees."

KELLY FELGER, EAST PALESTINE RESIDENT: OK. Well if you're afraid that somebody from Palestine is going to hurt your employees, what exactly did you do to us?

CARROLL: You feel the anger and frustration.

FELGER: I'm scared. For my family. I'm scared for my town. I grew up here. I'm related to 50 percent of them.

CARROLL (voice-over): Cleanup efforts are under way. The governor telling residents Wednesday the municipal water is safe to drink. His statement comes after new test results from the state Environmental Protection Agency found no detection of contaminants.

Officials say the toxic spill was largely contained the day after the derailment and that tests have shown the air quality is safe. They are still suggesting those with private wells get their water tested.

CONAWAY: I need help. And I'll do whatever it takes, whatever it takes to make this right.


CARROLL: And, Don, later today the head of the EPA, Michael Regan, he'll be on the ground. He's heading in from Washington, D.C. He's going to be meeting with state and local leaders. He'll be hearing from residents, as well --- Don.

LEMON: We'll be watching, Jason. We'll be covering. Thank you very much, Jason.

And in our 8 a.m. hour, we're going to speak to a mom who attended that town hall. We're going to find out how she and her young daughter are feeling physically and emotionally.

COLLINS: And as we wait for that, we move now to a CNN exclusive, as a source tells me that Donald Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has been subpoenaed in the special counsel's investigation into January 6.

I'm told that the special counsel, Jack Smith, is seeking both testimony and documents from Mark Meadows, who received the subpoena last month.

This is Smith's latest significant and aggressive move. It matters, because Meadows has firsthand knowledge of Trump's actions on several fronts.

He was in and out of the Oval Office on January 6 as rioters were storming the Capitol. He was also on that infamous phone call that happened between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Remember, Trump wanted him to find more votes.

Meadows was also in that bananas December 2020 White House meeting with Sidney Powell and others about election fraud claims.

Meadows also visited a Georgia audit site at that time. And he sent e- mails to the Justice Department and officials there about unsubstantiated fraud claims.

Meadows's attorney and the Justice Department are not commenting about the subpoena. We don't know how he'll respond. But it could set up a clash over executive privilege.

I'm told that Meadows got his subpoena before former Vice President Mike Pence did, and he overnight is vowing to fight that one.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going fight the Biden DOJ for me to appear before the grand jury. Because I believe it's unconstitutional, and it's unprecedented. I'm aware that President Trump is going to bring a claim of executive privilege. That will be his claim to make. That's his fight.

My fight is on the principle of separation of powers and the Constitution of the United States.


COLLINS: A lot of developments overnight. CNN's Paula Reid joins me now from Washington.

Paula, I think also, we'll start with hearing from Pence. You know, he's saying he's arguing something differently than what he expects Trump to argue. Is there a legal case to be made there for the former vice president?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a really novel legal theory, Kaitlan. He's arguing that, in his position as president of the Senate, he is part of the legislative branch and therefore, should be protected from a Justice Department subpoena under the speech and debate clause.

Usually, this appears -- this applies to lawmakers, potentially even their staffs. The courts have taken a pretty broad view of this.

So he's really playing at the edges of this. But look, this will likely go to the courts.

I will notice -- I will note, though, that he -- when he was trying to avoid testifying before the January 6th Committee, he argued that he was part of the executive branch and, therefore, should not be compelled by Congress to testify.

So he's certainly persistent in his constitutional arguments, though he has not been very consistent.

COLLINS: Yes. We'll wait to see how that plays out. But Jack Smith has clearly been very busy. We're also learning that he's locked in eight secret court battles. What do we know about these?

REID: Kaitlan, the sheer number of challenges that Smith is facing from witnesses, it's truly extraordinary. It's a reminder of how former President Trump and his associates tend to handle legal proceedings, which is to fight, delay, fight, delay.

And here these secret court battles, the way they -- they pan out will really dictate a lot in terms of executive privilege and the future of the separation of powers.

There's a really interesting constitutional question here, but it's also a important reminder that, even though people see subpoenas for Meadows or for Pence and think, oh, the special counsel investigation is wrapping up, the fact is that there's a long road ahead.

A lot of questions that still need to be litigated before all of this can be resolved and the special counsel can make an ultimate charging decision. COLLINS: Yes. He's clearly been very busy. And Paula, you have also

been very busy. You broke some reporting overnight when it comes to Biden's classified documents and a new search. What have you learned?

REID: That's right, Kaitlan. We learned that the FBI has conducted two searches at the University of Delaware in connection with its investigation into the handling of classified documents at these multiple locations connected to President Biden.

We learned that these two searches were conducted on two different days, and they looked at two different sets of documents.

The first is the Senate archive. We know the president donated many paupers related to his time in the Senate to the University of Delaware.


The second search focused on some papers that had been sent there in recent years.

Now, we were told these searches were conducted with the consent and the cooperation of Biden's legal team, and the FBI did retrieve some documents, but none of them appear to have classified markings. But they're still in the process of reviewing exactly what it is that they obtained.

Now, this is the fourth known location to be searched in connection with this ongoing investigation.

COLLINS: All right. Paula Reid, great reporting. And thanks for joining us this morning.

Also today, possibly in the next couple of hours, a judge in Fulton County, Georgia, is going to release a partial report from the special grand jury there investigating Trump's actions after the 2020 election. Obviously, Georgia was at the center of that. We'll bring you those new developments as they come.

HARLOW: Also this morning, police are expected to hold a briefing on the Michigan State University mass shooting as we learn that the gunman had a two-page note in his pocket with a very chilling message of -- and a list of targets.

Thousands of people gathered last night to mourn the victims, Arielle Anderson, Brian Fraser and Alexandria Verner.

Campus and state leaders sharing messages of grief, also words of encouragement and, as always, calls for action.

Our Adrienne Broaddus joins us live in East Lansing, Michigan, this morning with more.

You know, they never believe -- No one believes it can come to them, Adrienne, until it does. I wonder what you're hearing this morning.

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know what? This morning people are finally saying they were final able to connect.

Last night, the vigil was held here, and for some, it was the first time they returned to campus since that Monday night shooting.

The stage where the vigil took place, so to speak, is about 50 yards from where we are right now. But the sidewalk was overflowing with people from the community, students, faculty and staff.

If anyone tried to drive around town and get through this area, it would have been impossible.

Behind us there's the Rock, which is a popular symbol here on campus. It's painted white, and the color of the rock changes frequently. And it holds a message that says, always a spartan. Below it, the names of the three who were killed.

And nearby, three crosses with a heart bearing their names.

Spartans are known for their loud voices. But everyone we spoke with last night barely spoke above a whisper as they described what they feel.


JULIETTE CAYAO, MSU STUDENT: I'm a recovering alcoholic and addict. And experiencing that night was not easy, given that a lot of intense emotions almost brought me to the brink of relapse. It's just not easy to walk through campus the same way, knowing that our community is bearing that trauma from Monday night. And I have to literally walk around with my sobriety coin, reading the prayer on the back of the coin.

BROADDUS: Are you going to come back to school moving forward?

RYAN THOMAS, MSU STUDENT: Yes, I will come back to school. But this -- this is something that you're never going to forget. It's always going to be in the back of your mind. MSU is something we all call home. So to have your home invaded and go through something like this is just hard for everyone on campus.


BROADDUS: Poppy, a strong display of vulnerability, as well as strength.

HARLOW: Adrienne, there's this police briefing coming up today. And there are so many questions about the guns, how they were obtained, the shooter, any connection to the university, which they don't believe that he had.

I just wonder what the biggest questions are that people have posed to you about what they hope police can shed some light on.

BROADDUS: Some people that we've heard from are accepting that they may never know why. But if there is a way for them to know why, that's one thing they want to know. They also want to know how that 43-year-old shooter obtained the gun.

They're also questioning should he have been in possession of a gun?

These are all questions that go through the minds of people who have lived through mass shootings. It almost seems to be the same questions whenever we cover these stories. But we'll hear more from authorities in about four hours, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Adrienne. We'll carry that here. Thank you very much for that reporting -- Don.

LEMON: And this morning two Tennessee National Guardsmen were killed after their Blackhawk helicopter crashed during a training flight. It went down Wednesday on a highway in Northern Alabama. Look at that video. Goodness.

Amara Walker joins us now live from Atlanta.

Amara, that's frightening. What do you know?

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is frightening. And I can tell you, witnesses there on the ground described quite a shocking scene over the skies of Northern Alabama.

We don't know a lot right now. We're still working to get details on what exactly led up to this deadly Blackhawk helicopter crash and more on the two Tennessee National Guardsmen who were killed in this incident.


But as you mentioned, this happened during a routine training flight.


WALKER (voice-over): Video capturing the moment when a Tennessee National Guard Blackhawk helicopter crashes near a highway in Northern Alabama Wednesday.

CHERMONICA JOHNSON, WITNESS: That's pretty loud. And it didn't sound like a normal, I guess, motor or engine or anything.

WALKER (voice-over): Followed by a plume of smoke coming up over the trees.

JOHNSON: Looking out of binoculars, and seeing what I saw, I can't do anything but pray.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was that noise?

WALKER (voice-over): The two Guardsmen on board the helicopter were killed.

In a press release posted on Twitter, the Tennessee National Guard confirmed the helicopter involved, a UH-60 Blackhawk out on a training flight, and saying, "We are deeply saddened by the loss of two Tennessee National Guardsmen, and our prayers are with their families during this heartbreaking tragedy."

The crash occurred Wednesday around 3 p.m. local time along the median of Highway 53 near Huntsville, Alabama.

First responders arrived at the scene where the military helicopter was fully engulfed in flames and video captured by motorists showed thick black smoke coming from the site.

Federal and local authorities are investigating the crash and no other service members or civilians were injured in the incident.

Governors of both Tennessee and Alabama offering their condolences. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee saying, "Please join us in lifting their families up in prayer and support during this time of unspeakable grief."

And Alabama Governor Kay Ivey saying the Guardsmen "will be remembered as heroes," and "The people of Alabama stand with our neighbors in Tennessee."


WALKER (on camera): And first responders said when they got on scene that the helicopter was fully engulfed in flames, that it had completely burned down. And that's why it was so difficult to identify it, and it took some time, took quite a while, for officials to figure out who owned this Blackhawk helicopter.

But look, if you look at those pictures, it is quite remarkable that no one else was injured there on the ground -- Don.

LEMON: Yes, amazing. And caught on video. Like a Ring doorbell. A home doorbell, a surveillance camera.

Thank you, Amara Walker. Appreciate it.

COLLINS: All right. Also THIS MORNING, fresh off her presidential announcement, Nikki Haley has a new idea. She thinks that politicians over a certain age should take a mental competency test. So what age bracket is talking about? Is this the kind of test she means?


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Person, woman, man, camera, TV. They say that's amazing. How do you do that? I do that because I have, like, a good memory. Because I'm cognitively there.




[06:21:51] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What's your message to Democrats who like you, who like what you've done, but are concerned about your age and the demands of the job?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, they're concerned about whether or not I can get anything done. Look what I've gotten done.

I think it's a legitimate thing to be concerned about anyone's age, including mine. I think that's totally legitimate.

I respect the fact that people would say, you know, you're old. And I think it relates to how much energy you have and whether or not the job you're doing is one consistent with what any person of any age would be able to do.


COLLINS: As the oldest president in U.S. history, President Biden has had to address his 80 trips around the sun over and over again in interviews. But aides say he hates when people talk about his age. Many people don't like to talk about it.

CNN is told it is, quote, "omnipresent" in nearly every conversation, though, about the former -- about the current president. And today, President Biden is going to get his physical, of course, putting the spotlight once again on his age. It is likely his last exam that he'll have before he launches a bid for re-election, which we are expecting to happen soon.

Many Democrats say that he'll be running against his age, in part, until a Republican nominee is chosen. In fact, one central message in new Republican candidate Nikki Haley's campaign is that the U.S. needs younger leadership.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the America I see, the permanent politician will finally retire. We'll have term limits for Congress. And mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.


COLLINS: CNN's Isaac Dovere joins us now.

Isaac, I know you've been doing reporting on President Biden, what his advisors are saying. One notable quote that stood out to me was from a Biden donor that you heard from, who said, Do I wish he was ten years younger? Yes, so does he.

ISAAC DOVERE, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kaitlan. Though that donor went on to say that, other than his age, there's no issue that that donor could see with why he shouldn't run for re-election.

And that's where this conversation really is. A lot of people feeling pretty good about Joe Biden's record, if they're Democrats at this point, feeling like they have a strong case to make going into a re- election campaign.

But at the same time, knowing his age is going to be a factor. It's going to be a factor in people's minds. It's going to be a factor in logistics.

But you have Mitch Landrieu, the infrastructure coordinator for the White House, who was saying to a couple of Democratic mayors recently, yes, the president's age is something people want to talk about. But there are much more important numbers that they should be talking about, like COVID shots, like the unemployment rate, like jobs created.

And that's where they want the focus to be going into what looks like a re-election campaign coming soon.

COLLINS: Yes. It's a natural question that people have. You're also there reporting about some Democrats who are talking and preparing for a contingency plan, in case there is this anomaly and Biden decides he's not running. What would that even look like?

DOVERE: Well, nobody really knows, because it would be a very unusual circumstance. At this point in a presidential cycle, we are used to candidates starting to get ready if they're going to run. We are now expecting that President Biden will run for reelection.


But there are some Democrats out there who we are aware of through our reporting who are looking at this and saying, Look, things could change quickly. He could change his mind. There could, given his age, be a health issue. How do we get ready, but how do we get ready without seeming like we're just trying to scratch at a place and things and being disloyal?

And so it's very quietly happening among some advisors, around some Democrats who think that maybe they could be on that list.

COLLINS: Yes. It's a delicate conversation, to say the least. Isaac Dovere, great reporting, thank you.

DOVERE: Thank you.

COLLINS: And notice Nikki Haley when she said that yesterday, obviously, a dig at Biden. But she said 75 and up. So that would include Trump.

HARLOW: Elder statesmen here?

LEMON: This whole talk about age makes me uncomfortable. I think that -- I think it's the wrong road to go down. She says people, you know, politicians or something are not in their prime. Nikki Haley isn't in her prime. Sorry. A woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s and 30s and maybe 40s.

HARLOW: What are you talk -- Wait.

LEMON: That's not according to me.

HARLOW: Prime for what?

LEMON: It depends. It's just like prime. If you look it up. If you Google "when is a woman in her prime?" it will say 20s, 30s, and 40s. I don't necessarily --

HARLOW: Forties. So I've got another decade.

LEMON: I'm not saying I agree with that. So I think she has to be careful about saying that, you know, politicians aren't in their prime at that age.

HARLOW: I think we need to qualify. Are you talking about prime for, like, child bearing --

LEMON: Don't shoot the messenger.

HARLOW: -- or are you talking about prime for being president?

LEMON: I'm just saying what the facts are. Google it. Everybody at home, "When is a woman in her prime?" It says 20, 30s and 40s. And I'm just saying Nikki Haley should be careful about saying that politicians are not in their prime and they need to be in their prime when they serve. Because she wouldn't be in her prime, according to --

HARLOW: Google.

LEMON: Google, or whatever it is.

Look, and you have to be careful, because older people vote. Older people watch linear television. Right? And so she needs to be careful about turning off a certain constituency who may be her strongest set of supporters by saying --

COLLINS: And more old people vote than younger people.

LEMON: Yes, that's the point.

COLLINS: But I will say, age is a fair question. Remember we talked about how young Pete Buttigieg was, though?


COLLINS: Like, everyone said, maybe he's not experienced enough when he was running. So I think it's a fair -- a fair thing. And voters do have real concerns about --


COLLINS: -- Biden's age and Trump's age.

LEMON: He said that. He said -- I mean, President Biden has said over and over and over that, yes, you should be concerned about my age. HARLOW: Yes.

LEMON: And so he actually has brought it up. But it just makes me uncomfortable when people try to use that as sort of a wedge issue.

My mom is, at 80 years old -- I just gave her a surprise birthday party.

HARLOW: Eighty years young --

LEMON: Eighty years young.

HARLOW: -- for those of us who know her.

LEMON: She is sharp, sharp, sharp. I mean, is she as physically strong as she once was? No. But mentally, she's sharp. Could she run the country? I guess if she wanted to, I guess she could. But it just depends on the individual. You know?

HARLOW: Having covered the -- the Trump White House and then -- and the Biden White House, Kaitlan, do you think -- because part of Isaac's reporting that I thought was interesting is about, you know, how much he'll be able to travel and endure all those flights cross- country.

COLLINS: The campaign.

HARLOW: Do you think this campaign, if he runs, is going to look different?


HARLOW: Yes? More at the White House?

COLLINS: And that's not my opinion. That's what I've heard from people --


COLLINS: -- inside the White House and allies of Biden's who think, you know, a campaign is incredibly aggressive. It is really tough.

When Trump was at the end of his 2020 campaign, he would do two or three rallies a day. Biden's was different, because you know, he was taking the COVID precautions more seriously than Trump was. He was not traveling in that same way.

And obviously, that has changed. We're in a different time for this campaign. So it will look different. He'll be on the road, but I think he'll be using a lot of surrogates, as well, on the road for him.

LEMON: He's incredibly mute at this time.

HARLOW: Yes, you asked Landrieu if he was going to be one of those surrogates last week. Yes. LEMON: He's incredibly mute at this time. Maybe he's holding his powder to see what's going on. But it does look different, because he was out front, making all sorts of hyperbolic statements in the very beginning. Well, not the last time. The last time he ran and the initial time he ran, as well. We forget: this will be his third time.


OK. This morning, investigators are looking into a third close call on a runway. Hear what the FAA chief says about the airline industry's rocky few months.

LEMON: And a drug that first-responders and hospitals use to reverse an overdose soon could be on store shelves and even in vending machines. We're going to talk to our Elizabeth Cohen about that.