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CNN Tonight

Powerful Tornado Rips Through Northern Texas Town; Trump Attorney Contacted the Justice Department; Obama Calls on GOP Over Race. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired June 15, 2023 - 23:00   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to "CNN Tonight." We have breaking news at this hour. A devastating tornado ripping through Northern Texas. Damage in the panhandle is extensive. Many homes in the town of Perryton are leveled. Much of the downtown is destroyed.

One local official tells CNN that they are preparing for a -- quote -- "possible mass casualty event." The Red Cross is mobilizing support teams right now. In a moment, we will speak with officials on the ground and let you know what they know about injuries and fatalities and, of course, where the storm is right now.

We also have new developments tonight in the case against former President Trump. Donald Trump's lawyers are seeking security clearances as a federal judge, who is overseeing this trial, the Trump-appointee, Aileen Cannon, gets the ball rolling. But what was Donald Trump's motive for taking those documents in the first place? And will the prosecutors need to lay that out in order to get a conviction? We will discuss all of that.

But we do want to begin with the breaking news tonight. So, a tornado has touched down in Perryton, Texas causing major destruction and anguish. A local hospital says it is treating between 50 and 75 people. Texas Governor Greg Abbott mobilizing the Texas division of emergency management.

So, joining us on the phone right now is Brian Emfinger. He is storm chaser. Brian, tell us where you are and what you are seeing.

BRIAN EMFINGER, STORM CHASER (via telephone): Yeah, I have been in Perryton most of the afternoon. I am now trying to get out of there. I didn't want to be in the way as the search and rescue continues. But, you know, the tornado cut right across the town. So, there's quite a bit of devastation all across Perryton.

CAMEROTA: And what did you -- did you see injuries? Did you see people? Were you just seeing homes?

EMFINGER (via telephone): Yes. So, the worst thing that I saw was on the northwest part of town, basically right where the tornado touched down. Those people would have had very little warnings because the tornado formed very rapidly. And there's a mobile home parked there. And just at least a third, maybe as much as a half of the whole mobile homes, it's kind of hard to tell because it's just like piles of rubble. And even for a while right after the tornado, it was -- it was on fire, actually.

And so, it was a short notice. It was just, you know, if everyone made it out of there okay, it would be -- it would be a miracle. And the tornado continued across town. Homes, businesses, it went right through the downtown area, and then into the industrial part of town. So, it literally hit (INAUDIBLE), the downtown, and then the industrial part of town as well.

CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, Brian, we are looking at your video right now. We are seeing your video and we can see, obviously the, you know, turbulent sky, but then we also did just see the mobile home park that you were talking about and it looks, as you said, completely devastated. So, I take it you sent a drone up to look over that mobile home park?

EMFINGER (via telephone): Yes, yes. I couldn't actually get to the mobile home park on foot. There was a ghastly -- and it was all the downed power lines and trees. There is just no way to get to it. And in fact, I feel like -- it took a lot for emergency responders to get there as well. Whenever I was flying around, it looked like people were just having to felt rescued themselves. People were climbing out of rubble. You know, there was the fire nearby. It was just a really, really horrible scene.

Later in the day, though, you know, on the other side of town, I saw some really amazing things. There was a house in a road. The road needed to be cleared, so need to be bulldozed. People were rushing in there, grabbing everything they could, putting it in bags. They ended up making this pile of like 20-foot tall of all these bags, that people had salvaged from the homes, that lay in the road.

CAMEROTA: Brian, we see what you mean. We can see people standing in the middle of the road just looking at what we assume were their homes. And you say there wasn't any warning. What do you mean? How quickly did this come up on them?

EMFINGER (via telephone): Well, the problem was just the storm in general. The Weather Service did a great job of tornado warnings, but the problem was, this time, the storm developed very rapidly. And from the -- really five minutes before the tornado, I would have not actually believed if you had told me that there was a tornado. The storm produced wall cloud very quickly and that wall cloud tighten up very rapidly, and then it just -- you know, it went to the ground very, very quickly.

So, there wasn't -- you know, a lot of times with a strong tornado, there's a lot of leeway. A lot of times for people to prepare. But this time, just because of how quick the tornado developed, I'm not sure that there was a tremendous length of time for people to prepare.

CAMEROTA: We are looking at the fire that you are talking about right now. It's in someone's home.


Brian, if you can hold for one second, Chad Myers, our chief weather meteorologist, wants to ask you questions. Go ahead, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN CHIEF WEATHER METEOROLOGIST: Brian, I watched your video live on YouTube. Obviously, you are streaming the entire event. And I noticed you put the drone up and got the pictures. You were a reporter for a bit, for a few seconds. But then all of a sudden, you turned into a first responder. Describe to our viewers how this happens all the time when chasers chase to a town and the town is hit. They stop chasing and they start responding.

EMFINGER (via telephone): There's nothing really else that you can do. When you see a town -- I know what those moments are like and I know that -- you know, in a normal situation, a first responder can just, you know, go to where they need to go. But in a situation like this, you know, the town is basically on its own for a while. There are too many things to respond to at once.

And so, anything that I can do to help, which even includes showing, you know, the area and the country, you know, how bad it is so that the necessary resources can come in. And by later today, they were starting to get those resources. There were vehicles streaming into town and hopefully, you know, some of us played a small part in that.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Brian --


CAMEROTA: Brian, what time did this happen, the video that we are seeing right now?

EMFINGER (via telephone): You've got me on that.

CAMEROTA: Well, I guess, I mean, what time did it happen when you were taking that drone video?

EMFINGER (via telephone): Well, the drone video was shortly -- was shortly after the tornado. I mean, as soon as it stopped hailing, you know, I basically had the -- I had the drone in the air. So, within 10 or 15 minutes. It was around 6:00. So, the tornado was, I think, a little bit after five. And by six, I already had the drone in the air actually for a little while.

I would've added up sooner, I would've had it around the tornado, but there was just too much hail and, obviously, there was a lot of debris in the air. That is how you can -- you know, as soon as I saw the tornado touched down, you could tell that it was -- it was not a good situation with all the debris flying around it.

CAMEROTA: Chad, can you look at this video? It's just -- it's shocking to see people who have survived, obviously, picking through all of their stuff. Chad, what were you seeing today as you are watching these storms?

MYERS: I was seeing that immediate development that Brian was just talking about and seeing all of the people that were in mobile homes that, honestly, did not have time to go find a stronger structure. That's what we say, find a stronger structure. A 100 mile-per-hour wind gust can knock over a mobile home. Get out of the mobile home. Go someplace stronger. Many of them did not have that kind of time.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Brian, we're also looking at what looks like downtown. Were you able to survey that?

EMFINGER (via telephone): Yes. Unfortunately, you know, it took a direct hit. While not every part of the downtown is destroyed, it is heavily damaged. You know, basically, all of the windows were blown out, parts of the roofs, you know, parts of the buildings.

So, I found all of the residential and I was actually in the industrial area watching the tornado there. So, you know, when I saw the downtown, I was just like, this is not a good thing. I mean, basically, the heart of the town, you know, the tornado went right through it. So, it really honestly just made me really sad because there is no part of this town that, you know, was really okay.

CAMEROTA: Brian are you from here?

EMFINGER (via telephone): No, I am from Arkansas.

CAMEROTA: So, you knew that there was a tornado outbreak in Texas? I mean, why did you happened to be positioned here at this hour?

EMFINGER (via telephone): That is what I do. I have basically two full-time jobs. One is storm chasing and one is using drones. So, I was out here on my day off to document the weather.

CAMEROTA: Chad, what is it looking like in Texas now?

MYERS: Things have cleared in Texas. There is still a storm that is south of Sherman-Denison that is still rotating. This is well south of the Red River, nowhere near where the storm hit earlier. That area has now completely cleared out.

But, you know, tornadoes on the ground today in Ohio, Texas, Oklahoma, and even parts of Alabama and Florida. You can't really get a larger area than that for severe weather, and everyone was scrambling, chasing, trying to figure out where the next one was going to rotate. I will tell you what, Alisyn, a lot of them rotated. A lot more than we anticipated, I think. I expected two to three tornadoes, not seven or 10.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Chad, Brian, standby if you would.


We want to bring in now on the phone Coach Cole Underwood, the athletic director and head football coach at Perryton High School. That school is now providing shelter and food for those who were hit by the storms. Coach, thank you very much for taking the time. What is happening there at the school right now?

COLE UNDERWOOD, ATHLETIC DIRECTOR AND HEAD FOOTBALL COACH, PERRYTON HIGH SCHOOL (via telephone): Absolutely. Thank you all for having me. Let me get this word out. We have a bunch of people up here. We have people with grills, cooking. We have people bringing supplies still. And I envision it will go into the night. That's one of the coolest things about being in a small town in a time like this. This is the way that a town rallies around the people that are in need.

I'm just very grateful that we responded so quick and that we were able to do this together because the supplies and all of the stuff that are incoming has just been incredible.

CAMEROTA: And coach, do you have any sense of what the damage is? I mean, let's start with human life. Do you have any sense of the injuries yet in your town?

UNDERWOOD (via telephone): No, ma'am, I don't. I've heard rumors, but I'm not going to be one of those people that spreads those. I don't want to speak to anything that I don't have a definite knowledge of. I just know that our community could use all of the prayers that could be sent to us right now.

The devastation that I've seen pictures of and that our kids have sent me and the players that I have personally whose homes aren't standing anymore, it's just unheard of and just devastating for our town and for our kiddos. And so, all that we are trying to do is be here for them and be here to help and just continue to pray for those that are missing and that are injured.

CAMEROTA: And how many people do you think you have at the school right now?

UNDERWOOD (via telephone): I would say upwards of 250 to 300, just volunteers, and people coming in and eating and just getting water and cleaning up. I've been advertising. We've got generators, we've got fans and light bars. We actually have a company, a former graduate of Perryton who got in touch with me, he's a year younger than I am, he's bringing his broadband company, he is going to get us wi-fi tower set up.

It's a place where -- it's a safe roof over people's head for as long as they need it. And that's another thing about small towns is. We have the gym space and we have the capability to house the people that have lost everything. We are more than willing to do that.

CAMEROTA: So, are some people still missing? I mean, are you -- are you trying to connect people with family members there?

UNDERWOOD (via telephone): Trying to connect people with family members. I'm still trying to connect with some of our football players and some of our athletes. One of our big cell towers was damaged and torn down. And so, I'm getting dial tones straight to voice mail. And I've been on edge all day. The parts of town that I need to get to have been blocked off. Some of our kids have been going and finding and helping and getting in touch with me. I've just been so amazed at the level of camaraderie and love that this town has for each other. There is no doubt in my mind that it will continue and that we will find the people that need to be found. We will persevere through this thing.

CAMEROTA: It sounds like you will. I mean, that is really heartening, to hear about your community even in this really tough time. And so, how many people do you think are going to have to spend the night there in the school?

UNDERWOOD (via telephone): There's no telling. We have another building here in town that has opened up. I'm actually trying to get the word spread because I don't know how many supplies are at our county expo center just because of the vast amount of supplies we've had brought here.

So, the whole northeast side of Perryton, it is just -- it is just devastating. It is -- we have two big basketball gyms. We have five and six locker rooms that have showers available. We are just making it known that if they need a place to lay their head, they are safe here.

CAMEROTA: So, coach, beyond prayers, what do you need right now?

UNDERWOOD (via telephone): Any water, Gatorade, canned drinks. Anything. Food, pop-tarts, canned goods. Really anything you can think of. Blankets, flashlights, handles. We will take anything and will be grateful for anything that's donated. It's just nothing can prepare you for a time like this.

And sadly, there is just not a list of things that you think about that you need on hand. But people lost everything today. So, clothes, diapers, baby formula. Anything helps. And the amount of goods that have already been dropped off and donated is so encouraging.

We had people contacted me from communities four and five hours away in Oklahoma panhandle, in the state of Kansas, New Mexico, going down further south into Texas as far as Lubbock.


That's just really encouraging to let us know here in Perryton that people are behind us and that we're going to be okay.

CAMEROTA: That is really encouraging, coach. Thank you for sharing that message with us and for taking the time to talk to us. We are thinking of you and praying for you, and we will check back in to make sure that everything is okay there.

UNDERWOOD (via telephone): Thank you very much. I appreciate you all.

CAMEROTA: You, too. We want to bring in now Kelly Judas. She is the -- Judice, I should say. She is in the interim CEO of Ochiltree County Hospital. She joins us on the phone right now. Kelly, thank you. I know it's a very busy night, so tell us what's happening at the hospital right now.

KELLY JUDICE, INTERIM CEO, OCHILTREE COUNTY HOSPITAL (via telephone): Right now, we are just trying to clean up and get ready in case we have more patients come in.

CAMEROTA: How many patients do you have?

JUDICE (via telephone): Um, right now, we don't have anybody in our emergency room. We have either transferred them out or they have been able to go home. Today, we have seen somewhere between 75 and 100.

CAMEROTA: And what kind of injuries were you treating?

JUDICE (via telephone): Anything from minor lacerations to major traumas.

CAMEROTA: And when you say major traumas, what does that look like?

JUDICE (via telephone): Head injuries, collapsed lungs, broken legs, major lacerations. A little bit of everything.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. Was there one particular part of town where the injured people were coming from?

JUDICE (via telephone): Yes. They were all coming from the north, northeast of town. I have not left the hospital. So, I do not know the extent of the damage throughout the town.

CAMEROTA: Do you live in the town?

JUDICE (via telephone): I do.

CAMEROTA: Do you know what is happening with your family and your home?

JUDICE (via telephone): I live in the country and I believe that my home is just fine.

CAMEROTA: So, Kelly, have you seen any fatalities?

JUDICE (via telephone): We have not seen fatalities at our hospital.

CAMEROTA: Do you have word from other hospitals?

JUDICE (via telephone): No. All other hospitals in the surrounding communities actually came here to help us. A few of them took patients to their hospitals. Most of the staff just stayed here and worked. We did have to send some critically injured patients to higher levels of care.

CAMEROTA: So, you have seen critically injured patients but you do not know of any fatalities at this point?

JUDICE (via telephone): Correct.

CAMEROTA: So, what does your hospital need right now most?

JUDICE (via telephone): Um, at some point, we are going to need supplies. We are on a limited power. The local grocery stores have opened up, provided water. They have been great. Surrounding communities have brought us other things. Our regional advisory council, the people that help us with our traumas, they actually brought in a whole task force of people to help us out.

CAMEROTA: Kelly, are you on a generator?

JUDICE (via telephone): Yes.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. So, how long are you going to be able to operate?

JUDICE (via telephone): We can operate on each generator for a little over 72 hours.

CAMEROTA: Kelly, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. We are thinking of all the injured patients and all of you who are working through the night. We really appreciate your time and, obviously, we are praying for you, guys, there.

JUDICE (via telephone): Thank you very much and thank you for having me on your show.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. All right, we are joined now by the owner of Chicago & Midwest Storm Chasers, Curtis Lerner. So, Curtis, tell us what you are seeing.


CAMEROTA: Lergner. Thank you. Tell us what you're seeing.

LERGNER (via telephone): Oh, do you want me to explain what I saw basically today?

CAMEROTA: Yes, please.

LERGNER (via telephone): Um, so, basically, around the south side of town, there was a super thunderstorm developing just on the west-south part of town. We are watching that slowly developed. To be honest, I don't not think it was going to produce two tornadoes on a town, but it has funnel cloud hanging about halfway off the ground.

That is when I started to inch my way closer to town. I pulled into a parking lot. And then I saw a power flash. I'm like, okay, I'm going to get closer to this. When I got into downtown, I noticed that there was power going out. I'm like, okay, the tornado must be hitting somewhere at some point.

I rolled into town. I did notice that there is a lot of debris and destruction in the downtown part. And then I instantly got out of the vehicle, and I did get into downtown to help with victims as well. There are people in their cars with airbags deployed, cars flipped, and people screaming for help inside mobile homes.

CAMEROTA: That is awful, Curtis. That's awful. And so, what were you able to help with?

LERGNER (via telephone): We were able to help pull some victims out of mobile homes, kick some doors. And because there were trees actually thrown into the mobile homes, the roof was taken off, the tree blocking the door, we have to break the door down to help an elderly lady out.


And then there is another guy that was actually in the garage. He was in his car in the garage and the the whole garage caved in. So, we had to help him out as well.

There is a couple of other victims that were stuck in a mobile home that was tipped over. She was stuck inside. All the walls there just kind of closed in on her. It took time for us to get her out. There is another victim that had head trauma, that had blood coming out of her head. So, she needed to be transported to the hospital immediately.

There is a lot of people there that we were trying to help with all at the same time. I jumped out of the vehicle after the tornado passed and I got -- there was some huge hail outside. (INAUDIBLE) all over my body for helping the people while there is still hail coming down. But I'm just glad that we were able to account for most of the people that we checked on the homes. A lot of people are walking around helping others as well.

CAMEROTA: Curtis, that's incredible. Are you trained to do any of that stuff, lifesaving stuff?

LERGNER (via telephone): I have a couple training. I haven't been certified at the fire department from quite time, but I do have some knowledge of helping people. But when it comes to like the severity of it, probably not. I would probably leave it to the experts.

CAMEROTA: Were there emergency EMS people who were able to get there? What we've heard is that it was impossible for some emergency services to make it to some of these places?

LERGNER (via telephone): Yes. So, there was a lot of power lines down throughout much of the neighborhood. Basically, where I parked my car, I walked about a good quarter of a mile or half a mile into the neighborhood to help people. I could not really drive in today because there are still many power lines and destruction that were blocking most of the roads.

I think that the fire department in town, they could not get their vehicles out because their building collapsed on most their vehicles. So, they had emergency vehicles coming in from all over the place, from different counties.

I remember when I was finally leaving town, they had a convoy of emergency vehicles coming in from the Kansas border as well. Liberal, I believe, that is where I've got my hotel out as well. But they have (INAUDIBLE) convoys of emergency vehicles coming in to help because some -- there is just wasn't enough. CAMEROTA: Did you see any fatalities, Curtis?

LERGNER (via telephone): I cannot confirm. There is rumor that there are fatalities in town. But I do not want to say a number because if it is not true, I do not want to be that person that says there is.


LERGNER (via telephone): But I cannot confirm that yet. I've just heard rumor that there is.


LERGNER (via telephone): But I do not want to confirm it.

CAMEROTA: I understand. And Curtis, did your warning system on your phone go off? How much warning was there for these tornadoes?

LERGNER (via telephone): I believe on one of the videos, in the beginning, when the tornado was just making it right into town, I did have the warning system go off on my phone. Another chaser that is in the other side of town said they heard the siren.

But in my video, you can obviously hear no siren. I didn't hear them. I mean, I got the emergency alert on my phone. So, obviously, it would activate the siren going off in some, but I did not hear any siren at the time.

CAMEROTA: Curtis Lergner, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and tell us about your incredible experience. It sounds like people will be very grateful that you were there to help tonight. So, thank you for sharing all the video and the story with us.

LERGNER (via telephone): You are welcome.

CAMEROTA: All right. Obviously, we are going to be keeping an eye on that because this is the breaking news. That town of Perryton has been devastated. So, we will bring you all the updates from that. We want to take a quick break.

We also have some new developments in the Trump documents case. Trump's lawyers making moves tonight, so we will tell you about that.




CAMEROTA: Now to the latest in the criminal case against Donald Trump for mishandling highly-classified documents. Sources tell CNN that Trump's attorneys are in touch with the Justice Department about getting security clearances after Judge Aileen Cannon ordered all the lawyers to start this process now.

Let's bring in our panel. We have Jessica Washington of "The Root" with us. Also, Republican strategist Jason Osborne and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean.

Okay, so, for all of the people who worried that Justice Cannon was going to slow roll this somehow or her show some partiality to Donald Trump, that is not happening right now. She has already set deadlines and, in fact, the Trump attorneys are complying with that. I think she gave them the deadline of tomorrow to have to already be in touch with the DOJ and get their security clearances.

And so, John Dean, let me start with you because I think that you know what this entails. How long will it take to get security clearances so that everybody will be able to deal with and talk about these highly classified documents and what will that process look like?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the first thing that they will have to do is file a form that is the mother of all forms, actually. It is a very thick document, about an inch and a half, maybe 3,000 questions. It goes in to their residents, where they have lived, all their employment, all their foreign travel. It really probes their life.

That is the basis for the FBI or other investigative agencies for each of the intelligence agencies involved to take a look at their background, to investigate it.

So, the first question that is asked, Alisyn, is, do you understand that making a false statement on this is a crime? If they do not check, yes, they're not going to get very far in the clearance process. How long it will take? It's hard to tell. I suspect that in this case, the FBI will try to expedite it given the stakes.

CAMEROTA: Jason, what do you think all of this -- in terms of the time, the timeline of this, and then it seems to be starting now as well as the other cases, as you know, that are also gearing up against Donald Trump, what is all of this going to do to the republican primary and the timeline for that?


JASON OSBORNE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think that the republican primary is going to continue to move forward. I think that the longer that we have this case drag out, I think you're going to see more and more Republican candidates, more and more elected, kind of flirt with that crossing that line of going against Trump on this.

CAMEROTA: We've not seen much of that yet.

OSBORNE: We saw Governor Kemp. We saw Nikki Haley. We've seen, obviously, Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson. But -- I mean, I really look at kind of Governor Kemp taking a lead on this and saying, you know what, I think this is a distraction. Instead of talking about the issues that are facing Americans, we are talking about a personality. And the longer that Trump is in this, all we are going to focus on is the personality and what Trump is going through.

So, I'm kind of torn on whether this -- dragging this out benefits Trump or -- certainly, it does not benefit the process, but I think that the longer that he is bogged down, he is not able to get out there and say anything about what he is going to do in the next term.

CAMEROTA: Let me see if other Republican, Scott, agrees. Scott, your thoughts?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, it is possible that what Jason said is true. On the other hand, Trump could become even more of an avatar for a group of voters who just want to use elections to flip the bird to the government, the establishment, to the political elite, whatever you want to call it, and these indictments sort of continued to lend to that attitude.

The truth is we do not know how that it's going to go just yet. There is no evidence in the polling yet that he is sinking. In fact, there's evidence in the polling that he has a firm grip on it. I do agree that the more the Republicans dig in with Trump, the more likely it is that in a general election, you know, independent voters, people decide elections, would look at this and say, are you crazy? We are not going to put to somebody who is facing four plus indictments in the White House.

A Republican primary voter might want to do that. I doubt many independent voters would want to do that. Of course, Joe Biden and the Democrats know that. Their entire strategy is to run against Trump. That is what they want. That is what they're banking on. I guess the only question is whether the Republican Party is going to oblige or not?

CAMEROTA: Jessica, that leads us to something else we don't know yet, and that is the motive for this. Why did Donald Trump take these hundreds of highly classified documents home? You know, there have been all sorts of different theories already floated from he likes keepsakes to perhaps he wanted to lure them over somebody or sell them later.

You know, when you look at the pictures of how he was dealing with them, they were next to the toilet. They were next to the toilet, in the guest bathroom that people go in and out of that are not locked. Here's the toilet. There are the classified documents in some of the boxes.

"The New York Times" has -- and here they are spilled on the floor. "The New York Times" has an interesting piece that some of his closest aides called this his beautiful mind material in reference to the character that Russell Crowe played in that movie, who is schizophrenic, but liked to keep stuff, hoard stuff and documents. He himself knew where it was, sort of cataloged in his own brain, but not anywhere else.

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, THE ROOT: Yeah, and it is so hard I almost do not want to get inside Donald Trump's mind. But, I mean, it does kind of almost -- obviously, we cannot know the true motive at this moment. Maybe we'll never will. But it does kind of almost seem like someone who did not want to let power slip away.

I mean, these are, you know, very important documents from the audio that the prosecutors have presented inside of this indictment. He is showing it to people. He is talking about, oh, they made the special plan for me and I have it, it is mine, and that kind of language. It does kind of seem like, okay, I'm going to hold on to this power, I'm going to lord it over people. It seems very personal and not very political, necessarily.

CAMEROTA: All right, friends, thank you. Thank you very much. Obviously, our segments are short because we have all of this breaking news. We really appreciate you, guys. We are keeping an eye on this breaking news because a tornado has devastated the town of Perryton, Texas. We'll show you the damage there and find out how everyone is doing in that town.

Also, former President Obama says that Republican presidential candidates are trying to downplay race and inequality in the U.S., and he did not stop there. His words, next.




CAMEROTA: Former President Obama talking about Republicans and race. Here is what he said on the Axe Files podcast about Republicans like South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who he thinks is downplaying racial inequality in the U.S.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): If somebody is not proposing, both acknowledging and proposing elements that say, no, we can't just ignore all that and pretend as if everything is equal and fair. We actually have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. If they are not doing that, then I think people are rightly skeptical.

There may come a time where there is somebody in the Republican Party that is more serious about actually addressing some of the deep inequality that still exists in our society that tracks race and is a consequence of a racial history. And if that happens, I think it would be fantastic. I haven't yet seen it.


CAMEROTA: Joining us now is a podcast host Coleman Hughes and Jay Michaelson, who clerked for Attorney General Merrick Garland. Jessica Washington and Jason Osborne are back.

Okay, Coleman, what do you think about what he said and how do you think Republicans deal with race in general?

COLEMAN HUGHES, PODCAST HOST: Yes, so, I mean, he is talking about talking the talk and walking the walk, right?

[23:40:00] Obama talked a great game. I mean, his speech on race from 2008, maybe the best speech I've heard any U.S. politician give, acknowledging the past, acknowledging the nuances of the issue. When it comes to walking the walk, did he support the kinds of policies that maybe now he is -- may now be popular in the Democratic Party? Obama didn't support reparations, for example, right?

And so, when he is calling out someone like Tim Scott, is there a substantive policy proposal that he is saying Tim Scott should support X policy, or is he saying that conservatives should talk about race more the way that Obama does? And what does that talk really worth?

CAMEROTA: Jessica?

WASHINGTON: Yeah, I mean, I can't say that Obama has done everything perfect on race. I think that will be inaccurate. But what I can say is that this is a really good and important point, that optimism is okay, optimism is great. Being obtuse about race America is not. You can't address problems you refused to even acknowledge. I think that is part of the problem.

And yes, you can have policy disagreements that are important to have, but we can't even have these policy disagreements if we don't agree there is a problem.

CAMEROTA: And Jason, you worked for Ben Carson when he was running for president. How do you think Republicans deal with race?

OSBORNE: I think it's a very difficult subject, obviously, to tackle. And one of the things that I found on the campaign and working for Dr. Carson is the amount of just attacks against him for being a Republican as a Black man. And that was hard to see. I do not know how -- obviously not as a Black person, I do not know how that feels to him.

But I do not necessarily think that Tim Scott and others like Dr. Carson are saying that there is not a problem. I think that they were putting themselves out there and saying, you know, look what I have been able to accomplish and look where we have come.

I understood exactly what President Obama was saying, I think that there is a later clip and I do not know if we are playing it tonight, where he did talk about this dynamic where if you are not 100% with the folks on the democrat or progressive side of this issue, then you're automatically labeled as racist.

He rightly so said that that is not -- I think I'm paraphrasing -- that is counterproductive. I think if we're going to be serious about this, we need have a discussion where both sides listen and not accuse.


JAY MICHAELSON, RABBI, WRITER FOR ROLLING STONE, CLERKED FOR MERRICK GARLAND: It filled me with nostalgia listening to this real eloquence, which is so often missing in our contemporary politics. It is interesting, you know, there is discussion of the issues and there is the caricaturing of the issues.

I think what we saw from -- just in that clip, in the interview, was a really eloquent analysis of the historical legacy of racism in this country and the weight that that impacts actual inequality on the ground, health disparities, safety in schools, education, and so forth.

But we have got this cartoon image now of wokeism, a word that was kind of kidnapped by the far-right from progressives, and it just means whatever people want to make it mean. You know, you should be ashamed of being white or you should this, you should that, which was not what the term was originally meant to be. I wish -- I agree. I wish we could return to the kind of eloquence and nuance that we see in that clip.

CAMEROTA: Coleman, what do you think about what Jason was just talking about, which is there is sometimes a feeling that if you are Black, you cannot be a Republican?

HUGHES: Oh, yeah, of course, yeah. I mean, you know, Black conservatives get called horrible things: Uncle Tom, sellouts. I've been called some of these things for some of the positions that I have taken. And there is this mentality that your blackness is a politics. If you are Black, you have to think this way. Just because you are born Black, God forbid you would use your brain and have an opinion that box a consensus, right?

And a great Obama quote is that there as many ways to be Black as there are Black people. Right? That is a great Obama-ism. I think he really respects that, and he exemplifies that.

CAMEROTA: One of the funny things is that -- I've heard him say this before. This is, I think, one of his favorite topics. He doesn't like all these semantics around -- he thinks that -- he said it again on Axe-Files, that basically, progressives can be two scolding, two finger wagging, that when you really criticize people for not using the right words, it is counterproductive.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. I think what -- I mean, what is so interesting is I see that on social media. I do not think I've ever seen it in real life. I've never been in a circle where I have actually been around people and I've said, oh, wow, we've gone too far. You know, I've been in tons of circles where I'm like, oh, my gosh, people are saying these things and no one is challenging it or I'm the only one challenging it.

It is just so interesting that we have these conversations, we are so focused on Twitter and the social media sphere, and we have these conversations that are just not practical in real life. I do not think these are happening.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for drawing that distinction between Twitter and real life. I think that that is a really important one to remind everyone of all the time. Thank you all for the perspective.

Okay, so, we're following breaking news tonight. A tornado has devastated the town of Perryton, Texas.


We are going to speak to a storm chaser who is bringing victims to the hospital, next.


UNKNOWN: Tornado, tornado just went through town!



CAMEROTA: We are back with our breaking news now. A devastating tornado hitting Perryton, Texas. TV station KAMR is reporting at least three deaths. Homes are flattened. Much of the downtown has been destroyed. One local official told CNN last hour that they were preparing for a -- quote -- "possible mass casualty event," but we have not gotten an update on any death toll.

Joining me now on the phone is storm chaser Nick Smego. Nick, tell us where you are and what you're seeing.


NICK SMEGO, STORM CHASER (via telephone): So, currently, I am about 65 miles south of Perryton. It's completely clear now, not seeing too much, but heading into possibly assist if anything is needed.

CAMEROTA: And so, were you in Perryton? Have you seen some of the destruction there?

SMEGO (via telephone): I was actually just south. I saw a total of three tornadoes at one time, but no, I did not see any of the destruction yet.

CAMEROTA: So, we had heard from folks who were in Perryton that there was basically no warning. There was no time for the folks in one particularly hard-hit mobile home park to get out of the way or to seek cover. What about the tornadoes that you saw?

SMEGO (via telephone): The tornadoes I saw, they weren't warned right away either. I did send a video over to National Weather Service to get them warned as soon as I saw them. It was the same way with what I saw going towards Perryton. I also sent that to the National Weather Service to get them warned.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Nick, stand by if you would because we just got the fire chief of Perryton, Paul Dutcher. We want to bring him in right now. Chief, thank you very much. I know it is a busy time for you. I heard that the fire department took a direct hit from the tornado. Tell us what it is like there.

PAUL DUTCHER, FIRE CHIEF, PERRYTON, TEXAS (via telephone): There's damage all across the north and east part of Perryton. The center part of the destruction is to block area of our downtown area. That is where our fire department is located. We took a direct hit.

Many of our trucks are pretty badly damaged. But, you know, we are still doing some search and rescue, looking for victims. As far as we know, we have everybody accounted for, maybe other than one person. And so, we are still doing some searching, seeing if we can find some infrared cameras on drones in parts of the areas, looking. And so, a lot of -- this area is probably a mile -- a mile and a half long, at least, through the city that took the hit.

CAMEROTA: And chief, do you know any of fatalities in your town?

DUTCHER (via telephone): I do currently know of three fatalities.

CAMEROTA: And where were those folks?

DUTCHER (via telephone): One was on the northeastern part of town, in the trailer park, and then two in the downtown business district.

CAMEROTA: Do you know anything about those victims?

DUTCHER (via telephone): No, I don't have any information on those right now.

CAMEROTA: Yeah. And chief, have you all been able to go out and perform emergency services with your vehicles destroyed and the fire department taking a direct hit?

DUTCHER (via telephone): We have been able to get out. We did eventually get all of our units out of the station. So, we are all running. But we have mutual aid partners, 15 and 20 miles away, that showed up. As far as getting emergency services and things into the community, it will take us very long time.

CAMEROTA: That's just incredible, that you're able to do all that still even under the circumstances. And so, how common is what happened there tonight? I mean, obviously, Texas is no stranger to tornadoes, but is this worse than what you have normally seen?

DUTCHER (via telephone): Well, I've been on the fire department for 33 years and this is the first tornado that has done any type of major damage to the city. We've had some small touchdown and just maybe skirt the city or do a little bit of damage. That absolutely is nothing to this magnitude in the last 33 plus years.

CAMEROTA: Do you have any sense of how many homes have been destroyed?

DUTCHER (via telephone): No. I'm going to guess, probably 200.

CAMEROTA: Well, chief, we know that you're busy. We really appreciate you giving us the status report. Thank you very much. And obviously, we will check back in with the people of Perryton throughout the night. Thank you for being here.

DUTCHER (via telephone): Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Okay, we'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



CAMEROTA: Tomorrow on "CNN This Morning," Miami Mayor Francis Suarez joins live to talk about his run for president. That starts at 6:00 a.m. Eastern. Thanks so much for watching. Our breaking news coverage tonight and our coverage continues now.