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Veterans Work to Evacuate Afghans; Supreme Court Throws out Eviction Moratorium; Alexander Kahn is Interviewed about Evacuating Afghans; Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 27, 2021 - 08:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: We're talking about people who actually have the visa in hand.

MATT ZELLER, MAJOR, U.S. ARMY RESERVE: Yes, no, they can't get to the airport. Let's be clear, we -- we had an operation that was reported by "The New York Times" a couple of days ago in which we had 500 of these special visa holders and their families, people with approved, you know, departure letters from the State Department telling them to come to the airport, to get on flights. They were at the Ministry of Interior building, which we were using as a staging ground, along with some American citizens and green card holders.

The Haqqani Taliban, who had been responsible for the security at the airport for days now, showed up to this facility, separated the American citizens and green card holders to one side, put all the special immigrant visa holders to another. At that point allowed for the Americans and the green card holders to leave, and then turned to the several hundred Afghans who had been left behind and said, so, you worked for the Americans, did you? You wait right here. We're taking names.

With the report yesterday that the State Department has also now given the Taliban a list of names that should be approved to be allowed through checkpoints and that those names included Afghans who worked for us. And that the fact that we know now through multiple eyewitness reporting that the Taliban are not letting those Afghans through the checkpoints, I fear what we've done is hand them a kill list and a hit list. And so we now need the American people's help.

We're trying to keep this -- this op center going. We're trying to keep these safe houses going. We're going to -- we're setting up a left behind network to get them out and we need people to donate to this. So if I could just make a plea, if people could go to, they can help support this effort. We're not going to abandon these people. As I keep saying before, even if the government is leaving on the 31st, the American people are not.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Matt, you know, again, we've known that you've been doing these efforts and there's so many people involved in this so-called digital Dunkirk, which again has been noted as remarkable and is a real example of determination. It's also notable that it has to happen in an extra governmental way. That it has to happened beyond the government. And we do need to make note of that.


BERMAN: These are the first time we've seen pictures of the actual operation. Can you just tell us, without compromising any of the security of the people still in country, exactly what we're seeing here, exactly how you are trying to coordinate this?

ZELLER: Sure. So there's a gentleman by the name of Sofi (ph), who's helped set this whole up. He's an Afghan-American. This is actually not a no one left behind mission. Let's be clear. I know you guys introduced it as that, but this is beyond no left behind. This is multiple organizations, many people involved. We've dubbed it a whole new effort called Society 76.

So they're actually a whole new organization that's been set up to do this -- this specific mission. These people are -- no one's getting paid for any of this. Every single person you see in that op center is a volunteer. People are sleeping there 24/7 and have been for the last two weeks. We have not been telling anybody about it on television until now because we've been trying to keep it secret.

But we're at a point of desperation. It's been -- everybody who's been involved, it's been their personal money that has supported this. I'll tell that they've, at this point, spent about $2 million supporting this effort over the last two weeks. They've gotten thousands of people out. I have personally used this network to help move Afghans onto the airport and get them out of country. But that is now shutdown. We're now switching to a left behind operation, and the need to begin setting up an underground railroad.

That is going to be the mission going forward. We need the people to support this. And let's be clear, how this is happening is in real- time. So we've got people analyzing satellite imagery, along with on the ground reporting and trying to, you know, plot Taliban checkpoints and guide people from point a to point b. We have cars that can help drive people around the city safely and covertly and secretly.

What we used to have with people that could help us get onto the airport and get people on flights, but that has become almost nearly impossible in the last 24 to 48 hours, particularly now the security situation in Kabul basically shutting down the airport.

So what we need now is we've got to figure out how to keep these people safe. Ideally we'd love for the U.S. government to work with us, to come help pick them up and get these people out of country. I keep saying before again, we can save these people if someone will just work with us to help get them to safety.

KEILAR: Can I ask you, Matt, when you're talking to these folks, you know, one of the things I was surprised, talking to someone we had on, who has the family with the green card holders, I was surprised to learn that they hadn't had outreach from the U.S. government. You know, and, in the end, yes, it's a U.S. military plane that gets these family members out and we can't overstate, obviously, how important that is. But the hard part that took multiple attempts, getting through a Taliban checkpoint and getting into the airport just before the bombs went off, that was done by volunteers like the people we're seeing in this video.

ZELLER: Yes. Yes, the --

KEILAR: Are you hearing from these folks that you're talking to, are they saying that the -- the government is reaching out to them? Are they getting resources there?

ZELLER: No. No, no.


The people that we've spoken with, the last time they spoke with the government was, at this point, almost a week ago. Particularly the Afghans who aren't green card or American citizens, they received an email -- about 60,000 of them have received an email over a week ago now with what looked like a visa. It was -- it was a thing that the State Department had invented to try to help them get through Taliban checkpoints that looks like a visa but actually it was just nothing. It was a piece of paper.

We actually joked within the operation center and the orbs (ph) that are involved in this that you could have made it on Microsoft Paint because it looked that fake. But it was real. And it went out to 60,000 people telling them that they had airplanes to catch and that they had been given permission to go to the airport. That was the last time these people received a mass communication.

The only other communications they've been receiving have been to shelter in place and to stand by for further instructions. Every single individual, American citizen, green card holder, or Afghan special visa recipient that I know of personally who have gotten to the airport and on a plane in the last two and a half weeks have done so with the assistance of volunteers like this.

This, by the way, is not the only op center in the country. You're only just showing ours. I know of at least four or five others that are going on right now with similar efforts. And that, again, all of this is being accomplished by just volunteers who have put their lives on hold to make sure that we keep this promise.

BERMAN: Matt Zeller, we appreciate the work you're doing. We appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

ZELLER: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: Up next, the Supreme Court just dealt a big blow to millions of renters who have fallen behind on their rent payments.

KEILAR: And the civilian air crews volunteering, more volunteers here, these folks are flying evacuees from Afghanistan to safety.



KEILAR: The Supreme Court is allowing evictions to resume during the COVID pandemic after the Biden administration declared a moratorium on them. Well, that moratorium expired and the court ruled that Congress should have acted faster to make the moratorium law. But that explanation, of course, isn't sitting well with the three liberal justices who dissented on this.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer Joan Biskupic for the latest on this, which is, you know, explain this to us. It's kind of complicated.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is. And it really is a blow to the Biden administration and to the liberals on the court. This is going to be a frustrating four years ahead, it seems like.

This case picks up where the justices were on June 29th when it -- when the court narrowly allowed the earlier moratorium on evictions to stay in place for another month but warned, in a concurring opinion by Justice Kavanaugh, that it was best for Congress to do this. In fact, it was only Congress' work, not the administration's or the CDC's.

But, as you know, Congress didn't act. Biden pressured the CDC to extend the moratorium. It was supposed to go until October 3rd. And last night the Supreme Court said, with the conservative majority leading, no, we warned you and you cannot do this.

The three dissenters said, look at how much has changed in America, especially since June 29th. Look at the surge in the COVID rates. Look at also how the statute at issue here should be read to extend to these kinds of precautions to stop the spread of this deadly virus.

KEILAR: Yes, look, this was an extraordinary move by the Biden administration because they admit admitted when they did it this might not hold up, right? This might not hold up. But they felt that they needed to throw something at the problem.

BISKUPIC: Right. And they tried to make their case. They tried to say, first of all, that this old 1944 public health statute actually could be extended to the situation we have today, which is an unusual situation. And, you know, they tried to make their case.

The dissenters picked up that case and said two things. First of all, things have changed. Things are worse. We should defer to these public health officials who know best.

The second thing the dissenters said is, you can't just summarily throw this thing out. Let's at least have formal briefing, let's have some arguments here. Let's not just reject it out of hand the way it felt the majority did last night.

KEILAR: Yes. The Biden administration, they bought some time, but not enough time for so many suffering Americans. BISKUPIC: Right. Well, no, you're right. Look at how much money has

been allocated. Billions of dollars. But there's still about 11 million renters who are behind on their payments to landlords.

KEILAR: God, that is a lot. That's lot.


KEILAR: Joan -- Joan Biskupic, thank you so much for that.

BISKUPIC: Thank you.

KEILAR: Up next, civilian airline crews take to the skies to help evacuees from Afghanistan. A pilot will join us live.

BERMAN: And President Biden with Vice President Harris in The Situation Room right now meeting with the National Security team. More CNN coverage just ahead.



BERMAN: This week, the Pentagon activated a rarely used program to mobilize U.S. commercial airlines for the Afghanistan evacuation effort. As part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, airline carriers flew evacuees from temporary staging bases outside of Afghanistan to other countries for resettlement.

Joining me now is Delta Airlines Pilot Alexander Kahn. He transported Afghan evacuees from Ramstein Base in Germany to Dulles Airport outside Washington, D.C.

Captain, thanks so much for joining us this morning.


BERMAN: Tell us about that flight from Ramstein to Dulles. What was it like?

KAHN: It was a fascinating opportunity to be able to do a flight like this. The crew had positioned ourselves into Germany before -- the night before the flight. And we got a chance to get to know each other as a crew. And I really saw how special this operation was going to be.

Our flight attendants, on their own initiative, went out the night before and purchased a bunch of supplies for the children that we knew were going to be on these flights because we knew these evacuees were coming with no opportunity to prepare and to take things that you and I would prepare for an international flight. Spending their own money, they purchased diapers and wipes and candy and balloons and other -- coloring books and other things that they knew the evacuees were going to need and refused to take any reimbursement from -- from us, from the pilots for this. BERMAN: And I know this opportunity was personally poignant for you.


KAHN: It was for a couple of reasons. First of all, for superficial, selfish reasons. Ramstein Air Base is where I first learned how to fly an airplane, where I first soloed and where I got my private pilot's license. So to be able to be at the peak of my career and come back and fly out of Ramstein again was quite the thrill for me.

But more importantly, I'm the son of an immigrant in the United States. My father was a Holocaust survivor. He was liberated from Breitenau Concentration Camp by Patton's Third Army and came to the United States not much different than the people that are coming to the United States now. He was coming with the clothes on his back, no family, no English skills, and had to start life over again. And, luckily, he was starting life over in the land of opportunity.


BERMAN: How did that impact you as you were sitting in the front of the plane with hundreds of refugees in the back?

KAHN: So, I was able to -- to put myself in -- in their position and realize that they're starting a new life. This is going to be a frightening experience for them. But it has the potential to be an excellent experience for them. My father made it into the United States, learned English, put himself through school, became a doctor, and years later actually was back in west Germany as a physician for the U.S. Army where I became an Army brat at the tail end of the Cold War.

BERMAN: I can't imagine.

Were you able to speak to any of the people, any of the refugees?

KAHN: I purposely didn't because I knew that these people deserved their dignity and they didn't need a bunch of people coming back and -- and making a spectacle out of them. Our flight attendants, on the other hand, were incredibly professional and were able to give them exemplary service.

BERMAN: If you had a chance to meet someone who was on this plane six months, six years from now, what would you tell them?

KAHN: I think I'd probably ask them -- ask them, how's their experience? Have they been able to reach goals that they never dreamed possible? And to give them hope, to -- to show them that we are a land of legal immigrants and this is what built the United States. We're a generous country because we're a generous people, and the future is theirs.

BERMAN: It's a -- obviously a very tough time for a lot of people, for Afghans, for Americans watching this. I think it's important to have these moments of hope, these moments of coming together.

What do you think this represents overall? How is this representative to you of the American experience?

KAHN: The American people have always come together and helped when it was time to help. And the military community overseas has always come together when it was time to help.

When I broke off and went into the basic (INAUDIBLE) on (INAUDIBLE) airbase, excuse me, Ramstein Airbase, to purchase more supplies, I ran into some military family moms who asked what we were doing and asked how they could get involved. And they're looking for an opportunity. They're looking for an opportunity to donate for people that they know need their help. And this is what military families have been all about. And this is what the American people are all about.

BERMAN: This is what the American people are about.

Captain Alexander Kahn, you know, asking not just how you can help, but how you can help more. Appreciate what you've done. Appreciate you being with us this morning.

KAHN: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, a huge thank you to Captain Kahn. Unbelievable story there.

Texas' Republican-controlled House set to hold a final vote this morning after advancing a controversial bill to implement sweeping voter restrictions Thursday. The bill passed in a 79-37 vote, mostly along party lines, followed hours of debate on dozens of amendments and moves it close to the desk of Governor Greg Abbott. This bill places limits on votes by mail and it places limits on where and when people can cast ballots. Critics argue the bill will make it harder for people of color to vote.

And here's what else to watch today.


ON SCREEN TEXT: 10:30 a.m. ET, Biden meets Israeli prime minister.

11:30 a.m. ET, Sirhan Sirhan Patrole hearing.

1:00 p.m. ET, White House press briefing.


BERMAN: Just ahead, the U.S. about to enter the final weekend of the 20-year war in Afghanistan. Thirteen U.S. service members killed just days before troops set to be withdrawn for good. We have new developments from the Kabul airport, the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department.

Our special coverage continues, next.


KEILAR: Thousands of food banks and homeless shelters across the country work hard every day to feed and shelter shows in need, but what about another necessity? Hygiene products, like soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. These are things that can be expensive. And the cost of resulting hygiene insecurity can be very high. So in this week's CNN Hero, Jeff Feingold learned that many in need don't have access to these basic. He decided to do something about it.


JEFF FEINGOLD, CNN HERO: Food stamps cannot be used to purchase basic items like soap and toothpaste and other items. These things are so simple. They're not always things that you think about.

We have shampoo, lots of deodorant.

These items not only keep one clean and healthy and safe, they also keep one confident and feeling dignified so that they can go out there and be their best selves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've always been a worker since I was 14, so I feel good that someone's finally taking care of me.

I'm feeling valued. I feel like someone knows I'm worth it. I'm a little emotional right now.


KEILAR: And to see Jeff's full story and how he is helping those in need, go to

BERMAN: It's nice to see people doing good things. And I have to say, with all the painful things we've seen, there have been some examples of real, genuine goodness and selflessness and sacrifice all around the world.

KEILAR: Yes, and it doesn't take much sometimes, right? That's what we learn. It doesn't take much to help.


The clock is ticking for those looking to evacuate from Afghanistan, and CNN's coverage will continue right now.