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New Day

Deadline Nears for Evacuation; Cynthia Lee Sheng is Interviewed about Hurricane Damage in Louisiana; Dan Darling is Interviewed about Being Fired at NRB. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired August 30, 2021 - 08:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. troops are racing against the clock to evacuate the last Americans from Afghanistan ahead of tomorrow's withdrawal deadline. The White House says 1,200 people were evacuated over the last 24-hour period that they count for. And for those green card holders and Afghan allies who helped American troops, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says the Taliban is promising to let them leave after August 31st.

Joining us now is CNN counter --


JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're down to a population of 300 or fewer American citizens who have yet to get out. We have evacuated more than 5,000. We evacuated well more than 300 just yesterday. So we believe there's still an opportunity for American citizen citizens to get to the airport, get on planes and get home.

But you're right. August 31st is not a cliff. After August 31st, we believe that we have substantial leverage to hold the Taliban to its commitments to allow safe passage for American citizens, legal permanent residents and the Afghan allies who have travel documentation to come to the United States.


KEILAR: Let's talk about this now with CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, Phil Mudd, as well as former White House adviser on Pakistan and Afghanistan Shamila Chaudhary with us as well.

Shamila, this -- is it a cliff? Is it not a cliff? Do you think that this is -- people should feel comforted by the ability to get people out after tomorrow?

SHAMILA CHAUDHARY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR ON PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN: I think it is comforting to see just how many Americans the administration has gotten out in a short amount of time. I agree with Jake Sullivan in that it's not a cliff, but we do have to understand that it's not going to be 100 percent what we want. The Taliban don't have -- you know, they've been out of government for a long time. They need to figure out the modalities of running an airport, of running a government. The U.S. also doesn't have a permanent presence on the ground anymore. So in the absence of a diplomatic mission, there is going to be still a -- you know, a large amount of chaos and uncertainty on the ground.

AVLON: Yes, but, Phil, I mean there's a lot of faith that seems to be being placed in the Taliban's alleged pragmatism. And forgive me if I say that history would suggest that avowing (ph) the Taliban's word might not be the best basis for a deal going forward. And yet we are being told that the 31st not being a cliff depends upon a deal, an specialized deal with the Taliban, that the U.S. has leverage. What does that leverage look like?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Boy, I'm not that hopeful. I would put this in terms of a stream. We go from a stream to a trickle. You mentioned leverage. Leverage to get people out. We have some economic leverage. Clarissa Ward and others have talked about the Taliban wanting to participate in the international community, not because they're nice guys. They're not going to evolve. Just because there's a lot of money involved there. When you start governing, you start thinking about food, you start thinking about energy. You've got to get access to that international money.

That said, let me put stuff into two categories in terms of why I said flow to trickle. U.S. citizens, relatively small, or dual citizens, you're talking about people who batting around the number 300. If you're the Taliban, you might be saying, what's our interest in keeping those folks? The thousands of people who cooperated, in theory, there's an agreement with the Taliban to get them out. I don't buy it, John. I don't buy it. If I'm the Taliban, and you've heard this already, they might be saying these aren't U.S. citizens, these are Afghans. We had an agreement to get people out, but these people have broken the law. They cooperated with the foreign invaders. We can't let them out. And, furthermore, it's an embarrassment for the Taliban to watch the outflow. Maybe a few 100 more, a trickle, but thousands more Afghans, I don't know about that.

CHAUDHARY: So I agree with Phil, these are not good guys, but this is -- this is where diplomacy becomes all the more important. So the United States, working with international partners on the ground, with those countries that still have their missions functioning on the ground, there has to be a lot of communication and coordination between those groups.


And that's how we're going to get there.

It's not going to be perfect. It's not. But it's not in the Taliban's interest to have dead Americans and dead foreigners after August 31st, like lying around Kabul, lying around the airport.

KEILAR: Can you address the issue of green card holders because these are -- I mean just to be clear, we're talking about people who have lives and families in the U.S. They are legally protected residents. And it's really been difficult to even get a sense of how many might be remaining in Afghanistan. But, anecdotally, I mean, just journalists I'm speaking with, people who are trying to help rescue people, there's a ton of them.

CHAUDHARY: Brianna, you're right. And it's very sad to hear these stories of the families being separated.

Now, we talked about this before on this program, the U.S. government's first and foremost priority is always to focus on citizens. We don't like this hierarchy, but it does exist.

And if I'm reading in between the lines of what the administration is saying, they're going to work on taking care of these green card holders but they just can't do it by August 31st. That's where the communication with the Taliban and this negotiation becomes all the more critical.

AVLON: Phil, we have seen, in addition to, I think, the extraordinary evacuation that's occurred since August 14th, a ramping up of drone strikes in response to ISIS-K and the attack on the airport.

MUDD: Yes.

AVLON: And the expectation that this might be something that the U.S. starts doing more so than in the recent past, to push back upon the terrorist elements. Now, the Taliban, allegedly, you know, part of their deal with the Trump administration was that they would contain terrorism in the region. But given your experience inside the agency, what do you see about the escalation of these drone strikes, which we've already seen apparently have caused civilian casualties?

MUDD: Look, it's -- my generation is still at the agency. We're still scarred by what we saw 20 years ago. We're coming up on the anniversary. If there is threat and that threat persists after September 1st, and it will, you are not going to go back to a time that says we're reluctant to strike a group that's already shown it will strike the United States. Look at what happens in Yemen. Look at what happens in Somalia. If people think that September 1st means no more lethal action in Afghanistan, no how, no way. The people I work with are going to say, if we identify individuals who were involved in operational cells that have or will target America, they're going to be done. That's not going to stop, John.


Phil, Shamila, thank you very much, as always.


AVLON: All right, Hurricane Ida is now leaving all of New Orleans without power. We're hearing of people trapped with water chest high in their homes.

KEILAR: Plus, how promoting COVID vaccines on TV cost a Tennessee pastor his job. He'll join us live.



AVLON: Hurricane Ida, now a tropical storm, but still lashing the New Orleans area with wind and rain. And the storm leaving all of New Orleans without power. Louisiana's Jefferson Parish lost about 95 percent of its electricity as of last night. There is a boil water advisory in effect for much of the parish and there are reports of chest-level water in people's homes there.

Now, for more on this we are joined now by the president of Jefferson Parish, Cynthia Lee Sheng.

Please, tell us what you are seeing, what your residents are experiencing this morning as the sun rise. How bad is it in Jefferson Parish?

CYNTHIA LEE SHENG, PRESIDENT, JEFFERSON PARISH: Well, we've only had sunrise since -- for about an hour. So our first responder teams, our Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office, with our Louisiana National Guard, our fire services are out doing search and rescue. I'm hearing it's actually worse than chest level in lower Lafitte. I'm hearing it's up to the roof.

So of course our concern is, you know, could people survive the night with that rising water. We were -- we were getting reports yesterday afternoon that the water was rising. The mayor, Tim Kerner Jr., was telling me he thinks the water's rising. And, overnight, it seems to be a terrible condition. So I'm hoping for very good survival rates. It was -- it must have been a horrifying evening for people stranded in water in the dark since last night.

So we want to get over that. We want to rescue them. And then, you know, obviously, we have system failures in Upper Jefferson with no water, no electricity, no communication. It's very, very difficult times right here, right now.

But, right now, the focus is on preserving life and finding those folks and saving them.

KEILAR: So, Cynthia, if you're talking about water up to the roof and people needing to ride out a storm where there's also a lot of wind, then clearly they would have to be inside, right, in some cases in their attics.

How are rescuers going to go about rescuing them and locating them, considering, you know, even means of contact if they haven't been able to break through, like their roof, like we saw in the case of Katrina sometimes at some points. How are they going to locate those folks?

SHENG: So, the sheriff office was very proactive the night before going house to house. You know, we wanted them to leave. This was under a mandatory evacuation order, but some of them didn't leave. So knowing that, the sheriff took a couple dozen teams, went house to house in Lafitte, asking where they were, what their numbers were, where they lived, how many people were there. So they do have that.

But it was -- it was hard news to hear the mayor yesterday say that, you know, he's getting reports of rising water. We need this weather to stop. We need this -- this water to stay low.

But, you know, unfortunately, the worst case scenario seems to have happened because I'm getting I believe very credible reports of people who have -- it's beyond chest high. It's up to the top of the roof. So I even said, you know, if they were in the attic. So I guess it depends on the height of the house. That's what we're talking about. I mean this is -- this is the situation we're talking about it just simply the height of the water and if you could have survived the night, how high you could have gotten to be able to survive the night with those winds.


So a very, very terrible situation that we're dealing with. And I don't know where we are with that yet. You know, they're trying to get out there. They could not get out at night. This is an area that has a lot of swamp land, alligators, very dangerous conditions. They had to wait for the sun to come up this morning. They had a strategy. They had a grid out where they were going to attack, separating the teams. We have people out there ready to clear roads. They're going to have boats out there. They're going to have high-water vehicles. Our first responders are ready to go, they just needed the daylight to be able to do their best work.

KEILAR: Yes, and they've only had about an hour or so of that to work with this morning.

So, look, we know you're very much in the middle of assessing this but we appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.

Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng, thanks.

SHENG: Thank you.

KEILAR: And here's what else to watch today.


ON SCREEN TEXT: 10:15 a.m. ET, Health Secretary makes announcement.

1:30 p.m. ET, White House press briefing.

2:30 p.m. ET, Blinken speaks on Afghanistan.


AVLON: Up next on NEW DAY, the pastor just fired for his job. His sin? Offering praise for COVID vaccines. That's next.


[08:50:52] AVLON: We are to love our neighbors. And one of the thing we do when we get a vaccine is we not only protect ourselves, we protect our neighbors. Those caring and Christian words are true, but they also cost a man of faith his livelihood. Pastor Daniel Darling was fired after promoting vaccines in an op-ed and in an interview, losing his high-ranking position at the National Religious Broadcasters, a major evangelical organization.

Now, the NRB says Darling was fired because he violated the organization's policy of, quote, remaining neutral about COVID-19 vaccines.

Pastor Darling, the former senior vice president of communications for NRB, joins us now.

Pastor Darling, thank you for joining us on NEW DAY.

Tell us what happened. How did the NRB tell you you were fired and why?


And this is just a disagreement among good friends. These are my good friends at NRB. And it was an honor to serve them on behalf of Christian communicators.

I didn't feel like I was violating a policy of neutrality because I just spoke about my own experience of getting the vaccine and I really tried to speak to some of the hesitancy and fears that many who have not gotten it still have and encourage people to talk to their doctors. I don't believe the way to persuade people is to shame and to, you know, to cancel, but I think the way to do that is to really have understanding.

And so this is what I tried to do. And it's unfortunate that this happened. I didn't anticipate this being a national news story. And I wish my former employer well.

I am overwhelmed by the support that I've received from evangelicals around the country, leaders and ordinary Christians who have really sympathized with this. And so I think really this is an opportunity for us to step back and look at -- and ask ourselves why this has divided Americans and really why Christians are not unified at a time when we should be.

AVLON: And why do you think that is? Why do you think Christians are not unified on an issue of vaccines during a pandemic that demonstrably and scientifically save lives?

DARLING: Well, I actually think most evangelicals are not divided over this. You know, a large percentage of evangelicals have received the vaccine. And then there's many who are hesitant, who are interested in getting it and I just think we have to be patient with those who are working their way through this decision. Evangelicals are having the same conversations every other group is having around the dinner table and at work and at church and truly -- really trying to navigate their way through a difficult time. And I think this is a time, not for division, not for shaming, not for canceling, but a time for unity, a time for us to -- to work with each other and to understand each other in a way that understands where the other person is coming from.

AVLON: And I understand and appreciate the point you're trying to make. The way to address the hesitant is not by judging, it's by reaching out. But it's also by reaching out with facts in a patient way. And the fact is that you were fired for allegedly violating a neutrality policy on the issue of vaccines.

Tell me, how does a neutrality -- statement of neutrality on the issue of vaccines help a community confront a pandemic? What drives that?

DARLING: Well, I think they had really good intentions and they didn't want to cause further division among Christians. The policy was somewhat vague. And considering that the CEO had promoted the vaccines a few months earlier in public, official company statements.

But, nevertheless, I don't want to get into a back and forth with them. They're really good people. Mostly I think we need to come together as a country. And really as Christians one of the things that characterizes Christians and should characterize Christians is our unity. Jesus prayed in John 17 that his people would be one.

And so I believe the vaccines are safe. I believe the vaccines are good. It's a bipartisan achievement. President Trump shepherded it through. President Biden is helping with the distribution. And if you've watched the process, it's had rigorous, scientific protocols. And it's a uniquely American achievement, akin to what we did during World War ii, our companies coming together.


And so I just encourage folks to talk to their doctors, to sit down and make this decision themselves. I get why people have skepticism because there's widespread distrust in American institutions.


DARLING: Our public health officials have not always been consistent. And so people are very skeptical and hesitant.

However, I've talked to quite a few folks who after seeing my comments and reading the op-ed I did in "USA Today" who've said, you know, you were really fair to us who were hesitant and I'm really going to think through this. I'm going to talk to my doctor and see about getting vaccinated.

AVLON: You were fair and yet you were fired for being fair. You know, Mark Twain wrote, you know, you cannot pray a lot. Last time I checked the Bible it condemns lying over 100 times. It's in the Ten Commandments. A policy of neutrality on vaccines that punishes someone for speaking out about their truth, about the scientific truth, in a way that is not trying to divide but unite, what kind of message does that send?

DARLING: Well, I don't want to get into a back and forth with them. I just -- I just think there's a lot of folks who are --

AVLON: But this happened to you. I mean, Pastor, I appreciate you trying to rise above. I appreciate that these are good people, your former colleagues. But, nonetheless, you were fired for telling the truth. That's the bottom line.

DARLING: Well, this is a disagreement among friends and disagreement among brothers and sisters in Christ. And I think mainly this should -- this should be an opportunity for us to -- to step back and say, why are we letting these things that are complicated and why are we letting these things divide us as Christians during these times? And we should have these conversations with each other and listen and learn and try to move forward.

AVLON: That is one of the many things we should be taking away.

But I will say, again, sir, you are exemplifying grace in your desire to put this behind you. But you were, I think, in the eyes of any objective person, fired unjustly for not only telling your truth but the truth about vaccines during a pandemic.

Pastor Daniel Darling, thank you very much for joining us on NEW DAY.

DARLING: Thank you.

KEILAR: The people on the Gulf Coast are waking up now to catastrophic hurricane damage, 16 years to the day since the Hurricane Katrina disaster. CNN's live coverage of Hurricane Ida continues next.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Accessing the damage this morning in Louisiana.