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New Day

World's Most Wanted Terrorist Dead in U.S. Drone Strike; U.S Warns China Not to Turn Rep. Nancy Pelosi's Taiwan Visit into Crisis; Death Toll Rises to 37 as Rescue Efforts Continue in Kentucky. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 02, 2022 - 07:00   ET



S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: All that started with the advent of the E.U. He really is just the most direct about it. And so when someone like Tucker Carlson goes and visits him frequently and comes back and says, Hungary looks like it's working really well, meanwhile Hungary has been recently downgraded from a democracy to a partial democracy. It's in this gray zone between democracy and autocracy that is appealing.

And CPAC likes to hide behind this cancel culture, and Matt Schlapp will say, well, this is free speech, and we've got to put people on that you might disagree. With, instead but they never go ahead and disagree with them. They're very clearly elevating people like Orban, and instead of warning voters off of them.

JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Important, insightful points, as always. S.E., Jonah, great to see you. Thank you very much.

New Day continues right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar with John Avlon. John Berman is off today.

And on this New Day, justice has been delivered. President Biden announcing the leader of Al Qaeda, the world's most wanted terrorist, has been killed in a drone strike.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to visit Taiwan amid escalating threats of retaliation from China.

AVLON: And dozens of people are dead, hundreds more remain unaccounted for in the Kentucky flooding, and more rising water could be on the way.

Plus, a January 6th rioter who was turned in by his son handed down the longest insurrection-related sentence today. His son joins New Day ahead.

KEILAR: Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It is Tuesday, August 2nd. One of the master planners behind the 9/11 attacks is dead. President Biden said Ayman al-Zawahiri was killed by a precision drone strike in Afghanistan. He was Osama bin Laden's trusted lieutenant and he took over a Al Qaeda's leader after bin Laden was killed in 2011. Biden says the strike that took out Zawahiri was the result of extraordinary persistence and skill by U.S. intelligence.

Zawahiri was targeted as he stepped out on the balcony of a house where his family was hiding in downtown Kabul.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Justice has been delivered and this terrorist leader is no more.

After carefully considering the clear and convincing evidence of his location, I authorized a precision strike that would remove him from the battlefield once and for all.

One week ago, after being advised that the conditions were optimal, I gave the final approval to go get him.


AVLON: CNN has learned that President Biden took great pains to prevent collateral damage from the strike, examining a scale model of Zawahiri's home before green lighting the mission. And we are now seeing video for the first time from smoke rising from the site in the strike in Kabul that killed the Al Qaeda leader.

This morning, the FBI updating its notice about the most wanted terrorist, Ayman al-Zawahiri, to deceased.

Let's bring in CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. Clarissa, talk to us about this important moment after 9/11.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, John, it's really hard to overstate the significance, the symbolism, this is a man who has been actively targeting and killing Americans and calling for attacks on Americans and praising attacks on Americans for many decades. He had a $25 million bounty on his head. That indicates just how important a target he was for the U.S.

Now, it's unclear as to how much of an impact this is really going to have on the sort of day-to-day planning of Al Qaeda, but, certainly, it's a real dent in its sort of global centralized leadership. And I think also really symbolizes almost the end of an era, the era of the Al Qaeda that we were all familiar with in this period, starting with the USS Cole going on, of course, through the 9/11 attacks and seemingly ending here but with one major caveat, the fact that he was killed not in sort of the tribal areas of Pakistan, not within the border areas of Afghanistan, but in a house, in a villa, in downtown Kabul, in an area very close to where we used to stay in a guest house.

I think that really calls into question what the future will be for other groups like Al Qaeda, for other leaders who may now emerge who we don't know as much about, who don't have $25 million bounties on their heads. And so it raises a lot of questions about some of the challenges that the U.S. will face going forward, even though this is clearly a major victory and a major success of intelligence.


KEILAR: I mean, the broad strokes of the deal, right, are supposed to be, okay, Taliban doesn't harbor terrorists, and the U.S. leaves Afghanistan. I think we all saw it going down a little differently when you were on the ground there during the withdrawal, Clarissa. We had already seen Al Qaeda taking hold. But you touched on it, what do you think it is going to look like, moving forward, especially as the Taliban, they're not really trying to hide this. They don't seem to be ashamed or apologetic about this at all.

WARD: Not only are they not ashamed and not apologetic, they are claiming that the U.S. was in contravention of the Doha Agreement by using a drone strike. And we're learning at CNN from officials that senior Haqqani Taliban figures, we're talking central people who are now governing Afghanistan, were aware of Zawahiri's presence in Central Kabul. Not only that, they actually took steps to conceal that he had been there after the strike. They took steps to restrict access to the house, to relocate his family.

And so there's no question that despite the multiple protestations that we have heard to the country, and you mentioned it, Brianna, we were out on the streets last summer, we were talking to officials, we were talking to Taliban fighters, they were adamant that there would be no further use of Afghanistan as a kind of safe haven for terrorists. But I think the fact that, first of all, ideologically, the Taliban and Al Qaeda had been -- and particularly the Haqqani network have been closely linked for many, many decades.

And also the fact that the Taliban has been so ruthlessly focused on waging its battle against its insurgency in the form of ISIS K, or ISIS Khorasan, it does raise real questions about how the Doha Agreement ultimately came to be and whether they can sustain and really pass the test of time going forward.

AVLON: That is indeed the question, and a lot of the key provisions seemed to not have held. Clarissa Ward, thank you very much.

KEILAR: All right. Joining us now is the former New York City fire commissioner, Thomas Von Essen. His department lost 343 firefighters on September 11th. Sir, thank you so much for being with us on this day.

How are you reacting to this news?

THOMAS VON ESSEN, FDNY COMMISSIONER ON 9/11: You know, it's symbolic for me. I've tried to look at it through the eyes of the families. I don't think the families are going to, you know, be celebrating it. I think they're more upset with the recent things that are going on in Saudi Arabia with the gulf, and their inability to get any movement on some of the court cases they have with Iran and Saudi Arabia. At least they've gotten information from the FBI with records that have been opened up to them, finally.

So, I think that when I hear people describe it as an intelligence success, I don't understand how you can have a $25 million bounty on someone elude you for 20 years and you can at all it a success. I think it shows what a low bar we have for our today intelligence, to me.

AVLON: Tommy, I understand your frustration. I want to talk about the 9/11 families and their reaction to some recent events. But you and I worked together at that time and I remember talking to you a day or two after the attacks and you were shattered. You were also full of righteous fury.

The death of bin Laden a decade ago was overdue. But this -- I found myself being incredibly emotional yesterday because Zawahiri had been hanging out there. The question of why hadn't he been brought to justice, by which I mean killed, that's over. And on a personal level, do you feel some closure, some relief about that?


AVLON: Okay.

ESSEN: I wish I did. I guess I just feel from the perspective of the families that it's so long in coming, so many other things that they've been played by the politicians and all the lies and everything that have gone over the years. I don't think they're going to find that good feeling about it.

Of course, I'm glad this thug is dead, you know, but the fact that it could take so long. And it almost looks like he wanted to get caught to come into Kabul and sit in a -- with his family, it doesn't look like, you know, he was making that much of an effort like he did in the past 20 years anyway to hide out.

AVLON: Or he thought he was invisible or protected.

ESSEN: Yes. I think they did a great job of getting him, I mean, killing him, without killing innocent civilians or may be innocent civilians. I think that's a tremendous accomplishment and I hope that will continue to be the way we function over there, not put our soldiers in harm's way over a lousy, sloppy operations like we've had so many in the past.


KEILAR: Commissioner, it also sounds like you're saying, and we can't ignore the timing of this. This comes just days after there was a big golf tournament from the LIV tour really just in the shadow of ground zero where Saudi money that the 9/11 families have so much issue with, obviously, they feel that they're just being sports washed, invited into America to play golf.

So, I wonder is that really the timing of that? Is that why something like this is cold comfort? ESSEN: I don't know. I do know that that upset the families an awful lot. The fact that they would be so close to the Trade Center, the fact that President Trump would allow it on his golf course and just call it good business. There's just so many things that really bother the families about Saudi Arabia that I think more needs to be made public.

AVLON: One thing you and I talked a lot about and worried about and our colleagues from city hall at that time is the 9/11 amnesia that's creeping in. The fact that trutherism has seemed to have metastasized in some elements of our politics. But I was shocked when I heard ex- President Trump say that we never get to the bottom of 9/11 in an interview this past weekend on his golf course. I want to play that for you and get your reaction.


REPORTER: You're show closely associated with the city of New York. You, of all people, understand the passion surrounding 9/11. What do you say to those family members who protested earlier this week and will be doing so again on Friday?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11, unfortunately, and they should have.


AVLON: What do you make of that?

ESSEN: Well, I think he's talking about the hypocrisy of our country with Saudi Arabia. I mean, obviously we want them as their strategic partner because of oil and their location and because they're better for us than Iran. So, we put up with their deceit, the other evil things that they do because of that relationship. And it's kind of sad but it's not surprising to me when I look at all politics.

AVLON: Tommy, there's nothing to indicate he's talking about the hypocrisy of Saudi Arabia there. I mean, the idea that nobody has gotten to the bottom of 9/11 both led Saudi Arabia off the hook when he's hosting a golf game for them, but also we do know. It was bin Laden, Zawahiri, Al Qaeda. And here's a guy with access to all the intelligence in the world. So, why would he say something like that?

ESSEN: I don't know. I mean, I've always been confused and mystified by our relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I understand on the big picture how important they are. And on the small picture, we have innocent people who have suffered. And will we ever know? I mean, when Khashoggi was murdered and these thugs in Saudi Arabia have said that was it the same intelligence that told you we killed Khashoggi is the one that told you we had nuclear weapons in Iran?

So, I mean, does our intelligence prove anything? Do we get to court and do we actually -- are we able to put anybody in jail or make them pay for it? I mean, they're sovereign nations and they do horrible things and get away with it. AVLON: Well, I understand your frustration. I'll say, speaking for myself, seeing Zawahiri down, looking at the list of Al Qaeda, folks who perpetrated this against the United States 21 years ago, this does feel, at least for me, like a dream of closure, and I hope for some of the families.

ESSEN: I hope so too.

AVLON: Tommy Von Essen, God bless you. It's good to see you, my friend.

KEILAR: Commissioner, thank you.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Malaysia this morning. She's expected to make a highly controversial trip to Taiwan soon even as China vows to retaliate if she steps foot there.

Joining us now Washington Bureau Chief of USA Today Susan Page, she is also the author of the book, Madam Speaker, Nancy Pelosi and Lessons of Power. Susan, it is so great to have you at such a fascinating time, where you have the speaker planning to make this trip with some resistance from the Biden administration. How are you seeing this and her motivations and her deciding to go against what they'd like?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, Nancy Pelosi has a long history of being willing to stand up to presidents, to Republican presidents, and that's Donald Trump, but to Democratic presidents as well. And on the issue of china, she stood up to Clinton here in the White House with George H.W. Bush, And this is something that President Biden is now seeing. You know, she has taken a very tough stance against China, dating back to Tiananmen Square, which was during her first years in the House of Representatives.


And she talks about this as a lesson that she learned from her father. Her father was a junior congressman, very much aligned with FDR, but he stood up to FDR on the issue of Jewish immigration during Hitler's rise. And that was an issue on which history proved Tommy D'Alesandro Jr. to be right. That is a lesson that Nancy Pelosi has never forgotten and one that she says she has applied when it comes to China.

AVLON: And as you say, consistently over the decades despite a lot of use of China as a sort of political invective.

Do you think knowing her, as you do, that she's concerned at all about her safety or the geopolitical impact of this trip?

PAGE: Well, I'm sure she is. You know, we're waiting for her plane to land in Taiwan. This is a perilous moment, a lot of tough rhetoric coming from China, chances of military risk, of unintended consequences. So, yes, lots of concern there, I think, about her safety. But that hasn't swayed her. You saw her defiance to the January 6th rioters as well. You know, Nancy Pelosi is somebody with a pretty -- like her politics or not, somebody with a pretty stiff spine.

And, yes, there will be geopolitical repercussions from this, during her visit and afterwards. But, you know, I think in her mind, standing up for our democratic ally in Taiwan is worth it.

KEILAR: Susan, do you think this is all bad for the Biden administration? What I mean by that is, they say the military thinks it's a bad idea for Nancy Pelosi to go. She says, I'm going anyway. They're on the record dissuading her. But then the U.S. also sends this message of Nancy Pelosi being able to go and being the highest ranking official who has gone.

PAGE: Yes, that's right. Of course, good luck telling her she couldn't go. They may have finally realized that that wasn't go to work. But, you know, let's recognize that Joe Biden, three times as president, has gotten so far out in defense of Taiwan saying the U.S. would respond to an attack on Taiwan militarily, that the White House had to go back and walk back his statements there. So, her stance here may be pretty consistent with what the president thinks in private. It's just inconsistent with this policy of strategic ambiguity that we followed for so many years with China.

KEILAR: Susan, it is always so great to see you. Thank you so much for your insights here, Susan Page.

AVLON: Thank you.

KEILAR: Parts of Kentucky are facing even more flood risks this morning as hundreds of people remain still unaccounted for. We're going to speak to a man whose family is still trapped by that water.

AVLON: And soon, the parents of a child murdered in the Sandy Hook shooting are expected to testify against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

And a capitol rioter getting the longest sentence yet of any of the other defendants.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trump deserves life in prison if my father is imprisoned for this long.




AVLON: The catastrophic flooding in Kentucky continues. A total of 37 people are confirmed dead and the governor of Kentucky says that hundreds more remain unaccounted for.

Scenes like this one, washed out and destroyed roads are making rescue efforts nearly impossible from the ground. A flood watch is still in effect this morning. And joining us now, Zack Hall, Knott County, Kentucky, some of his family members are still trapped. Zack, what can you tell us about your family and whether they're able to get any help?

ZACK HALL, KNOTT COUNTY, KENTUCKY RESIDENT: Well, thankfully, volunteers from all across American came in and they were able to clear a path to the immediate family. They were able to get my granny out. She's my number one concern. But I still have aunts and uncles that are stuck in hollers that are diabetics, they need insulin. I went to visit one yesterday. I was lucky enough to get up there with an ATV, but there was no road in this holler.

And that's what people need to understand is the infrastructure is completely destroyed and it makes relief efforts impossible right now.

AVLON: So, your aunt and uncle with diabetes are stuck. And the only way you can reach them is through diabetes. To they have the insulin they need or is that running low?

HALL: Yes, they do right now. They do right now and a lot of other people. I mean, the population here is mostly over 50, mostly diabetic. And the state police are having to go in on ATVs and through helicopters just to deliver insulin. So, it's a major concern and it's just how do you reach these people if they need something quick, quick enough, because everybody here is just devastated.

You're looking at an area of 2,000 square miles between the five counties that's been declared a disaster. And you think 2,000 square miles of windy road, most washed out. All of the bridges, pretty much, taken out. I think 70 percent of the bridges just in Knott County have just been taken out. So, it's just starting here.

The shock and aw of the flood is over and I hope people don't give up on us and they keep helping. We just need hands to get to these people. We need more people to get to people that we need to get out of the hollers.

AVLON: Yes. The help is only beginning. You are not alone. But as you say, the work is just beginning.

You also say that you're concerned that the death toll will rise even as the water recedes because of heat and power outages. Explain a little bit more.

HALL: So, with the infrastructure here, the power lines that keep connecting us to these hollers, and they can only get to so many with the population we have. The heat rising once the rains go away, which every night this week, it's supposed to rain.


We go to sleep hoping that we're not going to wake up and it's another flood washing the work that we've done away. And with the heat, once it dries up for the day, it's just muggy, humid. People will suffocate. A lot of people on oxygen that don't have power are already suffering. I think the worst is still to come if we aren't able to clear paths and get to these people.

AVLON: And tell me more about the extent of power outages in your community, because the focus so far has been a lot on the water and the infrastructure damage. But you're right, without power, that all compounds quickly.

HALL: Well, there's just no power in this area. The flooding was so bad, the power companies weren't able to come in and start repairing it yet. They've started from the outside working their way in. And they're finally starting to get to us. I got power yesterday, but we still have no water. All of these little hollers still have no power. My family that's trapped up in wolf den, they have no power. Holly Bush has no power. It's just -- and you can't -- I mean, the trucks can't get up to them. They can't get to the poles that's been broken by homes that's washed into them, cars washed into them. It's going to take some time.

I'm surprised that we've gotten so much power back that we have so far so quickly, but on top of that, water lines that are all busted and stuff, those won't be repaired for a while.

AVLON: Tell us what you need, what people can do to help you in your community right now.

HALL: I mean, the biggest thing they can do is just come and help. Like if they've got time, to me, time is the most valuable thing somebody can offer to somebody. We're so thankful for all that these people are sending, all the relief efforts that are coming, but we just need hands everywhere.

It's not like what you see in other natural disasters. Other places, hurricanes, tornadoes, they hit a spot and it's concentrated. This flood is spread out over all of Southeast Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia. All of these little hollers are full, so you can't get to people. And now that the water has going down, people with razors, (INAUDIBLE), if they can just come and help, help us move things, help us clear paths, help us deliver water, food, medicine to people, pull people out that want to leave the area, we just need as many hands on deck as we can have.

AVLON: That's what Americans do in a crisis. You're not alone. Zack Hall, thank you very much for joining us, be well.

HALL: Thank you.

AVLON: All right. A man who brought a gun to the Capitol during the insurrection just got handed the longest prison sentence yet. We're going to be joined by his son who turned his father in, that's next.

KEILAR: And a fundraiser for an NRA-affiliated group was planning to raffle off a weapon similar to the one used to kill 21 students and teachers in Uvalde. The emotional calls for it to be canceled.


ANGEL GARZA, FATHER OF UVALDE VICTIM AMERI JO GARZA: My daughter died still calling me daddy. She wasn't old enough to even get to the stage to call me dad. This isn't something that should even be discussed, guys.