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New Day

Debra Tice is Interviewed about Austin Tice; Heavy Rains Trigger Flash Flooding; Puerto Rico Facing Climate Crisis; Biden signs Bill for Veterans. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired August 11, 2022 - 06:30   ET



JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Dealing with disingenuous trolls (ph) to call it out. And, you know, and so the f-bomb becomes a signifier of authenticity. Someone who's pissed off, is not going to take it anymore, it not going to deal with disingenuous trolls trying to break up debates and making light of mass shootings or saying we shouldn't deal with them. I think it speaks to an unmet need in the Democratic base. That - that's the -the Elvis has left the building cheer you heard right there.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Errol, John, thank you so much. This was lovely to have you both here this morning.


AVLON: Thanks.

KEILAR: So the breaking news this morning is that gas prices have finally dropped below $4 a gallon. So, how low are they expected to go because they will go lower, we understand.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And a notable statement from the president ten years after American journalist and former Marine Austin Tice was abducted in Syria. We're going to speak with Austin Tice's mother, next.


BERMAN: For the first time, President Biden is now declaring the U.S. government knows, quote, with certainty that American journalist Austin Tice has been held by the Syrian government and is calling on Damascus to help bring him home. Biden made the statement as the ten- year anniversary of Tice's abduction approaches.


It will be Sunday.

Tice, a freelance journalist and ex-Marine, was abducted while reporting on the war in Syria in 2012. The government of Bashar al Assad has not publicly acknowledged they are detaining him.

Tice was 31 when taken hostage. Today is his 41st birthday. And his mother, Debra Tice, joins us now.

Debra, thank you so much for being with us. I know how hard it must be to spend yet another of his birthdays apart from your son.

When you see that statement from President Biden, that's the first time I've seen that language quite as strident, quite as publicly. We know with certainty he has been held with the Syrian -- by the Syrian government.

What's your reaction to that?

DEBRA TICE, MOTHER OF KIDNAPPED American JOURNALIST AUSTIN TICE: Well, I mean, first of all, I'm just so glad that President Biden has said Austin's name publicly. I think - I think that was the first time in that statement. And I think that it's an indication from the president that the United States government is ready to engage with Syria to bring Austin home.

BERMAN: I know you met with President Biden earlier this year. I am curious, when you see what the United States has done to bring Trevor Reed home, a prisoner exchange, when you see the offer made to bring Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan home, what's your reaction to that when your son is still not home?

TICE: Well, I think it's great good news. I think it indicates that this administration understands that in order to bring people home there's going to have to be engagement, negotiation and concession. I think they've demonstrated the president is willing to make a hard decision and get that done. And so, I think it's really uplifting. I -- you know, Trevor is also a Marine and I told him he did his brother a good one by paving a highway for Austin to come home.

BERMAN: And Trevor, of course, is just such a nice human. We've had him on here before and I'm sure he's thinking about Austin basically nonstop.

Do you feel that the same effort is being made to bring Austin home as has been made to bring those people home who are or have been in Russia?

TICE: Well, you know, the big difference, John, is that they are acknowledged detained and so I think we're going to hear a lot more about them, but I'm not sure that there's a heavyweight of difference in the effort.

BERMAN: I do understand that.

Now, I want to read this off a page because I want to get it right. It's from an article in "The Texas Tribune." And, again, it's the first time I've seen something like this. It's a quote from an official from Lebanon suggesting there was an offer of a proof of life in negotiations here. This is the quote. I'm going to read this. A State Department official secretly traveled to Damascus and met with the Assad regime in 2020. No progress was made. But Lebanon's general security chief, who brokered and attended the meeting, told "The Texas Tribune," quote, we were able to do something positive there. I'm talking about a promise of proof of life. That's how it works. Step by step. In cases like this one, we have to be very patient.

Talk to me about your reaction to that and the acknowledgment of this sort of back and forth there.

TICE: OK. But, first of all, John, I'd like to say it's "Texas Monthly." It's a magazine.

BERMAN: I'm sorry.

TICE: "The Tribune" is a newspaper.

BERMAN: I'm sorry.

TICE: But that's OK. It's just the woman that wrote that is very special to us.

And when she told me that he had told her that, I was entirely shocked. I had never heard that from anyone before. And I know that "Texas Monthly" does profound due diligence. And so there's every reason to believe that that happened.

Why weren't the parents told? Why - why wasn't that acted on? It's just another -- it's just another crushing revelation that -- that was back in September of 2020. Almost two years ago. Two more years for Austin. It's almost unbearable, John.

BERMAN: Each minute must be unbearable.

It is his birthday today. What is your message to your son on his 41st birthday?

TICE: I'm just so honored to be his mom. I'm so glad he was born. It's one of the most precious days in my whole life was when I finally met him eye to eye and held him in my arms. This is a day to celebrate because a really wonderful human being came into this world. And I had the incredible honor of being his mom.


So, it's a great day.

BERMAN: We look - we look forward to that day when you can hold him in your arms again.

TICE: Oh, me, too. Me, too.

BERMAN: Debra Tice, thank you so much for being with us this morning.

TICE: Thank you so much for having me, John. Thank you.

BERMAN: So much strength.

Heavy rain and flash floods wreaking havoc in the nation's capital and the surrounding areas.

KEILAR: Plus, more on our big story, who is the informant in the Trump inner circle who tipped off the Feds before the Mar-a-Lago search? We're going to speak with a former insider.


KEILAR: Heavy rain has triggered flash flooding in several parts of the country, including Kentucky once again and the entire D.C. region and Maryland as well, where travel was quite chaotic as water levels quickly rose.

Let's go to Chad Myers for the latest here.


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: At the very wrong time of day.


Evening rush. Boy, the radar was really lit up over D.C. Two to three inches in just two hours yesterday. Now, things have calmed down significantly right now, but there is some rain across parts of New Jersey and even parts of central New York. We will take those showers. It has been very dry there.

This weather brought to you by Safelite, your vehicle glass and recalibration experts.

A cold front is coming. Finally. The first one maybe it will feel a little bit like fall. Morning lows will be in the 60s behind this cold front. It will come through, kick off a few scattered showers across the deep south today but nothing really all that flash flooding.

But take a look at this, temperatures in the 80s and morning lows 60s. Take that even in D.C., New York, Philadelphia, all about the same.


KEILAR: All right, Chad, thank you.

BERMAN: This morning, almost two thirds of the European Union and Britain are under drought conditions. That's about the size of India, bigger than Alaska, Texas and California combined. About 46 percent of this land is under a drought warning, another 17 percent is under a more severe alert level where vegetation is stressed.

The new data comes as the world grapples with a world food crisis only just abating as Russia lifts its blockade of grain exports from Ukraine. Extreme weather and supply chain issues have only worsened that crisis.

KEILAR: Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, beach erosion is destroying the island at an alarming rate after the -- after the island has suffered so many other disasters as well. Puerto Rico's Climate Change Council is sounding the alarm here with its latest assessment.

Let's get to Leyla Santiago for the very latest on what they are facing. LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, when I talked to the

Puerto Rico Climate Change Council, they add to that list of things they've dealt with related to climate change, droughts, property loss, a very vulnerable ecosystem. This is for the island that is in the Caribbean, home to more than 3 million U.S. citizens. A population they point to as being resilient, but they question how resilient can they continue to be when the forces of nature continue to put more and more pressure on them. They call Puerto Rico the canary in the coal mine.


SANTIAGO (voice over): Off the tropical waters of Puerto Rico --

SANTIAGO (on camera): Do you see this as an emergency?


SANTIAGO (voice over): Ernesto Diaz of the Puerto Rico Climate Change Council warns beach erosion is destroying the island of enchantment at an alarming rate. In fact, the very ground we walked on here was gone the next day.

SANTIAGO (on camera): This was all connected. We talked from here to over here with sand underneath our feet. And coastal erosion has taken it away, leaving this house very vulnerable on the beach. And it makes the point that the people of Puerto Rico need something done now.

SANTIAGO (voice over): The local government has deemed this neighborhood an emergency zone for 25 homes because of coastal erosion. It's the latest crisis on an island caught in the crosshairs of climate change, destructive hurricanes, sea level rise, flooding, extreme heat. The results of a planet that is warming.

DIAZ: Small islands, like Puerto Rico, do not need, you know, much of the greenhouse gases that are causing the problem, but we are the first ones that feel the impacts.

SANTIAGO (on camera): Climate change, what does that mean to you?

EDWIN COTO, LOIZA, PUERTO RICO, RESIDENT: Well, we believe it because we've seen it.

SANTIAGO (voice over): Edwin Coto lives further east in Loizaa town where roughly half of the population lives in poverty according to the U.S. census. He's watched the beaches shrink, the sidewalks crumble in front of the home he's lived in for 60 years because of the coastal erosion.

COTO: One storm it would wipe this road out.

SANTIAGO: Down the street, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently built this rock barrier designed to prevent erosion, but Coto will not benefit from that protection since his house falls just outside the project's boundaries. SANTIAGO (on camera): So you've had politicians, decision-makers,

government officials come here and you've shown them all of this. Do you feel like they --

COTO: We all have shown them.

SANTIAGO: Do you feel like they're listening?

COTO: Like I say, they tell you that they're listening, they sound really, really nice, they say a lot of stuff, but don't come up with nothing.

MICHAEL S. REGAN, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I would say to him that after these conversations I'm going back to Washington, D.C., and my staff will be following up in a matter of weeks.

SANTIAGO (voice over): That's the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Administrator Michael Regan. He visited Puerto Rico as part of his Journey to Justice Tour, an effort to shed light on environmental issues that disproportionately affect people in marginalized communities.

REGAN: I know that these people have faced systemic racism. I know that these people have faced environmental injustice. And I know that we have to do something about it.

SANTIAGO: Part of the solution, he says, resources from the bipartisan infrastructure law, more than $50 billion in funding that can tackle issues like flooding.


But on the island repeatedly battered by climate change, an island where the government said more than half of its beaches are experiencing erosion, even before Hurricane Maria, skepticism remains.

COTO: We want to hear specific, when are you going to do something? When? We don't even care what. When? When are you going to start doing something? Because anything they do is better than nothing.


SANTIAGO: And, you know, Edwin there stressing frustration with all levels of government. For Puerto Rico's part two years ago they passed a law to address climate change, but when I spoke to one University of Puerto Rico researcher yesterday, she said they are far from where they need to be in terms of implementation of that law.

John. Brianna.

KEILAR: Such an important report, Leyla, thank you for bringing that to us.

BERMAN: So, did someone inside Donald Trump's orbit tip off investigators to the existence of more classified documents at Mar-a- Lago? We have new developments in the FBI search ahead. KEILAR: Plus, I sat down with Veterans' Affairs Secretary Denis

McDonough and the military families affected by burn pits who just won a major fight.


DENIS MCDONOUGH, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: We're going to take care of our vets and their family members long after the war is over.




KEILAR: It was a really bitter-sweet victory lap yesterday for veterans who have fought for years now for health care and disability benefits to cover diseases linked to smoke from burn pits they breathed in during their military service. President Biden signed into law the PACT Act, or more precisely the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promises to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act.


KEILAR (voice over): Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson wasn't at the White House to see the bill named for him become law, making health care and disability benefits available to as many as 3.5 million veterans who were exposed to burn pits, but his daddy doll was. Heath's daughter, Briel (ph), now nine, clutching it as she stood with President Joe Biden and her mom, Danielle, at the signing ceremony.

DANIELLE ROBINSON, WIFE OF SFC HEATH ROBINSON: She takes it everywhere she goes since daddy's passing, and it's been with us on, you know, trips and some vacations, it's been to the beach.

KEILAR: Robinson died of a rare lung cancer in 2020 after prolonged exposure to the toxic smoke from the burn pits the military used to dispose of trash, including plastics and other known carcinogens, doused in jet fuel, both in Iraq and Kosovo where he served in the Ohio National Guard. And Briel (ph) was watching as her father's illness took its toll.

ROBINSON: And she, at times, found her daddy in pools of blood on the bathroom floor from his uncontrollable bloody noses. If he got one, they would last for sometimes an hour or two. She saw so much that a three, four, five-year-old should not have to see.

KEILAR: Retired Army Captain Le Roy Torres suffered what was widely dismissed as a rocky crud almost immediately after deploying.

LE ROY TORRES, CO-FOUNDER, BURN PITS 360: They told me the same thing. They said you're -- you went to the Iraqi crud. You know, your body, you're climatizing to the environment. It's going to take you a couple of weeks. But I was quarantined for three days with a horrific respiratory infection.

KEILAR: While you were in the combat zone?


KEILAR: So you were already feeling it there?

TORRES: Right.

KEILAR: And then later what happened?

TORRES: Then I started -- then the headaches. I started waking up with the headaches in the morning towards the end of my deployment. And I remember coming back home and three weeks after I was home I was in the emergency room.

KEILAR: Torres later had to quit his job in law enforcement after he was too sick to work and he nearly ended his life in 2016. He had served in Balad (ph), where the burn pike was 10 acres in size. Major Beau Biden of the Delaware Army National Guard served nearly a year not far away and spent time in Balad. He died of brain cancer in 2015.


KEILAR: Biden has long said he believes burn pits killed his son.

BIDEN: Because of his exposure to burn pits, in my view, I can't prove it yet, he came back with stage four glioblastoma.

KEILAR: Now, veterans and their families don't have to prove a connection. For 23 new conditions, including glioblastoma, the VA will give them the benefit of the doubt so they can receive care and, in some cases, disability benefits. All veterans who get care through the VA will be screened for toxic exposure and there's funding for expanded research.

DENIS MCDONOUGH VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: So, the whole idea, when President Lincoln established the Veterans Administration was that we're going to take care of our vets and their family members long after the war is over. And that's the cost of war.

KEILAR: But it took so long to get here. Before media stories on burn pits first began popping up in 2008, the Pentagon knew breathing in these fumes could be dangerous, but kept using burn pits. Many service members described their symptoms being ignored or misdiagnosed within the VA system, forcing them to seek expensive outside care.

TORRES: Having so many doors shut in our face, the delaying to now, being told that it's in my head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did our job. They need to do theirs.

KEILAR: The final hurdle, last month, as desperate veterans and their allies took to sleeping on the Capitol steps to pressure Republicans to clear a road block in the Senate as their most vocal supporter, comedian and activist Jon Stewart, led a shame campaign.


JON STEWART, COMEDIAN AND ACTIVIST: America's heroes, who fought in our wars, outside sweating their asses off, with oxygen, battling all kinds of ailments while these (EXPLETIVE DELETED).