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Hurricane Fiona Devastates Puerto Rico; New Video Shows Republican Operatives with Attorney for Former President Trump Spending Hours Inside Restricted Area of Georgia Elections Office; Migrants Continue to be Sent to Sanctuary Cities from Southern States; President Biden Answers Interview Question regarding His Running for Reelection. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 08:00   ET



LADA GAGA, SINGER: I'm sorry we didn't get to do the epic performance of "Rain On Me" in the rain, but what's more worth it to me is life.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Fiona growing even more dangerous overnight. Good morning to viewers here in the U.S. and around the world. It's Tuesday, September 20th, and I'm Brianna Keilar with John Berman.

Fiona is now a major category three hurricane with 115-mile-per-hour winds. It's taken aim now at Turks and Caicos after devastating Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Much of Puerto Rico is in the dark this morning. In the D.R., more than a million people have no running water. The storm dumped as much as 30 inches of rain on parts of Puerto Rico, and that triggered catastrophic flooding and mudslides. And it hasn't stopped raining. Fiona's outer band is still lashing Puerto Rico.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: At least four deaths reported from the storm so far. Emergency crews have rescued more than 1,000 people. The efforts are still ongoing as responders try to get to people in hard to reach areas. Parts of Puerto Rico are still recovering from hurricane Maria that made landfall there five years ago today.

KEILAR: CNN's Leyla Santiago is live for us in San Juan. Leyla, what are you hearing?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna and John, as I've checked in with families this morning, if you were in San Juan, the metropolitan area, there is a small portion of areas that have had power restored. They are getting water back this morning. But if you are in the interior, if you were on the southern coast really hit hard by hurricane Fiona, there is still no power, no water. There are still people at shelters, and there are still crews trying to get access to some areas because of that flooding.

I know you went over a lot of the numbers in terms of how much water has come down, the deaths that have been reported, but on the island right now, the big question is, how quickly can crews work to get that power back and get water back to the rest of the island, especially since it is still raining on and off throughout Puerto Rico.

So as I have spoken to people this morning, the question is when will this stop, when will the help arrive? And everybody has taken note of the timing of this. Today marks five years exactly. In fact, I was standing right here five years ago when hurricane Maria just slammed this island and knocked off power for some people for up to 11 months. And so that speaks to the anxiety and the fear that many people have when they see the images like what you're playing right now. It really kind of captures the trauma that so many people have, fearing the worst of what could come given that this is not over yet.

So today, you will see power crews trying to get at that power grid, trying to get things restored. But even government officials have told us that it could be days, and there really are no guarantees as to when power will be restored. Many people just wondering how long this will actually last in the recovery. Brianna, John?

KEILAR: And it feels like Maria was just yesterday. And here you see the island dealing with this all over again. Leyla, we know that you'll stay on top of this as you're watching what's happening in Puerto Rico. Thank you for the report.

BERMAN: So this morning, new video shows Republican operatives working with an attorney for former President Trump spending hours inside the restricted area of a Georgia elections office. This was the same day that a voting system there was breached. CNN's Drew Griffin has been covering the story, and now Drew, you the latest on this new video.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it just continues to develop, John. This all happened on January 7th, 2021, the day after the Capitol insurrection. What it could mean for the future of voting is what is so concerning to voting experts.


GRIFFIN: The newly obtained surveillance video shows a Republican county official and a team of operatives working for Trump attorney Sidney Powell inside a restricted area of the local elections office in Coffee County, Georgia. Among those seen, Cathy Latham, a former GOP chairwoman of Coffee County who is under criminal investigation for posing as a fake elector in 2020. Latham previously claimed she was not personally involved in the breach, but the video appears to undercut that claim, showing her inside as a team of Republican operatives work on computers near election equipment and proceed to access voting data.


Scott Hall, an Atlanta bail bondsman and Fulton County Republican poll watcher is one of the people who spent hours inside the restricted area, and in audio obtained by CNN, Hall later described what he did.

SCOTT HALL, ATLANTA BAIL BONDSMAN: I'm the guy that chartered the jet to go down to Coffee County to have them inspect all of those computers. And I've heard zero, OK. I went down there. We scanned every freaking ballot.

GRIFFIN: The Georgia secretary of state's office calls what happened in Coffee County criminal behavior, and a state criminal investigation is under way. But election experts say the damage could be even bigger than the illegal accessing of voting equipment in Georgia and other parts of the country. These operatives may be undermining the security of elections in the future.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the key defenses to an attack on electronic voting machines is that in most cases to complete a successful attack, you need physical access to the machines. And so these efforts to unlawfully gain access to the machines opens up a new sort of threat that we haven't seen in the past.


GRIFFIN (on camera): We did get an adamant response, John, from Cathy Latham. She's the woman who is all over this video. Her attorney insisting, though, that Ms. Latham has not acted improperly or illegally. This is just one of multiple breaches across the country that all seem to have connections to this effort to keep Donald Trump in office. Investigations under way in several swing states where, John, this type of activity was taking place almost identically.

BERMAN: And Drew, you say it could have an impact on upcoming elections.

GRIFFIN: Yes. There is some danger to the physical opening of these computers, the stealing of software, whatever they did, the physical thing. But what election officials are really worried about is the undermining of the confidence in the election itself. These people continue to blast out lies and misinformation about voting in this country, about machines that switch votes, et cetera, et cetera. It's a bunch of baloney, but they are just deteriorating at the people who are getting this information. They start to believe that the elections are all rigged, and therefore, they lose faith in our democracy.

BERMAN: Right, it seems to be in some cases an intentional effort to undermine the confidence in the system. Drew Griffin, thank you so much for staying on top of this.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, John.

KEILAR: Authorities in Texas this morning launching a criminal investigation into the transportation of dozens of Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.


SHERIFF JAVIER SALAZAR, BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: I believe that they were preyed upon. Somebody came from out of state, preyed upon these people, lured them with promises of a better life, which is what they were absolutely looking for. And with the knowledge they were going to cling to whatever hope they could be offered for a better life, to just be exploited and hoodwinked into making this trip to Florida and then onward to Martha's Vineyard for what I believe to be nothing more than political posturing to make a point.


KEILAR: That is Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar. He says the migrants were only flown to Martha's Vineyard for a photo op as they were ultimately left stranded. Lawyers for many of the migrants who ended on the island called the brochures given to their clients highly misleading, saying that they were, quote, used to entice their clients to travel under the guise that resettlement was available to them. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fired back last night.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: They all signed consent forms to go, and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha's Vineyard. It had the numbers for different services on Martha's Vineyard. And then it had numbers for the overall agencies in Massachusetts that handle things involving immigration and refugees. So it was clearly voluntary.

He said they didn't have housing. They said they couldn't accommodate. Let's just say that's true for a minute. Well, what does that mean for these poor towns in Texas? What does it mean for these other places across the country that are seeing influx?


KEILAR: Migrants are also being sent to cities like Chicago and New York City, and CNN has been covering it all.


ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Adrienne Broaddus in Chicago where more than 600 migrants seeking asylum have arrived. Governor J.B. Pritzker says some of the migrants will have a sponsor here in Chicago. Pritzker also added, at least 75 members of the National Guard who are logistic professionals will help the local government and nonprofits on the ground. Pritzker says the buses have been coming nearly every day, and they expect more to come since late August.


He also added those migrants, men, women, and children, have been dropped off overnight at union station in downtown Chicago. When they arrive, they receive a health screening which determines what vaccinations and other health care they may or may not need.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Polo Sandoval in New York City where Mayor Eric Adams says that he is exploring all legal options in the face of mounting migrant numbers. Just in the last several days, roughly 1,000 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City. They are added to the over 11,000 that have already been processed by the Department of Homeland Services here in New York. The city is now considering temporary housing aboard cruise ships. According to Mayor Adams, New York City migrant advocates are calling on the city to reconsider that plan, arguing on Monday that housing asylum seekers on docked ships would impede their access to jobs, to health care, not to mention other community services. They instead are calling on the solution to be the assistance of helping people move out of the shelter system and into permanent housing in order to expand capacity.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Rosa Flores in El Paso where I have spoken to multiple migrants who say they are spending the night or have spent several nights here at the airport. The reasons vary. Migrants say that they are either waiting for their family members to wire them money to buy their tickets to their final destinations, or they're taking on jobs to earn money so that they can pay for their tickets out of town. Officials here say that the number of migrants coming to El Paso is not letting up, so much so, the mayor of this city continues to bus migrants to various destinations across the nation.


KEILAR: And we will be speaking soon to independent senator from Maine Angus King just ahead.

BERMAN: So President Biden addressing the question about his political future, the question, on "60 Minutes." Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, my intention, as I said to begin with, is that I would run again, but it's just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.


BERMAN: With me now, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod. That is not the normal answer you get from presidents in their first term, David.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I'm not sure about this, John. I wonder whether we're making more of this, and I'll talk about why in a second, than we should. He also said at the beginning of that interview there were both legal and political reasons not to make a firm announcement now. And he's right about that. The presidential election is more than two years away. I would suspect, without knowing, that most Americans are not hanging on his words right now about what he will do.

But the political community is, and the reason they are is because it's not a normal situation. He is going to turn 80 years old in December. And that is what provokes questions about his plans. It's not political. The fact is, Barack Obama got, as he said, shellacked in the midterm election in 2010, and came back and won a substantial electoral landslide in 2012. Bill Clinton got more than shellacked in 94 and came back and won in 96. But there are these other questions. And I thought he gave a pretty honest answer, which is, I believe in fate and we'll decide at the appropriate time.

BERMAN: Look, there are legal reasons, because if you say, hey, I'm running for re-election, that automatically kicks into gear some legal issues with fundraising and what not. I get that.

AXELROD: Exactly, and expenses. And yes, what is a White House expense, what is a political -- all of this stuff. So that is one of the big reasons, sure.

BERMAN: So the midterms, seven weeks away, I think exactly from today.

AXELROD: Yes, 49 days, yes.

BERMAN: But who is counting. Listen, who do you think has the momentum?

AXELROD: Well, that's a really good question. I think if you would have asked me that question four months ago, I would have said without question that Republicans were going to have a very big November. If you had asked me six weeks ago, I'd say Democrats had the momentum. And there's no doubt that Democrats are in better shape now than they were then. I think the Dobbs decision, the reemergence of Trump, some of the candidates he's helped nominate, particularly in these Senate races, some governor's races, all give Democrats a better chance than they had.

But there are certain gravitational pulls, John, that are pretty obvious. The president's approval rating, about 42 percent, a shade above 42 percent on the average, inflation being what it is, people's attitudes towards the economy, and the historical record that incumbent parties don't do well in midterm elections.


So, it's hard to say right now. I think we have a -- you know, a closer election than we expected. Many of the races that are going to decide the U.S. Senate are very, very close. And so to me, TBD, you know, what's going to happen in November.

BERMAN: Aside from the moral discussion about what Governor Ron DeSantis is doing, I think there is the political discussion, purely electoral discussion that he may be trying to put focus on immigration from other areas that may not be as advantageous to Republicans. Say he sends more planes over the next seven weeks, what's would the impact of that be? And if you were in the business of advising Democrats or the White House to respond, what would you tell the White House how to respond to it?

AXELROD: Yeah. Well, look, this is not a new tactic. We saw President Trump, remember, the whole focus on caravans before the 2018 election. It was successful in terms of rousing his base, the Democratic base came out in larger numbers in that election.

I think this is an attempt to put a focus on that for the midterms. It's also obviously an attempt by DeSantis to raise his profile for a potential race for president in 2024. So I expect he will continue doing this.

I think you have to call it out for the political gimmick that it is. And it is. But I also think it's a mistake to deny that there's a challenge on the border. We have had one for years and years. We have had other surges under the Trump administration as well as the Biden administration.

This problem has not been solved. This problem is a crisis, and it needs to be addressed. And if I were the president, I'd challenge DeSantis and others to sit down and let's talk about how we can actually solve the problem because you can either work to solve the problem or you can exploit it. And right now, Governor DeSantis seems more like he's trying to exploit the problem than solve it.

BERMAN: David Axelrod, great to see you this morning. Thanks so much.

AXELROD: Nice to see you, John. Thanks.

President Biden declared the pandemic over. But does that jeopardize his request for more COVID funding?

Deadly protests erupt in Iran after the death of a 22-year-old woman who was detained by Iran's so-called morality police. We have new details ahead.

KEILAR: Plus, the Utah governor blasting religious bigotry after Oregon fans chant, "F the Mormons" at Saturday's football game.



KEILAR: This morning, at least five people have been killed in Iran amid mass protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman in police custody who allegedly violated the country's conservative dress code. Masha Amini died on Friday at a reeducating center where she was taken for guidance on her attire. Police say she died of a heart attack.

CNN'S Jomana Karadsheh is joining us now live from Istanbul with the latest.

And this has created so many protests there in Iran.

Jomana, tell us about this.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is so much anger and outrage in Iran and beyond. To give you a bit of background, as you mentioned, Masha Amini was detained last Tuesday. She had arrived in the capital Tehran with her family. They were stopped by a patrol from the morality police who told her family they were taken her away for a family of re-education, reportedly over the way she was wearing her head scarf, that is of course, compulsory in Iran.

And her family says that was the last time they saw her awake. She was later reported in a coma, and she died on Friday.

Now, her family and human rights organizations believe that it is the brutality of the notorious morality police that is to blame for her death. Authorities there have denied this. They have described this as an unfortunate incident.

They have also really tried to push hard this narrative that she died of natural causes, that it was a heart attack. They even released an edited CCTV video on Friday, showing her at that -- a woman who they say is her, at this re-education center, and they say she looked unwell before she collapsed while speaking to an expert there.

Her family says that's impossible, that she was a 22-year-old who was healthy, who didn't have any pre-existing heart conditions. The Iranian president ordered an investigation into her death. We also heard authorities there saying that they carried out an autopsy this weekend, but we have not really gotten the results of that so far, and that is really done very little for so many who don't really trust the authorities, the government's ability to deliver a credible investigation.

And we have seen these protests take place. It's very hard to verify what is going on on the ground in Iran, but we have certainly been able to confirm several protests that have taken place since this weekend, and as you mentioned, one human rights organization saying at least five people have been killed so far and dozens others are injured and it seems these small scale protests are spreading at this point, despite the crackdown by authorities.

We have also seen women on the streets of Tehran coming out and defiantly taking off their head scarves and chanting, Brianna, "death to the dictator".

KEILAR: Yes, and we're seeing that over and over.

Jomana, thank you for that report. We'll continue to follow this in Iran.

A new twist in the case featured in the very popular "Serial" podcast. Why a judge just freed the man convicted of murder after 23 years in prison.

BERMAN: And new evidence of torture chambers in Ukrainian cities abandoned by Russian troops. We're joined by a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who was just briefed on the situation.



BERMAN: President Biden raising some eyebrows by telling "60 minutes" that the COVID pandemic is over.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We're still doing a lot of work on it. It's -- but the pandemic is over.


BERMAN: Republican leaders who were already skeptical about approving more COVID relief funds are telling CNN the president's comments essentially slam the door on that possibility. The Senate Minority Whip John Thune says it begs the question why he's approving other pandemic related measures like student loan forgiveness and cancellations.

And Senator John Cornyn says if it's over, then I wouldn't suspect they need any more money. The White House has pushed for $22.5 billion in additional COVID aid to help with vaccines, testing, and therapeutics.

The House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer defended the president and explained why he believes some COVID relief is still necessary.


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): Of course, some of this is for places that it's not over. We don't want to see it reintroduced in this country.

I guess over is (INAUDIBLE) subjective in terms of what does over mean.