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Death Toll Rises To 27 After Search Resumes At Collapsed Condo; Tropical Storm Nears Florida As Search Resumes In Surfside; Biden Touts Progress Against COVID-19 As Americans Celebrate July Fourth Holiday Under Cloud Of Delta Variant; Trump Appears To Acknowledge Facts Of Prosecutors Criminal Tax Fraud Case Against His Family Business; Eleven Face Charges After Hours-Long Armed Standoff That Partially Closed I-95 In Massachusetts. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired July 05, 2021 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And experts are also warning our new freedom from COVID-19 is clouded by the fast-spreading delta variant.
And an eye-popping new admission by former President Trump, he seems to be acknowledging the central facts of the new criminal tax fraud case against his company.
We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. This is a Situation Room special report.
We begin this hour at Surfside, Florida, with CNN's Rosa Flores, she is on the scene for us. Rosa, 27 deaths, 27 deaths have now been confirmed, 118 people are still missing. Update our viewers on the very latest. You're there.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of mixed emotions here after the demolition of this partial building. Look, yes, it did expand the search, but for the surviving families it was a devastating move, some of them telling us that they couldn't bear to watch everything they owned come crashing down in a matter of moments.
FLORES (voice over): Tonight thanks to the demolition Sunday of the last standing portion, the search of the Champlain Tower South rubble is widening.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FL: Truly, we could not continue without bringing this building down. As we speak, the teams are working on that part of the pile that was not accessible before the building was demolished.
FLORES: The controlled demolition, authorities say, a necessary step, given the threat of approaching Tropical Storm Elsa whose impacts could arise starting tonight.
MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: That storm could initiated a conversation about the necessity to bring that building down because the worst thing that could happen was to have a storm come in and blow that building down on top of the pile.
FLORES: A lot of emotions for the surviving residents as families were not allowed in to get their belongings.
BURKETT: The icing on the cake for their disaster, you know, they were evacuated, they saw their friends and neighbors, some of them killed, some of them missing, and now they have lost everything.
FLORES: Absent the teetering structure, first responders were allowed for the first time to target areas deemed no search zones due to their dangerous proximity to the once standing partial structure.
CAPT. IGNATIUS CARROLL, PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICER, CITY OF MIAMI: Now that that tower has been brought down, we're able to focus our efforts on that area that was unable to be searched.
FLORES: On day 12, officials are still calling it a search and rescue mission. But the commander of the Israeli search team preparing surviving families for the worst.
COL. GOLAN VACH, COMMANDER, ISRAELI NATIONAL RESCUE UNIT: I said to the families two days ago that the chances to find somebody alive is close to zero. I'm realistic, but we are still full of hope.
FLORES: New internal documents shedding new light on the urgent need for $15 million worth of repairs that were delayed for years. One of the slides in a series of presentations from the fall and winter of 2020 was titled, why we have to do all of this now.
Another section said, the driveway on top of the garage had poor drainage, design flaw. And a third said there is no waterproofing layer over the garage in the driveway or any area except the pool deck and planters. This has exposed the garage to water intrusion for 40 years. Where there is waterproofing, it has failed. Water has gotten underneath and caused additional damage to the concrete.
When asked if the designed flaws referenced in documents were being investigated, officials said it is too early to talk about the investigation.
ALFREDO RAMIREZ, DIRECTOR, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY POLICE: We're focusing on recovering victims right now. But this will be a long process, as has been stated, and it will be very thorough.
FLORES: But with every troubling unearthed, says Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, the concerns grow over the occupied Champlain Towers North, a sister building that was built about the same time.
BURKETT: There is some anxiety about the sister building, which really has got the same name, the same developer, the same plans, probably the same materials. And until we know why this building fell down, that one is in question.
FLORES (on camera): Wolf, I want to show you some video that I just obtained from Florida Task Force Two. It shows the footprint of the demolition. This video was shot earlier today and provided to us. You can see and just how officials had described to us that the demolition was going to happen very close to the base of the actual building. If you look closely, even the front sign of the building is still standing.
Wolf, I have been in contact with search and rescuers here today all day. They tell me that regardless if it's been raining or the sun has been shining here, their search and rescue mission continues. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Rosa, thanks very much. You have been doing an excellent, excellent job for all of us from the very beginning.
We'll stay in close touch with you. Thank you very much.
Joining us now, one of the top officials keeping the public informed about the condo disaster, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you are doing.
Can you tell us, first of all, whether the bodies recovered today were found because search and rescue teams were finally able to access new areas of the rubble pile after the demolition?
CAVA: Thank you, Wolf. Exactly, that is what happened. This was the area that we were very, very eager to get to. We hadn't been able to get to it because that rubble pile was holding up that remaining tower. So, until the tower came down, we could not put our people there to search and rescue safely.
And also, this is the area where the fire had occurred. So there is -- it was critical that we get there. And today starting fully at 1:00 A.M., they were there exploring that pile and, of course, they did find some additional bodies.
BLITZER: When you and I spoke on Friday, Mayor, you spoke about it being a while, maybe even weeks before the demolition could go forward. Was it solely the possibility of a direct hit by this Tropical Storm Elsa that accelerated the timeline, because it went very, very quickly?
CAVA: So we did not know about this method of demolition. It came to us through the Florida Department of Transportation contractor that had worked with this demolition expert. And at the time that I announced that our engineers were telling us the timeline, which would have been, of course, a few weeks, this came up immediately thereafter. And we all moved on it quickly.
I want to say that the governor was clear from the beginning, he would absorb the cost. He thought it was so important and we all did to move forward. Yes, the storm was approaching. We did not want this building to fall where it may. We wanted it to be controlled, and we were assured that this company could bring it down, as was proven to be correct in that very small footprint. BLITZER: You are getting a lot of praise for your decision, which I know wasn't easy by any means. What can you tell us, Mayor, about changes to the search and rescue strategy after the demolition?
CAVA: So, they have been in on this area, the pile by the building. That's been the primary focus. But they have also continued to explore other areas. And I do want to go back and, of course, acknowledge the pain and suffering of those who lost all their belongings as a result of this demolition. And the building was so unstable, it was actually shifting. The supports were wholly inadequate and it was extremely, extremely dangerous to leave that building standing.
BLITZER: Have you spoken with -- and I know you have -- with members, family members of the missing after the remaining structure was demolished? And I know so many of the surviving families who managed to get out, as you correctly point out, as we heard from Rosa Flores, were upset they couldn't at least go back into their apartments and bring out their cherished valuables.
CAVA: Of course. Look, this situation is unprecedented, unimaginable. It's a catastrophe all around. Many, many people have died. A few may still be there in the rubble and, of course, those who lost their belongings, and there is enough suffering to go around. And we are suffering with them. We have been in constant communication with the families, those who have come to pray and hope for their loved ones and those who were evacuated from the building, all of them.
BLITZER: You are the mayor of Miami-Dade County, a huge county. What is the long-term plan, mayor, to deal with the possibility, maybe the real possibility, that many more condo buildings in your area will be found to have major structural problems?
CAVA: So, as a county, we are responsible for those buildings outside of the cities, but we also play a role in bringing people together. We're talking with our sister cities.
We're looking at things we could do that would improve the standards for review, the standards for reporting, the qualifications of those doing the inspections, and so on many, many factors that we will be looking at in my administration, the county commission, the state government, all will be looking at ways to improve this process so that we know that people will be safe.
We have already done our deep dive in our 40-year recertification process at the county of 40 or so buildings that we identified. Only one had significant risk, and that was for balconies. We closed off the balconies but we did not evacuate many buildings. North Miami Beach went ahead and with a late recertification that they received, the signs were that they should evacuate, and that is what they did.
BLITZER: Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, good luck. We're praying together with you. I know you got a lot going on. Thanks so much for joining us.
CAVA: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in two experts right now. Rick Slider is a structural engineer and Joe Hernandez is the former chief of Medical Operations for FEMA Search and Federal Task Force based in Florida.
Joe, based on what you just heard from the mayor, does it look like officials, from your perspective, made the right call by demolishing the remaining part of this structure as soon as possible so they could speed up the search process?
JOE HERNANDEZ, FORMER MEDICAL CHIEF, FLORIDA TASK FORCE II FEMA URBAN SEARCH AND RESCUE: Absolutely, Wolf. They made a fantastic decision. Thank you, Mayor, and thank you to those involved that opened up another quadrant for them to be able to access that pile.
I know that she did allude to the fact that that pile was holding up that sister building that was still standing. The remains did act as a raker shore and, of course, bringing that down allowed that void space to be in there and offers a little bit of hope and more prayers that there is a possibility of that miracle to still happen in finding survivors.
BLITZER: We're praying for that miracle, of course, like everyone else.
Rick, let me get your thoughts on the newly revealed documents presented to residents of that Champlain South condo building back in late 2020 showing what was described as major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below the pool deck and entrance drive. Does that tell you anything about a potential cause behind this collapse?
RICK SLIDER, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: It does in part. If you recall in the 2018 report that was done that one of the highlights in there was the fact that the waterproofing was not operating or functioning properly and part of the recommendation was to fully remove that slab. And, again, from my perspective, if I'm removing the entire slab instead of doing it partially, that tells me that's a big problem.
So the presentation or I guess Powerpoint, as I understood it, was identifying those areas of being of concern and is consistent with that report of 2018. So I do believe that that was potentially a factor.
The other issue that comes to play, and I think if you take all the photographs that have been made available to date and you look at the system, potentially, that slab, which was referred to in the report and again in the homeowner's presentation, the condo association's presentation, if those areas had failed, that alone is not necessarily a problem. But they're tied together and potentially have the ability to drag the other components of the building down.
And from my perspective, it looks like the lower level columns were impacted. Those columns rely upon basically the bracing or the lateral support from those slabs. And if that's taken away, the capacity of that column is reduced. And if it is reduced, it potentially could impact support capacity (ph) of the building contribute to the collapse. BLITZER: Rick Slider and Joe Hernandez, gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us as the search continues in Surfside, Tropical Storm Elsa is churning closer and closer to Florida tonight.
Let's check with our CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater. Tom, you are tracking the storm. What is the latest forecast?
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, things are going to start to go downhill, I think, for all of Florida beginning this evening. In fact, already about at 3:00 P.M., 3:30, we had a severe thunderstorm warning for Miami-Dade, and inside that warning, Wolf, a tornado warning. That's the biggest concern, and I'll show you that on radar.
Right now, it is flooding like crazy in West Central Cuba. Rivers are swelling, towns are already swelling, but they have higher terrain. So they're already going to see like 8 to 10, even 15 inches of rain. We're not going to see that. In fact, we have been watching Elsa since Wednesday.
Thursday, it was named, earliest fifth named storm. It was a hurricane briefly in the Caribbean, earliest we've had a hurricane in the last nine years. But the shift -- track has been shifting westward, which is good, landfall Wednesday morning north up around Cedar Key or just north of that. This is not going to become a hurricane, I believe. It's going to stay as tropical storm. But there is still a risk.
The surf now, we're looking at the storm surge up to five feet in areas of red. Heavier rainfall will be on that gulf coast side. But, again, the tropical storm force winds are going to stay away from Surfside. This is still where they're sustained. It doesn't mean they're not going to see gusts, and that's the issue. The probably is offshore for the stronger winds, but it is not zero.
In fact, as mentioned, at 3:30 this afternoon, thunderstorms moved in on top of the site. We had the severe thunderstorm warning and the tornado warning. That's the fear going forward. It's not so much the strong winds that you will see at 60 miles an hour on the Keys or 40 to 50 on the west coast, but the chance of rainfall.
I want to show you a radar forecast. It is the outer bands that are still a concern. When they move in tonight, overnight, and it's tomorrow, they're going to be feeding right on shore. This can easily spin up a small tornado that can damage a home, knock out power, take a water spout and throw it on land.
It won't be until tomorrow afternoon that they're going to be in the clear.
They're watching this closely. The National Weather Service will issue the warnings for the crews so they can clear. By tomorrow afternoon, it is safe for them. Then the system moves all the way up the east coast. So, again, a rainmaker for West Florida and heavy amounts of rain on the east coast, looking better and better for the crews there down on Surfside. Wolf? BLITZER: All right. Tom Sater reporting for us, thank you very much.
Just ahead, President Biden marks the July 4th holiday by declaring the nation is close to independence from, but is he celebrating too soon?
And we're standing by for a news conference down in Florida on the condo search and rescue mission.
This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.
BLITZER: Tonight, Americans are wrapping up an extraordinary holiday weekend. President Biden now leading the nation in celebrating July 4th and our progression against COVID-19, but he can't ignore potential threats as the delta variant is spreading and vaccinations are lagging.
CNN's Lucy Kafanov is joining us from Denver right now. Lucy, it's been, what, great to see so many people getting together for the holiday, but there are very real concerns moving forward.
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and those concerns center on how to get unvaccinated Americans to get the jab. We have made tremendous progress in this country in turning the corner in the fight against COVID-19. But the biggest concern right now is how to get unvaccinated Americans vaccinated because that's going to be the biggest key to curbing the spread of this virus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAFANOV (voice over): Despite having missed its target to get at least one shot into 70 percent of adults by July 4th, the White House is celebrating.
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Today, we are closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus.
KAFANOV: Welcoming 1,000 essential workers and military personnel on the south lawn this weekend.
BIDEN: While the virus hasn't been vanquished, we know this, it no longer controls our lives.
KAFANOV: Touting progress in vaccinating just over 67 percent of American adults as the more infectious delta variant continues to spread.
JEFFREY ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We're further along that anyone would have anticipated at this point. If you are not vaccinated, you are not protected. So we're going to double down on our efforts to vaccinate millions of more Americans across July and August. KAFANOV: For the unvaccinated, it is a major threat.
DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY HEALTH: The problem is in areas of the country where you don't have a significant part of the country, and it's particularly young people. And in those places, the delta variant is going to spread because it is highly transmissible and it's going to infect a lot of those people that are not yet vaccinated or have not yet infected with COVID.
KAFANOV: More than 99 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths in June were among unvaccinated people, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you look at the number of deaths, about 99.2 percent of them are unvaccinated.
We have a big country with disparity and the willingness to be vaccinated.
KAFANOV: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Wyoming among those falling behind on vaccinations, prompting fears about a looming surge in cases.
FAUCI: You might expect to spikes in certain regions, in certain states, cities or counties. I don't think you're going to be seeing anything nationwide because, fortunately, we have a substantial proportion of the population vaccinated.
KAFANOV: Thanks to vaccines, America does appear to be on the road to recovery, making the nation's second pandemic birthday celebration look very different from the last.
KAFANOV (on camera): And new data from the Johns Hopkins University shows that states with below vaccination rates have nearly three times the rate of new COVID-19 cases compared to states with higher levels of vaccinations. It is another reminder, another statistical reminder that getting the vaccine is the biggest tool in America's arsenal in turning the corner on the pandemic. Wolf?
BLITZER: So important indeed. All right, Lucy Kafanov reporting for us, thank you very much.
Let's get some analysis from Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Dr. Jha, thanks so much for joining us. Do you agree, first of all, with President Biden when he says we're closer than ever to declaring our independence from COVID, or is it too soon to celebrate?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Wolf, first of all, thanks for having me back. I agree with President Biden. And we have made incredible progress and for parts of the country, the pandemic is largely under control. Places with high vaccination rates I think can feel very good about that. And the country overall has made terrific progress. But there are clearly gaps and there are areas where we need to do more work.
BLITZER: How concerned should we be, Dr. Jha, about places in the country with very low vaccination rates? Will those communities become breeding grounds for new variants?
JHA: Well, we're already starting to see places with low vaccination rates starting to have relatively big spikes from the delta variant. We have seen this in Arkansas and Missouri and Wyoming, many of the states mentioned by Lucy in the last report, those are the places where we will see more hospitalizations and deaths as well, unfortunately. And any time you have large outbreaks, it does become a breeding ground for potentially more variants.
BLITZER: How worried should Americans be right now about this delta variant, especially if they live in a community with low vaccination rates?
JHA: Well, if you are fully vaccinated, no matter where you are, first of all, you are very protected. I would if I were in one of those communities, I would exercise a little bit of caution, avoid large indoor gatherings, places where I might encounter a lot of unvaccinated people.
But if you are fully vaccinated, you really are in much, much better shape. You are very unlikely to get sick or hospitalized or end up dying.
BLITZER: In Los Angeles County, as you know, officials are now encouraging residents to start wearing masks indoors once again even if they have been fully vaccinated. Do fully vaccinated people need to wear masks or take any other precautions? What do you think?
JHA: Yes, this is a little bit controversial. And the way I have thought about this is if you are in a low infection high vaccination area, you don't need to be wearing a mask indoors if you are fully vaccinated. If you're in a place that's having a large outbreak, if I were in Southwest Missouri right now, I'm fully vaccinated, but I would be wearing a mask indoors.
So, it has to be tailored to the local conditions. And when the local conditions are tough, everybody wearing a mask is probably a good idea.
BLITZER: Dr. Ashish Jha, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
JHA: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, did former President Trump give prosecutors a gift by appearing to admit the facts of their tax fraud case against his family business?
And we expect a news briefing any moment now on the Florida condo collapse. We expect it to begin at any moment.
BLITZER: We're expecting a news conference on the Surfside, Florida condo collapse to start at any moment. You are looking at live pictures coming in right now. We will go there once it begins. We will update our viewers on the latest developments.
There's other important news were following as well. Right now, we want to break down the potential legal fallout for former President Trump after he made a rather surprising admission. He appeared to acknowledge the core facts behind new criminal tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Listen to some of what the former president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: They go after good, hard working people for not paying taxes on a company car, company car. You didn't pay taxes on the car or a company apartment. You used an apartment because you needed an apartment because you have to travel too far where your house is. You didn't pay tax. Or education for your grandchildren. I don't even know. Do you have to put -- does anybody know the answer to that stuff?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's talk about that with CNN Senior Legal Analyst, former Federal Prosecutor Laura Coates and CNN Senior Political Analyst Ryan Lizza, the Chief Washington Correspondent for Politico.
So, Laura, the former president once claimed he knew more about taxes than anyone else on earth. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I know more about tax abatements. I know more about taxes than any human being that God ever created.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was back in 2016. Now he claims ignorance while essentially admitting to almost everything prosecutors have alleged. What do you make of that defense?
LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It wasn't that shocking --
BLITZER: Laura, hold on for one moment. We'll get back to you. But the news conference with the mayor of Miami-Dade is beginning.
MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FL: And we're able to report that the search and rescue team has been able to search all sections of the grid on the collapse following the building demolition now that the entire area is safe to search. And so the teams have now removed over 4.8 million pounds of concrete from the pile as they're searching through the evidentiary debris. The bad weather, unfortunately, has caused some temporary pauses of the work, specifically lightning, which, as you know, is not safe for conducting the search effort. It does force us to stop to protect the safety of our first responders.
But through the team's ongoing search efforts today, we have recovered another victim. The number of confirmed deaths is now 28 with 26 identified, 191 accounted for and 117 unaccounted for. And I want to remind everyone once again that our detectives are continuously auditing the list to verify all the reports of potentially missing people and, as a result, these numbers will likely shift.
I'm in awe of the men and women of the USAR task force teams who have been continuing to brave dangerous and changing conditions for 12 days, fire, smoke and now wind and torrential rain. They are continuing the mission and the search of the collapsed area. They have worked under this great difficulty and they have pulled shifts to rotate because that's how much they want to be out there searching.
The first responders are the most frustrated by any delays we have experienced. Truly, they live to save lives. And they have pushed ahead no matter what is thrown in their way. And our community and the whole nation and world is forever grateful to them as we have watched them labor to save lives and find people.
And as we're experiencing now the outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa, we have seen this inclement weather on some tornado warnings across the country. So if you do not need to be out tonight, please try to stay home to avoid any potentially dangerous conditions on the roads. And I also want to remind our community that all county departments will be operating as normal tomorrow.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you, the members of the media, for your own extraordinary efforts over these past 12 days. I know that reporting this tragedy and telling the stories of those who have been lost and those who are grieving is not easy for you either. I have spoken to you. I have seen it in your faces. I know that it's very, very personal for you.
So on behalf of this community, we're deeply grateful for all of you and especially I want to mention to reporters at the Miami Herald and so many other journalists for the care and attention they have given for telling the stories of these individual families and what they have gone through, the impact that it's had and making sure that the world knows that they have lived lives that have now been lost that we celebrate, that we remember. Thank you for helping to remind us of all of our shared humanity and making sure that these stories are not forgotten.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor the news conference. Very strong, powerful words from the Miami-Dade mayor, Daniella Levine Cava. 28 confirmed deaths, 26 of them have now been identified, 117 people still unaccounted for, still missing. Rosa Flores is our Correspondent on the ground for us in Surfside, Florida, right now. 12 days, it seems every day, Rosa, we seem to get one or two or three more confirmed deaths. It is a relatively slow process. Do they anticipate now with the demolition of the rest of that condominium building things will move a little bit more quickly?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. As the mayor just mentioned there, now they are actually searching the entire grid, the entire pile. Before, they had told us that they couldn't access about one-third of the site because of the building and because of the dangers -- the partial building, I should say, and because of the dangers it posed to search and rescue teams.
I can tell you that I have been in contact with some of the search and rescue teams today. And they say that they're focusing on the areas where the bedrooms are. That's where search and rescue teams believe that these individuals, the people, the residents of this building were at 1:30 in the morning when this collapse happened. They are following the voids. They are following the areas where they believe these bedrooms were looking for signs of life.
The other thing that they're doing, and this is very important for the families, is they're also cataloging all of the personal belongings that they have found. Wolf, you and I have talked to some of these families. Some of them, this is the only thing that they will have from their loved ones. And city officials say that they want to make sure that these items are catalogued and they're returned eventually to the families. Wolf?
BLITZER: Yes. And so many of those families, Rosa, as you and I know, they really would have loved, the ones who survived, to go back into their apartments before the building was demolished to find some of their cherished items, photographs, whatever, jewelry, diplomas. But it was deemed simply too dangerous to even allow them to do that, right?
FLORES: You're absolutely right. From the get-go, search and rescue teams said that it was too dangerous to enter this building. Despite those dangers, the building was searched about three times according to officials. They were looking for pets, Wolf, because so many people were hoping to recover their pets. The mayor saying that pets weren't found, even though drones were used as well.
I can tell you that I talked to one man, one survivor this morning by the memorial wall, who said that it was very difficult for him to see that this building, the partial portion of the building was demolished because the one thing, Wolf, that he wanted to recover was a photograph of his mother. He shared with me how every single morning that he saw this picture of his mother, he was re-energized. And now he hopes to recover that picture. Wolf?
BLITZER: Let's hope that happens. All right Rosa, thank you very, very much, Rosa Flores on the scene for us. We will continue our special coverage here in The Situation Room right after this.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:40:00]
BLITZER: All right. Let's pick up our conversation about former President Trump apparently acknowledging the core facts behind new criminal tax fraud charges against his business. Our Senior Legal Analyst, former Federal Prosecutor Laura Coates is still with us along with CNN Senior Political Analyst Ryan Lizza, he's the Chief Washington Correspondent for Politico.
Laura, when I interrupted you, we were talking about former President Donald Trump basically just admitting to almost everything that the prosecutors have accused this company of doing, right?
COATES: Right, and how shocking. I mean this is why defense attorneys is never want their clients talking, let alone to the press, let that alone to a rally. And he essentially does make admissions that could be consequential to the corporation, the organization and, of course, to Allen Weisselberg as well. Remember the charging documents actually talk about Allen Weisselberg performing his task with others. We have not named who that is.
And I got the impression that former President Trump, who said that everybody else knew very -- much less than he did about taxes more than anyone else, that he almost had this attitude of, well, sure, one could essentially evade taxes but what's the big deal, as long as it's not murder? I mean, equating the two of them, obviously, they're distinct and different and there should be accountability. But violating our tax code is also a violation of the law. (INAUDIBLE) knows that in any way that seems like as if he did.
BLITZER: You know, Ryan, he's clearly trying to play this out in the court of public opinion among his base, if you will, using his old tactics to fight this new fight.
Is that right?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, absolutely. This is what obviously he did as president. And because the sort of justice system for presidents is basically political, right, the remedy was impeachment because the Justice Department decided you can't indict a sitting president, you know, I guess that made a lot of sense to treat it purely -- you know, the various controversies that came up during his presidency. It made sense for him to treat it strictly as a political issue.
Obviously as a private citizen where he can be indicted, it is very different. And those rules don't apply. If he gets caught up in the criminal justice system, if these -- if these cases, this prosecutor comes after him, it's, you know, public opinion might be great. It might be on his side. There will be a lot of people angry and aggrieved about it. But it's not going to affect prosecutors' case and as Laura points out might have a detrimental effect on his defense.
BLITZER: You know, Laura, actually, Eric Trump made similar remarks on Fox News last week. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC TRUMP, SON OF FORMER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, these are employment perks. These are -- you know, these are a corporate car which everybody has. I guarantee you people on this network that have corporate cars. I guarantee you there's people in every company in the country that have corporate vehicles. So, this is what they're going after. This isn't a criminal matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So will prosecutors, Laura, be able to use that in their case against the Trump Organization?
COATES: Well, they could. But first of all, there goes that court of public opinion that common man and every woman defense. Who among us has not had a corporate car? Who among has not had education for their children or grandchildren paid for by a company. And notice that Eric did not talk about the latter and talked about the car issue.
It's a little bit murkier when you're talking about corporate taxes. But the idea here, of course, is remember the charging documents, although they have begun of course with Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization, it has not named specific aside from that particular person. So the more people that talk about this issue and essentially confirm what the D.A.'s office already said in an indictment, the worse is for them to say, yes, we knew about certain things and we knew it and it was okay, when the tax code clearly says, it's not.
BLITZER: You know, Ryan, does it sound like former President Trump is using this case as part of a perhaps a political comeback?
LIZZA: You know, I think he would be -- he would find other cases and other things to be angry about and reasons to be aggrieved, right? But he is clearly using this old playbook of, you know, pick your term, the deep state, his enemies on the left trying to take him down and we've seen over and over again that does have a galvanizing effect on his supporters where they do think people are out to get Trump.
And if you watch the media that his supporters tend to play closest attention to, this story is being played in a very, very different way with the Trump organization as essentially a victim.
BLITZER: Ryan Lizza, thank you very much. Laura Coates, thanks to you as well.
And to our viewers, be sure to join Laura later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern when she fills in for Don Lemon on "DON LEMON TONIGHT", 10:00 p.m. Laura, we, of course, will be watching.
Just ahead, new details of an hour's long standoff between an extremist group and police that shut down parts of Interstate 95.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:53:17]
BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning new details of two little known extremist groups including one involved in a nine-hour standoff with police that actually closed part of Interstate 95.
CNN national correspondent Brynn Gingras has the latest.
BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two extremist groups surfacing this holiday weekend.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are on Interstate 95.
GINGRAS: A standoff on the highway in Massachusetts between an anti- government group and police, and a white nationalist hate group marching in the streets of Philadelphia.
MARGARET HUANG, PRESIDENT AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: They pose a real threat to everyone in our communities.
GINGRAS: In Massachusetts, 11 men, including a 17-year-old facing several firearms related charges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everyone remain calm!
GINGRAS: State police there stumbled upon the group early Saturday morning. The men were on the side of the road refueling their trucks with gasoline from canisters they carried with them. Many were wearing full tactical gear and they were armed.
A standoff with authorities unfolded, shutting down the highway and forcing nearby neighborhoods into a shelter in place situation.
COL. CHRISTOPHER MASON, MASSACHUSETTS STATE POLICE: You can imagine 11 armed individuals standing with long guns slung on an interstate highway at 2:00 in the morning, certainly raises concerns and is not consistent with the firearms laws that we have here in Massachusetts.
GINGRAS: In livestreams posted on lines, a member identified their group as the Rise of the Moors, which seems to be connected to the moors movement that claims an 18th century treaty between the U.S. and Morocco grants them special rights.
There is little else known about them, but the Poverty Law Center which tracks extremist groups tells CNN they're gaining followers.
HUANG: They don't get driver's licenses, they don't seek gun licenses, they don't pay taxes to the U.S. government. They try to recruit followers adherence to heir country that they've declared by seeking people who might be down on their luck. GINGRAS: After about nine hours, the standoff ended peacefully but
police seized eight guns, including assault rifles, as the investigation continues into this group with the help of the FBI.
And in the streets of Philadelphia Saturday --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too scared to take the mask off!
GINGRAS: -- a different extremist organization. Around 200 members of Patriot Front who the SPLC identifies as a white supremacist group wore shields, covered their faces, carried flags and chanted about a stolen election.
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: When something is stolen, you believe, rightfully, that you can get it back through violence. And that's what we're seeing across the white supremacy groups across the radicalized right wing groups.
GINGRAS: Police say the group had several combative encounters with the public, including throwing a smoke bomb at one point to run away from authorities.
The mayor of Philadelphia tweeted this: Appalled these groups chose Philly as the place to demonstrate their hatred. Racism, intolerance and hate have no place here.
GINGRAS (on camera): Philadelphia police would not comment how many arrests were with that demonstration. If so, how many.
CNN also reached to both of those groups that you saw on the piece there, Wolf, and w did not hear back from either -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brynn, thank you very much. Brynn Gingras reporting.
Let's get some more on this. CNN senior law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey is joining us, the former Philadelphia police commissioner, and CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd is with us, a former CIA counterterrorism official.
Chief Ramsey, as I said, you're the former police commissioner in Philadelphia. How does it feel to watch this white supremacist group march through the streets of Philadelphia, harass the public and not a single one of them has actually been arrested?
CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, it doesn't feel good at all.
BLITZER: As far as we know, I should say.
RAMSEY: Yeah, it doesn't feel good at all, but I'm right here in Philadelphia. I had no idea that this had even taken place until this morning when I turned on CNN and I saw it. So I don't know how much advance warning they got, if there was -- if police were deployed. It would have been smart on their part if they kept it quiet because I guarantee they would have had thousands of counter-demonstrators had people really known about it.
BLITZER: Phil, when you hear about this group in Massachusetts who don't believe the laws of the United States apply to them, what goes through your mind?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: How to catch them. I mean, my first response to this as someone who served both at the CIA and the FBI is the responsibility we had as people serving in government to the American people is to keep people safe. You saw that confrontation on the highway. That was not a safe experience.
If you look at groups like this and the rise of groups like this and political encouragement for them to believe that the government is after them, that the election is fraudulent, that the government has people who are deep state people who don't represent their interests, you look at this and say, how do you collect intelligence on people in 50 states who may be as small in groups as 12, 24, 36 people? You can't collect intelligence on that, Wolf. This is a witch's brew of people who don't believe the government represents them.
BLITZER: Chief Ramsey, the Justice Department here in Washington has warned that domestic extremism is the top threat facing the United States right now. Is that what we're seeing play out in these types of incidents, whether in Philadelphia or Massachusetts?
RAMSEY: Well, we're certainly starting to see more and more of it. I mean, January 6 certainly gave us a taste of what could happen, but we're starting to see more and more of these groups just come out from underneath the cover, wherever they were hiding before.
And now it's getting to the point where they're out there to march in Philadelphia on the fourth of July and feel comfortable doing it. I mean, you know, this is going to lead to some serious violent confrontations with counter-demonstrators. Believe me, at some point in time, and police are going to have to be very, very aware of that and take extraordinary steps to prevent violence.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Phil, what do authorities need to do to fight back against these demonstration extremist groups?
MUDD: They have to turn to leadership, including Congress, and have that leadership get on TV and tell people, this is not acceptable. It's a leadership problem. It's not an FBI problem, Wolf.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, thank you so much for joining us. Chief Ramsey, as usual, thanks very much for joining us as well. This is a huge problem facing the U.S. right now and I've spoken to a lot of law enforcement officials here in Washington, federal officials and they're very, very concerned about what's going on, not only in Massachusetts or Philadelphia, but throughout the country right now. An enormous problem seems to be getting worse.
To our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on Twitter and Instagram @WolfBlitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.