Return to Transcripts main page


Biden Meets Today with Western Governors about Wildfire Threat amid Historic Heat Wave; Wall Street Journal Reports, Manhattan D.A. Expected to File Tax-Related Charges against Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg Tomorrow; U.S Days from Completing Troop Withdrawal from Afghanistan. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 30, 2021 - 10:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: There is desperation this morning for so many families as we enter day seven of search and rescue operation in Surfside, Florida. Officials tell CNN that more bodies were found in the rubble overnight. At this time, we just don't have an official update on how many.

My next guest is working day and night to try to comfort so many of these families reeling in the wake of this tragedy. I'm joined now by Father Juan Sosa, St. Joseph's Catholic Church, just a five-minute walk from where the condominium stood. And he believes 20 to 25 of his parishioners remain unaccounted for. One has died.

Father, good morning to you. You have said --


HARLOW: You've said we need to find God somewhere in all of this tragedy. How do you do that?

SOSA: Well, I think God is present in the midst of the tragedy. And I think everyone has to search for God. I can see it evidently now in the support I'm receiving from everywhere. The collaboration of all the faiths that have contacted me and that we have worked with, the faith experiences, the faith denominations, Christian, orthodox Jewish, even Muslims I have received messages from. I mean, it's an incredible experience.

Somehow, God is present in the midst of a tragedy. I realize that is very hurting to those who suffered the death or the missing of relatives, but somehow I think God is present. He doesn't cause the event at all. I mean, we're free. And there's construction problems in the building that were ignored at one time, and you have seen the reviews about that.

HARLOW: I know you've spent recent days thinking about the milestones that you shared with some of those that are still missing and unaccounted for, baptizing Emma Guara, helping her sister, Lucia, with her first communion at your church. And now those are the two daughters, by the way, of Marcus and Anna Guara. Marcus is dead and Lucia, Emma and Anna are still missing. There's the picture Marcus Guara.

I mean, when you think of the children in this and so many families, how do you reconcile it?

SOSA: It's very difficult except that at least they were together at one point. It's just hard to say and there's no words for relatives, just simply presence and availability of listening to them and being able to lift them up all to God.

The same thing happened with Hilda Noriega, the lady who was found last night. She was a very close member of our parish. And I attended the funeral. I did conduct the funeral of her husband years ago. And now her son called me this morning about the funeral that will be prepared.

So, there's also children from the Paraguayan family. They were not members of the parish. They were visiting from another country. And there were three children involved and their nanny as well as their father and mother. I met the aunt of, I believe, the father with the mother at the rescue center or at the Center for Relatives yesterday.


She was totally distraught and really beside herself. And we just helped her cry. Basically, that's how we face these situations.

I'm grateful for the priests and deacons that are supporting us, yes.

HARLOW: Right, so they don't have to be alone when they are crying. You have I read --

SOSA: No --

HARLOW: You have something called a remembrance binder. Can you tell me about that?

SOSA: We have -- yes. We have a little -- last Sunday, I gave the names of at least the recognized parishioners, recognized in the sense that they were registered in the parish. But you and I know many people attended church sometimes without any kind of registration. These are the residents who live there. But they welcomed friends and relatives to spend time there.

And I read the names, and I invited the community, they knew other names of other people, whether they were catholic or not, it doesn't make a difference, to put them on the binder. Could you write them up? And so we have at least a page and a few other lines on the second page of the people that our community members knew that were not registered, of course, and they were friends of theirs.

And so we have a little symbol, the Paschal candle, that is lit all day until the evening that represents the resurrection of Christ for us and that we receive a baptism as well as the flowers. HARLOW: Well, that's a beautiful thing to have in the middle of such tragedy and darkness. Father Juan Sosa, thank you for being with us, but more for what you're doing for that community.

SOSA: Thank you for having us and pray for them.

HARLOW: We will.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: People just trying to make a difference.

Well, coming up, deadly wildfires are now sweeping across the west coast. The heat wave, extreme drought conditions, not surprisingly making those fires worse and more dangerous. We're going to have more on the brewing disaster next.



SCIUTTO: Today, President Biden will hold a virtual meeting with governors from western states on the persistent and intensifying threat of wildfires amid this record-breaking just devastating heat wave.

HARLOW: Officials say that the wildfire threat is at an all-time high, resources on top of that are stretched thin. Our Stephanie Elam joins us in Los Angeles.

Bill Weir, Steph, was just on with us last hour talking about nine straight months of this at west.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really hard to get people to understand how bad this is right now, but I'm going to still try, Poppy and Jim, because what we're looking at is the effect of climate change. The dries are getting dryer and these dry streaks are leading to more persistent drought. And that is leading to this very dangerous fire season that we are expecting out here.


ELAM (voice over): Across the west, wildfires are devouring hundreds of thousands of acres of land, destroying habitats and threatening communities, an ominous early warning sign of what may be to come this fire season.

CHIEF THOM PORTER, DIRECTOR CAL FIRE: This truly has been one of those examples of why it it is a fire year.

ELAM: The National Interagency Fire Center says that about 60 percent of the nation's wildfire resources are already committed, and it's only June. The fire projections are so concerning, the White House is getting involved.

President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with the governors of seven western states. JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: This thing doesn't confine itself, as you all know, to state lines. These crises require proactive federal response.

ELAM: 12 states are battling 50 large fires. 11 of those states are in the west. In California, more than 4,000 fires have already burned nearly 32,000 acres. That's 789 more fires than at this point last year, and 2020 was the worst year on record.

How does this fire season seem to be shaping up in comparison to last year?

PORTER: It's going to be challenging. We stretched ourselves to the absolute maximum last year. Well, this fire season already has the potential to be worse than last fire season. This year is actually drier, and the fuels are actually drier than they were last year.

ELAM: The dryness, the result of years of drought, now gripping much of the west.

CHIEF DARYL OSBY, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: We're seeing what we would typically see in August or September. And so our projections are that potentially what normally would be a fire of 100 acres or so, this week, it can be over 1,000 acres.

ELAM: From Montana to Arizona, Oregon to Nevada, blazes already taxing resources and manpower. In Utah, which is now entirely in a drought, Senator Mitt Romney working to establish a wildfire commission.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): We keep doing things the way we'd done them in the past without recognizing that the world has changed. It's getting drier in the American west.

ELAM: And as the country gears up for the 4th of July, firefighters are bracing.

PORTER: People are the leading cause of wildfires.

ELAM: The mayor of Salt Lake City banning fireworks and open burning ahead of the holiday saying in a tweet, quote, there has never been a greater concern about the threat of fire to SLC.


ELAM (on camera): And that's what a lot of municipalities are saying. In fact, driving up to where we're standing now, I saw a sign that said fireworks are illegal. They're already reminding people of that.

And just in September of last year, I was here doing live shots because of the Bobcat fire. Up here behind me, even though we're in a residential neighborhood, this reaches back up into the Angeles National Forest where we saw big burns. That is part of the concern.

[10:45:00] And, Jim and Poppy, just to highlight this, in the last couple of months, I have traveled around the west. In each one of the places I've been, Colorado, Oregon, obviously California, Utah, and Nevada, I saw evidence of fire activity, wildfires burning. This is a wide, pervasive problem, and that's why officials are so concerned about what, as you heard, may not be a fire season but a fire year.

HARLOW: Wow. Stephanie Elam, thank you. Your reporting on this is so important. We know you'll stay on it.

And we'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Breaking news. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is expected to charge the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with tax-related crimes, this according to a new story in the Wall Street Journal.


HARLOW: So, this would mark the first criminal charges against former President Trump's company since prosecutors began their investigation into the organization three years ago. Kara Scannell joins us with the details.

Help us explain what's expected here, and also, most times it's civil charges against a company, why is this criminal?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Sure, Poppy and Jim. So, the Wall Street Journal's reporting that these criminal charges that we've been talking about for weeks against the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, are expected to come tomorrow. There will be an arraignment tomorrow for Alln Weisselberg and actually for the company, as well.

And this investigation has focused on whether the company and executives, including Weisselberg, paid taxes on certain compensation and benefits they've received. That includes school tuition, apartments that they got rent-free, company cars, and we're learning also today bonuses.

Now, this investigation is focusing at this point, it's really narrowed into these topics, but it is not over, and it is still continuing and ongoing.

Now, what we understand is that as part of the charges, which the Journal says could come tomorrow, the former president, Donald Trump, will not be charged as part of this case, nor will any members of his family but a company can be charged for the actions of its executives. And it's possible that the D.A.'s office will announce charges that relate to a scheme to defraud. That's one way they're able to charge companies, as well, if they see a pattern and practice of certain types of, in this case, potential charges of tax evasion.

Now, the company can be charged. A lot of these cases are brought civilly, but they're able to charge a company if they don't meet a number of factors. The D.A. has its own handbook and memorandum that addresses this. But if a company doesn't cooperate, if it doesn't take remedial steps, those are all reasons why they can hold the company criminally liable for this.

Now, as the former president's attorney has said, you know, these charges are normally handled civilly. He's right, we often see cases like that. But we don't know the full scope of the allegations yet. So we'll have to evaluate that tomorrow. But he said in that case that if the charges, as he knew it to be, came, they would be unprecedented, and as he said, outrageous. He said the company would enter a plea of not guilty. Poppy, Jim?

SCIUTTO: But, Kara, you reported earlier this morning that the D.A. was looking at cash payments, in effect. Just to explain to folks in layman's terms here. The idea is that cars were gifted, apartments, rent-free apartments were gifted, private school tuition gifted, as a means to avoid paying taxes, is that right?

SCANNELL: That's right. And this could affect both the company and the individual because the company has a responsibility to report payments, any kind of payments to employees, that are -- they're considered a form of compensation. They have to take out withholdings for that and pay taxes on that, the same for the individual.

So, the idea here would be that these -- these gifts, these fringe benefits, were not reported to authorities, and taxes were not paid on them. That seems to be the theory of the case.

HARLOW: Okay. Kara Scannell, thank you for that reporting. We'll see what happens, as you said, in court tomorrow.

Meantime, overseas, U.S. military is expected to finish its withdrawal from Afghanistan in just the next few days.

SCIUTTO: It will mark an astonishingly quick departure from what was already America's longest war, more than two decades. But this withdrawal comes as U.S. military commander is warning that Afghanistan could fall into civil war once the U.S. is gone.

CNN's Anna Coren, she's in Kabul. Anna, is there fear there on the streets of Kabul?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, absolutely. I mean, I've known people here for almost ten years who told me today that hearing news that the U.S. forces could be pulling out within days and General Austin Scott Miller saying that an impending civil war, you know, is just around the corner once U.S. troops withdraw.

You know, this one particular friend said, I am so depressed. I will look for any window possible to get me and my family out of Afghanistan, and we'll not stay here an hour longer. The reason being is this fear that the Taliban will take over. Obviously, General Miller concerned about civil war breaking out. There's 1,000 U.S. troops that will be left in country, 600 of them protecting the American embassy, the others to secure the airport until the Turkish forces get into place. But, otherwise, it's up to the Afghan forces.

And as we've been seeing over the past, you know, weeks and months, they are taking huge hits on the battlefield. The security situation is rapidly deteriorating, the Taliban making rapid advances around the country, particularly in the north. It claimed around 100 of the 370 districts, making gains every single day.

Now, President Biden, obviously, the deadline was September 11th, but we are now learning those forces could be out of here within the next few days.


But he says now it is up to the Afghans to determine their own future.

But, obviously, a real sense of fear and dread and a sense of abandonment. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: I worry about all those little girls only allowed to go to school after the Taliban was forced out. Anna Coren in Kabul, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you, Anna.

Thank you all for being with us today. We'll see you tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Wolf Blitzer picks up our coverage right after a short break.