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U.S. Forces Leave Bagram; Taliban Hails U.S. Troop Withdrawal; Economy Adds 850,000 Jobs; Trump Probe Not Over; Letter Highlights Concrete Damage in Florida Condo; COVID Cases Up 10 Percent. Aired 9- 9:30a ET

Aired July 2, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

Breaking overnight, the United States is one step closer to ending America's longest war. After nearly 20 years, all U.S. forces have now left Bagram Air Base just outside Kabul in Afghanistan. The compound has been the center of U.S. military power there. It was the jumping off point for countless operations and missions over the last two decades. The full withdrawal is expected to be completed well before President Biden's deadline of September 11th.

Sources tell CNN that the White House is confident this is the right move, but the pace of the drawdown is raising some serious questions about the national security ramifications in that country and beyond. Experts expressing concerns about the potential of a Taliban takeover and the resurgence of terrorism in the country.

Up to 1,000 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan to guard the U.S. embassy in Kabul, as well as the city's airport. Some 2,300 U.S. service members, men and women, died in Afghanistan since the war on terror there began in 2001.

CNN's Anna Coren joins me now from Kabul.

Anna, this is a big moment for this country. Tell us what the country looks like right now and Afghans you're speaking to, what are their worries today?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is a deeply divided and fractured country. Twenty years after the U.S. invaded, it's not being left strong and prosperous and able to take on the challenges that it needs to.

You know, I caught up with Dr. Abdullah Abula (ph) yesterday, who is head of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and he said the outlook is bleak. That if it was up to the Afghans, the Americans would not be leaving now. We are seeing the Taliban launch offenses across the country. This,

obviously, coinciding with the U.S. troops withdrawing. And we should mention that the Taliban issued a statement upon learning that troops had departed Afghanistan, saying that this was a positive move and that it was now up to the people to decide.

But the Taliban have been taking over by force and we've been seeing those propaganda videos of Taliban claiming territory with Afghan forces surrendering or fleeing.

So this is a situation where security is deteriorating. The Taliban in control of more than 50 percent of the territory. It's important to note that they haven't taken over any provincial capitals as yet. But we are here in Kabul. The Taliban is only 10, 15 kilometers away.

But this is the end of America's chapter in this country. There were two plane loads that left last night, one early this morning. We know General Austin Scott Miller, who's in charge of the U.S. withdrawal, he met with President Ashraf Ghani today. But as I say, an end to America's chapter here. Certainly not for Afghanistan. The war-ravaged country just continues.

SCIUTTO: And many deep fears there understandably among the Afghan people.

Anna Coren, thanks very much.

Well, as Anna was saying, Taliban militants are hailing the U.S. troop withdrawal, calling it a positive step, something of a victory even. The White House, however, remains confident this is the right move.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins me now from the Pentagon.

And, Oren, I know you've spoken to a lot of people in that building where you are who are deeply fearful as well about the consequence of this, who opposed it both under this administration and the prior administration.

What do you hear about the level of that concern and how they answer those concerns?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For many here in the Pentagon it is a surreal moment. Many here have spent time in Afghanistan, specifically at Bagram Air Force Base --


LIEBERMANN: The entry point for tens of thousands of troops and the exit point for those troops as well, as well as the more than 2,000 service members who died in Afghanistan. It is almost impossible for them to comprehend a Bagram Air Base without American troops there after two decades.

There are serious concerns here about what will happen to the country. And they are monitoring, as best they can, the events of the Taliban, as well as the support they can offer at this point, at least, in the last few days of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, two Afghan air forces, as they try to retake a number of districts.


But they've had only limited success there.

Military leaders here pushed for a small military presence in Afghanistan to assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and other groups and their ability to hold the country and keep the government together. But in the end, Biden decided that the only troops that remain there, 650 or so, or perhaps some more, would be used to guard the embassy there -- he wants a diplomatic presence in the country -- and perhaps to assist in protection of Kabul International Airport, a necessary facility if you want to move diplomats in and out.

Biden has been involved in decision-making about Afghanistan for decades on his own. He opposed President Barack Obama's troop surge about a decade ago, and that opposition is evident in the decision to get out. He didn't see a need after the elimination of Osama bin Laden a decade ago, and no terror threat posed to the homeland to stay longer.


SCIUTTO: Yes. A lot of folks in that building had set a floor of about 5,000 troops to do the necessary counterterror missions, et cetera. This, of course, well below that.

Oren Liebermann, thanks very much.

Back here in the U.S., the June jobs report is out and it is stronger, much stronger than analysts had forecast. The U.S. economy adding some 850,000 jobs in June.

CNN's Christine Romans and Jeremy Diamond joins us now.

Christine, there's lots of hand wringing after the last jobs report which had fallen below expectations.


SCIUTTO: This is well above. Walk us through the numbers and is this part of a positive trend line? What do we know?

ROMANS: You know, heading into the fall, I mean summer -- rest of the summer and the fall, I think it is. And 850,000 jobs in normal times would be a gang buster number. We're digging out of a very deep hole here. So these are the kinds of numbers you want to see, a jobless rate also at 5.9 percent. So that's the headline.

Digging deeper into these numbers, you can see the trend. You talked about the hand wringing. That hand wringing was in April and May when we really had numbers that were not up to snuff here for trying to get back on track after the recovery. This is the strongest job pace now since I think -- I think we're talking about August here. When you look at the jobless rate of 5.9 percent, it's up just a tiny

bit, I would call it basically unchanged. And the jobless rate, you can see how far that has come down from the peak of the crisis. And 5.9 percent is an improvement, but it is still above where we were before this COVID crisis began.

Jim, I saw hiring really across the board. Leisure and hospitality, big gainers there. In retail, business and law firms, manufacturing, public and private education, also some big hiring there. And the Labor Department noted upward pressure on wages because of that labor shortage we have been talking about. What we have seen here is a real realignment of what workers want to get back to. In these numbers here, Jim, it shows you the highest rate of people leaving a job and looking for a new job that we've seen since, I think, November of 2016. So people coming back from COVID, they want something different than they had before and they're taking the time to find it.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And that may be a longer term trend line.


Jeremy, we know the danger of claiming victory, right, because these reports can undershoot as well as overshoot expectations. But what do we expect to hear from the president today based on these numbers?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, White House officials are clearly thrilled with the numbers. We've already seen White House officials here celebrating these numbers, calling them a vindication of the president's economic strategy, saying that this is what the Biden economy looks like.

And certainly I expect that we will hear some of that from the president. We heard it last month from the president even as those jobs numbers came under expectations. The president has taken really a long view of this economy. Even as he is expected to celebrate today's jobs report and call it a result of the stimulus funding for the coronavirus stimulus funding that passed earlier this year, as well as his broader coronavirus strategy, the president is also mindful that this is not just a month-by-month situation and that this recovery is uneven, at best. And something unlike any other previous economic recovery that we have seen.

I also think that we're going to hear the president tout the fact that wages are going up. The president has talked about that. He talked about it last month as not a bug but a feature of this economy that he is trying to build. And, ultimately, the president will also continue to tout the importance of passing this bipartisan infrastructure framework that we have seen come together in the last couple of weeks. The president noting that while the economy is rebounding, he wants to see this economy build back better than it was before. That has been the line from the president. So I think we can expect the president to do both of those things today.


SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. Christine romans, Jeremy Diamond, thanks very much.

Other big news over the last 48 hours. New York Attorney General Letitia James is warning that the investigation into the Trump Organization is not over and that more charges could come. Yesterday, Manhattan prosecutors charged the former president's business and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with operating a 15-year, quote, scheme to defraud the U.S. government.


According to the indictment, the scheme allegedly involved other unnamed executives. The former president not personally charged.

Joining me now, Renato Mariotti, he's a former federal prosecutor, also host of the "On Topic" podcast.

Renato, always good to have you on. I've been reading with interest your review as you were reading the indictment yesterday. Big picture here, you've been through it. How strong is the DA's case?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's very strong. It's stronger than I think even we had anticipated.

When you read through the indictment, really what strikes me are a few things. First of all, Weisselberg is right in the thick of this. It's something where Weisselberg essentially is getting paid off the books. And his salary, his on the book salary was reduced by the exact same amount that he was getting paid off the books, which tells you that both sides thought that that was income. And then he was literally the guy signing the checks to pay for, for example, a swanky apartment off the books that wasn't -- that they weren't paying taxes on. Definitely I think a strong case and a case that jurors would not like if he ended up going to trial because a wealthy person not paying his fair share I think often doesn't go well with jurors.

SCIUTTO: Let's highlight those numbers for a moment because, very quickly, you had some people say, hey, this is just how business is done. No big deal. But let's put them up on screen, the amount of taxes that were evaded allegedly, more than half a million dollars, that's just the federal taxes, about 250,000 more in state and local taxes. That's a lot of money.

His lawyers, interestingly, didn't seem to challenge the allegation itself, but rather seemed to make a case that, hey, this is how business is done in New York. A lot of businesses do this with what they're calling perks here despite the enormous size of these perks. Is that significant?

MARIOTTI: Yes, I have to say, I -- I have issued a lot of statements on behalf of clients ever since I left the U.S. attorney's office. I've never had a statement that didn't deny the allegations. It's really something that they don't deny what happened here. Very unusual to me.

But, look, I have to say, I don't think jurors would find this typical. This is a guy who's getting a Mercedes-Benzes for him and his wife, private schooling for his kids, a swanky apartment. All of this paid for off the books. Very, very difficult to justify.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's the thing, I think when folks at home or myself included think of perks, you think of, well, a company car. I mean this was -- well, it was a company car, a Mercedes, but tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition in New York, a rent- free apartment in New York. These are no small things.

The indictment states that other employees of Trump Organization benefited from what prosecutors are calling this scheme here. Does that signal to you that other individuals may face charges? And who?

MARIOTTI: Well, it certainly suggests to me that under other individuals are under investigation. I don't know whether they have enough to charge them now. They've clearly made a decision they want to focus on Weisselberg.

They mentioned specifically that two other executives were essentially in the exact same situation as Weisselberg, receiving these off-the- book payments and getting that benefit and not paying taxes on it. The question is, of course, their knowledge level. Weisselberg was signing the checks to pay for his own -- his own apartment. The question is, you know, what can they prove regarding the knowledge of those employees?

Then, of course, it's said that there was other executives in the Trump administration who were participating in the scheme carrying it forward. It's possible some of them could be charged in the future as well. And it really, I think, depends on what Mr. Weisselberg decides to do and if there's any other evidence or flippers that come forward.

SCIUTTO: And the Trump Organization, of course, relatively small in terms of staff. It's a family-run business. President Trump himself highly involved in that business. Is it possible that he could come individually under scrutiny here as well, or would that require Weisselberg to cooperate?

MARIOTTI: You know, it's possible, but it would require, I think, someone to cooperate unless -- and I don't think this is the case with him, unless he -- he intends to write very explicit emails. Typically in a tax case you have a very high burden to prove that the person really knew that they were in on some tax scheme, knew what they were doing was illegal. And unless there's some sort of smoking gun email or testimony of an insider, I don't see that happening.

SCIUTTO: And we know based on his practices that Donald Trump deliberately avoided things like email communications.

Renato Mariotti, thanks so much for breaking it all down.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: And still to come this hour, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is threatening to strip Republican members of their committee assignments if they join the January 6th special committee. Does that go for Representative Liz Cheney as well?


Plus, local officials are sounding the alarm over an increase in COVID-19 infections as the highly contagious delta variant spreads across the U.S. ahead of this July 4th holiday weekend.

And we are live once again in Surfside, Florida, where we're learning why much-needed repair work may not have been performed when extensive damage to that building was discovered before this collapse.



SCIUTTO: This morning there is another potentially distressing hurdle for the search and rescue efforts still underway in the deadly condo collapse in Florida. Officials are keeping a close watch on Elsa, formerly a tropical storm that has now been upgraded to a hurricane. The last thing folks there need right now, there are concerns over the threat of heavy rainfall, strong winds. That that could create danger for those crews there.

This comes as those crews did resume their efforts after they had to halt them for nearly 15 hours following another concern, and that is that the remaining portion of the building could fall. It's a real danger. A new letter obtained by CNN reveals the damage to the condo was so severe going back to last fall that repair work was put on hold over concerns it could affect the stability of surrounding structures. Eighteen people are now confirmed dead, but 145 remain unaccounted for.

CNN's Rosa Flores, she's live in Surfside this morning.

Goodness, they're trying their hardest, right? Every day they're trying their hardest there. There's hope for a miracle, but tell us the reality on the ground. What are you seeing there?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, you're absolutely right, these brave men and women have been pouring their hearts out, risking their lives trying to do everything they can to pull people out of this rubble. But like, as you mentioned, I've been here from the get-go, since Thursday, more than a week ago, and they have faced hurdle after hurdle. The weather has not cooperated. And then, like you mentioned yesterday, the search and rescue effort stopped for about 15 hours because of dangers of the stability of this building. A column was swinging that was hanging from that building, it was swinging 6 to 12 inches, of course increasing the risk of this building having a secondary collapse.

As you mentioned, the death toll has not changed. It's at 18. The number unaccounted is at 145. The latest victim identified is 80-year- old Magali Elaina Delgado (ph). The family describes her as a very independent woman, loved her life, and that she actually complained about what she described as tremors when there were construction efforts in surrounding buildings. And, again, this is as we learn more about what that structure looked

like, what that structure's stability was, and infrastructure was leading up to the collapse. The latest, CNN has obtained a letter from October of 2020. This letter was written by an engineering firm sent to the board of this building, saying that the repairs that were required required so much extensive repair and there was deterioration of the concrete that any repairs that they did would impact or could impact surrounding structures -- construction that was happening in surrounding structures.

On top of that, the engineer saying that they would require access to the pool. And, according to this letter, they were told that the pool needed to stay open.

Now, compounding all of the efforts here and all of the challenges is Hurricane Elsa that has formed in the Atlantic. And, Jim, it's just another hurdle that these brave men and women don't need. We know that the state has mitigating measures. They're bringing more people in. They have, you know, teams in Tallahassee, of course, that track storms. We know that the National Weather Service is also going to be here on the ground briefing search and rescue crews. But the search and rescue here is ongoing.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Gosh, if that other building's already unstable, imagine it in a hurricane.

Rosa Flores, from Surfside, thanks so much.

As coronavirus cases are spiking here in the U.S., the CDC director is warning that the delta variant could cause more illness and deaths, particularly in the southeast and Midwest where vaccination rates are lower. Up next, what you need to know as people get together for the holiday weekend.



SCIUTTO: Well, millions of Americans, perhaps you as well, are expected to travel, get together for the 4th of July celebrations this weekend. Health officials are stressing, however, that vaccinations and caution due to the rapid spread of the highly contagious delta coronavirus variant remain concerns. For example, Arkansas governor says the state is seeing a surge in hospitalizations because of two things, a combination of low vaccination rates in that state, and the delta variant.

Here with me, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, this is a worrisome concern, right? And you're seeing the delta variant taking root exactly in the regions that do have a lower vaccination rate. Now, nationally, cases up 10 percent over the past week. I believe CDC Director Rochelle Walensky warned we should expect more illness and death. How concerned are you?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a much more transmissible variant and there's some evidence now coming from the U.K. that it can make people sicker as well.


GUPTA: So, you know, sometimes things become more contagious and they make people less sick. They trade off contagiousness for illness. But, you know, we'll have to see with this delta variant how this plays out.


If you look at the country as a whole, as you mentioned, cases up a bit now about 10 percent over the last couple of weeks. But if you go back to January.