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Interview With Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) About January 6 Select Committee; Trump Criticizes Charges Against Trump Org, Cites Confusion Over Tax Code; Demolition At The Collapsed Condo Site Could Happen In Days Ahead Of Tropical Storm; Pope Francis Undergoes Scheduled Colon Surgery At Rome Hospital; Americans Celebrate Independence Day After A Year Of Lockdowns. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired July 4, 2021 - 16:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Congratulations. Happy anniversary to them this week.

Thank you so much for joining me on this Fourth of July. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Jim Acosta.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington. We begin this hour celebrating America's independence at a time our country is at odds with itself over what democracy means and how to protect it. Americans divided over basic facts.

That's where we are right now. And if you need further proof, look no further than the Capitol insurrection. Just this week only two House Republicans, Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, crossed party lines to vote for a select committee to investigate the deadly assault on our democracy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tapping one of those lawmakers, Liz Cheney, to be on the panel.

But you have to ask yourself, why wouldn't Republicans want to know the truth? Is it because they believe the lies or is it because they are trying to protect the man who started them? My guess it's probably both.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Trump, will you apologize about January 6th?



ACOSTA: In case you missed it I recently spoke to GOP Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, and she told me she would like to serve on the committee but should she? Listen to what she also told me.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): There's, you know, information that there may have been FBI operatives. Now we don't know what that means, right? Is that informants? Is that -- where does that go?

ACOSTA: Where's the proof that the FBI was involved? Where's the proof that Antifa was involved? Don't you owe it to people to produce that proof, that evidence?

GREENE: I don't know it. I didn't cause the riots so I don't -- certainly don't owe it.

ACOSTA: If the FBI tells you, Congresswoman, we didn't have any involvement in it, would you believe them?

GREENE: Well, I'm sure, yes, of course, if they say they weren't and showed proof they weren't, then of course I would.


ACOSTA: The man picked by Pelosi to chair the select committee to investigate the January 6th attack, Congressman Bennie Thompson, joins me now. He also chairs the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, the move to form this select committee comes more than a month after Senate Republicans blocked an effort, as you know, to create a bipartisan commission. What is the question this committee must answer when it's all said and done, do you think?

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, we have to first -- again, thank you, Jim, for having me. We have to look at the facts and circumstances around January 6th. We have to see what went wrong in terms of the circumstances to make sure that it never happens again. The other thing, some of the facts we have to see whether or not different organizations were involved. See if members of Congress perhaps might have been involved, to see from an intelligence standpoint what went wrong.

It's clear that some of the systems that I know that are in place did not work. The sharing of information from an intelligence gathering standpoint. The fact that military assets and the domestic assets were on different wave lengths. And so there are a lot of things that we are tasked with, and we will -- now that we have the select committee formed, we'll look at it.

ACOSTA: And as you know, the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy apparently gets to fill five slots on the committee. Do you think he will actually select any Republicans to join the committee or do you think he's going to boycott the entire thing?

THOMPSON: Well, I hope so. As you know, I worked very hard to try to craft another piece of legislation that we got through the House and we got 35 members of the Republican Party to vote for it. But at the last minute, Minority Leader McCarthy said he was against it and we put everything in that piece of legislation that he asked for. And ultimately, he got the senators on the other side to join against it, too, and so we are where we are six weeks after we passed the initial legislation.

I hope he does it because what happened on January 6th, Jim, it wasn't just against Democrats. As you know, they wanted to harm the vice president and other people who came there to do their constitutional duties. So I would hope in the spirit of saving this democracy and making sure that this never happens again, that he will appoint some people.

But appoint some people that we all know who love this country, who want to protect this democracy, and also make sure that all of us who were put in harm's way on January 6th, that that never happens again in the United States Capitol.

ACOSTA: And how important is it do you think to get to the bottom of what former President Trump was doing and saying that day, what he was up to in the Oval Office, his conversations with the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and what he was doing regarding the safety of the vice president that day?


THOMPSON: Well, I can assure you we will leave no stones unturned. We will look with professional investigators at everything that occurred. We'll follow the facts. The public has a right to know. If there were individuals in Congress, in executive branch, wherever, who conspired to encourage this insurrection, then the facts will bear that out. As you know we also --

ACOSTA: Would you like to hear from --


ACOSTA: Would you like to hear from Donald Trump? Would you like to hear from Mark Meadows?

THOMPSON: Well, I would just -- I'll leave it to the investigators and the facts. I would -- with the composition of the committee, there are no shrinking violets on it. We will not be intimidated. If the facts lead us to any individual to call them before that body. So I am -- rather than getting ahead of the investigation, I want us to make sure that we do it right. I want to make sure that we have a committee that's committed to working in the interest of saving this democracy.

You, like millions of others, saw what happened and it was a travesty for the greatest democracy in America that people just did what they did. A lot of us were embarrassed, but we also are afraid that unless we come with the legitimate, well-produced document, this democracy, as we know it, is at risk.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you, some of our colleagues in our CNN's K-File unit found that Anthony Aguero, a conservative YouTuber who participated in the January 6th riot, accompanied members of Congress on a trip to the border last week. He's also a close ally apparently of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Are you concerned that some of the Capitol rioters may have had ties to lawmakers, and does that need to be pursued as a line of inquiry in all of this?

THOMPSON: Well, I can assure you, I saw the story that reported that. I'm concerned about it. Why would any member of Congress or why would any American-loving citizen want to identify with people who want to take this government away from a legitimate election. So I can assure you that as things like this come to bear, our investigators will look at it. And they'll produce it based on what the facts are.

Again, let me assure the public, it will be bipartisan. It will hire people who have impeccable credentials to staff this committee. And nothing will be sacred. We take our oath and our work serious and from this point forward, as long as I chair this committee and will be on it, I can assure you nothing, nothing will be overlooked.

ACOSTA: And let me ask you about Donald Trump's rally last night. At a rally last night he asked several times who shot Ashli babbitt, referring to the rioter who was shot by police defending the Capitol while she was trying to crawl through a window. We've all seen that video. He went on to say there was no reason for the officer to shoot her.

Mr. Chairman, what is your reaction to that?

THOMPSON: Well, I am disappointed that here we have the president of the United States fanning the flames of what happened during an insurrection. He should be embarrassed.

ACOSTA: Well, former president.

THOMPSON: If not -- former president. Yes. But he should be embarrassed. There's no question those things that occurred, many of them, was at his encouraging. But we'll look at the facts. He invited the majority of the people to come to Washington on January 6th, even tweeted that it would be wild.

Wild would be an understatement compared to what really occurred. But for him to continue to castigate those brave Capitol Police and other security personnel who saved the life of not just the vice president but the speaker and all of us.

I mean, he should be praising them for the good job they did, but now he's condemning them for the good job that they did. He should be ashamed of himself.

ACOSTA: All right, Chairman Bennie Thompson, thank you so much for being with us on this Fourth of July.


And Happy Independence Day to you and your family. Hope you have a good time the rest of the day. Thanks again for coming on. We appreciate it. Thank you, sir.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

ACOSTA: And still to come, did former President Trump just publicly admit to the slew of tax crime charges against his namesake organization?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They go after good, hard-working people for not paying taxes on a company car.


ACOSTA: That's next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: Former President Trump's big lie show road show pinched its carnival tent in Florida last night. And when he wasn't spinning tall tales about his 2020 election loss, Trump seemed to be confirming key pieces of the prosecution's case against his namesake company and its CFO. Take a listen.


TRUMP: They go after good, hard-working people for not paying taxes on a company car. Company car. You didn't pay tax on the car. Or a company apartment.


You used an apartment because you need 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 -- does anybody know the answer to that stuff?


ACOSTA: Yes, people do know the answer to that stuff. The people who put the Trump Organization's chief financial officer in handcuffs say they know the answer to that stuff. But just repeating what's the big deal has become the Trump family's go-to PR strategy.


ERIC TRUMP, TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VP: Well, these are employment perks. These are, you know, these are, you know, a corporate car, which everybody has.

DONALD TRUMP, JR., TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VP: That's $136,000 over 16 years. That's 10 grand a year. Half of that, because my father is a good guy, he paid for this guy's grandchildren's education.


ACOSTA: Such a good guy. All right, let's bring in CNN political commentators Alice Stewart and Ana Navarro.

Ana, let me start with you. The same message from all the Trump men. Is this the strategy and what did you think of what Trump was saying last night at that rally, testing out this defense strategy?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you know, it certainly felt like an admission of it and it felt like the strategy they're taking is very much like a Leona Helmsley type strategy. Only the little people pay taxes. You know, I mean, it's just a corporate tax. Everybody has a corporate car. Everybody has a corporate apartment. Everybody, you know, gets a private education, school education paid for by the bosses.

Look, the evidence that they knew that it was illegal is the fact that they were keeping two sets of books. When I read that in the indictment, that made a lot of difference, and New York state, New York City are known to be incredibly aggressive. I have a bunch of friends who have become Florida residents to avoid New York City taxes, and they spend a lot of time and a lot of money on attorneys and CPAs to make sure that they are complying because it is a notoriously aggressive state in going after tax cheats.

ACOSTA: And Alice, if you're Allen Weisselberg and you see the messaging coming from the Trumps on this case, are you sweating? Are you happy about hearing all of this?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Actually, if I'm Allen Weisselberg, I am singing like a canary right now and saying everything that I know because it is concerning. The way that the line is to just write this off. And, look, this is not just about fringe benefits. This is about tax evasion. And as we saw in the rally last night, he did oftentimes what he normally does. He looks at this and downplays it and does his whataboutism.

When the issue of tax evasion comes up, he talks about, well, why aren't they looking at, what about these human smugglers or these murderers? Why aren't the Manhattan DA's office looking at that? That's not the way to go about doing this. The way to go about doing this is not to do it in the first place, and Ana is right. If anyone knows about tax evasion, ask Leona Helmsley. She certainly knows that this is not acceptable.

And no matter how big or how small, this is tax evasion. It's against the law and I do expect someone to be held accountable for it.

ACOSTA: Yes. You can't even call Weisselberg, in this case, the coffee boy, but, Ana, there were thousands of people at this rally last night willing to line up for hours to see Trump. This doesn't sound like a guy who is in legal trouble or at risk of becoming a pariah. What do you think?

NAVARRO: You know, I really thought that rally yesterday was incredibly insensitive, even for Trump. And if anybody needs a reminder of what a self-absorbed, narcissistic jerk he is, it was yesterday's rally in Florida. This is a state that now, for over 10 days, has been dealing with the grief and mourning the loss of all of those people in Surfside.

We've seen Ron DeSantis, the governor here, put politics and partisanship aside, welcomed Joe Biden, be by the side of the mayor of Miami-Dade County, really fostering an environment of cooperation, which is what Floridians want in a time of crisis.

And if that wasn't enough, we are preparing and we are, you know, in high alert. We were in the cone for tropical storm -- Hurricane Elsa at the time when he was planning this rally. And so I think, you know, sometimes you just have to cancel things because they are the right things to do and postpone them for another time.

Jim, there's no fireworks in Miami-Dade today because people are in mourning, because of, you know, of the way things have gone through here. So I think -- and let me just tell you, his daughter and grandkids live two blocks away from where that building collapsed. His daughter and grandkids live in Surfside. And in the meantime, he is holding a political rally whining and moaning and going on and on about partisanship just up the coast in Florida. I thought it was outrageous.


ACOSTA: Yes. What did you think, Alice? Was this just tacky on Trump's part? I mean, I guess tacky and Trump can go hand in hand but --

STEWART: The fact that Governor DeSantis asked him to not do this says a lot. And even leading Republicans have come out and said read the room. Read the state. Read the people of Florida. They are grieving and they are hurting and this is not appropriate to do it at this time. Obviously, he certainly went ahead with what he's doing. And here's what's happening here. He's going to continue to hold these rallies.

He's going to continue to -- basically these are carrying out grievances for his political enemies and what he's doing is rallying up his base, rallying up the people that support him, but instead of settling scores with the GOP, they need to be setting the record straight on the Democrats. And while Donald Trump will go around the country with these rallies, I hope that leading Republicans simultaneously shine a light on what's going on with the Biden administration.

Let's make sure and remind people prior to the midterm what's going on. The crisis at the border, that GOP-led states are getting people back to work and the unemployment rate is better in these GOP-led states, and also what Republicans can do in terms of making sure that we have elections run by the states and not the Democrat efforts to federalize the election. So these are things --

ACOSTA: Trump is going to step on those messages.

STEWART: Yes. Rational Republicans need to further those messages and not get distracted with this grunge that Trump is doing.

ACOSTA: Yes. And Ana, after the insurrection for a very brief moment, GOP leadership moved on from Trump. But now they seem ready to put him front and center for the campaign that's coming up in 2022. I saw this during his border visit in Texas. It was just sort of odd to see they're all still glomming onto him. What is going on?

NAVARRO: You know, I think they've chosen to put all their steaks and all their eggs in the basket of Trump. Worship at the altar of Trump. You know, it's so hypocritical and really it's so unseemly and unstatesmanlike.

Today I was really trying not to have my eyes roll to the back of my head as I read posts from some of these same GOP elected officials who voted against the bipartisan commission threatening our democracy. An insurrection against the peaceful transfer of power, which is such a key part of our Constitution and our government and our democracy.

And yet, here they are wrapping themselves in flags, putting up pictures of the Statue of Liberty and wishing everybody a Happy Fourth of July. If you want to stand up for what this country stands for, stand up for democracy and denounce what happened on January 6th. Don't go to the border and even avoid a vote. I can't think of anything more cowardly and hypocritical than what happened this week.

ACOSTA: Right. Yes, they all missed -- all the Republicans who were down there at the border, you know, maybe with a few exceptions, missed that vote on whether or not to have a select committee to investigate January 6th.

But, Alice, let me close this up by turning to Joe Biden, the president. New "Washington Post"-ABC News poll finds that 62 percent approve of Biden's handling of the pandemic, but just 33 percent of Republicans. What do you make of that? Is it just because their information stream is going to be their information stream and, you know, it's not coming in from other corners? Why do you think there's that huge discrepancy there?

STEWART: Because unfortunately this pandemic has become political. This is a health care issue. This is a national security issue. It should never have been a political issue, but it has. And that's unfortunate. You can't deny the fact that the vaccination rates have gone tremendously. We're not exactly where we want to be on July 4th but we've come a long way and the cases of infection have come down significantly.

We can't deny we've made a long progress with regard to COVID. And I hate to see the fact that it's become political but I'm hoping and praying more people continue to get the vaccinations and we get on the other side of this and this third strain does not become another issue that we have to worry about. But this is a health care issue. And we have to commend the Biden administration for what they've done so far.

ACOSTA: Yes. And that's a great way to end this because what a great way to celebrate the Fourth if we can just kind of focus on getting healthy.


ACOSTA: As one country from a physical standpoint. Maybe we'll do it from a political standpoint as well.

Ana and Alice, great to see both of you wearing red on this Fourth of July. I have the blue in the middle here. We're very patriotic here at CNN. Thanks, ladies, so much for coming on. Happy Fourth of July. Great to see all of you.

NAVARRO: Thank you. You too.

STEWART: Happy Fourth.

ACOSTA: And take care of those folks down in south Florida who are hurting, Ana. We appreciate that. Thanks so much for mentioning that.

It is a race against the weather in Surfside, Florida, at the site of that horrific condo collapse. Officials are going to attempt to demolish the still-standing portions of the building before Tropical Storm Elsa rolls in. We'll take you there next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: In Surfside, Florida, right now demolition crews are in a race against time to bring down unstable sections of that partially collapsed condo before tropical storm hits. This is a live look at what's left standing of the building. The weather looks fine right now but that will soon change.

Engineers are worried that storm winds will bring down the rest of the damaged building and Elsa has already caused death and destruction as it churns towards south Florida. At least two people have been killed in the Dominican Republic.

And joining me now to talk about this with the latest, CNN's Brian Todd in Surfside, and Karen Maginnis in the CNN Weather Center.


Karen, thanks so much for being with us to break this down for us. Let's start with you. What's the latest on Elsa's track and how might it affect things there in Surfside?

KAREN MAGINNIS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, already the hurricane hunters are investigating Tropical Storm Elsa. I suspect that there's not going to be a lot of change that they look. We'll see what happens in the next half hour when we get another update from the National Hurricane Center. Right now Tropical Storm Elsa is supporting winds of 60 miles an hour with some higher gusts. It has slowed down.

Over the last 48 hours, we see this gradual downturn as far as the speed of this. And because of that, it has a tendency to get ramped up. But it's near land so we know these systems like to be over the open waters and they like warm ocean water. And as a result when it moves through the Florida Keys, which it's expected to as we go into Monday, we're looking at water temperatures in the mid to upper 80s.

Now it's fairly shallow here but it's enough that perhaps there could be some strengthening as we go into the next 24 hours or so. Now best guesses are, according to the computer models, is that this will impact the most for western Florida. But not entirely. It may increase in intensity just a little bit. But some of those outer bands could affect south Florida and probably will over the next several days.

When will that happen? Well, Monday, you'll gradually see the weather deteriorate there. Monday we bring in about a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms. This is why there's that hurry in regards to the condo building and the demolition there. And going into Tuesday, still lingering showers and some thunderstorms. We could see on the order of two to four inches of rainfall in isolated areas. Not everybody is going to see that level of coverage.

But this is the -- kind of the radar forecast. Here's Surfside right here. They can see a few spotty showers but really does increase over the next 24 hours, especially, and into the next 24 to 48 hours. The winds generally speaking 25 to about 35 miles per hour.

Coming out of the south and the southeast. Already with Elsa in Jamaica, it is between Cuba and Jamaica, they've seen already five inches of rainfall but we're looking at weather conditions deteriorating here already.

Tropical storm warnings in effect for much of the Florida Keys -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, Karen. And now to Brian Todd in Surfside, Florida.

Brian, walk us through how officials are hoping this demolition will take place.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it seems like every hour that this building remains standing it just gets more and more dangerous to be around. So officials do want to bring it down as soon as they possibly can. They have given no specific timetable for when they're going to bring it down, but we do have indications from the board of directors of the Champlain Towers East building which is not directly next door but just a few feet away from this building.

I'm going to tell you about that in one second but first I want to show you this video that my team and I shot earlier this afternoon. We got up to a balcony overlooking the rubble. As they prepared for this demolition. Our photo journalist Jose Armijo got some great shots of these techs underneath the building unraveling some mesh wiring and doing some other things to prepare for the demolition.

And they were right under the building when he trained in on them with his camera. So some very dramatic images there as they really are doing the last-minute preps to bring this building down. They've also been drilling holes at various places in the building, inserting dynamite, things like that. So you've got some good video there to look at as they prepare for this demolition. It's an angle really that very few other news outlets have at this point.

So as far as the timeline, we did obtain a memo from the board of directors of the Champlain Towers East Association to residents saying that their best estimate is that the building would be demolished early this evening. And the board of directors of Champlain Towers East is advising their residents to evacuate.

Now city officials are not necessarily calling for that. They believe that the people in these buildings are safe but the people -- the management of that particular building are advising their residents to evacuate and to bring their valuable belongings with them, Jim.

ACOSTA: And Brian, have families been allowed back inside their still standing condos to get keepsakes or pets? What's the latest on that?

TODD: Jim, officials say that they have not been able to allow people -- residents themselves back into that building. It is simply too dangerous for them to go back in. However, the Miami-Dade mayor and other officials have said that rescue teams have gone through the building looking for pets, looking for valuables, you know, based on what some of the residents have told them.

I don't believe that they've found any pets, as far as we know at this point, but rescue teams have at least combed through to try to look for some of those pets and some of those items for the residents.

ACOSTA: All right. Such an awful situation there.

Brian Todd, thanks for all the excellent reporting. Karen Maginnis, thanks for staying on top of the storm coming in. We appreciate it.

And coming up next, to Rome where the Pope has undergone surgery just hours after appearing in St. Peter's Square for the traditional prayer. We'll have a live report outside his hospital.


You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


ACOSTA: We're following developing news out of Rome where Pope Francis is undergoing surgery for what is known as colon diverticulitis. That's inflammation caused by small sacks on the walls of the colon. Today's operation began just hours after the 84-year-old pontiff led the Sunday prayer at St. Peter's Square.


We're told the surgery had been planned and CNN's Vatican correspondent Delia Gallagher joins me now from outside the hospital.

Delia, I hope the Pope is OK. How is Pope Francis doing? Do we know?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, we are still awaiting an update from the doctors. We've been told that we will get that once the surgery is over. What we do know, Jim, is that the Vatican made this sort of surprise announcement, surprise for us at least around 3:00 p.m. local time saying that the Pope would be going in today for this surgery. And we don't have any other information about it other than what you said that it's the diverticulitis of the colon, so an inflammation of the colon.

In the Pope's particular case a stenosis. So a narrowing also of the colon which can lead to blockage. But that was all the information that the Vatican gave out. But importantly, they said that this was scheduled surgery. So, obviously, that implies that it was not an emergency. So that's an important piece of information for the moment. As well as the fact that we saw the Pope just a few hours earlier in the day at noon from the window of St. Peter's Square as we do every Sunday. And he looked fine.

We've seen him throughout the course of this past week also. So there were no indications that there was any kind of imminent problem. So the Vatican is saying that this was a scheduled surgery, and as I said, Jim, we are awaiting a medical update. We'll bring that to you as soon as we have it.

You know, this is something -- the Pope is 84 years old. This is a surgery that require a general anesthetics so it's not without its risks, but apparently a medical expert say, it is something that elderly people do get. Sometimes it can be managed with diet, with antibiotics or sometimes as in the Pope's case, it might require surgery. So we're hoping for the best. We'll bring you the latest just as soon as we have it -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And Delia, do we know how long before he's back at work again?

GALLAGHER: Well, that's the question on everybody's mind. How much recovery time does this take? Obviously, as I said, it's a general anesthetic. So in any case he's in here probably for tonight and possibly the next few days for monitoring. You know, July is a time when the Pope anyway it's a bit of down time for him. He doesn't have his regular Wednesday audiences meeting people and so on.

So if they were scheduling this surgery, this would be the time to do it. July and August in Italy generally summertime, and the schedule is a bit lighter. But, you know, just today, Jim, he announced that he'll be going in September to Hungary and Slovakia. So, obviously, there's a lot on this Pope's schedule. And we expect him, you know, to be back up to the full schedule in September. At least. And hopefully, obviously, much before that -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right, sounds good. Delia Gallagher in Rome. Thanks so much. Great to see you.

And now take a look at this.

That was supposed to be tonight's fireworks display in Ocean City, Maryland, discharging all at once and hours early, of course. It's not nighttime yet. More of this explosion next.

But first, ahead of our special Fourth of July special tonight, here's a message from our military making days like today possible.





UNIDENTIFIED SERVICE MEMBER: Happy Independence Day from our family to yours. God bless America.




ACOSTA: There won't be any oohs and aahs this Fourth of July in a major U.S. beach town, more like don't. That's because all fireworks there are canceled because of this.

Ocean City, Maryland, take a look at this. This was definitely not supposed to happen. A huge stash of fireworks meant to go off tonight somehow ignited and blew up this morning on the ground. Doesn't have the same majestic effect from this perspective and also kind of too close to those beachgoers if you ask me.

But nobody was badly hurt but the city did call off all fireworks displays in Ocean City for tonight. Fire officials are still trying to figure out what went wrong and it certainly did go wrong there in Ocean City, Maryland.

In the meantime, across the country, other July 4th fireworks shows should go on as planned as the U.S. celebrates its 245th birthday. Grills have been fired up and Americans are celebrating after a tough year of the pandemic and lockdowns.

CNN's Polo Sandoval and Suzanne Malveaux are checking in on some of the celebrations. Let's begin with Polo at New York's Coney Island.

Polo, nothing says Fourth of July I guess like Nathan's famous hot dog eating contest. I hope you were not involved in that. Just watching it from afar. How did it go down today? And did Joey Chestnut do it again?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He did. I couldn't make it past one, Jim, but before we show you some of those pictures, just check out the sea of people off in the distance here. This is the iconic Coney Island boardwalk. You see a massive crowd off in the distance. You can also see that iconic amusement park. That is open for business again for the first time since the pandemic. We were out here last year.

I could tell you the crowds were definitely thinner. Obviously most of the people were wearing masks a year ago.


This year, though, that park is open and masks really, you might see an occasional one but that's obviously a sign that the vaccination numbers continue to rise here in New York state now. About 66 percent. That's definitely something positive and why so many people so confident in heading out and enjoying the day. But yes, let's get back to that hot dog eating competition, too, Jim.

It was quite the picture that we saw earlier today. Joey Chestnut eating 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes. We watched the -- everything take place. About halfway through, he left the competition so far behind, Jim, that really the only competition was himself as he was trying to break his own record of 75 hot dogs. Nathan's Famous Hot dogs from last year.

And at the very last second he was able to scarf down number 76 while everybody in the crowd celebrated. That was a huge difference compared to what happened last year when that competition was actually forced indoors without spectators. Not this year, though. A massive crowd at a baseball stadium here on Coney Island as Joey Chestnut was able to maintain that title as the world's top hot dog eater at 76 -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Such a majestic display of sportsmanship there, Polo.

SANDOVAL: Happy birthday, America.

ACOSTA: Yes. Happy birthday -- I can barely watch it. Let's shift to Suzanne Malveaux who is up on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where there's a big fireworks display planned for this evening.

Suzanne, what's it like out there? And I'm assuming hot dogs are being consumed one at a time as they should be.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not nearly as exciting with the hot dog angle here, Jim.


MALVEAUX: But I mean this is a beautiful crowd. We have been here at the Lincoln Memorial many times this year for big, massive rallies and protests. And the feeling is just completely different. We're underneath the Lincoln Memorial. The steps to the Lincoln Memorial here. And many families have gathered. They started at 1:00 in the afternoon to go into those particular checkpoints.

But unlike previous times and occasions there are no masks that are needed. You don't get your temperature checked. I mean, it really is kind of this easy, breezy kind of feeling here. Not a lot of people so far. So let's see how the crowds shake out here. We've already seen -- this is Lily and Rusty, the little doggies who are here.


MALVEAUX: With their family. They're getting ready for the big moment. But, Jim, want to show you -- just swing that camera around there, Eddie. Right there at the reflecting pool and underneath the Washington Monument, that's where those extraordinary fireworks are going to go off at exactly -- you know, it's all planned down to the minute at 9:09 tonight. And it will last for 17 minutes.

It is going to be an extravaganza. They did have fireworks last year but people were discouraged from coming, of course, because of COVID. Well, now the D.C. mayor says that look, the city is open for business. I had a chance to meet a very colorful young man, very patriotic, and it was all about the fabulous outfit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the best part about this is the cane. I got this on Amazon. It's so wonderful. It's ridiculous. The entire outfit just came together over the course of about four years. And I have been waiting for this day. I was going to do it last year but, obviously, couldn't really happen. But this year, I'm really glad to be out here, showing my patriotism for a country I love.


MALVEAUX: There are a lot of people, Jim, who are showing their patriotism in different ways but not quite the way he was. I mean, he takes the cake, I have to say, so far. But we'll see. So far when we look at the security situation here, we have heard from the D.C. police chief earlier in the week who gave a briefing saying that there are no credible specific threats for this area or for this event but that all D.C. police officers are on alert and they are on duty here this evening for the fireworks display.

And again, the mayor has encouraged people to come out. We'll see. We'll see how big this crowd gets tonight. But there's a lot of enthusiasm.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. Give that patriotic man a hot dog, Suzanne. That was wonderful. I did wear a red, white and blue tie. I don't know if that is going to give me as far as that gentleman there. But Polo, Suzanne --

MALVEAUX: Very understated, Jim.

ACOSTA: Very -- I'll try harder next time. Great to see both of you. And Happy Fourth of July. We'll check back with you soon. Thanks so much.

And 2012 CNN Hero Jake Wood's organization is now is helping to vaccinate Americans. His nonprofit Team Rubicon normally responds to natural disasters. But since this COVID hit, his group of military veterans has risen to the occasion.


JAKE WOOD, 2012 CNN HERO: When COVID first broke out, we immediately pivoted our organization to get our volunteers doing work like supporting food banks, delivering groceries directly to people's doorsteps. Setting up COVID testing sites and then most recently supporting millions of vaccinations across the country in all 50 states.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I get your appointment time and last name?

WOOD: Over the course of the last six months we've supported hundreds of sites across the country.

[16:55:05] Doing the simple things like site setup and tear down, patient registration, optimizing patient flow to help ensure that their doctors put shots in arms so that they can just focus on what they do best.

It's been a modern-day medical wartime effort to get doses into the arms of Americans. And so we were really proud we've been able to support nearly two million doses across the country.


ACOSTA: And to find out more go to And we'll be right back.