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Search and Rescue Efforts Resume after Rest of Surfside Condo Demolished; Trump Seemingly Admits Facts of Prosecutors Case against Trump Org; Biden Warns Americans That Fight COVID is Not Over. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 5, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Monday morning to you this holiday weekend. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow has the day off. This morning, search and rescue operations in Surfside, Florida have now resumed. This after the remainder of the Champlain Towers South condo building was demolished overnight. Here's that moment.

Officials made the urgent call to take the rest of the building down as Tropical Storm Elsa barrels towards Florida. With the rest of the building gone now, the hope is, it will now be safer for rescue and recovery workers. They will be able to access about another 1/3 of the debris pile that they could not safely reach before that definitely demolition.

At least 24 people are now confirmed dead, though 121 people remain unaccounted for. This is multiple buildings in the Miami area have been evacuated over the past several days over new safety concerns.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Surfside, Florida, with the latest.

And Natasha, this opens up really the entire site now for these rescue and recovery workers. Are they already working there now in the wake of this demolition, and how much of a difference is it expected to make?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, there is a bit of activity now. We do know that the search and rescue mission is back on after they temporarily paused for this demolition.

You can see there's a crane in the background in between the buildings. That's where we saw the rest of the standing Champlain Towers South up until 10:30 last night when that controlled blast brought it down. And as you mentioned, they really wanted this to happen before the storm potentially comes through creating, you know, wind gusts and then picking up that concrete and debris potentially, making that unstable structure fall in a direction that would have been unhelpful and unsafe for the crew on the ground.

So, now that they're back searching, that we understand that this will allow them to search an area, especially close to the remaining structure that up until that point, they could not access because of the instability of the building. But of course, we are talking about more than a week now since the initial collapse. That raises a lot of questions for the families of 121 people unaccounted for who are still desperately hoping for any news. CNN talked to Colonel Golan Vach of the Israeli Rescue Unit who has been working on the scene. Here's what he said about his communication with the families.


COL. GOLAN VACH, LEADING ISRAELI NATIONAL RESCUE UNIT: I said to the families two days ago, that that chances to find somebody alive is close to zero. I'm realistic, but we are still full of hope. This hope keeps us very active. And we scale up each day. We wake up in the morning if we have sleep, slept at all, with a lot of energy to find their loved ones alive or not alive.


CHEN: Colonel Vach also talked about finding pieces of furniture in the debris just an example a reminder of the life that was lived in that building.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz yesterday have talked at a press conference about how demolitions can sometimes be a spectacle that people want to see from the street, instead, this was the furthest thing from it, people were told to keep inside and this demolition this moment of collapse was just a continuation of the tragedy, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Natasha Chen thanks so much.

Joining me now is Allyn Kilsheimer, a structural engineer, science designated investigator of the condo collapse. He was also part of the investigations after the 9/11 attack at the Pentagon, and the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Thanks so much for taking the time this morning. First question is really about now that you've taken -- they've taken down the rest of the building there. And it allows access really to the entire site, not just to recover bodies, but also to continue the investigation. How much of a difference does that make going forward?

ALLYN KILSHEIMER, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER, HIRED TO INVESTIGATE CHAMPLAIN TOWERS SOUTH COLLAPSE: Well, the deal is that you still have a pile of debris, whether it's the original debris or the new debris on top of the original degree or the new debris on top of itself. It's still positive rays. So it's incredibly dangerous for the rescue workers and the people they're going to be sorting out all this debris for them to be there. There's no longer a building that can fall on them but there's all this debris that is normally unstable. It's received. It's set its own stability temporarily but it can always give way a little bit underneath their feet.

[09:05:01] SCIUTTO: Understood. As you know that there's a look at a number of buildings now. In the Miami area, you already have two that have been closed. Tell us about that process. It's early in the investigation of this collapse. So there are many questions, their ideas as to what brought it down but no final answer. How urgent is it, in your view to be looking at other buildings in the area right now?

KILSHEIMER: Well, I personally have been asked to look at three other buildings in Surfside, four other buildings, and I've done that. I'm not looking at anything down in Miami or other than in the Surfside town. It all is a function of the level of problem that you see. You know, the issue is that a structural engineer, who has some experience in designing and building buildings needs to go into the various buildings. As an example, in the four building -- three or four buildings I looked at, besides, obviously, the area of the collapse of the south building, I spent probably 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes, walking through the only visible and accessible areas, which is the basement looking up at the underside of the first floor. That's the only place that you can actually see structure unless you're out on balconies, you could get into individual apartments and look at the balconies, but there has to be a judgment made as to whether or not whatever you see, if it doesn't look like it's right, could be the cause of an imminent collapse, in my opinion, a problem with a balcony because we see those all over the country. And the problem with a balcony and cracked concrete or exposed reinforcing steel typically is not going to cause the entire building to fall down. It might have a little piece of concrete falling down on somebody below. But all concrete is made to crack. So you're going to see cracks in all concrete. The issue is, what mean, that's the bottom line.

SCIUTTO: I understood. Listen, that's a judgment, you know, that a lot of buildings are going to have going forward. What is the isolated question versus one that might jeopardize the entire structure. CNN recently obtained documents that showed urgent conversations in the Champlain's South apartment building, regarding questions about what repairs needed to be made and how severe they were. There was a presentation in October on a quote from one of the graphics that they used in this presentation. It says there is no waterproofing layer over the garage in the driveway or any area except the pool deck in the planters. This has exposed the garage to water intrusion for 40 years whether waterproofing has failed, water has gotten underneath, cause additional damage to the concrete.

This is not the only one, as you're aware there were questions raised in 2018. And at other times, as you look at those warnings, raise them, in your view should that -- should those have raised urgent concerns and demands for immediate repairs? Or were they difficult judgment calls?

KILSHEIMER: Well, first of all, what I read in those documents is something that non-engineering types had said except for the one for more veto. The issue is, it's the extent of the problem that would decide whether it was urgent to do something or not. I saw something yesterday that is in a limited area. I felt uncomfortable with what I saw. And I advise the people they needed to get an engineer in there to look at it more detail and maybe put up some shoring. It by itself was not going to cause the building to collapse, that building to collapse. That doesn't mean that a little piece of, you know, if a piece of concrete two feet square falls and hits you in the head, that's a collapse to you, right?

SCIUTTO: I get that. I'm just asking about when you look at these warnings here, because everybody's got to make judgment calls across the country, you know, in 1000 buildings. But when you look at these particular warnings that came before this collapse, do they are -- they in the category in your view of the kinds of warnings it says that we got to fix this now or we're in danger or something that was that was a harder judgment to make?

KILSHEIMER: Well, I think the answer to your question is that there were documents prepared sometimes -- sometime in May, that I think we're out to bid to do certain structural repairs as well as mechanical, electrical, plumbing things on the building. The people who prepare those drawings, there's nothing in there that talks about the urgency of that work, all right?


KILSHEIMER: So, you have to see it to understand it. Just hearing a written thing and seeing a couple pictures doesn't really help very much.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Well listen, a lot of buildings are going to have to face these very questions now going forward. Allyn Kilsheimer, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

KILSHEIMER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Former President Trump appears to have publicly acknowledged the core facts in the Manhattan district attorney's case against the Trump Organization and its Chief Financial officer Allen Weisselberg. Have a listen to what he told to Florida crowd over the weekend.



DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: 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 and 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?


SCIUTTO: Well, the IRS does know the answer to that. This marks the former president's most substantial comments yet, on the charges since they were unsealed last week.

CNN's Laura Jarrett has been following the story. Laura, you look at those comments. I mean, the president seems to be acknowledging the core facts of the case here, right? And to be clear, you know, just so folks at home know, right. I mean, the idea was, instead of paying that money to Weisselberg as income, which would have been taxed. Instead, the company pays it themselves. And he therefore avoids well many 100 of 1000s of dollars in taxes over the course of several years. I mean, does -- do the President's comments affect this case, legally? I mean, is that something that the prosecutors can raise in court?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR, EARLY START: Yes, potentially, you might see them do that. I think you're seeing one a political maneuver, but also a legal maneuver, and both of them shouldn't work. And here's why, Jim, the President, the former President, I should say is the one who held himself out as a purported tax expert. We all remember back in 2016, during the debates with Hillary Clinton during the presidential election, she tried to call him out on the fact that he wasn't paying any federal income taxes. And what was his answer? That makes me smart. That's what he told everyone. And then in 2017, he gives this freewheeling interview to the New York Times where he says, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. And now he's telling his supporters those who love him and stand by him. I don't know what this is. Does anybody know what this is? He says he's the one who knows what this is.

And so you see him sort of downplaying the accusations that have now come to light in these criminal charging documents for political reasons. But again, I also think what you're seeing here is a legal maneuver, trying to preview a defense.

SCIUTTO: How so, tell me what that defense looks like that then?

JARRETT: So he hasn't been charged with anything, obviously but his company has. And on the face of it, it looks like, what are you doing admitting to the fact that you paid for Weisselberg's grandkids to go to private school, but remember, his lawyers have probably advised him by now that these types of tax crimes have a high standard for proving intent, right? This is not somebody who emails, who taxes as far as we know, and so they're going to have to prove intent in some other way. And now that he's been on the record, say, I'm an expert in taxes, I know better than the best CPA. He's going to want to try to throw some model on that and make it look like actually, I don't know anything about this. In the event, the prosecutors wanted to try to say, see, he actually does know better. He wants to try to make it look like he actually doesn't. But again, this shouldn't go anywhere. We all have the receipts to show that he's on record saying he knows best.

SCIUTTO: Understood, public comments. Laura Jarrett, thanks very much.

JARRETT: Sure, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, as the Delta variant of COVID-19 surges in places with low vaccination rates, President Biden says the job is far from done when it comes to vaccinating Americans as a whole. Dr. Fauci warning of potential new spikes in cases particularly in those low vaccinated areas, that's next.

And a pro-golfer shot and killed on a golf course in Georgia amid a surge in gun violence. We have new details ahead.

Plus, why the top U.S. general in Afghanistan says, "we should be concerned" about the Taliban as the remaining U.S. forces there, leave the country. And this just stunning fireworks displays across the U.S. this weekend in Las Vegas there as the nation celebrates Independence Day.



SCIUTTO: Well, nearly six months into President Biden's term in office, the country still can't quite declare America's independence from COVID-19. The U.S. just missed the President's goal of having 70% of all U.S. adults with at least one dose of the vaccine by yesterday July 4. CDC data is that it's about just over 67%.

And an event for military families and essential workers at the White House the president celebrated progress against the virus. But warned the fight is not over.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: 245 years ago, we declared our independence from a distant king. Today, we're closer than ever, to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That's not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We've got a lot more work to do.


WILLIAMS: Well, joining me now, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, she's former Health Commissioner for the city of Baltimore. Dr. Wen, nice to have you back.


SCIUTTO: So, we didn't reach 70% goal, just above 67%, not bad, right? For adults 18 and above, given estimates of how many others in the country were exposed to this, though not vaccinated might have some immunity from exposure. Do we have any sense of how close we are as a country to herd immunity?

WEN: I don't think we're that close to herd immunity. And the way I -- well, the reason I believe that is we're seeing surges in so many parts of the country. If we actually were at herd immunity due to, as you said, vaccination or recovery from coronavirus that we wouldn't have these huge surges that we're seeing in Missouri, Arkansas, Wyoming, Nevada, so many parts of the country.


And so I think at this point, we need to acknowledge that we are at a plateau when it comes to vaccinations. A lot of people who will have, wanted to be vaccinated, they're vaccinated. There are people who are hesitant for whatever reason, of course, we need to work on the ground game of doctors, community health workers, people who are trusted in different areas. Yes, they should be working on getting those individuals vaccinated. But I think we have to take more drastic action. And the Biden ministration needs to also acknowledge that what they're doing in terms of increasing vaccinations is no longer effective.

SCIUTTO: Part of the Biden strategy, as you mentioned, is to get into these areas with low rates and go through GPs, go through people's personal doctors, because polling shows people tend to trust their doctor, even if they don't trust a, you know, an official from the CDC. What's the evidence as to whether that has made a difference?

WEN: Well, anecdotally, I can tell you that even in my own clinical practice that I still see many patients who are not yet vaccinated. These are not anti vaxxers. I mean, certainly that exists. But the people that I'm seeing in Baltimore, and I'm sure it all across the country, too, they have questions, they have concerns, they also are not certain that COVID-19 is a real threat anymore, because restrictions have been lifted, they can go back to doing whatever they wanted. Anyway, um, and I think it really takes that, it takes a conversation, but it takes sustained conversation, not just once at a visit, but maybe a phone call afterwards, maybe a check in when they come back for their diabetes or hypertension checkup. I mean, those are the things that have to occur. And one thing that the federal government can do to encourage these conversations is to reimburse for them. These conversations take time, and it takes away from other things that the doctor or nurse have to be doing and so reimbursing for those critical vaccine conversations is really important.

SCIUTTO: That's interesting. OK, the rates, the vaccination rates, enormous disparity between some states and others, and interesting, it really is almost a red, blue state problem. I mean, blue states have higher vaccination rates, red generally lower. Dr. Fauci says that, you know, you are going to see outbreaks in those states or regions or counties with lower vaccination rates, I mean, are we likely to see now regional, rather than national spikes or outbreaks in COVID-19?

WEN: That's exactly right. We can look at the national numbers and maybe the level of infection might even look steady, or might even look like they're going in a good direction. But there still could be regional hotspots. And in fact, that's exactly what we're seeing down. And so I think the effort needs to be more of a ground game, we need to be deploying resources as the White House is doing to areas of highest need. But we also have to recognize that what causes a danger in one part of the country could very well affect the rest of the country as well, that we're not an island in and of ourselves.

And so the Delta variant is more transmissible. But we could have other variants arising over time, too, that are even worse in some ways. It could even evade the protection of our -- of the vaccines that we have.

SCIUTTO: Yeah, there are no giant walls between states. And by the way people are interact -- you know, you go to an airport, right? You're coming across people from low and high vaccination rate areas. So the question comes for folks like you and me who are vaccinated. If you travel to an area with a low vaccination rate, should you change your behavior for it? Well wear a mask, you know, as a simple step.

WEN: I would, and here's the reason why. If you are vaccinated, you are very well protected from becoming severely ill. You're also protected from getting ill and potentially transmitted the virus from -- transmitting the virus to other people, but you're not 100% protected. And you can think about it this way that the vaccine is a very good raincoat. And so if you're in an area that's drizzling, you're probably fine. But if you're going to another area with a thunderstorm, maybe you need something else a mask if you will, on top of that. And so I do think that masks remain a powerful tool in addition to the vaccine if we're in an area of high community transmission and low vaccination rates.

SCIUTTO: I like that. The mask is a good raincoat. Dr. Leana Wen thanks very much.

WEN: Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, standoff between police and heavily armed militia groups shut down a major highway for hours up next what we know about this group and what's next.



SCIUTTO: There are now new charges against 11 members of a self proclaimed militia group involved in a tense nine hour standoff on a Massachusetts highway over the weekend.

Massachusetts State police say it began during a traffic stop on Interstate-95, just north of Boston. This force police to shut down part of that freeway issue a shelter in place order for the surrounding area, went on for hours.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is here with more. Polo, tell us about this group. What more do you know about these suspects? What kind of weapons they were carrying? What they were up to?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Jim, what we know about these suspects, these are 11 self-described militia members and what we do know about them is that they were all arrested without incident after those tense nine hours here. It all started early Saturday morning at about 130 when Massachusetts State Trooper actually noticed them on the side of I-95 that they were fueling up their own personal vehicles, pulled over, started speaking to them and then noticed that they were on with long rifles and pistols and as a result, investigators then started to inquire exactly who these men were. They refused to produce identification, backup was called and then of course that standoff began.

At this point they are charged with various weapons related charges as well as accused of conspiracy to commit a crime here. They again eventually were arrested without incident here and investigators are still trying to dig a little bit more into.