Return to Transcripts main page


Search and Rescue Efforts Resume after rest of Surfside Condo Demolished; Trump Seemingly Admits Facts of Prosecutors' Case Against Trump Organization; U.S. Falls Short of Biden's Goal to Vaccinate 70 Percent of Adults by July 4. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 5, 2021 - 10:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I just need to clean out my garage is what I need to do.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes, goodness gracious. Christine Romans, thanks very much.

A very good Monday morning to you this holiday weekend, I'm Jim Sciutto.

This morning search and rescue crews, they are back at work, still racing against the clock though.

That is the remainder of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside, Florida, demolished overnight. That is a controlled explosion, to be clear. It was taken down as Tropical Storm Elsa's powerful winds were headed toward the site. The hope is that the site will be safer now. Workers are now able to reach all of the debris field, about a third of it had been off limits because of that unstable structure.

At least 24 people are confirmed dead, 121 remain though remain unaccounted for. And now, there are growing concerns over the safety of some other older buildings in the area. Multiple buildings have been evacuated over the past few days, inspections ordered.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Surfside, Florida, with the latest. So, how much of a difference does it make that these rescue and recovery teams can access the full site of the collapsed building now?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is going to be a big deal, Jim, because prior to the demolition, we were told that search and rescue teams couldn't actually access the part that was closest to the building, the remaining parts of the building itself, and that was because of the instability of the structure. As you mentioned, they were concerned about the storm potentially taking the building down for them in the wrong direction, making that an immediate threat on the people on site.

So this is a controlled way of bringing it down. And as you said, now they have more access to the rest of the debris pile. Of course, a very nerve-wracking things for families to see because when you're watching that come down, that is people's lives, their furniture, their possessions in there that they were hoping to retrieve. But there has been communication with them to make sure they understand that this is the best course of action, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So we are seeing other buildings both, well, in the county of Miami-Dade, it extends beyond Surfside, that are being evacuated and many dozens, new inspections ordered. How quickly is this proceeding and do we expect more evacuations as a result of this?

CHEN: Well, you can imagine the heightened urgency that all of the residents in the area are feeling after this happened. Just in the tower right next door, Champlain Towers East, they recommended that the residents evacuate last night just because of the demolition. But they also have noticed that there was falling concrete on a pillar that happened after the south tower collapsed.

And so if we're taking a look at just the bullet points, the three buildings that we know about with some issues right now, that is the tower next door that I mentioned that had some damage post-collapse of the south tower, then you have a three-storey structure in Miami Beach, in the city of Miami Beach, evacuated on Saturday when an inspector came and saw some structural issues there. That was only half occupied though, so about a dozen units affected with that evacuation.

And then you have the Crest View Towers Condominium in North Miami Beach, that was evacuated on Friday all of a sudden, and that's because the city had requested the buildings turn in their 40-year recertification reports. And that building turned in a report that was dated from January showing structural and electrical problems. And so that delayed report, once the city saw that, everybody had to get out, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, a lot of folks looking closely there now with understandable concern. Natasha Chen, thanks very much.

Joining me now is a structural engineer, Rick De La Guardia, to discuss the broader issues here. Good to have you on this morning.

And I wonder, looking at the site prior to the demolition of the remaining part of tower, you have this kind of creaking structure above those rescue teams for some time. They made the decision to take it down, including with the storm approaching. How important is that in your view? Right call?

RICK DE LA GUARDIA, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: I think it is absolutely the right call. I think it is for the sake of the safety of not only the first responders but also for to preserve the site. That site, in my opinion, is hallowed ground. And you don't want anything interfering with the proper rescue or recovery of the victims.

So we had an impending storm which this building lost a great majority of the support structure. Certainly, with high winds, there was the capacity for this building to fall in the wrong direction. SCIUTTO: You know, I'm glad we've been showing pictures of the ongoing operations, and I think it's great to show up because you're reminded this is painstaking work by hand, right?


I mean, you have folks up there with buckets, and they're not just backhoeing this stuff off there, they're doing it very carefully, obviously, out of respect for finding any remains. But also there are concerns about the stability of that debris pile. Are there not?

DE LA GUARDIA: Well, yes, but I have full faith and confidence in the engineering experts that are there, along with the first responders, to make sure they're able to do the work safely. So I have full confidence in that, including when they're digging in and making tunnels. There are engineers out there, structural engineers that want to make sure they're doing so safely.

SCIUTTO: Okay, understood. We have yet more warning signs uncovered prior to the collapse of Champlain Towers South. These are documents that CNN obtained recently that showed conversations in the winter of 2020, so just a few months ago, about the state of the building. I'm going to quote from one of the presentations just this past October. It said the following. There was no waterproofing layer over the garage in the driveway or any area except the pool deck and planters. This has exposed the garage to water intrusion for 40 years. Where there is waterproofing, it has failed. Water has gotten underneath and caused additional damage to the concrete.

So, I mean, this is one of several. There were concerns raised in 2018 as well. There were debates within the condo board committee. In your view, when you see signs, signals, missed clues like this, shouldn't it had been obvious at the time that these were urgent issues or can you understand that these were difficult judgment calls?

DE LA GUARDIA: It is a combination of both. Certainly, in my opinion, after reviewing the report from the engineering 2018, I think that report did a very good job to stress that the building required immediate action. Now, why the action wasn't taken into 2018, is a question that I'm sure the attorneys will be looking into.

But, in my opinion, the report in 2018 did a very good job in stressing immediate action needed to be taken for the building but it didn't really go to the extent that said that I believe this building is going to be in imminent collapse. So, I think it is something that we have to be careful with.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And, listen, it is early in the investigation. There are a number of signs we've seen and questions about other factors as well, including subsidence of the overall property and the possibility it was a combination of issues, of course.

I just wonder, as a structural engineer with some experience in this area here, what is your level of concern that this -- that these issues are not isolated to this one building, that either they are design issues or even environmental issues that might pose dangers to other structures in the area?

DE LA GUARDIA: Well, my biggest concern and one of the primary reasons that I'm speaking to the media is to raise awareness of what I see as flaws of the process. The process is flawed, in my opinion, and I see -- I see instances and examples of exactly the same thing playing itself out through the entire county. And, in fact --

SCIUTTO: But what flaws specifically are you talking about?

DE LA GUARDIA: Well, I have discussed this and I've explaining it to individuals and I tried to see how can I refine my message. And the way I've refined my message is power, process and maintenance. There is too much power in the hands of homeowners associations when it comes to -- with that require life, safety or effective life safety of its residents. The process needs to be certainly improved and the building maintenance is the most important one. The building maintenance should be properly and timely maintained. With those two things, I think we avoid this in the future.

SCIUTTO: Yes. The first one, it's a big question we've been talking about on the air for some time, right, is, should it be a requirement rather than a judgment call made by boards when money is often a factor in these decisions.

Rick De La Guardia, thanks so much for coming on.

DE LA GUARDIA: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Well, the outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa will make an impact across South Florida today as the system picks up steam. According to the National Hurricane Center, the storm has the potential to re-strengthen as it nears Cuba's southern shores at this point. It is expected to make landfall there later today. That's a shot.

So far, the storm has killed at least three people. AMS Meteorologist Chad Myers joining us now. How big of a threat do you think this storm poses to South Florida and the rest of the southeast?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the southwestern part of the state, Jim, a lot more than the southeastern part of the state where Surfside is obviously located. But what I want you to notice on this satellite picture is the center of the low right there. There is not much convection on the west side. It is all on the east side. Where is this going to go? This is going on the west side of Florida.

So most of this convection will be on shore in Florida when it moves that way.


That is why there are tropical storm watches and warnings already posted. No hurricane watches or warnings posted for the U.S. because it is not forecast to be a hurricane. This has to get over Cuba and it is not a wide island but it is a tall island in some spots, and that will take some of the rotation out of the storm. Let me show you what's going to happen here. This is 6:00 tomorrow morning. Very close to either the dry Tortugas or the lower keys where the center will. This is when we're going to start to get those southeast winds on the east side.

This is 20 to 30 miles per hour, but down here, this is 60 to 65 miles per hour. And then by tomorrow night it starts to get farther to the north filling in some of the bays, maybe Port Charlotte, maybe parts of Florida Bay up into Tampa Bay with a little bit of surge, maybe two to four feet of surge. And that really only matters if you live by water, but it matters.

And also here, the new little report that we just got out from the Storm Prediction Center, there is a chance that some of these storms having some tornados with them and even some wind damage, and certainly heavy rainfall, could be six to ten inches of rain here. This is where the winds will be for tonight. Here is where they'll be tomorrow on shore. Notice not as much on the east coast because the storm is west of the state. Still in the water for a while, but there will certainly be wind along that coast and surge as well, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We know you'll be following it closely. Chad Myers, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, did former President Trump just publicly admit to the alleged tax crimes his company is accused of committing? What his new comments mean in the courtroom for the case, next.

Plus, a sad story, a golf professional murdered on the course. The suspect left behind two more victims before going on the run. We're going to have a live report on that coming up.

Plus, track superstar Sha'Carri Richardson suspended and barred from her signature event at the Olympics because she used marijuana. There are questions mounting over the decision, the rules, we'll just discuss just ahead.

And as we head to break, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg posting this July 4th video flying a flag on an electric surf board to the sound of John Denver's, Take Me Home Country Roads. Goodness.

We're back after the break.



SCIUTTO: Former President Trump defiant over the weekend. He held a rally in Florida despite prosecutors in New York indicting both his organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg, just last week. But instead of refuting the charges tax evasion through the use of fringe benefits, Trump, well, seemed to double down.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: They didn't go after Hillary Clinton and her foundation. They didn't touch her. They leave Democrats alone, no matter how bad they are. But they mobilized every power of government to come after me, my family, my wonderful employees and my company, solely because of politics. They want to do things to hurt us.


SCIUTTO: Here with us now, former Federal Prosecutor and CNN Legal Analyst Elie Honig, also the managing editor of Axios and CNN Political Analyst Margaret Talev. Thanks to both of you.

Elie, beyond those comments there, Trump at that same rally, defended the practice, in effect, right, of taking what might normally be income, calling it a fringe benefit, quite large ones, in fact, paying private school tuition in New York for grandchildren, a rent-free apartment in New York and, therefore, shielding that from taxes. I wonder, can his comments be used in court?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They absolutely can be used against him in court, Jim, and I pity Donald Trump's lawyers here because I guarantee you their advice was don't talk about this case. Have your rally but don't talk about this case.

This is a bizarre statement by Donald Trump, because on the one hand, it's a partial admission, he admits the core facts that, yes, we paid people off the books and, no, we did not pay taxes on it, but it's also he's trying to build a platform for his defense. And his defense is going to be either, I didn't know that was happening or I didn't know that was illegal.

So, he's already trying to litigate this case through the media, ultimately, unfortunately, for Donald Trump who is not charged yet but for anybody charged in the cases, these cases get litigated in the courts, not rallies.

SCIUTTO: And his company, by the way, the organization beyond Weisselberg.

Margaret Talev, politics involved here in the president's comments. What political advantage does he see in making this case?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Jim, I think that is right. The legal strategy, while sort of curious, you can see both sides of it, the political strategy is much more clear-cut. It is discredit as a witch hunt, the case against Allen Weisselberg and the case against Trump Organization and also tap into this really interesting strain in Republican politics right now, which is to be anti-IRS.

This has been in the works for many years. It preceded Donald Trump's presidency, it lives on after it. But we're seeing now a real anti-tax sentiment in the party and we're seeing it play out even like in the infrastructure talks, right, trying to figure out how to pay for a $1.2 trillion bipartisan compromise. Part of that is an idea of spending 40 million more on the IRS to help them boost enforcement so that they can get 100 million back. So many Republicans opposed to this.

So, Trump is tapping into a strain that resonates but not with all of the Republican base but with a sizable chunk.


And I think that combined with the legal strategy helps you understand where he's coming from here.

SCIUTTO: Elie Honig, on to another topic, which is increasing evidence of attempts to interfere with the 2020 election by Trump and his team, specifically with a vote counting in Arizona, this is a phone call from Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to an election supervisor in Maricopa County. I want to play that for you and get your sense legally what this shows.


RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP'S FORMER PERSONAL ATTORNEY (voice over): Bill, it's Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's lawyer. If you get a chance, would you please give me a call? I have a few things I'd like to talk over with you. Maybe we can get this thing fixed up.

You know, I really think it's a shame that Republicans sort of, we're both in this kind of situation. And I think there may be a nice way to resolve this for everybody.


SCIUTTO: Okay, the situation being Trump losing that state based on the account and since audited account and that kind of thing. Legally, I mean, one, are there any circumstance where the personal lawyer of a candidate in an election be calling an election official in the midst of it to say he has got a solution?

HONIG: I think the key quote from Rudy Giuliani there is when he says, let's see if there is a way we can get this thing fixed up. This is outrageous stuff, Jim. And I think it is important that we keep focus on this because all of the focus recently has been on the indictment of Trump Organization. That is important. But that doesn't have anything to do with the political process.

The ones that I think are more important, the investigations that are more important are the ones down in Georgia and perhaps in Arizona, where we're seeing the exact same conduct, where Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani and others were strong-arming local Republican-only election officials trying to get them basically to throw the election their way. That is incredibly serious. It is also illegal. It's illegal under federal law, it's illegal under Georgia Law, it is illegal under Arizona law. So those are the higher stakes prosecutions, in my view.

SCIUTTO: Margaret, we, of course, have done a lot of coverage of new election laws being passed by GOP legislatures and they basically fall into two categories. One is about voting access, how many days, et cetera, drop boxes and so on, but the other one deals with who can disrupt the count or challenge the counts as it is happening, can partisans do so. And based on your reading of those laws, have they made something like this more likely to work in future elections?

TALEV: Look, I think what is going on in the states right now is going to make it, in general, easier for things like this to become politicized and it's going to increase the chances that the federal government is going to be asked to intervene either through executive authority, through the Justice Department, or on the backend, through the courts.

And what we're looking at overall is setting up a system that looks like it is asking for much more litigation on a consistent basis to try to reconcile what states are doing with what the overarching federal law says needs happen to protect voters' rights.

SCIUTTO: Imagine that scenario going forward, and, well, not hard to imagine. Margaret Talev, Elie Honig, thanks very much.

HONIG: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: There are new coronavirus infections surging as the delta variant of COVID-19 spreads in this country. Unvaccinated pockets of the country, are health officials say, extremely vulnerable now. It is something you have to hear. It's important. We're going to have the latest.



SCIUTTO: As America celebrates Independence Day, President Biden stopping just short of declaring the country free from COVID. The U.S. missed the president's goal of having 70 percent of adults with at least one vaccine dose. It is close, right now the number just over 67 percent. 20 states and Washington, D.C. did hit the mark. But in states where vaccination rates have lagged and there are several with really low rates, the delta variant is now spreading through vulnerable communities.

CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now. And, Elizabeth, I mean, really, it is a tale of two countries at this point, is it not? Highly vaccinated states, states with perhaps half that rate down in the 30s, and now we're seeing spikes there.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is a tale of two countries. And I'm going to show you some numbers, Jim, that really describe the ramifications of the choices that these two countries are making. Let's take a look. These are deaths in June from COVID-19. 99.2 percent of the people who died of COVID-19 last month were unvaccinated. 0.8 percent were vaccinated. I don't think there are any other numbers that puts out this stark choice that people have. When you don't get vaccinated, you are running this risk of dying from COVID-19. It is bewildering why people would choose not to get unvaccinated or why people would choose not to get vaccinated.

Let's take a listen to something that Dr. Anthony Fauci said on this yesterday.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It is all the more sad and all the more tragic why it isn't being completely implemented in this country. And whatever the reasons, as you said, some of them are ideologic, some of them are just fundamentally anti-vax or anti-science or what have you. But we just need to put that aside now.


We're dealing with a historic situation with this pandemic and we do have the tools to counter it.