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Trump Allies' Election Pressure; Pope Francis in Hospital; Holiday Travel Surges; Interview With Miami-Dade County, Florida, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava; Florida Collapse Site Braces For Storm. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 5, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Welcome to a special holiday edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

The most severe weather yet is expected in Surfside, Florida. You know That there is this desperate search-and-rescue mission. It continued overnight. There was a pause in the search for the demolition of the 81 units still standing after the catastrophic collapse 12 days ago.

Just a short time ago, officials there confirmed the demolition was a success, created safer conditions for teams there that they can now access more of the rubble.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The pile that was closest to the remaining structure was effectively inaccessible by our search-and-rescue people.

And so, when I went out there this morning, of course, the whole building's now down. They were on that pile that had been difficult for them to access, and so they're making a lot of progress.


CAMEROTA: But, with better access, officials say searchers, sadly, found three more bodies. That brings the latest number of confirmed dead to 27; 118 people are still missing.

But now search-and-rescue crews must also brace for severe weather, the outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa expected to bring strong winds, heavy rains and possible flooding.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Surfside for us.

Natasha, are search teams doing anything differently now with this storm approaching?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, they are working as fast as they can.

And they were very concerned that this storm might take down that building and make it fall the wrong way, so that is why there was such an urgent discussion about how to bring that building down in a controlled manner.

That's what you saw there last night. It happened around 10:30 p.m. Now, they got back to work very quickly. The rescue teams had paused for the engineers to prepare for that demolition, but, once it was demolished, 20 minutes later, the mayor of Surfside told us the search-and-rescue teams were back on that pile.

They have been working all night. And, of course, they want to do as much as they can before any severe weather comes in, the good news being that the worst of the weather seems to be going around this area and not directly at Surfside.

And, of course, the mayor of Miami-Dade County had to really reassure the public, because they had a lot of questions about pets and animals as they were preparing for this demolition. Here's what she said.


DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We took every action that we possibly could to search for any pets, any animals in the building prior to the demolition.

In the days since the collapse, the Miami-Dade Fire rescue team conducted multiple full sweeps of the building, in-person, including searching in closets and under beds and other hiding places.


CHEN: Mayor Levine Cava also said that, prior to this demolition, the remaining part of that building was really being propped up by the pile of rubble. It was unstable, causing an immediate threat to the people working on the site. So she and other officials have emphasized that they do feel this was the right thing to do.

And you saw overnight three more people were found after they were able to bring the rest of that building down. So, it definitely is an emotional thing for people to watch, especially if you're the family of those 118 people still missing and the people who perhaps were hoping to retrieve items from their units that were still standing there.

But I'm understanding that there was a lot of communication with the families to help them understand that this is the safest and most productive way forward -- Alisyn and Victor.

BLACKWELL: Obviously, still very difficult to watch, as the tangible parts of their lives then collapsed overnight.

Natasha Chen for us there in Surfside, thanks so much.

Joining us now is the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Daniella Levine Cava.

Mayor, thank you for taking some time. I know you are terribly busy.

But let's start there with the families who watched the remaining, the standing structure there that -- and, listen, we know that the greatest loss is the loss of life, but they lost the tangible parts of their lives.


What support is there for those families that watched the collapse overnight?

CAVA: We have everybody assembled to support the families still seeking loved ones and the survivors who had to evacuate.

We have the federal agencies, FEMA, on site from immediately after the collapse, also the state Department of Emergency Management. We have got counseling agencies, housing support, county departments, the replacement of documents.

Right now, everybody has been asked to document any of their valuables with photographs that they might have or any kind of proof, so that we can be sure that, as soon as we recover those valuables, we can categorize them.

It's really an all-hands-on-deck kind of effort. Millions of dollars have been raised through private philanthropy, and these funds are already being distributed to the families.

CAMEROTA: And, Mayor, I mean, just one more point on this, because I received a frantic and desperate call from one of the survivors from that building last night who was so despondent that everything that she owns in the world was about to go down into rubble.

I mean, these are -- we can all appreciate, obviously, the sentimental value of old photos, prized possessions. She said that she was working from home for the past year. Her laptop, her important work documents, any tax documents, I mean, everything, just watching everything go up in smoke.

She was saying she had talked to other residents that they felt sort of retraumatized, as you can imagine, by having to watch all of that. Was there no way to let an emergency team go into that building and let people grab the few items that they would need for the rest of their life?

CAVA: I'm not sure if you know, but that building had shifted, actually moved. And it was only being held up by the rubble pile.

So, we're talking about a building that was severely compromised. We were not allowing search-and-rescue teams in the building. They did the three passes early. And, honestly, at great risk to themselves, they did a final pass for the pets that might have been there, identified in a few of the units.

This is a very, very dangerous situation, and one that would have compromised safety.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about Tropical Storm Elsa.

Just got an alert that it has made landfall on the coast of Cuba. It's headed toward Florida, of course, on the southern -- the western side, which is good news, potentially, for Surfside.

When will that require the search-and-rescue effort to stop down? Do you know how long, potentially, it will have to hold off?

CAVA: I have been told that 30-mile-per-hour winds would pause the search, as well as lightning. Those are the two conditions. We're very hopeful that the path now will take it far enough away from Surfside that we will not have to pause the effort.

You know they have gone through so many rainstorms. It's been torrential all through the 12 days, and they have not ceased their search efforts, despite the weather.

CAMEROTA: Mayor, what about other buildings in Miami-Dade?

We know that so many of them are now being evaluated, in light of all of this. So, how many, or have you been able to determine if people will have to permanently, or at least for a extended period of time, evacuate from some other buildings that could be precarious?

CAVA: Miami-Dade County has almost three million residents. And 60 percent is in city.

So, as the countywide mayor, I have responsibility specifically for buildings in the county portion that's not in cities. And we have gone through in great detail all of those with recent recertifications or pending recertification. And so far, really, we have only found four balconies that needed to be shut down.

Nobody had to be evacuated. But North Miami Beach, one of the cities, did their own audit and determined that a building did need to be evacuated as a result of the findings. So I'm hoping other cities will do the same.

And, of course, we're all looking together at what can we do to strengthen these codes in future, so that we get earlier notice of any potentially hazardous conditions and take all the necessary steps to protect everybody.

BLACKWELL: All right, Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County, thank you so much for being with us.

CAVA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, the storm system that Floridians are watching, Tropical Storm Elsa, has already killed three people in the Caribbean.

Let's get the latest on its track from CNN meteorologist Tom Sater.

So, Tom, which way is it heading?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, as Victor mentioned just moments ago, the 2:00 p.m. advisory did give a landfall on the southern coast of Cuba.

About an hour ago, the sustained winds were stronger. I mean, right now, they're at 60 miles per hour, so it was up 65. So this interaction with Cuba, I wouldn't be surprised to see it drop even more, maybe 55 miles per hour, down to 50.


The problem is, once it makes its way into the warmer waters of the Florida Straits, we could see it back up to 65. Now, Elsa is the fifth named storm of the year. It's the earliest we have ever had a fifth name. Does that sound familiar? Went through that last year.

It was a hurricane at one point through the Caribbean. That's concerning. It's the earliest we have had a hurricane in the season in nine years. But what we're going to be watching now -- and, again, the track, which has been shifting slightly westward, is very good news.

They made the right call with the demolition. There's no doubt about it. When you have an uncertainty, and that cone, that cone of uncertainty, when it includes parts of Miami at one point, yes, you got to get -- everything's about safety.

However, they're not out of it just yet, because if you look at some of the rain bands, most of the rain near the center is to the east, but we have a little bit to the north, all right? So they're going to have a little bit of a longer duration of rain.

And that moves in, in a matter of hours. Some of these thunderstorms, you even see some of the lightning strikes. That's going to be a concern. However, the winds, the tropical-storm-force winds do not extend outward very far. This time of year, we don't see the monster storms. It just doesn't occur that way.

That doesn't mean, over in Surfside, they could have an isolated thunderstorm develop a gust that's tropical-storm-force, maybe even spin up a little bit of a small tornado. We don't want that. Most of the activity will be west.

But you can see in these models here, Alisyn and Victor, that they're going to be into some ugly weather. I really believe it's going to be a lot like what they went through in the last week. But it only takes one of these to spin up one of those isolated tornadoes. And that's the concern.

Most of the activity will be tonight for them, overnight, and then through half the day tomorrow, until it lifts into this area. Landfall will be near Cedar Key, north, of course, of Tampa, not until Wednesday morning. But it's the west coast that will see the storm surge one to three feet, get more into those winds, get more into the rainfall.

The good news is lighter amounts will be down in Miami and in the Surfside area. But they will contend with a little bit of activity that will cause them to halt their progress -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right, Tom Sater there for us.

Tom, thank you so much.

So, listen, the roads, the airports, everything is packed, as everyone's getting back to pre-pandemic life, but it may be catching some people off-guard.

CAMEROTA: Plus, an update on the health of Pope Francis after his surgery on Sunday.



BLACKWELL: More people across the country are eager to put COVID restrictions behind them and celebrate the long holiday weekend. They're crossing state lines in huge numbers, despite a rise of COVID cases in 19 states, some with more than a 50 percent increase in new cases last week over the prior week.

CAMEROTA: That map is just incredible to see all that red.

According to AAA, nearly 50 million people are traveling by either car or plane this holiday weekend, and that's up by 40 percent over last year.

CNN aviation and transportation correspondent Pete Muntean joins us from Route 1 in Alexandria, Virginia.

And I'm just trying to see how busy it is behind you there, Pete. What does it look like?


Now is when the real headache begins, according to AAA. This is when everybody who left town is now coming back into town after the long holiday weekend. And AAA anticipates the traffic in some major metro areas, like San Francisco and Boston, is about to be three times the norm.

AAA forecasted about 43 million Americans would travel by car between July 1 and July 5. That represents about 90 percent of all travel, and that number is actually about 5 percent higher than back in 2019, pre- pandemic, so this could be a new record for car travel.

But it will be more congested and it will cost more, the average price for a gallon of gas nationwide now above $3 a gallon. It's a dollar higher than where we were in 2020 and a seven-year high. We have not seen prices this high since 2014. One more factor at play here. There is a shortage of tanker truck

drivers, making it harder for some smaller stations in some smaller areas to get gas.


ANDREW GROSS, AAA SPOKESMAN: So, on your trip, you may find a gas station in some small markets, independent stations, that don't have gas. Don't panic. Go to the station across the street or the station down the road. They will have gas.


MUNTEAN: All of this has not stopped people from getting out.

AAA anticipated the top destinations would be Orlando, Disney World, Anaheim, Disneyland. One other factor at player here is, the cost of rental cars is through the roof, up 86 percent in the last year.

And, Victor and Alisyn, it seems like people just want to swallow that expense themselves. Rather than renting a car, they'd rather drive.

CAMEROTA: Pete Muntean, thank you very much for the update.

OK, now, Pope Francis is still in the hospital following surgery yesterday.

BLACKWELL: Yes, he's 84 years old. The pope went for his scheduled surgery just hours after conducting the traditional Sunday prayer at St. Peter's Square.

CNN's Vatican correspondent, Delia Gallagher, is with us now.

Delia, how he doing?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Alisyn, it's good news.

The latest medical bulletin says that the pope is alert, he is responding, he's breathing on his own. Yesterday's surgery, they say, took about three hours. And what they did was remove part of the lower left colon.

The pope was suffering from diverticulitis -- that's an inflammation of the colon -- as well as stenosis, which is a narrowing of that lower part of the colon. It can create blockages. They say this is a common ailment for the elderly. The pope is 84 years old.


The surgery was under general anesthesia, so certainly good news that the pope today is alert and responding. The prognosis is seven days in the hospital here behind me. This is at Gemelli Hospital. The pope's rooms are those five windows up the penultimate floor there that have the blinds down. Those are the suites for the pope. This is a hospital that has treated

popes for decades. John Paul II spent a lot of time in those rooms. Pope Francis will be there for at least the next seven days -- Victor, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I'm sure they take extra precaution with a pope when he visits there.

Delia, thank you very much for the update.

So, former President Trump appears to admit to tax fraud during a rally this weekend.

And wait until you hear the voice-mails left for Arizona election officials by Rudy Giuliani.

That's next.



CAMEROTA: There's new evidence of efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to pressure Arizona officials to overturn Donald Trump's election loss in the weeks after the 2020 election.

BLACKWELL: So, "The Arizona Republic" has obtained new records showing that former President Trump, his former personal attorney general, Rudy Giuliani, and Arizona state GOP Chair Kelli Ward tried to major Maricopa County supervisors overseeing election results.

County supervisors reportedly got texts and phone calls as the votes were being counted and also later as those results were being contested.


RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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. 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.


BLACKWELL: Toluse Olorunnipa is a CNN political analyst and national politics reporter for "The Washington Post." Elie Honig is a former federal prosecutor and CNN senior legal analyst.

Gentlemen, welcome.

To you, Elie, first.

What does a prosecutor hear in that voice-mail?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I hear the same thing that I heard a few months ago when we heard the Georgia call from Donald Trump, where he said, I need you to find me 11,780 votes.

This is Rudy Giuliani essentially saying the exact same thing in Arizona. And what this tells me, Victor, is, this was part of a coordinated effort by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani to interfere with and overturn the election results in those two states and potentially elsewhere.

These are crimes. Let's be clear. It's a federal crime, it's a Georgia crime, it's an Arizona crime to try to convince an official to count votes that were not actually cast or not to count votes that were actually cast. This is serious stuff we know the DA in Georgia is investigating, and now we have to see whether the authorities, the prosecutors in Arizona do the same thing. I think they ought to.

CAMEROTA: Toluse, the more we -- the more evidence that comes out and the more we hear about this pressure campaign to overturn Donald Trump's election loss, you realize the intestinal fortitude and steel spine it took for these local election officials to not return the call of the president of the United States or his attorney.

And, by the way, now, as we know, there are all of these laws in all of these various states that are in some cases going into effect to try to lessen the power of local election officials.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. The pressure campaign was incredibly intense.

If you listen to some of the recordings that we have from the president himself, from his personal attorney, from his chief of staff, from people right there in the Oval Office pressuring some of these local officials, who have their own futures and want to have their own futures, especially in Republican politics, they did have to stand up to people within their party and people who were very powerful during this incredibly tense high-pressure campaign that was taking place in the days after the election.

And they had to stand up. They had to essentially stand on the side of what was right, which was that the election was free and fair, and there was no widespread fraud, and there was no really basis for them to do what the president was asking, even if they wanted to.

There was really no evidence. There was no sense that they would be able to overturn the election. So, part of it, I'm sure, had to do with their moral compass, and part of it is just it would have been a very hard crime to engender and create, because there was no evidence. There was no paper trail.

And then the president and his legal team did not really have a very strong theory of the case for why the election should be overturned, other than sort of just saying, we can resolve this, and having these backroom kinds of insinuations. They didn't really have the goods to be able to make anything happen

in terms of overturning the election. So, a lot of these officials just had to throw up their hands and stop answering the phone and decide that they were going to quietly certify these results and try to move on.

BLACKWELL: Elie, let's turn to this rally that happened on Saturday in Sarasota.

The former president, he went after the Manhattan DA's office for the indictment of the Trump Organization and the CFO, Allen Weisselberg, for this 15-year tax scheme.

Here's what -- it's remarkable what he says, but here's what former President Trump said:


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They go after good hardworking people for not paying taxes on a company car, company car.