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Elsa Nears Landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast; FBI Infiltrated Bible Study Group; Haitian President Assassinated; McCarthy to Put Members on Jan. 6 Committee; Search and Rescue Continues in Florida. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 7, 2021 - 09:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Potential should she regroup and come back from her hiatus, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, obviously, money at serious play here in all this drama.

Christine Romans, thank you so much for that.

All right, a lot going on this morning.

President Biden with a key meeting on cyber security just minutes from now. CNN's coverage continues.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow has the week off.

Right now, millions of people are facing storm surge, possible tornadoes, heavy rains as Tropical Storm Elsa nears landfall. Flash flooding could impact areas hundreds of miles from the center of that storm.

This morning, more than 10,000 people are without power as the storm churns off the state's western coast, reaching maximum sustained winds of about 65 miles per hour. It is on a collision course with the Big Bend region, where it is expected to make landfall just a few hours from now.

The impact of the storm already being felt. This morning, Coast Guard crews are searching for nine people still missing off the coast of Key West after 15 others were rescued.

Our team is tracking Elsa as it approaches landfall.

Let's begin in Clearwater Beach, Florida, where Randi Kaye is standing by.

And, Randi, tell us what the conditions are like there.


Things have certainly improved. We're actually seeing just a little bit of sunshine finally this morning. We've had some heavy rains and heavy winds throughout the night. We were expecting winds of about 50 to 70 miles per hour, and we got them.

But let me just show you what the scene is here right now. The waters are still a bit choppy. But these docks out here behind me, they had people on them yesterday and they were really enjoying the time in the water. Not yet today. And those boats out there in the distance, they were actually tied up overnight. We weren't sure if they were still going to be here this morning. But we were told that they actually moved them from the marina and anchored them out there so they wouldn't get hit by other boats. So it was actually safer for them out there.

They've also opened Memorial Causeway, which is the main causeway from the mainland over here to Clearwater Beach in Sand Key, where we are, because they expect people will want to come to the beach today. We'll see if the weather is actually good enough.

But lots of rain overnight. They were expecting about four to six inches. There was some flooding in some of the streets here in Clearwater Beach and around the area in Tampa. Some trees down on vehicles as well. But Clearwater Police says no major power outages and no major problems.

But we were under a hurricane watch here in Pinellas County, along with 33 other counties here in the state of Florida. There were very concerned about tornadoes as well and storm surge because it was happening -- it came in about 2:00 a.m. here to this area, which, in high tide, was about 3:00 a.m. So it was really on a collision course to cause some really serious problems, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Randi Kaye, thanks so much.

AMS meteorologist Chad Myers, of course, tracking the storm from our weather center.

So, Chad, what threat does this storm pose as it moves inland?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, an awful lot of rain, Jim. This turned into a wind and a rain maker. And the surge was about two feet. That's about as much as I can find. There may have been some coastal areas or marsh areas that did pick up more.

Sixty-five miles per hour very close to Cedar Key. The heavy rainfall has been down around Fort Myers, Cape Coral. That's where the flooding is happening right now. And there's more rain on the way.

This is what the radar looks like right now. And most of the storm is still offshore. But part of the eyewall is now making landfall. And I've been watching some video from a hurricane chaser named iCyclone (ph). He is in Cedar Key. And the winds there, they've been gusting 70. No question what I'm seeing on his video. So this storm still has wind and it has rain and it has the potential to knock down a lot of power lines, trees, power lines and such.

And if you look at the numbers on land, Ocala with a gust of 26, that's not bad. But I think as this center gets very close to let's say Gainesville, there will be more damage here.

Look at the rainfall around Fort Myers and such. Regional. All the way down to the southwest Florida is what we call it. There have been between six and 12 inches of rain that have come down since yesterday. And now more rainfall is going to spread all the way up towards Charlottesville, all the way to Myrtle, and, for that matter, even into about Newport News, into Hampton Rhodes, because this storm isn't going to die. It isn't going to lose its punch. It's pretty close to the water. It will turn to the Atlantic Ocean. But we're going to have 40 per mile per hour winds all the way up the low country of South Carolina, North Carolina, and all the way down even into Brunswick, Georgia, Tybee Island and such. So this storm isn't done yet. There's a lot more to it. There's a lot more damage still to be done. Hurricane Center yesterday told us there's no such thing as just a tropical storm.


SCIUTTO: No question.

Chad Myers, Randi Kaye in Florida, thanks very much to both of you.

Another story we're following this morning, new court records offer a look into a secretive extremist group that the FBI actually infiltrated after the Capitol insurrection. The group disguised itself, calling itself a bible study group, but expressed interest in a second American civil war, succeeding from the U.S., also crucially testing homemade bombs.


CNN's Whitney Wild has been following this. She joins me now from Washington.

How far along was this plot and how seriously is the FBI taking this group?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to these FBI documents, it got far enough that this man at the center of the case, Fi Duong, is accused of having a stash of weapons and he had intended, according to the FBI, to create and then test Molotov cocktails. So, as far as procuring weapons, I mean it got pretty far.

There was a discussion about surveilling the Capitol, looking for weaknesses. This is all part of this FBI case that was building against this man.

Here -- so here is the breakdown of how this all happened. This -- these are newly disclosed criminal cases against a man named -- again, named Fi Duong. The FBI says that he attended what members call a, quote, Bible study meeting in Alexandria in February when members discussed, among other things, secession, weaponry, combat training. This was all uncovered, Jim, because an undercover FBI agent infiltrated this group.

At one meeting undercover -- an undercover agent saw five boxes filled with about 50 glass bottles. An agent heard Duong and another person talking about what they could fill them with to make explosives. Duong and the undercover agent met with another undercover agent in June to discuss testing homemade bombs.

The timeline here, Jim, is significant because what the FBI says is that Duong got into the Capitol on January 6th. He was disguised. He -- according to the FBI, was wearing all black. He was also wearing a mask to shield his face. He had allegedly told an undercover metropolitan police officer that he was disguising himself as Antifa. That they say is significant because he's facing charges for his role in the insurrection.

But it didn't end there, Jim. This FBI investigation lasted months. Again, they were infiltrating this group in February. They were still learning more about their intentions by June. It's important to note that this man is not charged with any cases that -- any charges that may have originated after January 6th. He's only charged in the insurrection case. He has not been formally indicted. He's not entered a guilty plea. His attorney would not respond to a request from CNN.

But what it shows, Jim, is that there is this lingering inclination to, I guess, leave the United States, overthrow the government.


WILD: I mean these conspiracy theory driven ideas, these extremist ideas, are still present. This is the very thing U.S. Capitol Police are worried about.

SCIUTTO: No question. Anti-government, and many of them very heavily armed, these groups.

Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

Joining me now to discuss, Juliette Kayyem, she's a CNN national security analyst, also former assistant secretary of Homeland Security during the Obama administration.

Juliette, great to have you on to talk about this.

I mean this was one of the concerns of many about January 6th was that it gave us a vision into groups like this, extremist groups in this country that have this anti-government, you know, conspiracy driven kind of mentality.


SCIUTTO: Tell us how serious you think this particular plot is.

KAYYEM: Well, this particular plot looks like it was more than a bunch of guys just, you know, talking around a table with beers. That there have been purchasing and planning under the -- I love under the guise of a Bible study group. And I think it just does show that many of the terrorist and insurrectionists of January 6th left January 6th believing that it was a victory. In other words, even though they did not, you know, sort of, you know, kill Nancy Pelosi, as they might have intended, they lived another day. And that's sort of the benefit and the importance of these prosecutions because even though they didn't happen on January 6th, over six months, nine months, 12 months, keep them scared, keep them wondering because a terror group that is concerned about its own survival is unable to recruit, to get money, to organize, and that's exactly what you're seeing.


KAYYEM: But no one should believe that these people sort of, you know, ended their ideas or -- you know, Trump tells them and the GOP supports it. The violence that is part of the big lie -- in other words, Donald Trump was denied a second term, and they believe it and they're going to fight for it. So it's -- these prosecutions are such a key part of our counterterrorism effort right now.

SCIUTTO: No question. And it's notable, right, that they still view it as a victory.


SCIUTTO: I mean it's the way terrorists think, right?

KAYYEM: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: The fear is the objective.

I wonder, you have more than 500 charges now issued to people who took part in that.


SCIUTTO: You have something like this exposed after the fact. How much of a vision has it given law enforcement into these groups --

KAYYEM: Right.

SCIUTTO: To allow them to assess both the scope, but also to, you know, get a handle, right, on some of these groups?

KAYYEM: Yes, so there's -- I -- I would put the January 6th defendants into three camps that the FBI is looking at. And we're sort of at the best camp right now. The first is what I call the noisy trespassers. I'm not forgiving them. They should suffer a penalty. But these are people who sort of got swept up, had wanted to see Trump and sort of ended up in the Capitol.

The second is the violent trespassers, those who were breaking down doors, harming police officers.


Those people should face and are facing real jail time. They are -- they are -- the are -- they harmed people and property. The third is the organizers. That's where we are now. And that's why

it seems like there's a lot more activity. Those are people who organized it, may have had communications with people in the White House, may have had communications with people on The Hill. They were planning, call it what you will, but an insurrection essentially. That's where we are right now. And so that's why you're seeing a lot of these plea deals out of some of these terror organizations.

These guys are facing real time and they are now turning on each other. And I always smile whenever I say that because they are now paranoid. They don't know who's telling what. So that will lead others to come forward and say, look, I had a -- I had a phone call with this congresswoman, or I was in touch with the White House, or with Roger Stone, or whatever the case may be.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you know, prisoners' dilemma, right?


SCIUTTO: We know the FBI considers these domestic terror groups the biggest, current threat to the U.S.


SCIUTTO: Over international terrorism.

Just describe briefly the level of concern among law enforcement.

KAYYEM: Yes. So I talk to a lot of these folks. I am still involved with them. And so it's -- I would -- I would put it sort of 80/20 at this end (ph). Eighty percent of the focus is on white supremacy and insurrection terrorism. And the reason why is, of course, because it's not just in D.C. Fifty states, 50 governors, mayors, all election -- you know, these secretaries of state are facing threats. All of these folks are sort of a target of this white supremacy group. And that's the basis of our democracy. So it's sort of a fight for our survival.

I don't mean to minimize the foreign terror threat. It's still is there, though we do fight it abroad.


KAYYEM: But, nonetheless, even the foreign terror threat doesn't seem existential as the way that this domestic terror threat, supported by the GOP, and their talking points is.

SCIUTTO: It's an alarming assessment.


SCIUTTO: Julia Kayyem, thanks very much.

KAYYEM: Thanks so much, Jim.

Breaking news this hour, the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moise, has been assassinated, killed in his own home overnight. CNN's Melissa Bell has been following this story. She joins me now.

I mean just a shocking chain of events there. Tell us what's the latest we know.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just extraordinary. We know that it was 1:00 a.m. when armed men got into that private residence. The president himself killed, his wife shot, but not mortally wounded as we under it so far but rather hospitalized, Jim.

An extraordinary series of events overnight in a country that was already facing such deep divisions politically, socially, economically. For months we've seen protests against the very rule of Jovenel Moise, who was killed overnight.

And what we've heard, we've heard so far from the acting prime minister, the sixth (ph) put in place in his four-year rule. The seventh was about to take over. That's how unstable politically the country had become, with accusations that Jovenel Moise was trying to tighten his grip on power and stay longer than he should have.

So a great deal of opposition to his rule. A great deal of chaos in the country caused by the insecurity of the rising power of gangs that had taken over some parts of the capital to such an extent, Jim, that a few months ago a state of emergency had to be put in place in some of those neighborhoods just to keep them under control.

I think what we've seen overnight, and until we get more details about precisely who was behind this, it is at the very least a measure of just how insecure Haiti has become.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes, and the first lady injured as well.

Melissa Bell, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, just disturbing new video shows the violent moments D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone was attacked on January 6th. Capitol rioters stealing his badge and his radio. He's responding this morning.

Plus, new details about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's plans for Republicans on the January 6th select committee. We'll have an update on that next.

Also ahead, we're live in Surfside, Florida, where CNN has been allowed close access to the debris, the site of the building collapse. We'll show you that. Please stay with us.



SCIUTTO: The FBI is now releasing a group of disturbing new videos which shows rioters violently attacking police during the January 6th Capitol insurrection. Included in these new releases, a frame by frame breakdown of the moment prosecutors say that one rioter stole D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone's badge and radio. That's what you're seeing on the screen now.

Officer Fanone was beaten with a flag pole, Tased at the base of his skull. He suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury.

Fanone reacted to the new video on CNN "NEW DAY" this morning.


MICHAEL FANONE, DC METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: I think that's part of the job of law enforcement. You know, we -- we encounter traumatic events on a daily basis. I've got 20 years of law enforcement, of compartmentalizing events, you know, maybe not this extreme, but, you know, definitely traumatic events which, you know, prepared me.

What's been most difficult for me is, you know, post-January 6th, seeing people downplay or just lie about the events of that day, especially for, you know, political purposes or for their own personal gain.


SCIUTTO: An officer Tased at the base of his skull. The video of the attack on Fanone was used in court against riot suspect Thomas Sibick.

Well, this morning, CNN has learned that Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy is close to naming five GOP lawmakers to sit on the select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. Multiple GOP sources tell CNN that McCarthy debated whether to appoint members or just boycott the select committee altogether, not bother to investigate, as a way to paint the select panel as partisan.


He did ultimately decide to put Republicans on the committee to play defense, try to change the narrative of a probe that could implicate former President Trump, as well as other members of the party.

Joining me now, CNN's Melanie Zanona. She's on Capitol Hill.

So, Melanie, who are the contenders? We've spoken about this. There was talk of putting kind of pitbulls on the committee or perhaps more middle of the road Republicans to lend some credibility to it all. Where did he land?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Jim, my sources are telling me that Kevin McCarthy wants to strike a balance between some of those bomb-throwing Trump allies whom he feels can launch a vigorous defense of the former president, but also some of the more pragmatic moderate members who either have expertise in relevant subject materials or can have some sway with middle America.

Now, in that first camp were considered Jim Jordan is probably a top pick and a top contender for this job. He had a very similar role during Trump's first impeachment. He was moved over to the House Intelligence Committee. But I'm told that Kevin McCarthy is likely to steer clear of some of the most controversial firebrands in the party, like Matt Gaetz, like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who McCarthy feels like he can't control and that could potentially undermine the GOP strategy.

Now, when it comes to the more moderate members, the challenge for McCarthy there is that a lot of them want nothing to do with this panel. It is a very politically tough assignment. This panel's work is likely to drag into the election year. So the pool of people that McCarthy is choosing from is a little bit more limited.

SCIUTTO: Understood. We'll be watching.

Melanie Zanona, thanks very much.

ZANONA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Ahead this hour, CNN is given first-hand access to the condo collapse site in Surfside, Florida, as search crews keep working even through rain, heavy winds. We're going to take you to that site.

And we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures mixed this morning. Investors waiting for the notes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting. They're looking for clues about the bank's economic outlook, as well as thoughts on interest rates. That's key.

Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Tropical Storm Elsa not necessarily slowing down the search efforts at the site of the building collapse in Florida. Despite the weather, teams on the ground, they've been working in full force 24/7, even through heavy winds and rain.

CNN was granted an up-close look at the site of the collapse. Our Leyla Santiago is in Surfside.

Leyla, I'm curious what the feeling is among first responders, but also what you saw when you was on -- when you were close up on that site.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, we'll start with your first question, Jim.

I actually just spoke to someone from the task force. And he told me that there's very much still a sense of determination among the search and rescue crews that are out there right now. They understand very well that they represent hope for these families, and they believe that the harder they work, even if it's been 14 days -- or, excuse me, 13 days, that the harder they work, that the closer they can bring these families to some sense of hope or some sense of closure. Now, we are expecting an update from officials in about two hours. But

I can tell you that as we were closer to the building collapse site, that you can see just above my shoulder, you can see many of the same things that you see from here. You see the concrete. You see the wire. But when you get closer, you have a deeper sense of understanding that it's what's underneath that is really causing agony for these families that are waiting to get a better idea of where their loved ones are or for some of the survivors who know that they have very cherished and precious belongings in that pile. So, again, we'll get a better idea as to search and rescue efforts at 11:00 when officials have a briefing.

But we also have learned today that a safety task force has been established to review the laws that govern the Florida condominium development industry. We also expect today that the Surfside mayor, in the next few hours, will be signing a letter that will go out to all Surfside residents that have minimum stopgap measures that will help them have just very basic confidence to make sure that their building is not, obviously, unsafe in any way.


SCIUTTO: Leyla, question for you. Have officials there provided any clarity about the discrepancy between the figure above 100 folks still unaccounted for, but the mayor said yesterday that perhaps the number of people who were actually confirmed to be inside the building at the time is lower, around 70. Have they explained that discrepancy?

SANTIAGO: Right. We asked that very question, Jim, and what the mayor's office told me was that the number that they have identified and that they believe that were in that condo -- because they've been able to make some sort of contact or have some way of verifying that. The larger number is -- takes into account any sort of report that came in. So anybody that called the hotline and said, you know, I have not heard from this person, but never provided any sort of information or even contact to follow-up on.