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Taliban Advances in Afghanistan; Two Charged in Bomb Plot in Sacramento; Schumer Calls for Vote on Infrastructure; Historic Flooding in Europe. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 16, 2021 - 09:30   ET





Multiple sources tell myself and my colleagues Zach Cohen and Kylie Atwood that U.S. intelligence assessment on the situation in Afghanistan paint an increasingly bleak picture of the Taliban advance across the country, as well as a potential threat to the capital, Kabul. A congressional source familiar with the intelligence says the security situation is deteriorating even more rapidly than previous assessments had indicated. That the Taliban advance is, quote, accelerating at an accelerating pace.

Multiple sources say Kabul is not at risk today of a takeover, but there are clear signs the militant group is tightening its group as the U.S. completes its troop withdrawal.

CNN's Kylie Atwood joins me with more.

And, you know, one consistency in these intel assessments is that things are bad, certainly out in the country side, and that the Taliban is advancing even more quickly than some of the previous assessments had been.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And I think as we watch the Taliban militarily take over in the north of the country, the concern is, what about cutting off those border crossings that then are cutting off the country, essentially creating a strangle hold. And that's what folks are really focused on right now.

As your reporting and my reporting reflects, things are bad. It is increasingly growing worse and worse across the country.

Now, if we look at Kabul, right, that is not just a city center, it's also a province. And so what we are told by sources is that the outer edges of that province could be in threat by the Taliban sometime pretty soon. But what that doesn't mean is that the actual capital itself, which is, you know, well around 6 million people, is in imminent threat. And that is key because the city center itself is really the heart and soul of Kabul. It's where the government is right now. It's where the U.S. embassy is right now. And there are questions about if the Taliban would even be able to militarily mount that city on its own.

But, if they're able to strangle hold the country, it may not be such a hard fight. And -- so that's why it's important that our colleagues on the ground have told us that there are at least four border crossings that have been taken over by the Taliban in the last month. The Afghan government is trying to stand up units right now to fight those, but they haven't been successful.

SCIUTTO: The importance of the border crossings is not just security, is it not, but it's also an economic factor.


SCIUTTO: Because this speaks to trade and income for the government. If the Taliban controls that, I mean it's kind of an acting government, to some degree, for those parts of the country.

ATWOOD: That's right. And you also have questions about who's providing support for the Taliban as they mount these fights on these border crossings. You've got the Pakistanis right there. You've got the Uzbeks. You've got a number of countries that there are questions about, you know, how much they're supporting this effort.

And then the other thing, of course, is just the lack of visibility on the U.S. intelligence in the country. We have drawn down from the Bagram Air Base, U.S. intelligence assessments are much, much less wholesome in terms of what they're able to collect on the ground there.


ATWOOD: And we've heard from the CIA Director Bill Burns that that was going to be a reality.


ATWOOD: It's something that they expected.

But the question is, because of that lack of visibility, how much do they really know about the Taliban's capability and who is joining them, because that will be key.

SCIUTTO: Yes, Burns said that very directly in congressional testimony. He said that when we're out of the country, we have less visibility.


SCIUTTO: That's simply a fact.

I mean what is, in the simplest terms, the U.S. plan in response to this? ATWOOD: Well, the U.S. is basically doubling down on diplomacy right

now. They're saying, listen, we are leaving. The U.S. troops are leaving the country, but they continue to say that the U.S. embassy is remaining open. They continue to say that they want to see the Taliban engage in a diplomatic effort to bring a politicized agreement to the country.

But, of course, we have seen the Taliban hasn't been effectively engaging in those conversations. We now see the Pakistanis getting involved in those conversations. So that bet isn't necessarily assured, but we'll watch how it turns out.

SCIUTTO: Listen, the Taliban carries out terror attacks. Can -- are they a reliable partner in peace negotiations? Certainly something we'll be watching very closely. Kylie, good working with you on this story. Thanks very much.

ATWOOD: Thanks.


HARLOW: Well, this breaking news, authorities say they have thwarted a plot to overthrow the government and plans to bomb Democratic headquarters in Sacramento. We just got the breaking details. A live report, next.



SCIUTTO: Breaking news out of California. And it is alarming. Two men have been charged in connection with a scheme to attack the Democratic headquarters in Sacramento. To blow it up.


Court documents say the two planned to bomb targets they associated with Democrats after the 2020 presidential election.

Our Whitney Wild has all the details on this breaking story.

What happened?


Investigators say that they zeroed in on the two men. One was actually arrested as far back as January 15th. And what we know is that following the election in 2020, these men became incensed by what they saw politically and decided to apparently, according to the Department of Justice, generate this plot that they hoped would inspire a movement to overthrow the government.

What we know is that investigators, upon searching the homes of these men, found thousands of rounds of ammunition. They found dozens of firearms. They found five pipe bombs. This, Jim and Poppy, is the example of what federal officials had been

warning about for months. They have said we remain in this heightened threat of environment. People emboldened by what they saw on January 6th, angry about what they saw in the general election in November, and so we remain in this heightened threatened environment because there are people out there who want to affect harm.

This is a perfect example of what they fear. And now we know that investigators have more -- growing ample evidence to show that those fears could become reality. Both men in custody now and will appear in court in coming days.

SCIUTTO: One of a series of plots like this we've seen around the country.

Whitney Wild, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you, Whitney.

While bipartisan infrastructure talks teetering on the edge as Senate Democrats look to press forward, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has scheduled a procedural vote next Wednesday, even though the bipartisan group has not laid out what would be in their bill yet.

SCIUTTO: CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill following it.

And, Lauren, some Republicans said they were somewhat blind-sided by this timeline. I wonder, what's the intention here and can the Democrats stick to that timeline?


LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the majority leader, Chuck Schumer, sending a clear message that it's crunch time. This bipartisan group has been working for several months. And essentially what he's arguing is, it is time to put together a bill because we are ready to go to the floor.

Look, there is a limited legislative calendar up here on Capitol Hill. And Schumer knows he's got a lot to get done in the month of July before that month-long August recess, which, of course, is already potentially in jeopardy if they can't get their job done. So what Schumer is trying to do here is leverage his ability as the majority leader to control the schedule on the floor.

Meanwhile, Republicans are arguing they feel squeezed. We both talked to Rob Portman and Mitt Romney, key members -- key Republicans in this group, and they told us yesterday, look, we're not going to vote yes on a procedural vote as soon as Wednesday, which is when Schumer is scheduling it, if we don't have a bill. That would be irresponsible.

And I think that that is a key point that Democrats are starting to understand in the group, that they potentially could lose some of the support if Schumer moves forward with this plan and they don't have something in writing. Now, behind the scenes they are working very hard to try to get a bill

written. But we learned yesterday that some of the key pay-fors that they already negotiated, they already agreed to, are in jeopardy because Republicans are worried about something like enforcing spending on the IRS so that people who aren't paying their taxes actually have to pay them. That's a way to generate revenue for infrastructure.

But Republicans, because of some conservative concerns, are arguing they don't want to do that anymore. So you clearly are seeing here the president's agenda, infrastructure really teetering on the edge when it comes to this bipartisan group.

HARLOW: Wow. This is such a big deal to see them walk out of the White House together a few weeks ago.


HARLOW: Let's hope they can get something bipartisan across the finish line.

Thanks, Lauren.

SCIUTTO: Just catastrophic flooding in western Europe. More than 100 people are confirmed dead, hundreds more still missing. The video is just alarming. We're going to be live on the scene next.



SCIUTTO: So far more than 100 people have been confirmed killed in severe flooding, washing across Germany, Belgium, other parts of western Europe.

HARLOW: Large scale search and rescue efforts underway right now for those stranded by these floods. Hundreds more are missing.

Our own Melissa Bell is live in Liege, Belgium.

And, Melissa, you literally, moments ago, just got off a rescue boat and we now see the water you're standing in. We see cars submerged in it.

What can you tell us?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That -- the boat that brought us this far had to take a family off and back to safety. So they've left us here for a while.

But it gives you an idea of what these devastating floods have left behind. And you can see the locals here still stuck in their homes. Some of them waiting for rescue. Some of them hoping their relatives will manage to bring them some food.

What we've been told is that until yesterday there was still a bit of electricity, so they were able to heat some water, have a cup of tea, have a cup of coffee. Now the reserves that were in the cellars, which, of course, have been flooded first, have taken everything they have. So people have been telling us, we're starting to get hungry and worried about what happens next. But, of course, it's a very slow process getting people out of their houses.

What we're also hearing, Poppy, from a bunch of people is that there is those who just don't want to leave because they want to protect what's left of their homes. But what the locals have told us as well is that this water basically came rushing through here yesterday afternoon within the space of a couple of hours, these floodwaters had come. And it came in the form of a torrent. It wasn't a gradual raising of the waters through the effective rainfall. It was a torrent of water that came down the streets. You can imagine just how terrifying that would have been.

Now, for the time being, no electricity, no water and very slow rescue efforts. We've just been left here by this French boat, the French military have come to lend a hand. But this is just the beginning of what's going to be a massive effort to rescue people, first of all, even as we only just begun to take stock of the scale of the devastation that's been caused here in Belgium, but also across the border in Germany.



SCIUTTO: Were there, Melissa Bell, any predictions, forecasts of flooding on this scale?

BELL: It is the kind of things that experts have been warning about for years, Jim, the idea that climate change is going to cause, in this part of the world in particular, massive rainfalls in the summer particularly that could then cause floods.

Already questions being asked about the level of preparedness, why authorities were not prepared for something that experts had been predicting was an evitable consequence of climate change. And that's something that we've seen from the village we just came from. Here, the water never made it past sort of the door levels. In the village we just came from, it got to the first floor. It gives you an idea how deep some villages found themselves under water.

And what they were just telling us there was, look, we spent all of yesterday stuck on the roofs of our homes, or in the top floors. Nobody came. Nobody could get to us simply because they didn't have the equipment, which is why we've just been traveling with the French military to come out here and begin those international rescue efforts. Many questions now about why this part of Europe was not better prepared for what so many had warned was almost inevitable.

HARLOW: Right. And now look at what has happened.

Melissa Bell, we appreciate you, your entire team, on the ground there. Thank you. We're wishing them luck with all those rescues. Well as coronavirus cases in the United States are now rising in all 50 states and vaccination rates are falling, the White House is launching an offensive against COVID disinformation. Much more next.



HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

A dangerous mix of disinformation, lagging vaccination rates and the surging delta variant is leading to a rise in new COVID-19 infections in all 50 states. Thirty-eight states are reporting at least a 50 percent increase as the nation sees a steep drop in the pace of vaccinations. It's less than a quarter of the pace set just months ago. And now, in 30 states, less than half the population is fully vaccinated.

The Biden administration is working to combat the disinformation that is putting lives at risk.



XAVIER BECERRA, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We need people to step up, including the private sector.