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Oregon Faces Third Largest Fire in State History; McCarthy Pulls GOP Members from Select Committee; Prosecutors Had Evidence on Barrack. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 09:30   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also, this crisis out west. Thousands of firefighters and first responders are battling dozens of wildfires across 13 states, the largest right now is the Bootleg Fire. It is so big, it is actually creating its own weather system, making everything worse. Much more on that, next.


HARLOW: New York City's air quality, look at that. We certainly felt it here this week. The worst it's been in 15 years. This was yesterday as smoke from dozens of wildfires all the way out west made it all the way to the East Coast.


Some of that smoke and haze cleared out by storms that swept through the northeast and western states.

But take a look at this, flash floods in Utah created a natural waterfall off some cliffs. In Colorado, at least one person is dead, three others are missing after this dangerous flooding in the northern part of the state. And right now 8 million people are under flash flood watches in the southwest due to a monsoon. That rain could help put a dent in the extreme drought conditions in the west, which, of course, have fueled 78 large fires burning across 13 states. More than 1.3 million acres have been burned.

In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire is the state's fourth largest fire since 1900. Nearly 70 homes have been destroyed from it. More than 2,100 people are under evacuation orders. And officials say it all started from a lightning strike.

Marcus Kauffman is with me, the public information officer for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Good morning to you.

I am so glad you could join us because when I read your quote in "The New York Times," I was floored by what this is doing.

Before we get to the weather system this is creating, Marcus, talk to us about the significance of this fire and how big it is.


It's unfortunate to report that we're actually Oregon's number three fire in the state's history.


KAUFFMAN: We didn't want to be up onto the podium. It's kind of a dubious honor, but we're now the number three fire as the fire has expanded to 398,000, which puts it in third place.

But it's not all bad news. So, in the last couple of days, the fire has only grown 1,000 acres per day. And for a fire of this size, basically that's a really strong signal that fire behavior is moderating.

So containment is sitting at 38 percent. We really had a break in the weather in the last couple of days. Crews around all parts of the fire have been able to get a lot of work done. And essentially, you know, we put out the fire by building a containment line around the perimeter. We don't put out the interior. So we worked exclusively on the perimeter. And that work has been progressing well. We're making good and steady progress, particularly on the south zone of the fire.

HARLOW: Can you, Marcus, explain what you mean when you say that this fire, the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, is creating its own weather system and how that is making it worse?

KAUFFMAN: Yes. So it really starts with the extreme drought that you were mentioning before. So this portion of southeast Oregon and Oregon's outback is in exceptional drought. Essentially the rains have stopped since about March. And that -- you know, this is basin range country. You know, Juniper, Ponderosa Pine, mixed conifer, dense forests, and they've all had ample time, months to dry out, to cure. And wood burns a lot hotter when it's dry. So when the fire gets started in those conditions, there's simply a tremendous amount of energy that gets released from the fire.

So the wind is driving the fire, intensifying that fire behavior. And as that column reaches up into the sky, it creates the pyro cumulus cloud that we've seen in repeated days on this fire. Then that system starts to pull more wind into the fire, which gives more oxygen to the fire. It pushes on the fire, and essentially reinforces that cycle.

So it's all about energy release, and that comes from the density of the forests that are in this area and the long-term drought.

HARLOW: Right, the long-term drought a big factor as you mentioned.

Is this -- is this a new normal that your teams on the ground are preparing for? I mean given -- given the havoc that climate change is continuing to wreak on the country. We see it in the droughts. We see it in the fires across the west.

Is this -- is this what you're going to expect now, this year, next year, years to come, if nothing changes?

KAUFFMAN: Well, I think that we've all become accustomed in the fire service that wildfires start earlier, last longer, and are more destructive. So, you know, we're -- we're -- we've shifted our mind- set into that, to be prepared for that, and to, you know, be able to endure these long campaigns.

I think it raises a lot of questions about, you know, how we -- how we react to that as -- either as a country or as communities and what we should be doing to prepare for these things in advance of fire season. But, you know, we're prepared for the suppression response, but I think it prompts broader questions about, you know, community safety around people's homes, as well as active forest management to make these forests more resilient to fire in the first place.


HARLOW: Marcus Kauffman, thank you for helping explain it to us this morning, and again to all of those teams, you guys have on the ground there fighting this.

KAUFFMAN: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Of course.

Well, a stunning development in what once had the potential to be a truly bipartisan inquiry into the Capitol insurrection. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy puts all his picks -- pulls them from the select committee after the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, rejects two of the GOP members he picked. So now what?



HARLOW: In just minutes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will head to the podium to take questions. This comes after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy decided to pull his five GOP members from the select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection after Pelosi said no to two of his picks.

Lauren Fox joins me from Capitol Hill.

It's, you know, I'm -- it's not surprising, but it's like, you know, even for something like this, they can't come together. So now what?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Poppy, I think it's good to remind everyone that Republicans largely voted against the establishment of a bipartisan commission. That would have taken this entire investigation outside of members of Congress and would have given that power to other professionals who had national security backgrounds, and that really was seen as Democrats as the best path forward.

In the absence of that, after that was blocked in the Senate, they were looking to try and get a way forward with the select committee. But as you said, Nancy Pelosi, arguing that two of the members that were selected, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, were not adequate to serve on this committee because of their past statements and their past actions. Specifically she had concerns about Bank's statement that he put out Monday night saying that this select committee existed for no other reason except to assail conservatives.

And I think that her view was, if you are talking about trying to get to the bottom of what happened, the facts of what happened on January 6th and the days leading up to it, you can't have someone who thinks this is already a political circus.

She also had concerns about Jim Jordan given his proximity to the former president and his close relationship. Remember, he was at the White House for a meeting discussing the event on January 6th to try to challenge the certification of the election. And he may be a material witness for Democrats. They haven't said whether they would call him, but that is a potential.

So she argued that those two picks were inappropriate. As a result, McCarthy said, fine, I'm not putting anyone on the committee. We're going to have our own investigation instead.

So the battle lines are drawn. We should point out that Liz Cheney, a Republican from the state of Wyoming, is going to serve on this committee. She was selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She said she supports the speaker's decision to block those two other Republican members. So that's going to continue moving forward.


HARLOW: Lauren, can I ask you a crazy question? I mean, you correct me if I'm totally off here, but it was going to be 13 members. So could, ostensibly, Pelosi pick five more, maybe put some more Republicans on there?

FOX: Well, the revolution outlined that Pelosi was supposed to pick just the number of members that she has selected.

HARLOW: Right.

FOX: She could, in consultation, you know, have a say on who McCarthy selected.

HARLOW: But he's done.

FOX: But I think that's one of the questions today, if anything changes, do they try to rework this resolution.

HARLOW: Right.

FOX: But I think right now it is set with who's on the committee.


Lauren Fox, thanks for the reporting.

A quick break.

We'll be right back.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

An update on a story we brought you yesterday.

CNN has now learned federal prosecutors actually waited to file criminal charges against a prominent Trump ally. They apparently had the evidence they needed against Tom Barrack last year but decided to hold off until a new administration took office. Barrack is accused of illegal foreign lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to federal agents about it.

Our Paula Reid has all the details from Washington.

Paula, good morning.

What's the significant of this? Why did they wait?


Well, we've learned talking to our sources that Barrack's legal team was talking to prosecutors as far back as 2019. And then a year later prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to charge him but the case didn't move forward.

We've learned, though, that the U.S. attorney, Richard Donahue, who was overseeing Brooklyn at that time, he didn't support the case. And what's not clear, at this point, is whether the case didn't proceed because he intentionally stalled it or if the prosecutors working on it just didn't want to push forward with it because they knew they didn't have the support of their boss.

Now, Donahue's boss at the time, then Attorney General Bill Barr, he also wasn't a big fan of these foreign lobbying cases. They had traditionally been very difficult for the Justice Department. Mr. Donahue, at this point, has not responded to our request for comment.

Poppy, another issue some people have brought up is, is asking whether this case wasn't brought because it was coming to close to the election. We know prosecutors are discouraged from bringing any politically sensitive cases too close to an election. But our sources tell us that they were ready to go, ready to charge well before that deadline would have come.

Now, also a lot of questions about whether Mr. Barrack will flip, will cooperate against the former president in any of the ongoing investigations in exchange for maybe dropping some charges, but sources tell me at this point Mr. Barrack is absolutely not expected to cooperate. And, Poppy, while many people say that, many people can't actually afford to defend themselves against the Justice Department and Mr. Barrack is a man certainly with the resources to fight these charges.

HARLOW: Right. Right. And his team says we'll plead not guilty, right, Paula?

REID: Exactly. His team says he is not guilty. He will plead not guilty.


REID: And, at this point, he's not expected to take any action to cooperate in any state or federal investigation to lessen his exposure. He's going to fight.

HARLOW: Understood. Thank you, Paula Reid, for the reporting.

Well now this.


As you know, CNN hit the air 41 years ago. And, today, something cool is happening. CNN is opening up its video archives for the first time to offer collectors this. It is a piece of history, digitally. These are NFTs. You've heard a lot about them. Well, they release at 1:00 Eastern today and they feature the presidential election calls for Joe Biden in 2020 and Donald Trump in 2016. A thousand of each call will be available, plus a limits number of special editions that come with a framed copy. You want to know more about this, you can go to

The Biden administration and the CDC are now talking about probably revising mask guidance for vaccinated people as the delta variant spreads. What does it mean for you, next.