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Continuation of Georgia Governor's News Conference; Car Recovery; Death Penalty Allowed

Aired January 30, 2014 - 14:00   ET


GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: I think the thing that a lot of people don't fully comprehend - now, people who drive our interstate system know this very well -- we have a lot of truck traffic coming up and down and out of 285, 75, 85, and I-20. We have probably an excessive amount of that truck traffic.

There will be things that are going to be, I think, addressed in a more aggressive fashion with regard to how do we keep as much of that truck traffic out in a time where the weather conditions become very problematic. That will be a part of the future reforms that we would be putting in place. It requires coordination with the highway department and the Georgia State Patrol primarily.

REPORTER: Governor, was it appropriate for you and the mayor -

DEAL: I'll answer it in just a minute.


REPORTER: Sorry, governor.

Looking ahead to the next 16 hours, obviously, you know, we talk about 1,000 and 2,000 cars still on the freeways. How confident are you that we're going to be able to get all these cars off the road? And do you think schools should be considering, like Atlanta Public Schools did just before you came in, of cancelling schools and just closing government for one more day?

DEAL: Well, we closed it today. We will make a decision as to whether or not we close it for tomorrow. Probably, I'm thinking at this point in time, if the roadways clear up, as we hope they will, we would not necessarily call a halt to state action - state government actions tomorrow. But that is always something subject to change. If the weather were to change itself.

REPORTER: So you feel confident that we're going to be able to get all these cars off the road?

DEAL: Yes. I am very confident that we can do that. I would like to see as many of them voluntarily removed with the assistance of the state patrol and with the assistance of the National Guard being willing to transport people to their vehicles, assist them in getting them started, with gasoline or a jump-start if those are needs that they might have. We would much prefer that people get their vehicles on their own and we certainly want to minimize the number of vehicles that actually have to be removed by wreckers.

Let me get back to your question.

REPORTER: Yes, governor, do you feel it was appropriate for you and Mayor Reed to be at that event at the Ritz Carlton as the roads were icing up yesterday?

DEAL: I do. I went there because I was asked by Georgia Trend, who had selected Mayor Reed as the Georgia Citizen of the Year, to introduce him since I had been the recipient of that award the previous year. I think that was all together appropriate for me to do that. I did not eat lunch there. I stayed only a minimal period of time, left immediately after I introduced him and cancelled everything else that we had for the rest of the day to concentrate on this issue.


REPORTER: Governor, governor, what do you say to the rest of the country that looks at Atlanta and says, this is just crazy.

DEAL: Well, I think they have to, first of all, start by getting their facts right. Some of the national media outlets have been saying that Georgia still has children in school for the second night. That's wrong. Now, I understand that one of our neighboring states, who did declare a state of emergency earlier -- much earlier than we did, they do have children still -

REPORTER: But that aside, a city that can't move its people in a modern American city that considers itself a world -


REPORTER: Yes, it's a world destination. Why is it that they can't get home in this kind of weather?

DEAL: Well, why is it that we don't have fully operational activities at some of the modern (ph) stations? I mean they had difficulties as well. I'm not blaming it on them. I'm just saying, we can use any excuse to make any argument that we want. We have to deal with the realities that we have.

REPORTER: Do you think - do you think this is - you think that was -

REPORTER: Governor, as you pointed out yesterday, this storm hit hard around 12:30.

DEAL: Right.

REPORTER: But the rest of your (INAUDIBLE) staff (ph) tell us where they were and what they were doing at 12:30?

DEAL: Well, let's see. I've got the colonel here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live in Raven Gap, Georgia, and my day starts at 4:00 a.m. And I was in the office by 6:30 that morning. We received the order about starting to let state employees go. And I had already started feathering my employees out at 10:00 a.m. in the morning. I let those go that lived the farthest away from Atlanta first, and we tried to maintain as much staff because even though it's a headquarters of civilians, we want to be able to be there, you know, for folks to answer the phone.

One of my staff members ended up leaving at 1:00 and she lives inside of 285 and it was a five and a half hour commute for her to get home.

REPORTER: At what time did you find out about the winter storm warning at that point?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I came down, I listen to WSP (ph) in the morning. And even though the warning was out there, Curt Belish (ph) at that time was saying that it looked like Atlanta was only going to get a dusting. And so it wasn't until later in the morning that I knew that it had been shifted north and that it was going to be kind of on the bulls eye for Atlanta.

REPORTER: Do you know at what time - what time was your - what time did you know there was a winter storm warning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About 9:30, 10:00, sir.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

We started very early in the morning and began our planning, continued our planning throughout the day. And we were fully engaged in ensuring that if and when the time came where we needed to provide assistance, that we were well placed and that we had a plan.

REPORTER: Were you at the command center, general (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was not at the command center first thing in the morning, but later in the day.

REPORTER: Where were you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where was I first thing in the morning? I was at my house.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) when the storm hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When -- I was still at my house at 12:00, but I was making my way here, which became problematic.

REPORTER: When did you become aware that there was a winter storm warning?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earlier in the morning.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not -- not at 3:30, but earlier in the morning. I'm a bit of a weather buff, so I was watching closely. Thank you. REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE).

DEAL: I know you probably could continue to ask me questions all afternoon. Let me just remind you that most of you were here at I believe it was 11:00 on Tuesday evening when we had a press conference at that point in time. My staff and I continued to be here to try to do as much planning and preparations as we could. We left here about 1:30 in the morning. So we have - we have put in some time.

Obviously, the problem and the regrets that I have are on the front end. I am very pleased with the responses that our people made under very, very difficult circumstances. And I think that is the message we need to remember.

However, there will be ongoing discussions with our agencies about what can we do better to prepare. How can we make sure that the weather forecasts that are coming out of the National Weather Service are updated in terms of our attention and in terms of our actions.

I can say this to you, that we will be more aggressive. We will take those weather warnings more seriously. And there will be, as a consequence of that, probably more occasions in which we will declare emergencies where the emergency will not manifest itself. But I believe, in light of this circumstance, that we should all err on the side of being more aggressive in our predictions.

So I will conclude with that. I can tell you that we will keep you updated. When we have had the thorough review of action plans for the future, we will make you aware of what those will be. And, if necessary, we will have follow-ups to let you know how successful we have been, for example, on making sure that the automobiles that were stranded there have been removed at the end of today.

Thank you all.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, here we go, let's take it.

For the past 40 minutes, you've been listening to the governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, speaking from the capital, just a couple blocks away from me here at CNN. I have to tell you, we've been trying to get this man to come to the building. So, instead, we sent a correspondent to him.

Basically, within the first 10 seconds, we heard a major 180 from the Georgia governor, now essentially apologizing. We heard an apology yesterday from Atlanta's mayor, Kasim Reed, and now an apology from Governor Deal to all of those who have been stranded on the roadways for 12, 16, some 24 hours.

We have a correspondent in that room. You heard some of his questions here. We're getting some questions answered. Some much needed questions answered from the man who ultimately oversees the state and the state oversees the highways. Let's listen back in.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you could give us an interview, sir, we could discuss these issues. BALDWIN: Just walking out. OK. We'll come back.

So, more than 48 hours after a snowstorm paralyzed parts of the south, Atlanta is still digging out. There are still hundreds of abandoned cars just littering the roads, primary, secondary, highways. Hundreds have been towed. And the city is waiting for the owners to come and get them.

The big question today summed up in the headline that streams across the front page of Atlanta's newspaper, "The Atlanta Journal Constitution," you see those four words there - "how did this happen?" And the two men taking the most heat, we just heard from one of them, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. You see this cartoon satirized today in a cartoon showing them making snow angels while Atlanta was in the midst of a massive icy gridlock.

And we just heard from Governor Deal, appeared at a hastily arranged news conference. And right out of the gate, this man apologized.


GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R), GEORGIA: I want to start out by apologizing to those individuals who were stranded on our roadways, to those parents whose children were unable to return home in a timely fashion. I accept responsibility for the fact that we did not make preparation early enough to avoid these consequences.

As a parent, I certainly understand how someone would feel if their child was either on a school bus or at a school and unable to come become home.


BALDWIN: Did I mention we sent a correspondent to the governor. We're standing by to get him in front of a camera. A couple of questions he asked would be, is this going to happen again? And is anyone going to resign? We'll get those answers from Martin Savidge in just a minute here.

Again, the governor's office just a short couple of blocks from CNN Center. And again, thus far, getting Governor Deal right here to talk to me, no dice. The invitation, Mr. Governor, still stands.

So, as for today, how is Atlanta doing and what's happening with all those cars that people abandoned on the side of the roadways at the height of this mess. CNN's George Howell is at one of the tow lots where people can come claim their cars. Victor Blackwell overlooking one of the major highways in the city, the downtown connector.

So, Victor Blackwell, let's just begin with you. Talk to me about the situation with these abandoned cars. There is a process today for folks to pick them up.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very early this morning GEMA, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, they established a civil emergency that would ask people to stay off the roads, the interstates, going through Atlanta, the metro area. And this is, as you said, the 75-85 interchange. But there has been constant traffic through this area all morning. No major problems here.

There are, I can tell you, just down here, I don't know if you can see it, there's a truck that's been here and there are two cars behind it that have been sitting here all morning. So we haven't seen anyone come to pick these up. But here's the process. The Georgia National Guard, also the Georgia State Patrol, those members would actually meet people who are trying to get their cars at two different locations and then take them to their vehicle. If necessary, they'd offer them fuel to fill it up, but just a few gallons to get to a gas station, if necessary. So that process continues.

But as it relates to the drive here, it's been moving smoothly all day. Again, people still trying to get the cars, like this truck and two behind it, that were abandoned on Tuesday.


BALDWIN: It's nice to see movement. It's the little things, Victor, isn't it, for people in Atlanta.


BALDWIN: And, George, to you. We know you took a drive around town this morning and still found a lot of the cars around the roadway. You're at a tow lot. Tell me people aren't having to pay to get their cars.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, you know, here's the deal. If people don't get their cars today by 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time, there is a possibility, you know, that these private tow truck companies will tow the cars. There's a possibility that people could have to pay for the cars.

But that aside, you know, just talking about that news conference we just heard, it was an interesting news conference, as you mentioned. A 180 hearing from the governor. I was watching here on just to get a sense of what it was like when we heard those questions from my colleague, Martin Savidge. We really heard the governor admitting that, you know, the response was not adequate, was not fast enough.

I want to show you the situation here. They're all over it. You know, today, we are seeing the National Guard, the Georgia National Guard. They're out in force. They're helping people get to those cars. Again, at this point, we know that some 2,000 cars plus are still out there. It is a slow, but deliberate process to see people, you know, tell these guys exactly where the car is and then they take them out. They take them out in the Hummers, out to the places where they believe the cars are still located. So far we're hearing success stories of people who walked away from their cars are finding their cars. But, again, it's a process that hopefully people can get their cars before 9:00 p.m. Eastern.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They come here and they link up with GEMA. They'll say, hey, look, my car has been out on the road. They provide a driver's license. And they will actually do a check to see if the car has been towed, because they may not (ph) need to go out there. If the car hasn't been towed, then they bring them over here, link them up with me, and I'll put them in a Humvee with two of my drivers and send them out to their vehicles.


HOWELL: And this is a process that will continue for the next several hours. Again, people are showing up to this location. There's another one, Brooke, in the south part of the city. So, you know, again, the hope is that people will get to those cars before later today because cars could be towed and, again, people could have to pay to get their cars out.

BALDWIN: OK, George Howell, thank you so much for the heads up there.

And again, did I mention that the governor's office is mere blocks away from us here at CNN? Did I mention that the world headquarters is located here in Atlanta where I'm sitting? The governor of Georgia has been gracious enough to talk to me in person about other issues in the past. Still has not come down to talk to us here at CNN.

Well, let me tell you, Martin Savidge, who was just throwing some questions at the governor in that news conference, asked him the very question we want an answer to, why are you not talking to CNN? That answer on the other side of the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: All right, breaking news into us here at CNN as we are going to take a sharp right turn and talk about the alleged Boston bomber, the younger of the two Tsarnaev brothers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We know he's facing some 30 federal counts after what happened in April of last year.

We are now learning from Attorney General Eric Holder that he is allowing - he is allowing the state of Massachusetts to seek the death penalty in that federal court for the Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

I have former federal prosecutor, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin joining me now.

And, Sunny, react to that news for me.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yo know, I don't think this was any surprise to most people. I actually had the opportunity, when I was covering the Bulger case, to speak with the U.S. attorney in Boston, Carmen Ortiz, and I asked her this question, has the decision been made. Of course, she couldn't make any comment at that time, but she indicated that it was in the hands of the Justice Department, along with the office's recommendation.

So we now know -- or at least we can glean from this decision that the office did recommend the death penalty. And I will tell you this, Brooke. It is not an easy process in terms of the Justice Department's decision to go forward on a death penalty recommendation because there is an --

BALDWIN: How do you think he arrived -- how does one arrive at this decision?

HOSTIN: Well, you know, there's an office at the Department of Justice that handles these recommendations. And it is reviewed by many, many attorneys. It is - it tends to be -- the decision tends to be case- specific. And so this is a process that has many, many, many layers. And the attorney general generally accepts the recommendation of that core group of people that reviewed these cases. And so it's not a decision that is made lightly, but there is a process in place. And so now we know that that process took place and the attorney general is - the Justice Department is seeking the death penalty. And I think a lot of people don't realize that there is a federal death penalty. And certainly there is.

BALDWIN: How then, looking ahead to if and when this trial takes place, how will this affect perhaps a jury's decision?

HOSTIN: Yes, I mean, you know, it becomes a very different type of case. And we've seen that when there is a death penalty case, not just a federal death penalty case in federal courts, but also, of course, state by state. And so I think that Tsarnaev has hired an attorney that is well versed in death penalty cases, but juries typically do have - you know, they struggle, I think. And so during voyeur dire (ph), when the jury is chosen, this will be a topic of discussion because they have to get this sort of death penalty qualified jury. A jury, that in the event they find him guilty, will and can impose the death penalty. So it really just adds a completely different dynamic to this case.

BALDWIN: It does.

HOSTIN: But I think if you speak to a lot of people - I mean you were in Boston covering it -- most people believe that if ever there is a case for the death penalty, this case certainly would apply given the facts and given the maiming and the horrible deaths that we saw in Boston.

BALDWIN: What a horrendous, horrendous event last April. I will never forget it.

Evan Perez, let me bring you into this conversation, our Justice correspondent Evan Perez.

What more can you share on this?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, this has been a big decision that's been weighing on the attorney general for some weeks now. This is -- we thought maybe this was going to go straight down to the wire. He had until tomorrow to make a final decision.

Look, there was a lot of difficult things on this one. The suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is only 20 years old, and so there was a lot of - there was a lot of push that, you know, perhaps he was too young to carry this out. He was under the influences of his brother was another issue that was brought up. Federal authorities say that, you know, that the older brother, Tamerlan, was the big driver of this plot. Although they also say that Dzhokhar was a willing participant in the bombings.

And obviously, you know, this is an issue with Massachusetts. The federal death penalty exists, but in Massachusetts they haven't put anybody to death in decades. So this is all - all these things were weighing on the mind of the attorney general in the last few weeks as he was trying to make a decision on this. And he has finally did authorize this decision, authorized this decision to seek the death penalty after weighing all of these things in the last few weeks.

We have a statement from him that was issued just a little while ago in which he says, "after consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and submissions made by the defendant's council, I have determined that the United States will seek the death penalty in this matter. The nature of the conduct at issue and the resulted harm compel this decision."

So essentially he was saying that, you know, the terribleness of this crime that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is accused of is what led him to finally make this decision. He hasn't done this very often. Not as often as some of his predecessors. He's been - he's authorized the death penalty much less than previous attorneys general under the Bush administration. But he has done it and here he has done it again, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Obviously this is a young man's life that he had to considered in arriving at this decision.

Jane Velez-Mitchell joins me now as well. We heard from Sunny. We've heard from Evan. Jane, your reaction to the news that he has said, yes, you can seek the death penalty.

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST, HLN'S "JANE VELEZ MITCHELL": Well, the death penalty is a very polarizing issue and it raises a lot of moral questions. I agree with Sunny, if there was ever a case that called for the death penalty, this is it.

BALDWIN: This is it.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: This is a case that has been so devastating to so many people, it has impacted virtually every American's life because it has changed how we behave in public places. However, it's a very young defendant. And what we've learned in death penalty cases is that people often say hypothetically they're capable of voting for the death penalty, but then when it comes time and they are face-to-face with the individual, then it becomes less of a hypothetical and more of a real life and death dilemma and sometimes they can't go forward.

And if ultimately they could not go forward in this case, that would really be a huge blow to proponents of the death penalty and it might actually have the reverse effect of people who are proponents of the death penalty saying, well, if you can't do it in this case, then you can never do it. And so it might actually have a lot of political, I think, ramifications.

BALDWIN: We knew this decision was looming for the attorney general, Eric Holder. And I want to bring in Nick Paton Walsh.

Nick, I'm not quite sure if you are still in Dagestan, but that is where the Tsarnaev's hailed from. You, I remember, a year -- when the Boston bombings happened, you talked to the mother at the time. You've spoken with the mother since we knew this decision would be made. What has she shared with you?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I should point out, Brooke, I did speak to the mother minutes before this decision was, in fact, announced. And she said to me there's one thing she wanted the whole world to hear, and I quote her here, that, "I love my son. My precious Dzhokhar. That's it. Please, leave me alone. I have nothing more to say. I want to say a million times, I love my son. I love my Allah (ph). I love" - I think it was the Prophet Mohammed she said. "And I love my Dzhokhar."

She's clearly distressed deeply. I think it was no secret in the minds of many people observing this case that the attorney general's decision was likely to be that he was going to seek the death penalty despite the controversy that causes in the United States. It's often that the toughest decision is sought by the prosecutors in cases like this. And I think really what I got from speaking to her was a sense of the intense distress she's been under as a mother and the scrutiny she's been under in the past months.

And I also spoke to the father, in fact, a few days earlier. He had little to say. I did ask if he wanted to make any kind of statement and he just wanted to be left alone as well.

So she went on also to add that she had nothing, she said, in our heads or our hearts, what could she say. Can you imagine, she said, what continue I'm in? What could I say? What could you understand, what can I say? We're sickened by what has happened."

And I think that's a real sign of how deeply they feel their son's innocence, because that's the plea he's entered of not guilty to this stage and they are, like many people in southern Russia who are suspicions of governmental power, who don't trust the Russian government and that translates into a mistrust of the charges brought against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by the American government. They believe maybe he was framed or perhaps the whole truth hasn't been said, which, of course, is deeply repugnant to those whose relatives and loved ones were hurt in the Boston explosion.

But a real sense here, I think, from the mother of exhaustion, and even before we heard the certainty that the death penalty would be sought, a love for her son and exhaustion by what she's felt in the past few months.


BALDWIN: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much. Just looking at these pictures, these wrestling pictures, reminds me of my three weeks in Boston talking to his young friends from high school and how they pained this picture of this good kid, good wrestler. Never in a million years would they have thought he would have been capable of something like this. And now, depending on how the U.S. justice system follows through and a possible conviction, this young man could be put to death for the horror that happened in Boston in April of last year.

A quick break. When we come back, back on our breaking news out of Georgia, and back to the question many of us here at CNN wanted answered from the governor of Georgia, why are you not doing an interview with us? That answer, next.