Return to Transcripts main page


White House Slowly Releasing Financial Information of Top Appointments; Two U.S. Officials Overseas This Week Facing Questions About Russian Meddling; More Than 200 Dead After Deadly Mudslides in Colombia; Terror Groups Close to Cracking Security Screening Process at American Airports; New Pictures of Missing Tennessee Student and her Former Teacher. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 1, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:09] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: 7:00 here in New York. 4:00 in the afternoon out west. Great to have you with United States. I'm Ana Cabrera. And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

We begin with the latest twitter storm being churned up by President Trump that cap's a week of harsh headlines, startling development in the Russia investigation. And the President fired off tweets about everything from surveillance to health care, even attacked members of his own party today. He suggested he might work with Democrats on health care. A message no doubt for members of the conservative freedom caucus.

I want to bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles at the White House tonight. Ryan, the ranking member of the house intelligence committee Adam Schiff went to the White House last night to review classified documents. What are you learning about that visit?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are learning that Adam Schiff apparently has a different impression of these materials than Devin Nunes who is of course, the chairman of the House Intel committee.

Devin Nunes, of course, when he reviewed those materials that led to him holding a press conference, suggesting this perhaps backed up the President's claim about being under surveillance by the Obama administration.

But in a statement last night, the chairman said essentially that while he was able to review these materials, he didn't really learn too much that would have made him believe that the actions that Devin Nunes took were necessarily the appropriate ones and essentially saying that every member of the committee should be able to review them as the chairman does.

This all comes against the backdrop of a bit of new information and reaction just we learned in the last hour, Ana. And that is about Michael Flynn, the national security agency director who was removed from his post after it was revealed the repeated meetings that he had had with some Russian officials.

And as you know, the White House is slowly releasing the financial information of some of their top appointments and they just have posted the information having to do with Mr. Flynn. And it turns out he made 1.5 million in 2016 and this some earnings on this that are going to raise some eyebrows when it comes to this Russian investigation including a number of different incomes that he received from Russian interests, including RT television, which is, of course, the Russian-state-owned television company. And also, he received compensation exceeding $5,000 a year from a Russian based a cargo company called (INAUDIBLE) airlines.

So this is just another bit of information that you can bet that Democrats are going to use as they continue to have these conversations about the role that Russia may have played in the American election and of course on whether or not the Trump administration was involved with him. We should point out that emphatically that the White House has repeatedly denied that there was any collusion at all between the campaign and anyone from Russia - Ana.

CABRERA: Thank you for bringing that new information about Michael Flynn's financial disclosure. We will talk with our panel about that in just a moment.

We have it on the screen up there. Again, identifying some income coming from Russia to Michael Flynn. We will talk more about that. I know you are still reading over some of those details.

But on the other side here, can you tell us a little bit more now that we can see Michael Flynn's signature, what exactly is this?

NOBLES: Are you talking about the financial disclosure form?

CABRERA: The sheet itself, yes.

NOBLES: Yes. I actually can't see it, to be honest with you. And so, I just have the report in front of me. We know that the Intel group -- so a part of what this disclosure is telling us is what -- you know, where Flynn got his money from last year. We set $1.5 million. And we do know that a large portion of that income came from the Flynn intel group alone. In fact, $827,000 in salary and bonus from the firm. But you know, we don't exactly know what kind of impact this is going to have in general. But you know, any ties between those having to do with the campaign and Russia is certainly something that's going to be scrutinized by many on the house and particularly in the Senate as well where they have an investigation into this as well.

CABRERA: All right. Ryan Nobles reporting. We appreciate it.

Let's bring in our panel, CNN political commentator, Republican strategist and former Ted Cruz communications director Alice Stewart and "Daily Beast" contributor Dean Obedallah.

Alice, let's talk a little but about this new breaking development. We now know Michael Flynn earned $1.5 million last year and some of that coming from Russian interests, including from a payment from Russia state TV, money from Russian air cargo company. What does that mean to you?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Ana, I think this reinforces what a lot of people have already known, is that he did quite a bit of consulting with Russian companies and Russian officials. And more than anything, I think this is the kind of thing, the reason why he suit immunity in exchange for testifying before the intel committees. And the amount of money he made with regard to that is not as significant as the fact that he had dealings with them and it wasn't disclosed when he went through a security clearance for his White House job.

In addition to the fact he had communications with Russian officials during the transition period, which some would say may possibly be a violation of the Logan act, which hasn't been prosecuted. But those are the reasons why more than anything he sought immunity for his testimony. But I think the numbers that we are seeing, certainly they are high, but it reinforces what we already knew, that he did consult with Russia.

[19:05:36] CABRERA: Dean, when you hear this, wouldn't you have thought that the Trump campaign team and transition team would have known about these potential conflicts of interest and these connections to Russia financially?

DEAN OBEDALLAH, CONTRIBUTOR, THE DAILY BEAST: You would have thought they would. We have not seen a great deal of very good vetting by the Trump administration. As much as they want to vet immigrants, doesn't mean they vet people who they were hiring. But at the same time, the Trump administration and the transition team may - that was thought here was a problem with him working, getting money from Russian TV which is the propaganda of the Russian government. Because this whole scale is not exploded to where it is now.

So this just adds ammunition. Expect Democrats to talk about this tomorrow on the shows. Today on the shows. The idea that he was paid by Russian TV doing some other kind of work for a Russian air cargo company. And this just makes this cozy relation between Michael Flynn and the Russians. So when he gets on the phone during the transition period and talks about sanctions with the Russian ambassador, did he feel really close enough to say, hey, we are going to get rid of these sanctions and was there collusions and that's the big question. This doesn't answer, but was there collusion with the Trump campaign and the Russian intelligence, the hacking. And that's what 65 percent of Americans this week said they want an investigation. We all have more questions than answers and this causes more questions.

CABRERA: Alice, when we hear things like the President saying this is nothing but a witch hunt, this investigation into Russia and the potential collusion or some kind of work with the Russian campaign in releasing some of the emails from the Democratic National Committee that came out that eventually kind of hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign and he says, you know, this is a witch hunt. Is it of concern that that could look like he's simply trying to sweep this under the rug?

STEWART: Well, clearly not trying to do that because we are being continuing to answer questions on this. And keep in mind witch hunt is the same language that the Clinton team used when her folks were going through the same process. And five of her employees sought immunity in exchange for their testimony as well. They used the same kind of language.

Look. It's not a surprise to anyone. And it's not lost on anyone that Donald Trump has always felt like questions about campaign's collusions with the Russians wasn't an attempt to undermine his victory. And that's the way he's felt from day one. And that is clearly not the case he won because he has a better message. He campaigned harder. And he won the Electoral College. And for his -- the frustration with the ongoing question about collusion always points back to the fact that he feels as though a question and undermine his victory.

CABRERA: Dean, there is cross more smoke, but no fire.

OBEDALLAH: We still don't know the answers to the questions the Senate intelligence committee just this week started. The house intelligence committee, because of Devin Nunes, is late night escapade as going to the White House has ended up stopping that investigation. But this whole witch hunt thing is ridiculous. Who is the witch hunt run by? The Republicans who control the House, the Republicans who control the Senate, the Republicans who control department of justice or the Republicans who control the White House. You can't or which hunt when your party controls everything.

This is a joke. When Hillary Clinton talked about it, it was a Republican-controlled Congress going after her. The whole difference scenario, which hunt makes no sense. Vladimir Putin used the term witch hunt in January to describe this very same thing, used the exact same words. Very interesting to me.

CABRERA: I want to play a clip from this week's press briefings where White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked again about Trump's unsubstantiated surveillance claims, the controversy as well over the house intelligence committee chairman, Dean, just referenced having been given access to information at the White House and then rushing over to tell the president House. Let's watch.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There seems to be this fascination with the process. It is how did he get here? What door did he enter as oppose to what's the substance of what we are finding. And I understand the obsession with the process piece but we are focused on the substance of it. I know a lot of folks want to talk about the process and not the surveillance or the underlying issue of the substance, the unmasking and leaks is what we should all be concerned about.


CABRERA: Dean, how important is the process?

OBEDALLAH: The process, it's very important. It's very important to find out where Devin Nunes got his information that he had a sudden press conference on Wednesday last week without talking to the ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee, Adam Schiff.

You know, I had Congressman Andre Corso on my radio show who is in the House intelligence committee and he said they never do this. This is a bipartisan committee. It's above the partisan fray.

Unfortunately, chairman Nunes has hurt that. And the idea that Sean Spicer, this is the real issue. Well, you know what, Donald Trump has the power to declassify anything he wants. He is President. Declassified information, let us see what kind of surveillance we are talking about. It is almost month now so that's March 4th tweet and we have nothing but innuendo. So President Trump, reveal information. You can do it. It's classified. Give it to the media. Let us see it now.

[19:10:37] CABRERA: Alice, what about your thoughts about this idea that transparency could be helpful?

STEWART: Transparency is critical in a situation like this. And if the White House as we understand had had information helpful to the intel committee, it would have been beneficial and certainly much better in the end if they would have presented it to the entire intel community as a whole instead of just to Devin Nunes and then coming back and inviting the others to come a week later. And that's where we're getting lost in the process because things like this are happening.

I think the substance, I think Sean Spicer is 100 percent correct. The substance is the most important thing. The fact that we have classified information leaked, the fact that we have unmasking of names of Americans who are part of these investigations. Their names should be confidential but those names are being released. But overall, the most important thing is the investigation of Russians not only influencing - interference in our election but also the potential for the influence. And that is getting lost in all this back-and- forth on the process of what's being more than anything has turned out to be a colossal effort to substantiate the President's tweets. But we need to keep our eye on the prize, which is Russian interference in our election.

CABRERA: All right. Alice and Dean, stand by. We are going to have you back.

Much more still ahead. Tomorrow morning, by the way, we want to let you know, tune in for "STATE OF THE UNION." A big interview with Jake Tapper, Congressman Adam Schiff will join Jake to talk about the future of the House, Russian investigation. That's at 9:00 eastern and pacific only here tomorrow on CNN.

Two President Trump's highest ranking officials were overseas this week dealing with questions about Russians meddling in other countries affairs. And secretary of state Rex Tillerson was in Brussels for a NATO conference. Defense secretary James Mattis in London, a meeting with his British counterpart there. Both are criticizing the Putin regime for, as Mattis put it, mucking around in other people's elections.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports Russia is watching and listening.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's hard for Russians to escape the constant allegations of interference in U.S. politics. Questions even following Vladimir Putin, the countries far north. He was at an international arctic summit where the Russian President again tried to lay the matter to rest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You and the Russian government did never try to influence the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election and there will be no evidence found?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Reagan once said to the American people, I think it was regarding taxes. Read my lips. No.

CHANCE: Actually was George Bush Sr. who set that but the point was made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning, the committee will engage in an activity list.

CHANCE: But it's a point unlikely to be heard in the U.S. congressional hearings now under way in Washington. Meant to investigate the feverish allegations of Russian collusion.

The latest twist, Jared Kushner, Trump son-in-law and advisor is confirmed to have met a top appointed Russian banker. His bank, VEB, is under U.S. sanctions and the banker, Sergey Gorkov has close Putin contacts. Putin has now spoken out on that, too, dismissing the meeting as routine.

PUTIN (through translator): American bankers come to Russia and talk to us, don't they? Including our officials. I think it's not in the interest of American people to carry Russian-American relations to the point of absurdity just to benefit the domestic political agenda.

TRUMP: By the way, wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with Russia? Wouldn't that be nice?

CHANCE: That political agenda, observes the Kremlin, has prevented Trump implementing his own campaign promises, including rebuilding links with Moscow allowing relations between the former cold war rivals to plant dangerous.

PUTIN (through translator): Our relationship is almost to the point of zero already. What we want to break off the diplomat relationship and force the situation to the point of the 1960s and the Caribbean crisis? I think it's a big mistake and I hope the situation will normalize, the sooner, the better.

CHANCE: Amid 19 controversy note, the icy relations between the U.S. and Russia show few signs of an early thaw.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


[19:15:09] CABRERA: Ahead this hour, dangerous threat to commercial flight, a new device that terrorists could use to devastating effect what officials are doing to safe.

Plus, the president, after his stinging defeat under killing Obamacare has now been hammering a group of fellow Republicans. We will go inside the war between the White House and of the GOP.

And later, police confirm the first sighting of a missing teenage girl from Tennessee. This is the first sighting in nearly three weeks. Where she was spotted and how her father is now reacting.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:19:48] CABRERA: More than 200 people are dead after deadly mudslides in Colombia. This was the frightening scene. Take a look at these images. This is in Columbia, Putimaya Province early this morning more than five inches of rain has three rivers overflowed. You see these muddy waters just flashing into the nearby community destroying at least 25 homes and at least 20 people were also injured in those flashflood, another 220 are still missing according to the Red Cross. First responders are searching for survivors. Colombia's President has declared a state of emergency.

Now to the war on terror and something you will only see here on CNN. U.S. intelligence officials are telling us that ISIS and other terrorist groups may have figured out a way to bypass the high-tech security screeners at airports. The big concern to the FBI and one of the reason the Trump administration decided to put strong restrictions on how laptops and other large electronics enter the U.S. from countries from a number of countries specifically coming from the Middle East and Africa.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has more details.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about the threats against aviation that they are seeing not just from ISIS but also Al-Qaeda in Syria and Al-Qaeda in Yemen.


STARR (voice-over): U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies believe that ISIS and other terror groups have developed innovative ways to plant explosives in electronic devices that can fool airport security screening. The concern is heightened because there is U.S. intelligence suggesting that terrorists have obtained sophisticated airport security equipment to test how well the bombs are concealed.

CNN has learned this new intelligence was a significant part of the decision earlier this month to ban laptops, tablets, and other electronic devices from the passenger cabins of planes flying directly to the United States from ten Middle Eastern and north African airports. Demanding instead that they be stored in checked luggage.

SPICER: Elevated intelligence that we are aware of indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressive in pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks to include smuggling of explosive devices in various consumer products.

STARR: Officials have told CNN, there was credible and specific intelligence that ISIS would try to attack aviation assets and a hint from a top U.S. commander about why the accelerated effort on the ground in Syria against the group.

LT. GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, COMMANDER, OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE: There is an imperative to get isolation in place around Raqqah because our intelligence feeds tell us that there is a significant external operations attacks planning.

STARR: Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen AQAP has for years been actively trying to target commercial airliners destined for the U.S. looking for ways to create bombs that contain little or no metal content to evade airport security measures, including hiding explosives in the batteries of electronic devices like laptops.

And in February, 2016, a wakeup call when a laptop bomb, according to Somali authorities, was used to blow a hole in this Somali passenger jet. The plane landed safely, despite the attack claimed by the Al Qaeda affiliate, al-shabab. CNN has learned the explosives were hidden in space created by moving parts of the DVD drive.

The transportation security administration gave CNN a statement noting that while they will not discuss specific intelligence, they continue to monitor all the threats that they see and that they will change security procedures as they see fit.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


CABRERA: We're not finished with this exclusive reporting on what terror group may be able to do with the sensitive airport technology. Up next, former CIA operative Bob Bear is going to join me. We will talk about what changes you will see perhaps at the airport because of this new information.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:28:14] CABRERA: A CNN's exclusive reporting this weekend, intelligence sources tell us that ISIS and other terror groups may be close to cracking the security screening process at American airports particularly when it comes to getting small bombs on the airplane.

CNN intelligence and security analyst Bob Bear is joining us now. Bob, you were with the CIA. You have worked all over the Middle East.

How alarming is it to you that terrorists may have gotten their hands on U.S. airport security technology?

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: It's very alarming, but it's -- security systems at their airports that they are banning laptops and electronics is very, very good. It's as good as ours in the United States. So if they can get these bombs through these Middle Eastern airports, they can get it through our airports.

I realized that they probably have specific intelligence about threats from these airports but these people developing these bombs are better and better and better. (INAUDIBLE) in February last year, the only reason it didn't bring the plane down is the altitude. If it had been 10,000 feet or higher, it would have come down. It was a large enough explosion to cause this called slipper effect which split up an airplane. There perfectly no survivors. It is pure luck. The Mogadishu airport is not up to snuff, (INAUDIBLE). But the fact is if they worry about the ban these things, and twice in the United States, we should be worried.

CABRERA: So tell us more about what we know when it comes to the sophistication of these bomb making capabilities of some of these terrorist groups.

BAER: For years they have been trying to get high explosives on airplanes. They tried the Detroit bomb at Christmas. The bomber -- it failed to explode only because that explosive absorbs moisture. It's called hydroscopic. If he would managed to keep explosives dry, that plane probably would have come down. If they had put explosives in toner. It is got (INAUDIBLE) almost made it to the United States. They can hide the detonators on these things.

But what really has people concerned is using chemical mixings in these bombs. And if you can somehow combine them on an airplane and get that device, an iPad or computer up against the skin of the airplane (INAUDIBLE) and explode it, it makes airplanes very vulnerable because these detection devices cannot detect chemicals. That's when we have to get really concerned.

[19:30:09] CABRERA: We don't want to necessarily alarm people, but in your opinion, how worried should the public be?

BAER: Well, we should be worried because planes are being targeted. We lad the metro jet out of the Sinai that was brought down. Probably the jet out of Paris was brought down by an explosive. That's not been determined quickly. But as the Islamic states come under more and more pressure, they have what they think is a strategy (INAUDIBLE) means of going against commercial airliners on multiple attacks in one day is their goal at this point. Now, whether they are sophisticated enough to do it, I know they are better, but can they actually do it? We are going to have to wait and see.

CABRERA: How do you see TSA making adjustments, maybe tightening security in the wake of these findings? Do you think we will notice something different if we are traveling in the U.S.? BAER: I think if you travel within the U.S., you have a laptop, an

iPad, you are going to get a lot more scrutiny. They are looking for changes in schematics, some of the changes they are going to taking a closer look at batteries. It's going to take longer to get through security as they try to combat this new threat.

CABRERA: All right. Bob Bear, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you.

Still to come, they are some of the very people that helped get Trump elected. And now the President is going after the freedom caucus. Is this simply part of President Trump's plan to shake up Washington? We will debate it.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:36:40] CABRERA: The President calling for lawmakers in his own party to lose? Probably something you wouldn't expect but that's what's happening. President Trump is not happy with the freedom caucus, a group of conservatives in the House. He blames this group for killing his health care bill. And now he is publicly calling them out, even individual tweeting this.

The freedom caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on a team and fast. We must fight them and Dem in 2018.

And then the president social media director, Dan Scavino, tweeted this. The President is bringing auto plants and jobs back to Michigan. Congressman Justin Amash is a big liability. #Trumptraindefeathiminprimary.

Let's talk with our panel. Back with me Republican strategist and former communications director for Ted Cruz, Alice Stewart and "Daily Beast" contributor and host of the "Dean Obedallah" show on Sirius XM, Dean Obedallah.

All right. Alice, an unusual strategy perhaps, but could these kind of threats motivate the freedom caucus to get behind the President's agenda?

STEWART: No. Not at all.


STEWART: Many of the members of the House freedom caucus won their elections by a greater margin than Donald Trump did. And they are answering to their constituents. And they are getting praise from those voters back in the district because of their position on health care.

Look. They all ran on the idea of repealing and replacing Obamacare. Look. We will admit that's first to go around, this first step at it. I disagree on how to go about doing it, but I do think there's going to be a second bite at the apple and it will be successful. But Mark Meadows, the head of the house freedom caucus was out in his

district yesterday received overwhelming support. They thanked him and praised him for standing firm because he campaigned and promise a lowering premiums and providing greater access to health care. He didn't believe this original bill provided those options for his constituents. So he stood firm. And so, any attempts by the President to intimidate them by tweets aren't going to work. They're standing on principles. And that goes for all the members of the house freedom caucus.

CABRERA: Dean, do you think this is part of the President's plan to shake up Washington?

OBEDALLAH: I think this is a great plan. I couldn't disagree more with Alice. Donald Trump, please attack Republicans as much as possible. As a Democrat it's bringing such joy. It's better than Netflix and Chill. This is the best thing ever. We are grabbing our popcorn. Please attack them.

This makes no sense. Sean Hannity, Donald Trump's cheer leader in chief even called this into his place. Maybe of two months into administration going after a caucus which is about 35 members of the House Republican Party, without them you can't pass a thing. You just don't have the vote. And he can forget Democrats ever coming over. I don't need Democrats even on infrastructure at this point, would come over and support them.

I would argue - see in last Sunday and Donald Trump's on the verge of being a lame duck. That's before these tweets. I think if in near term, Donald Trump is a lame duck. If you define that by getting your ideas into policy, because he is pissing off his own base, his party. This makes no sense whatsoever.

CABRERA: Then why do you think he is tweeting these things out, Dean if it makes no sense?

OBEDALLAH: Because he is thin skinned person who can't take anything and lashes out against everyone but himself. He will not take responsibility to any failure ever. We never seen him do that. He will lash out against Republicans now clearly, obviously, Democrats, fellow Republicans during the primary from, you know, the idea of lying Marco or Ted and going after Cruz and Rubio in very personal way saying Ted Cruz's father was involved in the JFK assassination.

Nothing is off limits for this man. He hasn't realized he is President of the United States. The campaign is over. You must reach out beyond. The same playbook is not working. A pole came out yesterday, the most stunning part, 60 percent of Americans say Donald Trump, they define his work as embarrassing. That's a stunning word. They are 60 percent Americans say Trump is embarrassing. That's more than disapproval. That's stunning.

[19:40:30] CABRERA: This division -- go ahead.

STEWART: No, I think to follow up on that. Look. This health care plan wasn't popular all along. CABRERA: Right.

STEWART: Seventeen percent of Americans thought this was a good plan. And I think we are going to see the President and the administration learn from this mistake and they are going to do better. I'm very encouraged by the fact that we are hearing from them. They want to work with the Republican Party and also bring some of the Democrats in trying and bring some of them on board because they realize how important this is. And they realize it's just a matter of time before Obama care implodes and more Americans will be hurt more by the downfall of Obama care than anything else.

So I think we will see some changes in the next go around. I think it will be positive. I think he is learning you have to work with all facets of the Republican Party, the more moderates and the more conservative but also with the Democrats. I think the next go-round will be much, much different than this one.

CABRERA: Guys, hold your thoughts for just a minute. I want to play a sound bite with Justin Amash. He is the congressman that we just saw was attacked specifically in those tweets. Let's listen.


REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: It's like fifth grade. It may allow a child to get his way but that's not how our government works.


CABRERA: Alice, that doesn't exactly sound like, hey, I want to work with the President.

STEWART: Look, those are the kind of comments that were made throughout the campaign and we certainly continue throughout the administration and people still voted for him.

Look, as long as there are results at the end of this, I think that's all that matters. And certainly having worked for Ted Cruz, I think the process and the style is not what people are used to. But as long as at the end of the day we have results and we have repeal and replace Obama care. That's all that matters. I think Amash understand that. Meadows understand that. All members of the House and the Senate realize that this is a different style, this is a different President but it's all about delivering results to the American people.

CABRERA: Dean, looking forward to next year's election, are voters going to see somebody like Justin Amash and others as the reason Obamacare wasn't repealed or as lawmakers standing up to a President who has a very low approval rate in the mid-30s.

OBEDALLAH: (INAUDIBLE) next election. I have no idea what's going to transpire between now and that day. This is near breaking news five times a day with this administration, frankly. I have no idea where we are going to be. I don't think of these states where you have freedom caucus members in very conservative states, where they are going to find somebody to the right of him to have to lose this election? Forget it.

What is going to happen is I hope in November 2018, we as Democrats need to take back 24 seats. Twenty-four is the number we need to get control of the House. That's the number one priority of every Democrat out there, everybody on the left side, keep motivating our base, 24 seats. So I don't know what they are going to do but the infighting is going to make the 24 seats a lot easier.

CABRERA: You talked about just Democrats sitting back and watching. That doesn't sound like Democrats trying to get things done. How does that translate into action, this attitude, and getting voters to want to put Democrats in power?

OBEDALLAH: I think that we are seeing on a grass roots level, the energy level, I have not seen since 2008 when Barack Obama was running for President for the first time. You see grass roots outpouring. In commerce, though, Republicans in the house and the Senate. It's very hard for us to get policy through but I think on state levels, you have a big governor's race in New Jersey. I think Democrats is going to win there taking the place of Chris Christie who is stepping down. In Virginia, I hope the Democrat win there. Those same message, you have a race in Georgia to replace Tom Price. I'm hoping the Democrat wins there.

It sends a message that (INAUDIBLE), they are going to have their message why vote for them, not just against Donald Trump. I think we're going to see great message next year. I think we're going to win big. I think we will take the 24 seats and take the house.

CABRERA: Quickly, Alice, how vulnerable are Republicans?

STEWART: I think we are in a good spot. And look, Dean is right. There's a lot of enthusiasm amongst liberals and the Democrats. We saw that with the women's marches and protests shortly after the President was sworn in. But the question is whether or not if they can continue that and they can capitalize on that and bring them out to the polls during when we have the midterms. And I don't see that happening.

I think Republicans are going to unite. I think if anything what we are seeing with that fight for repealing and replacing Obamacare, that will galvanize and unite the Republican Party to make sure that that happens. And they are going to really work hard during the midterms to make sure that they not only keep the seats they have but add to the seats they have in the House and the Senate. It will be certainly a successful midterm for Republicans.

[19:45:04] CABRERA: Here is what I don't understand. What defines success? Because if the freedom caucus is digging in and the Dems are digging in, who is actually working for the American people right now?

STEWART: I can assure you that members of the House freedom caucus are working for the American people and the people in their district because they promised lower premiums and they promised greater access to health care and that is what they are committed to doing. And while a lot of that is getting lost in the political talk here in Washington, when they go back home to their districts and meeting face-to-face with these people and they are saying thank you for standing firm, that's what motivates them and that's what will continue to keep them fighting to continue the promises they made to their constituents.

CABRERA: Alice Stewart, Dean Obedallah, thank you both.

STEWART: Thanks.

CABRERA: Coming up, new pictures just released showing that missing Tennessee student and her former teacher spotted out for the first time since the teen disappearance last month. We will have the latest on that investigation next.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[19:50:12] CABRERA: Three people are now facing charges after a massive fire caused a chunk of one of Atlanta's busiest interstates to collapse. These pictures really speak to the story. This is affecting now the whole southeast part of the country because it's such a huge thoroughfare. Investigators think one of the suspects intentionally set construction materials on fire under the highway. Now, the fire destroyed the whole north part of the highway, the southbound portion was left partially damaged. But this means all five lanes in each direction could be shut down now for months. Thankfully no one was hurt.

Now to some new details in the search for the missing Tennessee student and her former teacher. Surveillance photos just released show the two together at a Walmart in Oklahoma City two days after the 15-year-old was reported missing. This is the first confirmed sighting since March 13th.

CNN's Polo Sandoval has been following this story.

Polo, what do we know?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Ana, Tennessee state investigators were led to Oklahoma City earlier this week by a tip after they took a closer look at some surveillance video at a local Walmart that was shot about two-and-a-half weeks ago. They were able to confirm the sighting of Elizabeth Thomas and her alleged abductor.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): New surveillance images show former teacher Tad Cummings and 15-year-old missing student Elizabeth Thomas, the two were caught on camera at a Walmart in Oklahoma City earlier this month showing Cummings with darker hair and Thomas possibly with red hair according to police. This is the latest evidence since Cummings and Thomas disappeared last month.

MARK GWYN, DIRECTOR, TENNESSEE BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: This is not a fairy tale. This is a case of kidnapping. SANDOVAL: 50-year-old Tad Cummings is suspected of abducting

Elizabeth Thomas.

GWYN: She is a high school freshman. He is a former teacher. This is and was not a romance. This was manipulation solely to benefit Tad Cummings.

SANDOVAL: Thomas has been missing since March 13th weeks after a student reported the pair kissing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point, we have had no credible sightings of either individual.

SANDOVAL: In Tennessee law, Children over 12 years old can decide whether to leave their families unless the removal or confinement is quote "accomplished by force, threat or fraud." District attorney Brent Cooper is fighting to change that law. He hopes state lawmakers consider Elizabeth's case when they hold their next meeting next year.

BRENT COOPER, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The statute should say if it's without the consent of the parents or guardians that should be a crime.

SANDOVAL: The Tennessee bureau of investigation even translated Elizabeth's Amber alert to Spanish spreading the words so they can find her faster. Family and friends continue searching for Elizabeth hoping she returns home soon.

SARAH THOMAS, ELIZABETH'S SISTER: We all want you back home. Your dog misses you. It doesn't want anyone to play with it.


SANDOVAL: Attorneys have already begun laying out the legal groundwork in order to prosecute Cummings when and if he was arrested. They have already issued arrest warrants for sexual conduct with a minor and aggravated kidnapping -- Ana.

CABRERA: Very disturbing.

Polo Sandoval, thank you.

Now, the father of the missing teen put out a statement following the release of those surveillance photos saying in part, seeing those photos of Elizabeth brought me such mixed emotions. Every time I drive by Shoney's I think that was the last place she was seen alive. My precious girl is out there and we have to bring her home.

Coming up, a marine veteran who lost both of his legs while serving in Afghanistan now making a remarkable recovery graduating at the top of his class from the New York police academy. His journey to accomplish his lifelong dream next.


[19:57:59] CABRERA: A 28-year-old rookie officer making history after graduating at the top of his class from a New York police department. Now he had to go beyond the call of duty just to make the force, a very touching story from CNN Bryn Gingras.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you set to go? Let's go.

BRYN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is officer Mattias Ferrara's first week as staff county New York police officer. The 28- year-old is no rookie. Rather it's been a long, painful road getting to this point.

MATTIAS FERREIRA, MARIN VETERAN TURNED POLICE OFFICER: I was like, wow, I'm so young. I'm not sure if I will be able to stand again.

GINGRAS: That moment was five years ago soon after fulfilling a dream of becoming a marine.

FERREIRA: 9/11 was definitely a big impact and a big turnaround for, you know, actually going through with my dreams.

GINGRAS: His first deployment brought him to Afghanistan. During a raid in Afghanistan he jumped on a hidden IED.

FERREIRA: Falling on a 30-ton bomb when it was set off my legs were both amputated below the knees. I remember, you know, the medic guy coming in and my guys putting me on the stretcher and saying, hey man, you are going to be OK. You are going to be all right.

GINGRAS: Any anger this happened?

FERREIRA: No. There is -- surprisingly there's no anger, you know. I was very blessed to survive the blast and so for me to point any fingers at anybody would just be silly. I was pointing my fingers at people to help me. Like hey, you, I want you to help me walk and I know that you run. I want you to help me continue to run.

GINGRAS: He walked, he ran, and it only took him three months of rehabilitation. His next challenge to join the police force. The marine veteran who also once saved a baby from a smoldering car crash knew he had a tough road ahead. Academy training, this time going through it as a double amputee.

GINGRAS: There was an exercise that we did is called the fist man. And that's when you are simulating with the baton use and there was one time where the fist man proceed to attack me and I fell on the ground and to them it was a good test to see if I would be able to get back up. And I was able to just pop back up.

GINGRAS: Why was it so important to you that you were able to do everything equally?

FERREIRA: It wouldn't be fair that I was given something on a golden platter.

GINGRAS: Ferreira graduated the academy president of his class, an honor given to him by his fellow recruits.