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Storm Victims Drinking Water from Hazardous Waste Site; Firefighters Make Progress Against Deadly Blazes; Rex Tillerson Refuses to Answer If He Called Donald Trump a Moron; Green Beret Killed in Ambush Laid to Rest; Trump Friend Tom Barrack Investing in Weinstein Company; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired October 16, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- by the Environmental Protection Agency and it's basically a designation for some of the most toxic land in the country. There's a list of these sites from around the country. One of these in particular here in the town of Dorado has about a number of water wells that we've learned that a number of people have been tapping into as a source of water.

Some of the people have told us they've been using it as drinking water over the last few weeks. Over the weekend, a team from the EPA was at one of these sites doing testing on these sites and these water wells are possibly contaminated with high levels of industrial toxins that could cause serious health implications if -- EPA officials say if these people are exposed to this long term so they are doing those testing trying to determine whether or not what is going on with this water.

After we were with that team, John, as they did that, and after those EPA teams left, they locked up one of these water well sites and we witnessed people coming back, basically peeling away the fences there. Getting back into these water well areas.

This is a conversation we had with one local resident who was desperate to get his hands on the water there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ed Lavandera for us in San Juan.


LAVANDERA: So you're willing to take the chance? He said, this is it. There's no other water. He'll take the chance. He said I don't drink water I'm going to die. Might as well drink this one.


LAVANDERA: So, John, EPA officials are warning people to stay away from a number of these water wells in that area. One of the wells has been approved by the government for use. In fact, we've seen long lines of people there trying to get that water, but one of the problems is, is that many people who live in this area don't realize that the area that they're living on and standing on is designated as this contaminated Super Fund site so information flow seems to be a problem, as well, for many of these residents -- John. BERMAN: Ed Lavandera telling important stories for us down in San

Juan. We should note extreme thunder and lightning behind Ed right now. We'll let Ed get into safety. But it just goes to show the risks that some people are living under in Puerto Rico, still with no roofs over their heads as they recover from Hurricane Maria.

Some good news for folks in California. The firefighting crews finally starting to get an upper hand on some of the huge wildfires burning there for more than a week. Residents are slowly allowed -- being allowed to return home but health officials have now declared a public health emergency for the state as those fires have destroyed more than 200,000 acres.

CNN's Ryan Young is in Santa Rosa for us this morning.

And Ryan, the weather better this morning.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is better but I want to show you something, John. You can see this, you can smell it and you certainly can taste it. I want to step out of the way and show you what the valley's dealing with. Look at the large plume of smoke. Look, sunrise is coming up, but all that smoke is pouring down from that fire over the entire valley.

We've been covering in ash for the week that we've been here and we just learned that one of the fires that they had 60 percent containment with has now dropped to 50 percent containment. So this is a constant battle. These firefighters are fighting.

Look, more than 8,000 of them are out there working at this point. We'll show you this video, though, to show you what some people were trying to avoid. A fast-moving fire. A nightmare. Maybe even a living nightmare. Because you see these two roommates who are trying to get away from the fire.

At one point, the 60 to 70 mile per hour winds was blowing the fire around people while they were trying to escape. These two men had to run outside their house with no warning, jump into a car and escape it. They did manage to escape but when you listen to the pain in people's voices they are still dealing with the aftereffects of this because of course this is not over just yet.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know how many of you came to my house and shared -- just shared our beautiful view and our beautiful sky? But this is it. We're trying to find which house was ours.


YOUNG: So much pain here. Still to hard at people missing. I wanted to show you. This is not her house. But look, when you talk about views, look how beautiful this view would have been from this home. You look over this wonderful ridge and the idea of the house is gone and this repeats itself over 45 times in this one neighborhood. And a lot of folks still don't know if their house is missing. They

won't find out for quite some time because even as those evacuation orders are lifted, it's hard to get yourself through all these zones because there are roadblocks all throughout the way -- John.

BERMAN: Ryan Young, you know, hauntingly beautiful behind you. Horrifyingly beautiful for so many of the residents there.

Ryan, we appreciate it.

So this could be pretty awkward. A new CNN reporting on the relationship between the secretary of state and the president, now talk of possible replacements?



[10:39:07] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is it true? Did you call him a moron?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Jake, as I indicated earlier, I was asked about that. I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. I mean, this is a town that seems to relish gossip, rumor, innuendo and they feed on it. They feed on one another in a very destructive way.

I don't work that way. I don't deal that way. And I'm just not going to dignify the question. I call the president Mr. President. He and I have a very, very open, frank and candid relationship. I see him often. Speak to him nearly every day. I'm in the Oval Office a number of hours every week.

TAPPER: Either you didn't say it, in which case there are a whole bunch of administration officials telling the press and telling the president that you did and that's a serious problem. Or, you did say it and, look, you're a serious guy. For you to say something like suggests a real frustration with the commander-in-chief.

So when you don't answer the question, it makes people think that you probably did say it. But either way, whatever happened, it is serious. So can you please clear it up?

[10:40:09] TILLERSON: As I said, Jake, I'm not playing. These are the games of Washington. These are the destructive games of this town. They're not helpful to anyone. And so my position on it is I'm not playing. I'm not playing.


BERMAN: Well, that clears things up. Actually -- actually it sort of does which we'll get to in just a moment. The secretary of state will be meeting with the president at the White House very shortly during a Cabinet meeting.

I'm joined now by CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel who's got some brand new information on this.

Let's start with moron-gate as we're now going to call it as of right now.


BERMAN: You know, why doesn't Rex Tillerson just answer the question?

GANGEL: So let's just say for the record his State Department spokesman has said that he did not say that. However, having watched just that, Washington is a town where if you can deny something you will deny it. That is common sense.

I think the reality is most likely that he said it. He said it in front of a number of people. And he's concerned that if he comes out and says, I don't say it, that he's going to get caught.

BERMAN: Could be provably false if he were to deny it. Now how does this get to the larger relationship that the president now has with the secretary of state? What's the status of that relationship? Because it's been obvious for some time that the secretary's been on thin ice.

GANGEL: Right. I think there's no question that he's been on thin ice and an administration official told me the ice is getting thinner. The only question is when does it break?

Look, we have been hearing for some time that these two guys, they don't like each other. They grate on each other's personality. That the president doesn't like Secretary of State Tillerson's style and if Secretary of State Tillerson said what he said or won't, you know -- that that clearly says everything you need to know about them.

BERMAN: On thinner ice.

GANGEL: Right.

BERMAN: Which is even I suppose more development and newer than thin ice right there. But why? Why is it getting thinner right now?

GANGEL: So I think one of the things is that after -- I think that Secretary of State Tillerson was probably only going to be around until January or February. Then the moron quote came out. There was a question about, would he be gone immediately? We were told that General Kelly did not want after Secretary Price was gone for there to be more chaos in the administration so everyone would hold -- hold on.

BERMAN: The chaos happening any way, it seems.

GANGEL: Exactly.

BERMAN: All right. The other thing that's happened over the last 48 hours, you've started to see actual replacements thrown out into the ether. Unclear to me by whom exactly. But you hear Nikki Haley first off. GANGEL: Right. So one of the things you know about Washington is

when names start to be floated for replacement, that also tells you something. The short list, two names. The U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley but there's some people who feel maybe they don't want her in Washington. That the plum position of State a little too soon. A little too visible.

The second name that I'm hearing more and more is the present CIA director, Mike Pompeo. I'm told the president really likes him and that he is such a likely short list choice that also being floated is his replacement. Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton is now being talked about as a possible replacement for Mike Pompeo if he moves over to State.

BERMAN: And again, I think the most important thing to note there, Jamie, is once the names start getting tossed out or floated sort of as freely as they're floated right now that tells you something.

GANGEL: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Jamie Gangel, on thinner ice, thank you this morning. Appreciate you being here. Thanks so much.

All right. Honoring service and sacrifice. One of the four special operation soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger is finally laid to rest. Army Staff Sergeant Dustin Wright was remembered in his hometown of Lyons, Georgia. His body was surrounded by friends and family in a funeral over the weekend. Sergeant Wright was one of four soldiers killed in the attack but there's still remaining questions about just what happened.

CNN's Barbara Starr joins me live now from the Pentagon here.

Barbara, what's the deal here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the people of his hometown very publicly, very openly turning out to pay their respects to this army sergeant, one of four killed in Niger in an incident that now is under full investigation by the military and try and determine how it was that this advice-and-assist team led by Green Berets went to this place in Niger in West Africa and did not know that they were walking into an ambush of some 50 ISIS fighters.

[10:45:06] The town turning out to pay their respects to this sergeant and I just want to take a moment and tell everybody what an extraordinary military family Sergeant Wright came from. Apparently 200 years of military service in this family. They believe their family records show he was the first to be killed in combat. Listen to his brother.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Through our records we had not lost a single member until Dustin. That's 205 years, that's a good run. So it's been -- it's been great to hear that history and share that history and, you know, if once every 205 years this is a price we pay then that's what it takes.


STARR: So many people publicly paying their respects to all four of the soldiers who were killed and let's take another minute to talk about Sergeant David Johnson, 25 years old. Miami Gardens, Florida. He was the man whose body was not recovered for 48 hours. You see him there on the right. His body had been left behind. That they went back to get him. There had been a lot of worry for 48 hours. He might be out there alive somewhere.

What we've learned about this young 25-year-old soldier, before he joined the army, he worked at the produce counter at Wal-Mart. Rode his bike back and forth to work and around his neighborhood because of that bike he was known as the "Wheelie King" -- John.

BERMAN: The Wheelie King gave his life for this country. And there's been one peculiar aspect of this since those deaths, Barbara, which is the president hasn't commented on it, not publicly that we've heard, not in any tweet that we've seen. Any idea why?

STARR: Well, I think that it's a good thing that you were just, of course, very precise there. We do not know if the president, and we can only assume he has extended his private condolences to the families through letters or phone calls.

BERMAN: Right.

STARR: We know that this is very typical of any president, obviously. And the secretary of Defense. But this is a president who often speaks publicly, very glowingly, about the U.S. military. Not in this case. And there are people who wonder if it is because this is an instance that did not turn out as expected, did not turn out well and became the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Donald Trump's presidency.

BERMAN: All right. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. Barbara, thanks so much for telling those stories. Four U.S. lives lost in service.

At least 300 people are dead after a car bombing in Somalia. 300 others injured still in the hospital including at least 40 people who were wounded so severely they had to be air-lifted to Turkey for treatment.

Somalia's president visited the blast site and has declared three days of mourning. The attack now the deadliest in that country's modern history.

All right. New women still stepping forward accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. This time the accusations coming London. We have some new developments here. Stay with us.


[10:52:32] BERMAN: New sex assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. Police in London looking into reports from three women who say that Weinstein assaulted them. One of the accusers told the "Sunday Times" that Weinstein raped her in her London home back in the early 1990s.

This as the Producers Guild expected to decide today whether to strip Weinstein of his membership and we're just learning new developments, really interesting developments about the future of the Weinstein Company.

Joining us the man breaking that story, CNN's senior media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter. And this involves, again we're not talking about the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, we're talking about the future of his company. A friend of the president involved here.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The company is in limbo because of this harassment scandal. The company's trying to stay afloat and now it's getting an investment from one of Donald Trump's best friends, actually. Tom Barrack. He is a billionaire private equity guy, a close confidant of the president and he is investing in the Weinstein Company to help give it a cash infusion to stay afloat. But more importantly he's also in talks to buy part or all of the studio.

This is the company that makes "Project Runway" and movies and other TV shows, so Barrack sees value in it. Here's a part of a statement that came out a few minutes ago, Barrack is saying, "We're pleased to invest in the Weinstein Company and to help it move forward. We will help return this company to its rightful, iconic position in the independent film and TV industry."

So what does that mean? Well, it means wiping away the Weinstein Company name. It means probably replacing the leadership, trying to start fresh.

Here's one of the interesting twists, John. One of the films on the slate of the Weinstein Company is an anti-Trump documentary by Michael Moore, so I wonder what will happen to Michael Moore's movie. That's one of the many, many questions that the staff doesn't have the answers to.

BERMAN: That'll be an interesting production meeting to say the least. If nothing else, it tells you that Barrack thinks there's value or that the company isn't so crippled by this worthless going forward. Interesting in and it of itself having nothing really to do with the president.

Brian, the legal strategy for Harvey Weinstein's team, you've been reporting that it seems to be changing.

STELTER: Yes. The media threatening lawyers are out. The criminal defense attorneys are in. Weinstein has at least two criminal defense attorneys working with him now as he is facing the possibility of charges, maybe in New York, maybe in London. Nothing definitive right now and we know police in both cities are speaking with accusers looking for corroborating evidence and possibly opening cases. BERMAN: Another development over the weekend, and we've been talking,

Brian, about how this is a moment. I mean, it's a moment not just for the entertainment industry but for the entire country that it happened on social media. Alyssa Milano beginning this Twitter campaign with the #MeToo, asking women to basically tell their stories.

[10:55:04] STELTER: And if you haven't seen it yet, take a look on Twitter or Facebook. Look at these stories. It is uncomfortable to read but really important to read. Really vital to see tens of thousands of women and also some men talking about being harassed, being assaulted, oftentimes in the workplace. These are stories from the shadows being dragged into the light and it is the silver lining to this Weinstein scandal.

BERMAN: Yes. The important thing is it gives voice to people. People feel they can come forward and share these stories so that hopefully we can live in a future where they don't keep on happening.

Brian Stelter, fascinating reporting this morning. Great to have you here with us. Thanks so much.

STELTER: Thanks. Thanks.

BERMAN: All right. We are just minutes away from President Trump holding a Cabinet meeting. Part of that meeting will be with the current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who over the last 24 hours refuses to confirm or deny whether or not he called the president a moron. This comes as new information, CNN learning that the secretary is on not just thin but thinner ice. Stay with us.