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False "Inbound Missile" Alert Terrifies People In Hawaii; Hawaii Senator: Officials "Blew It," Sent People Into "Tail Spin"; Trump Briefed On False Ballistic Missile Alert; Global Outrage Erupts Over Trump's "Shithole" Remark. Aired 5-5:30p ET

Aired January 14, 2018 - 17:00   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I want to welcome our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with us.

We continue to follow breaking news, 38 minutes of terror, 38 minutes of thinking this is the end because ballistic missiles is on the way. That's people across Hawaii went through today after a false alarm sent out when someone according to the governor pushed the wrong button in the state's Emergency Management Center.

The words ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii, this is not a drill, they splashed all over cell phones, tv sets and radios before it was corrected, 38 minutes later. This is how many frighten people spent that time taking shelters in basements and any concrete buildings they could get into. High-rise hotels in Waikiki were full of people on vacations.


ADNAN MESIWALA, GOT MISSILE ALERT ON 36TH FLOOR OF HOTEL: When we got the alarm, we were actually terrified. We were on the 36th floor of our hotel. We were frantic. We got our shoes on. We are about to come downstairs. We were still nervous. We're on the 36th floor.

We put the baby in the bathroom and did not know what to do. We came back. It was a frantic morning. My wife was in tears. They did not know what to do.


CABRERA: President Trump has been briefed on this situation. I want to get to CNN global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. Elise, as Hawaii's state official tells us this is one person's mistake. What happened?

ELISE LABOTT, GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Ana, basically someone there had a bad day, you know, what the governor told reporters is that the governor basically says this was a problem. Someone pushed the wrong button. Take a listen to this extraordinary statement by Governor Ige to reporters a few moments ago.


GOVERNOR DAVID IGE, HAWAII: This should have not happened. We are investigating the sequence of events that occurred. It was made in Emergency Management. It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift when they go through to make sure that the system is working, and an employee pushed the wrong button.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It came down to a person pushing the wrong button?


LABOTT: So there you have it. A person pushed the wrong button. Clearly, those 38 minutes of, you know, not knowing whether this is your last moment on earth by the people of Hawaii is certainly very herring. The question is why did it take so long, the Pacific Command and the U.S. military armed that would be getting this notification, the offset to determine whether there is an incoming missile put out something right away.

Saying there is no ballistic missile incoming, this is a false alarm and look, arms of the U.S. government very concerned today, Ana, they were concerned that this was hacked or obviously, this does not seem to be the case.

But concerned also that adversaries could be looking that the U.S. response time to see how long it would take, you know, a local government to inform the local citizens. Everyone's nerves are still very raw and even though we know it was a false alarm and everybody is safe -- Ana.

CABRERA: Right, people were afraid and panicked and now they are angry and relieved. The longer-term effect, of course, is that the next time an emergency message goes out, people might not take it seriously. How worried are officials that damage has been done to the emergency notification system?

LABOTT: I think what the damage is the confidence in the emergency system. You know, look, this is -- local governments have their own kind of notification system. You know, when you go overseas, you're supposed to register with the local embassy.

These systems are put in place to notify people in an event of an emergency. If there was not an emergency, there should have been something that said a test or something like this. There should not be a message that this is not a false alarm in the system to begin with.

So, I am sure these are kind of the things that people will be looking at as they try to have lessons learn and make sure next time the system is full proof.

CABRERA: Elise Labott, thank you. I want to bring in someone who's in Hawaii now vacationing, Shelby Betz, is joining us from the island of Maui. Shelby, tell us about how you got this alert and what you did?

SHELBY BETZ, VACATIONING IN HAWAII: Hi. We woke up early. We want to get a head start from packing. We went down at the beach for a swim at 8:00 a.m. (Inaudible).

[17:05:11] This is not a drill in all caps. We came back moments later, people running from the beach back to the hotel and (inaudible) sirens --

CABRERA: Shelby, I am going to stop you for a second. I don't mean to interrupt, but we are having a hard time understanding because of the audio connections, some technical difficulties. Maybe we can try to get that worked out and return to our conversation in just a moment.

Thank you for being there for us. We'll try to come back to you. In the meantime, let's bring in our CNN military and diplomatic analyst, Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. Admiral, you worked at the Pentagon for years. This has to be disconcerting to top officials there that human error can cause such a calamity.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETIRED), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, sure, I mean, one of the things you try to do is mitigate the kind of human error that can go into this sort of process. The process of detection, verification, analysis and notification.

As much as possible, you want to try to remove human error, but this does show that there is still that possibility for people to miscalculate. What bothers me a little bit is this idea of pushing the wrong button.

I am hope thing that the governor was sort of just trying to simplify and I am hoping this system is not just relying on one person pushing one single button. You would hope that even though it is the local emergency, statewide emergency management, they would have a more sophisticated way of verifying these kinds of alerts before they get sent out.

CABRERA: Well, not only that, but you think when you log on to your bank, for example, you have multi steps to get through and as far as security, you would hope that it would not be as simple as just pushing a wrong button when it comes to something as serious as nuclear weapons.

Do you think the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security or the White House reacted quick enough for this? Because 38 minutes seems like an awfully a long time for people to be thinking they could die.

KIRBY: Yes. I cannot imagine the stress that people were going under and the clip that we are showing, showing you how emotional that was and certainly not anything you want to see. I think Pacific Command acted quickly as they could. They certainly, you know, got ahead of the Emergency Management Agency when they finally put it out that it was a false alarm, they acted as quickly as they could. I think it's really important, Ana, for people to remember that the Statewide Emergency Management Agency does not have detection capabilities of their own.

The only way if it was real, they would only get that information from the military. So, I think it was really important that the military which owns the network of sensors and detection capabilities in the region were the ones coming out quickly and say look, we detected nothing. There is no missile in bound.

CABRERA: Let's listen to Hawaii's senator, Brian Schatz.


SENATOR BRIAN SCHATZ (D), HAWAII (via telephone): They blew it here. It's totally unacceptable. I listened in on that press conference and they don't quite understand how bad this was to the extent that one person was in a position to make a human error and send more than a million and a half people into a tailspin and it took 38 minutes to correct. There is just no excuse for that.


CABRERA: He's angry clearly. The North Korea threat we know is not go away. So, this really does matter. How do you restore trust in the system that people are going to give it credibility if they get another emergency message?

KIRBY: Well, I don't think he over stated the concern at all. I think yes, he's angry, but I think he's rightfully angry for something like this to happen. I think what they need to do, Ana, to help restore trust is to make sure that this investigation is done swiftly, efficiently, and completely thoroughly, but done swiftly and really completely transparent in communicating what they found.

The lessons learned and what they're going to do step by step to make sure it doesn't happen again even if that means changing the system, because if the system is, just as simple as one person hitting one button, that's a problem.

The third thing they need to do, Ana, is to show accountability. I am not saying x person has to be fired or anything. That's for them to determine at the end of the investigation.

But if there is accountability that's required, if somebody does need to lose a job or face some sort of disciplinary procedure, they need to make those decisions swiftly and be transparent with the public about what they did and why.

CABRERA: Admiral John Kirby, thank you. We really appreciate your insights.

Shelby Betz is back with us now. We worked out the technical difficulties. So, let's back up again, Shelby. Walk us through what happened and how you learned about this alert and what you did?

BETZ: OK, so like I said earlier, we woke up early and we are going back to Dallas tonight. So, we wanted to get a head start on packing. My boyfriend ran down to the beach for a quick swim and around 8:00 a.m., I got an all caps text, emergency, this is not a drill, missile happening inbound in Hawaii, I was kind of in shock.

[17:10:06] It says to take shelter. I am from Texas so we have been prepped for tornado drills and never a missile crisis. He comes back moments later saying everyone is running from the beach to our hotel.

That's kind on the sense of urgency kicked in for me. Over the intercom system, there were sirens and instructing us to get back to our rooms and close all the windows and doors, take shelter, and it went off, we turn all the doors down.

All the blinds and turn on the news to see if there is any more updates, there wasn't. So, that's when I started to text my mom. This is going on, I want to keep you updated and then --

CABRERA: Were you scared or were you suspicious that this may not be real?

BETZ: I was more I think just in shocked that, I was planning to go home tonight, and I may not. I was more like -- oh crap, what's going to happen?

CABRERA: You were thinking of getting home so that's a good side, I suppose. Did the hotel seemed like it was in order like it knew what to do?

BETZ: As far as I am concerned, I did not leave my room, but the intercom system, everyone stayed in the room and turned the shades down. I am assuming since they're in Hawaii, they know the drills, I just did what they said.

I didn't know if I should be in the bathroom, tornados are like, hey, you don't have any windows or doors, so I was doing what they said, and my boyfriend looked at Twitter and he said it was false, 20 minutes into it.

CABRERA: So, 20 minutes into it, that's how you learned that this may not be -- that this was a false alarm?

BETZ: Yes, it is kind of weird, social media being the first update instead of the news or getting a text, saying hey, not all caps, everyone relax. Twitter was how we found out first, like this was not true. A lesson to blow a little bit and then I was watching CNN actually, they were like hey, we have reports that we've spoken to officials that it is no longer -- you are no longer at harm.

CABRERA: Well, thank you for sharing your story with us and walking us through those terrifying moments and 20 minutes sounds like confusion and concerns. Shelby Betz, good luck as your travel continues.

BETZ: Thank you so much, Ana.

CABRERA: Coming up, we are staying on top of this breaking news. Pure chaos after Hawaii got a fake alert about an inbound missile. Stay with CNN for updates on this.

Plus, deafening silence, where is the Republican criticism after the president's vile comments about immigrants.

And as Trump faces backlash over his remarks about Africa, there is a big question mark over how he'll handle an issue impacting that continent's big game trophy hunting, a CNN report you do not want to miss.



CABRERA: Welcome back. For 38 minutes, people in Hawaii thought they were going to die. A false alert about a ballistic missile sent people there into panic. Where was the president? The White House won't say except to say that he was briefed.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is in West Palm Beach, Florida and has the latest for us -- Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House is not releasing very many details right now specifically about how the president was made aware of this alarm and later it was a false alarm. They did put out a concise statement after having confirmed the president was at the Trump national golf course when all of this unfolded.

That statement reads in part, quote, "The president has been briefed on the state of Hawaii's Emergency Management exercise. This was purely a state controlled exercise." But there are a number of questions that the White House is not answering right now, not only about when the president found out about all of this, but what he was doing and who he was on the golf course with and who he was briefed by.

And whether or not there was any security protocols or measures that were put into place and further if we are learning about these alerts across social media then it is likely that some of our partners in the Pacific learned about them as well whether they are in South Korea, Japan or China.

It took 38 minutes for them to clarify it was a false alarm. So, in those 38 minutes, was there any communication between the White House and these world leaders. If so, how could those be characterized?

The White House not giving us any answers on these questions, referring our questions to the Department of Defense, who CNN has reached out to. We have also reached out to the National Security Council, but we have yet to hear back.

Ana, really, this is a reminder despite what the president have said about a potential good relationship with Kim Jong-un and his phrase of direct talks between North Korea and South Korea unfolded recently that danger is really at our doorsteps and a threat of nuclear war is potentially imminent at any moment -- Ana.

CABRERA: Boris Sanchez in West Palm Beach, Florida, thank you. Much more on our breaking news in just a moment. Don't go anywhere.



CABRERA: Welcome back. Our big breaking news this hour, a false alert, that said a ballistic missile was headed to Hawaii and people should take immediate shelter. The time it was sent out, President Trump was golfing in Florida near his Mar-a-Lago resort, part of a wild 48 hours for the president.

That has also included global backlash over reports he referred to African nations as s-hold countries and disparage Haitians during an immigration meeting. Deep in the heart of Trump nation, there is still broad support for the president, no surprise there.

That said, the ripple effect for the president's comments are giving some folks pause, listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president using that word, how do you feel about it?

RODNEY PURSER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: He should have been more professional about it and should not use that word.

TRACY WRIGHT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think it was unprofessional and I would think that shows a little bit of lack of morals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably unpresidential.

GENE ROBINSON, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I don't think that he would intentionally insulted any country and that just came out of his mouth and that's the way he operates. He operates from the hip.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you think it is just a mistake that he said that?

ROBINSON: Yes, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it make you say maybe I am not going to vote for Donald Trump this time?

BOB HOLLINGSWORTH, TRUMP SUPPORTER: True, but I can live with it.


[17:25:07] CABRERA: I want to bring in our panel, CNN political commentator, Ana Navarro, and Republican strategist and former RNC communications director, Doug Heye. So, Ana, you've heard that last Trump's supporter, crude but I can live with it. What's your reaction to that?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, it's not surprising. We have heard Donald Trump being even more crude and we've actually heard it in his own voice before and people still voted for him. I think that for some people, it is a deal breaker and for some it is not.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump has a very firm hold on the Republican base and on his base and his base of support. And when he said I can go out on Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, they still voted for him. He was absolutely right. You see that over and over again. He can say and do things and still garner their support.

CABRERA: Doug, the silence from a number of Republican leaders have been deafening. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have not said a single word neither has House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He was actually in that meeting with President Trump. The most we've gotten is this lukewarm response from House Speaker Paul Ryan.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), HOUSE SPEAKER: I read those comments later last night. First thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate and unhelpful.


CABRERA: Unfortunate, unhelpful, others haves gone on to say this is the lowest low that the president has seen. What's your take?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, I think we say every other week that the president has hit a new low and we wonder how low it can go. But I have sympathy while I am frustrated, I also have sympathy for Republican members. There are three factors at play here.

One, they still want to get things done. They know if they criticize the president harshly in public regardless of what they're saying in private, which is not very charitable towards the president, they're not going to be getting things done.

Two, they suffer from what I call a what now fatigue with Trump. There were three different examples where members of Congress say what now, what's the latest that Trump has done that set the political world on fire with microphones on their face, all day every day when they're at capital.

Third, the most important is as you and Ana both alluded to, the president is still very popular with Republican primary voters. As long as that is the case, you are not going to see Republican members of Congress or senators beating down the doors to get on tv to criticize the president. It is not going to happen.

CABRERA: And Democratic senator -- go ahead. NAVARRO: We focus a lot and we should because they should not get a pass on the Republican leadership and Republicans who have not said anything. But I think we should also give kudos and credit to Republicans who have said something.

Representative Mia Love who is a descendant of Haitians whose parents are Haitian immigrants spoke, put out a very strong statement, calling on the president to apologize.

My Congresswoman, Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had absolutely no qualms about being on tv and calling it racism and unacceptable and unpresidential. And the strongest of terms she condemned his language. Lyndsey Graham --

CABRERA: She's also retiring -- putting her neck out there.

NAVARRA: Well, you know, she may want to lobby some day or a Republican lobbyist someday. She may want to have a career, I don't know what she's going to do. I am glad she's doing it and glad she had the guts to do it.

It probably means that she is getting a lot of criticisms from Republican voters and on people who have been her base of support. Senator Lyndsey Graham, we learned today confronted the president during the meeting and told him to his face sitting next to him in the White House, the man's house, America is not about race, it is an idea.

I, myself, come from a shithole country. So, as disappointed as I am in some Republicans and I am grossly disappointed, and I don't give them aback. I think Republicans need to go buy a spine if they can grow one.

That being said, I also want to give credit and be grateful to those who have shown courage and shown principles and convictions and stood up when others have not.

CABRERA: You know, it's interesting because even people who were in that room still are not saying anything, Doug, do you think they need to say something that the people in that room specifically either clarifying if there was as mistake in what has trickled out about the president's comments or denounce his comments?

I mean, we do know Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Dick Durbin who were in that room said this is exactly what he said. We know the White House did not deny any of those remarks in the immediate aftermath and the impact of that day, wasn't until the next morning when the president tweeted a denial of some sort.

And then we have a couple of senators who were in the room who come out on the record and said they don't recall him saying those words. There is still a number that's been completely silent.

HEYE: Look, if they want to find the reality is that in the next two days we'll probably going to be talking about the latest Trump outrage as usual because there will be something else. There will be something on a Sunday show that a White House aide may say.