this is "nightline." >> tonight the deadly inferno. >> this orange wall of fire. felt like seeing a monster. >> those moments of chaos at a party in oakland when that devastating fire broke out. >> made my eyes water and i couldn't wreath. >> the heartbreaking search for loved ones. >> i just want to know something. >> and now a criminal investigation. who will be held accountable for at least 36 lives lost? plus snowden speaks. >> every decision that i made i can defend. >> one of america's most-wanted fugitives, the nsa whistleblower edward snowden in an exclusive interview with katie couric. >> are youever recognized? >> his life hiding in plain sight in moscow and his future in the hands of america's next president. lace of an angel. ♪ you've given me a million
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good evening. we start with the fast-moving developments in what is the deadliest building fire in america in more than a decade. the death toll now stands at 36 after that fire at a warehouse party in oakland, california. crews are working in the rubble tonight while families mourn and prosecutors decide whether to bring murder charges. here's abc's neal karlinsky. >> reporter: is from a friday night like many others in a trendy but rundown oakland neighborhood. a party like one seen in this youtube video posted in the summer. around 100 inside when a fire suddenly broke out. it was 11:32 p.m. friday when the calls came in. the warehouse was erupting into an inferno. flames ripping through windows. >> seeing like this orange wall of fire, it was -- i don't know, it felt like seeing a monster. >> reporter: the warehouse was known as the oakland ghost ship. it housed a well-known but eclectic gathering of artists.
some who even lived there. many of them didn't stand a chance. >> 15 feet of flames. just being like hit in the face with black smoke that i was immediately like blinded by. >> reporter: within minutes, the power cut out. >> and i was trying to get people out of the door. i was yelling, trying to get people to shine their flashlights and phones into the door so people could have a light. >> reporter: firefighters seen breaking in desperate to reach those inside. >> there was like this space where i could see through my wall, through to the other side. and that's where i saw the flames. >> reporter: bob mule was on the first floor and saw flames spread so fast, he barely made it out. >> i got some pretty gnarly burns on my arm, my hand, my shoulder. >> reporter: the building was a tinder box. only two exits, in all nearly 10,000 square feet. people living in mobile homes inside the first floor. most of the victims on the second floor for a concert. as the fire burned with no reported sprinklers, the roof eventually coming down on top of
them and bringing much of the second floor down too. >> it's very heartbreaking. and this is just an extreme version of the loss. >> reporter: in the chaos that followed, dozens of families desperate to find loved ones. >> i just want to know something. >> reporter: this man looking for his brother. >> i hate to say it, i don't want to sound selfish, but i'm only thinking about my own. i have love for everybody, i don't want anybody to be hurt. but i mean -- that's my little brother, what am i supposed to do? >> reporter: turning to news cameras, looking for answers. >> can you just call any of us? we just want to know if you're alive or not. >> reporter: at least 36 people. a staggering number. unlike anything this city has seen lost their lives. >> there were producers, there were deejays. we grew up in the scene together. and it was just an awesome place for us to be together. >> reporter: tonight the long list of those 36 victims. a heartbreaking montage of lives
cut short. >> it is tragic to watch so many people perish from a fire fatality in front of your eyes. and have to be stoic in your job, be professional in your actions, and make sure that we are honoring the victims and their families to bring them safely out of the building. >> reporter: an emotional battalion chief says the impact is beyond what any of her firefighters were prepared for. >> i think we were surprised at first to find that many bodies where we found them. and we are leaning towards, based on the fact that the bodies appeared to be on top of each others, that it was probably from a fall. >> they were on the second floor and it caved in. >> reporter: for fire crews working around the clock shifts, the challenges were significant. cautiously making sure what's left of the building doesn't collapse on them. >> we discovered there was some potential structural integrity issues that could affect firefighter safety. because of that, we suspended
areas, suspended our work in certain areas of the building, until we could come up with a plan to effectively shore the affected areas. >> reporter: the building had a history of past violations, including complaints about trash and building structure. the daughter of the building's owner reportedly told the l.a. times the warehouse was leased as a studio space. nobody lived there, it was an art collective, she said. leaseholders had confirmed to her that no one was living there. >> it was not legally permitted as either a living space, a residence, or an event space. >> reporter: but people were living there. the controversial alleged founder of the so-called ghost ship now under a microscope, speaking to abc station kgo. >> where are my children? they're my friends, they're my family, they're my loves, they're my future. what else do i have to say? >> reporter: questions linger whether the ghost ship was safe. pictures show a cluttered maze of art studios before the fire. these new images showing the
rickety staircase made of wood pallets leading to the front door, leaving virtually no way out. >> derek was the captain of the ghost ship. derek gets the majority of the responsibility. >> reporter: danielle is a former friend of ghost ship founder derrick ion almeda and his wife mika. >> tell me about the conditions you witnessed inside. >> it was not only dangerous, but it was disgusting. there were times where you walked ten feet in and you smelled cat urine and feces and rotting food. >> reporter: local officials already pointing fingers too, claiming the warehouse was well known for a slew of code violations. but little was done. >> i feel like this is preventible. >> as far as preventible, absolutely. i'm not going to make excuses for the city. because we have documented, we have turned it in, we have called it in. >> reporter: five years ago the alameda county grand jury discovered numerous inconsistencies within the city
of oakland's building inspection department, noting that city inspectors have an inadequate database, inadequate training, and poor follow-up to complaints. oakland's mayor telling abc news she vows to find out if this fire was preventible. >> i right now have a team of city employees combing through every public record. >> reporter: she's also ordered, she says, an independent analysis into the city's handling of this building and others like it that may be out there. >> one of your city council members has been very vocal that this building was known. are you concerned about some of the violations you've heard about? there was a knock on the door just two weeks ago about code violations. >> i think it's appropriate to ask that city councilmember if he had knowledge of this building, why has he not complained about it? >> reporter: it's not the only inquiry. the district attorney's office has now opened a criminal investigation. >> we're looking at two things. one is whether or not there is any criminal liability attached to this fire. and secondly, if there is
criminal liability, against whom? and that is not clear right now and it's too early to speculate, as i said. the range of charges could be murder, all the way to involuntary manslaughter. >> reporter: families tonight asking questions, but first, mourning an unimaginable loss. the likes of which this city has never seen. >> today is the day that more than two dozen families are going to start an entirely new life. for them, this is day one of this incident. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm neal karlinsky in oakland, california. next here, the nsa when it sell blower edward snowden with katie couric on the prospect of being turned over by russian president vladimir putin to america's next president. later, something very different. a look at a bra that costs more than your house. at this year's victoria's secret fashion show in paris.
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hero or villain? tonight we have an exclusive interview with one edward snowden who is both revered and reviled for spilling america's top secrets. yahoo! global news anchor katie couric traveled to russia where snowden is hiding in plain sight. >> do you think u.s. officials know where you live, know where you are? >> i think they have a general idea. at this point, you know, after three years, if they can't figure it out they're probably not doing their job very well. >> reporter: this mild-mannered 33-year-old is arguably america's most wanted fugitive. nsa whistle-blower edward snowden.
>> breaking details on that whistle blow history leaked top secret documents -- >> faces almost certain criminal prosecution -- >> reporter: for more than three years hiding in plain sight in the russian capital. can you walk around freely the streets of moscow and not be recognized? >> i walked here. >> are you ever recognized? >> if i walk out on the street, people have no idea who i am. if i walk into a computer store, everyone in the store will immediately recognize me. >> reporter: since august of 2013, he's been living in exile. provided asylum by russia after leaking an undetermined number, perhaps as high as 1.5 million, classified nsa documents to journalists. his revelations exposed systemic government surveillance of civilians here and abroad. a disclosure that both enraged and embarrassed the american intelligence community. >> my name is edward snowden. >> reporter: in 2013, filmmaker laura poitres captured snowden's
difficult choice, part of her oscar-winning documentary "citizenfour." >> we were able to get the information that needed to get out, out. >> you're seen going through a series of security rituals, unblogging phones, covering your head as you type pass words into your computer. you seem keenly aware of a target being on your back. >> those moments, it's -- it's actually difficult to watch them on film. because the pressure, the stress, was so great. you only focused on one thing, that's the mission. >> reporter: edward snowden was charged under the espionage act and faces up to 30 years in prison if he returns to the u.s. >> this has done unnecessary damage to u.s. intelligence capabilities and u.s. diplomacy. >> reporter: now with his russian residency permit set to expire next year, the computer wizard's firewall may be melting. donald trump tweeted about you
in 2014 writing, snowden is a traitor, when our country was great do you know what we did to traitors? >> i wonder when it is he thinks america was great. we're a country that was born from an act of treason against a government that had run out of control. but we should always make a distinction that right and wrong is a very different standard than legal and illegal. >> are you saying what you did was right? >> i think -- >> or legal? or both? >> i would not have done it if i didn't believe it was right. >> but you would acknowledge it was illegal? >> it's pretty sketchy there. but look. every act of progression in our nation's history has involved tension with law. and that's because the laws were wrong. >> there is a lot of talk out there that vladimir putin may hand you over to the united states as a goodwill gesture to the trump administration. how concerned/nervous are you about that possibility?
>> it wasn't so many years ago that people were saying, this guy's a russian spy. but countries don't give up their spies. that's a vindication. >> a vindication of what? >> the fact that i'm independent. the fact that i have always worked on behalf of the united states. and the fact that russia doesn't own me. >> reporter: backed by big-money supporters like billionaire george sore recess and twitter ceo jack dorsey and the aclu, the pardon snowden campaign has been trying to sway public opinion. but as the sun sets on the obama administration, the prospects of a pardon are dimming as well. >> if you had one minute to make your case face-to-face, to president obama, what would you say to convince him to pardon you? >> i wouldn't. i would respectfully say to the president, i understand you have an incredibly difficult job. no one wants to be a whistle-blower. this is something that's hard to do. and this is america.
when something goes wrong, don't we want somebody to stand up and say something about it? >> reporter: but after a two-year investigation of bipartisan congressional committee has determined the cost was too high. in a scathing report and letter to the white house, the group wrote, mr. snowden is not a patriot. he is not a whistle-blower. he is a criminal. but snowden insists the only thing damaged by his disclosures was the reputation of the intelligence community. >> these officials had had every opportunity to show evidence that harm came as a result. and they haven't. >> reporter: absent a pardon, snowden's legal team is hoping for a possible plea deal to keep him out of prison or to reduce his sentence. how much prison time would you be willing to serve? >> i don't put a number on it. when most people who are involved are involved in some sort of case where the government goes, this person was acting in good faith, no charges are brought or brought very
minimally. perhaps the best-known case in recent history here is general petraeus. >> fost-moving developments after the stunning resignation of general david petraeus. >> the consequences of petraeus' infidelity are astonishing. >> who shared information that was far more highly classified than i ever did with journalists. he shared this information not with the public for their benefit, but with his lover. they charged him with a misdemeanor. >> reporter: only four years after his scandal broke, retired general david petraeus is now being considered to serve in the trump cabinet as secretary of state. appearing yesterday on "this we week." >> i made a serious mistake, i acknowledged it, i apologized. >> reporter: for snowden forgiveness may be harder earned but it hasn't stopped him from claiming his place on the international stage. while edward snowden is living in a still-undisclosed location somewhere here in moscow, thanks to modern technology, he is able to be part of the virtual
conversation, making public appearances via skype, satellite, and the now-famous snowbot which is really like an ipad on wheels. >> when you look back at the last three years, was it worth it? >> absolutely. i would do it again. >> no regrets? >> no regrets at all. >> reporter: for "nightline," i'm katie couric in moscow. next here, how can clothing that covers so little cost so much? the $3 million fantasy bra at this year's victoria's secret fashion show. this holiday, get an amazing deal on america's most awarded brand, during the ford year end event. ford, the brand with the most 5-star ratings... the highest owner loyalty... and award-winning value from kelley blue book. giving drivers what matters most.
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