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Trump Faces First Natural Disaster Of His Term; Top Trump Adviser Breaks Silence On Charlottesville; Ex-GOP Senator: "Our Party Has Been Corrupted" By Trump; Trump Praises "Fantastic Job" By John Kelly. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Meanwhile, our coverage of Hurricane Harvey continues right now with CNN NEWSROOM and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

A yard of rain. Three feet, almost impossible to imagine, but that is what Texas is facing this morning, with emergency officials practically begging people to take evasive action.

At this moment, Hurricane Harvey is very nearly a Category 3 storm. It will likely make landfall near Corpus Christi tonight as the first major hurricane to hit the United States in more than a decade.

Top sustained winds are now at 110 miles an hour, but the bigger threat is the rain. It will rain and rain and rain for up to five days. We are talking three feet in some places. The storm will just park over Texas.

This morning, FEMA is warning that flooding could cause a very significant disaster.


BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Texas is about to have a very significant disaster. What concerns me the most right now is whether or not people have heeded the warning that local county judges have put forward. If they have not, their window to evacuate is rapidly coming to a close.


BERMAN: Now, thousands of people have evacuated but, as you just heard, others are running out of time.

There is an immediate economic impact nationwide. We have each of these pink dots right now an oil refinery that will not be at full capacity until the storm passes, so you can expect gas prices to spike.

CNN all over this storm this morning. I want to begin with CNN's Nick Valencia in Corpus Christi. Nick? NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, today is the day we find out

just how powerful Hurricane Harvey will be. We've been out here all morning long, seeing as these conditions have deteriorated over time.

We're on the bank of the seawall here. And what we have noticed is this water slowly start to inch up these steps. We understand, from the National Hurricane Center, that -- they're predicting at this spot, this very spot, between three and six feet of storm surge.

We've talked about the preparations all morning long as well. And Corpus Christi has gone through great extents to make sure that their community is safe.

Over the course of the last 48 hours, we have heard from the city mayor that voluntary evacuations are in order. Among those evacuated, there were 10 precious little children from a neo-natal unit that were transferred to another hospital in nearby Fort Worth, Texas.

Residents here we've spoken to, some of them have decided to stick it out. They've been through situations, they say, like this before. Coastal Texas no stranger to severe weather.

The last time this area was really hit hard was back in 2008 during Hurricane Ike. Long-time residents, though, remember Hurricane Cecilia back in 1970 that left more than 400 people injured and dozens of people -- at least a dozen, I should say -- dead.

The anticipation for this storm, Hurricane Harvey? Well, experts predict that this may be a storm the likes of which we have never seen before, John.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Valencia for us in Corpus Christi. Again, the warnings in that city, get out, listen to emergency officials there.

Our Polo Sandoval now in San Antonio where some people are heading right now as they evacuate. But, you know, Polo, even though San Antonio is inland, it will not be spared.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. Right. Many of those evacuees, John, that are making their way to some of those inland cities like Austin or here in San Antonio, the threat is far from over because once they arrive here, then that flooding issue will continue to persist. Because as we've heard from meteorologist and forecasters here, this storm is essentially going to wander around parts of Texas, dumping those incredible amounts of rain.

So as a result, officials in cities like San Antonio are making sure that not only evacuees but also some of the local residents are aware of some of those low-lying areas. Many parts of central Texas and south Texas, speaking from experience and having seen this firsthand, do tend to flood fairly quickly.

So that is really what the focus is, not so much on those heavy winds that we are going to be experiencing about 200 miles away from here along the coastal areas. But, really, downtown San Antonio right now, John, you hear people talk about the calm before the storm, and this is what it looks like.

It is business as usual, however, there are a lot of schools and also several businesses that decided to close up shop today so that people can simply stay home, and not just enjoy what's left of this picturesque weather, but really focus on preparing right now. Because once this rain event begins tonight, it's going to be very difficult to access certain parts of the city, John.

BERMAN: One of the most important things is once it starts flooding, do not go out in your car, and drive through those floodwaters. Polo Sandoval, thanks so much.

I want to get right to Meteorologist Allison Chinchar for Harvey's path and the strength. You know, a lot of hurricanes, Alison, the discussion is where will it hit or if it will hit. There's no mystery this time. This thing is going to hit Texas and hard.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is, it is. And that's the one thing that all of the models have pretty had a consensus on, is it's going to hit Texas.

Really, around the Corpus Christi region is where we expect the technical landfall to happen, but that doesn't mean elsewhere in Texas, you're going to be free and clear. We're already starting to see some of those heavier outer bands impact safe places like Galveston and Victoria.

[09:04:57] Right now, winds at 110 miles per hour. That puts it at the very top of the Category 2. One mile per hour stronger, and it would be a Category 3. So we're on that fine line, and we do expect it to cross over that threshold at some point today.

We talked about some of those outer bands. Right here, you can start to see them pushing from Galveston, in towards downtown Houston. A lot of thunder and lightning with this. And already, winds starting to pick up, which means even before the center of the storm makes landfall, we could already start to see power outages and trees begin to come down.

The track, again, pushes it pretty much due into Corpus Christi. Once it makes landfall, between, say, about midnight and 7:00 a.m. local time Saturday morning, the next 48 hours after that, it's not really going to move much. That's a concern because that means a lot of the spots are going to get rain over these same areas over and over again.

Wide spread, that red color, you're talking six to 10 inches of rain. That means most of those areas, that's a bare minimum of what you're going to get, especially the closer to the coast you go. With that said, the area between Houston and Corpus Christi, we're now talking 15, 20, even potentially 25 or 30 inches of rain.

Texas is not the only one, although that is where the bull's eye for the heaviest rain is going to be. But even portions of Louisiana, we're still talking potentially as much as six to 10 inches of rain.

Now, you have to factor those strong winds from the hurricane. That's going to push all of that water, not just the water coming down, but all of the water from the gulf inland. That means you have a storm surge threat as well.

Here is what we're looking at. The orange region, about five to eight feet. And this red region between Bay City and Corpus Christi, we could be looking at storm surge about six to 12 feet.

Again, that alone is enough to flood the streets. Now, you have to factor in the rain that's also coming down from above you. That's why it has been so important to get these folks to evacuate and get out of these regions.

And, John, the other thing, unfortunately, in addition to the flood threat, we also have the threat for severe weather, not just today but through the weekend where we could also be adding in the potential for some isolated tornadoes as well.

BERMAN: Traitorous days ahead. Allison Chinchar, thanks so much. Seven counties right now under mandatory evacuations. San Patricio is one where more than 70,000 people live.

Joining me now by phone is William Zagorski, director of Emergency Management for that county. There is a mandatory evacuation order, I understand, William.

WILLIAM ZAGORSKI, COORDINATOR OF EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER, SAN PATRICIO COUNTY (via telephone): Yes, it is. We started a mandatory evacuation there yesterday, and we're getting ready to wrap up this morning. Probably, we won't evacuate after tropical storm winds hit.

But we're still doing evacuations at our fill barns or around the hub here in the county street. And we're bringing them from all over the county. We're picking up and then we're basically taking them all the way inland, past San Antonio.

BERMAN: And the message to people is get out now. You are running out of time. What is, your area, your cause of biggest concern right now?

ZAGORSKI (via telephone): Well, right now, we're seeing this last track. One of my cities in the county is around this pass, and it's just about -- it's going to be within the hurricane high wall.

Rockport, Texas, which is rancher's county -- it's like the smallest county in Texas -- is down there, and they're standing by. And they're basically -- you know, we're bringing in all the officers and the firemen, everybody else has stayed back right now for the evacuation. And we're bringing up here within 35 miles in.

BERMAN: So what we are hearing from forecasters is that some places, up to three feet of rain. Three feet. And that's on top of a storm surge that we might see, you know, up to 10 feet where you are right now. How are you going to deal with three feet of rain?

ZAGORSKI (via telephone): Well, sir, we've had 12 presidential declarations in the last 20 years and all of them for flooding. And we're the only peninsula county in Texas. We have a river to our north, river to our south, Nueces Bay, Corpus Christi Bay and the Gulf of Mexico to our east. And we're kind of used to the flooding aspect of it.

We're a very large county, but -- we're about 900 square miles but we're flat. We go from 94 feet above sea level down to seawater.

BERMAN: One of the warnings we have heard from some officials including the former head of FEMA, though, is that don't compare this to past storms. Let me read you what Craig Fugate said.

Do not delay. Move to higher ground now. Your past history with storms is not a gauge of how bad Harvey is. It's much more dangerous.

How is this storm different, do you think? What do you fear specifically?

ZAGORSKI (via telephone): So in 1967, I believe it was, they had Hurricane Beulah. And we've seen 24 inches of rain in one hour in the whole damn Texas. It flooded most of the county and we survived it, and we will survive this one.

BERMAN: Your message to people in your county right now if they are listening.

ZAGORSKI (via telephone): Get out. Leave.

BERMAN: William Zagorski. Stay safe. Thank you very much for your time. We wish you the best of luck. Keep us posted if there is anything we can do to help because getting messages to the public is so key facing storms like this.

ZAGORSKI (via telephone): Yes. We're ask for y'all prayers.

[09:10:03] BERMAN: All right. William Zagorski, thanks so much.

That storm is racing toward Texas right now, bracing for that catastrophic flooding. Oil platforms and rigs shutting down. Gas prices set to go up across the country.

Other messages this morning, the administration must do better to condemn hate. Top economic adviser Gary Cohn finally goes on the record about the President's response to Charlottesville.


BERMAN: All right. This morning, President Trump facing the first natural disaster of his administration, Hurricane Harvey, but the White House has other new problems this morning, an escalating war of words with members of his own party. As Capitol Hill sources tell CNN, he is hurting the very people he needs to push his agenda through.

And this morning, dissent from within. The President's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, breaking his silence on the Charlottesville attack, and not mincing words about how he thinks the White House, including his boss, handled it.

[09:15:03] CNN's Jason Carroll at the White House this morning. Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the most dangerous weather event to hit the United States in -- Sandy in 2012, and the President's response on what he's doing about that. The President was briefed about Harvey yesterday morning. He's been in constant contact with officials dealing with that including the FEMA director. He's going to be updated on Harvey throughout the day.

Yesterday, you'll remember he did tweet about that. Last night, he was also in contact with the governors of both Texas and Louisiana. This morning the president has tweeted, John, on a number of subjects but as of 9:15, just checking Twitter now, still no tweets about Harvey, at least not yet.

But the president this morning did tweet about Tennessee Governor Bob Corker. As you know, Corker last week very critical of this president, basically saying that he is not shown the stability or the, quote, "competence" that he needs to display as president.

Well, President Trump weighing in on that this morning on Twitter saying basically strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18.

Tennessee, not happening. Remember that yesterday the White House press secretary was asked about this and she said it was a ridiculous claim, not one to be dignified with a response. The president choosing to respond on that this morning.

Trump also facing some criticism from his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, giving a very forthright interview with the "Financial Times" saying a number of things about the response to Charlottesville.

Saying that basically, this president, this administration should have been more birth right, stronger in condemning neo-Nazi, stronger in condemning white supremacists.

Cohn telling the "Financial Times," quote, "This administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities.

As a patriotic American, I'm reluctant to leave my post because I feel a duty to fulfill my commitment to work on behalf of American people, but I also feel compelled to voice my distress over the events of the last two weeks."

Cohn is Jewish, also said that he was not bashful in having several private conversations with the president on this particular topic. He was under a great deal of pressure, he says in the interview, John, to resign and also under pressure to stay.

In the end, he chose to stay. What is not clear is what the president's response was during those very private conversations -- John.

BERMAN: This is a very public airing of those grievances. Jason Carroll at the White House, thanks so much.

Here to discuss, CNN political analysts, Abby Phillip, Nathan Gonzales, and David Drucker. Gary Cohn publicly saying how distressed he was by the president's comments. Let me read you one more quote from Gary Cohn.

"Citizens standing up for equality and freedom can never be equated with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK. The president claims he did not do that. Gary Cohn seems to suggest there that he did.

Abby, I cannot imagine that if the president sees this interview this morning and we can talk about it if you will in just a moment, but if he sees this, I can't imagine the president's going to be pleased.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. There's no question, John, that this was a direct contradiction to everything the administration has been saying for over a week now about how to characterize the president's response.

And it reflects not just Gary Cohn's distress over how it was handled, but a broader view among others in the administration that this was a reel disaster for President Trump. That it should have been handled very differently.

You know, it's unlikely that the White House was not aware that Gary Cohn was going to do this interview. It's not often that a cabinet secretary just sits down with a newspaper and does a wide-ranging interview.

But at the same time, the degree to which he was publicly critical and talking openly about wanting to resign is very unusual. Sometimes when things like this happen, even if the president was aware of it before hand, sometimes it's the reaction to the comments, a couple of days later that might get a rise out of him. It remains to be seen how this will look in 24 hours or in 48 hours to President Trump.

BERMAN: Yes. I mean, Nathan, you know, Gary Cohn says he was reluctant. He is reluctant to leave his post, which isn't saying, no, I won't ever, and it's also saying I considered it. This is something that was open for consideration right now. Gary Cohn sending a very clear message here it seems to me, Nathan.

NATHAN GONZALES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think, you know, Mr. Cohn is one of many people that are working in the administration right now that I think plan to have a life and professional jobs once this administration is over.

But based on the turnover that we've seen in the White House so far, I think anyone that's in the administration right now, the clock is sort of ticking. I think we're going to see very few people go for the duration of the term.

So, I know that he's sort of -- he's talked about his problems with what happened, and he's in there for now, but I really think whether it's Mr. Cohn or anyone else, it's only a matter of time before we see more turnover.

[09:20:05] BERMAN: So the president facing veiled or not so veiled criticism from Gary Cohn, but direct stating criticism from someone, David Drucker, who is pretty revered within the Republican Party.

We are talking about retired Senator John Danforth from Missouri. By the way, an ordained episcopal minister, let me read you right now what John Danforth wrote this morning in the "Wall Street Journal."

He says, "The president of the United States stands in opposition to the founding principle of our party -- that of a unified country." He also says, "We are the party of the union and he is the most divisive president in our history.

There hasn't been a more divisive person in national politics since George Wallace." And he continues, "Our party has been corrupted by this hateful man and is now is peril."

Again, David Drucker, this is from someone within the Republican Party saying we must distance ourselves publicly from the president.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think this is a part of the crisis in conscience that the Republican Party has been going through all summer. Where you've had Trump at war with members of his own party and the party actually trying to figure out exactly which direction it is going.

Because you have elements of the Republican Party as we have known it until Trump in the modern era, now at odds, and it's been since the 2016 campaign, with the Republican Party, as Trump has defined it, a more combative party, less concerned about the things that both ideologically, philosophically, and tonally that Republicans have long concerned themselves at least since Reagan.

It will be interesting to see how Trump handles this. He'll be going to Missouri next week, and John Danforth is a Missourian. So, all of this, whether you look at Trump's fights with Republicans on Capitol Hill, which is ongoing, with Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake and elements of the House at times.

And his ongoing battles with leaders in the Republican Party, and then you look at the Republican Party that Trump has represented, the nationalists and the populists that have risen under his leadership, that have a different view of what the party should stand for.

All of this is a part of a party that's in flux, a party that is in a bit of turmoil, and it's unclear how this is going to play out especially given that there is an agenda they're going to try to accomplish over the next several months and it's unclear how they can get there with so much discord.

BERMAN: You know, it is interesting. I mused before whether or not the president would see the comments from Gary Cohn or perhaps see these comments from Senator Danforth. Why did I say that? Well, because there are these new articles in the "New York Times" and "Politico" suggesting that the new chief of staff, General John Kelly has instituted a new system within the White House where the president will only get the articles after they're screened by General Kelly and the staff secretary as well.

So, Abby Phillip, trying to control what the president sees because I suppose they want to try to control his reaction to things.

PHILLIP: Well, yes. And try is really the operative word here. I mean, these are all ideas -- and really, processes that are actually pretty standard in White Houses. This is the way things are supposed to work.

The chief of staff or the staff secretary are supposed to vet what the president sees. The question is will that really happen? And beyond just the things that people slide onto his desk or when he takes late night phone calls and friends or aides or former aides call and say, Mr. President, did you see this or that?

So, there's that, but then also the fact that the president is an avid watcher of cable television. We know that he watches "Fox News" religiously, and gets a lot of his information from that.

So, I think that there's an attempt by John Kelly to do some of the things that will kind of control the paperwork around the president and his information, but there's almost no controlling what the president watches.

There's a television right outside the oval office that he often goes to and watches television. He watches tv in the residence. He watches tv virtually wherever he is and it's very hard to control what he sees if it's not physically written down on paper.

DRUCKER: John, I think --

BERMAN: I think parental controls you can get and the v-chip. Go ahead, David Drucker.

DRUCKER: John, I think what we've seen since Kelly became chief of staff is there's no controlling Trump. That is going to make Trump very happy. This all starts at the top and so for there to be a reduction in chaos for things to run orderly, Kelly can run a tighter ship.

He can eliminate some of the troublemakers in the White House, but at the end of the day, if Trump wants to the watch tv and use social media and comment, as we have seen, he's going to do it.

That Tuesday news conference after Charlottesville was his way of saying nobody puts me in a corner and I think that that's the way this White House will be defined no matter who he's got there running things.

BERMAN: Extra points for the dirty dancing reference. Let me read you what the president is writing about General Kelly because obviously those articles did make it to his desk today.

The president wrote this morning, "General Kelly is doing a fantastic job as chief of staff. There is tremendous spirit and talent in the White House. Don't believe the fake news." The president here, Nathan, sending a message.

[09:25:13] GONZALES: Yes. Sometimes when the president is complementing someone you wonder if they're doing the job some people are hoping he would do. If the president's tweeting positive things about Kelly, does that mean that he's being -- reigning him in as what some people want him to do. So, I think the president's complement is sort of a double-edged sword.

BERMAN: All right. Guys, thank you very, very much.

A busy morning here, Hurricane Harvey bearing down on Texas. The FEMA director warning the window to evacuate is rapidly closing.

One third of America's oil refineries are in the storm's direct path. Gas prices expected to jump. We got a lot more coming up. Stay with us.


BERMAN: All right. This morning, Texas bracing for impact as Hurricane Harvey roars toward the coast and heads straight for the heart of America's oil refineries, which could mean higher prices at the pump. Nearly half of the U.S. petroleum refineries are on the --