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Rockport Mayor: "Widespread Devastation", No Confirmed Deaths; Life-Threatening Storm Surge Looms As Harvey Hits Texas; As Monster Hurricane Hits Texas, President Pardons Arpaio, Gorka Resigns From White House. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired August 26, 2017 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABIGAIL TRACY, STAFF WRITER, "VANITY FAIR": -- will sort of see how he tackles that issue. Obviously, this is a very controversial thing and these people want to serve for the United States and they are voluntarily putting themselves out there. So, it will be really interesting to see how General Mattis handles that moving forward.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Abigail, David, thank you so much. The next hour of the NEWSROOM starts right now.
And this breaking news to share with you. Hello, again, everyone. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Hurricane Harvey now onshore wreaking havoc on the Texas coast line. Here is what we know right now. The storm is packing 75-mile-per-hour winds, tornado watches are in effect, nearly 300,000 are without power.
And many areas are already seeing widespread flooding, which the National Hurricane Center says will be, quote, "catastrophic and life- threatening." One of those areas, Rockport, Texas. I spoke with the mayor of that town last hour. He described widespread devastation already.
This hour, Texas Governor Greg Abbott will receive a briefing from emergency management and a press conference will be held immediately following. We'll bring that to you live as it happens.
So, we have teams on the ground throughout the state to bring you the very latest. CNN's Polo Sandoval is in Victoria, Texas. He joins us right now on the phone with more on what you're seeing -- Polo.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Good afternoon. Just arriving in the city of Victoria, and I can tell you that this is really a place that's now beginning to feel the brunt of this storm.
Some of the worst that this storm has to offer here. We've been here just a few minutes and already seeing some damage, not only just some of those downed power lines and tree limbs, but also some structural damage to some of the homes and businesses around here.
Of course, much of the damage broken windows, some of the sidings that's been ripped off because here we're currently seeing some pretty intense winds. Obviously a good thing here we're not seeing any people on the streets right now, not a whole lot of vehicles.
It seems that city officials here have essentially hunkered down as they wait for the worst to be over. Officials have warned for people not to be fooled by Hurricane Harvey's very quick eight-hour transition from this Category 4 hurricane down to a Category 1.
That storm is still enough to pack a punch and be taken seriously. I think that's what we're seeing right now in this part of Texas. Getting here was not very easy, though. Blinding weather conditions with rain, wind, debris on the roads as well.
Now we are going to be expecting here, Fred, as this storm continues to move through is for officials to then get on the road and begin to assess the damage and begin to see if there are any people possibly in need of some help.
Obviously, something that we've seen in the location just south of here in places like Rockport. Again, in Victoria, Texas, right now, yes, we are seeing some damage and yes, we are seeing people stay off the roads. And no, not everybody got a chance to evacuate from this part of Texas -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: And sometimes at this stage, Polo, even though the storm is still under way but perhaps dissipated in some communities, people do venture out. When you look out, what are you seeing in Victoria in terms of people, you know -- we just saw an SUV go by -- in terms of people either walking or getting in their vehicles?
SANDOVAL: Yes. I'm standing not far from where you're seeing these pictures, that's actually the public library. You can see some of the tree limbs, some of the branches that are littering some of the sidewalks here.
There is very little vehicle traffic. You see maybe people in pickup trucks or SUVs that have been able to make their way out to the streets but that's about it. I have seen one or two individuals that have maybe peeked out of their window, but for the most part most people seem to be heeding those warnings to simply stay indoors, wait for this storm to pass, and see what comes next.
WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval, we'll check back with you in Victoria, Texas. Thanks so much.
So, 24 American Red Cross shelters are now open for people who chose not to evacuate Hurricane Harvey. I want to bring in now Mardi McCallips (ph) in Austin, Texas, the CEO of the Central and Southern Region of the American Red Cross.
So, Mardi, a tornado warning was issued for parts of Austin this morning. What is the situation now?
MARDI MCCALLIPS, CEO, CENTRAL AND SOUTHERN REGION, AMERICAN RED CROSS (via telephone): So, in Austin, the Red Cross has mounted a real serious response to this. We are sheltering some of the evacuees from the coast and we are anticipating here flooding throughout our region, high winds off and on right now. It is serious because it's such a large territory.
MCCALLIPS: What are your concerns as people do try to emerge particularly from the evacuation centers where they were lucky enough to stay last night. What do you -- what's the message being sent to them?
MCCALLIPS: So, we want them to stay put until the all-clear is given by officials. We're trying to make them as comfortable as possible.
[12:05:07] In fact, we are watching such a robust response that yesterday in my territory we trained over 1,100 event-based volunteers, either new volunteers for the American Red Cross, who have joined the experience, people that have come in from all over the country to help us respond.
So, we want everybody to stay put and be comfortable in our shelters until it is safe for them to return home, and we know that the storm is just starting to enter our territory in full force.
WHITFIELD: American Red Cross always seems to be in position ahead of when something like a natural disaster is getting under way so that when the storm does pass you're in position to assist right away. How have you mobilized your resources? What kind of assistance will you be able to immediately extend?
MCCALLIPS: So, we are already on the ground. I'm proud to say that we of been around longer than anybody (inaudible) officials, I mean, government officials. So, we've been watching this. We had already brought in on the ground much of our resources from across the country.
And also, we had called out to our local communities saying, this is something that we are going to need additional assistance on. We managed to get a lot of people trained and ready to go.
So, we have shelter trailers, which are trailers full of supplies to have the shelters open. We have trained people ready to staff up and we are already leaning forward to look as what we will do as people are ready to move towards a stage of recovery. We think about this in blue skies that we're ready in gray skies.
WHITFIELD: And about how many people do you believe may be in some of the shelters that you've helped assist?
MCCALLIPS: So here in my region alone, which is what I can speak to at the moment, we know last night we had about 1,700 people in shelters, many of them from San Antonio, Texas, some of them in Austin and some in smaller shelters gathered around. Some of these are Red Cross managed shelters and some of them are partner shelters that we support upon request.
WHITFIELD: All right, Mardi McCallips, thanks so much, American Red Cross. Appreciate it. All the best as you continue to extend assistance to people there in need. All right. Also joining me right now, Juliette Kayyem is a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. She's helped organize the government's response to national crises for over a decade now. Juliette, good to see you. So, what's your assessment thus far how FEMA is responding?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think what we're hearing and certainly I think the public posture and by the administrator has been really important. I don't think the problem is what is FEMA telling people do. Is it getting resources there?
A lot-times as you are hearing from the Red Cross people don't abide by that advice and you're going to start to see that play out over the next couple of days, which is it's going to be harder to get resources in simply because of how drenched the soil is, the roads, everything is going to get a little bit harder over time.
The FEMA administrator said that this is going to be a frustrating storm now, and I think that's exactly right. We sort of can conceptualize what a Category 4 or 5 is, that's really scary, a 1 or 2 seems we're OK now, but when Hurricane Katrina hit landfall it was only a 2.
And so, people have to remember that this is going to be long, frustrating and very difficult. The pre-deployment of resources is essential. I don't think we have a competency problem now. I think we have sort of a capacity problem.
This was a big storm and it's lingering for a long time. No matter how sophisticated FEMA is or local and state emergency managers, they're going to need volunteers and others like we just heard from the Red Cross to assists because now it's about capacity.
WHITFIELD: And it's difficult for a lot of citizens to know what they need and how they're going to endure 300,00 people without power right now, days potentially without power. Days before they may be able to return to their homes. So, what should people expect in terms of how federal or local governments should or can assist them?
KAYYEM: Well, there's going to be sort of prioritization of need right now and in particular vulnerable populations, people who may be isolated or without access to not only electricity but of course food and water.
So, it's simply a triage right now. You have to figure out where people are, in most need, and get the resources to them quickly. So, for those who are I would say comfortable in, quote, you know, "people who at least have shelter, access to food and water," it will be some time.
Preparedness people like me, people at Homeland Security always talk about preparedness because hopefully people in hurricane areas, earthquake areas in California have actually prepared themselves for the sort of event, whatever it's going to be.
So, that they can be what FEMA calls sort of ready for 72 on you. FEMA hopes that people learn from this and that they are prepared for 72 hours without assistance.
[12:10:02] That is likely the right number for this hurricane, that it will be several days before critical infrastructure is back up, electricity is back up, and then you start to get the economy rolling.
And that's just going to be simply because of the saturation of the roads and the rain that is just going to -- it's like a sponge. It's never going to get dry for a long period of time and more water is going to be coming on. That's very difficult for things to move including water and food.
WHITFIELD: All right. Great assessment. Thanks so much, Juliette Kayyem. Appreciate that.
All right. Houston, a city prone to flooding and one of the most populated areas in the country, well, it's facing devastating effects from this hurricane. Rosa Flores is there -- Rosa.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, bayous have turned into raging rivers here in Houston. How the city is preparing for the worst of Hurricane Harvey and why the flow of the water you're looking at right now is actually silver lining, next.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back to our live coverage of Hurricane Harvey, the monster storm made landfall on the Texas coast overnight and more than a quarter million people are now without power.
And the danger is far from over, a flashflood warning is already in place for Houston and forecasters predict more than 22 inches of rain in the coming days.
Our Rosa Flores is there in Houston where it is getting hit with some heavy rain right now and rising waters. Explain what's going on there -- Rosa.
FLORES: Fred, here we're seeing bayous turning into gushing rivers. The rivers are moving here at a pretty good clip. Now, this is a running path. If I were to continue walking down these steps there is a running path down here.
You just can't see it at the moment. This is where two bayous converge and you can see that they are gushing towards the Gulf of Mexico actually, which is in that direction.
That is the silver lining of this right now because during major storms we've seen these bayous run the opposite direction because, of course, storm surge brings in water from the ocean, pushes the water in these bayous backwards.
Now, authorities here are expecting 15 to 25 inches of rain, in some isolated areas up to 35 inches of rain. That could be catastrophic for some of these areas, because these bayous you see behind me, these meander through neighborhoods.
People live by some of these bayous and so that's the big worry. Now there is no evacuation order here in Houston. People are asked to shelter in place, and people were warned that they needed to have water, food, for four, five, six days because of the continued rain.
Now, as of last check, Fred, about 19,000 people are without power here in Houston. You can see we're getting pounded with water right now. Every now and then we get wind gusts that are also of course a concern.
But the biggest concern by far as you can see behind and around me is the flooding, the swelling bayous that can swell very quickly and like you mentioned the flash flooding that is now happening all over the city according to the Houston Office of Emergency Management -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: And have you heard anything from officials about how they're able to get to people who are in greatest need?
FLORES: You know, city officials tell us that they have resources, strategically placed around the city, because, of course, they can predict some of the areas that historically flood here in Houston.
But with the weather you just never know, with mother nature, you just never know. So, they have high-water vehicles. They have boats. They of course have fire apparatus and EMTs working around the clock waiting.
I actually was just texting with some of those folks who are waiting. This is actually a very stressful time for them because they know what's coming, they're prepared, they've asked people to prepare, but they can't do anything until something else happens.
But they of got resources, strategically placed all over the city just in case, places that normally don't flood, flood, they can respond quickly and that way they don't have all the resources in one location and if that location has no outlet then they're in a very, you know, bad position.
So, they of got resources all over the city, high-water vehicle, boat, apparatuses ready to go if and when lives need to be saved. But, of course, hopefully, Fred, it doesn't get to that.
WHITFIELD: All right. Rosa Flores, thank you so much, in Houston. Appreciate it. We'll check back with you.
CNN meteorologist, Allison Chinchar, is tracking Hurricane Harvey for us. So, Allison, you know, there is the storm now and it's under way, hitting, you know, Houston whereas about an hour ago we saw Rosa and you had rising water but you had no rain. Now you have both.
ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's right. The original concern yesterday was for all the folks along the coastline where we expected the winds to be really bad, the storm surge to be really bad.
Now the focus begins to shift to some of the outer bands where you're starting to get incredibly heavy rainfall out of some of them, which most of that is actually to the east of the center of the storm.
Right now, winds about 75 miles per hour, but the forward movement is the important part, which is north at only 2 miles per hour. That means it's raining over the same spots over and over and over again, especially from this what we call training, which is to the east of Houston, stretching down to Galveston.
This line is coming up and hitting those same spots over and over again, not just with light rain but with torrential downpours, not to mention a lot of thunder and light tong go with it.
We had numerous tornado warnings throughout the morning. In fact, the National Weather Service Office in Houston has issued 50 tornado warnings this August alone. By the way, the majority of those because of Harvey.
[12:20:00] That's more tornado warnings that they've issued this August than the last 32 Augusts combined. So, it's been pretty severe weather day for this region and months, and we still have an active tornado watch until 1:00 Central Time.
Here's a look at the main threat. The severe weather is not just going to be for Texas, though. It will also extend into portions of Southwestern Louisiana. Some of those heavier rain bands that you can see are going to continue not just this afternoon but through tonight, through tomorrow morning, through the rest of the day.
And that's the biggest concern is that it's not just a quick storm that's going to move and push out of Texas pretty quickly. It's going to stay here for the next five to seven days. This is what you're looking at. This is all the farther it's going to go.
In fact, the five-day estimates put it moving only 120 miles from its current location. That's an average of only one mile per hour. That's a big premise for flooding. Here's a look at this bayou. This was Friday.
See how low the water is there? We advance to this morning. Look how that has swelled very quickly in just a few hours. And it's not just that bayou. It's going to be a lot of areas across Houston, stretching down to Corpus Christi.
Because not just do we have the concern of the storm surge that brought all of that water in, you also have all of the rain that fell from the sky. Oswell, Texas picking up over 14 inches of rain so far.
McFadden over a foot of rain and now you have to factor in how much more rain is going to fall on top of it. Widespread, the purple, the red, even the white areas, you are talking 6 inches to 12 inches of extra rain and that bull's-eye, that white pocket, you are talking an additional 20 inches of rain.
For obvious reason, you have flood watches and flashflood warnings. But Fred, here is the other concern, and this is the long-term threat, that's going to be river floods. Right now, we have over 50 rivers that are at major flood stage and it will stay that way for a month. Here's why. The first week, this next week, you're going to have to deal with all the rain that falls. It takes an additional week after that before the rivers finally crest. Then it will be two weeks after that before the rivers finally get back to normal.
So, this is not just a short-term threat. This will be a month-long threat for a lot of this region when you're talking about the rivers.
WHITFIELD: That's going to be one tough month. All right. Thank you so much, Allison Chinchar. Appreciate that.
Our breaking news continues after a short break, but first here's look at tonight's CNN film "Elian."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember that day very vividly. It was Thanksgiving. It was pitch black to the north and to the east was like this ray of light coming up where the sun was starting to come up. They called me the fisherman, but I really hadn't been out fishing a lot.
My cousin, Sam, he's more of a fisherman than me. He said, look for seaweed, look for debris, anything that was floating the ocean surface. Maybe like three miles off the coast I said to him like that inner tube right there? He said, yes, go over there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I said my God, look, is this a sick joke? We thought it was a doll tied to an inner tube, we thought it was like a joke.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were rocking all over the boat and all of a sudden, I see the hand move. He goes hurry, go, go, go. Before I could blink my eyes my cousin's not on the boat any longer. He's in the water and he's screaming it's a baby!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I got underneath him, he got around my neck and I tried to kick back to the boat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying not to fall into the water and he's trying to push up and I just grabbed this child and held him in my arms and my cousin got on the phone with his wife.
UNIDENTIFIED DISPATCHER: 911, what's your emergency?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: My husband found a 5-year-old child and he's on the boat.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. New images out of Rockport, Texas, where 60 percent of the people who live there stayed throughout this storm. The area has been hard hit by Hurricane Harvey, and that's where we also find CNN's Nick Valencia joining us out of Rockport. Nick, are you getting a better idea of the kind of damage that area has sustained now?
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, we showed you a little while ago some of the damage in the city center near the public safety center. Now I'm standing on top of one of the walls of what was a local eatery, one of the many buildings we of seen home run as we of surveyed the damage that has been completely leveled by Hurricane Harvey.
Just beyond this eatery, there's another art and jewelry store, also just flat, and you can see the roof of that had just collapsed on top of the building. As we of been speaking to local residents here, a lot of them as you mentioned an estimated 60 percent of them decided to stay.
A part of that we've heard from local residents it's a myriad of reasons, one of them say it's a tight-knit community and some of these residents wanted to stick around. One is a youth pastor who says he felt that people might need him after this tragedy hit so he decided to stay in order to help out his neighbors.
Other people in the past hurricanes have been predicted predicted to hit here in Rockport, but have missed the area entirely. So, the sheriff was issuing dire warnings as well as the local mayor issuing very ominous warnings telling local residents to write their names on their forearms as well as their social security number.
I'm joined by one of those residents. You actually took this seriously, John Morgan. You thought this was going to be -- show the viewers here. You actually wrote your name on your arm here.
JOHN MORGAN, RESIDENT, ROCKPORT: Yes. We actually -- it was actually started by a guy named Michael Gibson from Channel 3 News. He had interviewed the mayor and interviewed few people and they had said to write stuff on the arm and he actually done it. And so, I just to follow suit and we -- a lot of the reporters around here started doing that.
You know, in one way, a kind of like a joke but on the other hand, you know, the seriousness of the situation.
MORGAN: I mean, the -- you know, when we were at the EOC in Sinton, there was just, you know, report after report after report of building after building just collapsing and crushing, then there were false reports of people dying and things of that nature, so it was just complete chaos.
VALENCIA: So, tell us what it was like last night and tell us a little bit more also about this community as we and our CNN viewers learn more about Rockport.
MORGAN: Well, Rockport is considered a Texas Riviera. It's very highly trafficked by tourist all the time.
VALENCIA: A lot of people come here.
MORGAN: Yes, from San Antonio, Houston, things to that nature. You know, it's a real tight-knit community. Fishing here is great. Especially, you know, ranchers pass right up the road. So they all kind of work in conjunction with each other.
A lot of local officials will be here are really caring and they go out and they help out the local populace and do things to that nature. So something like this, you know, one of the reasons why a lot of people didn't want to roll out of here was because, like you said, there was a prior hurricane that turned north and everybody ran scared. Well, there's been a lot of big storms around here and a lot of different things that have, you know, weather-wise that don't scare people away. And this time, you know, when the hurricane came, when Harvey came up -- I mean, it just turned to category 4 and bam (ph).
VALENCIA: And clearly some of these buildings are not built to withstand the magnitude, the velocity of these winds, an estimated 130-mile-per-hour winds. Are some of these homes as you surveyed the area and as we begin to see more and more the damage, are some of them standing, some of them did OK?
MORGAN: Yes. The newer homes that were built in the area -- I'm going say since like 1985 and forward, lot of those are still standing. But there was a lot of structures here that have been here being poured on rain and saltwater for the past 45 years. So naturally, you know, the beams get a little rotted out, things like that. A lot of dry rot --
VALENCIA: It's invulnerable to something like that.
MORGAN: Yes, exactly. So when the storm came in and those high winds just came up and hit like it did when the eye hit the city, you know, that just leveled all those buildings. You know, we're used to having, you know, sunny, bright days down here, beautiful days, you know, on the beach and so we don't get a lot of, you know, stuff like high winds on a regular basis. It's usually sunny and nice.
MORGAN: So, you get a lot of awnings and things of that nature. By the time people started preparing, they just started preparing like 24 hours ago, 24 to 30 hours before the storm actually hit.
VALENCIA: We know a lot of people. Thank you so much for taking the time with CNN, John. Stay safe, man. Good luck with your freelance work as well.
We know a lot of people are coming to survey exactly what happened here. Just along this main thoroughfare in town. We've seen car after car pass by with their cell phones out taking photos. You can just see beyond me here, I'm not sure if you can make that up. It's a little bit of a marina. We can't tell if any of those boats are toppled over on top of each other but we know those in the distance, businesses have their roofs ripped off, some of those homes look to be especially damaged by these fierce winds that just rip through here. Rockport clearly one of the hardest hit communities of Hurricane Harvey. Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Indeed, it looks like it. Thank you so much, Nick Valencia. We'll check back with you. We're going to be right back with more coverage up for Hurricane Harvey after this.
[12:37:44] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Hurricane Harvey beat up parts of Corpus Christi, Texas, about 35 miles to the southwest of where Harvey may landfall. One example of the power of the storm, bricks ripping -- being ripped from a wall in Corpus Christi. Utility company AEP Texas reported nearly 160,000 customers without power as of about 5:00 a.m. local time.
Joining me now by phone is Eric Sifuentes, who has been riding out the storm in that city. So Eric, have you been out this morning? And if so, what have you seen or experienced?
Eric Sifuentes, are you there? No. OK. We'll try to re-establish our connection out of Corpus Christi, Texas. We understand that he is among many who did ride out the storm. We'll try to reconnect.
We're following breaking news out of Texas where Hurricane Harvey is still wreaking some havoc there on this the state's coastline. We'll be right back.
[12:43:15] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Live pictures right now. At any moment, Texas Governor Greg Abbott will be giving an update on Hurricane Harvey from that location, that podium right there. We'll bring you those remarks as soon as it happens.
Meantime, joining me on the phone, one more time, we're going to give this a shot, Eric Sifuentes, rode out the storm out of Corpus Christi, Texas. And Eric, if you're on the line with us right now, what have you been able to see this morning?
ERIC SIFUENTES, CNN REPORTER (via telephone): Yes, I'm here. We actually drove around to homes, you know, from the central Texas to south side and Corpus Christi, the south side and the west side, and the main thing that we've been seeing is just a bunch of debris, a bunch of downed trees and fences. Haven't really seen any flooding. Kind of go to the areas that are known for flooding when we do have heavy storms and actually -- I mean, everything seemed pretty good as far as that part.
WHITFIELD: Good. What did you experience overnight? You made a decision to stay, not to evacuate, and what was that experience like ultimately? SIFUENTES: Well, it was exciting I guess. You could say it was exciting. I mean, it was kind of like a little adrenaline rush. Feeling the wind -- you know, I was going outside and you could feel the wind hit you and the rain hit you and, you know, when we were indoors, you know the -- we didn't lose power but maybe two times for maybe a second or two. So, I mean, the rain hitting the walls and, you know, the wind pushing against the windows. I mean, it was not scary but, you know, it was definitely, you know, something that we noticed.
[12:45:03] WHITFIELD: So since you had power for a good bit of that, were you able to whether it was watch the local weather reports to stay abreast of what the storm was doing or what did you do?
SIFUENTES: Yes. We were actually watching, you know, all the -- flipping through all the channel, the Weather Channel and, you know, Headline News CNN, and, you know, just getting everything. And I guess the moment that kind of got me is when they, you know, updated it to a category 4, I was like, OK, hopefully you guys didn't make the wrong choice in staying but -- I mean, with, you know, aside from the few little power flashes that we had, that was really the only thing that happened, you know, in our area.
WHITFIELD: And why did you decide to stay?
SIFUENTES: Well, growing up my parents would always bring me down to the water, to the bay whenever storms would come in, and so, it was just the excitement of seeing, you know, the different environment. A lot of my family and friends stayed here. Some, you know, did go out of town, so this morning when I rode around the town I did go and check their houses for them and make sure everything was fine and, you know, sent them updates.
So, it was mainly, you know, just to be here for anyone that needed help that, you know, that I care for. That was one of the main decisions that had me stay here.
WHITFIELD: Well, Eric Sifuentes, we are so glad that you are well and we, of course, are hoping the best for your friends and neighbors as Hurricane Harvey continues to pummel parts of Texas. Appreciate your time.
So as Hurricane Harvey, you know, continues to batter parts of Texas, President Trump tweeted this morning that he's got an eye on the storm. The President tweeting, "Closely monitoring Hurricane Harvey from Camp David. We are leaving nothing to chance. City, state, and federal governments working great together."
With much of America focused on that monster storm, President Trump now getting blowback, a lot of criticism for a series of headline moves made at the height of the hurricane's landfall. First, President pardoned former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The controversial lawman was convicted of criminal contempt related to targeting undocumented immigrants and was facing an October sentencing. Then the White House announced Trump's controversial White House Advisor Sebastian Gorka resigned. That was followed up by another major headline as the President signed a directive banning transgender military recruits. The Friday news dump is a longtime Washington tradition and it's one the White House seems to be embracing as a way to potentially bury major headlines.
CNN's Boris Sanchez joining us to walk us through all of these headlines and the fallout now that it's sparking, Boris.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Fred. Yes, it does seem to be a tradition for this White House. Now, several weeks where we get these news dumps on Friday. The most controversial one, the pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the 85-year-old sheriff, as you said Fred, was found to be in contempt of court after he seemed to continue this program that was found illegal by a judge because it racially profiled Latinos.
Donald Trump had alluded to potentially pardoning Arpaio first on Twitter and at his rally in Phoenix on Tuesday. And then last night we got that statement from the White House, the official pardon, saying that because of his more than 50 years of service to the nation, Arpaio is a, quote, worthy candidate for a pardon. There was a swift response not only from Democrats across the aisle but also even those in Trump's own party including Arizona's two Republican senators.
I do want to read you a series of tweets though from Democrat Chuck Schumer. He sent this out after the pardon was sent out by the White House. He writes, "As millions of people in Texas and Louisiana are prepping for the hurricane, the President is using the cover of the storm to pardon a man who violated a court's order to stop discriminating against Latinos and ban courageous transgender men and women from serving our nation's armed forces. Then he ramp to Camp David. The only reason to do this right now is to use the cover of Hurricane Harvey to avoid scrutiny. So sad. So weak."
Of course Senator Schumer also including that transgender ban moving forward as you mentioned, Fred, the White House putting out this directive to the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security essentially telling them to halt in Obama era a recruitment program that sought to bring in transgendered people to the armed services, also referring the secretary of DHS and DOD to figure out what to do with those transgender people who are currently serving in the military. And lastly you have the departure of Sebastian Gorka known for his-aggressive and combative style on TV when he defends the President.
[12:50:06] After Steve Bannon left the White House, it was deemed thus likely that Gorka, who comes from that Bannon Breitbart camp of economic nationalism was soon likely to go as well.
There are some conflicting reports about his departure, though. We heard from one White House official who said that he resigned. Gorka himself earlier today on radio show said that he resigned. Other White House officials essentially said that Gorka had not resign, but that he's no long with the White House. So, make of that what you will, Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. We're going to talk about all of that as we also await a press conference coming out of Texas with the Governor Greg Abbott at any moment now. Now, we understand he'll be taking to the podium there out of Houston and we'll get an update on the kind of assessments that they are getting now as Hurricane Harvey continues to hit Texas.
All right. Let's talk with my panel now about all things politics concerning President Trump's decisions last night as this storm was barreling, making its way to Texas. CNN Political Commentator Andre Bauer, Former Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina with me, and Basil Smikle is the Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party. Good to see you both of you.
BASIL SMIKLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW YORK DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Good to be you.
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good afternoon.
WHITFIELD: OK. Andre, you first. Was this appropriate for the President to do these things last night, make headlines, particularly the pardoning of the former sheriff?
BAUER: Absolutely. You knew this was coming. You talked about early -- I shouldn't say you. The media, everybody talked about it thinking he may do it when he was in Arizona this week. He chose not to do it then, but the word was out that he was going to do or it's just a matter of when he was going to do it. A lot of people said that's not the time or place to do it, and so the President chose not to do it then, but he had plans to do it.
WHITIFIELD: So the time and place -- the question is was the time and place as you have a major hurricane threatening the coast of Texas, threatening the lives of millions of people, that was the time in which to make this announcement or to pardon Joe Arpaio.
BAUER: No one like but Joe Arpaio. So it doesn't matter when you do it. It doesn't affect the American people in any way. If you want to start talking about what you to probably don't, look at the ones Clinton pardoned, look at the ones Obama pardoned. I mean, this guy gave his life to public service. He's 85 years old. What we're going to do, put him in jail?
WHITFIELD: But two things, I guess there are two things that are being underscored, whether it'd be by Senator Flake or even McCain. It's not just the timing but it's also the person. So Smikle, how are you seeing this?
SMIKLE: Well, yes. Well, I think Andre is right in one sense there. We did see it coming but it doesn't make the pardon that any less odious. The fact that the signal has been sent that you can do racially profile Americans and do it with impunity, the process has not been completed for the sheriff because he was still awaiting sentencing.
It just goes to show that the President is bent on taking care of his friends and supporters even if it means rolling back our civil rights. And that is a scary place we're in in this country right now.
WHITFIELD: So Basil you're saying it's an issue of the message that the President is sending too by the choice and the timing of this pardoning not just with the storm, but this doesn't come at the end of the year when often pardons come by a president or even at the end of a term but this is seven months in.
SMIKLE: Yes. And you mentioned timing before particularly with this hurricane. Look, I think that no matter when it would come, it would still going to be problematic, still very shocking for a number of us sort of concerned about where we are in this country with respect to civil rights. But the fact that it happened in a way that the President is not focused on this emergency situation taking place in Texas and he rather take care of his friends than actually try to bring some solace to folks who are in the country right now who are experiencing this hurricane. I think that's what's concerning.
WHITFIELD: So Andre, you're still with me there?
BAUER: I am.
WHITFIELD: We had little paper interference there. OK. So, you know, the messages now coming from the President. You know, its timing is one thing. Messages are seemingly very mixed particularly after Charlottesville. This message at a time when he says there will be, you know, unity and harmony but the choice of the pardoning certainly, you know, ruffles a lot of feathers and leads to continued conversations about, you know, racial relations in this country.
And then you've got the LGBT community where Trump said that he would be a friend to the LGBT community and now he's banning transgender service members. So, what is to make of the messages that this President is sending?
[12:55:02] BAUER: Well number one, the message is clear. The military has a limited budget. We need to take care of our veterans and our current military serving to continue to allow people to go in that want to have a transgender operation that costs several hundred thousand dollars is not the right message for military.
Look, I have a heart for those people but we know they have an extremely high suicide rate. We know that if I go in as private and decide I feel like I'm a general, it doesn't make me a general. And so, just because they go in as one sex and want to be another, that's not where we are and that's not -- and I would ask, how many people are we talking about that go in the military as a transgender? I just don't understand it.
But the military has so many things it can't fund now to be funding operations, I saw when I was doing research on this, we pay for Viagra. As a taxpayer, I don't think we ought to pay for that either. It's not that I'm going after one group. I'm saying as a taxpayer, we need to take care of our veterans and making sure our military have the best of everything available whether it's weapon, whether it's technology, and to be paying for different surgeries no matter what they are, that shouldn't be a function of the military.
WHITFIELD: OK. We're going to have to leave it there. We're not doing the conversation. We're going to have to take a short break. I'm so sorry that we're out of time because this is not over, but it really just the beginning of this conversation.
Basil, Andre, thank you so much. Stay with us because at any moment now Texas Governor Greg Abbott will be giving an update on Hurricane Harvey. We'll bring you those remarks as soon as they begin.
WHITFIELD: I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for joining us.
We are following breaking news. Hurricane Harvey causing damage in coastal areas of Texas and also expected to bring life-threatening floods. Live pictures right now where Governor Greg Abbott of Texas were at any moment, we understand he'll be taking to the podium there and will update us on emergency responses and damaged. We'll you take you there live.
Right now, Harvey is packing 75-mile --