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Explosions at Chemical Plant: Water System Still Down in Beaumont, West Houston Running Low on Food/Water; Mueller has Draft Letter of Comey Firing; Sources: Keith Schiller Plans to Leave the White House; Trump Scheduled to Go to Houston Tomorrow; Michael Dell Pledges $36M for Hurricane Relief. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 20:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening again from Houston. A week after hurricane Harvey came ashore, the reminders that this is not over keep coming and there's a new one that just happened. Explosions and a massive fire at the Arkema Chemical Plant about 25 miles northeast of Houston. It began with flooding, followed by a power outage, and the equipment to keep explosive chemicals cool, it shut down. Early yesterday morning came the first fire. Then late today, a large explosion, followed by that large fire that we understand and thankfully died down again. Now for obvious reasons, CNN's Brian Todd is not nearby, he joins us, though, with the very latest. So, what do we know exactly about this fire, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, we can tell you that officials from Arkema Incorporated had told us for most of this week that they expected incidents like this to occur. And they just posted a statement just moments ago saying that they -- again, they expected this, that the redundant refrigeration systems that cooled those toxic peroxide chemicals, the organic peroxide, that they knew that those systems had failed and that this was all heating up inside as a result of massive flooding inside then about 40 inches of water. But they have just posted a statement saying, "As agreed with public officials, the best course of action is to let this fire burn itself out." And they also said, "We will likely see additional incidents."

So you're going to see more fires like this at the Arkema Chemical Plant there in Crosby, Texas. They had evacuated a 1.5 mile zone around that plant. Anyone who live within that parameter was taken out about two or three days ago, Anderson. They also had an 11-person "ride out team" that was there when the hurricane Harvey hit on Friday night. They were there through the weekend and they basically became very cognizant of the fact that this plant was flooded, heavily flooded and that those cooling systems for those organic peroxide chemicals which are so sensitive and so toxic were going to, you know, fail.

And they did fail. So this is what was expected. The company is treating this as if, you know, "Look, we all expected this. There are going to be more incidents like this. We're just going to let it burn out."

COOPER: So, Brian, just to be clear, I mean, for -- I know the area has been evacuated, but obviously people seeing this and they hear chemicals and they see fire, are going to be concerned about the effects of that stuff in the air.

TODD: Absolutely, Anderson. And you know what's interesting also is that a couple of days ago, they sent some local, I believe it was Harris County Deputies to the -- to the scene to, kind of, check things out and make sure people were out of there, of course. And some of those deputies were treated for smoke inhalation, but they did determine that the smoke they inhaled was not toxic. So those deputies were treated and released. They seemed to be okay. But, you know, you see images like this and you know what's inside that plant. And they've got to be concerned about some kind of a toxic, you know, emanation there that could affect, you know, the areas even beyond the 1.5 miles. Now, I think another fortunate thing that you can look to is there really hasn't been a lot of wind in this area. It is -- it's heavy air now around the Houston and points east. So there's not a lot of wind after the hurricane. So hopefully whatever's burning there doesn't spread very far.

COOPER: But just to be clear, the company is saying that there is no danger from what's going to the air, correct?

TODD: They have said that. They have not indicated at all that there's any danger. Now, I have to say also that they haven't given a whole lot of other information other than to say, "We expected this and we're going to let it burn out." And they, you know, they, at one point, I think did apologize for a lack of information on this thing. But we're not getting a lot of information tonight other than to say they're going to let this burn out.

COOPER: All right, Brian, I appreciate the reporting. Joining us now is retired army Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who obviously led the military efforts in Katrina 12 years ago. You know, when you see a fire like this, obviously it raises concerns but it also just -- it tells a story of what happens in a disaster like this where there's all these ripple effects. And sometimes you can't predict at the outset or you don't really -- a lot of people don't really think about it after the outset, whether it's Beaumont last night running out of clean drinking water or now this chemical fire.

RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY LIEUTENANT GENERAL: That's why they're disasters because you lose control of what's happening. And in this particular case, Anderson, the company is the main spokesman as opposed to the EPA who we pay a lot of money to control this, which is Region Six out of Dallas. They should have a representative there, an incident commander, supervisors telling the American people. Yet we got a French company, Public Affairs Officer informing the people of Texas of what's happening. "Don't worry about it, be happy." I get concerned when there's a equal 1.5 mile circumference. Because even with little wind, there's a jet stream that will carry that chemical to a certain direction. And that's what the Federal Government should be telling the people of Texas, where is the plume (00:05:00) and what direction -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HONORE: -- that chemical is going in once it burns. The easy way to tell it is to see what direction the smoke is going, because it's getting in a jet stream, and it's going somewhere in the four different (INAUDIBLE) directions.


HONORE: So if it's concerning, when they talk about toxic, it's toxic, and then operate with an exception to the Clean Air Act.

COOPER: So let me ask you, in this situation like what we're having here, who -- where is the (INAUDIBLE) who is in charge? Is it the governor of the state? I mean, he gave a press conference earlier today --

HONORE: (INAUDIBLE) here elected official in the state who has an equivalence of the Texas Department of the Environmental Quality.

COOPER: So FEMA is reporting to the governor or -- I mean, they obviously having the group meetings.

HONORE: Well, the FEMA brings in a part of the EPA with them. They have an EPA team with this. But there's no spokesman. They're leaving it that this French company to tell the people of United States to don't worry. And there's a mile and a half circumference. We heard the sheriffs talked earlier. The sheriff's doing the best he can. He defer to the party. But even this could be beyond the party's scope. And where is the Texas EPA? Where is the Region Six of the EPA out of Dallas? Where is Mr. Pruitt? This is a tear drop of what could happen south of the city where we have what we call a chemical corridor. And if we can't handle this one in clear communications to the American people, it should leave us rise for concern. Because I can tell you this plant operates with an exception to the Clean Air Act, because they're allowed to release certain amount of toxins into the air. Because it is a toxic chemical. You heard the Public Affairs Office said earlier, well, it's relative to concentration and how close you are to it. Those sheriffs got sick. That's an indication on where you got a problem.

COOPER: (INAUDIBLE) smoking relation. Again, just to tell folks, I believe that's a coast guard helicopter. I see red, so I'm assuming that passing overhead, it's a common sound, a common sight obviously even in Houston now. Even though there's, you know, not the same kind of rescues on roof tops that we've been seeing now in other parts. There's still a lot of aircrafts. You know, it's one of the things that surprised me going out with the coast guard yesterday is just how much -- how many air assets are flying over place like Beaumont, Vidor, Port Arthur, and how difficult it is for, you know, their essential commander getting control from the ground. But a lot of it is just the pilots turning around, looking up, looking down, looking left and right to make sure they know where all the -- all their choppers are.

HONORE: A senior army officer one time told me, "You fly your airplane, son." And -- because if the instruments are not working, we had over 200 aircraft in New Orleans without instrument, because all the instrumentation was broken until the "Iwo Jima" got there. And when the major ship get there, they'll be able to provide air commander control so they'll fly helicopters. But this is just good training and a tribute to our pilots --

COOPER: Yes, they're actually -- they're --

HONORE: -- who are flying the airplanes. And not flying the instrument.

COOPER: And hovering, I mean, spot on 150 feet up. It's incredible.

HONORE: Some of the nation's best.

COOPER: Real incredible.

HONORE: Some of the nation's best.

COOPER: General Honore, appreciate it as always.

HONORE: Thank you

COOPER: At this time last night, our Gary Tuchman was at a Baptist Hospital in Beaumont. And they began airlifting patients out because as I mentioned the entire city's drinking water supply had gone down. It's going to be several days at the soonest before they get it back, we're told. Hard to imagine that. But the river east of the city was expected to crest only today. This morning more than 80 patients were still in the hospital, 14 infants including 11 preemies in the NIC-U. As of right now, the hospital says every single one of them has been evacuated and only fourteen patients remain. That is certainly a welcome new. The water system is still down, and that remains, obviously, a huge concern tonight. A helicopter now, kind of, circling over this area. And actually, you can't see it, but it's, again, just as we were talking about a lot of times the choppers just circle. And it's -- literally it's the flight mechanic, the rescue swimmer, even the pilots just looking, reading what's happening on the ground and trying to see if there's anybody in trouble. At it -- you know, one time they could pass and there'd be nothing. Two minutes later they pass and a car has gone down a road they shouldn't and they're in suddenly deep water and they got to do a rescue. So we see this chopper now circling around in this area. And Gary Tuchman is near Beaumont. Gary, what do we know about the water system? It's there any word when that is going to be restored?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, firstly, Anderson, there's a lot of (INAUDIBLE) here in Beaumont and Ford Arthur. You know, evacuation is going on. The military jets -- there's a military jet behind this bus that is full of people about to get on to it to leave this area. We also have continuing searches and yes, you have this water situation. Here's what we know. We are being told that the water service to the city of 118,000 people could resume very soon. We don't know how soon. Engineers from ExxonMobil and other companies have devised this temporary pump. And the idea of the pump is to divert -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: - water (00:10:00) from the swollen rivers and put it in the city's water system. So they hope we can get that done soon but they don't want to tell us the exact time. But it's very difficult for people here not to have any water. And when they do get it back, you can't eat with it, you can't cook with it, you can't put it on your face. You got to boil it first before you --


TUCHMAN: -- get it back. But right now, it is not back in the city.

COOPER: From the airport, which is where you're at?

TUCHMAN: Right, Anderson. So this is a very unusual situation here. You have people come to this airport between Beaumont and Port Arthur and between both cities. A lot of them thought this was the shelter, they would be staying at for a few days. But this is only a temporary facility, it's not big enough to hold all the people. So hundreds of people came here. Most of them stayed on the buses that brought them. So some of these busses that you see, because they're air-conditioned, it is too hot inside the terminal. And what they're doing now, they're telling people on these buses, "Okay, would you like to fly to Dallas? They have big centers there where you can take it easy, where you can decide what you'll do with your life." So these people are boarding the plane that you can't see behind this bus. This bus just pulled up. But it's a C-130 military airplane. They're boarding the plane, they're flying to Dallas, Texas. And it's there where they'll all start the next part of their lives. And we've talked to a lot of people aboard the busses and they waited to board the planes too. And we talked to this very nice couple that lost their house. And listen to what they said to us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We feel lucky, you know. I went through stage four breast cancer not too long ago, in '15. And my scans come back good all the time, so, yes.

TUCHMAN: So this is not much of a problem compared to that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, and then my husband just broke his hip, so we're just like, yes, you know.

TUCHMAN: You both have remarkable attitudes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, yes. I used to have -- that's all you can do. If you get down, you're not helping yourself or anybody around you.

TUCHMAN: Two of the people we met today. We talked to dozens of people, all suffering greatly, but all extremely kind to us. It was very motivating to hear that. And they're all going in to a place where they have an unknown future. Anderson? COOPER: Yes. Gary, appreciate that. And joining me now is the Beaumont's Fire Chief Anne Huff. Chief, appreciate you being with us. I know how exhausted you must be. Chief, tell us what's the latest situation in Beaumont. Are the residents still without water tonight and how much -- how are they getting water?

ANNE HUFF, BEAUMONT, TEXAS FIRE DEPARTMENT CHIEF: Well, we are without water at this time. So our Emergency Operation Center is working on distribution point pods to give drinking water out. They still are working on with ExxonMobil engineers as you have your previous guest say, trying to have it fixed for the water system before the water actually go down. Not sure when that's going to be ready. But the situation here actually is pretty good, considering we're all counting our blessings. We've got a number of people that had been displaced. We've done a lot of rescues. But we're resilient people. We've been through Rita and Ike, and so -- well, we learned lessons from those. And we're in for the long haul.

COOPER: So there, you know, there are a lot of folks who, as you said, you know, very resilient, who've been, you know, sticking it out, they had supplies. If they're not able to get the clean drinking water in the coming days, do you expect the number of people seeking evacuations to rise?

HUFF: Well, I don't expect any disturbances to develop. If people over the next -- over the coming days want to evacuate, we don't have any mandatory evacuation. We are trying to get people who come to -- who have been displaced, making shelter, longer-term shelters available to them. But at this point, I think we're -- the community is pretty stable. Everybody is pulling together and our teams are doing a great job trying to get the city back up and running.

COOPER: And just in terms of flooding, do you know how much of Beaumont is still flooded?

HUFF: I don't have any numbers on that right now. We had some heavy flooding in our north end of town, and along the river. And in a -- in a west end section along Walden Road. I'm not really sure about the square mileage of those numbers. The (INAUDIBLE) probably a good solid numbers on those. We did have one of our fire stations, Fire Station Five flood, and had to relocate those crews.

COOPER: And Chief Huff, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much. Even as recovery efforts continue here, another potential threat is over the horizon. And now, you know, we should be going a red alert just yet over hurricane Irma has a lot of forecasters watching very carefully. Our Alison Chinchar is in the weather center tracking the storm. She joins us now. It's a long way off, but what's the latest in terms of strength, location, and possible landfall?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. The most recent thing that happened is that --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [20:15:00] CHINCHAR: -- it is now back up to a category 3 storm. It had been that earlier this morning then went through a weakening phase, going back to a category 2. But where it sits right now, it went through what we call an eyewall replacement cycle. Often times, that's when the storm itself is trying to regroup and re-intensify --


CHINCHAR: -- and it did just that. So we are now looking back at winds around 120 miles per hour, that puts it back to a category 3, looking like a relatively healthy storm at this point in time. But it's over the middle of the Atlantic. No land anywhere in sight. So the question becomes, where does it go in short term? You'll see it starts to take a little bit of a dip down to the south. In doing so, it's actually going to encounter some warmer water. And that's actually going to allow the storm to intensify even more. Perhaps up to a category 4, if not stronger than this. But, Anderson, this is just what it's going to do in the next five days.

COOPER: So, where do you see long-term? I mean, obviously it's hard to model something this far out.

CHINCHAR: Right. So after five days, that becomes the big question. But let's take a look at them. We'll take a look at two of our top models and ones that we often go to for this. Now, in the short term, really the next five to seven days, they really don't vary all that much. It's once we start really getting towards the Caribbean. That's where you start to see them spread. OK? This reddish pink color, this being the American model. The yellow one down here, this is the European. Notice the European takes more of a southerly and westerly track. This, if this one poses through, that's the one that we'd take it towards Florida potentially even entering The Gulf. The American model takes it much further north and a little bit further east into the Atlantic. This one would have a much better chance, say of, impacting the Carolina Coast, Anderson, or perhaps even the northeast. But again, we're talking a timeline of next weekend at the absolute earliest. So a lot can change. But it's nice to know what some of the models are saying, so at least have somewhat of an idea of what to expect.

COOPER: Yeah. Alison Chinchar, appreciate that. Thanks. We'll continue to watch it. Reports of food and water running low in West Houston. We'll get a live update on the situation there next. And a lot of happening in the White House, including the upcoming departure of one of the president's closest aides dating back decades. Details ahead.



COOPER: Even though some parts of Houston are drying out, the situation is getting worse in parts of the city, including West Houston where food -- reports of food running low. Nick Valencia joins us now with the latest on that. I understand people there are starting to run out of food and water that they've been holding on to. What are you seeing and are there plans right now to get supplies to folks there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Barker Cypress, Anderson, is still under water a week after hurricane Harvey hit here. This situation is almost as desperate as ever. And the mayor is telling people to get out while they can, but in some cases they remain stranded back there. That's why people are taking matters into their own hands. We joined a group from SIRIS Environmental, first responders that came as far away from Washington, D.C. to help out those here that are stranded and as you mentioned running out of supplies, basic essentials, food, and water. One of the people that we saw them rescued on one of those two rescue missions was an elderly man who was standing at a gas station in flooded water, just sort of aimlessly walking around back and forth. He was waiting for help. Another one of those people was a man named Terry Gay who was running out of food and water. He had been stranded in those apartment complexes back there for over a week. And it was just now that he was emerging, because he was running out of supplies. Anderson?

COOPER: So if you could just show us what's going on around you and, kind of, explain. You have your cameraman, kind of, push past and just show what's going on as we speak. Well -- because -- are some of the people who are now leaving or are they supposed to -- were trying to ride out the storm?

VALENCIA: That's right. And they're just now coming out. A part of what's going on as I step off camera here, Steve, if you want to zoom in there, is people are -- the rescue missions are, sort of, wrapping up as the sun sets. This cue of people here, the crowd was swelling, dozens of people were here waiting to try to get back in. A part of these civilian boats dipping into this water here, taking individuals that hadn't been back to their home since hurricane Harvey hit, a lot of people hoping they could find something, you know, medication, important documents, records, things like that, this is the last of what remains of those people that are standing in line hoping to catch a ride on one of those boats. One of the things those residents said that we got on that boat or I'm sorry, on that truck, one of the things that they said is there's an airboat that's going back there and it's accelerating really fast and it's causing wakes of water. And it's pushing this flood water even to places further, to places that it hadn't been before. So people here who are coming to help in some situations, they're making the situation -- in some instances they're making the situation even more complicated. Anderson?

COOPER: Yeah, I know, from having been on those airboats they have such a huge kick of a wake. You see a lot of signs now people put up just saying "slow down." And most of the airboat operators are aware of the wake issue. And, you know, the ones I've been on they go through these neighborhoods and try to go through really slowly. But those are powerful boats particularly when they're backing up. And that can cause some issues. Nick, I appreciate the reporting. You may have noticed gasoline prices across the country have risen, an average of almost 17 cents a gallon since the storm. Texas Governor Greg Abbott tried to reassure Texans today that there's plenty of gas in the state, in the country. Alison Kosik is in Dallas with the latest on that. So Alison, I mean, lines were long and stations were closed yesterday, I remember. Has it gotten any better today? ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really hasn't. These long lines, they continue especially where we are. This line wrapping around the corner. And if you drive around Dallas, if you didn't see a line at the gas station, it was probably because the gas -- the gas station was out of gas. In fact, this one that we're at is almost out of gas completely. It's only got two pumps working and there are eight sitting here. So some of these drivers may be out of luck. One other thing I saw different today, the frustration and the tension building. I noticed one driver in a red Camaro waiting in line at a gas station, running out of gas, right there in line, and having to push his car to the pump. Another driver getting in a fight with a gas attendant about his place in line. That gas attendant having to spray him with pepper spray just to, kind of, break up the fight. I actually shot that with my -- with my iPhone today. You know, as long as we see these refineries shut down, we're going to --


[20:25:00] KOSIK: -- see these gas supply disruptions. But exacerbating the problem, Anderson, is that a lot of drivers are feeling panicked. They're feeling the need to tap up their tanks. They're feeling the need not just to fill up their tanks but to also fill up these canisters unless they -- that's --


KOSIK: -- really just making the problem worse. Anderson?

COOPER: Yes, I mean, you know, I've also heard reports, you know, we've talked about the rising prices, average of 17 cents. But even price gouging in some places.

KOSIK: Yes, and prices legitimately are rising because of this supply crunch. But yes, the Texas Attorney General has said that its office has received hundreds of complaints, hundreds of phone calls about gas stations around Dallas, at least even, gas stations gouging consumers, charging $6 to $8 a gallon for gas. Clearly, that's way too much. And these gas stations certainly opening themselves up potentially to some hefty fines. Anderson?

COOPER: Hmm. All right. Good to see that. Alison Kosik, appreciate that. Thanks very much. Ahead, one woman's homecoming -- a lot of people are trying to get back to their homes for the first time. We went out with one woman who went to her house by canoe. We'll tell you what she saw ahead.


COOPER: Well, today, Houston's mayor, the governor, local officials, they all spoke to the numerical dimensions of the disaster, and at the end of the day, I mean, a week after the storm, this isn't just a situation about trillion of gallons of rain, or 72,000 rescues, or 136,000 homes and buildings flooded. It is -- it's a situation unfolding person to person. One person at a time. Some of them now finally just returning home. Susan Peterson has to use a canoe to get to her house. SUSAN PETERSON, TEXAS RESIDENT: It's probably a quarter of a mile from here.

COOPER: She's waited all week for the water to recede, but she can't wait any longer. She needs to see what's happened to her home.

She invited us to go with her, the water too deep and dangerous in some spots to walk through. That's quite a current.

So this is your house?

If in her front yard, one of her cars is completely submerged, only the roof still visible.

That's one of your cars?

PETERSON: It's a '91 Cavalier.

COOPER: From the outside, the house doesn't look too bad.

So are there stairs there?

PETERSON: Yeah, there are stairs under here.

COOPER: But inside is another story.

PETERSON: The kid's bedrooms and bathrooms are all down the hall. I mean, you know, down -- that was ground level.

COOPER: The two lower levels of the house are under water, the garage, her office, and three bedrooms. Mold is already visible on the ceiling. Susan looks for her four cats, but finds no sign of them.


COOPER: I mean, does it help to actually see it, or does it --

PETERSON: No. I think I probably would have been better just wait until somebody told me the water was down.

COOPER: So it's an original --


COOPER: After about 15 minutes inside, she decides to leave. She's not sure how to begin to rebuild. She'll come back later with her kids to search for the cats. For Susan and so many others here, the difficulty of the days ahead is all too clear.

It's overwhelming?

PETERSON: Yes. Thank you. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Well, anyone returning to a flooded home or staying put in one faces a set of potential hazards are -- that the most people don't ordinarily plan for might not know how to cope with, which is why we're glad to have the expertise from our next guest.

Dr. David Persse is the Houston Department of Health and Human Services Public Health attorney. He's also Houston EMS's Physician director.

Thanks for being with us. A lot of folks, I mean, just like Susan are returning to their homes. There's water in it, they're already seeing mold which -- that's a lot of people. What are the potential hazards? What should people do?

DAVID PERSSE, HOUSTON PUBLIC HEALTH AUTHORITY: Well, there's lots of potential hazards. One thing we worry about is what's in the water or maybe what's not in the water, for instance, if there's a missing manhole cover. So, I always worry people walking through water if they don't know where they're about to step.

COOPER: Even if the seems shallow, you're saying there may be --


COOPER: -- if there's may be a drainage ditch that's open but you can't see it from the surface.

PERSSE: That's right. If the water is -- you know, if it's just a couple feet deep, the servers could be real still, but there could be a tremendous water, especially if there's a drainage port there, a tremendous force of water that could suck you in.

COOPER: It was interesting just canoeing with her, it seemed really calm then all the sudden, we were in this current and got pushed into the bushes.

PERSSE: Yes. There's a lot of dangers in that water that the people can't see. And those are just the physical dangers, much less the chemicals and that organisms that we worry about.

COOPER: So inside a house, I mean, mold. We were talking before, there's a lot of different kinds of mold.

PERSSE: Right, right.

COOPER: So what do people do?

PERSSE: Well, there's lots of different kinds of mold, but you can't tell the good mold from the not bad mold and there's nothing -- there's no such thing as a good mold, right?

COOPER: Right.

PERSSE: There's not bad and there's bad mold. And you can't identify. So if they get back to their homes, everything that's wet, you just got to get rid of it or if -- I mean, if there's documents and photographs, you can try and save them. But carpeting, bedding, that sorts of things, all needs to go.

COOPER: Dry wall.

PERSSE: Dry wall.


PERSSE: And we always -- wherever the water line is, you take the dry wall at least a foot higher. You just get it all out of there. And then as best as you as can, try and dry everything, fans, (inaudible), you can get try to dry. That will minimize the mold development.

You have to clean it too, right? So the first you do is clean it with soap and water, just get the mud and all the mark out of it. And after that, you want to go over it with bleach solution.

Now, if it looks like it's a clean surface, you can go with one part of bleach to five gallons of water, at least, nothing more to lose than that.

But if you see mold, it needs to be at least one cup of bleach to one gallon or stronger. But, you know, there's -- you know, people may all have a couple of gallons and they want to make it stretch, and so that's the minimum concentration.

COOPER: For -- I mean, obviously, the longer the water stays in a house, the more difficult it is to deal with it afterwards.

PERSSE: Right. And as you saw on this piece, I mean -- so this one was going on of her house for a week and she already had mold as well, and so it doesn't take long for the mold to develop.

COOPER: And that was just from the rain that came in through the roof.

[20:35:01] PURSSE: That's right. So I fear that a lot of these homes had water in them for days, there's going to be a lot of getting rid of the mold, not just cleaning.

COOPER: Wow. And just in terms of, you know, sort of -- some people try to live in the house even if there's water on the first floor because there's still electricity in a lot of places. They're trying to live on the second floor. Is that a wise idea?

PURSSE: I really strongly recommend against it. Now, housing is an issue here. But these are -- your homes are really dirty, and there's all kinds of -- so you've got power in the house that still has water in it, I mean, everybody knows that's dangerous.

So I really strongly recommend people to get some alternative housing. You know, the city has programs to help people with that. But staying in a house -- especially a house that still has water in it, really not a good idea.

COOPER: David Pursse, you're kind of busy here. I really appreciate it, Dr. Thank you. We're going to have much more on Hurricane Harvey when we come back. But first, there's news out of Washington, D.C., CNN has learned that special counsel Robert Mueller now has a key piece of evidence that gives an idea why President Trump really fired his FBI director. Find out that, next.


COOPER: We're going to come back to Hurricane Harvey shortly tonight. We also have two big stories out of Washington, D.C., that we wanted to get to.

[20:40:02] First, there's new reporting tonight from "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" that special counsel Robert Mueller has an early draft of the letter President Trump wrote with aide Stephen Miller that lays out why the president wanted to fire then FBI Director James Comey.

Now, according to the "Times", the White House Counsel cautioned against sending that version of the letter because the contents could be "problematic."

Also tonight, one of President Trump's longest serving aides Keith Schiller is reportedly leaving the White House. CNN broke that news today after serving as Mr. Trump's right hand man for two decades, Schiller is leaving, reportedly, due to financial reason.

So, one CNN source did say that Schiller was frustrated with new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's organizational structure was restricted his access to the president.

I want to break all this down now with Dana Bash, David Gergen, and Professor Jonathan Turley.

So, Dana, multiple reports first on this draft letter tonight, how much does this ratchet up questions about the special counsel investigation, the extent to which the White House could have some explaining to do?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm not sure how much it ratchets it up, but I think for those of us who aren't on the inside, it gives a little bit more of a window into what the special counsel is working on, which is a big danger zone for this White House and for this president. Because the notion of getting this letter, the content of this letter suggests that the inquiry is, at least in part, looking at obstruction of justice.

The reasons for firing James Comey, what were the president's bases for it, and the idea that this letter was written, which clearly the White House Counsel, according to this report and CNN has confirmed it as you said, was not comfortable with the kind of apparently the rambling explanation that the president and Stephen Miller initially had put forward, which clearly suggested maybe in a more -- in a too honest of a way that it was about the Russia investigation.

COOPER: And Professor Turley, I mean, the caveat is obviously we have not seen this letter. Maggie Haberman of the "The New York Times" says it was described to her as a "screed." A screed that included complains pertaining to the Russia case. From a legal perspective, I'm wondering, do you think this is a big deal?

JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, it could be. This type of evidence is a contemporary record and it appears to be an unlawyered draft.

So, it comes with a certain degree of credibility, authenticity because of when and how it was created. It was remarkably in cautious. You know, you shouldn't be looking for catharsis by sending off this type of missive to a guy you just fired.

And I'm sure the White House Counsel was dead set against it, as has been reported. There's issues of privilege, there's issues of simply being in cautious. But it may be valuable. It may also exonerate the president.

You know, the account indicates that he talks a lot about Comey's mistakes during the Clinton e-mail investigation and it appears to be one reference to the Russia investigation. Those types of motivations are not going to make for a strong obstruction case.

COOPER: Right. And David, I mean, the other thing is -- I mean if this draft letter contradicts the president's actual termination letter of James Comey, say nothing of what the president told Lester Holt on NBC about the Russia case playing a role in the Comey's firing, that would be another sort of angle to this.


Listen, we need to be cautious. We don't know really what's in the letter. We shouldn't over interpret it. But it does raise questions about whether Mueller will find it helpful if he wants to build a case about obstruction of justice that there are revelations in here that he hasn't had before about what the president's true intent was, and the president's obsession with Comey and why he wants to shut it down.

And if that's the case, I think it could be -- as I say, it could be -- it could have weight to a case against the president. But Professor Turley is right, it's possible it could exonerate. We have to -- I think we have to wait and see. But you would think that the White House Counsel, having objected to the letter, wouldn't destroy it. I don't understand why.

TURLEY: Well, that's the interesting thing, right, is that -- this is the first we've heard from the White House Counsel. It's like getting a radio signal from unoccupied space. Until now, we haven't seen any evidence of lawyering or a lawyer's presence in these early days. It does appear that the White House Counsel reached a point where he drew a line.

BASH: But remember --

COOPER: And Dana, I mean -- BASH: And to add to that --

COOPER: Go ahead.

BASH: CNN reported -- we reported a month and a half ago or so that this special counsel's office was very clear in a notice to the White House Counsel that they must not destroy anything, that they must keep everything and turn everything over, which a standard operating procedure. You know, that that's standard operating procedure, you know, and perhaps at that time, you know, it was too late to destroy it.

[20:45:07] TURLEY: But it would also violate federal law --

BASH: Exactly. Or Don McGahn is doing what he is supposed to do, which is not destroy documents that are done at the White House. You're not supposed to do that. So, you know, let's be glad that he didn't destroy it.

COOPER: Dana, I mean, it is the first time we've heard Stephen Miller's name mentioned in, you know, as part of any kind of Russia investigation.

BASH: It is. And I think that this really does give again another window into more of the politics and the personnel and the disagreements that we reported, some of real time when Comey was fired.

And this suggests that Stephen Miller, who was with the president in Bedminster at his retreat there, his resort there the weekend that he decided to fire Comey, was on the side of firing him along with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump whereas others, we know, were very much against it. And there was a big clash. We know who won out, the Stephen Miller and Jared Kushner way.

But the fact that he was there and he was involved is not great news for Stephen Miller, because it means that he hasn't already gotten a lawyer, he's going to have to get one now and he's probably going to be asked to come to the committees on Capitol Hill, in addition to appear before the Special Counsel's Office.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, Professor Turley, he could very easily be subpoenaed, correct?

TURLEY: He can. That issue was litigated during the Clinton impeachment. I actually litigated that with Ken Starr. I was representing former attorneys general at the time. But these privilege issues went to court, and the Clinton White House lost. Bruce Lindsay, an attorney who argued attorney-client privilege laws. But they lost across the board, even with a secret service agent.

So yes, he can be forced into a grand jury. One of the benefits of the president bringing in private counsel is that they may have a privilege that government counsel would not.

COOPER: Dana, you know, one of the other news item, the president's long time buddy man Keith Schiller who worked for the Trump Organization before going to work at White House, is reportedly telling people he's leaving the administration for financial reasons. The White House denies this, by the way. But I mean if it's true, you know, it's another departure of a close aide at a time where the president said to be more and more isolated, surrounded by people who, you know, are kind of new to him.

BASH: That is exactly right. And that's why when we at CNN heard this and got the information and reported it, we thought it was significant. This isn't just that your typical director of White House operations, this is somebody who has been by the president's side for decades. It's his bodyguard at the private sector and certainly on the campaign and now in the White House and has become a very close confidant.

And you nailed it, Anderson. The idea at this point in time of someone like Keith Schiller potentially leaving the president's side at this point in time when the channels of communications the president has are very limited because that is what the White House Chief of Staff is trying to do to try to make some order in a chaotic atmosphere, may not be so good for the president's psyche at this time.

COOPER: You know, President Trump is going to be traveling back to Texas tomorrow and he's going to visit Houston, which obviously he didn't do Tuesday because operations were still, you know, in the thick of things, as well as Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The president is going to meet with storm survivors and volunteers. And there's a lot of questions about President Trump's promise to donate $1 million to Hurricane relief today.

Today, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn't answer whether the money would actually come from the president personally or from his foundation. That foundation has come under scrutiny before amid allegations that he often didn't follow through on promises donations or the money was really came other people's foundations to his foundations.

Sanders said the president has also not decided which charities will get the money if in fact the money is donated from the theoretical donation.

I mean, Dana, again to you, this is a continuation of something that has been reported on a lot, you know, David Fahrenthold and others have done a lot of reporting on the charities that Donald Trump has given to over the years, and sort of how that money often seems to come from other people's foundations going to the Donald Trump Foundation, that's then forwarded on.

BASH: That's right. The White House said today that this was a pledge and didn't have many answers about where the money would come from. And because of that reporting, there's a history and that it provides a roadmap for reporters to follow. And certainly, you can bet that everybody is going to be on it to see when and if the president does pledge that million dollars. [20:50:02] You know, hopefully it will happen and it will happen soon and it will be noncontroversial because the people down there sure could use it.

COOPER: Dana Bash, David Gergen, Jonathan Turley, thanks very much.

When we come back, a lot more to report, an update on how many millions of dollars, J.J. Watt's of fundraiser has now raised. Plus, what one celebrity chef is doing to recruit friends and colleagues to feed hurricane evacuees.


COOPER: Breaking news in the fundraising effort for Harvey relief. Michael Dell founder of the Dell computer announced a new effort called the Rebuild Texas Fund, he pledged $36 million toward it, $36 million.

Mr. Dell and his wife issued a statement saying the money will come from their foundation. Of course, countless volunteers have stepped up to help survivors to recover from the devastation. Among them, Houston, Texas defensive end, J.J. Watt who launched an online fundraiser. He was going for $200,000 when he launched it, the response has been overwhelming.

I spoke to him last night, his fund -- when I talked to him last night, his fund had raised just more than $12 million, 24 hours later, and now the number is up to nearly $16 million. Incredible.

Last night I spoke to J.J. Watt about what he's doing.


COOPER: First of all, when you see a neighborhood like this, what goes through your mind?

J.J. WATT, DEFENSIVE END, HOUSTON TEXANS: Devastating. I mean I think that's the only word that can describe when you drive through the city and when you see the floods, when you see the pictures on T.V. it was happening, devastating is the only word that you can use. But I think inspiring is the next word that comes to mind.

COOPER: Because of what you're seeing the neighbors doing.

WATT: Yes, exactly. You see the neighbors, you see the police, when you see the firemen, you see the helicopters, you see what humanity from doing, everybody comes together in a time like this and that's the most inspiring part of it all.

COOPER: So, do you have a goal now in mind or is it just open-ended?

WATT: My first days is what I'm doing this weekend, my teammates and I have, we have semi-trucks rolling in from out of town that we filled up.

[20:55:02] We have about nine semi-trucks are going to coming in town and we have those all filled with stocks, supplies, water, food, clothing, everything. So, we're going to give that out this weekend. That's our first step.

And then I want to regroup after this weekend because, obviously, like I said, I was planning for 200,000 and now with a new plan for multi, multi-millions. I'm going to make sure I get with the people that learned from Katrina so that I can I make sure I do it right. Because with these people trust me with their money, I want to make sure that I don't do it hastily. I want to do it exactly the right way.

COOPER: Did you ever think you would see a response like this? I mean, you always wonder what would happen if I lived through something like this. Do you ever think you would see people come together like this?

WATT: I hope so. But to see it coming to a reality is a whole different ball game and it's so sweet to watch, it's so beautiful to watch. You see lines of volunteers where you're like is that a line for the food or is that a line and then all of a sudden it's a line of volunteers. And I think it's so special when you have that many people wanting to help and that many people willing to give what they can.


COOPER: And by the way, I was squatting down during that interview which is why I look to tiny standing next to him. Sadly, that's not the case. I was actually trying to look as tall as possible but he is huge.

I want you to meet Jose Andres. He's one of the great chefs of the world. He started a great nonprofit called World Central Kitchen. I worked with him in Haiti. He has responded to a lot of disasters in a lot of different places.

I'm wondering, Jose, what, A, would brought you down here this time and what you've seen.

JOSE ANDRES, CELEBRITY CHEF HELPING HOUSTON: Well, I'm one more guy that when you watch on it T.V. what's -- what's happening, especially when you know what is about to happen, that you are -- your body is telling you, I have to get ready, I have to go down to help. And I've seen is every single person in Houston ready to help. And especially my fellow cooks, my fellow chefs.

COOPER: Well, that is so interesting because people help in whatever ways they can. Some people it's in a boat. I mean you are one of the world's great chefs, for you, you know food and so that's what you're focused on.

ANDRES: It's great stories, like this guy, Edward Dela Garza (ph), he's food and beverage director at the convention center. He's one guy that nobody knows but he's one in charge of feeding the over 10,000 people that arrived at the convention center.

COOPER: Every single day. ANDRES: Every single day. Or for example, this restaurant we have it here in Houston reef where his wife and the chef Bryan Casswell, they closed the restaurant and they are doing thousands of meals every day. Calling every single chef to help, every single food company to help and donate. And in talking to Red Cross in -- where do we need help, who needs to be fed and start reacting to any problem that they may happen.

COOPER: A lot of people don't think about the food needs. And not because -- it's not just the immediate food needs but it's, you know, there is people who are still leaving their homes because they've tried to ride it out and now the water is still there and it's going to be there maybe for days or weeks.

ANDRES: So there you have great stories. One of the stories that America is not very aware is -- I'm fascinated with, is the Southern Baptist Church. They have like 17 chapters. And these men and women ready to feed people after an earthquake, or any issue that may happen, a hurricane in this case.

COOPER: And we're not talking about just a little feeding kits. We're taking about massive.

ANDRES: Ten, 20, 25,000 people a day. Today, they are behind the convention center under the highway. And you see there men and women retired and many of them 70 and 80-year-old, working 12 hours a day feeding everybody in need. Every time there is a hurricane, Southern Baptist Church is there. This is a story that needs to be told because those are the real heroes sometimes of these events and America needs to be aware.

COOPER: You know, you and I were in Haiti recently for story, you worked there, again, focusing on food and women's health issues. How do you -- and I don't like to compare one disaster to another, but what you've seen here, how does this compare to others you've seen.

ANDRES: I've been in two hurricanes already in Haiti. And here in the states I've been part of Sandy and now watching what's happening here, is kind of very different, for obvious reasons. Red Cross work with program, they work unbelievably well overseas, I think, America should be very proud of the help they give overseas.

But in America, I think we are learning. We remember what happened in Katrina, the superdome compared to what's happening here in the Convention Center. I would say the Convention Center is being handled very well.

COOPER: Right,

ANDRES: You see a lot of organizations, you see police, you see doctors, you see food. So I think the learning curve is there but, obviously, there's always room for growth and for learning. So next time something like this happens, we are ready to be, for example, feeding everybody in the right way, et cetera, et cetera.

COOPER: I know you've had a long day and a lot of kitchens. ANDRES: More to cook tomorrow.

COOPER: More to cook tomorrow. Jose, thank you.

ANDRES: Thank you very much. God bless you.

COOPER: Breaking news at the top of the hour here in Houston, where floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey may have peaked but new dimensions of the disaster are still coming into view, the others are exploding back to life.

Late today, the Arkema Chemical Plant in Crosby was rocked again. You see the fire is there, what began as flooding became a power outage, cooling equipment shut down, tons of hazardous chemicals heated up and then erupted and flamed.

Thankfully, the fire is die down. Company officials warned new explosions are all but certain. We're going to have more on this story shortly.