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NEW DAY SATURDAY

Trump To Visit Storm Victims In Texas, Louisiana Today; Hurricane Survivors Return Home, Survey Damage; The Biggest Health Risks From Harvey's Floods; Irma Churning Toward Caribbean As Category 2 Storm; Evacuations Ordered As Fire Threatens Homes; Sources: Longtime Trump Aide Intends To Leave White House; NYT: Mueller Has Draft Of Trump Letter Firing Comey; Trump Administration Seeks $7.85B For Disaster Relief. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired September 2, 2017 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:00]

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DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): -- as internal investigators look into the startling incident. Dan Simon, CNN, Salt Lake City.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the staples are out. A lot of isles are empty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president and First Lady Melania Trump are poised to get a firsthand look at the devastation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband sleeps in the truck. I sleep on the tailgate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not only is the water contaminated, it is highly contaminated.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We will continue to coordinate with them and bring all of the relief and the comfort and everything else that we absolutely can to the gulf coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has new details about the real reason President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a serious obstruction of justice investigation going on against the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will be fully transparent with this investigation and frankly, I don't have anything to add beyond that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of this as the president weighs whether to bring to an end the deferred action for childhood arrival or DACA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually don't think he should do that.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We love the dreamers. We love everybody.

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VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Saturday morning to you. Thank you for being with us. The next hour, President Trump and the first lady will head to Texas and Louisiana. It's their second trip to the region one week since Harvey slammed into the gulf coast. Now the waters there are starting to recede but we know this morning that the death toll has risen.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: The president and the first lady are leaving the White House as we said in just about an hour. Their first stop is meeting victims and survivors of Harvey at an airfield on the out skirts of Houston.

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MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: I just want to tell them to be strong and everything will be OK.

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BLACKWELL: The president's promise of quick government response could be coming soon. The White House is requesting almost $8 billion in disaster aid. That is a couple of billion more than initially suggested. A vote on the aid money has been scheduled for late next week in the house.

PAUL: And some other political news here, "The New York Times" reporting Special Counsel Robert Mueller has new details about the reason President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.

The "Times" reporting the Justice Department handed over a letter drafted to Comey, but never sent in which the president explains his rational for the firing. The White House Council reportedly thought the letter dictated by the president to a top aide was, quote, "problematic." Is this the new information that is pointing to where the investigation is heading at this point?

BLACKWELL: Plus, the futures of about 800,000 young undocumented immigrants had to be decided by the president next week. His decision on DREAMERS and the DACA Program coming on Tuesday and he is not giving any hints about the direction he is leaning.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do DREAMERS be worried?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We love the dreamers. We love everybody.

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PAUL: All right. We are going to get to all of that, but we do want to tell what is happening with Harvey and the aftermath there in Texas this morning. As Victor said, the death toll is at 50 now and Texas officials have ordered mandatory evacuations yet again in areas where the water is still rising.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Stephanie Elam is live at a shelter outside of Houston. Stephanie, good morning to you. Give us an idea, are the numbers of people in the shelters dropping or are some people going home, going to other places or are we seeing an increase there?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Right now, we are seeing the numbers go down at this center. We are at the Energy Center here in Houston and if you look behind me right now, Victor and Christi, you could see that there are people lined up.

That's because there are three shifts for volunteers and one of them is at 7:00 a.m. and that is where we are right here in our time zone. These folks are showing up. They have signed up online to come and help out as they can for the people who are here in the shelter.

We know that more than 4,000 people have come to the shelter since it opened Tuesday night. Right now, they say there is just over 1,600 people who are here, but what they've said has been really heartwarming, are the number of people who have shown up to offer up time to work with the people here.

And there is a lot that they are doing with the folks that have been displaced and found themselves here. They have FEMA help and the ability to go online and see -- start to look at that paperwork that is ahead of them to figure out what their next moves are.

They are taking care of people, keeping families together including their pets and a kid zone as well. All of that happening here within this building that is large enough they could accommodate 10,000 people here.

But the numbers are going down as some people have been able to go home. They found out homes were -- fared OK. Some people going with friends and family, but still they are seeing some other shelters around the area close down because they were maybe businesses or other locations, schools that now are consolidating some of the people moving here.

[08:05:04] But it is a heartwarming sign to see the turnout of people who are willing to volunteer. But they are very, very clear that the next steps are going to be cleaning out a lot of these homes as the water recedes.

And they are still going to need a lot of manpower especially as people are starting to go back to work. A lot of these volunteers are students and folks who are not working this week. So, they are just reminding people here in the Houston area that your help will still be needed moving forward.

PAUL: No doubt about it. Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

And you know, as floodwaters are receding in some places, but health officials are warning this storm is leaving some major health risks behind.

BLACKWELL: Infectious diseases, mold also a threat. CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, looks at the biggest threats.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We went out and tested these waters here in Houston and when we got the results back, they were shocking. Not only is the water contaminated, it is highly contaminated. Numbers that some experts have never seen in their experience.

Let's take a look at E. Coli. This is an indication of how much fecal contamination there is in the water and other bacteria as well. We took three samples in this one area of Houston. The first sample had 8,600 CFU's or colony forming units. The second one 3,700 and the third one, 6,300.

Now the lab that did this for us. A&B Labs in Houston they say that the EPA standard for recreational water is zero. You are not supposed to have any e-coli in recreational waters.

Now let's look at another total coliform, another indication of fecal bacteria and other kinds of contamination. The first sample, 57,000 CFUs, the second one 43,000, and the third one 45,000.

The EPA standard for recreational waters, less than 100. So, as you could tell, these numbers are stunningly high. The lab manager who was out testing with us, he said these numbers are huge.

His lab is a professional water testing lab. This is what they do for a living and he said they do this day in and day out. He's never seen numbers like this in water that are publicly accessible.

He is not just concerned about fecal bacteria. He is also concerned about (inaudible) that's the flesh-eating bacteria. He said that these numbers show that there could be a likelihood that that is also in this water.

So, what does this mean for the countless people who have been wading in this water? If they had a cut in their skin and it was big enough and didn't get cleaned out quickly enough, it could be a serious problem.

It could cause a serious skin infection that could actually be life- threatening. And that will be true even if the person were very healthy to begin with. Now another concern is if the water splashed into someone's mouth.

If you ingest this and you are healthy, you will probably get a round of diarrhea that you will get over. But if you are older and if you are weaker and if your immune system is compromised, it could be much more serious. Back to you.

PAUL: You just feel for these people.

BLACKWELL: Yes. And you know, people climbing out of windows, they get scrapes and cuts. So many people are probably in danger there. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

Let's now go to the White House. Jeremy Diamond is there. Wheels up is what time this morning, Jeremy?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that is in just under an hour. We expect President Donald Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, to head for Texas and Louisiana. The president and the first lady will be visiting Houston, Texas, where of course many parts of the city remain inform several feet of water.

The president there expected to meet with storm victims and first responders as well, and he'll be doing the same in Southwestern Louisiana. This is, of course, the president's second visit to the area since the storm made landfall.

But this will be it seems the first opportunity for the president to actually meet with many of these victims and to kind of demonstrate some of that presidential ability here that many people expect in the wake of these natural disasters.

Meeting with some of the victims, hearing their stories, expressing sorrow for their losses, of course. We did not see a lot of that during the president's first visit to the area.

All of this, though, coming just after the president yesterday, his administration sent a request to Congress for $7.85 billion in disaster relief aid. That is expected to be just the first in a series of requests that this administration is going to make of Congress.

To approve billions of dollars in aid for the recovery that are expected to stretch not just months but years into the future. We expect the House of Representatives to vote on that measure in the coming week.

BLACKWELL: All right, work starts on Tuesday. Jeremy Diamond, thanks so much.

PAUL: So, as we continue watching what happens with Harvey, believe it or not, there is a new storm that is formed in the Atlantic. It is Hurricane Irma.

CNN meteorologist, Allison Chinchar, has been watching it. And Allison, I know that the trajectory is in question but the strength of this thing is not.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And that is the key thing to notice is that this thing really is trying to hold its own. At one point, it has been a Category 3, started off Friday morning as a Category 3 then went back down to a two and then back up to a three. We are now back down to a two.

[08:10:07] But it is going through eye wall replacement cycle meaning it is trying to get into a good form and likely later today, it may end up getting back to a Category 3. But the long-term of this storm, actually shows it could get even stronger than that. Here is why. So, in the coming days, the track is actually going to push farther south, in doing so it is actually going to enter much warmer water. That will allow the storm to strengthen up to a category four, which is what the hurricane center expected, potentially even stronger than that.

Especially if it doesn't encounter anything atmospherically or even in the ocean that could hinder any further development. So again, certainly something that we will have to keep a very close eye on in the coming days with this storm especially, say, day seven to ten as it edges closer to the U.S.

But another story that we've been keeping a close eye are on the fires out west. Now right now across the western half of the U.S., we have 88 active large fires. This does not even include some of the smaller fires and we've had several around California.

That is the video that you are seeing here on the side of the screen. Unfortunately, for today we do have a lot of fire threat out for watches and even red flag warnings because not only dodo we expect winds to increase but the day time humidity is less than 20 percent, which is not what you want to hear when you already have fires in place.

Another factor that is not helping are the triple digit temperatures, excessive heat warnings and advisories up and down the west coast. And we're not just talking temperatures say five or six degrees above average, we're talking records.

Nearly two dozen cities have the potential to break records not just today but also tomorrow. Victor, Christi, again, take a look at some of these numbers. Sacramento, California, 111 for the high. That is 20 degrees above average.

San Francisco, also going to be awfully close to triple-digit temperatures, the by way, yesterday in San Francisco, they hit over their all-time record, it had been 103 and they hit 106 in San Francisco yesterday.

PAUL: My goodness. That is miserable. Allison Chinchar, thank you for the update.

BLACKWELL: Fire on the west coast. Flooding on the east coast. A lot going on.

All right. So, let's turn to this "New York Times" reporting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has details about why the president fired former FBI Director James Comey, a new draft of a letter. We'll talk about that.

PAUL: And a judge throws out the most serious charges in the Penn State hazing case. While the parents who lost their son in this case, they're speaking to CNN about this. You have to see the interview.

BLACKWELL: Dehydrated and starving, a mother waded through water after Hurricane Katrina with baby boys and now they are 12. She's comes face-to-face with the man she credited with saving her life, General Russell Honore. CNN was there for their reunion in Houston.

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[08:17:07]

BLACKWELL: All right. Some new reporting from the "New York Times," the special counsel investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election now has a draft of a letter explaining why President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.

PAUL: Yes. According to this report, Robert Mueller obtained the letter weeks ago and it says the White House Council did not use the president's letter publicly because its angry tone was, quote, "problematic."

Now the president would later admit on national television, yes, he was thinking about the quote, "Russia thing," when he fired Comey.

BLACKWELL: Meanwhile, sources tell CNN the long time Trump aide who hand delivered the official firing letter to FBI headquarters intends to leave the White House. Sources tell CNN that Keith Schiller, director of Oval Office Operations is leaving over financial reasons, but at least one source says the limited access to the president under Chief of Staff John Kelly is also a problem.

PAUL: And this is all happening as the fate of DREAMERS across the country is in jeopardy this morning. President Trump heavily considering scrapping DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That's an Obama-era program designed to protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation. People who were brought here as children.

BLACKWELL: Joining me now, Kelly Jane Torrance, deputy editor for the "Weekly Standard," and Tom LoBianco, CNN Politics reporter. Good morning.

So, Tom, let me start with you. I mean, we knew the president sat down with Lester Holt, that the Russia thing was on his mind when he decided to fire James Comey, but this is now tangible written evidence as described to the "New York Times" a screed about why the president was thinking about. This obviously is becoming a central element in this investigation of potential obstruction of justice.

TOM LOBIANCO, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Absolutely. I mean, remember, the chaos of this administration, especially at the beginning, pre- John Kelly really has consequences. And look at the -- on the one hand you had the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, working together with the newly appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to try to lay out one area where they were going to argue how they are going to handle this.

You know, the reason for firing, the Clinton e-mail handling, et cetera. All right, but then you had the president himself and apparently, Steven Mueller, according to this reporting here just really undercutting that. And you know, Don McGahn, the lawyer steps in and said, no, there is no way that is getting out there. But then Trump himself comes out a few days later after the firing and said yes, it was the Russia thing.

So, this really supports that argument and really undercuts his defenses here. It is a huge development and it really goes to show that, you know, remember we are -- some of the sources kind of put this way.

You know, a lot of times we're like the blind men touching an elephant. That is how -- we're getting little bits and pieces, but the more -- the further we go along, the more information we get, this -- they connect. They connect backwards and this supports the Russia thing, his statement.

[08:20:06] BLACKWELL: Well, Kelly, you remember that on the night there in the dark in the bushes there, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that there was no White House involvement, but this reporting shows that not only was there White House involvement, it was led by the White House and from the very top.

Now what does it -- let me ask the big question here, and we get into the minutia, but what does this mean really for the degree of confidence in the system, in Rosenstein and the FBI and the vice president that said this was led by the deputy AG when he was in the oval office and given a copy of the letter before Rosenstein was brought in.

KELLY JANE TORRANCE, DEPUTY EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Those are all excellent questions, Victor. And I have to say, "The New York Times" report, I think, you know, raises more questions than it answers and it feels to me a little bit.

Remember when you were a kid and you had a friend who say, I know something you don't know but wouldn't tell you what that was. I feel that way reading "The New York Times" report because it says, "The New York Times" did not see this letter.

It is relying on the testimony of those who did and it says it does not know how much of the letter laid out the rational -- it had to do Russia. So, there are still a lot of questions.

But it seems to me that if the White House had just stayed out of it, that Donald Trump might have gotten what he wanted, which was to fire Comey without having it possibly harm his presidency.

You know, if you read "The New York Times" reporting, that Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein were actually already looking into firing Comey for separate reasons. They were unhappy with his testimony about the Clinton e-mail scandal and when James Comey said that he felt mildly nauseous thinking that he might have actually affected the results.

But they were already doing that, but then the White House stepped in and they actually gave Rod Rosenstein the letter that Trump drafted with Steven Miller and Rod Rosenstein looked at that letter before finishing his own memo.

And so that is when the process gets very mixed up and very confused and that is when the president should not have been involved to his own benefit, but he just couldn't resist it.

BLACKWELL: I find it fascinating that even according to the "New York Times" reporting that Don McGahn told the president by firing James Comey you will not end the Russia investigation and he said I know that, but I feel like I have to do that any way. Maybe that will be part of their defense against any accusation of obstruction of justice.

Let me move on to DACA, Tom, this Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, about 800,000 students and people in the military, young people working who came here as children, undocumented migrants.

The president is making this announcement on Tuesday. A good question was asked during the briefing yesterday, what is the president considering between now and Tuesday that could lean him in one direction or the other and what we heard from the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. Let's play what he said in a radio interview back in his home state.

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REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (via telephone): I actually don't think he should do that. I believe this is something that Congress has to fix.

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BLACKWELL: So, this is a twist here. What is the impact of what we're hearing from the speaker on potentially the decision-making process over the next 72 hours?

LOBIANCO: Well, you are really hearing from the speaker of the House, attempting to slam on the brakes. You have to remember, what is happening. We're coming back to school. Summer break is over. It is Labor Day. Congress is coming back.

There is a ton of work that has to be done. Harvey hit and it just jammed up everything. There is so much that has to be done with Harvey on top of everything else they already had to do.

We are not getting the priorities from the White House, like, you know, Obamacare or tax reform or anything like that. We are talking about keeping the government running or increasing the debt ceiling, maintaining the debt extension, the ceiling.

And when you look at all of that, all right, then to throw into the mix, OK you will take on a hot button immigration issue, Ryan is really telling him here, hey, you know, maybe we will do that, maybe we won't. But let Congress start to take a crack at it and we can spread this out -- there are other more pressing issues.

BLACKWELL: Let me get in one more to Kelly, and the White House announced on Thursday that President Trump would be donating a million dollars to the Harvey relief effort. But listen to the difference on Thursday versus Friday of the source of that money. Watch.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm happy to tell that you he is -- would like to join in the efforts that a lot of people across this country have done and he is pledging a million dollars of personal money to the fund --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His personal money or money from --

SANDERS: I haven't had a chance to do that but I will.

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BLACKWELL: Thursday was personal money. Friday, she wasn't sure if it was personal money or money from the Trump Foundation. Ordinarily this wouldn't be controversial or a topic of discussion, but some Pulitzer Prize winning reporting is shown how the philanthropic efforts of the president have become problematic.

[08:25:02] TORRANCE: Exactly, Victor. You know, "Washington Post" reporter and CNN contributor, David Farenthold, has done some amazing work looking at what the Trump Foundation gave and where it got its money from and very little of the money of the Trump Foundation came from Donald Trump himself.

And a lot of the money that the foundation spent was spent on things like a portrait of Donald Trump is problem there and we don't not the foundation has actually broken the law with some of the things.

And I think that is an -- this should be an easy thing to answer, right. I mean, he goes on about he's a billionaire, worth billions of dollars, it should be easy for him to donate money to just say clearly, it is my personal money.

BLACKWELL: And then goes on to Sarah Huckabee Sanders and said if you have an idea of where I should donate the money, please speak up. One day calling the media the fake news and the next day asking them for advice. Kelly Jane Torrance, Tom Lobianco, thank you both.

PAUL: This is something, a reunion, 12 years in the making, General Russell Honore, the man who took charge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, remember this -- those were the twin boys he helped save. He is meeting them now. Their emotional reunion and yet another city that has just been devastated by the flood waters. This is a CNN exclusive. Do stay close.

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