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Senate Intel Staff Questions Trump Jr. for 5 Hours; American Stranded in Turks And Caicos As Irma Moves In; Zoo Miami Preparing to Protect Animals from Irma. Aired 3:30-4p ET
Aired September 7, 2017 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We're going to get back to our breaking hurricane coverage in just a moment, including a new track on its path to Florida. First, though, a remarkable day in Washington, as the president held a joint news conference with a world leader, his eldest son underwent questioning by staffers from the -- from a Senate committee and this is a session that lasted for five hours. The focus was his June 2016 meeting with Russian operatives at Trump Tower and we now have Donald Junior's statement to the panel.
I'm going to quote the part explaining why he decided to attend this meeting, which promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Quote, to the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out. Depending on what if any information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.
I have with me now CNN political director David Chalian and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, he used to be special assistant to Robert Mueller, who is now leading the Russia investigation. OK, David, so, when you're looking at what has come out of this meeting between Don Junior and congressional staff, this was something, right, that committee members were privy to but it was the staff that was conducting the interview. What really stands out to you?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: First and foremost, what stands out is Donald Trump Jr. has just made clear that this whole notion that the meeting was about adoptions, which is what we initially heard from the Trump team when this was first reported, that there was this meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower, that is so out the window. That was just completely not true. This clearly, as Don Junior made clear today, before the staff, this was about trying to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The other thing, Brianna, is that you recall at the time when this meeting became known and public, a couple months ago, everybody on the Trump team, including the president himself, said, this is a meeting anyone would have taken in politics. You always take meetings to get research on your opponent. Republicans and Democrats alike, as you know from campaigns you've covered, they said, that's not true.
KEILAR: You vet them. CHALIAN: Right. And Donald Trump Jr. apparently had an initial
concern, conflict, suspicion, lining up to talk to counsel afterwards as you just read in that quote to vet this material, so clearly there were questions in his mind about this meeting.
[15:35:00] It is not as simple as just a meeting anybody would have taken.
KEILAR: And why not maybe talk to counsel ahead of time, too? I think some people would ask that question. Michael Zeldin, any legal concerns arising from what we're hearing coming out of this briefing that Donald Junior gave staff members of this committee?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. As I read the statement, and then I see the CNN reporting on what was alleged to have taken place during the meeting, a couple things strike me. First is, the statement has a lot of, "I don't recalls," in it, which is very lawyerly to protect your client should he have a different story at a future date. He could say, oh, yes, now I remember. So, there's some covering his legal behind in this statement.
I also think that it's problematic to me that what he doesn't recall in this is whether his father participated in the writing of the initial statement, which turned out to be untruthful, whether or not there were documents that were left for him at the meeting, which are significant, and what, if anything, he told his father after the meeting. He said he didn't do it. It's hard to really reconcile that with the way Trump runs his business and his political affairs. So, I think there's a lot of -- a lot in here that will make Mueller worried about whether or not he has a truthful witness in front of him who is cooperating or whether he's got somebody who has to be looked at for false statements.
KEILAR: And David, the more believable the I do not recalls would be if he's actually recalling things from the meeting. That was a year ago. But when it comes to this issue of what was the White House involvement in the response, I mean, that was not long ago at all. Does that create problems here?
CHALIAN: And it's probably like the largest PR crisis Donald Trump Jr. himself has ever faced so you think you might recall that. But I think what this really goes to the heart of, as we know, Bob Mueller is looking into a potential obstruction of justice case, and I think the key about building what is the truthful account of how the response was crafted when this meeting was becoming public, that is why Mueller's team wants to know that. I know he was before the Senate today, but the key being Mueller's investigation. That's why they want to know that. They want to be able to see if there's a credible obstruction of justice case to be built in some way and this is an important piece of evidence, potentially, towards that.
KEILAR: Michael, is there another way for investigators to figure out the involvement of the White House, or is Don Junior really the only one who can help answer that question?
ZELDIN: Well, there is a grand jury that can subpoena people to testify before it. We understand from the communications from the plane flying back from Germany, the Air Force One flight, that Hope Hicks and the president and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Kushner and Don Junior by phone were all involved in the crafting of the response to the meeting. And so, all these people are subject to examination in a grand jury, and they could set up contradictory testimony points among them. As well, I think the important thing here in terms of the possible obfuscation by Don Junior is he says, I love it. It was just a colloquial way of saying thank you, but I love it is followed by, especially later in the summer.
So that's not a colloquial way of saying thank you. That's especially important because it relates to the distribution of information and you have to remember that Don Junior has this meeting, then thereafter his father says, you should expect dirt on Hillary Clinton, which is the hacked emails, so these things are important to line up next to each other and right now, for me, they don't line up in a coherent and truthful manner.
KEILAR: All right, Michael, David, thank you to both of you.
I want to go back to our breaking coverage of Hurricane Irma. Distressing images from damage in the Virgin Islands. It's becoming a cautionary tale for those who are in Irma's immediate path. The eye of this extremely dangerous hurricane is now moving closer to Turks and Caicos, that island's main airport has only one terminal which makes it nearly impossible for tourists to find last-minute flights and evacuate. Joining me now on the phone is one of those American tourists who is stranded on the main island. Niki Paris is from Atlanta. Tell us where you are right now, what the storm is like so far.
[15:40:00] NIKI PARIS, AMERICAN TOURIST STRANDED ON TURKS AND CAICOS: OK. We are -- I'm with my friend Donna Smith and we are at a hotel called Seven Stars. We're looking outside and it is wild out there. It's been raining. The trees are blowing. The hotel, I think, has done a really good job. We're actually staying in a villa but when this happened, we tried to get out of Turks and Caicos and we could not get out. We were at the airport yesterday for eight hours trying to get a flight anywhere. But could not get a flight, Delta did not send any other flights in and that was who our carrier was so we couldn't get out, so we got a room at a place called the Seven Stars.
They're doing a great job and making us feel as safe as they can. They've got mattresses in the hallways and water. They're feeding us, you know, we're in a room right now, but they've said that when it hits, we have to get out of the room, then it's best for us to go into the hallways and just stay there. So, you know, they're doing a great job, but it's scary.
KEILAR: It just so happens I've stayed at that hotel in Turks and Caicos and you are rather lucky because it is multiple stories and it's sturdy so you have that advantage. But you said you were in a villa, right? There's a lot of lower-lying areas and that's probably the concern that you, even from that hotel, there -- you will be able to see a lot of folks, a lot of buildings that are lower that are damaged, right?
KEILAR: Right. I agree. And we were told we could stay in the villa. We chose not to and I'm glad we didn't because once we finished at the airport, trying to get out and couldn't, we've been back to the villa to get some things and they had moved -- they had taken all the mattresses off the beds, it was up against the windows, the furniture was turned over. They had put the furniture from the outside into the pool, which is what I understand now that they do just to try to keep it and they basically, I mean, everybody was gone. So, I am so glad that we decided to not stay there. Because as scary as this is, I feel like this hotel is really taking really good care of us.
KEILAR: All right, well, we are thinking of you, Niki Paris there in Turks and Caicos as you're taking cover from Hurricane Irma. We'll be checking back in with you as you go through this to see how things are going. Thanks for talking to us. Really in the middle of this.
Next, we're going to be back live in Florida, millions there are preparing for a potential direct hit from Hurricane Irma.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SCOTT, GOVERNOR, FLORIDA: Every Florida family must prepare to evacuate. Regardless of the coast you live on. We do not know exactly where this storm is going.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Plus, I'll be speaking live with the head of a zoo in Miami. We have pictures that show what happened to the animals as they rode out Hurricane Andrew in 1992. He's going to explain to us how they're preparing now.
[15:45:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KEILAR: All right, we're back now to our coverage of Hurricane Irma. In south Florida, Miami-Dade County is under a hurricane watch right now. Rosa Flores joining me from Miami Beach where Irma has prompted a mandatory evacuation. So, Rosa, set the scene for us there. Are people heeding this evacuation order?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, we are seeing the signs that people are heeding the evacuation order, Brianna. We are, for example, noticing that there are long lines at gas stations. According to Florida highway patrol, they're seeing people heading towards north Florida. It's the only way to get out of the southern area of Florida, but as you mentioned, this area has more evacuations that have been issued. Now there's 650,000 people just in Miami-Dade under an evacuation order. That includes zones A, B, and portions of C. I'm standing on a barrier island.
This is one of the islands that's under evacuation. The island to my right is also under evacuation. And it includes a lot of the coastal areas. So, while we're seeing the signs that people are evacuating, officials here still trying to get the word out, letting people know that they must evacuate if they are under an evacuation order because Irma is big, Irma is a beast, and Irma is not going to have mercy on anyone.
KEILAR: But it's really fascinating, Rosa, because there are, not in a good way, in a bad way, that there are some people who are just on those islands, the barrier islands like the one that you're on, and they're not going. They say that they've been riding out storms for years. They're going to ride out this one. But according to officials, this is a different story than before, right?
FLORES: They are letting people know that Irma is wider than the state of Florida.
[15:50:00] That just gives you an idea of the scope, the intensity, just how big this storm is. Now, as you mentioned, I've talked to people who have been running along this path, walking, even playing on the beach, and some of them say, look, we're going to take a last dip and then we're going to evacuate. But others are not. I've talked to multiple people who say, I'm going to stay home. I'm going to ride the storm. I feel prepared. I'm going to be fine. And some say, well, I hope I'm going to be fine, because I don't plan to leave. That, not the smart thing to do according to city officials here. They are saying, you got to get out. And you got to get out now -- Brianna.
KEILAR: It looks beautiful behind you now, Rosa, but we know it is not going to be. We appreciate the report. Rosa Flores.
The last time that a Category 5 hurricane hit Zoo Miami there were storks by the toilets and trailers next to the Rhinos, jaw dropping images show how upside-down life at the zoo became after the Hurricane Andrew in 1992. With Irma, stronger and bigger moving toward Miami, what is the zoo doing today? The man to answer is joining me live now. Ron McGill is the communication's director for Zoo Miami. So, Ron, tell us how are you preparing for this? How are you planning to protect the animals from Irma?
RON MCGILL, COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR, ZOO MIAMI: Well, Brianna, not a whole lot has changed. Since '92 we went through Wilma and Katrina which gave us damage. Andrew came through the center of the zoo. It devastated the facility. This isn't our first rodeo. We've gotten anything that could be a projectile. The cans, signs have been taken out. Slowly but surely, we moved some animals. Most of the animals are being kept in their normal night quarters.
The dangerous animals, lions, tigers, the great apes they will sleep in the normal night houses. They have proven that they have sustained the power of hurricanes previously and that's where they're going to stay again. There are smaller animals, mammals, birds that are being captured up in their normal exhibits and placed in smaller enclosures within certified buildings here in the zoo. No animals are being evacuated from the zoo.
Flooding is not a concern here at the zoo. And the wind is something that we hope to protect them with from the structures we have here. The hurricanes can change direction quickly and you might be evacuating into the path of the storm. And also, the stress of moving an animal from a familiar area, sometimes is much more dangerous than the than the hurricane.
KEILAR: How are you staffing this? I'm assuming you have some staffers who are going to stay there at the zoo, around the clock, how have those decisions been made?
MCGILL: Well, I'll tell you what, people that work in the zoo for the money, that's a fact. They love the animals, they work with. They love the message trying to get across to people. They are going to be staff staying here throughout the storm. They're going to be hunkered down here in the administration building. The veterinarian will be here. Animal science staff will be here as well as security rangers will be here throughout the night. We have radio communication with everybody. Staff throughout their homes. Everybody has been working all day today, all day tomorrow, and we will be in here also on Saturday to do the last animal moves because we want to move an animal at late as possible because we want them to be an unfamiliar areas short of time as possible. The last major moves will be moving the flamingos on Saturday.
KEILAR: We're looking at pictures that you provided from 1992 during Hurricane Andrew just to give us an idea what have you're going to be doing to ride out the storm at Zoo Miami. Ron McGill, thank you so much.
Big airlines are now capping prices to help people get out of Irma's path. The move is coming after reports of possible gouging got a lot of attention on social media. One Twitter user posted a screen grab of a Delta fare from Miami, the price had jumped from $547 to more than $3,000. And she later tweeted that she called Delta and they had helped her out tremendously. The major airlines are now slashing prices, Delta says it won't charge more than $399 from flights out of Florida or the Caribbean, and that includes first class tickets.
American Airlines has main cabin seats for $99 one way. JetBlue offering fares between 99 and $159. And we have Seth Kaplan with us, managing partner at Airline Weekly. This was getting a lot of attention that you saw some of the tickets that were $159 on Monday to over $1,000 on Tuesday. The question was, there may be price gauging, maybe it's not, but now we see airlines responding.
SETH KAPLAN, MANAGING PARTNER, AIRLINE WEEKLY: And it's a tough question, Brianna, when you're talking about airlines. Where this is that line between supply and demand economics and gauging?
[15:55:00] With a gas station, everybody knows if all of sudden they're charging $8 for gas, that's what's called gouging. Airlines always price airline tickets differently depending on demand and obviously in this situation, there's a whole lot of it. Certainly, distasteful. That's very clear that people reacted badly to seeing even if it was just that one last seat, even if all the seats were gone, you know, had they been as cheap as airlines now made them. It's like people would have preferred to see a sold-out flight and say I missed it than see that $3000 seat. KEILAR: You mentioned to me in the commercial break that airlines reduced the numbers of seats because this is post Labor Day. So, were heading into the off season and you would have seen fewer flights than you would have even seen last week, but they're doing some things to remedy that?
KAPLAN: Yes, almost, you know, almost a metaphorical perfect storm in that regards to go along with the real one. Airlines always do this. Labor Day weekend last weekend, they had more seats scheduled, Yes, going into that weekend than they did late this week. Normally everybody's back in school, it's not holiday weekend. Not as many people want to travel. They are just kind of matching supply with demand like they always do, Now, they're scrambling to do what they can put bigger planes in. But In the end, there are far more people that want to travel than there
are seats. And a lot of people are not going to get out, at least not by air.
KEILAR: What is air travel going to look like in terms of cancellations?
KAPLAN: Oh, it's going to be a mess. Just last, I checked here before we went on the air, you know, so far, 750 cancellations Friday in the U.S., that according to Flight Aware. So far, just 500 and something on Saturday. But that is almost certainly going to skyrocket here. If you look back to Harvey, that ended up being 11,000 cancellations, just directly related to the storm and thousands of others then who were sort of second order effect. It's going to be a mess to one degree or another. You have to hope it's not a direct hit. And that it's only an economic hit. It's going to cost the airlines a lot of money. Going to cost all kinds of businesses a lot of money. But hopefully not cost many lives.
KEILAR: We know you're from Miami, we know your family is dealing with this trying to get out of the area. So, we are thinking of you and of them as you go through this.
KAPLAN: Thank you so much, Brianna.
KEILAR: Not just a work story for you, it's very personal. Seth, thank you so much. We appreciate it.
Next, all eyes are on Florida. What other parts of the United States could be in Irma's path? We'll have the latest tracking models straight ahead.