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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo; Donald Trump Jr. Faces Senate; Irma Targets Florida; New Forecast Puts Millions In Line for Direct Hit by Monster Storm; Trump Junior Doesn't Recall Details of White House Response to Meeting with Russians; Mueller Team Wants to Interview White House Staff About Response to Trump Junior's Meeting with Russians. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired September 7, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hundreds of thousands of people have been ordered to flee. Millions more are being told right now to be ready to evacuate.
Long lines. The looming disaster is leaving Florida short of critical supplies, with food and water nearly impossible to find in some areas. But officials say the most urgent need right now is fuel. Can Florida get enough gas to get everyone to safety?
And no recall. Donald Trump Jr. answers questions from Senate investigators about Russia, but he says he doesn't remember details of White House involvement in a misleading statement about his meeting with the Russian lawyer. Now CNN is learning the special counsel wants to know more.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, troubling forecast for Irma. The record hurricane ravaging the Caribbean and taking direct aim at Florida.
A new forecast shows the killer storm increasingly likely to strike the metro Miami area. A widespread evacuation is under way in parts of the state and the governor, Rick Scott, says residents should be prepared to flee no matter which coast they live on.
But the effort to get out is creating a fuel shortage that has left officials scrambling to get more gas into the state before more evacuations are ordered. People in parts of Georgia and South Carolina also have been told to leave ahead of the storm.
Irma is blamed for at least six deaths in the Caribbean and right now it is battering the Turks and Caicos islands, with the Bahamas next in line ahead of Florida. Hardest hit, the island of Barbuda, which the prime minister describes as barely inhabitable right now. We are covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including top FEMA official Katie Fox, and the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini.
And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.
BLITZER: With an enormous evacuation under way, Florida's fuel supplies are running dangerously low. And officials are scrambling to get more gas.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Miguel Marquez. He's in Miami for us.
Miguel, the governor terrorist of Florida, Rick Scott, says more evacuation orders are now certain.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, more evacuations and more need for gas than ever. This is just one line here in South Miami, an enormous line. Two police officers helping out getting people in as fast as possible.
It takes about an hour in this particular line. One person rocking their truck back and forth in the hopes that they can just to get a little more fuel in. People now in Miami making the hard decision, do they hunker down or get out?
MARQUEZ (voice-over): Tonight, Florida bracing. Irma ripped through several Caribbean islands overnight, the storm sustaining winds over 185 miles per hour for days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roof is about to come. Yes, there it is.
MARQUEZ: Gusting up to 220 miles per hour, leaving widespread damage throughout the region. In Puerto Rico tonight, more a million people are without power.
The eye of the hurricane nearly wiped out all buildings on the small island of Barbuda, its prime minister saying roughly 95 percent of buildings damaged.
GASTON BROWNE, PRIME MINISTER OF BARBUDA: I have never seen any such destruction on a per capita basis compared to what I saw in Barbuda this afternoon.
MARQUEZ: Late today, Irma's core moved over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, wind and heavy rainfall lashing the islands, leaving behind flash flooding and mudslides.
Across Florida tonight, residents bracing for a direct hit, the storm on track to make landfall early Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane.
The Florida Keys, already under a mandatory evacuation notice, could begin to feel the effects of the storm as early as Friday night.
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This is a catastrophic storm that our state has never seen.
MARQUEZ: Over 31,000 people have already left the Keys and mandatory evacuations have now been ordered across southern and eastern Florida counties, including heavily populated Miami-Dade and Broward. Two nuclear power plants in the storm's path will be shut down until the storm passes.
SCOTT: The size of the storm, it is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast.
MARQUEZ: Some in Florida stocking up on food and water, while others packing up and heading out, gas lines stretching for blocks. And as more and more stations are running low on fuel, tonight, traffic on I- 95, the main thoroughfare out of the state, is backed up for miles.
SCOTT: Do not believe you can ride this storm out. You can rebuild your home. You can get your possessions again. You cannot rebuild your life or your family.
MARQUEZ: Now, the governor of Florida taking the extraordinary measure to have police escorts for tankers to get gas to stations like this and even police escorts to get employees out of stations like this, so they can stay working as long as possible and get every drop of gasoline into gas tanks here so that people can head north -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a situation unfolding. All right, Miguel, thank you, Miguel Marquez in Miami.
Right now, Irma is impacting Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world.
CNN's Paula Newton is on the scene for us over there.
Paula, Haiti is extremely vulnerable to this kind of disaster.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, probably more so than any other country or island.
The good thing is, Wolf, they are only getting the back end of the storm, not a direct hit. Officials saying, look, we could have not have taken a direct hit. We are not prepared for the storm right now or the aftermath.
Well, if you see the torrential rain behind me, that is what they're concerned about. We had seen certainly some chaos already in the streets around us, as you get that flash flooding. The problem with the flash flooding is it can be especially dangerous here with those mudslides.
On top of that, the last we heard, 100,000 people still at risk in the low-lying areas. They were unable to convince most of them to leave. Wolf, they are still there, vulnerable to even a six- or seven-foot storm surge and that is still yet to come here.
As I said, Wolf, Haiti praying for some luck here. And they seem to have got it. But we have several hours to go and we won't know the impact, especially from the towns and villages around here, for several hours, perhaps even days yet.
BLITZER: Good luck to all the people in Haiti. All right, Paula, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this.
FEMA's acting director administrator, Katie Fox, is joining us.
Katie, thanks so much for joining us. I know how incredibly busy you are.
But based on the latest forecast, where in Florida do you expect this hurricane to hit the hardest?
KATHLEEN FOX, ACTING DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: You know, you were hearing from your meteorologist earlier.
There is convergence on models. But this is really an incredibly dangerous storm. What we are urging people to do is follow the advice of the local officials. The governor has been very clear about evacuation orders and following those orders. And so we just urge people to do exactly what the local officials are saying.
BLITZER: What are the biggest threats, Katie, to life as this hurricane bears down on Florida?
FOX: This is an incredibly dangerous storm with potentially catastrophic effects.
We are concerned about life safety, getting people out of harm's way. We want people to have emergency supplies at the ready, ideally three days of food and water, any medications that they take. And then download the FEMA app, get emergency weather alerts, so you can keep up to date on the most current information.
BLITZER: No storm on record, as you know, Katie, has maintained winds above 185 miles per hour for as long as Irma. How do you prepare when a hurricane is this intense?
FOX: As you said, this is a really intense storm. We are concerned about wind. We are concerned about surge and then the rainfall that will follow from it.
And so what FEMA is doing is we have people on the ground in Florida with the emergency managers there and really along the Eastern Seaboard. And we have staged a massive amount of commodities near Florida, and then again along the Eastern Seaboard. We are being prepared for anything that may happen.
BLITZER: Hurricane Harvey's devastation in Texas and Louisiana was the level of the rain and the flooding that developed. How is Hurricane Irma going to be different?
FOX: Each storm is different.
Harvey was remarkable in the amount of rainfall that it dumped over consecutive days, set records there, certainly. And Irma is setting records in terms of its intensity, different effects and different concerns for each storm. The good news is, is that people can take similar protective measures, following the guidelines of those local officials.
If you are told to evacuate, do not delay. That is incredibly important. Don't put yourself and family in harm's way. The rescuers, our search-and-rescue teams and the state search-and-rescue teams can't get to you until after the storm passes.
BLITZER: Yes, good advice.
Some resources, as you know, and first-responders who were deployed for Hurricane Harvey in Texas are now heading to Florida. Does FEMA have the resources it needs to respond to these two historic storms back-to-back?
FOX: We do.
We are pulling out all the stops. We have got a full team in the operation in Texas. And we are fully ready to go for Florida and anything else that may follow. We have got an incredible team here. And thank those search-and-rescue personnel and really all the volunteers who jumped in and helped during Harvey and then are at the ready again for any effects of Irma. Those folks are incredible.
BLITZER: Earlier today, an official at the federal government's Office of Management and Budget told CNN that FEMA only has enough funds to get through Saturday. Is that still the case?
FOX: You know, FEMA, the administration is working with folks on Capitol Hill to make sure that we have the resources we need. We are concerned about life safety and people taking preparedness measures.
That's our number one focus.
BLITZER: The House speaker, Paul Ryan, says that FEMA funding is running out sooner because a lot of people are applying for relief and getting approved quickly over their smartphones.
Based on what you know, and you are the acting deputy administrator of FEMA, is that true?
FOX: That is absolutely true.
We are seeing a huge surge in registrations for our mobile app. That is disasterassistance.gov. If you find yourself affected by the storm, that is the place to go. You can get to it through the FEMA app. So, that's a pretty easy place to keep track of it.
And we are approving and getting assistance out just as quickly as we can.
BLITZER: Before I let you go, what is your bottom-line advice right now to people in the path of Hurricane Irma?
FOX: Follow the advice of your local officials. You may not have to go far to get out of harm's way. And so follow that advice to make sure that you know the safest place to go.
BLITZER: Good advice.
Katie Fox at FEMA, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to all the men and women who are working with you. And I know you are working with many other agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Navy, among others, to deal with this crisis. Thanks very much for joining us. Thanks for what you are doing.
FOX: Thank you.
BLITZER: More on the breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma coming up. Millions of people are now in the path of this killer storm. Will Miami take the brunt?
Plus, we will get an update on the islands being battered right now by this monster Category 5 hurricane.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, Hurricane Irma now forecast to batter South Florida, with the metro Miami area possibly taking the brunt of this record-setting storm.
Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida is joining us on the phone right now. His district stretches from the Keys up to Miami- Dade County.
Congressman, first of all, what is the status of the evacuations in your district?
REP. CARLOS CURBELO (R), FLORIDA: Wolf, good evening from Miami.
We have had a beautiful late summer afternoon here. No hint of the massive weather system that is moving our way, yet everyone is very nervous and very anxious as they continue seeing those models on your air and on every other channel.
The mandatory evacuation orders are in effect for all of the Florida Keys. If you live in the Florida Keys, you should leave the Florida Keys. Law enforcement is being evacuated out of the Florida Keys. If something happens to you there, it is likely no one will be able to help you.
Large portions of Miami-Dade County, those obviously near the coast, are also under mandatory evacuation orders, and we strongly encourage everyone to follow these orders that are being issued by local governments.
It is not against the law to violate a mandatory evacuation order, but it can put your life at risk. So, Wolf, this is very scary. I was 12 years old during Hurricane Andrew. Thankfully, I lived in a part of town that didn't get hit hard. But a large part of my district, Homestead, Florida, a city, and Kendall bore the brunt of that storm, and the devastation was historic in nature. This could be worse.
BLITZER: That is what everybody is suggesting.
When will the window, Congressman, be closed for evacuations? When is it too late?
CURBELO: Well, we expect to have tropical-storm-forced winds here in Miami-Dade County and the Keys by noon on Saturday.
So, really, tomorrow is the last day, perhaps Saturday morning early, if people want to leave at 6:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m. But after 8:00 a.m., I would say you are taking a very serious risk getting out on the road. If your car breaks down, if something happens, you are going to be in a very precarious situation.
So, we certainly advise everyone to try to leave the area if they plan on doing so by tomorrow night.
BLITZER: Yes, we are seeing -- showing some live pictures from the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, the Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale Airport. Planes are stacking up there as well. People are trying to get out of South Florida as quickly as possible.
CURBELO: I will say, Wolf, I have never had so many friends, family members, people who I know leave town.
Usually, people hunker down. They put up their shutters and they feel very comfortable in their homes. But we have never stared down, at least not in very many years, a storm of this nature.
We just celebrated the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew a couple weeks ago. A lot of people who live here in South Florida were not around at the time. We are an immigrant-rich community. We have people from all over the world here.
And I just hope that those who have never had this experience are taking it as seriously as a lot of my friends and family members who have decided to leave town. If you are staying here, make sure you take all the precautions necessary, because I think everyone's life is at risk if we get a direct hit from Irma.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right.
Congressman Carlos Curbelo, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to you and your family, all of your friends, everybody in Florida, for that matter. We will stay on top of the breaking news. Thanks for joining us.
CURBELO: Thank you so much, Wolf.
BLITZER: We have much more coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
The latest forecast for Hurricane Irma puts millions of people at risk. We are going to show you where this catastrophic storm is headed.
And Florida is bracing for impact. Mandatory evacuations are under way. But many aren't waiting to be ordered out, as fuel shortages clearly slow the exodus.
BLITZER: We're breaking news tonight. Hurricane Irma on track to strike Florida this weekend, prompting a dire warning from the state's governor that everyone should be prepared to evacuate, regardless of where they live.
[18:31:03] Our CNN meteorologist, Tom Sater, is tracking the storm for us. Tom, we're getting a better sense of the threat to South Florida right now.
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: That's right, Wolf. It continues the trajectory exactly what the computer models have hinted at for the last several days, even into last week. We've lost five miles per hour in strength, but you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
We're getting close to 60 hours straight at a Category 5. There's only been one other that's ever lasted longer in the Atlantic. So it's just amazing.
Pretty good clip, 16 miles per hour. That's going to keep the rain totals down. And we've seen that even back in Puerto Rico although, you know, almost a million people lost power. It's a different kind of electrical infrastructure there. It may take months before they're all back to power.
But now it's to Turks and Caicos that are looking at 15 to 20-foot storm surge. The warnings are in effect, and they now include all of the Bahama islands, a little bit of the northern coast of Cuba.
But this is brand-new today, and everyone needs to know this. This is a hurricane watch. This is a very big deal. It is the next stage. It says more than just watch out, it's coming. This is going to become a warning as the days progress. We're 2 1/2 days out. The warnings most likely will extend northward on each coastline and
up in towards the Carolina coast, because that's still a possibility of a landfall. Although we did see another shift, not to the east like yesterday by 60 or 70 miles but to the west back another 15 or 20.
So again, we're going to see this the next couple of model runs. But again, it's really -- you've got to understand how well the models have handled this from day one. Both of these -- all these models kind of meet up in Savannah.
I want to take you back, of course, to Andrew. This came in from a different trajectory. We're coming up from the south. So a small part of the real estate of southern Florida was hit by this, although it was devastating. I mean, there's no doubt when you look at the economic losses, over $26 billion. And of course, 65 fatalities.
But when you have a system, Wolf, as you know, coming up from the due south across the entire Florida Peninsula and into the southeast, millions and millions more will be effected. Unfortunately, Miami is in the worst possible location with this kind of track. Hopefully, we'll see some movement, but no one wins in any way, shape or form if it goes east or west.
BLITZER: Yes. The Miami area has, what, almost 6 million people if you add the whole area. Twenty million people in all of Florida. So there is great, great potential for disaster. Tom, I know you're getting more information. Stand by.
I want to get the latest on the ground in Florida right now. CNN's Brian Todd is out in Palm Beach near President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. Brian, no evacuation order there yet, we're told. But residents are on notice to be prepared to evacuate.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Those evacuation orders are going to be mandatory within hours. At 10 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow, mandatory evacuations for Palm Beach right behind me.
This area could get five to ten feet of storm surge. That means this barrier island could be inundated, including as you mentioned, Mar-a- Lago.
This comes as residents throughout South Florida are getting just a harrowing preview of what they could be facing from those images they're seeing from the Caribbean.
TODD (voice-over): This is the kind of devastation that has hit the Caribbean and could be headed directly into Florida. Flooded roads and buildings in Antigua. Cars and boats ruined in St. Barts. Trees torn apart in St. Thomas. The destruction seen from the air extending for miles across St. Martin.
Barbuda took a direct hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom cried, and my brother wake me up. I was frightened. I didn't know this was going to happen to me.
TODD: Ninety-five percent of buildings are estimated damaged or destroyed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house crumbled. Some people totally lost like me. I am -- I am homeless.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roof is about to come. Yes, there it is.
TODD: Hurricane Irma has maintained 185 mile-per-hour winds for longer than any hurricane in reported history. Almost 16 million people are in the potential path of the storm.
Puerto Rico suffered high winds and flooding, leaving a million without power and 56,000 without water. The storm churning near Santo Domingo and Turks and Caicos with the Bahamas and Cuba up next.
[18:35:09] Tonight, Florida officials urgently warning citizens statewide to get ready.
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: This storm has a potential to catastrophically devastate our state. And you have to -- you have to take this seriously.
TODD: Some interstates seeing heavy traffic as mandatory evacuation orders now cover the Keys, low-lying parts of southern Florida.
MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ (R), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY: I cannot stress this enough. Don't wait to evacuate.
TODD: Gas has become scarce in some places. Around 40 percent of gas stations in Miami-Dade County are out of gas, according to Gas Buddy. Some fuel trucks now getting police escorts. And to get sand bags, the line was two hours long at a location near Orlando.
Flights and cruises are being cancelled, and at least one Miami hospital has started evacuating patients.
Even the winter White House, Donald Trump's treasured Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, whose stucco walls have weathered countless storms since it was built in 1927, could be in the path of the unpredictable storm.
SCOTT: This is a catastrophic storm that our state has never seen. Remember, it's already killed many people in the Caribbean.
TODD: And between the mandatory evacuation orders for Palm Beach behind me and the voluntary evacuation recommendation for West Palm Beach where I'm standing, that's going to cover about 260,000 people.
Wolf, I just got off the phone with an official from Palm Beach County. They are, of course, especially concerned with elderly people. There's a high concentration of them here in Palm Beach County, of course. They want to make sure that people are either hunkered down properly, they get to shelters or they get out of the area. And they're saying that if they get to shelters, Wolf, they have to bring their caregivers with them, because there isn't the personnel to give them the special needs care that many of them are going to need when they're in those shelters -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. I'm really worried about all those elderly people. A lot of retirees are down there in Florida where you are. Brian Todd reporting. Thanks very much.
Let's get some more on Hurricane Irma. Joining us once again, the National Weather Service director, Louis Uccellini; and CNN contributor David Halstead, former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Louis, no storm on record, at least in recorded history, has maintained winds of 185 miles per hour for as long as Irma. So give us some perspective. And you've been in this business for a long time. How dangerous is the storm?
LOUIS UCCELLINI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE: This is an incredibly dangerous storm. Wind speed maximum being sustained over this period of time means that this storm is carrying a lot of energy with it, a lot of water on the ocean's surface. It could help that surge along. And it looks like it's sustaining its strength.
And the models are not only working their magic with respect to the track forecast, but it's also indicating that this intensity could be sustained even as it's making landfall.
So we absolutely need to pay attention. It is the most destructive storm that in -- will hit Florida since Andrew, and people have to be prepared.
BLITZER: Yes, Andrew back in 1992, 25 years ago.
You know, David, lot of Floridians haven't experienced a hurricane of this strength. A lot of people have moved to Florida over these past 25 years. So how do you address that concern?
DAVID HALSTEAD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I look at the numbers we have so far on evacuees, Wolf, and to be honest, I'm very pleased. The numbers are up. People are heeding the governor's warning.
And the National Hurricane Center, Louis and his team, are doing an outstanding job of painting this picture for people. And I think that's all it takes. People take a look at the size of the storm, the intensity of the storm, and they're trying to move out of the way.
But as you said, it's been 25 years since Hurricane Andrew. It's been 12 years since Hurricane Wilma, which hit Broward and Miami County last.
So sometimes there is a little bit of hurricane amnesia about when should I leave, how serious should I take the storm? In this particular case, though, I've got to say, I think Floridians are stepping up to the plate and they're moving when they should move. BLITZER: You know, David, we're showing pictures of Andrew from 25
years ago and Irma right now. And I don't know if you can see it. But look at the size of Andrew and look at the size of Irma. We're talking about a much, much bigger, much more powerful storm. Right?
HALSTEAD: Well, when I went down to Hurricane Andrew as a responder and met with Dave Paulison, who later became the FEMA administrator, we talked about Andrew almost being an oversized tornado versus a hurricane, because it was so compact; it tightened up so quickly and moved inland.
As you can see -- and I'm sure Louis's going to talk about -- I mean, the size of this storm now, Irma, is -- is unbelievable. Can't even, I don't even think can be compared to Andrew. This is a catastrophic storm all onto its own.
BLITZER: Louis, it's what, Irma is the size of Texas right now. The outer winds and especially the center. This is -- this is something that we've never seen before.
[18:40:06] UCCELLINI: This is why we're emphasizing to people just don't focus on the track of the storm and where the center might be. The size of this storm and the effects of the winds extend 100 miles on either side of the eye as it's approaching Florida. So this has the potential of providing a large -- destruction over a large area, even as it moves up along the east coast of Florida.
BLITZER: Louis Uccellini and David Halstead, guys, we'll get back to you. Thank you very much.
Just ahead we'll have much more on our breaking news. The latest forecast is now in. We're tracking the path of Hurricane Irma. Millions of people right now at risk. So where is this catastrophic storm heading?
[18:45:28] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Breaking news tonight: deadly Hurricane Irma racing towards Florida and right now battering the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Dr. Virginia Clerveaux is director of disaster management there and she's on the phone with us.
Dr. Clerveaux, thanks so much for joining us.
Irma is the strongest hurricane on record to move over the Turks and Caicos. What are the conditions like where you are now?
DR. VIRGINIA CLERVEAUX, DIRECTOR OF DISASTER MANAGEMENT, TURKS AND CAICOS (via telephone): That is correct. We are currently experiencing hurricane force winds through the Turks and Caicos Islands. As you are aware, we are mostly island. That's been a currently experience event. Winds have really picked up very strong at the moment. BLITZER: Is it just the beginning? Are you expecting a whole lot
worse over the next few hours?
CLERVEAUX: Yes. The winds will likely intensify in the next few hours and it will last into tonight and early tomorrow morning.
BLITZER: What preparations have you made on your island?
CLERVEAUX: We had initial issued an evacuation order for two of our islands, smaller islands to evacuate, and we activated our national emergency operation center in Providenciales and island operation emergency centers were also activated. Shelters have been opened from yesterday, 5:00 p.m. in anticipation that we might get some flooding and inundation, persons may wish to evacuate early.
BLITZER: What do you see as the biggest dangers facing the islanders where you are, the Turks and Caicos, as this hurricane is getting ready to hit?
CLERVEAUX: Given the predictive level of storm surge, we can expect some inundation inland because we are coastal. And the beaches, we are expecting some storm surge along those coast lines.
BLITZER: When you see the devastation that occurred in Barbuda, not too far away, are you worried that it could be the same situation in the Turks and Caicos?
CLERVEAUX: I am hoping that it will be far less than we were seeing in Barbuda.
BLITZER: Because that was awful, that entire island almost completely destroyed. We're showing viewers some pictures.
Well, good luck to you, Dr. Virginia Clerveaux. Good luck to all the people in the Turks and Caicos. Thanks very much for joining us.
CLERVEAUX: No problem.
BLITZER: There's more breaking news we're following, including a troubling new forecast for Florida as Hurricane Irma races towards that state now taking aim at the Miami area.
Plus, Donald Trump Jr. talks to Senate investigators about his meeting with a group of Russians and now, we are learning the special counsel Robert Mueller wants to know more about what the White House knew.
[18:52:49] BLITZER: Our breaking news coverage of Hurricane Irma and the growing threat to Florida continues just a few moments. But there is also breaking news in the Russia investigation.
Our justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is working the story for us.
Jessica, Donald Trump Jr. was interviewed by staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee for more than five hours.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And it was a highly anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill, Wolf.
The questioning centered around that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Donald Trump Jr. maintained his innocence that his insistence that nothing came out of the meeting, but also added a few more details that senators say left more questions than answers.
DONALD TRUMP, JR., PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: Well, it's great to be here and I --
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, Donald Trump Jr.'s more than five hour-long face to face with the Senate Judiciary Committee left some senators unsatisfied.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: His appearance today raised as many questions as it answered.
SCHNEIDER: Sources tell CNN Trump Jr. insisted to the committee that he did not tell his father about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. The controversial gathering also included brother-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as a Russian lawyer and a few others. Trump Jr. said he took the meeting because he was intrigued by the offer of damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
His opening statement said: 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.
TRUMP JR.: I'm an American.
SCHNEIDER: Sources tell CNN Trump Jr. also told the committee today that he didn't recall the White House's involvement in his written response after the meeting became public this summer. That statement omitted that the meeting was about opposition research on Hillary Clinton, and the White House has since admitted the president weighed in and offered suggestions.
Trump Jr. admitted he knew there could be legal questions about accepting such information, saying, depending on what if any information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether give it further consideration.
But when the president's oldest son first disclosed the meeting in mid-July, he gave no indication he was concerned about any fallout.
TRUMP JR.: This is pre like Russia fever. This is pre-Russia mania. I don't even think my sirens, you know, went up or the antennas went up.
[18:55:01] SCHNEIDER: President Trump similarly said the meeting was nothing out of the ordinary. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think from a
practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting. It's called opposition research or even research into your opponent.
SCHNEIDER: Don Jr.'s appearance on Capitol Hill coincides with Facebook's disclosure that it sold about $100,000 worth of advertising to fake accounts likely operated out of Russia during the election. Most of the ads didn't mention either candidate and centered on divisive issues like immigration, race, and gun rights.
And while Facebook did not describing the ads, CNN has told the Russian accounts controlling the advertising urged users to like certain political groups which prompted political messages to flood Facebook newsfeeds.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I think it really raises a series of questions, though, about a number of social media firms and we've got to talk to Twitter as well.
SCHNEIDER: And Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement after that sit- down with the Senate Judiciary Committee. In it, he said he answered every question and he trusts that this interview fully satisfied their inquiry. But senators have already signaled it doesn't. They want Donald Trump Jr. back in a public session and top Democrat Dianne Feinstein has already said she's prepared to issue a subpoena if he doesn't come back voluntarily -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Pretty extraordinary developments, I've got to say.
All right. Jessica, thanks very much. Jessica Schneider reporting tonight.
CNN also learned that special counsel Robert Mueller's team wants to interview White House staffers about the misleading statement issued regarding Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russians over at the Trump Tower in New York City last year, during the campaign.
Our justice correspondent Pamela Brown is working this part of the story for us.
So, Pamela, what are you hearing from your sources?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have learned, Wolf, that Robert Mueller, special counsel, has reached out to the White House, his team has reached out, seeking interviews with White House staffers that were aboard Air Force One with the president when that initial misleading statement was crafted earlier in the summer about the purpose of that meeting at Trump Tower.
As you will recall, that initial statement said that the meeting was about adoptions and then it later came out that it really, the purpose of it initially, was to receive incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. And, so, Robert Mueller wants to interview some of the aides that were aboard Air Force One who may have played a role in the crafting of that statement. Our sources tell us that the president did weigh in.
But right now, the focus is on those aides and not interviewing the president, and we're told that just a handful of aides, a small number of aides at this point that Robert Mueller has asked to interview as part of the probe. And what he wants to find out is who knew what when. The circumstances surrounding the response to the Trump Tower meeting as part of the obstruction of justice probe is part of the broader probe, and whether anyone willingly withheld information, concealed information because as we know, the initial statement was not fully forthcoming.
It is also interesting to note, here, Wolf, that some of the White House staffers have had to hire lawyers as a result of being swept up in the Russia probe.
BLITZER: Who's going to pay for those lawyers? That's not cheep to hire a Washington lawyer in this particular -- I remember during the Clinton administration, some staffers had to hire lawyers and they spent thousands and thousands of dollars out of their own pockets.
BROWN: Right. It could be six digits. And so, I'm told that the White House has been trying to figure that out. Of course, the White House can't pay for it. White House counsel can't represent the staffers in a situation like this.
So, the White House is working with the Office of Government Ethics trying to figure out a way to help fund, bring in perhaps outside sources to fund these legal bills for these staffers who are caught up in the probe.
BLITZER: This is all part of the bigger investigation that Mueller and his team are undertaking to see if there was obstruction of justice.
BROWN: That's right. And so, we know that Mueller's investigators are divvied up into different groups. And so, he has a group that's specifically dedicated to investigating obstruction of justice, when it comes to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. And as well as the drafting of the statement on Air Force One. Again, it's not illegal to mislead the public, but it could go to intent, whether information was purposely left out of the statement in order to conceal information during the obstruction of justice probe.
BLITZER: Is this going to go on for months and months and months? Do you have any idea at all? I know your team have been working hard investigating all of this, how much longer this investigation that Mueller is engaged in will continue?
BROWN: So, it's interesting. Ty Cobb, the White House counsel, has said he thinks it will wrap up soon. What I'm told, through my sources, is that it could wrap up in increments. In other words, as I have mentioned, they have different groups looking at different parts of the investigation. So, perhaps they could wrap up the obstruction of justice bit.
But there are other investigations going on, looking at Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, looking at Michael Flynn, former national security adviser. So, there is really no idea of when Mueller will finish everything. And that could probably take a while. We keep hearing a year, perhaps two years this could be going on for.
BLITZER: Yes, these special investigations, they could go on and on and on.
BLITZER: Pamela Brown, good reporting. Thanks very much.
BROWN: Thank you.
BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.
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