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Search & Rescue Operations to Begin in Florida Keys; Irma Decimates Parts of the Florida Keys; Bannon: Comey Firing Biggest Political Mistake in Modern History. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired September 12, 2017 - 06:30   ET



[06:30:02] It could mean weeks.

Now, the White House has said that they're deploying the biggest army of power workers in the wake of this storm from all over the country, even from Canada. They were ready for this. They had prepared. They staged some 19,500 power workers to be ready to go when the storm hit.

We were actually at a staging area for Florida's biggest utility company, Florida Power and Light. You can see there, those are the bucket trucks that have been going out around the clock, working 24/7 to get Florida's power back on.

But we have to remember, it is not just Florida that is affected. As that storm moved north, more than 1.5 million customers in Alabama, in the Carolinas and in Georgia have also lost their power. So, it is a huge task to get everyone's power back on -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely, Alex. All right. Please keep an eye on all of that for us as the progress is slowly being made. Meanwhile, the U.S. military is coming in, of course, to help with rescue and recovery efforts in the Florida Keys. We have a live report on what they're doing, next.


CAMEROTA: So, this morning, it is impossible to know how many people could still be trapped in their homes because of Irma. So, search and rescue operations are set to begin in the Florida Keys. That's the place in the U.S. that is most cut off after Irma's fury.

An aircraft carrier and Navy ships are rushing to the scene to assess the damage.

[06:35:00] CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with more for us.

Barbara, what's the plan?


Just to show how uncertain the situation is, the Pentagon is saying it may have to help evacuate 10,000 people from the Florida Keys. Local authorities say they know of no such plan.

Right now, the carrier, Abraham Lincoln, is off the coast of Florida and its helicopters have begun missions. They are flying assessment missions. They're overlooking the whole area, trying to determine where the damage is and where the help may most be needed.

Right now, what they are trying to do is see if they can establish some small air fields, small airfields up and down the Keys in the most affected areas that they can use essentially as lily pads to run helicopters back and forth, bringing in supplies, bringing in help, everything from medical care to generators.

There are hundreds of additional military high water vehicles on standby, hundreds of generators that may be brought in since power is one of the most desperate needs there. All of this is being done in coordination with state and local officials. The military, of course, does not move into American communities unless they are asked for that help.

But there is plenty of help on standby and they are beginning to work this problem, flying those assessment missions, trying to determine from the air where the most significant damage is and where they need to direct help as quick as possible -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely, Barbara. I mean, those assessment missions are vital to finding out just what condition everyone is in. Thank you very much for that update.

So, Chris, we keep hearing that number of 10,000 people who may have to be evacuated. But that, I mean, correct me if I'm wrong, is a guess. Nobody knows how many people are still in the Keys.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I think you have to be right. And, you know we don't mean that derisively as if someone is not telling the truth. They just can't know.

Those missions that Barbara is talking about, we sent you guys some footage that you can roll in when you have it of the C130 landing in Marathon Key, OK? A little bit north, closer to Florida than we are we are now. We saw the choppers coming down at that airplane.

So, this is it. You know, Barbara says it's happening. We'll show it is actually happening. Those C-130s are huge, huge ships, right? And they can carry lots of heavy equipment. And that's exactly what they're unloading there yesterday.

The choppers as well. But Marathon is just one point. So, how do you get to points south more quickly? That's what they're trying to figure out.

But it has to be true that they can't know for sure because we are with their eyes and ears. Florida National Guard just got down here and started clearing the roads and doing it in brilliant and energetic fashion. The Task Force 2 from Florida, the first first responders to come down in any coordinated way and they just worked overnight. But this was their first time here. So, let's bring in Brigadier General Ralph Ribas of the Florida

National Guard.

And, sir, to this point, we can say with full confidence we salute your men and women who are down here on the ground. They've been doing yeoman's work. They've been working since they got here. They cleared the roads so quickly, allowing the first responders, the search and rescue guys we're with to get into areas that, look, are impassable to the untrained eye.

What do you know about the extent of the efforts so far?

BRIG. GEN. RALPH RABIS, FLORIDA NATIONAL GUARD (via telephone): Well, first, good morning and thank you for saying those kind words. You know, the pro-activeness of our governor, Governor Scott, in placing us on orders early on, before the storm came, allowed us to position much of the outfits that you're referring to in logistical areas that kept them safe and allowed us to employ them very quickly.

CUOMO: Yes, I don't -- I mean, look, it will be amazing. I know you have all kinds of protocols and rotations of labor to keep them going. But the pace, I know that there's urgency, especially at the onset because they don't know what they're dealing with. They want to get out. They want to get the roads cleared so they can do their initial assessments of sanctity of life and all the other boxes they have to check.

But, you know, I don't know how long they can keep up this pace. Nobody we've been with has slept. I'm the only person who has slept. I passed out in the car for a couple of hours. Everybody else, including our team, has been up.

How much manpower, how long can you sustain round-the-clock effort?

RIBAS: Well, we think we're postured to do it for as long as needed. The Florida Guard has over 8,000 soldiers and airmen activated.

We're very tied in to our interagency partners as you all have reported. The Navy is off the coast. And we're actually in constant communication with them. As we speak, we're working through the coordination efforts of bringing more of their assets into the Keys.

We've got -- just last night, we brought in 600 soldiers from Wisconsin National Guard, New Jersey and South Carolina will be coming into the state later on today.

[06:40:03] Our active duty partners have provided any assistance that we have requested.

So, sir, we're postured to continue to rotate units in as needed. But we're going to get the mission done for the assistance of our state.

CUOMO: Well, General, we're watching it firsthand. It's amazing. We saw that the rescuers, first responders have people who drove all the way from Los Angeles to help them. They came, started out staging days in advance and they're here now. And your men and women, again, we saw them just right before this broadcast.

So, General, be well and thank you, in advance, for all the efforts of your people. Let us know how we can be of assistance while we're down here.

RIBAS: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Let's bring in Chad Myers.

Chad, you know, you got the benefit of having us as crash test dummies for you with those 140-mile-an-hour gusts in Naples.


CUOMO: Well, now, we're here as why your eyes and ears on the ground. I have to tell you, this is a beast of a different nature. This truly is ground zero.

You know, I'm not a big fan of the hype, but you don't need it here. Just as the sun is coming up, I won't have Dave rotate it yet. It's really not enough light for the iris to grab, but this is called Big Pine for a reason.

Dave, is it worth panning to the right? Just so Chad can get t it will mean something to him.

You should see lots of tall tree-top foliage here. And it's gone. And the loss of the foliage is the least of the things. I have not seen homes who hollowed out like this and infrastructure destroyed like this in a long time, Chad.

What are they dealing with here? And what do you see going forward? Because we know that Irma is real and we understand that she has a friend that's following her in. I haven't been able to follow any of this with our team for the last 24 hours.

MYERS: Yes, of course, and that is Jose and that's on everyone's mind. I think Jose is a gutter ball at this point in time.

This weather is brought to you by Purina. Your pet, our passion.

What, so far, are we seeing or still are we seeing from the remnants of Irma? Still, a lot of rain across parts of the Ohio Valley, all the way back to Arkansas. But the wind is still blowing onshore into places like Jacksonville where major flood something still going on. Now, Charleston, the water has come down a little bit. So is Savannah.

But that wind is still blowing the water in and the rain was so significant, too. The water tried to get into the St. John's River and it couldn't go anywhere. The wind just kept blowing it in. So, it was flooding, it was flooding because of fresh water flooding and then salt water came pouring in again. Ft. Pierce, 15 inches of rain. Naples, 142, Marco Island, 140-mile-per-hour winds.

Those are the records here and it's going to be hot where you are, Chris. It's going to be hot all across south Florida. It could feel like 101 in Miami today. It's the muggy heat that always happens after a hurricane.

The air is falling. It's sinking, high pressure. Sunshine all day long. Sunshine.

What a mess out there. You need sun screen all day long. The sun will be so intense. It will be midsummer sunshine today. UV index all the way to 10 -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chad. Thank you very much for all of that forecasting.

So, obviously, Irma has eclipsed a lot of other news. But there are things happening in Washington. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon says that firing James Comey as FBI director was, quote, the worst mistake in modern politics. What does the White House think of his assessment?

Maggie Haberman is here next.



[06:47:08] CHARLIE ROSE, 60 MINUTES HOST: Someone said to me that you describe the firing of James Comey, you're a student of history, as the biggest mistake in political history?

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE STRATEGIST: That would be probably -- that probably be too bombastic even for me, but maybe modern political history.


CAMEROTA: Former White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon, not holding his tongue now that he's out of the White House. In an interview with "60 Minutes", he spoke quite candidly about the Trump administration.

Joining us now is CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, great to have you here.


CAMEROTA: So, do we know how President Trump feels about Steve Bannon criticizing so many things about the Trump administration?

HABERMAN: It's interesting, because the president is often so open to criticism. I'm sorry. I'm kidding.

On this particular issue, which is really dicey and complicated and which we know the president has lingering frustrations over the fact that the firing resulted in a special counsel, I don't think the president was thrilled by that particular bit. That particular bit, it's also worth noting it was not in the interview as it aired in "60 Minutes", which I still don't totally understand.

CAMEROTA: Wait, the Comey stuff, the worst moment in political history didn't air?

HABERMAN: It was an outtake online. It was introduced that way as a clip. I don't know how to explain it. But that was what was done.

So, for what the president saw, the president is not a big Internet surfer, by all accounts. So, what he would have actually seen on "60 Minutes" would not have included that. I think what he actually saw on "60 Minutes", he probably liked.

But I also think that it is important for this president to make clear to people that he liked it, even if he didn't. I don't think he wants to be in a fight with Steve Bannon.

CAMEROTA: Well, let's talk about that, because that does seem to be what's happening. I mean, if Steve Bannon is going to publicly criticize on national TV Jared Kushner, who, of course, is the president's son-in-law and top adviser, what does this -- I mean, does this signal some sort of bad blood which could then sort of spill into bad "Breitbart" coverage?

HABERMAN: Look, I don't think that there's any secret that Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon were not, you know, BFFs toward the end of that tenure, that Bannon had in the White House, I think even by March or April. They were not doing so while they had done well together during the transition and the early stages of the administration. They had a pretty clear break that never resolved.

And you are already seeing negative "Breitbart" coverage of Jared Kushner. I mean, on some days, if you go to the website, you can see all sorts of negative pieces about the president's son-in-law. And that happened before, too.

So, I don't know that this is going to make it much worse. I do think that Bannon is really, really adroit at using the media, even the mainstream media, that he rails against.

CAMEROTA: So is the president.

HABERMAN: Well, they're not dissimilar in many ways. They do have -- there's a reason they got along so well and there's a reason that the president liked having Bannon around personally. And they do have some similar characteristics.

CAMEROTA: I don't know.

[06:50:00] I just think it's interesting. If he starts criticizing from outside of the White House what's going on in the White House, that, you know, obviously, President Trump is going to only tolerate that for so long.

HABERMAN: No, I think that's right. And, look, I mean, the Comey piece, again, this is not some minor policy dispute that we're talking about. We're talking about an issue that is going to define this presidency in one way or another for a long time, if not forever.

And so, the idea that the former chief strategist is publicly criticizing it now, I cannot imagine it's going to be something that the president is going to be OK with for that long. But I think it will also depend on what more Steve Bannon says going forward.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, "The Wall Street Journal" has some reporting that President Trump's legal team felt that Jared Kushner, because of his meetings with Russians or whatever entanglements he may have had, should resign from the White House.

HABERMAN: That is true. It was true, you know, several months ago when this was all unfolding.

CAMEROTA: They're not denying it. Some of the lawyers are now denying that in their responses saying, we never said that. We didn't think --

HABERMAN: Well, Jim Dowd, on president's legal team, confirms it. And many of us had heard it, you know, in real time going back a while. So, it is true.

It's not the entire legal team. It is members of the legal team. And there was an interesting statement from Ty Cobb, who is now in the White House's counsel office dealing with these issues to "The Washington Post", where he basically said, you know, this is sort of, essentially a disgruntled former employee, the members of the team who are looking to, you know, harm the family for their own advantage.

He didn't name Marc Kasowitz, but I have to assume that is who he is speaking about because Marc Kasowitz had been the lead and no longer is.

CAMEROTA: But do Jared Kushner's interactions with Russians rise to the Paul Manafort, Jeff Sessions, the people who gotten into trouble for the interactions? Is Jared Kushner in that category?

HABERMAN: Look, well, first of all, we don't actually know whether something, if Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort are actually in trouble for those or what's being looked at is for other things that had been uncovered during this investigation.

CAMEROTA: Yes, and by trouble, by the way, I mean that we know about their interaction.

HABERMAN: Look, I don't think that it is bizarre that members of the president's legal team would be concerned that one of the people who is the closest to him in the White House has been a focus of some of the scrutiny and whether it's a good thing to go forward. I think it would have been some level of malpractice if that wasn't being looked at.

Obviously, it was not heeded. By all accounts, Jared Kushner is not planning on going anywhere. And that's been the case for a long time. But I don't think it's unusual that you would have this being looked at. CAMEROTA: OK. Maggie, great to have you.

HABERMAN: Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for reminding us that there other news happening, though, of course, all eyes on what's going on in the Keys, in Florida, with Irma. And that's where we find Chris. Chris is there in Big Pine Key with a look at the devastation as the sun is starting to come up -- Chris.

CUOMO: Yes, we're just miles away from ground zero as the rooster flies. That's where Irma came ashore. That's where the eye came. That's where the worst devastation is. We are in the middle of it.

You have seen nothing like what we're seeing here right now. And in fact, we're with the people who are informing the government exactly what the extent of the damage is. The closest thing that we can show you is what's happened in the Caribbean.

We have Polo Sandoval in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they got hit so hard by this storm. And, in fact, we have military men there, national guardsmen there, still evacuating Americans trying to get them to safety.

Polo, what's the latest?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, this unused terminal could potentially come back to life again, as we witnessed it the last few days. This is where many of the evacuees from neighboring islands have been brought to. Many of them Americans.

We have heard their truly incredible stories as they step into this terminal, first time they're in an air conditioned environment since the storm plowed through some of these neighboring islands, many of them stepping off these military aircraft. We've heard truly remarkable stories, many of them first-time visitors to the island. Others -- people just starting their lives together, including one newlywed couple, Francis and Dominique Vallier (ph), we spoke to yesterday. They were overcome by a sense of relief to be here, especially because they were married three days before the storm swept through St. Maarten, which is where they got married.

Today, though, they're away from what they call the lawlessness in some of the neighboring islands. There is that concern and really what's happening there. But again, everybody is feeling that they're at least -- a sense of relief. They may not be home, Alisyn. But at least being here in Puerto Rico, it is one step closer to getting there.

CAMEROTA: OK. Polo, thank you very much for that report. We'll check back with you.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean before slamming Florida, leaving, as you know, a path of great destruction.

So, joining us now is an American student who stuck it out in St. Croix through the storm. Elizabeth Smith rode out Irma. That's where she remains, in St. Croix this morning.

Elizabeth, great to see you.

We should let everybody know that you're a student in St. Croix. You're at the marina environmental sciences program at the university down there.

[06:55:03] So, obviously, you got sort of a baptism by fire lesson in environmental sciences, by staying for the storm.

What was it like to be on St. Croix as Irma came through?

ELIZABETH SMITH, SURVIVED HURRICANE IRMA ON ST. CROIX: Yes. So I was in a concrete house and we heard a lot of winds and we had a few things hit the house in St. Croix over here, lost power about the night before. We were lucky to regain power about a few days later.

CAMEROTA: As I understand it, you wanted to get off the island. You tried to get off the island. But when you tried to get a flight, how much was it going to cost for you to fly out of St. Croix back to the East Coast?

SMITH: If I wanted a one-way ticket to Miami, tickets were over $6,000. If I wanted a one-way ticket to Richmond, Virginia, tickets were over $2,000.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh! And so, at that point, that was obviously prohibitive. You couldn't do it. And so you had to stay on St. Croix. You couldn't get off.

And so, what was going through your head? What were those moments like when you realized you were trapped on the island?

SMITH: You know, I had a lot of family that was worried. But at the same point, there's a very strong community here on St. Croix. You know, I wasn't afraid of being alone or anything. I'm here with my roommate. And we just -- we have very good company here.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's good to know. But, I mean, as the storm was descending on you, where were you taking shelter? Where you were hiding? Just explain the conditions of what you were hearing during those hours.

SMITH: Yes. So, we had no power. We couldn't really hear the latest weather updates or anything like that. My roommate and I were in our living room, which we determined to be one of the safest areas. We were going to board up in our single bathroom with roommate's dogs in case things were starting to get very badly.

We had hurricane shutters lining the houses. We had those closed up. So, no breeze. No open windows.

We couldn't have -- we didn't have power. We couldn't have fans on. It was kind of hot and very, very anxious.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. We can only imagine, Elizabeth. We're so happy that you made it through safely, along with your roommate. It is just shocking to hear that it was a $6,000 one-way ticket to try to get out of that situation.

Thanks so much for joining us with your personal story. We really appreciate it.

SMITH: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So the remnants of Irma still dumping heavy rain over several states. We have the latest on the rescues and the aftermath from the area of the Florida Keys, next.