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Maria Slams Dominica, Heads for Puerto Rico; CNN Exclusive: Manafort Wiretapped; Trump to Address UNGA. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired September 19, 2017 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:07] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, Hurricane Maria slamming the island of Dominica. The storm intensifying rapidly as it heads to Puerto Rico, where the governor says it's unlike anything the island has ever seen.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The president's former campaign manager wiretapped under secret court orders. It includes a time when Paul Manafort was known to speak with President Trump.

BRIGGS: And the president getting ready for his first speech at the U.N. Officials say it will be, quote, deeply philosophical, after some blunt talk on day one of this general assembly.

We have all our top stories covered around the world as you can see this morning. We are live in Puerto Rico straight ahead.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning. I'm Christine teen Romans.

Good morning, everyone. It is Tuesday, September 19th. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's begin with Hurricane Maria this hour, battering the Caribbean island of Dominica with a category 5 force, category 5 force and heading straight for Puerto Rico, now as a category 4 storm right now. Maria went from a category 1 to a category 5 in just 15 hours. That makes it the most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall in Dominica.

Initially reports from the Caribbean island are grim. The prime minister posting on Facebook that there is widespread devastation.

BRIGGS: He says his greatest fear is finding out about injuries and fatalities later today and securing the proper medical assistance. Puerto Rico now bracing for a direct hit on Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center warning Maria is likely to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Let's get right to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri in the CNN Weather Center.

Good morning to you, Pedram. What is coming to Puerto Rico?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You know, it's not looking good. This is a storm system that we have not seen at such magnitude to impact Puerto Rico in some eight decades. It doesn't look like it's going to weaken much. It pushed right across the Dominica, across this region in the past few years.

And it came ashore in an island that is home to some 75,000 people. Compare that to areas ever around Barbuda where Irma made landfall, on an island that was home to 2,000 people. So, it's significant implications for that island.

But you take a look at the storm system. It is on a beeline towards the U.S. Virgin Islands and eventually out there towards eastern Puerto Rico right now at a strong category four, sitting up there at 155 miles per hour, 157 is what makes it a category five.

And notice, going from 80 miles per hour on Sunday night to 160 miles per hour on Monday night. An incredible, incredible upper notch here in the intensity of the storm system. And notice, category five strength is expected. Landfall sometime in the early morning hours of Wednesday say around 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning for the U.S. Virgin Islands and into eastern Puerto Rico right around, say, 2:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon on Wednesday afternoon as a category 5.

Last time a storm at a category four or five occurred in Puerto Rico in 1932. So, you go back to that, of course, we know the population across this island has increased three fold since the 1930s. That's one element of it. The other one that Irma certainly didn't bring into the picture was 10 to 15 inches, in some areas, 20 inches of rainfall widespread across Puerto Rico and, of course, the storm surge threat is on top of this. And when you take a look at this track with the population increase, it is not good news when you're talking about a 5, maybe a 4 at landfall but right over San Juan, Puerto Rico, as a category four on Wednesday afternoon.

So, this is definitely a big story for a lot of people here.

ROMANS: It sure is.

BRIGGS: Still without power in San Juan from Irma, even though they avoided a direct hit.

Pedram, thanks. We'll check in the next half hour.

ROMANS: As Hurricane Maria barrels towards Puerto Rico, President Trump approving an emergency disaster declaration, just as he did earlier for the U.S. Virgin Islands. Only once has Puerto Rico taken a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane. That was 85 years ago.

I want to bring in CNN's Nick Valencia live in San Juan with the latest on how officials and island residents there are preparing.

Nick, what are you seeing this hour in San Juan?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of nervous this morning here, Christine. The winds have already started to pick up, just in the last hour. Our light stand here just our camera is starting to shake and we're more than 24 hours away from Hurricane Maria making a direct landfall here.

I think what really is adding to the anxiety as this storm intensifies is just the short amount of time that's elapsed between Hurricane Irma and now, Hurricane Maria. Dave was mentioning it earlier.

Puerto Rico, there's people here still without power. There's still debris in the roads, roofs were affected, you know, the homes, livelihoods were affected, and Irma didn't even make a direct hit here. So, the fact that this storm is coming with the amount of intensity and how it's just rapidly intensified over the course of the last 24 hours, there's a lot of very anxious people here on the island -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Valencia, certainly very anxious people there. Thank you. Keep us posted and stay safe.

[04:05:00] BRIGGS: Meanwhile, CNN has learned U.S. investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort before and after the November election. Sources say this surveillance continued into early this year, covering a period in which Manafort was known to be talking with President Trump. The FBI's interest in Manafort deepening last fall when agents intercepted his communications with suspected Russian operatives.

Now, Pamela Brown part of the team that broke this exclusive CNN report. She has more from Washington.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Dave and Christine.

Sources tell us that the FBI got permission from the secret surveillance court to monitor Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, both before and after the election. This is an extraordinary step for the FBI to do surveillance of a high ranking campaign official. And, of course, Manafort is now the center of the Russian meddling probe.

We're told that there are intercepted communications that raised concerns among investigators bout whether Manafort was encouraging Russians to help with the campaign. Now, other source told us that the intelligence was inconclusive. Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has been provided all of these communications. They have these communications in their hands.

We did not get a comment from Paul Manafort's spokesman but Manafort has previously denied he ever knowingly communicated with Russian intelligence operatives during the election and he's also denied helping Russia undermine U.S. interest.

Now, the secret order went into at least early this year, according to our sources. And what's interesting here, Dave and Christine, is that in the same time frame that there was a FISA warrant, according to our sources, there were communications between the president, President Trump, and Manafort, it's unclear if the president was ever picked up as part of the surveillance.

Back to you, Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Some great reporting there from Pamela Brown and her team. Thank you, Pamela.

New details about the early morning July raid at Paul Manafort's Virginia home. "The New York Times" reporting the president's former campaign chairman was in bed when agents with a search warrant picked the look on his front door and entered without warning. They seized binders stuffed with documents and copied his computer files in their search for evidence of secret offshore bank accounts. Special counsel Robert Mueller's prosecutors following that up by warning Manafort they plan to indict him, again, this according to "The New York Times".

BRIGGS: Today, President Trump's attorney, Michael Cohen, will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. CNN has learned, in addition to Cohen's role, pitching a Trump Tower to officials in Moscow, the Senate committee is also interested in his attempt to pitch a Russian Ukraine peace plan to former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

ROMANS: All right. To California now where a magnitude 3.6 earthquake rocking the Los Angeles area. Last night, residents living on the west side of the city and in the San Fernando Valley, reporting light to moderate shaking. The epicenter of the earthquake which struck at 11:20 p.m. local time was just west of the Sepulveda, past section of 405 Freeway in the Santa Monica Mountains.

There are no reports of damage at this hour. But always a reminder, where L.A. is, those plates.

BRIGGS: Just reading eyewitness accounts here all over Twitter. Yes, it may be a minor one but the people in L.A., any shaking right now scares the bedevil (ph) on them.

All right. We're getting at new details about what to expect to President Trump makes his debut before the U.N. General Assembly today. Can he find a unifying tone after his campaign delivered that angry message towards the U.N.? Deeply philosophical Trump, ahead.


[04:12:48] BRIGGS: Welcome back.

President Trump taking center stage at the U.N. General Assembly today. His first major address to the United Nations set for 10:30 Eastern Time this morning. On Monday, he was a little more measured than usual in his criticism of the United Nations, but he did not mince words even with the U.N. secretary general sitting right by his side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement. While the United Nations on a regular budget has increased by 140 percent and its staff has more than doubled since 2000, we are not seeing the results in line with this investment.


BRIGGS: So, we're now learning more about what the president plans to say to world leaders today.

Here's CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump is expected to use what aides are calling a harsh tone in talking about the threat posed by North Korea in a speech to the United Nations. Speaking to reporters, senior administration officials describe the president's speech as deeply philosophical. Contrast that with the president's tweet about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, in which he described the North Korean leader as rocket man.

Meanwhile, on Monday, at the United Nations, the president sat down with Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu. The president suggested during that meeting that he's seriously considering scrapping the Iran nuclear deal.

Another moment that raised eyebrows here in New York came when President Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron that he's thinking about staging a military parade in Washington on the 4th of July. We should point out, Washington already has a 4th of July parade, just isn't used to showcase the nation's military might -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: OK. As Jim mentioned, President Trump met with Benjamin Netanyahu, with the Israeli prime minister presenting a fix for the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Trump also predicting there's a good chance he'll achieve Mideast peace during his presidency.

CNN'S Oren Liebermann live in Jerusalem.

A good chance for Mideast peace. That's been the Holy Grail, I guess, for what now? Fifty years?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fifty years. President Trump is still an optimist about his chances here after a number of meetings we've seen from the White House, both in Israel and in the Palestinian territories. But it was interesting to see the dynamic of that bilateral meeting. Trump immediately talked about the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately talked about Iran, because that's where Netanyahu wants to keep this focus. He's made it clear he wants Trump to either cancel or change the deal in some way. We expect a very similar message from Netanyahu's speech at the General Assembly which comes just a few short hours after Trump. He'll keep that focused on Iran.

The problem for Netanyahu is, Iran seems to be not nearly as big an issue this year, as the entire world, Trump included, focuses on North Korea. And Netanyahu may tried to make that parallel, between Iran and North Korea, just to get Iran higher up on the agenda for the world, for the United Nations, and for Trump.

On the sidelines of the general assembly, Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, talking about the peace process, or there weren't public statements put out by either side, either the Egyptians or the Israelis. But they're talking about their big issues, which is peace process, security over Sinai, and the latest developments on Gaza.

As for the Palestinians, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will speak tomorrow. He'll also meet with Trump tomorrow. That speech is expected to much more heavily focus on the peace process, since it is a big year for Palestinians, 2017 marks 50 years since Israel's occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

ROMANS: All right. Oren Liebermann for us this morning in Jerusalem, thank you. Keep us posted.

BRIGGS: Good chance there's peace. Are you betting on that or no?

ROMANS: I think the president uses words in ways other presidents have not. He can be hyperbolic. And so, when you're trying to report, what -- really trying to gauge his optimism is can be difficult.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

Well, just for the Republican efforts to repeal and replace seemed all but forgotten, a new plan has emerged. What's in the plan? Who supports it and who's not all in? That's next.


[04:21:18] ROMANS: All right. Senate Republicans making a last ditch attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. This effort is being led by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy.

Now, their plan calls for the elimination of several Obamacare mandates and puts the onus on states to decide how to spent block grants.

BRIGGS: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey releasing a statement in support of this plan. That's significant since Senator John McCain who killed the last GOP health care bill has indicated his vote will rely heavily on what his governor says. McCain says he is considering the new bill but still unhappy with the process.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The process I still am deeply disturbed about. We should go through the committee. It will be 80- some. That's because we went through months of hearings, markups, debate, a whole week on the floor. That's what we should be doing with health care and we're not doing it. Just like the Democrat didn't do it in '09.


ROMANS: All right. The Congressional Budget Office says it may take several weeks to release an analysis, a score of the Graham-Cassidy bill. So, it remains to be seen how many fewer Americans might be insured if it were to pass. If Senate Republicans plan to act, they have to move quickly.

Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dave and Christine, the words you heard in the weeks leading up to last week were dead, buried, gone. Maybe we'll try it again next year or the year after. That's where repeal and replace stood.

No longer. The effort right now is very real and very serious, on oh, by the way, on a very compressed timetable. Republicans right now considering a new proposal to repeal and replace President Obama's signature domestic achievement. They only have 11 days to do it.

That's right. By September 30th, they need to get this done if they want to, under budget rules, be able to pass something with a simple majority vote.

Now, the big question now is what's in this proposal? And that is exceedingly important, because what it would do is a dramatic shift in how the U.S. does health care.

One sixth of the economy. Now, there are some similar elements to past Republican repeal plans, things like repealing the individual and employer mandate, ending the Medicaid expansion in 2020. But how it would actually fund things is significantly different. Instead of keeping a less generous version of the Obamacare tax subsidies, like past Republican plans would, this would take all of the revenue from the Obamacare taxes and put them in block grants for specific states.

This is a very real effort to try and get this done at the very last minute, something that seemed completely out of the realm of possibility just seven or eight days ago. We have to wait and see over the next couple of days how this progresses. A big meeting Tuesday afternoon, lunch, Republican senators all behind closed doors with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in trying to get a better idea of where things are -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Phil Mattingly, thank you for that, from Capitol Hill.

All right. Equifax, oh, yes, that Equifax, is admitting to a second system-wide hack in March, months before publicly disclosing its huge security fail. Now, the March hack is separate from the more recent breach that affects 143 million of you. That occurred in July.

"Bloomberg' reports the two are related. The same intruders allegedly carried out both attacks. Equifax denies this. Still, Equifax only announced the data breach two weeks ago, the entire time crucial here as the company is under investigation, especially now for insider trading. The Justice Department is reportedly launching a criminal investigation into three Equifax execs.

The concern, a $2 million stock sale in early August, that's after the company knew about the breach, but before going public with the news. Equifax previously told us here at CNN, the executive didn't know about the leak when the shares were sold. These are top executives of the company, you would think they would be in the loop.

[04:25:02] And if them weren't, it raises even know questions about what's happening inside Equifax.

The maddening thing about the Equifax hack, Dave, is that you're not Equifax customer. We're not their customer. We're the product. They are making money off of your information and my information.

BRIGGS: People came to ask what they are.

ROMANS: We are just the product and you have no control over that. And that's maddening.

BRIGGS: It appears they went to the Travis Kalanick school of public relations.

ROMANS: Yes, maybe.

BRIGGS: It's been a disaster.

All right. Protest erupting last night on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta after the deadly shooting of a student whose police had a knife. A planned vigil for 21-year-old Scott Shultz turning violent when demonstrators set a police car on fire. Georgia Tech police ordering all students to stay inside and lock their doors. Two officers suffered minor injures. Three people were arrested and charged with inciting a riot and battery.

ROMANS: Cell phone video of the Saturday shooting shows officers yelling at Scout Shultz to put down his knife and remain still. After taking a few steps, Shultz is shot and killed.

Shultz's family is condemning the violent protest. They say Scout was in the middle of a nervous breakdown. They're accusing the officer who opened fire of overreacting.

BRIGGS: All right. Overnight, Hurricane Maria became the strongest storm ever to hit the Caribbean island of Dominica. Maria intensified from a tropical storm to a category 5 in just a day.


BRIGGS: Now, Puerto Rico bracing for impact.