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EARLY START

Hurricane Maria Makes Landfall in Dominica; CNN Exclusive: Manafort Wiretapped; Trump to Address UNGA. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired September 19, 2017 - 04:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:30:39] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, Hurricane Maria slamming the Caribbean island of Dominica. The storm intensifying rapidly as it heads to Puerto Rico. The governor says it is unlike anything that island has ever seen.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And the president's former campaign manager wiretapped, under secret court order that includes a time where Paul Manafort was known to speak with President Trump.

ROMANS: President Trump getting ready for his first speech at the United Nations. Officials say it will be deeply philosophical, deeply philosophical, after some blunt talk on day one of the general assembly. We have all these top stories covered around the world this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: From deeply juvenile on Twitter, to deeply philosophical in front of the U.N. It should be interesting.

I'm Dave Briggs. It is 31 minutes past the hour. The president speaks here in New York in about six hours.

But it's also 4:30 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and that's where we begin with Hurricane Maria battering the Caribbean island of Dominica, with category 5 force and heading straight for Puerto Rico as a category 4 storm right now. Maria went from a category one to category five in a mere 15 hours. That makes it the most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall in Dominica. Initial reports from the Caribbean island are grim. The prime minister posting on Facebook there is, quote, white spread devastation.

ROMANS: Seventy-two thousand residents of that island and he says the greatest fear is finding out about injuries and fatalities later today, securing the proper medical assistance when they can get in there and help people.

Puerto Rico is now bracing for a direct hit on Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center warning Maria is likely to cause life- threatening flash floods and mudslides. You can see if you look really closely on that map, the Virgin Islands are in the path of this thing.

Let's get right to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri in the CNN weather center.

And just this early report from the governor of that island, and Dominica, not very optimistic.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, not at all, you know? And this is just getting started with the storm system. You know, you think about, say, an ice skater spinning and if they bring their arms and they spend very quickly and they put it out, they spin slowly.

The storm system being so compact and so tight in the center has that dreaded pinhole appearance in the center of the storm system makes it intensify extremely quickly. And that is a concern right here across this region as it already sits there just 2 miles per hour shy of a category 5 right into the eastern Caribbean right now. And the concern with this is the place and track of the storm is right over the U.S. Virgin Islands sometime into the early morning hours, say, 3:00 to 4:00 in the morning across the USVI on Wednesday, and then by Wednesday afternoon makes a category 5 attempt right there across eastern Puerto Rico, an island that has seen their population triple since the last time we had a storm of this magnitude back in the 1920s and make landfall across this region.

And you notice, it skirts to the north towards the Turks and Caicos and anytime you talk about hurricanes of such magnitude, such intensity, really important to note, from a category increase perspective, the damage change is significant, it's exponential. When you go from a cat 3 to a cat 4, it's not a one-fold increase in damage. It's a 5-fold increase, from 50 times of damage you would see from a category 1 to 250 times the damage you would see in a four to a one. And get up to a category 5, you go from a 500 times damage increase you would see versus a category 1.

And with these sort of storms, we saw it with Irma, and we certainly saw it with Irma, we certainly saw it with Harvey as well with landfall and cat 4s or 5s. The damage is catastrophic. And the National Hurricane Center says the damage with this would, of course, leave an area with a loss of communication for a period of weeks or months, and uninhabitable for that same time period.

In fact, the National Weather Service in Puerto Rico right now just issuing a statement using the same words, saying this area could lose communication for a period of weeks or longer, with a strong of this magnitude ashore guys.

ROMANS: I worry so much about the Virgin Islands because they've got all these piles of debris. You know, there's a lot there to be very -- dangerous situation. Again, it's really sad.

All right. We'll continue to watch that again. A category 4 right now, very powerful hurricane. Pedram, thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. 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. [04:35:00] Let's bring in CNN's Nick Valencia live in San Juan with

the latest on how they are preparing there.

Nick, good morning to you. I understand tens of thousands are still without power from Irma.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And Irma didn't even make a direct hit here in Puerto Rico. I think that's why so many people are nervous here. We're already starting to feel those wind gusts and we're more than 24 hours away from the worst of it. But that anxiety, that nervousness is still very much apparent here among the residents that we've spoken to.

It is worth pointing out, I started covering hurricanes, Hurricane Harvey, now, Hurricane Irma and now, Hurricane Maria, and in those trips where we've taken with the CNN crews, I have not seen the tone be as nervous and scared as what I heard yesterday with the governor here and the municipality officials. They're very scared.

The Governor Rossello here in the island saying that we can't hope for a miracle, that things will change here. This is expected to make landfall perhaps a category 4, even a category 5 hurricane. Yesterday, we saw late last night, people frantically putting up plywood along their local businesses. We've spoken to residents who say they're still without power and Irma wasn't as bad as what Maria is expected to be.

Shelters are opening up, as many as 500 shelters we understand across the island. Generators are being brought in, from outside of the island territory. But even still, it's not enough. Those long lines we saw in some of these convenience stores and supermarkets as people rushing to try to get basic food and water -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Nick Valencia, live for us in San Juan, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. We'll keep a close tabs on the developing weather story.

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

Pamela Brown is part of the team that broke this exclusive CNN report. She has more for us this morning from Washington.

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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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Very important last point there. Pamela Brown, thank you for that excellent reporting.

New details this morning 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 lock on his front door and entered without warning. They seized binders stuffed with documents. They 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.

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

ROMANS: All right. Facebook still has key information about Russian's meddling. So, why isn't the company closing it? Facebook admits to selling $100,000 in ads to a pro-Kremlin group. But Facebook says that retailing details violates its privacy policy, citing the Federal Stored Communications Act. Facebook says it won't turn over content without a search warrant.

That's why a special counsel Robert Mueller got access to the ad with a warrant. But members of Senate and House Intelligence Committees did not.

Still, what about the millions of Americans on Facebook? Here's what we don't know about the ad's content that was floating around on this platform. At least 3,000 ran between June 2015 and May 2017 from fake accounts.

[04:40:05] Those accounts were run by a pro-Kremlin group.

But here's what still don't know -- what the ads look like, what information they contain, how many Americans interacted with these fake accounts, how many Americans interacted with these fake accounts, how many American voters were targeted and where, geographically they live. That information could be important. Sources tell CNN still isn't sure how extensive Russia's ad buy was in 2016 and unidentified ads may still exist on Facebook today.

When you look at some of the sources of these, you know, some the reporting on this is so fascinating. You know, it could be an account that looks like a guy with his two daughters and a Labrador retriever in Pennsylvania --

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: -- and it's really a Russian troll farm. It's really interesting.

BRIGGS: Hopefully, Facebook learned. But hopefully, the American people have learned to be suspicious of what you read and what you share on Facebook.

ROMANS: I actually don't think they have.

BRIGGS: Not from what I see.

ROMANS: Me either. It's remarkable. It's not the free flow of information. It is a free flow of disinformation, everybody. Be smart.

We're getting new details about what to expect when President Trump makes his debut before the U.N. General Assembly today. Can he find a unifying tone after his campaign angered so many leaders he'll face today?

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[04:45:23] ROMANS: 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 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 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: We are now learning more about what the president plans to say to world leaders today.

Here's CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 described 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRIGGS: Thank you, Jim.

As he mentioned there, the president also had a meeting with the French President Emmanuel Macron. The most critical topic they discussed, the Paris climate deal and whether the U.S. plans to pull out of the agreement.

President Trump telling his French counterpart the agreement is, quote, unfair, with China getting a better deal than the U.S. Let's go live to Paris and get the very latest from CNN's Melissa Bell.

Melissa, good morning to you.

Emmanuel Macron and the president have stood aligned on several issues but appears when it comes to climate and Iran, they differ.

Good morning to you.

MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Dave. They did disagree on those two crucial topics and yet, the French

president's tactic is to continue talking with the American president. Emmanuel Macron, this really puts some water between himself and other European leaders, believes the true -- this very warm dialogue that's been established since Donald Trump's visit to Paris when he so admired the Bastille Day parade, by continuing that dialogue, some progress can be made.

And this France's foreign minister said on arrival in Europe, look, we don't believe any of this is acted on the climate change front. There is this sense among European officials and particular French ones that perhaps what we heard in the Rose Garden back in July was rhetoric and that something can be done to continue the negotiation and keep the United States in.

Inside, whether or not that is the case clearly remains to be seen. And for the time being, as the two men emerge from that bilateral meeting, we heard a great deal about Donald Trump's insistent on fact that American interest needed to be protected, but he was open to negotiations to finding ways to do that. So, the verdict is very much out as to whether Donald Trump will actually shift his position on this, whether what we heard on Paris so far from the American president has been mostly rhetoric or whether indeed it is the path down which he wants to go.

Clearly, Emmanuel Macron wants to continue trying to talk to the American president, trying to look for some room for negotiations, some room for maneuver that would allow the United States to stay inside the Paris deal.

BRIGGS: That notion of fairness on both the U.N. and the climate. President continues to stress. Melissa Bell live for us in Paris, thanks.

ROMANS: Did you know, Dave, there are just 97 shopping days until Christmas?

BRIGGS: No, did not cross my mind.

ROMANS: Did you know that Toys 'R' Us, America's largest toy chain just filed for bankruptcy?

BRIGGS: I did.

ROMANS: Oh my. We've got the details for you, next.

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[04:53:47] BRIGGS: Senate Republicans making a lost ditch attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The effort being led by Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy. Their plan calls for the elimination of several Obamacare mandates and puts the onus on states to decide how to spend block grants.

ROMANS: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey releasing a statement in support of the plan. That is 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 is still unhappy with the process.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The process I still am deeply disturbed about. We should go through the committee. We need to vote on the defense bill right now and it will be 80-some. That's because we went through months of hearings, of markups, of 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGGS: What a mess.

The Congressional Budget Office says it may take several weeks to release an analysis in the Graham-Cassidy bill. So, it remains to be seen how many people could lose coverage. If Senate Republicans plan to act, they'll have to move quickly.

[04:55:00] Phil Mattingly has more from Capitol Hill.

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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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Thanks so much for that, Phil.

Donald Trump Jr. looking to scale back his Secret Service protection. Sources telling CNN the president's oldest son asked to travel without protection during a family trip to the Bahamas in late June, a request reluctantly accepted by the Secret Service. Now, Don Jr. wants his full time protection terminated as well.

BRIGGS: His family expressing a desire for more privacy and personal space. That's considered a, quote, huge risk and a stupid decision, according to sources we spoke to. CNN has also learned White House counselor Kellyanne Conway no longer has Secret Service protection which is based on threat assessment as well as guidance from the chief of staff.

ROMANS: Emotions over immigrations running high as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is shouted down by dozens of protesters.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

ROMANS: Pelosi was speaking at an event in San Francisco to call for a passage of the DREAM Act, protecting young, undocumented immigrants from deportation. Now, that group of protesters, which included undocumented immigrants, took issue with Pelosi's talks about President Trump, accusing Democratic leaders of using DREAMers as a political bargaining chip. Pelosi eventually was forced that event.

All right. Let's get a check on CNN "Money Stream" this morning.

Global stocks is mixed today, but the records keep piling up on Wall Street. The Dow and S&P 500 record highs. The Nasdaq close just shy of a record, I think seven points away. So, it could happen if you got a boost there today.

Bank stocks giving markets a boost ahead of the Federal Reserve's meeting today. Wall Street thinks the Central Bank will hold interest rates steady. But the Fed should detail its plans for unwinding its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.

Thousands of student borrowers will soon get debt relief. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau cracking down on a private student loan creditor for trying to illegally collect on debt. It is fining the National Collegiate Student Loan Trust $26 million. The trust sued borrowers over loans that were either out of date or didn't have the correct paper. The creditor will refund $3.5 million to 2,000 student loan borrowers.

Breaking overnight, ahead of a crucial holiday shopping season, America's largest toy chain is filing for bankruptcy. Toys 'R' Us will use the filing to relieve its $5 billion in debt. Toys 'R' Us was once seen as a category killer, squeezing out small toy stores, dominating and now has been undone by the disruption of online shopping.

We don't know what this is going to mean for 64,000 U.S. employees but usually in bankruptcy protection, you can cut jobs. Toys 'R' Us says it will keep its 1,600 stores open. Bankruptcy protection helps finance its holiday season, majority of its sales for the year. It also assures vendors like Mattel and Hasbro. Shares of both of those fell yesterday after reports surfaced about Toys 'R' Us.

Now, "The Wall Street Journal" has reporting they're going have to reconfigure their store experience, close underperforming stores. When you go to a big huge toy store like that, they're going have to make it be about the brands and the experience of those brands, play area, using stuff interactive, so that like when you go buy sports gear, right? You want to see the stuff. When you go to for a toy, do you want to see it, use it, touch it or buy it online.

They have to compete with Amazon. That's going to be tough.

BRIGGS: It's reminiscent of a sport store. Sports Authority, which had a virtual monopoly in major cities. They're gone, too. Dick's still floating around.

ROMANS: It's the Amazon disrupter.

BRIGGS: Amazon effect.

ROMANS: Amazon effect.

BRIGGS: All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest projections for Hurricane Maria.