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EARLY START

Hurricane Maria Slams Dominica As It Rolls Toward Puerto Rico; Manafort Wiretapped Under Secret Court Orders; Trump To Address United Nations General Assembly. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired September 19, 2017 - 05:30   ET

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


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[05:30:45] DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, Hurricane Maria slamming the Caribbean island of Dominica. The storm intensifying rapidly, back now to a category five as it heads straight for 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 that include a time where 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 talk on day one of the General Assembly.

We have all our top stories covered in the Caribbean and Washington this morning.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. Good morning, everyone. Nice to see you.

Nice -- thanks for joining us. Thirty-one minutes past the hour.

Let's begin with this hurricane. Hurricane Maria battering the Caribbean island of Dominica with category five force, heading straight for Puerto Rico. After dropping to a category four overnight, Maria has strengthened again back to a category five, once again.

Maria originally grew from a category one to a category five in just 15 hours. That makes it the most powerful hurricane to ever make landfall in Dominica.

Initial reports from that Caribbean island are pretty grim, folks. The prime minister posting on Facebook "There is widespread devastation."

BRIGGS: He says his greatest fear is finding out 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 straight to meteorologist Pedram Javaheri in the CNN Weather Center. We're now looking at another category five. What's the path, Pedram?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, you know, the path is remaining very precarious here for places such as Puerto Rico, on into parts of Hispaniola and certainly, for Turks and Caicos as well.

And I want to talk about this because this storm system sitting here at a category five now. An update -- a special advisory coming in from the National Hurricane Center increasing this back up to a category five.

You take a look at this. We think sometime early Wednesday morning, potentially even as early as later tonight, the storm could move ashore across portions of the Virgin Islands and eventually push into towards eastern Puerto Rico before it makes that turn towards the Turks and Caicos.

But either way, we're talking about one of the strongest storms we've seen not only all season, but you think about this. Harvey was predominantly a rainmaker after it made landfall. Irma predominantly a wind event as it moved ashore on some of these islands.

This storm essentially has both of those elements into one, being with a tremendous rain forecast up to 20 inches in a few spots and, of course, the wind, as you see, a category five on approach here.

And if you work your way towards this region the population of Puerto Rico has tripled since the 1920s, the last time a category five made landfall across this region. This could either be a category five or a strong category four on approach.

This would put it directly over San Juan here sometime into the afternoon hours of Wednesday before it moves out of this region.

And when you think about that and the intensity with these categories it's not a one-fold increase. When you go from a three to a four, for example, it's a five-fold increase in damage expectations and about a 250 times increase in damage from a cat four versus a cat one. And you need -- you notice that goes up to a 500 times increase as you go into a category five, so exponential growth every time you see that storm strengthen and intensify.

And you take a look. Rainfall amounts could easily be 10 to 15 inches. Some areas in these mountain locations could get up to 20 inches of rainfall. We know the storm surge could be up to nine feet as well.

And guys, when you think about it, it's been an active season up to date -- it absolutely has. The areas in blue -- the numbers there indicating 2017, 13 tropical storms versus eight, which is what is normal for today's date.

Seven versus four in the hurricanes, and we've had four major hurricanes now versus two, which is what is normal. So essentially, almost doubling these numbers for this point in the season.

ROMANS: All right, Pedram. Thank you so much for that. Keep us posted as you get those updates from the National Hurricane Center.

As this Hurricane Maria barrels toward Puerto Rico, President Trump approving an emergency disaster declaration just as he did earlier for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Once -- only once has Puerto Rico taken a direct hit from a category five hurricane. That was 85 years ago.

CNN's Nick Valencia has more for us this morning from San Juan.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right and Irma didn't even make a direct hit here in Puerto Rico and I think that's why so many people are nervous here.

[05:35:03] 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, it's 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 that we've taken with the CNN crews, I've not seen local officials -- 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 Gov. 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 at perhaps a category four, even a category five hurricane.

Yesterday we saw -- late last night, people frantically putting up plywood along their local businesses. We've spoken to residents who say they are 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 are rushing to try to get basic food and water -- Dave.

BRIGGS: Nick Valencia there in San Juan. Stay safe.

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 our team that broke this exclusive CNN report. She has more from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE AND SUPREME COURT 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 at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

We're told that there are intercepted communications that raise concerns among investigators about whether Manafort was encouraging Russians to help with the campaign. Now, other sources told us that the intelligence was not conclusive.

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. interests.

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 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 this surveillance.

Back to you, Dave and Christine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right, Pamela Brown. Thank you.

Facebook still has key information about Russia's meddling in the 2016 election so why isn't the company disclosing more of it? Now, Facebook admits to selling $100,000 in ads to a pro-Kremlin group but says that releasing details violates its privacy policy, citing a federal Stored Communications Act.

Facebook says it won't turn over content without a search warrant. That's why Special Counsel Robert Mueller got access to the ads with a warrant. The members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees do not have access to this material.

Still, what about the millions of Americans on Facebook? What was the interface between these Russia-backed troll farms and all of that misinformation targeting the campaign? We know at least 3,000 ads ran between June 2015 and May 2017 from fake accounts linked to a pro- Kremlin group. Here's what we still don't know. What did the ads look like, what information do they contain, how many American voters interacted with these fake accounts overall, and where, geographically, were they located? Where did people live who were seeing this material? This information could be important.

Sources tell CNN Facebook still isn't sure how extensive Russia's ad buy was in 2016 and unidentified ads may still exist on Facebook today.

BRIGGS: It's a targeting of interest because we know the Trump campaign targeted specific viewers --

ROMANS: Right.

BRIGGS: -- with specific issues. But did Facebook -- did those Russian operatives use the same information? That is a -- a lot of questions ahead.

Also, President Trump delivers his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly today. Can he find a tone that officials say will be quote "deeply philosophical?"

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[05:44:08] (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: All right. President Trump a little more measured in his criticism of the United Nations with the secretary general at his side.

The president, of course, takes center stage at the General Assembly today. His first major address to the U.N. is set for 10:30 eastern time this morning.

BRIGGS: That's right. We're learning more about what the president plans to say. According to aides, his address will be quote "deeply philosophical."

Let's bring back CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, historian and professor at Princeton University. And, bring in Jamie Rubin, a former diplomat who served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Clinton administration.

[05:45:06] Good morning to both of you.

ROMANS: Good morning, gentlemen. JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Good morning.

BRIGGS: All right, Jamie, let's start with you.

A president who was just days ago tweeting out GIFs of himself hitting a golf ball at the back of Hillary Clinton and calling Kim Jong Un a rocket man. Can he find a deeply philosophical tone and what does he need to accomplish today?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Well, I'm sure in his mind it will be deeply philosophical.

But if the recent events are anything to go by that will be just sort of a statement of the obvious, like the United Nations is a place where we can improve our foreign policy, that we can share the burden with other countries. That's been going on for 50 years and the Trump people seem to think they've invented it.

In fact, the big reforms that took place where the United States reduced its budget share happened some 20 years ago when Richard Holbrooke was the U.N. ambassador under President Clinton.

So what they're going to do is make what I would call the normal functioning of diplomacy into some philosophical and diplomatic breakthrough.

ROMANS: You know, it's so interesting Julian because bashing the U.N. and the global organizations and saying, you know, all of these things favor the rest of the world and not us, that appeals to his 'America First' -- his economic nationalism.

But we have a North Korea crisis on our hands here so he's also -- has to work with the rest of the world on fixing North Korea and he sort of boasts that he has worked -- he has the tools and more experience to do this than all of the failing administrations before him. What does he need to say about that?

ZELIZER: Well look, most presidents, including Trump, learn that they actually need other countries to help them solve big crises and this is not different than that.

He needs many of the countries in the room to help with the sanctions, to help enforce them. And should we move to a military effort he'll learn that he needs the legitimacy and support of more countries than the United States to engage in what would be a difficult military operation.

So he can't just go and in a speech like this burn all the bridges that the United States has carefully built over many administrations or it will be that much more difficult to carry out what he threatens in all his tweets.

BRIGGS: Jamie, Julian wrote on cnn.com that the president should study history -- these speeches from Truman, to JFK, to Reagan, H.W. Bush, and even Obama in 2016. We know this, the president is no student of history.

He is, though, a student of cable news, so say he's watching this morning. What's the message to those not in the room -- Vladimir Putin and President Xi?

RUBIN: Well, I think Julian put his finger on it. We need other countries to help us solve problems.

Trump has made a pattern of bragging about his achievements, imagining that he does have some magic sauce that he can spread on the North Korea problem and solve it. But what he's learning is that he can't do that.

The truth is that like every president in the last 20 years, President Trump thought he was special and he could solve North Korea with his mix of toughness and diplomacy, but he can't. North Korea is doing what he said wouldn't happen. They're going to develop a missile capable of throwing a nuclear weapon to the United States.

And what Donald Trump needs to do is realize that the only way forward for the United States is not a war that will kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans, Japanese, and potentially Americans, but a long-term containment policy.

So studying the speeches of John Kennedy, and Johnson, and Nixon might help him realize the comprehensive diplomatic -- and by that, I mean compromising. Not humiliating other countries --

ROMANS: Right.

RUBIN: -- not bragging about your achievement is the only way forward and that will require him to change his ways.

ROMANS: And I like to remind our viewers, Jamie Rubin knows what he's talking about here. He has been in those meetings behind closed doors, discussing policies of containment and how to keep that rogue regime under wraps.

Jamie, your assessment of where we are today in terms of success with the North Koreans? It feels like a pretty critical moment to me.

RUBIN: Well, yes. What I'm worried about is that Donald Trump thought that by bragging about the United States military power -- which is awesome and like no other country has ever had such power in history -- that he could somehow intimidate a North Korean leader into moving away from his nuclear program. It's not going to work.

When you have a ruthless dictator who's prepared to gamble with the lives of his own citizens, you have to seek a different approach.

We're going to fail to do what the president said, just like we failed under Obama and we failed under Bush. The question is, is whether we're going to learn from these failures.

The best way forward is to show the Chinese that their refusal to act is giving the United States, Japan, and South Korea a great and convincing rationale to build up our forces in that part of the world to contain North Korea.

[05:50:13] China doesn't want that. They would prefer us to reduce our forces.

That's the only kind of pressure point that I think exists right now. Sanctions aren't going to do it, diplomacy's not going to do it, and a war would be risking gambling with the lives of millions of people.

BRIGGS: All right. I want to shift a little bit, Julian.

Vladimir Putin not there today but the Russia story still in the news. CNN reporting that Paul Manafort, former campaign chair, was wiretapped both at two separate times.

No, no, this does not back up the president's claim that Obama had his wires tapped. We don't know that. The reporting all along was that he may have been inadvertently swept up in someone else's surveillance.

But how does this show, perhaps, a shift in where this investigation is headed from Bob Mueller, the special counsel?

ZELIZER: Well, Mueller has quietly been moving forward when a lot of the news has shifted to other questions. And he's interviewing very -- and interrogating very high-level officials, both in the Trump campaign and then in the Trump administration.

And the story about whether he was wiretapped and whether this confirms what President Trump said actually misses the story. The story is about one of the highest-ranking officials in the Trump campaign, in a key period, being under investigation and being under surveillance for possibly speaking with Russian officials.

BRIGGS: Which means there was probable cause --

ZELIZER: Right.

BRIGGS: -- to get those FISA warrants, which is an important part here.

Yes, Paul Manafort had a place in Trump Tower at the time. We don't know if those wires were tapped.

ROMANS: It's just fascinating.

Julian Zelizer, presidential historian and political analyst, nice to see you. And, Jamie -- Jamie Rubin, assistant Secretary of State -- former Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in the Clinton administration, thank you, sir, for being here --

BRIGGS: Thank you, both.

ROMANS: -- bright and early.

RUBIN: Thank you.

ROMANS: A lot to talk about today.

All right, 52 minutes past the hour.

Ninety-seven little short shopping days left until Christmas and one of America's -- America's largest toy chain files for bankruptcy. "CNN Money Stream," next.

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[05:56:33] ROMANS: Protests erupting last night on the campus of Georgia Tech after the deadly shooting of a student police claim had a knife.

Demonstrators set a police car on fire. Georgia Tech police alerting all the students to stay inside and lock their doors. Two officers suffered minor injuries, three people were arrested.

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

Schultz's family condemning the violent protest. Their lawyer accuses the officer who opened fire of overreacting.

ROMANS: Let's get a check on "CNN Money Stream" this morning.

Global stocks mixed today but the records keep on rolling for Wall Street. Both the Dow and the S&P 500, record highs. The Nasdaq just shy of a record. It would not take much to have records all the way around here again today.

Bank stocks did very well, giving markets a boost ahead of the Federal Reserve's meeting today. Now, Wall Street expects the Central Bank to hold interest rates steady but the Fed should detail its plans for unwinding its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.

But breaking overnight, ahead of the crucial holiday shopping season, America's largest toy chain filed for bankruptcy. Toys "R" Us, just hours ago, filing for bankruptcy. It's struggling with $5 billion in debt.

This was once the definition of a category killer, dominating toy sales, reshaping how we shop and buy toys, squeezing small toy stores. And now, it has squeezed itself, undone by disruptive online competitors.

I'm not sure what this means for 64,000 U.S. employees of Toys "R" Us, but we are told Toys "R" Us' 1,600 stores will stay open for the holidays. And bankruptcy protection could help finance its holiday season, the 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.

"The Wall Street Journal" has some amazing reporting this morning about what this company's going to have to do to be relevant in an Amazon world, right?

BRIGGS: Indeed.

ROMANS: You're going to have to experience -- brand experiences within the store. Really make -- toy play areas really change the look and feel of the store, and close underperforming stores. Make it a little bit leaner but focus on the experience, and that's what it has and Amazon doesn't.

BRIGGS: And maybe focus on the Babies "R" Us side of that business.

ROMANS: Maybe. I'm not sure what this means for the Babies "R" Us, but the Toys "R" Us has got some work to do here.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs.

Hurricane Maria is now back to a category five storm as it churns towards Puerto Rico after slamming the Caribbean island of Dominica. "NEW DAY" has you covered right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounds like a tornado and it feels like an earthquake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is going to be an incredibly strong storm as it continues on this track.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Catastrophic is the only way you could put it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sources tell our team that the FBI got permission to monitor Paul Manafort before and after the election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Manafort has been in the crosshairs of this from the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's much more aggressive than the norm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is like an unprecedented situation.

TRUMP: In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Trump is expected to use what aides are calling a harsh tone in talking about the threat posed by North Korea.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: President Trump has a tall order. He needs to show that he can be a world leader.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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