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Monster Hurricane Devastates Island, U.S. East Coast Threatened; At Least 225 Dead in Mexico Quake, Urgent Search for Survivors; Mueller Asks White House for Documents Related to Flynn, Comey Firings. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:08] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


Breaking news up and down the line tonight, including but not limited to Hurricane Maria and the race to find survivors of the earthquake that did this to Mexico City.


COOPER: Dozens of buildings came down like that, some were schools. We'll bring you the latest on the effort, some of it brick by brick, hand to hand, to save lives, young and old. But one volunteer called scenes of chaos and hope.

Also, the hurricane and its rampage through the Caribbean and across Puerto Rico is not just a big story but for so many, a very personal one. As one man in St. Croix put it, it felt like a wild animal trying to get into your house.


COOPER: Just moments ago, we got the newest and best pictures of where the storm will strike next, including possibly the U.S. mainland.

CNN's Tom Sater joins us now from the weather center with that.

So, there's an updated forecast for Maria. Where is it headed?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, they'll show you where it's going, let's just go back 24 hours. At this time yesterday when we were talking, Anderson, it was going through an eyewall replacement cycle. We thought it would lose intensity, but it just didn't it midnight. It's 175-mile-per-hour winds, ranking now is the tenth strongest in Atlantic basin history.

Making landfall at 6:15 in the morning, taking out both radar systems and 22 -- or 21 of the 22 weather observation sites. So, we're not sure really how strong this was. We believe it was just two miles per hour away from a category 5 strength.

Now that it's offshore, rapid development in the eye. So, we can really now have a pinpoint center and track from there. Computer models in great agreement, taking it away from the Turks and Caicos, but pretty close, I think maybe within miles. And then the computer models only go so far.

So, let's look at the National Hurricane Center's plot, as they have it as a category three. They're believing that at day four or five come this weekend, it will undergo some shear, meaning winds will kind of tear the system down. I think with a rapid eye development already occurring, we could see a category 4 status, but I do concur that once it gets to the north, it's going to start to break down somewhat.

So, our cone of uncertainty takes us off the coast of South Carolina. But we can go farther than that. First and foremost, besides the shear, it's important to know that we're going to get out of those upper 80s oceans surface temperatures, through the mid 80s, the low 80s and hopefully toward the 70s. That'll help starve this engine from that extremely warm waters.

But to really understand it, you've got to go back and look at the track of Jose. This is the longest living tropical system we've had since 1980, and it's still spinning off the coast of the northeastern U.S. It's caused some flight delays, but why is it still here? High pressures to the west of it, high pressures to the east. It's sandwiched in between these two and it has nowhere to go.

So, let's look at the high pressure. If this hangs where it is, and continues to be strong, we believe that we could see this system and Maria gets shoved toward the outer banks and maybe hug the coastline. But if high pressure loses its grip, it'll slide more away from the U.S.

Now, let's take a look at the other models, the European. Let's take a look at the U.S. When we put these next to each other, you get an idea of what we're watching and blue is the European and red is the U.S.

As we slide these through, you're going to be able to see that there is pretty much good agreement here, but both of them want to hug that northeast coastline.

Now, the red one, the GFS, the U.S. model, it's made up with separate models alone. Now, even though a couple of them taken into the U.S., Anderson, the majority keep them away. So, that's important to know.

We're not sold on this just yet. I mean, there's a lot to unfold. Typically, we are better at forecasting the track than we are the intensity, but this time around, it's a little far out to say we're going to have the system affect us. It's just too many days.

COOPER: And just to be clear, where is it now?

SATER: Right now, you can see a new eye that's developing. We're seeing the rain, last parts of Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic, we're going to see some tornado still possible, in Puerto Rico and some of the islands. St. Croix, St. Thomas which didn't get hit as bad still had some pretty strong winds. But the winds are down to 110 miles per hour. This makes it a category two. But again, these waters are extremely warm, and I think what we're finding here is the storm surge -- look at this, in the Turks and Caicos, it's higher -- expected to be higher than it was in the islands. So, when they were looking at seven to 11 feet, which means the storm is still gaining strain and, of course, with a slope of the ocean floor, they're susceptible.

But I think it's going to stay away from the Turks and Caicos by at least 50, maybe 60 miles. So, hopefully, no more landfalls for a while, but it's definitely one to watch.

COOPER: So, tell me, if you could just take us back and show us those American and the European models, just think try to get a sense of where it might go to the U.S. And again, I know it's a long way out. And also --

SATER: It is.

COOPER: -- what's the timeline of it getting toward the U.S.?

SATER: All right. Let's take a look at it again.

[20:05:00] I'm going to go to the floor for this because this is where we have these models. Again, in blue is the European. Now, it's going to kind of pick up in speed here.

Now, notice in the Northeast, that's still Jose that's spinning around. And remember, it's choked off from the steering current, much like Harvey was in Texas, but this time is dropping heavy rain over water instead of land.

We're looking at about Saturday and Sunday off the coast I think of South Carolina to North Carolina. That's Saturday, Sunday. So, if it makes its way toward the outer banks, we're talking late Sunday toward Monday, and then we're talking early next week and maybe into Tuesday.

So, these models go out at least it's in the middle of the week but they're still too close for comfort right now. I mean it's more than just beach erosion in the coastal flooding, we have seen significant loss of economic flights that have been delayed and even heavy cancellations from Logan up in Boston, all the way down toward Philadelphia -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Tom Sater, I appreciate that.

It is one thing to see a major hurricane on a map, it's another thing entirely to see one up close -- not knowing if the doors will hold or the roof will stay attached to the rest of the house, or the water might come in. And it's something no one can fully comprehend until they face it, until they have to dry out or dig out or search for a loved one. So many people tonight have that and more to contend with.

Randi Kaye shows why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was no mistaking the force of Maria as it slammed Puerto Rico.

GOV. RICHARD ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: This is the most devastating storm either in the century or quite frankly in modern history.

KAYE: First came the winds.

MIKE THEISS, STORM CHASER & NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER: We are absolutely pounded here, that eye, that northern yet must have come through here and we're to take the constant wind, it's screaming and whistling of stuff hitting the building. We heard glass breaking. We are definitely, definitely in the dangerous situation.

KAYE: Then, the water.

An eyewitness captured these flood waters as they rushed through the streets of Guayama, located on Puerto Rico's Caribbean coast.

One visitor to Puerto Rico shot this video from the window of his hotel room in San Juan.

JENNIFER GONZALEZ-COLON, RESIDENT COMMISSIONER OF PUERTO RICO: The main issue is that the whole island is without power. We received between 18 to 25 inches of rain, which means that the whole area exploded a lot of the rivers, overflowing their banks and that's a dangerous situation.

KAYE: This video outside an apartment building shows how bad the flooding is.

A traveling tennis coach staying at a hotel in San Juan with about people posted this on Instagram, the power was out he said and the generator they've been counting on failed. The water in his photos was coming up from the lagoon. He told CNN the water is coming up on the lobby, so we had to move to higher floors.

The wind and rain so strong at times gusting to 165 miles per hour, residents in Puerto Rico were forced to stay inside, never daring to open a door or window. All of this after the monster storm devastated much of the Caribbean, including St. Croix and Dominica, with the lingering fear of where it's headed next.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: I want to bring you more now from Puerto Rico.

CNN's Leyla Santiago rode the storm, even if it was a challenge at times just to stay upright. Take a look.


COOPER: Just now from Leyla's feed, she joins us now from San Juan.

Leyla, what are you seeing right now? What are things like?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, right now, we're still seeing some rain come down every now and then, certain gusts of wind that come down every now and then, but really, it's dark, not just because it's nighttime but because there is no power on this island. Power is a major issue.

The other big issue right now Anderson is communication. As I've been talking to people on the streets, those are sort of the big questions. Do you have power? Do you have generator? And then it's, do you have a signal?

A lot of people are still trying to get a hold of loved ones. There was a 6:00 p.m. curfew that was put in place by the governor and yet, I still see people walking back and forth, and they are either trying to get to their homes, trying to get to loved ones, or just in awe, in disbelief of the damage that Maria has left behind. It was very powerful when everyone sort of felt safe enough to come out and see things like what is directly behind me, this roof that came down on the street, that's blocking the street.

Look, we're seeing on a lot of roads either flooding or things like this and, you know, I talked to one neighbor who told me when this came down, she thought it was the entire building that came down.

[20:10:05] But when I asked people, where did this roof come from, no one has been able to tell me where it actually came from, how far it traveled before it came down here.

So, people have sort of had this almost like a dazed look, disbelief, as they make their way out and see you know storefronts with signs ripped off, with windows broken, palm trees with little left on top, just sort of surreal to see what happened in a matter of 24 hours. We woke up this morning to this sort of ominous hum and the building shaking from those winds.


SANTIAGO: You saw as I struggled to stand ground during the toughest parts of Hurricane Maria.

So, what's next? OK, the governor has sent out already a crew of rescue teams now the rebuilding begins. But that, of course, will come after damage assessment and the rebuilding part of it, Anderson. We've talked about this part before. I mean, this is an island with that other storm sort of looming over the financial crisis. It is $70 billion in debt.

So, financially, Puerto Rico cannot afford to rebuild on its own right now.

COOPER: Yes. Hey, Leyla, any word on why it's going to be so long or how long -- I think you said about how long it's going to be without power and why?

SANTIAGO: Right. So, the power system here because of what I just mentioned because of the economic crisis has really lacked maintenance it was vulnerable before Irma even arrived. So, Irma came through. A lot of people felt they were lucky after Hurricane Irma because Puerto Rico did not see the destruction and devastation that the rest of the Caribbean or much of the Caribbean saw.

So, before Hurricane Maria even arrived, much of the power had been restored, but there were still more than 60,000 people without power going in to Hurricane Maria. So you take the fact that already there were people without power, this is a vulnerable system that has not been invested in in years. It's been a problem for months before Irma or Maria were even created.


SANTIAGO: Even established in the ocean. And that explains where we are today when it comes to power.

COOPER: Leyla Santiago, appreciate you being there. Thank you.

Coming up next, the earthquake and the search for children trapped in the rubble of their school. We'll take you to a scene that simply cannot be imagined as parents wait for word.

Later, there's big new developments in the Russia investigation. The special counsel now reaching directly into the Trump White House, now focusing specifically on the president, looking for information. Details ahead on 360.


[20:16:28] COOPER: The story tonight in Mexico's earthquake zone centers on hours, minutes and lives. Yesterday's quake killed at least 225 people, many when the building they were in collapsed. That number includes 21 children killed in a Mexico City elementary school. Others may have survived but are still trapped in the rubble. That, of course, is the hope.

CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us now from the scene.

What's the latest there tonight, Ed?


What you're looking over my shoulder here, that is the scene of the collapse part of the school where rescue workers are continuing to work into the night. However, it's a bit of a confusing scene here tonight. There are mixed reports about exactly what is going on inside that rubble and any kind of official account really hasn't come out.

There are some reports it's -- and then word had spread through the crowd and cheers erupted that perhaps a couple of people have been pulled out alive and then we're also hearing from Mexican television station reporting that perhaps there was a young girl that has still in the rubble but rescue workers have made contact with her. All of that we're still trying to decipher. Nothing official yet. But it's clear that those workers continue to crawl inside of that

rubble, trying to find anyone who might still be alive.


LAVANDERA (voice-over): It's not until you stand this close to the collapsed school building that the horrific reality of this scene sinks in. We weave our way in and around hundreds of rescue workers who've descended on this elementary school to save anyone who might still be trapped inside the rubble.

(on camera): This is the area where crews have been frantically working for the last 24 hours, trying to pull out survivors. Just look at the impact here of the building, crushing that car there. And you can see all of the workers that have been here for more than 24 hours now, trying to find survivors. This is the school where several dozen children were killed as the building collapsed down to the ground here.

I'm speaking quietly because a lot of crews have been working and they're trying to hear for sounds of people inside the building. We're told that there might be a young girl they believe is still alive inside, and that's what these efforts are for right now.

(voice-over): In the courtyard area of the school, hundreds of workers are moving debris away from the school under a banner that reads "unity creates strength". T

Then a whistle cuts through the air and everyone stops. Total silence.

This gives rescue teams crawling through the collapsed structure the chance to listen for survivors.

(on camera): We can hear the sound of rescue workers as they work inside the collapsed part of the building.

(voice-over): The work inside the building is treacherous, wooden pillars have been brought in to fortify what's left of the school.

Hector Mendez is part of a volunteer brigade of rescue workers known as the Moles. He says his team arrived on the scene an hour after the school collapsed and the 70-year-old volunteer believes more people will be pulled out alive.

(on camera): Do you think you'll be able to find children alive in there?

HECTOR MENDEZ, RESCUE WORKER: Yes, because the children, most times, they got there -- they got more chance to live than we old people.

LAVANDERA: You think so? Even a day?

MENDEZ: Yes, the boys -- the boys, they want -- they want to be alive, and I know that. And that's why we are working hard. LAVANDERA (voice-over): Dramatic scenes are unfolding on the streets surrounding the school grounds. That's where we found a collection of names strung together on paper and clear tape.

[20:20:00] This is where Daniela Casals and a small team of volunteers help keep track of the names of the teachers and students who were inside the school.

DANIEL CASALS, VOLUNTEER: These papers, the blue one and the white one, was the people dead, and this is unfortunately.

LAVANDERA: Most of the buildings surrounding the school withstood the force of the earthquake, only this portion cratered in on itself, and rescue workers vowed to continue the search as long as it takes.


COOPER: Ed, will the rescue efforts continue throughout the night? Do they have lights and?

LAVANDERA: Yes, Anderson. We're looking here now. In fact, the lights just came on a downpour just fell on these rescue workers as well. Hopefully, that rain stays away. You know, obviously, the great concern about and you don't get the sense that any of these people will be leaving.

But we were -- when we were there closer tonight, Anderson, just to several hours ago, surreal to be standing in the courtyard of that school and you could hear the muffled sounds of those rescue workers as they were crawling through there, trying to talk to the whoever might have been in there. It was really hard to make out exactly what was being said, but those muffled sounds of those rescue workers crawling through the debris was clearly being heard from where we were standing in that courtyard.

COOPER: It's just heartbreaking and difficult work.

Ed Lavandera, thanks.

Shortly before airtime, I spoke with the Christopher Edwards from the humanitarian group Youth with the Mission. He rode out the quake. He's trying to help rescue efforts tonight.


COOPER: Christopher, explain where you are right now and what's going on.

CHRISTOPHER EDWARDS, HUMANITARIAN, YOUTH WITH A MISSION: I'm in a little bit in the part south of the city, one of the main avenues called (INAUDIBLE) and the corner of Los Montes, and we're just at an area where there's about a six story building, four buildings have come down and we've got cranes that are still holding up the roof. And there's just a concentration of volunteers around.

But they're not allowing any civilians to go in. You have to be -- you have the specific training or be part of the military to be able to go in right now.

COOPER: So, do they think that there are people trapped in the rubble still?

EDWARDS: They do have the suspicion that there are, that's why there's an effort. They've just been collecting some more smaller shovels or they can get into tighter places and they're just putting up another crane right now to help stabilize the roof.

COOPER: I heard you say that the in terms of rescue efforts, it's been what you call between chaos and hope. Can you explain what you mean by that?

EDWARDS: Yes, I think the chaos part comes because just so many people in such a large city and there's been -- it's not just one concentrated area. So, it's all over. So, we've been kind of -- I said we were playing Marco Polo earlier just because people would name a street or an area and then people just start running towards that sound or that area, and then we'd get there and they say, OK, there's too many people here so you have to go to the next place.

But -- and in the hope comes from hearing of stories of some people getting come out, hearing stories -- and then just seeing the response of the Mexican people and people from other nations, different organizations, different backgrounds, just coming out and helping in full strength and everything that they do, whether it's giving food, helping for the dogs, helping get people out, moving things along. And there's just a lot of hope when you see people like that in such devastation.

COOPER: Christopher, if you can, could you turn your camera around just to kind of show us what you're seeing and explain what you were looking at?

EDWARDS: Yes, so just over the top of the red roof right here, you see three cranes sticking up holding our roof up, and there's a guy actually in the third cane that's just attaching some stuff to the rooftop, just sustaining it, that roof of that building holds a lot of solar powers and like solar water heaters, and then just surround us, you just see all the volunteers that are here waiting to see what they can do, a lot of them are just handing out water bringing tools and just waiting to see and what way they can respond.

COOPER: These volunteers, is somebody, you know, asking them to come or they just coming on their own?

EDWARDS: They're just coming on their own for the most part, and that's been one of the issues with the chaos is because I even saw some stuff early this morning on the social media sites saying, hey, wait before you come. If you're not already in this area, don't bring extra traffic because it was making everything congested.

It took us close to two and a half three hours to get from an area to the south of the city when it usually would maybe take an hour. I mean, it is a large city. It would take a while to get down there on just on public transportation, but it took us almost three hours to get back.

COOPER: You also described the rescue efforts it's a bit like Marco Polo. How do you mean, that game?

EDWARDS: Just, in my mind, it's like you're blindfolded and you don't know exactly where to go and so you're just waiting to hear like the name of a street or a building or neighborhood, and people hear it and then they just take off running to go to try to find that area.

[20:25:08] And it's kind of a hit-and-miss whether you're actually needed there or not. We've had some false alarms even where people said, hey, go to this area and we go there and there's nothing wrong, and there's probably close to 500 or 1,000 people that have arrived to that area, and all I'm saying it's a false alarm. We actually need people in this area.

COOPER: Well, Christopher, I appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and wish you the best. Thank you.

EDWARDS: Thank you.


COOPER: A lot of people there are trying to help.

Up next, breaking news out of Washington. What special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking from the Trump White House in the Russia investigation. The surprising request when we continue.


COOPER: Breaking news tonight of the scope of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigations. Sources tell CNN that Mueller and his team have requested a wide range of White House documents related to President Trump's actions while in office. That request reportedly lays out specific incidents of interest, including the firing of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey.

Mueller's team is also interested in this meeting, you might remember this picture. The Oval Office meeting between the president and Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and other Russian officials in May. According to "The New York Times", President Trump told them that firing Comey relieved great pressure on him. That meeting came the day after the president fired Comey.

We should point out, "The Washington Post" also had the story and another development tonight it says, then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to give a Russian billionaire with Kremlin ties private briefings on the 2016 campaign.

Carol Leonnig joins me now. She broke both these stories for "The Washington Post" earlier today.

A busy day for you, Carol. Is there any way to interpret Mueller seeking documents about

President Trump's own actions other than he's now investigating the president himself?

CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, it's no surprise that he's investigating the president. Back in the spring, we talked about the fact that and I believe the "The Post" broke this story as well that Mueller, very shortly after being appointed, was looking into whether or not the president had tried to obstruct the original Russia probe that FBI Director James Comey was overseeing.

So, it makes sense that these are the records as we were reported today that Mueller is seeking from the White House. It's taking a little while for him to get them but they covered a huge span of topic, 13 topics as we described. And many of them really have to do with the President's internal private investigation. Why did I fire Comey? What did he tell aids? What did he do and what did he say when he learned that his White House has been warned that his National Security Adviser was investigation? What did he do in term of crafting a statement with Sean Spicer, another one of the subjects about how to explain to the public why they were firing. Or why the President was firing James Comey.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right, because there must have been a lot of internal discussion because there was a big gap in time between when he learned about his National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, when -- you know when the White House was informed about what he had done, and when he was actually fired. It wasn't until there was reporting on it, I believe from "The Washington Post" that he actually got fired. So there's got to be a lot of, whether it's documented or just verbal communication between White House officials. Do you have any sense of whether the White House will actually give Mueller everything he wants? There's obviously, you know, there is a long history and a desire for the White House and for Presidents to be able to, you know, to have some privilege.

LEONNIG: Absolutely. And, you know, we've seen a little bit of this debate going back and forth. You know, the White House lawyer whose managing turning over these records, Ty Cobb, along with John Dowd has both been trying as best they can to shovel over these records. It's taking time to get them as anybody who saw records from the government will know. But, as well, there's an internal debate which is complicated by the fact that the White House Counsel, Don McGahn is also a witness in this case.

Remember that Don McGahn has to make some decision about privilege here or will be interested in that subject, what do we turnover, what shouldn't we turnover. And yes, he is also a witness because he is the person who was warned in January by the deputy attorney general that Flynn had not disclosed and had been dishonest about his conversation with foreign officials. And that this could be comprising to a natural security adviser especially if that national security adviser had not told the truth about that to the Vice President as we later reported.

COOPER: It also just brings to mind the, you know, the New York Times reporter who over heard Ty Cobb at a steakhouse in D.C. talking about this whole issue and mentioning that the White House Counsel had something in a safe. Obviously, I assume Mueller haven't read that, I might be interested to know what he's talking about. What is in safe?

Your story about Manafort offering private campaign briefings to Russian oligarch with ties to the Kremlin, can you just briefly explain who this oligarch is and why it's so unusual that Manafort was making this offer?

LEONNIG: So this is a very startling development for the simple reason, you can complicate it with a lot of Russian names in this case, Oleg Deripaska. But the simple story here actually Anderson, is that the chairman of the -- now President's, Presidential campaign, Donald Trump's campaign was offering weeks before Trump was named the GOP nominee for President, was offering to a Russian alley of Vladimir Putin special private information about the campaign. Sort of a back door.

If we want to talk and want to know special information we can accommodate him, was essentially the phrase that Paul Manafort, the former chairman said to an alley. And that's sort of striking because it shows that someone is very willing to create an opportunity in one of the most important campaigns in the country for a Russian to get special access.

I don't think anybody offered any reporters, I don't think Paul Manafort offered any reporters, any private briefings at the time. So it's very striking. As well, Paul Manafort was a consulting contractor if you will for this Russian, Mr. Deripaska. And he was seeking to get paid on unpaid debts from him and other people. And so that's a very different interest than representing the country and representing a candidate.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, it's when you spell it out, it is just extraordinary to think about that. Carol, if you could just stay with us because I want to bring in our Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, who worked for four presidents, also, with us, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, the Former Federal Prosecutor.

Jeff, when you have a special council asking for documents from the White House do they get all the documents they want?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's -- you know, you brought up the now infamous lunch that was overheard by the New York Times reporter, it's exactly what they were talking about, which is how cooperative do we want to be with these requests from the Special Counsel because, you know, at one level, apparently Ty Cobb and John Dowd want to say look we have nothing to hide. But the White House, they are -- more outside lawyers. Don McGahn, they want to fight on some of these issues.

[20:35:22] This has come up in every investigation of the White House. The Clinton White House wound up fighting Starr's -- Kenneth Starr's investigation over what they had to produce. And it certainly would be -- there would be grounds for disagreement. I mean, most of the time the court side with prosecutors, most of the time prosecutors -- the executive privilege narrowly. But these are hard questions and I wouldn't be surprised to see these in court.

COOPER: David, I mean, there are 13 several categories according to Carol's reporting that the special counsel want White House documents on, how worried would you be if you are an alley of the President tonight in the White House?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, as soon as I heard there were 13 different categories, in which Mueller was asking for information or demanding information from the White House. You immediately thought this probe is widened way beyond what we originally understood and it's clearly deepened.

Coral is right, we have heard in the past that the more information on the president. But I think this deepens the sense that they're doing everything they can to see what evidence there is of obstruction of justice. And we don't know how much evidence they have. They don't know what's there. I'll tell you one big different, one problem for the prosecutors that did not have watergate, is that there are no tapes of the President's conversation of what happens in the Oval Office. That makes it a lot harder sometimes to collect the evidence you need to doing in a --

TOOBIN: But, what there are, are e-mails, and which did not exist in watergate and they sort of --

LEONNIG: Except, not the President's e-mails.

TOOBIN: Not the President -- he does an e-mail and we can draw our own conclusions about why he doesn't. But he -- that -- remember how we found out about Donald Trump Jr.'s meetings with the Russians, so the e-mails could well be a very good source of information. Plus, you have the national security wiretaps. You have Paul Manafort, we now know was wiretapped. Any connections, the Russians are wiretapped all the time by the NSA. That all could be a profitable source for Mueller's team to look into.

GERGEN: It's true. But absent -- I think the e-mails do give investigators a trail but it's not clear that they're going to need to find -- it's not they're going to find at the end of that trail something that they need to build a case. I mean, I would think it would be a jackass who'd start writing down on emails what the content were our conversations on the Oval Office.

COOPER: Carol?

LEONNIG: I was just thinking about, when we wrote about -- it's always a blur now but it feels like almost maybe two weeks ago, we wrote a story about the exchanges between different communication directors and press secretaries about what are we going to say about the firing of Comey. And we may remember the White House staff conferring because they knew the President was moving in that direction. He hadn't met with Sessions or Don McGahn or in fact Rod Rosenstein, who wrote the memo that was supposed to be the justification for firing Comey.

But those kind of ancillary aids are going to build that story and, you know, we all know how a prosecutor works. Its concentric circles, the little people, if you will, moving in and in and in closer to try to figure out what the President was saying and how his story matches up with what his aids heard and wrote.

COOPER: Yes. Carol, it's again fascinating and great reporting. Carol Leonnig, thank you, Jeffrey Toobin, David Gergen as well.

Up next, more breaking news out of Washington tonight President Trump's new tweet on Senate Republican's last effort to repeal and replace Obamacare.


[20:42:12] COOPER: We got breaking news now on the new effort by Senate Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare. President Trump is weighing in yet again on Twitter in this last effort tonight. He tweeted, "I would not sign Graham-Cassidy if it did not include coverage of pre-existing conditions. It does! A great Bill. Repeal & Replace." Whether or not the bill would actually cover pre-existing condition is point of contention.

Phil Mattingly joins me now from Capital Hill. So McConnell's office saying today, they plan to hold a vote on this next week. Does that mean they believe to have the votes in place?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They doesn't. And that's why, when you read the McConnell statement very close, he says, his intention to hold a vote next week, leaving in some wiggle room for a good reason. They're short right now and they know it.

Look, their target -- their primary target where all the work is being directed at the moment, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, we talked about her throughout this debate this morning. Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Bill Cassidy, meeting with Senator Murkowski behind closed doors and the issue right now is this. Murkowski wants to make sure that Alaska is not disproportionately hurt by basically the block grant system that's being put into place in this bill right now. There's a lot of questions about how money will be pull out, whether specific states will be hurt like Alaska.

Now, they want to get her the information but they also want to address those concerns. And so what I'm being told from several sources is, the administrative officials, and top Republicans working behind the scenes to crop proposals, to put Alaska in a better place, very clearly, they are trying to do something explicitly for one senator. Will that be enough, Anderson, it's still up in the air. But right now, that's where the focus is for both administration officials and top Republicans.

COOPER: Also, I understand Senator McCain was asked again today, where he stood on the latest bill. What did he say?

MATTINGLY: Process. Process, process, process. It's something we've heard a lot. You know, they can focus as much as they want on Senator Murkowski but if they don't get Senator McCain along, this bill fails as well. And Senator McCain has made very clear from that very point in July speech on the Senate floor when he came back from his cancer diagnoses to now that he believes this bill should move through committee, should move through mark up, then go to the floor, then go to the House, then go to conference. Very few of those things will be happening. So his concern haves not been addressed at all.

And I'm told Senator McConnell made a specific request to the Senate Finance Committee chairman next year, hold a hearing, see if that will check the box. Give senator McCain cover to get the yes. McCain making clear at least as of now that's not enough. Still a lot of work. They will keep a very close eye on Senator Lindsay Graham, obviously very close friend, administration officials and top Republicans telling me they are relying almost exclusively on that relationship to bring Senator McCain along in.

COOPER: And just lastly, Jimmy Kimmel waited into the health care debate again last night taking on Senator Bill Cassidy, explain what happened?

MATTINGLY: Yes, so in a -- I've covered this from the very beginning, there's been a lot of very strange, sudden, stunning and bizarre terms. This ranks up as the top one in late night committee in becoming one of the key players in the health care debate. This all goes back a couple months ago when Senator Cassidy and Jimmy Kimmel who was coming off the berth of his son with a heart defect became unlikely allies in almost opposing earlier Republican iteration of this plan.

[20:45:05] Senator Cassidy making very clear promises of what he wanted to see in the bill. Jimmy Kimmel saying this latest bill sponsored by Bill Cassidy just addressed us. Take a listen.


JIMMY KIMMEL, AMERICAN TELEVISION HOST: I don't know what happened if Bill Cassidy but when he was on this publicity tour he listed his demands for a health care bill very clearly. These where his words, he said he wants coverage for all, no discrimination based on preexisting conditions, lower premiums for middle class families and no life time caps. And guess what, the new bill does none of those things. And this guy, Bill Cassidy just lied right to my face.


MATTINGLY: And Anderson, I'm not going to shock you here when I tell you Senator Cassidy disagrees with that assessment. Look, it's complicated. It's new once but there is some truth to what Jimmy Kimmel is saying right now. And that's certainly complicates things as Republicans trying to get all their members into line by next week's deadline. Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Earlier, I spoke to a high Republican governor, John Kasich for his take on this latest repeal and replace effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: So, Governor we've spoken several times over the last couple months about this different Republican healthcare bill. I know you don't support this bill, is it progress in the right direction? It is better than the previous attempts do you think?

GOVERNOR JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: No I don't think so. Look, this is a -- if you take the Medicaid expansion along with subsidies so people could afford to have health insurance, this is a 17 percent cut in that. And we also know that when it comes to preexisting conditions, while a company has to provide you coverage but they can charge you whatever you want, so, I don't know how meaningful that is.

Anderson, there was a bipartisan effort by Republican and Democratic governors to say that we need to stabilize the insurance markets and we can give flexibility to the state. Significant flexibility to the states, if you wanted to keep Obamacare, you could, if you wanted to design your own plan you could, within certain guard rails, so people wouldn't have very poor coverage or parts of the population would be drop. These were responsible guard rails.

And I'd argue at the time that we could deal with Medicaid later as part of an entitlement reform package that could include Medicare and social security because entitlements are out of control.

So, Anderson this is -- and look, we were starting to see the sun kind of peak through a bit on Republicans and Democrats working together, Senator Lamar Alexander, Senator Patty Murray they were starting to work on a package, then well, it's gone. And, you know what, this reminds of -- Anderson, I don't know whether you play ping-pong or now, you hit the ball over the net, if person hits the ball back, this is like a ping-pong game on healthcare and the losers in the game like that are the people.

COOPER: You know, you talk about the bipartisan approach, is that a realistic approach at this point. I mean, as you reference earlier a bipartisan effort that was being made with Senator Alexander and Murray, which you touted in your letter, I mean, that just collapse, disappear.

KASICH: Yes, well smell a little bit like politics, Anderson, you know. I mean, I think it does. And I don't know what's going to happen in the Senate, it's going to come down on people and they're going to have to look themselves in the mirror. And I don't want to be questioning people's motivates. There is plenty that needs to be fixed with Obamacare, and then they question about it, probably the first one to argue that. But you have to do it together.

Yes, and look, there are a lot of Democrats. My buddy Tom Carper, he'll tell you it needs to be fixed. We need to take a look at flexibility around the essential health benefits. I only get into all the weeds here but there was a movement, and still can be a movement for both parties to get together and stabilize the insurance market.

You know, the insurance companies are now beginning to say this will destabilize the ability of people to have health insurance because a lot of companies are going to pull out. I mean, Russian this thing, it could be slowed down. We should do Medicaid later, we have to stabilize the markets and do it together. We don't need to worry about who wins, who loses, if Republicans can get that done they will be viewed as a winner, particularly if they can do it and have it be stable.

COOPER: There does seem to be a conservative effort to address a Senator Murkowski's concern with the bill especially when it comes to funding for Alaska and either thing they could do in terms of Ohio to make you come around?

KASICH: No, no, no, and look, what is this like a deal. Let me throw your some money over here, we throw some money over there and see if we can patch it together.

COOPER: That's where it seems like this. I mean --

KASICH: Again, Anderson -- well, Anderson, we're in a ping-pong match. I mean, I like ping-pong but I play it for fun, I don't play it, you know, in terms of determining how people are going to be treated. What -- why are they doing this, you know? I know that in order to have anything sustainable, I don't care what it is, civil rights, balancing budgets, welfare reform, entitlement reform, tax reforms, you got to have both parties. And this growing notion in American that we can just do it alone and we can shut other people out, and it's not just Republicans, the Democrats did it, the town is not functioning properly Anderson, and God bless them. Either a lot of Americans not functioning properly, and we all have to do our part, maybe we can ask the guys up -- the guy upstairs to give us a little bit of strength to make sure that we can all do a little bit better. We all fail, but you know what? I think we can all do a little better.

[20:50:10] COOPER: Governor Kasich, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

KASICH: OK, Anderson, thank you.


COOPER: Up next, we want to get you an update on hurricane Maria from the leader of the team that's flying to it right now.


COOPER: We continue to follow hurricane Maria after its slammed Puerto Rico leaving everyone on the island without power as other islands brace for hurricane tonight just for flying through it, airborne on the storm. Joining me on the phone right now is NOAA Flight Director Richard Henning.

Richard, where is it hurricane at this point, and what's it doing?

RICHARD HENNING, FLIGHT DIRECTOR, NOAA (via telephone): Well, Anderson, the hurricane is just to the northwest of the Puerto Rican coast heading west northwest. We are at an altitude of 45,000 feet right near the northwestern corner of Puerto Rico heading south. And we are picking our way through some massive thunderstorms that have built up to 50,000 feet and higher, which is means this is above the altitude of our aircraft.

So we're actually having a hard time taking through the worst of this storm right now. It is blowing up rather significantly right now. You hear the word convection used a lot by meteorologists, that's a fancy word for thunderstorms. And this thing has a whole bunch of brand-new thunderstorms that has just swarmed over the last several hours and so basically the center of Maria is trying to reorganize again, and it has plenty of energy to work with, with all of these thunderstorms that are feeding in towards the center that are knocking us around pretty severely up here at 45,000 feet.

[20:55:15] COOPER: Have you noticed any unique patterns in this storm?

HENNING: Well, just an amazing thing about this storm is its ability to intensify very, very rapidly. What we saw just east of Dominica, the other day and evening was remarkable. The intensification from a cat-2 or cat-5 and then the Dominica even though it's a small island it's very mountainous. And so it actually took a bit of beating near the core of the storm going across that island. But as soon as it got in the Caribbean, the open waters, it rapidly intensified again to that ridiculous intensity that it had before it struck Puerto Rico with winds of 175 miles an hour just south of Puerto Rico.

The only reason why Puerto Rico was not struck with an incredibly intense category five hurricane was because it was going through that eye wall replacement cycle that you've heard meteorologists talked about today. And possibly be going through one of those, as it was making landfall and that saved the southeast coast of Puerto Rico from getting 175-mile-per-hour winds.

So, when people say it was only a category-4 storm, that's a pretty absurd thing to say because it obviously has devastated the island. But it actually could have been worse because it was going through one of those cycles when it did make landfall which, you know, weakened it slightly. That is actually broadened the wind feel, so more of Puerto Rico probably got 100-mile-per-hour winds than they would have if that eye wall replacement cycle hadn't started.

COOPER: Yes, well, you're gathering important information for meteorologists all across the country. We appreciate all of you and your team for all your doing. Richard Henning, thank you.

Up next, we'll have more on hurricane Maria including the latest forecast on where it may strike next.

The death toll climbing again in Mexico, sad to say, as searchers race to find quake survivors.