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Republicans Targeting Health Care; Special Counsel Focusing on Trump's Actions in Office; Hurricane Maria Slams Puerto Rico; Search for Survivors Following Mexico Earthquake. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: More than 220 deaths have been confirmed so far, as rescue crews frantically comb through the rubble of dozens of collapsed buildings.

Mexico's president says rescuers have been asking for total silence at times, in hopes of hearing voices from under debris. That's what happens when you watch. When they raise their fists in the air, that tells everyone to become quiet and you can just hear everyone come to a standstill.

All right, let's go back out live to Mexico City to Miguel Marquez, who it looks like is about to start whispering because they want the silence. They want to hear the little girl.

Can you give us an update, Miguel?


We have had an uptick in activity here. It's not very clear what's happened, but they have just asked for another moment of silence here, as searchers are continuing to pour in here. We have seen a ton of activity down here.

A short time ago (AUDIO GAP) ambulances down there now. You can see here in front of me there are more searchers and police going down there to help in the search.

A few moments ago, we saw what appeared to be a husband and wife in complete grief, barely able to walk, being taken from the scene and away from the school.

I have seen a few people who appear to be parents leaving the scene today, most of them just stone-faced, without emotion, barely able to speak, to move.

The parents that we saw come out here just a short time ago were very, very distraught.

I'm going to give you a sense. We are standing in a crowd of probably 1,000 people, and I want to give you a sense of just how loud it is right now. I mean, you hear literally nothing. It's pin-drop quiet. It has been

like that for the last 20 or 30 minutes. Every few minutes, they ask for more silence. And they have had a long, prolonged period of silence now for about seven, eight minutes, probably one of the longest periods that we have had today so far.

So it is hopeful that they are getting close to bringing someone out. We know they believe there was a girl down there. They could see her arm moving or they think her arm was moving. They got a hose down to her so they could get some water to her. They were using thermal devices to see how she was doing.

So they think they have something. There is just a lot of activity down there right now. And keep in mind, this is just one scene. There are hundreds of scenes like this across not only Mexico City, but big cities in the south Puebla and Morelos, very big city. Millions of people live in those places.

And those were even closer to the epicenter of this quake. It feels like a normal day in one part of the city, and then suddenly you come across just a throng of rescue workers and volunteers and a pancaked building as they are digging through it hand by hand, cup by cup of dirt.

And now they're back at it. So they have just called off the moment of silence, so we can go back to our regular voices, and give you a sense of what's happening here.

It has been this all day long. Just in the last half-hour or so, it's really picked up the pace. Just every few minutes, they're asking for a moment of silence, so they can hear what's going on there.

What we didn't hear the last 20, 30 minutes, Brooke, were the whistles. They typically would blow whistles when the moment of silence was on, presumably so that those under the rubble could hear the whistles and react to them. They weren't doing that this time. They seem to know what they're going after.

I saw a lot of wood going in there. They were calling for carpenters earlier. Basically, it's like trying to build a mine, but by handful by handful of dirt, rather than using big machines. They're going in there trying to truss up what they can, where they have been digging, and get to that person.

It's our understanding from one of our local affiliates that they're looking for some sort of bridge-like device that they can get under her, so that they can bring her out, but it's hard to tell. The stress of the building and the way that it fell, it's hard to tell whether they can dig her out enough that they can get her out safely -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: All right, so carpenters coming in to build this sort of bridge to get her out of the rubble. Miguel Marquez, just incredible scenes there, as everyone is stone-cold silent trying to find her and rescue her.


At least it sounds like her hand was moving. We will stay really close to you and hopefully we can see her come out alive and hopefully those ambulances there is a good sign.

Miguel, thank you for now in Mexico City.

The other deadly natural disaster we're following, Hurricane Maria. This storm crossing Puerto Rico has now been downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane, but it made landfall as a powerful Category 4 this morning along the southeast side of the island.

Maria has knocked out power to the entire island. So 100 percent of Puerto Ricans, no power. This is the strongest hurricane to ravage Puerto Rico in 89 years. And just size-wise, to give you some perspective, it spans the distance between Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

We even got a satellite image. Let me share this with you. This is what we got from NASA. Forecasters want to make this very clear that Maria remains a deadly storm. In fact, it's so fierce, it broke two National Weather Service radars on the island.

And that's Puerto Rico, Dominica. That's where seven people were killed there on that island. Listen here to when the storm made landfall.

We have got Nick Paton Walsh, our CNN senior international correspondent, live for us in Palmas Del Mar in Puerto Rico.

As we mentioned, although I see lights on behind you, 100 percent of the island without power. Tell me where you are and how bad it is.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was obviously really hit by the eye of the storm. The first landfall, we saw about 6:00 or 7:00 a.m.

But, bizarrely, it's the hotel that has managed to keep its generators running pretty much nonstop since we have been here. That chandelier sort of a surreal example of how elements of it have endured.

But if you just allow our cameraman to move forward slightly and show you the devastation in front of this hotel, very few trees really left standing there. And, of course, this has been earlier on today exactly where so much of the force of that hurricane was channeled down, blowing vegetation down into the courtway behind me here.

This the lobby of a holiday resort literally when we arrived yesterday. The 75-mile-per-hour winds were fierce. And it got to about 155. For us here at about 6:30 to 7:00, we felt probably the strongest amount of violence of the wind as it seemed Maria crept ashore here.

And then it seemed to come back at a later stage equally fiercely and too, of course, we have seen the tropical rains here. In fact, just in the last -- a nearly horizontal wave of water still coming in. Substantial damage to this hotel. We're prepared. Everybody

basically left. But let me just show you some of the surreal scenes here. A grand piano still standing, spattered in wet leaves, and actually a white leather couch further down there too sat out (INAUDIBLE) blown clean away by the power of the storm, roofs blown off clean off all around us.

It has been extraordinary to hear and feel at times the force of that particular storm. And, of course, this is an island still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma just over a fortnight ago.

In fact, they showed me in the kitchen down there a ceiling that had buckled because of that hurricane. They're now concerned it may fall down because of the weight of the water here right now.

And, in fact, a moment of tears really for the general manager passing through the lobby here when she had to pause and see for the first time the extent of the damage in this hotel. Some of the staff coming in for the first time to see the extent.

This just one incredibly small story here in a country of 3.5 million people, none of whom really have electricity, it ran out, all of whom I'm sure have some story about how this hurricane has ripped through their lives -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: So many Puerto Ricans here in the United States trying to reach out to loved ones, as you mentioned, just hit by two hurricanes back-to-back, horrible, horrible for them.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you.



BALDWIN: As your watching that, we're also watching Mexico City, this event unfolding, these crews racing to rescue this little girl at an elementary school that collapsed from that powerful earthquake there.

Stand by, as Mexico says they are close.

And we are getting some breaking news on the Russia investigation and a report indicating special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into the president's actions since entering the Oval Office.

You're watching CNN. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: Breaking news now involving the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, all the issues surrounding that.

So, just in from "The New York Times," they are now reporting that the special counsel here, Bob Mueller, has asked the White House for a series of notes and documents that indicate an intense focused on the president's actions since he came into office in January.

So let's begin with Mark Preston, our senior legal analyst here at CNN, and so -- political analyst, forgive me.

Reading this reporting from "The New York Times," walk us through the different events that Mueller is looking into.


So, "The New York Times" has just broken this story. CNN of course is working to corroborate it, but a couple of things that is very interesting about this report.

One is, we're hearing now from the "New York Times" report that Robert Mueller is looking for 13 different areas or specific issue areas where he's requesting information from the White House specifically that involve President Trump.

A couple of the main ones, though, that we have been talking a lot about over the past few weeks, one is the firing of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, number two, the firing of the FBI director, James Comey. Related to the Comey firing was a meeting that President Trump had with Russian officials in the Oval Office where he described how he was relieved that he had fired Comey because it was a great amount of pressure off of him.

Now, we learned about that meeting because of leaked notes that came out of that. There was never really any pushback from the White House to say that that wasn't true. And the fourth one has to do with his son's meeting during the campaign in June 2016 in Trump Tower where he willingly took a meeting, Donald Trump Jr. did, to try to meet with Russian operatives to see if they had any dirt, any research on Hillary Clinton.

Now, specifically, too, what we're learning from "The Times" and what Mr. Mueller, we're hearing from, is what he's asking for is what role did the White House have in responding to that meeting?

And, of course, that happened just a couple of months ago when the White House changed its story multiple times over that meeting that occurred in June of 2016.

Now, Brooke, we should note, this is not a blind fishing expedition. Robert Mueller is a very, very well-known investigator. And a lot of these events anyway are not something that's being pulled out of thin air. These are all events that we have heard of. Ty Cobb is quoted in the "Times" story -- he is Donald Trump's lawyer, Brooke -- saying that he will turn over many of the documents this week.

We will have more on this story, of course, throughout the evening.

BALDWIN: So, let me just go back. So, you highlighted that the events that we have all been covering, but it's 13 different areas where Mueller's office wants documents. I know you said, as critics have said, this is a fishing expedition.

You're saying no.


BALDWIN: What does this tell you, though, big picture, about how the scope of this investigation and just really how aggressive Mueller is being?


So, one of the things that you will often hear when we're discussing these investigations is that it's a fishing expedition, that they're throwing just lines in the water, hoping to catch something.

I think that you have got to say it's much bigger than that. It's like a fishing trawler expedition. They have thrown out many large nets that go back many, many years. We've reported ourselves in the past 24 hours that they're looking into Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for Donald Trump, not specifically just what he was doing during the campaign, going back multiple, multiple years.

BALDWIN: Eleven months' worth.

PRESTON: So, they're clearly looking for connections to see if there was any influence from the Russians in regards to whether or not President Trump or any of his associates had any knowledge or participation in trying to influence the election in 2016.

BALDWIN: OK. Here's my next question. For that, I have got Paul Callan on the phone, our legal analyst here at CNN.

And so, Paul Callan, this is what the Mueller team wants. They want these notes and documents pertaining to these 13 different areas within this investigation. Can the White House say no?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: In theory, they could, Brooke, because they do have the right to assert executive privilege with respect to many of these documents if they wish to do so.

And there have been reports of internal disputes among the president's lawyers about how much material should be released voluntarily. Now, Ty Cobb has taken the position supposedly in private meetings and publicly that there should be at much cooperation as possible, voluntary cooperation.


The history of this stuff, when presidents try to block access by special prosecutors to documents, it's not unusual for them to assert executive privilege. But I can tell you that in virtually every instance when it's been done, in the end, they work out a deal and withdraw the assertion of executive privilege.

So my bet is they may make some noises that the request is too broad, but in the end, they will fold and Mueller will get these documents. And he seems to be now lasering in on the Trump Tower meeting, which kind of was the first solid piece of evidence that came forward about a presidential representative meeting with a representative of the Russians supposedly about dirt on Hillary Clinton.

So I'm not surprised that Mueller's road would lead back to that meeting.

BALDWIN: And that was about how they responded and the president's response that was apparently crafted on Air Force One. All of those notes and all of those documents, I presume, pertains to what Mueller and his team want their hands on.

Paul Callan and Mark Preston, thank you both so much on "The New York Times"' reporting there.

So we are also watching Mexico City. We have had this box on your screen here, as we have been watching so, so closely. We want to see this little girl rescued alive. This frantic search has been under way at this elementary school that's been hit from that 7.1-magnitude earthquake there.

Rescuers, they say they're close. They say they saw a hand move. Put a hose down there just to get her some water. We have got Miguel Marquez on the scene. We will take you there live coming up.



BALDWIN: Just as Republicans are in the throes are trying to push through this last-ditch effort to overturn Obamacare, former President Barack Obama speaking out today in New York weighing in.

He just spoke at this event sponsored by the Gates Foundation.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so when I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress for the 50th or 60th time--


OBAMA: -- with bills that would raise costs or reduce coverage or roll back protections for older Americans or people with preexisting conditions, the cancer survivor, the expecting mom or the child with autism or asthma, for whom coverage once again would be almost unattainable, it is aggravating.

And all of this being done without any demonstrable economic or actuarial or plain commonsense rationale, it -- it frustrates. And it certainly is frustrating to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents.

But, well, typically, that's how progress is won. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now, CNN national politics reporter M.J. Lee and CNN political commentator Errol Louis. He's also a political anchor for Spectrum News.

And so, all right, let's get straight to it. And I think -- I know you're on the substance. Let me ask you about preexisting in just a second.

But, Errol, just bigger picture, hearing the president, I don't know if he's holding his nose or holding his breath through this whole process, this Hail Mary, this Graham-Cassidy bill. But were you surprised he came out today and specifically addressed the signature piece of legislation?


BALDWIN: And did you want to hear more? What did you think?

LOUIS: Well, I took this as the ex-president settling into his role as ex-president, as the most recently elected Democratic president.

You know, Jimmy Carter is still there, Bill Clinton is still there, but Obama has got to and figure out where he fits into this. And just as they -- those two ex-presidents did very different things, Clinton with his Global Initiative, Jimmy Carter with his international work and his home building and so forth, Obama is trying to figure out where he goes.

What I heard the speech as him doing as is speaking about the great Democratic victories of the past, the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, the New Deal.

BALDWIN: Lot of talk of progress.

LOUIS: That's right. And if you look at the history books, every one of those was subjected to countless lawsuits, efforts to repeal.

And so I heard him sort of, as he often does, try to sort of put himself in a historical context and say, look, this always happen. We pass major legislation to try and advance what Democrats believe is the social good, and Republicans try and try and try to undo it.

BALDWIN: In part of the undoing, the big piece that was precious to him and so many people in this country was preexisting conditions. And you hear it from him and the Democrats yesterday on the Hill saying -- and even Jimmy Kimmel last night on TV saying, essentially, you're SOL, depending on where you are financially.

On the other side, the Republicans are saying, no, no, no, we have got you.

What's the truth?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think Republicans find themselves in a really tough position, because they are being sort of thrown at with facts and the sort of the reality of what this Graham-Cassidy bill would do.

And this preexisting conditions part is so, so big, because so many people have family members, friends, know stories about people with preexisting conditions and what that used to be like pre-Obamacare years, right, and why it is now easier if you're someone with preexisting conditions.

And so many people have preexisting conditions because it covers such a wide breadth of things that you could have, mental conditions or surgeries that you have had in the past. And so now Republicans are having to explain. This is a law or a bill that, if it becomes law, would be hurtful to people--


LEE: -- so many people who have preexisting conditions.

I was thinking about, you know, yesterday, just in terms of the big question of whether this is going to pass next week.