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Hurricane Maria Barrels Toward Puerto Rico; Death Toll Soars to 216 in Mexico Earthquake; Special Counsel Investigating Manafort for Possible Financial Crimes Going Back 11 Years. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2017 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:19] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Wednesday, September 20, 6 a.m. here in New York. And there are two deadly natural disasters causing unimaginable destruction.

The death toll soaring to at least 216 lives lost after a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake that is rocking central Mexico. I say "rocking"; even though the earthquake is over, there are aftershocks, and the search -- the search -- continues. Right now a school where dozens of children are reported missing, they're digging through by hand right now. This is the deadliest earthquake to hit Mexico in decades. And they don't even know the extent of the loss yet.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Also breaking at this hour, Puerto Rico is bracing for what they call a catastrophic impact from Hurricane Maria. This is now a Category 4 storm, meaning it is packing 155- mile-per-hour winds. It will make landfall at any moment there.

Hurricane Maria is on on target to be the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century. The life-threatening winds and torrential rain are already there. Maria leaving destruction in the Virgin Islands, as well. You can see some of the aftermath. One person was killed, two others missing.

So we have it all covered for you with the global resources of CNN. Let's begin with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He is live in Palmas Del Mar on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, where the eye will soon make landfall.

Nick, what's the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, it's been impossible to sleep tonight. The sheer gusts of wind blasting in here. Now personally, I think, actually, the winds may be slightly less vicious now than they were about an hour ago, when it really picked up, blowing in the windows of the building we're in here. It's a concrete structure, relatively safe, and causing gusts in.

The siren you're hearing in the background, we're not sure what that is. That may be the fire alarm of the building, or it may be related to a warning about flash flooding we got on our text message phones, cell phones when they were still working here, warning that there will be a flash flood warning until 8:30.

Now, it's just coming up just past 6 here now. We were expecting the hurricane to make landfall at 8. It may be earlier. It may be why the flash flood warning ends at 8:30. We're not clear at this point.

But the destruction simply to this pretty well reinforced building is extraordinary. Let me get out of the way, so you can see what it's done just down there to a concrete area, tearing off the canopy roofs.

Dawn is just about trying to break at this particular time over there, and we're seeing the damage done to the palm trees. Let me move our cameraman, Will Bonnet (ph) around here, just so he can show you more damage done to this hotel, despite the intense rain and the darkness here. And he's also just going to move to show you a little bit more from another angle, too. Let me walk in front of the camera with you.

Incredibly hard to simply get a signal up to show you this kind of ferocious wind. I started down there in reception of hotel, are extraordinary gusts of wind blowing in vast amounts of vegetation. We may be about to see the flash flooding coming in, but we certainly soon are going to see dawn and get a better sense of the destruction that's happened in the past three or four hours.

But this is pretty much the worst storm Puerto Rico's seen in 89 years. We heard winds of 175 miles an hour, and that could well make the worst. It's been extraordinary to be right in it because of the sheer ferocity rocking this particular well-build building. A remarkable moment -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Nick, please stay safe. Keep the team together. You've got a great vantage point to let us know what happens. We'll check back with you as soon as you tell us you've got fresh information.

The governor of Puerto Rico is praying that people heeded the calls to evacuate and that those who stayed are taking shelter. Hurricane Maria is bearing down on the island right now. CNN's Leyla Santiago is live in San Juan with more -- Leyla.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, we woke up to this sort of ominous hum this morning, and that is the wind. You can see right behind me as the palm trees are shaking. Roofing, you can actually hear it moving right now. These are strong winds. We have already hit up to 90-mile-per-hour wind gusts here in San Juan. And already, you're starting to see debris.

In the hotel where we are, they've actually moved everyone to one side of the building.

I checked in with the governor's office this morning. They tell me more than 11,000 people are right now in shelters. And that's a pretty small amount, given that this is an island of 3.5 million people.

As far as power goes, they are saying it is still too soon to get an assessment of how many people have lost power and -- and what the damage may be at this point.

But I mean, take a look around me. This wind is serious. And we have not even hit the eye yet. We are two to three hours away at last check for this, and already debris is moving. Debris that, by the way, much of it was still from Hurricane Irma just days ago.

People are going to wake up to quite a bit of wind, rain coming down here in San Juan. Many tourists are already finding themselves hunkering down in hotels right here in San Juan. Already, the governor saying that this is going to be one of the worst hurricanes in modern-day history for Puerto Rico. A storm of this magnitude has not been seen here, Chris, since 1928. And this, this is not the worst of it, Chris.

[06:05:14] CAMEROTA: I'll take it, Leyla. Thank you very much. Please go take cover. Be safe. Obviously, we'll check back with you throughout the program.

Let's get right now to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. He has the latest forecast. Exactly where is this right now, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Just about 10 miles southwest of where our Nick Paton Walsh is, the center of the eye itself. Landfall means that the center of the eye has moved onshore.

Now, the worst of the storm is already onshore for some spots, especially just for Culebra and into Vieques. Those are the areas that are already getting smashed with the worst possible wind on on the north side of the eye. Our Nick Paton Walsh right there. He said that the wind has died off just a little bit. That's because he's in this little blue zone right through. Here's Humacao and here -- right here -- Palmas Del Mar. And then down to the south, that's where the inner eye wall is. Nick will see that within the next 15 or 20 minutes.

Now farther to the north, up into San Juan, already the outer bands coming in. And I suspect San Juan will have winds at 120 miles per hour. A significant damaging storm. Catastrophic, if you will. Hard to put words on this storm how much damage will happen to Puerto Rico. The entire island will be covered with hurricane-force winds or greater. And about 20 to 30 percent will have winds over 100. Some spots, obviously, over 130, 140 very near the eyewall.

It does move away from the island in about eight hours. This is going to be a long storm. Think of yourself in an EF-1 or EF-2 tornado. Typically, they last 15 seconds and they're gone. This will last for hours. Also rainfall lasting for hours. Mersa Ponce (ph), we could see 20 inches of rainfall. And then finally moving on up toward the Dominican Republic and then farther to the north.

I will get to this in the next half hour, Chris. But the models have changed slightly. And the United States, the 48 states are not out of this yet because of what Jose may do to the storm, may push it to the west. I don't know if that's a fact yet. That's days and days and days away. But what we do know right now is Puerto Rico is getting a very hard storm. CUOMO: All right, Chad. We'll stick with you. Let us know as you

have updates. You have the intensity but also the duration. It's that combination effect that's creating such concern on the island of Puerto Rico.

Joining us now by the phone is the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, Jennifer Gonzalez Colon.

Commissioner, can you hear us?

JENNIFER GONZALEZ COLON, COMMISSIONER, PUERTO RICO (via phone): Yes, I can hear you clearly.

CUOMO: All right. Are you OK right now? Are you OK to talk?

COLON: Yes, I am (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I will tell you, I'm inside one of my closets in my house. Because the main entrance, even when its protected, we can feel the wind here. And it's really scary. I've never had this kind of event before. I mean, we remember Hugo, George, and other hurricanes. But this one, I'm living in Carolina, which is near San Juan on top of a hill. And I can tell you that we feel very scared. I mean, all the houses are shaking. Even the concrete building. The windows are already dropping a lot of water, like a river inside the house. So it's scary, and I don't know what's going to happen with our people in Vieques and the eastern part of the island that are going to be hit directly.

The last time we got a hurricane like this was 1928. And at that time, more than 5,000 people died. So the governor of Puerto Rico is doing a wonderful job, asking people to evacuate and go to shelters. And as you said already, more than 11,000 people are already in shelters.

So I got the opportunity to speak last night with Vice President Mike Pence and White House officials and FEMA directors. And they're ready to help once the hurricane has passed. There is a lot of equipment and resources on the island that came already from states to help us recover from this scary and catastrophic hurricane. And I pray to God that we can -- we can recover from this.

CUOMO: What is your concern about the parts of the island that are already damaged, already vulnerable from Irma? Were there any precautions for those people in particular?

COLON: Yes. Look for shelter. And that means being in your bathroom -- you can't get out right now of your house if you are in a complete (UNINTELLIGIBLE). A lot of people have thought it was going to be just rain. And I can tell you I'm in Carolina, and there's not just rain. A lot of wind. I can feel all the windows of my house, just blow away. And that kind of feeling, it's not just scary. But we urge you to get inside one of the rooms, one of the closets to wait to see what's going to happen and with water and food. Some people say that this is going to last for three or four hours.

[06:10:29] So I hope everybody is looking at this and that can pray for the people of Puerto Rico. We are not used to having these kind of magnitude of disasters, hurricane before. And those islands, like Vieques, people in the Virgin Islands, most of those houses are wooden houses. And I can assure you those wooden houses will never resist this kind of a hurricane.

CUOMO: Stick construction does not hold up in these type of winds very well. You're right. Chad Myers, meteorologist, says it is going to be long in duration. And you're going to feel like it slows down, and then it speeds up again. So to the best of your ability, please stay patient there, Commissioner. And that's going to be the real test for people in making it through this storm, is that they're going to have to deal with the duration. The structures are going to have to deal with the duration as well as the intensity.

Please know that, as your needs develop, see CNN is a resource. Let us know what word needs to get out, what the needs are, how people can help. And please, stay safe. We'll check back with you when it passes.

COLON: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. Be well -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I mean, Chad Myers said it could be eight hours that they're feeling this, but we have another breaking story right now, and that's the earthquake in Mexico City. The death toll soaring to more than 200 people after that powerful 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit. There's a frantic search right now for survivors.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Mexico City in a destroyed office building right behind her, as we can see. Rosa, tell us the latest.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Alisyn, a lot of very intense moments happening here in Mexico City.

Take a look behind me. You can see first responders digging through the rubble. And these folks have been working for hours, I'm told, by family members who are here, praying and waiting to hear if their loved one is OK.

Now, there is also a list of people that is right in front of me. I'm not sure if you can see it at the moment. But those are the lists of people who have actually been able to get out of this building alive. Now, this is one of dozens of buildings in the Mexico City area that have reportedly collapsed.

I'm told that this area where I'm at right now on the west side of the city, this is an area where people would hang out. This office building has businesses on the bottom portion, perhaps like restaurants or small eateries. Because this earthquake happened shortly after lunch, there were probably people eating there. Those are the stories that we're hearing here on the ground from people waiting and who have been waiting for hours to see if their loved ones are alive.

Now, there are a lot of challenges when it comes to digging through this rubble, as you might imagine. These first responders are being very careful, because they do believe that people are trapped inside. And they -- we've seen them go up through ladders and then convene up on the top, and then continue digging through the rubble.

From talking to some of the family members here on the ground, they tell me that they've been told that these first responders can hear voices. And so they continue digging. They continue going through the rubble. But a lot of challenges, Alisyn.

One thing that will be helping here shortly is the sunrise. One of the big challenges right now is that it's dark. They're using lights as much as they can. But of course, very, very difficult to dig through this rubble and to try to listen for signs of life in the middle of so much destruction.

CUOMO: Rosa, they're digging by hand right now, we understand. That's the level of urgency. Let us know as you get new information. We will remind people, those who have been trapped in buildings often live for days and wind up being rescued. So we'll stay on it.

Rosa Flores, thank you very much. We're also going to stay on what's happening with the hurricane. We'll be bringing you live pictures throughout the morning. This is something the likes of which they have not seen in a generation in Puerto Rico. This could be the worst thing that they've seen in recent history.

Also, we have major reporting for you, a CNN exclusive on another big story. Where will special counsel go to find potential crimes? That's always been the main concern for the White House. Well, now they have new reason to be concerned.

[06:14:57] We have new information about the interest in a main adviser to the president, next.


CUOMO: CNN exclusive. We have learned that the special counsel investigating Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is now taking a look at activities that go back more than a decade. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and Evan Perez broke this story.

Shimon, put some meat on the bones of this. What is new about it?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Chris. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators are reaching to go 2006 in a probe that appears to center on possible attacks and financial crimes of Paul Manafort. It's one indication of the pressure Mueller's team is placing on former Trump campaign -- on the former Trump campaign chair -- chairman.

We're told that the FBI's warrant for a July search of Manafort's Virginia home says that the investigation centered on possible crimes committed as far back as January 2006. And the broad time frame shows that Mueller's team is going well beyond Russian meddling during the campaign as part of the investigation of the -- of Trump campaign associates. As we reported yesterday, Manafort has been the subject of an FBI

investigation for years, including wiretaps. And he has emerged as a focal point for Mueller's, Manafort, for the investigation.

Now Manafort spokesmen declined to comment for the story, but Manafort previously has denied any financial wrongdoing, Chris.

CAMEROTA: Shimon, if this is Mueller's focus, if the 2016, if there's meddling, why are they going all the way back to 2006?

PROKUPECZ: Well, the period mentioned in the search warrant covers much of the decade that Manafort worked as a consultant for Ukraine's former -- for the Ukrainians' former ruling party. It's that work that prompted the FBI's interest in Manafort. The party was accused of corruption, and the FBI was trying to figure out whether the American consultants were involved.

CUOMO: So even though it was long before the campaign, it's about whether or not there might have been undue influence or any ability to leverage any of the people around Trump, and they're looking at the event that may have developed that kind of leverage. Understood.

[06:20:07] Another question, a lot of supporters of the president are using news that Manafort was being surveilled as proof that the president was right that he was wiretapped by Obama. Do your sources see a connection between those two allegations?

PROKUPECZ: No. We have no -- none of our sources see any connections to that allegation. In fact, it's been quite the opposite. You know, everyone that we've talked to have denied that allegation and, in fact, the Department of Justice has publicly denied that allegation in some -- in court filings. And the former FBI director, when he testified before the Hill, also denied that allegation. So from everyone we've talked to, you know, from public statements, have all denied that allegation.

CAMEROTA: So Shimon, we had heard in your reporting, your exclusive reporting yesterday, that some of the investigators had said to Manafort, "You're going to be indicted."

Is there any sense of whether or not Manafort is going to be charged with something?

PROKUPECZ: There is some sense, certainly from people close to him and some of the sources that we've talked to, that he's likely, at least initially, to face some sort of tax and financial crime charges. You know, this investigation, as we're reporting this morning and we've been reporting last night, has been -- has gone back to 2006.

So Bob Mueller and his team are now looking at all of his financial dealings, you know, for more than a decade, and are looking to see if there are any tax violations, any fraud that could potentially bring charges. And right now, that is certainly what people close to Manafort and the sources that we've talked to are expecting.

CUOMO: All right. Shimon, appreciate it. The FBI taking it seriously enough that they went in there with their guns drawn, reportedly, and actually asked Manafort's wife if she had any weapons on her.

CAMEROTA: While they were in bed. I mean, we have a lot of new color about what -- how all this went down at Manafort's home.

So let's discuss it with our political panel. We have CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN senior political Ron Brownstein. Great to have both of you.

John, this is all intriguing. Hard to know if it has anything to do with the 2016 Russian meddling. They haven't connected those dots if Paul fort was doing something untoward.

I think one of the questions it raises is given the scope of the Manafort investigation right now, it would have captured all conversations before the campaign, during the campaign, after the campaign and during the election. It's going to probably have been caught in this net. There is a lot of information to come out. Bad news for Manafort. And obviously some evidence that the Mueller team is hoping to flip it.

Look, it is an unusual situation. Manafort directly and through counsel could not be wrong more 100 percent in the fact that he never did anything wrong. So you have no gray area right now between these two sides. We'll see what they can develop with proof.


CAMEROTA: So John, this is all intriguing. Hard to know if it has anything to do with the 2016 Russia meddling, when they haven't connected those dots yet. If Paul Manafort was doing something untoward and if it bled into the campaign.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's obviously the key question. These are incredible details about the seriousness and aggressiveness of the investigation. But I think one of the questions it raises is, given the scope of the Manafort investigation right now, if they would have captured all conversations, potentially, so before he joined the campaign, while he was at the campaign, after the campaign and surrounding the election.

So if he is a linchpin, based on his relationship with Ukraine and Russian-backed sources, would any potential collusion with the campaign, is going to probably have been caught in this net. There's a lot of information to come out. But it's bad news for Manafort, and obviously, some evidence that the Mueller team is hoping to flip him.

CUOMO: And look, it's an unusual situation, because Manafort directly and through counsel could not be, Ron, more 100 percent in the fact that he never did anything wrong. So you have no gray area right now between these two sides.


CUOMO: We'll see what they can develop with proof. Ron, what's your take on this pushback by Trump folk saying, "See? Trump was right. He was wiretapped by Obama, because Manafort being surveilled, by extension, makes him right"? Is that just a desperate plea for some type of sense of satisfaction?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I think the first point is John's last point is really the key point here. I mean, what we are seeing, I think, is a prosecutor sending a very clear signal that he is going to use every tool and legal strategy available to maximize the pressure on someone who he sees as central to his investigation. And presumably, I think we're going to see some similar developments around former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

There is one, I would amend, one thing. It does appear there was a gap in the surveillance for Paul Manafort. It is possible that there would be relevant communications that would not have been captured.

And no, look, I mean, this has always -- this has always been -- you know, when we talked about this when the president originally made this accusation, the only way there is a wiretap of Paul Manafort is if -- if is a FISA judge or a judge is convinced that there is sufficient evidence to justify it.

I mean, it always perplexed me, this idea that there -- there is some sort of exoneration here in the idea that there was, you know, surveillance attempted. Because it not only implies, it necessitates a decision by a judge that there was sufficient evidence to justify it. And I think as John was also suggesting, we don't know exactly what we don't know. And that is -- that is just critical in kind of assessing any kind of criminal investigation.

I think the clearest message here is that -- is that Mueller is going to use every tool available to him to maximize the pressure on those he sees essential to his inquiry.

[06:25:01] CAMEROTA: OK. Next topic. What's going on on Capitol Hill with health care? They're trying once again to repeal and replace Obamacare. This last gasp is the Graham-Cassidy Bill.

Bill Cassidy, of course, came to fame when he said that he created the Jimmy Kimmel Test. Jimmy Kimmel last night said this does not pass his test. And he went so far -- Jimmy Kimmel went so far as to say that, in fact, Bill Cassidy lied to his face about what any sort of future health care plan would look like. Let's listen to this for a moment.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, ABC'S "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE!" I don't know what happened to Bill Cassidy, but when he was on his publicity tour, he listed his demands for health care very clearly. These were his words.

He said he wants coverage for all; no discrimination based on pre- existing conditions; lower premiums for middle-class families; and no lifetime caps. And guess what? The new bill does none of those things.

And this guy, Bill Cassidy, just lied right to my face.

Do you believe that every American, regardless of income, should be able to get regular checkups, maternity care, et cetera, all of those things that people who have health care get and need?


KIMMEL: So "yep" is Washington for "nope," I guess.

Stop using my name, OK? Because I don't want my name on it. There's a new Jimmy Kimmel Test for you. It's called the lie detector test. You're welcome to stop by the studio and take it any time.


AVLON: That big (ph) because it resonates, right? It resonates to folks who may not be following every push of this particular bill. But here's what they also need to know in addition to that evisceration by Jimmy Kimmel, which will draw attention. One, trying to get the bill through by the end of September. So there's an artificial timeline. It appears there will be no scoring of the bill. So people who are -- ostensibly care about fiscal responsibility, not there.

CUOMO: But that's part of the law of reconciliation, though. They can't get it through under that exception without a score.

AVLON: All the more reason to do it on regular order.

Second thing is, you've got Republican governors, including Ohio's John Kasich, who came out against it. The margin remains very tight. Alaska's independent governor came out against it. And there is no funding for -- to combat the opioid crisis. The $45 billion that was added to the last bill to try to sweeten the pot for West Virginia senators, that's not in here right now.

CUOMO: But they do have a provision to keep money from those who provide abortions. But that may get taken out in what they call the birdbath, which is something that's either revenue-neutral so it can't go in under reconciliation.

AVLON: Birdbath's awkward (ph), indeed. But the point is, this is a full-court press right now. But there are a lot of fundamental pieces that aren't there.

CUOMO: How do you see it, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: Look, it's deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say, with one twist. It is another bill that would substantially increase the number of insured, that as John said, is moving outside of the normal committee. And even -- the thought that you would restructure one fifth of the economy without a score from the CBO is incredible. And is facing opposition from some Republican as well as Democratic governors, because it would impose substantial costs on Republican constituencies.

The twist is that this bill, more directly than the previous ones, attempts redistricts federal dollars away from blue states toward Republican states that did not expand Medicaid. As the Census Bureau showed us last week, there's a big gap in coverage between the states that did and did not expand coverage. The problem, though, is it does target some Republican constituents. Again, states like Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, all with Republican senators, would be big losers under this bill, and Alaska, as well.

CUOMO: And you're seeing governors like the idea that they're going to get the money as a block grant. That's tempting also, politically. But the reason I'm highlighting law is they say they're law and order. You can't do it without a CBO score. You can't put things in there that don't pass the birdbath test. They matter. The law matters. That's why I'm bringing it up.

All right. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

So we're going to keep showing you pictures of what Hurricane Maria is doing to Puerto Rico right now. This is the most powerful storm to hit the islands since the '20s. It's making land fall right now. They're expecting catastrophic results. A live report, the latest forecast, next.