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Hurricane Maria Knocks Out Power to All of Puerto Rico; Maria Lashes the Dominican Republic and Destroys Puerto Rico; Rescuers Race to Save Girl Buried in School Rubble; Mueller Asks White House for Documents Linked to Trump Presidency. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired September 21, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most devastating storm in modern history.
[05:59:19] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're looking at four to six months without electricity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This hurricane has definitely lived up to its epic expectations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Mexico rescuers racing against the clock to find earthquake survivors trapped beneath the rubble.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Rescue workers have made contact with a young girl who they believe is still alive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mueller's team requesting information surrounding the dismissals of Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're doing everything they can to see what evidence there is of obstruction of justice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Clearly, Mr. Manafort had a series of relationships with folks in Russia. At some appropriate point, we're going to want to bring him in.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, September 21, 6 a.m. here in New York. And we do begin with breaking news for you.
Hurricane Maria gaining strength again, hitting the Dominican Republic, while still dumping torrential rain over Puerto Rico. The storm knocking out power to millions of Americans. The entire island of Puerto Rico is in the dark. The governor there says it could be months before power is restored. Hurricane Maria is blamed for at least one death in Puerto Rico and at least 14 others in Dominica. CUOMO: Rescuers in Mexico are racing against time. The sounds of
cracking metal and concrete are raising fears of another collapse. The magnitude-7.1 earthquake leveling dozens of buildings, killing at least 250 people. Please know that that number is not final. There is this frantic search ongoing right now for a young girl buried in the rubble of her school in this earthquake-ravaged part of the country. It has all of our attention.
Emergency crews are working around the clock in the rain to get to her. There are reports that she may have been wiggling fingers and giving other information to the diggers. There could also be two other kids trapped alive in the debris near that girl. Now, to be honest, there could be dozens of people still in that structure and others. We have the global resources of CNN covering both of these disasters.
Let's begin with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, live in San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Nick.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, every dawn here brings a new series of discoveries and tragedies for the people of Puerto Rico. As you said, they will be without power for months ahead. Remember, they were still bracing themselves after hurricane Irma left 46,000 people without electricity then.
And even right now as we speak, the city of San Juan is under an emergency flash flood warning. They're worried about water flooding in. Because of these continued torrential rains, we saw the devastation as we traveled yesterday from the eye of the storm where we were with you yesterday to here, San Juan.
WALSH (voice-over): Puerto Rico ravaged. After taking its first direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane in nearly a century. The governor imposing a curfew each night for Puerto Rico's 3.4 million residents. The entire island in the dark after the power grid was completely knocked out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're looking at four to six months without electricity.
WALSH: Roofs ripped off buildings, homes reduced to rubble. Streets swallowed by floodwaters, littered with debris. Gas stations under water. The island's already fragile infrastructure decimated.
Governor asking President Trump to declare the island a disaster zone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the most devastating storm either in a century or, quite frankly, in modern history.
WALSH: Hurricane Maria unleashing punishing winds up to 155 miles per hour. Pelting torrential rain sideways and breaking trees in half. As residents rode out the storm, some in shelters, others in stairwells. (on camera): I have never seen anything like this. The ferocity
powering through. It's pulling away the awnings, pulling out the trees, too. This is the road of destruction we encountered on our drive from the East Coast to the island in Palmas del Mar where Maria made landfall, forcing us to evacuate our hotel. The scale of devastation staggering. The highway littered with dead trees, downed electrical cables and telephone professionals, propellers snapping off wind turbines.
(voice-over): The closer we got to San Juan, the more dangerous the drive became. Water inundating the roadways as we tried to pass. The storm surges of upwards of five feet, turning streets into rivers and parking lots into swimming pools. The monster storm devastating much of the Caribbean. The worst of it captured in these aerial images on the island of Dominica, which took a direct hit from Maria, was a Category 5 storm.
At least 14 people are dead, many others still missing. Officials estimating about 70 percent of the island's buildings damaged or destroyed.
WALSH: You saw there the damage of the storm itself, its ferocious power and also the remarkable images you see of the devastation it leaves behind. But what comes now is hopefully when the rain subsides, the incredibly painstaking and emotional plight of trying to rebuild here, because these are people down to the last tank of water in their homes, hoping the water will maintain, without electricity to do basic things in life. Wondering if they can get back to their jobs, if that will continue.
Really, even in this capital city of San Juan, every morning waking up to a completely new world they hadn't imagined was possible just a few days ago -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Yes, Nick. I mean, life as they know it has changed. And this is just the beginning. Thank you very much for the reporting. We'll check back with you through the program. Hurricane Maria is now battering the Dominican Republic. A storm surge. The big concern there right now. And that's where we find CNN's Polo Sandoval. He is live in Punta Cana at the eastern-most tip of the Dominican Republic. What's the situation, Polo?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, all night long we have been monitoring a double threat here. The first one, the most visual one, the winds. They have been relentless and been whipping all night long. We've seen it in the palm trees here.
Keep in mind, the actual eye of the storm here is well off the coast here. But those outer bands are what have been hammering the island here of the Dominican Republic. The other threat, torrential rains. This precipitation that we've been seeing. What we are likely to see, according to local forecasters, will definitely pose a threat. The island here, Chris, of course, is currently in a delicate state. We have seen Irma. We have seen Jose. It dumped an incredible amount
of rain here, so the streams are swollen. The ground is saturated. The precipitation that we are likely to see in the coming days will pose a serious threat. As for the people here in the Dominican Republic, there are plenty of tourists. Thousands of them, many of them will be hoping for an opportunity to make their way back home when the airports could open late this afternoon. As for the locals, they are waiting for daybreak when they will be able to assess the damage.
Chris, back to you.
CUOMO: And Polo, I know we're slow on saying that they're going to get a little bit of a break on that island. I've been where you are. There's a lot of buildings right by the water's edge, even marginal storm surge to make a major impact. The winds get the headlines, but it's the water that kills people in hurricanes. Be safe there. We'll check back with you in a little bit.
This storm, Maria, where is it headed next? Could it impact the U.S.?
CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest forecast track. I'm sorry to parrot the wisdom of Chad, but I've learned how true it is, and I'm passing it along to others.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, Chris, it is a big storm. And I know you've seen what Irma did. But this is still going to be a devastating event even offshore for the D.R., the Dominican Republic. And more rain on to Puerto Rico again today. And flash-flood warnings are in effect for the entire island there. So we will see this storm go into warmer water, gain more strength. We're already back up to a Category 3. Likely even stronger than that by the time it works its way through the Turks and Caicos.
So this is the track. This is the new model track. It does not approach the U.S. today. Now, yesterday it made kind of a run, especially at North Carolina. For now, the new model tracks from overnight take the storm and keep the storm offshore. That's good news. Not good news for the Turks and Caicos, and not good news for the battering erosion that's already taking place across the East Coast. But for now U.S. in the clear. We'll keep you advised. That can always change. This is very warm water. And at times hurricanes can do what they want -- Chris.
CUOMO: It's amazing how the eastern shore of Long Island, which has nothing to worry about in terms of any main path. The beaches have totally changed almost overnight, Chad.
MYERS: Yes, they have. They have been battered. There are homes and even harbors that have just been battered by this unrelenting wind, and that's from Jose. This isn't even from Maria.
CUOMO: All right, Chad. We'll check back. Thank you very much.
So millions of Americans are waking up in Puerto Rico without power, with rising flood waters, and they're not going to go away any time soon.
Yesterday, we had the island's resident commissioner, Jennifer Gonzalez. She was riding out the hurricane in a closet. Let's check in with her now.
Jennifer, can you hear us?
JENNIFER GONZALEZ, PUERTO RICO RESIDENT COMMISSIONER (via phone): Yes. Good morning. How are you doing?
CUOMO: Good. It is good to hear your voice. How is your family? What's the situation like around you?
GONZALEZ: Right now it is the first time it's not raining here. I'm in my home (ph) now. We are waiting to see when the power is going to come up. I know it's going to get difficult. The governor estimated that it could take a month or more to reestablish the power to the whole island.
So one of the problems is that, once you don't have power, then a lot of the homes that need it to -- for the running water are going to be out, too.
Second thing, the rescue laborers (ph) and research began this morning in so many areas that are flooded. Some families have been -- have been rescued. Others, still searching for them.
One of the main problems you may find is that a lot of the communication towers are offline. So the people in the mainland that are trying to call their relatives or families or friends here on the island, don't get desperate. I mean, the problem is we don't have communications in so many areas.
I am lucky then. My cell phones are functioning well.
[06:10:00] But that doesn't mean (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right now. We are using all the help, FEMA and federal government is giving off. I want to thank President Trump and the whole cabinet for their assistance, specifically FEMA, that is already on the island. The National Guard, it's all over the place, helping with the rescue and research (ph) of people that are in the floods. All rivers are out, overflowed on their own banks. That's the main problem.
And as you said, that rain is going to continue during this weekend, and the soil is saturated. And that's the main problem. You won't find any trees at homes. You won't find any palms. So visually, it has devastated the island, at least what I can see from my home. I went out with my neighbors to see how far we can reach.
And there's a lot of power lines on the floor (ph). The rivers are over the bridges. The whole infrastructure is damaged.
I know that today the government is going to be doing the assessment of the damage at the airport and of all ports, seeing when we can reestablish the flights between Puerto Rico and the mainland. I've got a flight for tomorrow -- a flight for tomorrow that is being canceled. And it will take -- it will take long until we can recover. But we're going to be strong. And we will rise and be strong again.
CUOMO: Looking at the pictures of what happened down there and knowing what happened in Dominica, it is amazing that there is not more of an accounting of a loss of life. Yet, that may be a blessing in the situation. Everything else can be fixed with money, time, and effort, and cooperation from the federal authorities. We'll stay on the story. We'll stay on the need of the people in Puerto Rico.
Jennifer, it's good to hear your voice. I'm glad to hear you. Stay safe.
GONZALEZ: Thank you for the opportunity. Again, we're going to need a lot of help to recover and restart the island. And the main problem is going to be how to -- how to connect and reestablish the power grid.
CUOMO: Like we say, when Mother Nature is at her worst, human nature has to be at its best. Be well. Stay in touch.
GONZALEZ: Thank you.
CUOMO: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: Chris, there's another urgent story that we need to tell everybody out. There is a frantic search right now for survivors in Mexico after the deadliest earthquake to hit the country in decades. Rescuers have been working around the clock to try to save a 12-year- old girl who is buried under the rubble at her collapsed school.
CNN's Rosa Flores has been there live in Mexico City. She's here with us with the latest. Rosa, what's happening at this hour?
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, there is a tireless fight to save this little girl. Hundreds of resources have been dedicated to this. But it's a very delicate dance that these rescuers have to do. Because imagine this. There is the school that has collapsed. Now, they used their hands so they can delicately remove a lot of that debris as to not to make that building collapse further.
And then you've got rescuers using beams to try to shore up the building. Imagine almost, like, the building of tunnels through this collapsed building to try to get to this little girl.
Now, we've been receiving some conflicting reports. Some of the rescuers that have been speaking to our affiliate, FOROtv here in Mexico City, have said that they have seen the wiggling of fingers, that they have seen those signs of life.
Now, officials do tell us that they are trying to get to this little girl, accessing her through two different points. It's unclear exactly, according to officials, where this little girl is.
But, again, they are -- they are trying to get to her by shoring up the building, by creating these tunnels and sending rescuers through these tunnels to try to find signs of life. Now they also have people that are almost like spotters, if you will,
that are looking at the building to make sure that, if there is any sign of movement, they can get those rescuers out safely as to not create more havoc and perhaps take more life.
So, Chris, it's a very delicate dance here. But the efforts to try to save this little girl and perhaps others who are in this building, trapped since Tuesday, are tireless. People have been working around the clock. You can see people behind me. Resources arrive by the minute to try to get this little girl to safety -- Chris.
CAMEROTA: Rosa, it's just so heart-wrenching. Can you imagine? I mean, her parents. She's alive. They can communicate with her. But not knowing at this moment if they'll be able to get her out.
CUOMO: Yes. The emotional component is obvious. The practical component is a bigger concern for them right now, because they have the frustration of seeing her, of knowing what's going on. I was talking to these structural engineers last night. You know, well, if you can see her, why can't you pull her out?
[06:15:10] They are so worried about a domino effect of what will happen to the structure, and they really believe there are a lot of other people in the building. And that's why it's taking so long. And they are so worried that one wrong move could turn a triumph into an incredible tragedy. So we'll keep watching it.
CAMEROTA: Yes. We'll obviously have news throughout the program for you.
CUOMO: All right. Another big story back here at home is this latest twist in the Russia investigation. The special counsel, Bob Mueller, is targeting the president's actions. This could mean one of two things. We'll take you through both, next.
CUOMO: All right, as a rule of thumb when it comes to investigating, the direction you look is going to dictate what you'll find. And we have some major developments in where this special counsel is looking.
Mueller has requested White House documents linked to the president's own actions. This as the "Washington Post" reports that President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, reportedly offered a Russian billionaire, quote, "private briefings" on the 2016 election.
CNN's Joe Johns joins us now with more -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The clearest evidence yet that they're looking all the way up the food chain. The president is gearing up for a day of high-profile meetings with world leaders today, related to the North Korean threat and the fight against ISIS.
But new developments about the Russian probe are also sure to be top of mind for the White House.
[06:20:04] JOHNS (voice-over): Special Counsel Robert Mueller turning his attention toward President Trump himself. Sources tell CNN Mueller is requesting documents and information from the White House related to a range of events, including the president's firings of former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former FBI director James Comey.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, "You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story."
JOHNS: Sources also say Mueller's team is seeking information about the president's Oval Office meeting with Russian officials the day after Comey was fired in May.
According to "The New York Times," in that meeting Mr. Trump called Comey a nut job before noting that firing him relieved great pressure he was facing because of Russia.
President Trump's personal attorney, Ty Cobb, telling CNN that, "Out of respect for the special counsel and his process, the White House is not commenting but is committed to fully cooperating with the investigation."
But doubts are swirling about how much the administration will comply, after a reporter from the "New York Times" overheard Cobb and a colleague discussing in public last week the friction within the White House about handling investigators' demands.
Sources tell CNN that Mueller is also interested in speaking with a number of former and current staffers, in addition to aides who were on board Air Force One during the creation of the initial response to news of Donald Trump Jr.'s Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president weighed in, as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.
JOHNS: All of this coming as the "Washington Post" reports that President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire, closely aligned with the Kremlin in a July 2016 e-mail just two weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination.
"The Post" reports that, while there is currently no evidence that the briefings took place, the e-mail shows Manafort's willingness to profit from his role in the Trump campaign. Manafort's spokesman told "The Post" that the e-mails were innocuous.
Now, you'll remember the FBI raided Paul Manafort's home in a no-knock pre-dawn raid in July. CNN's reporting is that Mueller's team appears to be putting legal pressure on Manafort, warning that he could be charged with possible tax and financial crimes. CNN also reported earlier this week that U.S. investigators wiretapped
Manafort under a secret intelligence court order both before and after the election, including early this year when Manafort was known to talk with the president -- Chris and Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much for all of that information.
Let's bring in our panel. We have CNN political analyst John Avlon; CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin; and CNN contributor Adam Entous.
We'll get to Manafort in a second. Let's start with what CNN is reporting about the documents that we now know that Mueller is interested in, Jeffrey Toobin. It seems like they are interested in the May Oval Office meeting that the president had with Russian officials in which it was reported that the president bragged about the firing of James Comey. So no surprise that Mueller would want to know a little bit more about that meeting.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And that's part of the whole obstruction of justice chapter of Mueller's investigation. Was the firing of James Comey and all the related events an attempt to shut down or interfere with the investigation of the president himself? In that meeting with the Russians he essentially admitted that he had fired Comey to get rid of him because of the Russia investigation, not as the White House initially said, because Mueller -- because Comey had misbehaved during the Hillary Clinton investigation.
CAMEROTA: I mean the quote, according to "The Times" at the time, is the president said to them, "I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off."
TOOBIN: I mean, that it -- the obstruction of justice investigation has always seemed to be a very promising avenue, and they're pursuing it.
CUOMO: Right. But you don't think that that line is evidence of obstruction of justice?
TOOBIN: Well, I think it's evidence of intent.
CUOMO: But do you think...
TOOBIN: It's possible.
CUOMO: Well, possible but not probable.
TOOBIN: Well, I don't know. When you put it together and you say that he...
CUOMO: I hear you slapping the table. I'll deal with the table slap in a second.
TOOBIN: I do actually think it is... CUOMO: We have talked about this before on the show. What do you think they would need to show in order to have a legitimate claim of obstruction of justice here as a crime?
TOOBIN: That he fired Mueller in order to prevent him from being in further investigations on matters relating to Russia.
CUOMO: But why am I offering this up? Because you're going to hear a lot about this. We should discuss what's going to come back. That this comes. Just because you ignore it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
[06:25:00] So what you're going to hear is I can fire him for any reason I want. I fired him because I don't like him. I think he's two-faced. I think he does a lousy job. And I think that he was launching a witch-hunt against me.
JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Or nut job and grandstander, as he told the...
AVLON: ... the Russian emissary.
CUOMO: Those could all be equal intents. How could you ever distinguish between the two?
AVLON: Well, I think to Jeff's point, the intent seems clear. He wants to stop the investigation. He's basically bragging to the Russian officials that a lot of pressure is off. Odd people to tell that to, frankly, in any historical context.
And he also makes comments immediately after the firing that undercut the official White House line. It's related to the Russia investigation. It's related to the investigation of Flynn. And he wanted that irritant off his back, because he couldn't get a sufficient loyalty oath. And he's saying it to foreign powers who had a role in the election, were hostile to the United States' interests. That does not make it a criminal standard in and of itself. But you'd be foolish not to investigate it.
CUOMO: I'm not saying don't look at it. I'm just saying you have to consider why he's looking at it.
Let me bring Adam in. Adam, look, this tees you up with "The Washington Post" reporting. He's doing this for one of two reasons, Mueller. One is, "Boy, I think I may have something here. This really looks like it could have been criminal activity." Or it's, "I have to cover all of my bases. I want to have this as wide as possible so when I do come forward with any findings or non-findings, nobody can criticize my efforts."
ADAM ENTOUS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right. And what you have -- really have to see is you have to see that there are several data points which are at the center of this investigation of possible obstruction. In addition to the comments that he made with the Russians in the Oval
Office, he directed -- he asked, you know, his national security agency head, he asked his director of national intelligence to go out there and say that there was no collusion. So there was a pattern of him trying to dispute that there was any evidence of collusion.
And now we have these e-mails, this latest batch of e-mails, which you can understand if you're at -- if you're at the intelligence branch, the counterintelligence branch of the FBI and you're reading these e- mails by, you know, Manafort, it sounds like he's offering to be an informant to Dariposka, who U.S. intelligence officials know is in regular contact with Putin. So you can sort of understand piece by piece here, if you pull together all the pieces of data that we're seeing, including this latest batch of e-mails, why the investigators thought there was something here.
And you realize, when the president is telling people, "There is -- there is no collusion. Go out there and tell the world there is no collusion, this is fake," you realize this smoke, as we were calling it for so long, you can understand why they thought there was fire under the smoke when you read these e-mails.
CAMEROTA: John, let's get more to Adam's reporting about this in "The Washington Post," about Manafort had offered to give this Russian billionaire private briefings.
CAMEROTA: This was right before Donald Trump accepted the nomination. Now, this is interesting. It's also interesting. David Frum reminded us, I think, yesterday or two days ago that Paul Manafort worked for the campaign for free. He offered himself to the campaign for free.
AVLON: Yes. Big-hearted guy.
CAMEROTA: So well, it's either selflessness or it's access.
AVLON: Let's assume it's not selflessness. I think that's fair to say.
Look, Manafort was ascendant in the -- in the campaign. He was supposed to sort of secure the nomination. He's got a very shady pass with a lot of geopolitical clients on the consultancy level, including famously, the Ukrainian party that was very close to Putin and the presidential candidates who later sought refuge in Russia. He's owed a lot of money, allegedly, by Dariposka and who's very tight, not only with President Putin, but because he can't get a U.S. visa, allegedly, with the Russian mob.
The question from these e-mails is this. He's clearly offered to do something highly unusual in a president campaign. Private meetings to a member of the Russian oligarchy who's tight to Putin. He's also -- seems to be pursuing a grift. He seems in these e-mails with his own employee, trying to see if he can get made whole and get some more cash out of the deal. So is it simply that Manafort is a grifter, geopolitically, trying to,
you know, use his leverage in the campaign? Or is it yet another sign of a presidential campaign that has an unusual obsessive amount of contact with Russia, whether they're initiating or whether they're being cased?
CUOMO: All right.
TOOBIN: I'm sorry. Let's remember what else is going on at the same time. At the same time as he is offering these special benefits to a Russian oligarch, Russia is hurting the Hillary Clinton campaign and helping the Donald Trump campaign, through Facebook.
CUOMO: But hold on. Just a couple of facts. One, we don't know that he knew about any of that.
TOOBIN: Of course.
CUOMO: Two, they came to him and asked him to be part of the campaign. He did not come to them. I know that as a fact. So why he did it for no money, the guy's not hurting for cash. Facts matter.
TOOBIN: Not clear at all.
CUOMO: Well, believe me, the guy's not hurting for cash. Now, his investments and his investment strategies and what happened with his house here in New York City, that's all fine for looking at. Just -- you know, the speculation is all good. We just do the audience a disservice if we don't lay out what may come the other way.
Collusion does not exist in the law. It is not a crime.
TOOBIN: Not a crime.
CUOMO: They keep throwing that word around: "Oh, it's collusion. Were they colluding? How about if they colluded?" It means nothing to the law. You have to show that there's a crime that is in furtherance of these types of efforts.