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Hurricane Maria Knocks Out Power to Puerto Rico; Rescuers Race to Save Girl Buried in School Rubble; Mueller Asks White House for Documents Linked to Trump Presidency. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 07:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In, Mexico rescuers racing against the clock to find earthquake survivors trapped beneath the rubble.

[07:00:08] 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 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.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We do have breaking news.

Hurricane Maria regaining strength, lashing the Dominican Republic, dumping torrential rain on Puerto Rico, still. The storm knocking out power to the entire island; that means millions in the dark. The island's governor doesn't know how long it will take to replace that country's -- that country -- that commonwealth's very fragile infrastructure. The hurricane is blamed for at least one death in Puerto Rico.

Let me tell you, that is an amazing surprise that it didn't take more life. Fourteen lost their lives in nearby Dominica.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, the numbers are changing there. We'll bring them to you, but we have another top story. And that's the frantic search for a young girl buried in the rubble of her school in earthquake-ravaged Mexico. Emergency crews have been working around the clock through the night in the rain to rescue this 12-year-old and maybe two other children who are trapped alive in the debris. Rescuers are communicating with her. They say she's wiggling her fingers, but they cannot get to her yet.

This magnitude 7.1 quake killed at least 250 people. So we have the global resources of CNN covering both of these natural disasters.

Let's begin with CNN's Nick Paton Walsh. He's live in San Juan, Puerto Rico. What's the latest there, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, we're still under a flash flood warning here in the capital of San Juan. That shows you, really, how active this natural situation is. People are beginning to take the boards down they put up to fend back the worst of the storms, perhaps getting a better glimpse of the devastation all around them. And it is absolutely staggering. Now a country, four -- four to six months that could see itself without electricity, really now slowly waking up to the devastation Hurricane Maria wrought in a matter of hours.


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.

CARMEN YULI CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (via phone): 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.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: 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.

(voice-over): This is the road of destruction we encountered on our drive from the East Coast of the island in Palmas del Mar, where Maria made landfall, ghastly, forcing us to evacuate our hotel. The scale of devastation staggering. The highway littered with dead trees, downed electrical cables and telephone poles, propellers snapping off wind turbines.

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, as 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: Now, a staggering situation still unfolding. People are being rescued. In fact, from Levittown just south of where I am, dozens of families rescued overnight by the National Guard, activated, continuing to pull people out of flood-stricken areas.

[07:05:07] And a tweet, actually, from Governor Rossello here saying how, in fact, they arrived at 1 a.m. in the morning, continued for four hours but were only able to make three trips to pull families out. That's how huge the flooding was. That is really what Puerto Ricans are waking up now to: streets that are rivers, homes that are flattened, roofs that are missing, electricity that won't be there for months -- Chris.

CUOMO: And now they're all living that bizarre reality, as are you, Nick, of how the sky betrays the reality that you were in just a day earlier. Another beautiful day behind you in Puerto Rico. But when they wake up, how severe do you believe the destruction is to the living structures and to the infrastructure, the ability to get back to work, to school, to life?

WALSH: Chris, it's the recovery that's the important thing. What we saw on the way over here is startling devastation. Forests torn to pieces, ripped down to their bare bones. Electricity cables and pylons torn across motorways. But it's how fast can people pull that away, put it back and get life moving again?

We know that Puerto Rico has a $70 billion national debt. It's basically a bankruptcy, already poor in the first place. Dealing with the billions of dollars of damage that Hurricane Irma caused. They were in the weakest possible position and then, really, were sucker- punched when Hurricane Maria came storming through.

This is going to last possibly for years, the recovery here. You can hear drills (ph) behind me, people starting to do the job. But every morning they wake up to a new set of challenges. But the simple things they used to be able to count upon, electricity, water possibly, food, shops being opened, aren't there right now -- Chris.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, you just spelled it out. It is staggering what they're facing in terms of the future. And no one knows when they'll be able to start rebuilding or get power back. Nick, thank you very much.

So where is Hurricane Maria headed now? CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has the latest forecast track.

How's it looking this hour?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's moving to the north of the Dominican Republic. There's the north shore right there, and there's the eye. Very well-defined.

Now, we still don't have radar back. But we'll be taking a look at how much white and now even some purple across the western half of Puerto Rico itself, I believe that we're still seeing very heavy rainfall there. And it wouldn't be out of the question that Nick sees rain here in the next hour or so. It will be interesting to see, truly, what the next hour brings for him to see if that band gets through there.

We know it's just hammering the north shore of the Dominican Republic and making flash flooding there. That will be the story for the next few hours there for the D.R.

Eventually, it turns to the north. And how far or how quickly can it turn to the right? Well, so far overnight the models are agreeing that this is a gutter ball. What we call a storm between Bermuda and the U.S. so far. And we knew that would take some time to figure out whether it was going to hit the U.S. or maybe go to the right. So far now, everything down the middle. So maybe it really will be a strike right through the middle of the Bermuda chain and also for the U.S. That would be absolutely perfect.

So what are we dealing with right now in Puerto Rico? Well, it has been raining so very much. Some spots could have picked up 30 inches of rainfall from the storm that Puerto Rico has a flash flood warning for the entire island. Not just for one county, the entire island. And that's because of the topography. There's a lot of topography here. Some of the mountains almost 4,000 feet high. So when it rained on top of the mountains, it just washed back down.

And so now, we're getting all this flooding back down where the water was coming up with storm surge. Now it's getting pushed back away with freshwater and mud flooding. So this is going to be a tough couple of days still for Puerto Rico weather-wise, let alone without power and water for as long as we've been talking about this. It could be months.

CUOMO: And we'll have to stay on it, Chad. Because the need is going to sustain over weeks and months. Thank you very much for the information. We'll check back with you in the next hour.

We have another breaking story. There is a frantic search for survivors from that Mexican earthquake right now. Rescuers, often digging by hand, are working around the clock. They have a 12-year- old girl that they've made contact with. They say she's waving her fingers. They've been able to pass things back and forth. But they can't get her out, because they're too worried about the compromised structure around her.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Mexico City, watching this search. And their concern is that if she's there, who else is inside that school? How can they get to them without making the entire structure collapse even more?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Chris, it's a painstaking search, because they have to be so careful. As you mentioned, they use human hands because only human hands can be that careful to remove debris. But keeping an eye on that structure, that collapsed structure to make sure that they don't collapse the building further and perhaps destroy life when they're trying to protect it.

So let me take you through this. Here's what we've learned from some of the volunteers here and some of the rescue workers. They say that what they do is they're trying to shore up this building. So they will use beams. They will use whatever they can get to make sure that they can secure the area.

[07:10:12] Then they've -- there's these heroic rescue workers that then make their way through to try to listen for life. So a lot of the times you'll either see people raising their fists. And this is a sign of silence for people to be silent. For people to listen carefully because they believe that they're hearing signs of life. Once they do that, then they figure out a way to follow the crevasses, the cracks that have been created because of this collapsed building.

Now, all of this, of course, very dangerous for these rescue workers. But they're doing this around the clock. There are hundreds of resources here. Because just imagine the agony of these parents that kissed their children good-bye just because they were going to school on Tuesday morning, only to know that this earthquake would happen and that now they're trapped inside.

Of course, as you mentioned, we know of this 12-year-old girl that's trapped. They believe others are trapped inside, too. So there are other parents that are also hoping and praying that these rescue workers will be able to follow these signs of life through these cracks and crevasses in this collapsed building to find these children and bring them to safety.

CAMEROTA: So, Rosa, are they -- are the parents right there on the scene with you, or are they being kept away somewhere?

FLORES: You know, we haven't seen parents at the scene here, Alisyn. We have seen family members at other buildings. Of course, this isn't the only building. There are dozens of collapsed buildings in and around Mexico City.

In other buildings, we have seen family members. They are waiting with swollen eyes. A lot of them haven't slept. They've just been outside that building. In other areas, we've seen lists -- lists of people who have been rescued so that family members can come by and check those lists.

There are other lists. Those are the lists of the people who are missing. And as people either are rescued or, unfortunately, found dead, those named are scratched off the missing list and added to the death toll, unfortunately.

Here, we haven't seen those parents. But I can only imagine the agony that they're going through as the minutes and hours continue to pass and these rescue workers, of course, risking their lives to hopefully bring their children to safety. CUOMO: And we know by all indications they're working like crazy down

there. And as much tragedy as there is, they have made some amazing rescues. And as bizarre as it will sound, we've seen it around the world. I've watched it in person. They find people days later. I don't know how people survive, but they do, so we have to hold out hope.

Rosa, thank you for being our eyes and ears on the ground.

CAMEROTA: So President Trump's actions are now under scrutiny by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What we're learning about what Mueller is looking at exactly now. That's next.


[07:17:03] CAMEROTA: New developments this morning in the Russia investigation. CNN has learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested White House documents, not about campaign aides but President Trump's own actions. This as the "Washington Post" reporting that Donald Trump's former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, also offered a highly unusual deal to a Russia millionaire. So we have all of that.

CNN's Joe Johns joins us now with more. What have you learned, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Potentially a wakeup call for the White House, Alisyn. The president is gearing up for a day of high-profile meetings with world leaders today related to the North Korea threat and the fight against ISIS. But new developments about the Russia probe are also sure to be top of mind for the White House.


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 (R), 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.


JOHNS: 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 he could be charged with possible tax and financial crimes.

[07:20:10] CNN also reported earlier this week that U.S. investigators wiretapped Manafort under a secret intelligence court order until both before and after the election, including early this year when Manafort was known to talk with the president -- Chris and Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right, Joe, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

We have a good guest to take a deep dive on some of this. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, a member of the House Intel Committee, which is, of course, conducting its own Russia investigation.

Good to have you, Congressman, as always.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Good to be here.

CUOMO: All right. So when we're looking at the Russia investigation, Flynn could have trouble. But unrelated to what he did in the campaign, Manafort could have trouble but arguably unrelated to what he did with the Trump campaign. So those things may come to pass.

But what do you see in the special counsel's actions that, in your mind, point to a finger of something that happened during the campaign that is relevant?

HIMES: Yes. And I should clarify that, you know, there is almost no communication between the investigation that Bob Mueller is doing here and that the House and the Senate are doing. And that's as it should be. Because of course, the special counsel is focused on whether there was any criminal activity, which is not so much the focus of the congressional investigation.

But looking at what has come out in the press, there is -- there is no question, obviously, that the special counsel is interested in the question of whether there was obstruction and whether the firing of Jim Comey, which the president himself said had to do with Russia and lifting a great weight from his shoulders, that that -- that that rises to a level of interest for the FBI in this case.

CUOMO: The president could not have been more helpful to investigators in terms of creating a suggestion of inappropriate behavior, if not something worse.

But you know this. The president can fire who he wants. The fire -- the president can cancel probes when he wants, if they're not related to him, and I wonder, do you think the reason the president kept hammering the fact that Comey told him three times he wasn't under investigation was because he either knew or someone explained to him, "You can only get rid of a probe like this, you can only take these kinds of actions if it's not about you. So make sure you say that Comey said it's not about you."

That changes the legal analysis and the political one.

HIMES: Yes, I think that's right. And it's important to remember that, you know, the president demanding of Jim Comey, in answer to the question of whether he was under investigation, that was a long time ago. And that, of course, was before the firing of Jim Comey. So things can change.

If the news reports are to be believed, you know, they perhaps have changed, and there is interest in exactly what President Trump did as president and whether there was some issue of obstruction here.

CUOMO: Do you have legitimate concerns at this point as to whether or not the president of the United States was engaged in illegal behavior?

HIMES: Well, as somebody involved in one of these investigations, I want to answer that carefully and I want to answer that in a way that is -- that is consistent with the impartiality that our investigation should have, which is look, if you look at -- if you look at Manafort, if you look at Flynn, if you look at Don Jr., if you look at Roger Stone, who I would anticipate is going to spend some time in front of my committee, these are all nexuses to either Russia -- and I say that without saying that there -- that there is at this point a conclusion around what the nature of those communications with Russia were. But those are all -- there are four, four people of interest with respect to possible connections to Russia. Rewind the tape, you know, nine months ago. We were told by this

president and by this president's people that there was nothing there. That there were no deals, that there was no communication. And of course, that has proved over time not to be true.

CUOMO: Do you think we're going to see indictments?

HIMES: Speaking from myself, I would be surprised if a year from now we don't have a number of people under indictment.

CUOMO: Whether or not it's related to campaign activity remains to be seen.

HIMES: Yes. And Chris, the other piece of this and the reason it's important to be precise is, of course, you know, we are interested whether there was any collusion, cooperation with the Russians on the attack on our elections.

I believe, and I think the news -- the news out there would suggest, there was all kinds of influence trading, all sorts of suggestions of, you know, "I'm close to the president. We should do this." You know, and it may turn out that, if there are indictments, it relates more to influence peddling, inappropriate contacts, inappropriate use of either the campaign or the White House to suggest that -- that access could be granted in exchange for X, Y, Z. I think that's a story that's going to be told.

CUOMO: At a minimum, a man who promised to drain the swamp seems to have surrounded himself with some big alligators in terms of what kind of behavior he allowed to be around him and in the halls of government. Whether or not it's a crime. Collusion doesn't even exist as a legal concept. It would have to be conspiracy. We'll see.

Let me ask you about a more present danger, which is what's going on with health care in this country. There is an assumption that, if the Senate gets through the Graham-Cassidy bill, the House will be an echo. Do you believe that?

[07:25:11] HIMES: You know, I think so. I think so. And...

CUOMO: And you can't stop it? There's nothing the Democrats can do? Right now, your big agent (ph) seems to be Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy Kimmel is the loudest voice from the left on this one.

HIMES: That's right. No, look, the Democrats are obviously in opposition and sounding that trumpet as loudly as we can. Americans need to understand that Graham-Cassidy means a lot fewer Americans with health care coverage. And they need to understand that, despite what Senator Cassidy is saying, this means largely doing away with the idea that if you have a pre-existing condition, you can get coverage.

Now, is that just a Democratic member of Congress talking? No. It is also the entire health care industry. The American Medical Association. You name the doctors group. You name the providers group. The hospitals, they have said do not pass this bill. Because they understand the devastation that would be reaped in the industry. What's happening right now, Chris, as you know, September 30, the

ability in the Senate to pass a bill with just 51 votes goes away, because the reconciliation goes away on September 30. We see no hearings on Graham-Cassidy. We've seen, you know, none of the regular order that John McCain has aggressively called for. John McCain, Republican senator.

Instead, what we're seeing is the last gasp of an instinct to deliver on a promise which was never really a good idea to begin with, which is that we're going to repeal Obamacare. It is really important, and I think my Republican friends are going to understand that repeal means kicking millions and millions of Americans off of their health insurance and putting an awful lot of Americans back to where they were 10 years ago where they couldn't get insurance.

CUOMO: No question that the ACA has problems that need to be fixed, that arguably should have been fixed sooner. But what will the remedy be. Politics versus policy. We'll see how it plays out.

Congressman, thank you, as always, for being on NEW DAY to make the case.

HIMES: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Now, coming up in our next hour, we're going to talk with President Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster. So many issues of natural security on the president's desk. Where does he stand? The big headline this morning, the president says he made a decision, Alisyn, on the Iran deal. What is it?

CAMEROTA: Can't wait to hear that, Chris.

All right. Meanwhile, you know a bipartisan group of governors are also speaking out against the latest Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. One of them is Virginia's Terry McAuliffe. He joins us next.