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Alabama Senate Reflects Split in GOP Ranks; Dam Threatens to Burst in Devastated Puerto Rico; Obama Talked with Zuckerberg About Facebook Ads Influencing Elections; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired September 25, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:31:46] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We are just hours away from the Republican Senate primary getting under way in Alabama. Polls about to open tomorrow morning on both sides are bringing in the big guns if you will.

Vice President Pence in the state today campaigning for incumbent Luther Strange who the president has endorsed, but the president's former chief strategist Steve Bannon hitting the stump for Luther -- not for Luther Strange but for his opponent, Roy Moore. That pits Bannon against President Trump on this one.

Joining me now CNN political commentator Symone Sanders and CNN political commentator John Phillips.

So, to you both, big day in Alabama but we're talking about it because this isn't just about Alabama. This has big implications nationwide. It has big indications leading into the midterms.

John, what does this mean for President Trump if Strange, the establishment candidate he has backed, surprisingly to some, does not win?

JOHN PHILLIPS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, we'll find out what's more popular, Trump or Trumpism, because a lot of the people that got behind President Trump early on in the process are getting behind the candidate that is not the preferential candidate of the president and I talked to someone who is very close to the president, a political adviser, over the weekend who says -- who told me that they looked at this race as a missed opportunity for President Trump, that they think that his hand of cards would be stronger in the Senate for votes like the health care vote if he were to go in and take out one of Mitch McConnell's preferred candidates then they'd be more afraid of Trump.

So it would be the stick -- and the carrot and stick approach and they thought that he acquiesced and gave in to McConnell way too early and, therefore, a lot of members of the Senate aren't afraid of Trump when he needs their vote. He needs to lean on them.

HARLOW: Symone, that -- I mean, it's fascinating what John said, what's more popular, Trump, the president, and his actual endorsement, or Trumpism which would frankly be embodied much more by Roy Moore. How do you see it?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I think we know that Donald Trump first of all is not popular. His approval ratings are historically low.

HARLOW: Yes, but they're high among Republicans.

SANDERS: They're high among Republicans, but I think we're going to start to see that change. Look, folks, this president does not have a major legislative win under his belt. Republicans are now going back and again trying their hand at health care. They put big things on the ticket in terms of tax reform, saying that they're going to get these things done, and Donald Trump is an intricate part of this, and so I think that look, this Alabama primary race is going to happen today but in terms of the midterms, what's more of an indicator will be what kind of wins Donald Trump and this Congress -- this Republican Congress have garnered. If they can't garner win --

HARLOW: Maybe --

SANDERS: If they can't deliver for the people and the promises, I think you'll see people start to turn on him just a little bit.

HARLOW: You would think, Symone, you -- you would think, right, conventional thinking would tell you that, but there's a brand new CNN poll out that is fascinating to me, share some of the numbers in it. It shows that among Republican voters, 53 percent of them, a majority, think that the leadership in Congress, meaning McConnell and Ryan, are taking the country in the wrong direction, but juxtapose that with this, the same poll found among Republicans, almost 80 percent, 79 percent, think President Trump is taking the country in the right direction.

[10:35:06] John, so that would run counter to Symone's argument?

PHILLIPS: Yes. And this will drive congressional Republicans crazy but on many issues including health care Trump has more credibility than congressional Republicans do. Congressional Republicans have won, what, three national elections on repealing Obamacare? And then it comes up for a vote and they can't get 51 votes or 50 votes in the Senate to get this thing through?

Trump said that he was going to repeal Obamacare, repeal and replace, the first year in office he got behind a plan that would do that. So on issues like that, he's delivering and the Congress is stalling.

HARLOW: But he's not really selling it, John. I mean, his first four tweets this morning were about the NFL. You know, not Graham-Cassidy which they got to get done by Friday.

PHILLIPS: Yes. He needs to get this thing through. Look, he's had many achievements or things that I would consider to be a very good things happen, the Supreme Court appointment first and foremost, but he needs to get this health care plan through and Republicans need to deliver on it. If the Republicans don't deliver on health care reform they're going to have a real rough midterm cycle.

HARLOW: Symone -- yes.

SANDERS: But, Poppy, two things, one the health care, but the health care bill is historically unpopular with everybody. No one is --

HARLOW: Twenty percent -- 20 percent of Americans like it this morning according to a new CBS poll. That's it.

SANDERS: So unpopular because it's disastrous and dangerous. It doesn't -- it takes away coverage for preexisting conditions, it drives up rates and premiums. I mean it's just a really bad bill. So I think this is actually something Republicans shouldn't get behind, but in terms of how people view Congress, look, Congress is historically unpopular and what folks have said, look, we did some focus groups recently and Republican voters have said look, Congress isn't necessarily working with the president here yet, and so we just need to give him more time.

I think voters are being very generous right now, but a year from now, six months to a year from now, I don't know if they'll continue to be that generous. They want to see him win.

HARLOW: We'll see. We'll see.

Before you guys go, the president tweeted this morning that his comments on the NFL have nothing to do about race. He says it's about respect for our country, our flag and our national anthem.

Symone, nothing about race?

SANDERS: Well, we know that's not true. Donald Trump built his political career talking about race. He pioneered the racist birther movement. Like that's what brought him onto the national stage and the political scene. But I just want to be really clear like the protests are not about Donald Trump. The protests kneeling was never about a flag, it was never about Donald Trump. It was always about police brutality, racism and injustice.

And that is what the focus should be on. This is what it was about. And so we should not allow Donald Trump to hijack this conversation. We need to bring it back to what Kaepernick and other players were actually kneeling about and talking about and working towards, racism, police brutality and injustice. Those are the things that we should keep it focused on.

HARLOW: John Phillips, quickly before we go.

PHILLIPS: I think the president's right. When the Dallas Cowboys wanted to put a decal on their helmet for the police officers that were murdered the NFL said no because they want to remain apolitical. I think the NFL should be apolitical.

HARLOW: Thank you both, John, Symone, we appreciate it.

Tonight they will be watching, I will be watching, you should be watching, "THE FIGHT OVER OBAMACARE." Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy debate their Democratic colleagues, Amy Klobuchar and independent senator Bernie Sanders. That's tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern only right here on CNN. Meantime, of course, we are keeping an eye on Puerto Rico, just

devastated by Hurricane Maria. Another crisis, you're looking at images of a dam that they say, authorities say, at its bursting point. Tens of thousands of people told to evacuate. We'll have a live report straight ahead.


[10:42:55] HARLOW: All right. We're keeping a close eye on the devastation of Hurricane Maria. The governor of Puerto Rico says conditions after Maria are apocalyptic. Now the island is bracing for yet another possible disaster. A dam in danger of breaking. The National Weather Service calls the dam break imminent.

You're looking at aerial images there. You've got 70,000 people in the path of severe flooding from a dam break. They had to be physically told by authorities to evacuate because there's so little communication on the island and this is life threatening flash flooding that could happen.

Adding to the misery much of the island is still without cell towers, power, many, many, many resources have been completely wiped out, long gas lines, hours long in some places. Authorities on the island are asking for much needed help.

Let's go to our Leyla Santiago. She's in San Juan.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The governor of Puerto Rico is now asking Congress to take action. He wants an aid package that is passed not just for the short term, but more of the long term. He says this must be flexible because Puerto Rico needs help that will take a while.

Now the government has said for days now, that part of the problem is they haven't been able to reach all of the island. As of last night, the governor reports they have reached all municipalities but when he says reached he means they have been able to make contact with government officials in the municipalities.

They haven't actually physically been able to go. So we went to some of the most remote areas and what we heard, we heard over and over again, people who say they don't have power, they don't have communication. Relief supplies are not making it in. Neighbors themselves are taking to the streets to clear out the roads so that they can get that help, but at this hour, they don't have that.

And for many of them, they don't have communication or awareness of what's happening beyond their very own homes. So now, the governor says, they're working to send out missions today to make sure they can improve on that but they're also monitoring a dam on the northwestern coast where there's been a crack and they say that if that dam breaks completely, that could possibly be worse than the hurricane itself for that part of the island. [10:45:12] In the meantime the residents who, again, many don't have

communication beyond their own homes are just sitting waiting and hoping that help comes soon.

Leyla Santiago, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


HARLOW: Leyla, thank you for the reporting. We appreciate it. We'll keep a very close eye on it of course.

Meantime, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg once said it was crazy to think fake news on his site could sway the election. Well, then he changed his tune. Next, news that President Obama called Zuckerberg in the days after the election. What he said straight ahead.


[10:50:13] HARLOW: This morning we're learning about an incredible behind-the-scenes meeting. Remember this moment shortly after the election?


MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK CEO: I think the idea that, you know, fake news on Facebook, of which, you know, it's a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way, I think is a pretty crazy idea.


HARLOW: A crazy idea. That was Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg answering critics who said his platform helped spread fake news and potentially influence the election.

Now "The Washington Post" this morning reports front page above the fold after that Zuckerberg was pulled aside by President Obama, as he was sitting president.

Here to tell us what was said between the two, Adam Entous, staff writer at "The Washington Post," again breaking big news.

Adam, thank you to you and your team for this. It's fascinating. Let's just dive right in. This is clearly -- I mean, it seems like a moment of reckoning for Facebook and I -- you know, to give them credit they are changing things, they are talking about this, et cetera, but now this takes us much more into the background what happened. What did President Obama say to Mark Zuckerberg?

ADAM ENTOUS, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Well, I think you have to understand the context here. Obama and his top advisers had been agonizing behind the scenes for months about what Russia was doing, what they knew that Russia was doing, but which the public was not aware of. And frankly that Facebook probably was not fully aware of at that point. And so, you know, they were feeling after that election, after Trump won unexpectedly, at least as far as the White House was concerned, within that group around Obama, there was a sense of guilt that they didn't do more.

And so this was sort of the opportunity that Obama had to tell Zuckerberg that there was a problem here and that that problem had to be taken seriously. This is a fake news problem. And then, you know, it's -- you know, Zuckerberg's response was, kind of like a little bit like his public statement, where he had said that this was a relatively small part of overall content on Facebook.

He acknowledged that it was a problem but told the president that it was very a hard problem to fix, which frankly makes a lot of sense. This is -- it doesn't get much harder than this.

HARLOW: Look. But now they're doing it. I mean, now Facebook is having to fix it. Two questions for you, one, why -- do you know why President Obama and his team didn't go to Zuckerberg and Facebook earlier? This was on November 19th, so this was after the election.

Would they have gone if Hillary Clinton won? That's one question. And two, what if anything did Zuckerberg and Facebook do at the time in November with the president's warning?

ENTOUS: That's right. So, you know, I think what you to understand is that the U.S. intelligence community is not looking at Facebook, at the contents of Facebook. They're targeting the Russians.

HARLOW: Right.

ENTOUS: They're targeting foreign actors, so, you know, the amount of information available to Obama and others that are getting briefed by the intelligence community about what the Russians are doing are not getting a lot of information about the way the Russians were secretly, you know, through accounts that were not branded as Russian accounts were trying to use the Facebook system to try to reach individuals in the United States.

This is legitimate -- these were legitimate messages that were being posted by these Russian trolls. The accounts themselves, though, were not legitimate and you can imagine how difficult it would be for Facebook to be able to tell the difference between them. And so at the time, after this is, you know, mentioned by Obama to Zuckerberg, you know, it looks like based on our reporting that Facebook -- you know, there was already an effort under way inside to try to come to grips with this and assess, you know, what was happening on their networks.

It just was -- it was a time-consuming and difficult process because the communications they were trying to assess, looked like legitimate political speech. You know, they didn't -- this wasn't like an Islamic State, you know, calling on Americans to support the group.

HARLOW: Right.

ENTOUS: The terrorist group. This was comments by people or what looked like real people saying vote for one side versus another side. Just like if, you know, you or I or somebody who was involved in politics would be doing the same thing. It's just very difficult to separate out these types of communications.

HARLOW: Right. And Facebook for its part you have the statement in your reporting but they say they're taking it seriously, working on it every opportunity we found.

Do we know, very quickly before I get to some breaking news, why Obama didn't go sooner to Zuckerberg? Why it was after the election? Do you know?

[10:55:09] ENTOUS: Well, you know, at that point this is November, Obama had yet to get the results of the intelligence community's combined assessment of what Russia was trying to do. That wasn't released and presented to Obama until the first week of January. So you can understand that, you know, information was coming in at a pace that didn't necessarily allow the Obama administration to follow up on these discussions.

It appears that there really wasn't much follow up at all, particularly after the inauguration of Trump. You know, Facebook was asking for assistance in terms of getting information from the intelligence community about what they knew about these Russian, you know, operations. This misinformation campaign. But they weren't getting any assistance from the intelligence community.

HARLOW: All right.

ENTOUS: Which wasn't able to share that information.

HARLOW: Adam Entous, thank you for the reporting. It's fascinating. I point people to it and I'm getting breaking news in my ear so I have to jump in. Thank you for that.

Breaking news this morning, Anthony Weiner, former New York congressman, just sentenced in this case. Let me show you the footage I think we have. He just walked out of court. Of course he was charged and found guilty of transferring obscene material to a minor. He could have faced up to 10 years in prison. You see him exiting court just moments ago.

He has been sentenced to 21 months in prison. Again, 21 months for former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, that is the lowest of the government recommended sentence of between 21 and 27 months. Much more after the break.