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Trump Suffers Congressional Loss; Taliban Targets Defense Secretary; DHS Urged to Wave Shipping Restrictions; San Juan Airport Key to Relief Efforts; Desperate Parents At Airport: "This Is Insane"; Crisis Growing At Puerto Rico's Hospitals; CNN: IRS Shares Info With Special Counsel In Russia Probe. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 09:00   ET



[09:00:27] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

The big headline in Breitbart this morning, establishment GOP brought to its knees. And, if you've been paying attention, you know how much the president hates kneeling. Nevertheless, President Trump just suffered one of his biggest political defeats to date. The candidate he backed in a Republican Senate primary in Alabama, Luther Strange, he was blown out by controversial former judge, Roy Moore. Moore had the backing of many Trump supporters, including Steve Bannon, who warned Republican insiders, this is just the beginning. "The Washington Post" calls this the Republican civil war.

How can you tell the republican doesn't like the results? He removed three tweets of support for the defeated Luther Strange. Now, this is a president who hasn't touched old tweets about birtherism, beauty pageants, Robert Patterson (ph) and Kristen Stewart (ph). But three innocuous tweets backing a guy who lost, delete, delete, delete.

And this was not the only setback for the president this week. CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Birmingham.

Kaitlan, I understand the president has spoken to the victor.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. President Trump has called Roy Moore to congratulate him on his victory last night over Luther Strange. He defeated him handily here in Alabama.

And the president tweeted about that call this morning saying, spoke to Roy Moore of Alabama last night for the first time. Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race. He will help to make America great again.

Now, this is someone who just a day before in a radio interview with a station here in Alabama, the president called Roy Moore the wrong name twice and had to be corrected by the host, and then later indicated that the fact that he didn't know what Roy Moore's name was -- he called him Ray -- that that was not a good sign for Roy Moore. But now it seems as if he's supporting him. Vice President Mike Pence is also throwing his support behind Roy Moore. Listen to what Roy Moore had to say about Trump not endorsing him

after his victory last night, John.


ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA SENATE CANDIDATE: We can support the president. Don't let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent, that I do not support him and support his agenda.


COLLINS: Now, Roy Moore is a very contentious figure here in Alabama. He's been kicked off the bench twice. Once for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments and another time for refusing to uphold the Supreme Court decision that legalized gay marriage. So this is a massive blow to establishment conservatives here in this race.

But now we're also seeing in the aftermath the president distance himself from his endorsement of Moore's opponent, Luther Strange. Though he tweeted several times yesterday encouraging voters to get out to the polls and support Luther Strange and said that his endorsement of Strange had really helped close the gap between the two men, the president has now deleted some of his tweets saying that people should get out and vote for Luther Strange.

Now, we've asked the White House for comment on this, John, but they have not responded. But what we're really seeing is him distance himself from this endorsement of someone who did not win here in Alabama.

BERMAN: Yes, he has not distanced himself from the twilight dating scandal, but apparently distance with Luther Strange essential this morning.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you very, very much.

We're going to come back to this in just a moment, but we do have some breaking news this morning.

An attempt to kill the U.S. defense secretary, James Mattis. The Taliban claims it fired rockets targeting the secretary at an airport in Afghanistan where he was on an unannounced visit. Mattis was not hurt, nor was anyone in the U.S. delegation. Now, Afghan special forces searching for the attackers.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us.

Barbara, exactly what went down here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's start with the most important thing, John. Secretary Mattis had actually left the airport, Kabul International Airport, when this rocket attack happened. Some 40 rounds hitting the airport. The Taliban claiming that they were behind it, claiming that they were after Mattis, but he was long gone. He is on a trip to Afghanistan visiting troops, talking to commanders about the security situation there. So, 40 rounds hitting the airport. What does this really mean? What it

does show us is that the Taliban still has that capability to move munitions in and out of the capital despite the heavy security presence of government and coalition forces. The airport is always a tough piece of real state to land aircraft, commercial or military. It is surrounded by neighborhoods and some hillsides. That's the high ground. It makes a potentially perfect launch point.

Secretary Mattis, we are told, going ahead with his schedule, going ahead with his meetings. About another 3,000 or so U.S. troops actually on their way to Afghanistan. They are going to join other troops there to try and help improve the security situation.

[09:05:08] The assessment by U.S. officials we're talking to is that the Taliban really are out to make some sort of high profile statement, try to say that they have launched a significant attack. Their attack today did not work, thankfully. Five locals hurt in it. They got nowhere near the U.S. delegation. But it does underscore the Taliban still, 16 years after 9/11, posing a security threat in a country where the U.S. is fighting its longest war.


BERMAN: Indeed. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks so much.

Let's focus on Puerto Rico right now, one week after that island took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. President Trump says there is no such thing as over responding. Right now there appears to be zero danger of that.

Food, medicine, drinking water, fuel, all remain in short supply -- critically short supply. Power still only coming from generators. The San Juan Airport, a main focal point both for shortages (ph) and relief efforts. Planes are coming in every hour with supplies, equipment and volunteers. Some of those planes are flying people out, though not nearly as fast as they would like.

Now, as millions of Americans there struggle to get food, water and gas, lawmakers are urging the Department of Homeland Security to waive shipping restrictions to get aid to the island. They did that for Texas and Florida after the hurricanes there. The administration has not done that for Puerto Rico. Why?

CNN Washington correspondent Joe Johns at the White House.

Joe, what's going on here?


We're still reporting things out, so this could change.

But the significance of this, at least so far, appears to be that it show how a natural disaster like this can cause things to be bollixed up in bureaucracy and cause difficulties to get goods and services, supplies, to people who need them very badly. There's a law dating back almost 100 years. It's known as the Jones Act. And it does many things. Among them, it

requires that supplies being transported between U.S. ports be carried by U.S. ships. This law was waived or suspended both in the case of Florida, as well as Texas, when the hurricanes hit there, but so far it has not been lifted, it has not been suspended for the territory of Puerto Rico. And we've been trying to figure out why by talking to administration officials this morning.

Essentially what they tell us is, no request for this law to be waived has been denied by the government. In fact, the original report from the government was that they got no request. Apparently the problem is that the department of Defense has to request it because it needs to be put in terms of national security or domestic security. And the Department of Homeland Security has not received a request from the Department of Defense for the Jones Act to be suspended, or at least that appears to be our reading of it right now.

In the meantime, eight members of Congress have written a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, the acting secretary, requesting that his law be suspended. We're told the governor for Puerto Rico has also asked for it and expects for it to be lifted. But apparently could help (ph) the government, the DHS, has also told CNN this morning that as far as they're concerned, one of the difficulties is infrastructure. In other words, it might be difficult getting any more ships into port in Puerto Rico at this time. They believe they have adequate American ships to do the job.

So we continue to check and the question is, if and when the Jones Act will be suspended for Puerto Rico to allow ships, other than ships from the U.S., to take supplies into port there to help people.

John, back to you.

BERMAN: In the meantime, they are left with the perception that they treated Texas and Florida differently now than they are treating Puerto Rico.

Thanks very much, Joe Johns, at the White House.

It's been a difficult week for the president, not only suffering the loss of his approved candidate in Alabama, but now players and owners in the NFL going after him. Moderate Republicans on health care. And it is only Wednesday.

All that, plus, Special Counsel Mueller, his investigation ramping up, getting some help from the IRS.


[09:13:50] BERMAN: Airports in Puerto Rico, scenes of chaos. Some of it good chaos. Supplies coming in. But so many people struggling to get out and not able to.

Our Boris Sanchez on the scene in Puerto Rico, the San Juan major airport there.

Boris, I believe you're with us. What are you seeing?


I just want to point out what we're seeing right now over here at the American Airlines counter. One traveler described it to me as airport lottery. Right now the airlines have a roster of names of people that are actually confirmed for flights that are leaving Puerto Rico today. Many people who have come here to the airport by the thousands over the last few days, some of them camping out on the ground with very small children, even bringing patio furniture to be more comfortable while here, just in hopes of getting a ticket. It's not confirmed that they will actually be able to fly out.

We've spoken to several people that were not on the roster of names that were called. That's extremely frustrating for folks to not get information as well because there's no Internet, there's also very little cell service. So getting answers from the airlines has been a problem, especially for families that have unique needs.

[09:14:57] I spoke to a family with a child that has special needs earlier. They are afraid for their child's life after they say they were turned away at a hospital. They came here to the airport hoping they can catch a last-minute flight home to the mainland, and they are in dire straits. Here's more of what they said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is insane. This is completely unacceptable. We are human beings. We are not animals. We are being treated as animals.

CINDY ZATAR, MOTHER OF SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD: My son in this condition, he can die any minute here. We need to go.


SANCHEZ: That family also telling me that they are looking forward to President Trump's visit to the island on Tuesday. They want him to see the damage firsthand. They say they believe the Puerto Rican government was not ready for this storm.

I did speak to the head of the airport and told me that it would be impossible for the island to be ready for a storm of this magnitude because it doesn't often face hurricanes like this.

He says that right now they are running off of some 20 emergency generators. They are using about 5,000 gallons of fuel per day so it is going to be a challenge to keep the airport open, never mind trying to print boarding passes or getting people through the airport screening. That presents a whole separate challenge.

Usually this airport accommodates about 120 commercial flights per day. They were down at 10 yesterday. Today, they are going to have about 18. The boss here at the airport tells me that that is progress even though he is urging a lot of folks to stay home if they are not confirmed and to not play this airport lottery as I said that one traveler described it to me earlier -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Boris Sanchez for us at the airport in San Juan there. What a scene behind you. Such a complicated web to unravel there. Appreciate it, Boris.

Concerns over potential public health crisis growing in Puerto Rico, medical supplies, fuel for hospital generators in such short supply. Some relief is on the way. The Pentagon is sending the hospital ship, "The Comfort," but as Leyla Santiago reports, for the sick and injured help cannot come soon enough.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane Maria battered more than the buildings of Puerto Rico, it crippled many of the island's hospitals in desperate need of fuel to keep generators running for power. At Hospital de Maestro, two patients in critical condition died.

DR. JOSE DOSAL GARCIA, ER DIRECTOR, HOSPITAL DE MAESTRO: If their condition, the hospital will be normal, the patient would have more chance. We have more probability to manage the condition. Even though they were so critical, we don't have the facilities to manage that type of patient.

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: My biggest fear is that we won't get to anyone, everybody on time, and we are not getting to everybody on time.

SANTIAGO: The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz says she's getting SOS text messages in the middle of the night from hospitals and homes for the elderly begging for diesel.

CRUZ: When I say it's a humanitarian crisis, it's not a phrase. You can touch, you can feel the life just coming out of people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our back is against the wall. We don't have the resources.

SANTIAGO: Staff at this emergency room tell us they have enough diesel to carry them through the next two days. Rafael Mellano keeps the clinic in Canovanas running and he says they have 15 days' worth of medical supplies.

RAFAEL MELLANO, CANOVANAS MEDICAL CNETER: In 15 days we are going to have lack of money, lack of resources.

SANTIAGO: That's the fear for the people trying to get through Maria's aftermath alive.

CRUZ: We'll make it, but there will be a long list of people to remember.

SANTIAGO: Leyla Santiago, CNN, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BERMAN: Our thanks to Leyla for that.

Exclusive new details on the Russia investigation, the IRS now involved in sharing key information with the special counsel. Stay with us.



BERMAN: CNN exclusive to morning, the IRS now sharing information on Trump campaign officials with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team of investigators in the Russia probe. CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz has all the details for us -- Shimon.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes, that's right, John. The IRS is now sharing information with investigators, working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This comes after the two sides were at odds for months over the scope of Mueller's investigation.

The issue at the IRS is over Mueller's investigators wanting information on several people associated with the Trump campaign including former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.

We are told by sources that the IRS had concerns because of the broad request for information from Mueller's investigators. In the case of Paul Manafort, the scope includes possible tax and financial crimes that date back as far as January of 2006.

We are also told at issue is the July raid of Manafort's home in Virginia. IRS investigators were not part of this search, which is unusual in a case like this -- John.

BERMAN: So obviously when you talk about the IRS, everyone wants to know what does this mean for President Trump's tax returns, which he has not released, which every other candidate in the past has. Might those be made available to the special counsel?

PROKUPECZ: Right. That's not clear to us. It's not clear whether the special counsel has asked for or obtained President Trump's tax returns. The IRS is very restricted in what information it can share with other government agencies.

And it would normally need a specific grand jury subpoena in order to hand over tax returns. Sources say if Mueller's office does have Trump's tax returns, then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees this probe, likely would have needed to sign off given the sensitivity.

[09:25:03] Now as for Manafort and Flynn, given the scope of those investigation, it's more likely that Mueller has obtained those tax records since they appear to be a big focus of Mueller's investigation. BERMAN: And one more thing, Shimon, the current FBI director, Chris Rey, heading over to Capitol Hill next hour to testify. What is this all about?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. So, that's supposed to start sometime around 10:00 a.m. and basically this will be the first time the new FBI director will appear before a committee on the Hill. The hearing is about world threats, and we certainly expect questions about some of the cyber security concerns and, you know, some of the intelligence threats, the counter intelligence threats that we have all been reporting on that are coming out of Russia.

We are also likely to hear about threats here from white supremacists groups and concern for domestic terrorism as a result, you know, there has been a lot of political discourse going on in the country, some of what we saw in Charlottesville over the summer during protests at a white nationalists rally.

And you know, this has been a concern for the FBI. Some of the right- wing groups and domestic terrorists concerns, which they still monitor and keep track of certain groups and people to sort of have an eye on the threat and see what is going on, so those are some of the issues that will likely also come up in the hearing.

BERMAN: We will be watching it very, very close. Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much for your reporting. Appreciate it.

Joining me now, Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. He is part of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. First, I want to get your reaction to our reporting right there, the IRS now sharing information with the special counsel's investigation. Do you think that gets anyone closer to seeing the president's tax returns?

REPRESENTATIVE MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: I think it's a natural progression. Obviously, we are talking about Russian influence and the democratic process and the Trump empire. It's not hard to imagine that they would delve into the economic aspects.

BERMAN: Again to be clear, we don't know that they are part of it yet, but we do know that the IRS is now cooperating. You were part of a hearing yesterday with Trump confidant, Roger Stone, the famous political operator.

You said after he came and testified in private, I asked Roger Stone the one question he refused to answer, the question critical in explaining his connection with Wikileaks. What do you mean?

QUIGLEY: What he said afterwards is he wouldn't answer who the intermediary was between him and Wikileaks and Julian Assange. You know, putting this in context, Roger Stone is the one who said he had contact with Julian Assange.

He is the one that said he knew that Mr. Podesta was next in the barrel. So, clearly there's a fundamental reason we want to know who he was talking to, to get to Julian Assange if he wasn't talking directly.

BERMAN: He said it was a reporter. Are you willing to issue a subpoena to try to get that information?

QUIGLEY: We left it with Roger Stone to come back and answer that question or face a subpoena. Remember, Roger Stone was the one that said he wanted yesterday's meeting to be a public hearing. He wanted the transcript released. He wanted to tape-record it and let the public hear it.

The fundamental question from that meeting that is perhaps the crux of his involvement with Russian involvement in the democratic process was who was he talking to, to talk to Julian Assange. He needs to answer that question either voluntarily or by subpoena.

BERMAN: Another thing Roger Stone said after the hearing that Paul Manafort, who I guess he is friendly with, believes he will be indicted. Do you believe that to be the case?

QUIGLEY: We have no knowledge as to who will be indicted or when they might be indicted. For somebody from my hometown it's clearly the path that you see, FBI raids, and discussions about subpoenas and so forth, and obviously, it would not be a big surprise, but again, we have no direct knowledge as to who might be subpoenaed and when they might be indicted.

BERMAN: You were part of a public panel this week where you said if you have seen what I have seen you would want me to go full throttle on the Russia investigation, so it begs to question, sir, what have you seen?

QUIGLEY: Look, I think this investigation has gone on now almost a year, and the evidence that we have seen, the documents we have read, the trips I have taken and the people we have interviewed for those -- including the president of the United States say this is a witch hunt or for those who say that we are relitigating the election, let us complete the investigation.

There's clearly enough investigation to be very concerned not just with what the Russians did, but the fact that as Director Comey said they will be back and extraordinary concerns about involvement here in the United States with the Russians.

At this point in time, let me be clear, we are far closer to the infancy of this investigation and then its completion.