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Hurricane Lane Barreling Toward Hawaii; Trump Ally David Pecker Makes Immunity Deal; Jeff Sessions Pushes Back Against Trump Attack. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 24, 2018 - 04:00   ET


[04:00:14] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Hurricane Lane battering parts of Hawaii with strong winds and a deluge rain.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: And another ally appears to have broken with the president. The executive who helped kill stories about the president's affairs before the election cooperating with investigators.

ROMANS: And a predominately black Georgia county could close most of the polling places before the midterms. Critics say it is being done to muzzle the minority vote where a black woman making a historic run for governor.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BRIGGS: I'm Dave Briggs. Happy Friday, everybody. August 24th, 4:00 a.m. in the East but it is 10:00 p.m. in Hawaii, and that's where we start with Hurricane Lane on final approach toward Hawaii this evening there.

It is now a category three but officials are warning residents the storm is a significant rainmaker. More than 19 inches fell on the northeastern section of the big island over a 24-hour period, and Governor David Ige says some parts of the island could take more than 30 inches, along with waves up to 20 feet high. The outer bands of the hurricane already causing flooding. There is now a voluntary evacuation order on Reed's Island near Hilo. The normally scenic Wailuku River turned into a raging torrent.

ROMANS: Emergency sirens blaring in Honolulu yesterday. FEMA says it has pre-staged food, water, generators and other necessities around the island.

Overnight the weather service downgraded the big island to a tropical storm warning. Leaving the hurricane warning in place for the other Hawaiian islands.

Let's get the very latest now, tracking all this for us live this morning, meteorologist Ivan Cabrera in the CNN Weather Center.

And Ivan, the storm moving at six miles per hour when I last check. That means that rain is a significant concern.

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, Christine. And it is moving north at six miles an hour. I mean, we can call it walking at this point. You mentioned it's on its final approach to Hawaii. The problem is the final approach to Hawaii is going to last for days at a time. And I'm not too concerned about the category here. So don't get tricked up on that. It's going to go up and down because this is going to be in the end a huge rainmaker. That's what it's going to be known for. That I think is going to be the most life-threatening situation here because of the prolific rain.

Here is the storm. It's still 200 miles to the south of Honolulu. 200 miles to the southwest of Hilo. And so far, Hilo has already picked up incredible amounts of rain. In fact we're talking upwards of two feet already. So yes, these are the watches and warnings. Basically we have the warning for the big island, warnings for the middle islands and then up across north for Kauai. We have a hurricane watch.

Here's the center of the storm, and this is the problem. There is that big blob. But look at all the rain that's already fallen and has continued to fall throughout the last several hours. We're talking an easterly wind that has made this for just incredible night since I got here several hours ago, about 10 hours ago.

Look at this, 22 plus inches south of Hilo. Hilo itself picking up 17 inches and it's still raining and will continue to rain heading into the next few hours.

This is the dangerous track. You're thinking, well, my goodness, the cone isn't even north of the islands, the problem is it is going to parallel the islands and as I just showed you on radar, the worst of the storm is actually to the north of the center so the entire island chain I'm thinking one, two perhaps even three feet in some areas, and the reason for that, well, we are not looking at flat islands.

We were talking about volcanic islands with huge mountain chains. And that air has to go up and when it comes down, it comes down as a boomerang and has to go the valleys and it is going to flooding big time here so we're talking flash flooding, landslides, damaging surf for the wind and also power outages are going to o continue to be a big threat as well, heading into the next couple of days. So this is just day one of I think several of what is to come here across the Hawaiian Islands -- guys.

ROMANS: All right. And certainly to get ready, Ivan Cabrera. Thank you. Keep monitoring that for us.

BRIGGS: All right. Joining us now on the phone is Luke Meyers, executive officer of the Hawaii Emergency Management agency, 4:00 p.m. there.

ROMANS: Hey, Luke.

BRIGGS: Luke, thanks for being with us. Talk about the conditions you are seeing tonight, and how well-prepared is Hawaii for the first major storms since 1992.

LUKE MEYERS, EXECUTIVE OFFICER, HAWAII EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Yes. Good evening or good morning to you, guys, on the East Coast there. Yes. We are prepared for this hurricane that's coming. The conditions that we're seeing throughout the island tonight, as you guys mentioned, we've had a lot of rain on the big island in Maui. We've had some bands of rain come through Oahu. We've had very blustery conditions here on Oahu throughout the evening. Not quite tropical storm force winds, but enough to take down some palm branches and things of that nature.

[04:05:02] We are watching the storm intently at our emergency operations center at Diamond Head. We are cooperating with our state and local partners and our federal partners, trying to make sure that the public is ready for this event.

ROMANS: What are you telling the public at this point? And schools were closed yesterday. We've heard that emergency managers have been pre-staging generators and supplies for once this thing finally gets passed in the next few days. What are you telling residents?

MEYERS: What we tell the public is we want them to be ready and on guard, and not let their guard down. We preach them to be ready for up to two weeks at a minimum. We know that can be hard. As we're watching a storm like this come in, everyone is watching the forecast models. We tell them not to get too concerned about that. Some of the biggest threats we see from this storm obviously we're looking at tropical storm, maybe like hurricane-force winds.

We're also looking at potentially for a lot of flooding. Potentially urban flooding. And then as the storm makes -- progress towards Maui and Oahu, we may have some storm surge, some coastal flooding, some (INAUDIBLE). So we're telling the public to stay tuned to the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service and the local officials at the county level, and to take action.

We prefer them to shelter in place, if they feel safe -- if they feel unsafe and they feel like their home is being threatened, then they can try to find a shelter.

BRIGGS: And it's because of that potential flooding that FEMA says if you live in a flood-prone area, do prepare for the possibility of moving to an emergency shelter.

Some speculation yesterday that Hawaii did not have an adequate number of shelters. Can you give us information on that as well as the concern for ports? Hawaii obviously very reliant on the sea imports.

MEYERS: As for the shelters, we have about 35 shelters open right now across the island. We have about five open on the big island. Seven open on Maui, three on (INAUDIBLE), 20 here on the island of Oahu. The local and county emergency managers assess the conditions that are going on and look at the impact and they open up the shelters at that level. They meet the needs of those that need them at that time.

So I think that as an overall perspective, we're doing a decent job in meeting the needs of those that need sheltering based on the current storm conditions. And as those conditions change, there'll be more sheltering opportunities made available. ROMANS: All right. Luke Meyers, nice to hear from you this morning,

evening for you where it's 10:00 there in Honolulu. Best of luck to you. Keep up the good work. And we'll check in once again very, very soon. Thanks, Luke.

All right. Eight minutes past the hour. Another key figure in the effort to squelch Trump-related scandals ahead of the election is now cooperating with investigators.

The "Wall Street Journal" reporting that David Pecker, the head of American Media and publisher of the "National Enquirer," has been granted immunity. A source tells CNN Pecker told federal prosecutors that Mr. Trump knew about payments to buy the silence of women who claimed they had had sexual encounters with him.

BRIGGS: In his guilty plea this week, Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen said he and Pecker worked together to suppress the potentially damaging claims. That includes American Media's $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal. American Media was supposedly buying the rights to her story but buried it instead in a tabloid tactic called "catch and kill."

ROMANS: In an interview with FOX News, the president lashed out at former allies like Pecker and Cohen who've turned on him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything's wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is, or as high as you can go. It almost ought to be outlawed. It's not fair.


ROMANS: The "Associated Press" reports the "National Enquirer" kept a safe -- a safe said to contain documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories the tabloid killed ahead of the 2016 election.

BRIGGS: OK. AG Jeff Sessions has apparently had enough of attacks by President Trump. The attorney general pushing back after the president lashed out again saying Sessions failed to, quote. "take control of the Justice Department." The president has slammed the AG regularly for more than a year ever since Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.


TRUMP: He took the job and then he said, I'm going to recuse myself. I said, what kind of a man is this. The only reason I gave him a job because I felt loyalty. He was an original supporter.


BRIGGS: CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House with some reaction from Sessions and other lawmakers. KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and

Dave, we are seeing the feud between President Trump and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions intensify after President Trump said that he never thought Sessions actually took control of the Justice Department despite being attorney general for a year and a half now.

[04:10:12] It's not unusual for the president to criticize Sessions ever since he recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. But what's rare is that Sessions fired back this time saying the Department of Justice won't be swayed by politics. In a statement he said, "I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in." Later on that statement, he says, "While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations."

Though Jeff Sessions and the president have been at odds for some time now, what changed is that now two leading Senate Republicans, Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Chuck Grassley, are now talking about a future where Jeff Sessions isn't the attorney general.

Listen to what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say on Capitol Hill.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president is entitled to an attorney general he has faith in. Somebody that's qualified for the job. And I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice. Clearly Attorney General Sessions doesn't have the confidence of the president.


COLLINS: So right now it seems that Jeff Sessions' future is going to continue to hang in the balance -- Christine and Dave.

ROMANS: All right, Kaitlan at the White House, thank you.

BRIGGS: All right. It's going to be an interesting few days for Congressman Duncan Hunter. He and his wife indicted for alleged fraud and he seemed to throw her under the bus.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: She handled my finances throughout my entire military career. And that continued on when I got into Congress.


[04:15:50] ROMANS: All right. Don't get too excited about those creative workarounds to help you keep your state and local tax deductions. The Treasury Department is cracking down on a loophole for high tax states preventing them from helping taxpayers avoid a new cap on state and local tax deductions. Remember, that was one of the most controversial parts of the new GOP tax law. Once unlimited, the so-called SALT deduction is capped at only $10,000. Now that disproportionately harms high tax states which are by the way mostly blue states.

In fact several blue states are suing the Trump administration, New York, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey. They claim the tax law unfairly targets Democratic states. Those same states passed laws to work around the cap, allowing taxpayers, for example, to make charitable contributions in lieu of state taxes in exchange for a tax credit. But a new Treasury Department rule blocks that very scenario.

The secretary -- the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, you know, Congress limited a deduction that, quote, "benefit high income earners to help pay for major tax cuts for American families." He said that whole tax deduction thing just benefitted rich people.

Deductions help reduce your overall tax bill so in high tax states like In New York, the cap could increase residents' taxes by $14 billion this year. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo calls the change, quote, "political attempt to hurt Democratic states." He promised to fight this new Treasury rule.

BRIGGS: California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter and his wife pleading not guilty in federal court Thursday at the charges they illegally used $250,000 in campaign funds to furnish their lavish lifestyle. Hunter on FOX News last night seemed to point the finger at his wife.


HUNTER: When I went to Iraq in 2003, the first time I gave her power of attorney. And she handled my finances throughout my entire military career. And that continued on when I got into Congress. She was also the campaign manager. So whatever she did, that will be looked at, too, I'm sure. But -- but I didn't do it.


BRIGGS: Contend this is a political hit job as well. Now response yet from Hunter's wife Margaret. The couple is accused of spending campaign money for personal expenses large and small, including a $14,000 family vacation to Italy and Rome. My personal favorite was a $250 flight for the family rabbit, which is always essential and should be paid for by you, the taxpayers.

ROMANS: Yes. Exactly.

All right. Caught on video, police in Texas engage a woman about to jump off a bridge.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does matter.


ROMANS: We'll show you what happens next.


[04:22:56] ROMANS: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is going back to North Korea next week. Pompeo will be joined by Stephen Biegun, his new special representative to North Korea. Biegun is a former executive at Ford and was a senior staff member to then National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

This is Pompeo's fourth trip to Pyongyang. Right now there are no plans for meeting with Kim Jong-un. Despite early optimism after the Trump-Kim summit, talks between the two countries appeared to have stalled over the issue of denuclearization.

BRIGGS: The two-person Board of Elections in Randolph County, Georgia, will vote this morning at a proposal that shut down seven of its nine polling places. Critics call it a move to suppress black voters in a critical election that could result in Stacey Abrams becoming the first black female governor. Supporters in the rural southwest Georgia county say the move will save money and claim the seven targeted locations do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ROMANS: A former government contractor who leaked confidential information to the media sentenced to more than five years in prison. 26-year-old Reality Winner was accused of taking a report on a Russian cyber attack from the NSA in 2016 and sending it to an online news outlet. She took a plea deal of six to three months in prison with three years of supervised release. Her attorney calls her a good person who didn't understand the magnitude of her actions. Winner told the court she never intended to harm national security.

BRIGGS: According to a new study, no amount of alcohol consumption is healthy. Prior studies now suggested moderate drinking can help prevent heart disease and diabetes but the new research that analyzes global alcohol consumption in 2016 found alcohol was the leading risk factor for disease and premature death in people ages 15 to 49. Not surprisingly because of their large populations, China, India and Russia were the world leaders in alcohol-related deaths. U.S. ranks fifth among men and seventh among women. The new study was published in the journal the "Lancet."

ROMANS: Heart-pounding video out of Texas where police stopped a woman from jumping off a bridge.

[04:25:04] Take a look at this dashcam video from Forth Worth, Police. A woman standing on the ledge of an overpass, the heels of her feet hanging right over it. Officers Justin Henry and Trae Cierzan inch slowly toward her. Watch what happens next.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody wants me dead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one wants that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody wants that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please get down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come down. You don't want to do this. You know you can talk to us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please get down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please get down. Please get down.



ROMANS: One of the officers is heard then promising to get the woman help. CNN affiliate KTVT says the woman is in the hospital. The family says they are forever grateful to the officers who they one day hope to meet.

I have goosebumps. That story is just --

BRIGGS: Yes. Needless to say, you don't like heights.

ROMANS: I don't like heights but I just --

BRIGGS: That is terrifying.

ROMANS: I think police officers wake up in the morning and you never know what the day is going to hold. So now you just don't know, you have to be ready for anything.

BRIGGS: As do the people in Hawaii tonight. Hurricane Lane unleashing an epic downpour on parts of Hawaii. Up to 30 inches expected. The full track of the storm, next.

ROMANS: And the president suggested it should be illegal for witnesses to flip. But it looks like another longtime ally is ready to do just that.