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Senators Resigned to Firing Sessions; Support for Sessions; Revised Death Toll for Puerto Rico; Officer Convicted of Murder. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 29, 2018 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[09:32:52] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, there are renewed doubts about the future of embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man the president has, of course, publicly bashed, repeatedly on Twitter, and privately talked about firing. "The Washington Post" reporting there is growing evidence some Republican senators have resigned themselves to the fact that the president will likely get rid of Sessions after the midterms.

Jeremy Diamond joins us now with the latest from the White House.

Jeremy, good morning.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning, Erica.

Well, you know, the president never quite did get over Jeff Sessions' recusal from the Mueller -- the special counsel's investigation. And he has fumed over the last year and a half about the attorney general. We're told in recent weeks even the president has floated the possibility of firing his attorney general. And this morning, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, refusing to say whether the president has confidence in his attorney general.

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QUESTION: How are we feeling about Mr. Session this morning?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Oh, he's (INAUDIBLE) talked (INAUDIBLE) yesterday, actually. He's working very hard on MS- 13 gangs, the opioid crisis, immigration. They've got this great new initiative you probably haven't read about, or at least covered, called SOS, Synthetic Opioid Surge. So he's doing tremendous work.

QUESTION: So does that -- does that mean that he still has the president's confidence?

CONWAY: He is the attorney general. (INAUDIBLE) and they're doing great work over at the DOJ.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: So you hear Kellyanne Conway there offering some praise for the attorney general, but not saying that the president has confidence in him. That's been a quite typical line from the White House for some time now.

But what is changing is what's going on with Senate Republicans, that they have been really the last bulwark protecting the attorney general from the president's wrath with several members privately urging the president, publicly urging the president not to fire his attorney general.

Some of those Republican senators still offering their support for Jeff Sessions. We know that several of those Republican senators have phoned Sessions in recent weeks urged him to sit tight and to hold on strong.

But we know that several key Republican senators, including on the Judiciary Committee, are now wavering in their support for Jeff Sessions, saying that he will have to go eventually. But, for now, they're living that until after the midterms.

Erica.

[09:35:03] HILL: All right, Jeremy Diamond with the latest at the White House. Thank you.

Well, while the president's reportedly reviving the idea of firing Sessions behind closed doors, sources tell CNN Sessions is getting calls of support from some Republican senators.

Lauren Fox is on Capitol Hill now with more of their reaction.

Lauren, good morning.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, that's right. And Republican senators up here on Capitol Hill, many of them saying that they support Jeff Sessions, that this is a former colleague, but many also revealing they feel badly for Jeff Sessions and how public the feud between him and President Donald Trump has become.

We should note that Senator Lindsey Graham, a prominent member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that he imagines that after the midterm elections there could be a move to replace Jeff Sessions. And Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee, has also signaled that there could be some time to have more hearings, confirmation hearings, for whatever positions the president may need to approve of.

But we should know that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the Senate, said yesterday that he supported Jeff Sessions. Here's what Mitch McConnell had to say.

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SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I have total confidence in the attorney general. I think he ought to stay exactly where he is.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOX: And that is, of course, very strongly worded comments from Mitch McConnell. He, of course, has a lot to say about the future of Jeff Sessions just in terms of what kind of mood and precedent he has in the U.S. Senate. So while there is some shaky relationships forming, it seems as though Mitch McConnell is saying, for now, he'd like Jeff Sessions to say exactly where he is.

HILL: Lauren Fox with the latest from Capitol Hill for us.

Lauren, thank you.

Still ahead, Hurricane Maria now one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. The official death toll in Puerto Rico related to that storm, remember it was 64 according to the government. Those new numbers, nearly 3,000. We have much more on that new report, next.

But first --

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was rare for a woman to attend law school when Ruth Bader Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard. In a class of 500 students, she was one of nine women. She said the dean asked why they wanted to take jobs away from men. In the early 1960s, only 3 percent of lawyers were women.

With RBG's lead, women began to stake their claim on the profession. As a professor, she offered courses in gender and the law and co- authored the first school case book on gender discrimination. By 1993, when RBG joined the Supreme Court, over 20 percent of law professors were women. If 2017, RBG's granddaughter graduated from Harvard Law. It was the first class to be 50 percent female. Surely nobody asked those women why they're taking jobs from men.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG, SUPREME COURT: No door should be closed to people willing to spend the hours of effort needed to make dreams come true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Watch "RBG" on Monday, September 3rd, at 9:00 p.m. on CNN.

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[09:42:02] HILL: Puerto Rico officially raising its death toll from Hurricane Maria to 2,975. That is 46 times higher than the initial count of 64. The revised number comes after a long awaited report of from George Washington University, commissioned by Puerto Rico's governor.

Now, for months, CNN, along with other media outlets, have raised questions about the island's official death count after several independent researchers estimated a substantially higher number.

Puerto Rico's mayor of San Juan -- the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, sharing her thoughts with us on CNN earlier.

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MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: It's 2,975 people that will never see the light of day and many of them died because of neglect. Neglect that was done by the Trump administration and that was silently approved by most of the political class in Puerto Rico.

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HILL: CNN's Leyla Santiago has been following this story from day one.

Leyla, what else are we hearing this morning from the Puerto Rican government?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Puerto Rican government will tell you that they are acknowledging they were not prepared to handle so many deaths in this study that came out from George Washington University. They -- it says that the Puerto Rican government was ready with protocols for a category one storm.

This new study that came out yesterday was commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico. The death toll was at 64 before it came out. Then this study came out and within hours the government changed it to 2,975, which really paints the picture of how devastating this was after Maria ripped through there. The type of conditions that people were living with. No power, no water, tough to have access to health care. And while this may not be now the deadliest storm on record, it's certainly now in the top five with the great Galveston storm from 1900. So some historical context there coming out from our research as number one.

And it's important when we kind of compare this to otherings and look at Hurricane Katrina, for example, to acknowledge what those who have studied Hurricane Katrina death toll has said as well, that this was a different situation. People back in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina were able to flee and get to safety, not easily and not immediately, but Puerto Rico was different. They were on an island. The were stuck under these conditions. And there were direct deaths according to this study, as well as indirect deaths. So people who died because a tree fell down on them and people who died months later in January and February because of the conditions they were living in.

Now, you remember when this happened, shortly after, President Trump went to Puerto Rico on a visit. He sort of praised the government for having a low death toll. At the time it was 16 certified deaths. But that number has -- later went up, actually hours after the president left. That number later went up.

[09:45:12] Yesterday, Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, was asked about this and they really didn't walk back that type of comment. They just said, we stand with the government of Puerto Rico in supporting and efforting (ph) transparency and getting to the bottom of this death toll, which is so important because you have to understand exactly what happened if you plan to, in any way in the future, prevent these type of deaths, Erica. HILL: It's also so important for all of the families that were

affected, Leyla, to have this updated number and to confirm what many of them have known all along, that their loved one did die as a result of this storm.

SANTIAGO: Right. And in one case in particular that I checked in with, Natalia Rodriguez (ph), who lives in the southeastern part of the island, we featured him before, I talked to his family and they were saying that, look, there have been a lot of numbers that have come out and really we just want some closure and we want to get to the bottom of this. In Natalia's case, he died in the middle of the night because the generator cut out and he needed that power for the machine he used to breathe. And he died as a result of that.

And I want to be clear, that not only are these families looking for a sense of closure, they could also qualify for financial assistance from FEMA if they are considered an official death. But let's be clear on what this study is, because it's important. This is a statistical analysis. There is still not a list of 2,975 deaths that will kind of give that closure and acknowledgment to what those families are looking for.

HILL: Bottom line, this is not over.

Leyla Santiago, appreciate you staying on this. Thanks for being here this morning.

A victim's family gasps in court when a jury convicts a former police officer of murder in the death of an unarmed son. That officer now facing life in prison.

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[09:51:30] HILL: This morning, a former Texas police officer could learn his fate in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager. Sentencing continues today in the trial of Roy Oliver. The family of Jordan Edwards rejoicing yesterday following Oliver's conviction. The sounds of gasps and sobbing filling the courtroom after that guilty verdict was read.

Ed Lavandera is following the trial for us from Dallas.

Ed, good morning.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica.

Well, it was a stunning verdict, especially for many people who have been following cases like this of unarmed black men in the United States who have been shot by police officers across the country. Many of these people saying that it is rare that you see convicts of police officer in these case. And that stands up to analysis as well.

So this guilty verdict sent by this Dallas County jury here yesterday was stunning and the family of Jordan Edwards, the 15-year-old young man who was shot and killed by this police officer back in April of last year, extremely emotional. The family of Jordan Edwards celebrated the guilty verdict and his attorney says this is not just about Jordan Edwards but about the many other cases around the country where the circumstances and the outcomes have been much different.

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DARYL WASHINGTON, FAMILY ATTORNEY: This guilty of murder to us is just, when you think about it, you think about all the case. All the unarmed black and brown men and women who have been victims to police brutality and who have not received justice.

When we see this verdict, it gives young boys and girls some sense of safety that their lives matter.

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LAVANDERA: So, right now, the punishment phase of this trial is going on right now. Testimony being heard in that. People talking about how wonderful Jordan Edwards was.

The police officer in this case, Roy Oliver, will also have a chance to put on testimony as well. So that could take some time and the jury will have to decide the punishment. The officer faces anywhere between five years in prison up to life in prison.

Erica.

HILL: Ed Lavandera with the latest for us.

Ed, thank you.

A progressive mayor from Tallahassee pulling off a stunning upset to win the Florida Democratic primary for governor. The big question now, of course, can he beat President Trump's pick for that job? We're following it all.

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[09:58:21] HILL: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is calling for an independent investigation after a Pennsylvania grand jury's report of rampant sexual abuse of minors in the church. The powerful review board citing a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power says, quote, genuine change is needed within the church culture. In a statement the bishops also said the culture of silence enabled the abuse to go on virtually unchecked. Trust was betrayed for the victims and survivors of the abuse. The entire body of Chris was betrayed in turn by these crimes and the failure to act.

A Colorado mother is grieving after she says her nine-year-old son took his own life after being bullied at school for being gay. Jamel Miles (ph) came out as gay over the summer break and was looking forward to telling his friends at school. His mother spoke with a CNN affiliate and said no child should be hurt like this. She is demanding accountability. Denver Public Schools released this statement following Jamel's death, we are deeply committed to ensuring all members of the school community are treated with dignity and respect, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or transgender status. It's critical that our students receive all the support they need to learn and thrive in a safe and welcoming environment.

Fans lining up for a second day to pay tribute to the queen of soul. Aretha Franklin's casket, of course, arriving, as you see there, for the public viewing at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History in Detroit. Hundreds gathering yesterday to pay their final respects. This is day two of that viewing. It's part of a weeklong commemoration. Aretha Franklin's funeral is set for Friday.

Good morning, I'm Erica Hill, in today for Poppy Harlow.

The shock has barely worn off from last night's primary election bombshell in Florida, but already the drama has begun as we lead up to November.

[10:00:07] President Trump starting his morning with an at a boy for the Republican he endorsed in Florida's GOP gubernatorial race, and a swipe at the progressive who