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North Carolina Prepares for Hurricane Florence; White House Aides Narrow Search for Op-Ed Writer; Interview With Rep. Jim Himes. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 07:00   ET


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: -- Category 3 when it makes landfall. Remember, it's been in the water in 150-mile-per-hour storm surge for a few days. The surge under that 150-mile-per-hour storm is going to translate and move right onshore with it so it's going to surge like a Katrina surge in some spots.

[07:00:14] Now, it's still too early to tell. Impact, landfall 80 hours away likely, but it's 105 miles per hour, and it is moving toward the Carolinas, as you said.

Now, the cone goes all the way from Charleston all the way to Hampton roads, and at the very end, it tries to take a turn to the right. So could there be a miss? Sure. Absolutely. We are still 84 hours from here.

So look how close that is to the Carolina coast, maybe turning up the East Coast, but that's not the forecast. The forecast is for a landfalling hurricane, right smack dab into the area here around Wilmington. That's the middle of the cone, but the surge may be 80 miles wide so you can't look at the middle.

This is going to be a large devastating hurricane for many, many people. Not time to panic yet, but time to prep, from Hampton Roads on to Charleston. Prep. That means make a phone call to somebody inland: "Hey, how's that futon doing in your basement? Hey, if we have to get out, can we come?"

Those are the kind of things you need to be doing today, because we still have a few more days to figure it out, when that cone gets smaller and smaller and smaller, where it's actually going to hit, John.

BERMAN: Again, Chad Myers, thanks very much. North and South Carolina right in the crosshairs of the storm. Let's go to the ground there and see what's happening. Our Kaylee Hartung at a store in Wilmington, North Carolina -- Kaylee.

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, John, this grocery store sold out of its water supply well before the business day ended yesterday. They told me they would be restocking overnight, but those shelves still barren.

This is a scenario we're seeing up and down the East Coast from Savannah, Georgia through the Carolinas and into Virginia. Grocery stores selling out of water and bread, home improvement stores selling out of plywood and generators. People here recognizing they need to prepare not just along the coast but also inland, from Rock Hills, South Carolina, to the research triangle of North Carolina.

Yes, yesterday we saw plenty of people enjoying beautiful weather on the beaches here, tourists telling me they were heading out of town. Locals saying they had gone to the store to stock up before enjoying a beautiful day.

I spoke with a local official from emergency management services here in New Hanover County. She told me her directive to her employees over the weekend was to go home, get your families organized and prepared, but come into the office first thing Monday morning, ready to buckle up for the long haul.

Some important decisions will be made today. That's why you saw the states of North Carolina and South Carolina and Virginia declaring a state of emergency before the weekend even began, a week our from this storm so that, come today, they could put their resources into place. They could activate the resources that they need to, to get ahead of this storm -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, Kaylee. Please keep us posted. We are all eyes on Florence. Thank you very much.

So the Trump administration still pushing back against those claims of a White House in disarray, both from that "New York Times" op-ed and journalist Bob Woodward's new book. CNN has learned that the White House aides say they have narrowed the hunt for that unnamed senior White House official down to just a few people.

Joining us now is CNN national security analyst, General Michael Hayden. He is the former director of the CIA and the NSA.

General, thanks so much for being here.


CAMEROTA: We have not spoken to you --

HAYDEN: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- since the bombshells came out from Bob Woodward's new book and that "New York Times" op-ed. So first, I just want to get your thoughts on these.

HAYDEN: Absolutely consistent with my vision, what I have heard, what people have told me in terms of the worst parts of how the White House works.

Now, I know the administration was very defensive over the weekend on all of the talk shows, but this has a powerful ring of truth when it comes to how things work there. It's a indisciplined [SIC] process reflecting an indisciplined [SIC] president.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, beyond the lack of discipline, is it dangerous? What do you make of the president's aides having to steal and swipe documents off of his desk for fear that he will sign it and launch some sort of trade war or worse.

I mean, here are a couple of examples. This is from Bob Woodward's book. Here's the Gary Cohn example. "I stole it off his desk. I wouldn't let him see it. He's never going to see that document. Got to protect the country." That was about a critical trade agreement with South Korea that -- that Gary Cohn feared the president was about to blow up, basically.

Here's this from Rob Porter: "A third of my job was trying to react to some of the really dangerous ideas that he had and to try to give him reasons to believe that maybe they weren't such good ideas."

HAYDEN: Yes, so with regard to the memo, which kind of works out as a little morality play for all the things we're talking about, Alisyn, it might be more surprising that Gary Cohn got away with it than the fact that he actually did it. I mean, things were so chaotic, and it's not so much the iron will of the president as the iron whim of the president, that he called for the memo. It was created. It didn't show up, and he apparently didn't miss it, because he didn't insist on it coming back to him so he could carry out his will. Again, it's just a reflection of the chaos.

[07:05:22] Now, when you look at what's in the Woodward book and particularly the anonymous memo, you get the thoughts that some folks accused those folks of being anti-democratic. And frankly, I don't think I would have taken the memo route myself. I don't think it would be either operationally or constitutional effective over the long term.

But we have put these people in an almost hopeless position. What are they to do when an uninformed, incurious and impulsive president acts his impulses out?

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, listen, secretary of defense, James Mattis, is quoted in the Woodward book as saying the president has the comprehension of a fifth or sixth grader.


CAMEROTA: And so when you say that you wouldn't take -- have taken the route of writing that op-ed, what would you do if you were in the White House?

HAYDEN: I actually think that the -- first point is the letter, I think, is more of symptom than a cure. And frankly, in that sense, Alisyn, it did perform a great service.

I mean, the most interesting thing is after the letter comes out, it's not obvious who the writer is. I mean, there's literally scores of legitimate suspects. And so that is good information for the American people to know.

But I think, certainly, my conscience would have called me to resign and to state publicly why I had resigned. CAMEROTA: OK. I mean, you know, the other argument is that people

believe that they can do more good staying there and swiping memos off the president's desk.

HAYDEN: Alisyn, I've actually written about this multiple times, and I look at people like Jim Mattis and John Kelly and others in -- in the Oval Office, in the administration, and the stresses on them are unbelievable. At what point -- at what point do they have to decide that they are no longer guardrails and are simply enablers or legitimizers for the president? And you had somebody anonymously last week try to split the difference.

CAMEROTA: So now, as you know, the president has launched his own version of a witch hunt inside the White House to try to flush out whoever this person is, and sometimes he makes threats that he will use sort of every apparatus at his disposal. And I'm wondering if you think that the president might choose to use the FBI or the DOJ or the NSA?

HAYDEN: Alisyn, that was one of the most remarkable things over the weekend, is the president's friends, his surrogates out there on all the networks. They were asked about the president tweeting and saying this should be investigated and then asked pointblank, counselors to the president, the vice president, should the Justice Department do this? And their response was, "I'm sure the Justice Department will do the right thing."

Now pause for a moment, Alisyn. That's exactly what the anonymous letter writer says he does. He ignores presidential directives. He doesn't do what the president tells him. And then you had these two White House spokespersons say exactly that.

That's a reflection, I think, of how we are being governed at the moment. And I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better, as these stories come out, and we all have to make a judgment for the 2018 and then 2020 election.

CAMEROTA: Kellyanne Conway has suggested that there was a crime here by the op-ed writer. Do you see a crime here?

HAYDEN: I see no crime. Look, I am a creature of the executive branch. I've worked in it for decades. There is a sense of disloyalty to the president when you say these kinds of things.

But this is the most norm-busting president, certainly, in my lifetime, probably in history, and that seems to be forcing other people to break their own norms, whether it's -- well, to be candid, former intelligence chiefs appearing on television a lot, a former president actually making specific commentary about one of his successors.

We've reached a point where it's kind of, in an emergency, break glass. And we have people doing things I don't think they would have done, even thought of doing in normal times.

CAMEROTA: General Michael Hayden, we appreciate your perspective. Thank you very much.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: We want to bring in CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson; and CNN political analyst Michael Shear, White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

And Nia, we just heard General Michael Hayden there. Last hour, we heard from Toluse Olorunnipa, who was saying chaos has been sown, and the impact is already clear over what's happened. We were talking about how everyone we saw this weekend wants to know who the identity of this writer is.

CAMEROTA: Yes, everyone's talking.

BERMAN: So it's broken through, I think, among the voters.

And it's also clearly broken through to the people who work in this administration. When you have Mike Pence basically saying, "Strap me up to the lie detector right now," you know there's something going on. Watch this.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Should all top officials take a lie detector test, and would you agree to take one?

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would agree to take it in a heartbeat and would submit to any review the administration wanted to do.

WALLACE: Do you think the administration should do that?

PENCE: Look, that would be a decision for the president.


BERMAN: The "in a heartbeat," Nia, is a special Mike Pence touch that he threw in there.

CAMEROTA: Maybe he should get an EKG. Maybe they should -- why stop at just the polygraph?

BERMAN: I think they're different. I think the EKG and the heart, probably different.

CAMEROTA: I'm not medical.

BERMAN: But it is interesting when the vice president has to go out of his way to say, "In a heartbeat, I'd take a lie detector."

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Extraordinary that he White House thought this was a good idea in many ways. I think the reaction to this op-ed has really underscored the chaos.

You've had Kellyanne Conway, for instance, say that this was the point of the op-ed, to sow chaos. It certainly has done that, but it also, I think, reflects the chaos that has gone on in this White House for many, many months.

Other writers have written about it, and each time you've seen those writers, their book sales go up. Their argument's elevated. And anyway, I think that's what you see in this case, Mike Pence having to go out there and address it.

And you know this was clearly a strategy that was coordinated by this White House. Bill Shine is a top coms guy in the White House at this point. He, of course, worked for FOX News.

So trotting Mike Pence out, who's often used as a sort of character witness for this -- this White House, for Donald Trump in particular. It really was an extraordinary moment to have him come out there and say he would, in a heartbeat, get strapped down and really testify about this op-ed and prove that he didn't write it.

CAMEROTA: Michael, there was another person out this weekend on the Sunday shows, including with Jake Tapper. That was Kellyanne Conway. And she had a different take on all of this, basically that there has been some sort of law broken, so let me play for you that moment.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Is that a directive to DOJ to investigate?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO DONALD TRUMP: So from what I understand, there can be an investigation if there is criminal activity, perhaps --

TAPPER: And there doesn't appear to be any.

CONWAY: I don't know that, and I don't think you know that. In other words, that --

TAPPER: What would the criminal activity be?

CONWAY: It really depends on what else has been divulged by an individual.


CAMEROTA: What do you think of that, Michael?

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think that was sort of a crafty grasping at straws by Kellyanne Conway, because what she is doing is trying to expand the idea of what the FBI would look at, beyond just the distribution of the one particular op-ed and suggest that, perhaps, if the person that districted the op-ed to "The New York Times," to our paper, then perhaps they've been leaking other information. Perhaps they've been leaking classified information.

I mean, it's a -- it's a charge that they're hoping can justify the presidential musings of using the FBI and the Justice Department to go after -- to go after this person. I think it's a real stretch. I mean, if -- certainly, if there was some concrete evidence that somebody had leaked documents that contained classified information, then that always is possible to justify an investigation under the Espionage Act. But that's -- there's no evidence, at least, that we know of here. And if they had evidence like that, they should come forward with it.

BERMAN: The White House, Nia-Malika, is definitely trying to turn the corner. You can see the president on Twitter this morning, trying to turn the corner. He wants to talk about the economy. I understand why he wants to talk about the economy here.

But if you talk to Republicans who are heading into November in this campaign season, what they will tell you is that you can no longer turn the corner on this president. The president is the major issue in these mid-term elections, whether Republicans want that to be the case or not. And I feel as if you're now seeing them deal with it head on.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, the president is the main issue here. His approval ratings are low. His disapproval ratings are high. And we know that, from all the polls, that voters are going to the ballot, wanting in many ways, whatever the new Congress is, to be a check on this president.

Here's a president who has been involved -- if you particularly look at this summer. You think about the Helsinki summit. You think about what went on with the children at the border. A lot of these things are starting, I think, to really coalesce among voters, particularly independent voters.

I mean, we often talk about Trump voters, and Trump voters will be Trump voters and likely toe the line and support Republicans. But it really is independent and moderate voters who are looking at this presidency and looking at this president involved in so many chaotic, easy-to-understand stories, right? I mean, this story of someone who's a senior administration official, calling the president amoral, saying that he is anti-democratic, in many ways, it's very easy to understand.

[07:15:05] CAMEROTA: So you can imagine this is very troublesome for Republicans, who have already been up against the wall in terms of looking at this blue wave, trying to highlight some good things, like the tax cut, the economy and you see the president doing that with this tweet. But we also know that this is a president who can't really stay on message. Right? On the one hand they seem to want to turn the page, but on the other hand, yesterday they trotted out Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway to talk about this.

CAMEROTA: And in fact, we know from this leaked audio to your paper, Michael, that there was a meeting with Mick Mulvaney and Ronna McDaniel with other Republican leaders, where they talked candidly about their fears, about the serious vulnerability that Republican candidates are facing in the midterms, because as Mick Mulvaney said, there's so much hate -- that's the word he used -- out there for President Trump. And he's suggested that if only they could subtract President Trump's

divisiveness, they might stand a better chance, which is like saying put a bag over his rhetoric, which is impossible to do.

And so they talked about that, and then enter Barack Obama. And so Barack Obama has stepped off the sidelines in a big way, and he is now talking about what he has seen for almost two years while he has been before silent. So here's a moment of that.


BARACK OBAMA (D), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where there's a vacuum in our democracy, when we are not participating, we're paying attention, when we're not stepping up, other voices fill the void. But the good news is in two months, we have a chance to restore some sanity in our politics.


CAMEROTA: Michael, what are the thoughts about what effect this will have?

SHEAR: Well, look, one of the truisms about politics is that narratives only work if they're rooted in something that the public believes is a kind of a legitimate story that you're telling about an opponent.

So when Barack Obama talks about restoring sanity, and that's the narrative that he's going to push for the next two months, which is that somehow the choice the voters have to make has to -- HAS TO deal with what's going on inside this White House. and the op-ed, the Woodward book, all of the reporting that colleagues at my paper or your network have done, I mean, it all adds up to a story that is believable. And that -- and that the voters are going to listen to what Barack Obama says, what the other Democratic candidates say.

And that's going to have more impact than it would if they were sort of spinning a yarn that voters sort of said, "Gee, that's not -- that doesn't make sense. That doesn't fit with what I know."

And the more that these kind of allegations of chaos, allegations of amorality, of a president that acts on whims, the more that they all add up, the more that that story that the Democrats are telling is potentially going to work to add to their -- to their potential successes this fall.

BERMAN: I will say that the next mid-term election that Barack Obama has a major impact on for the positive for his party will be the first, right? He didn't really have coattails that he wanted in 2010 or 2014. We don't know if it will be different now that he's no longer the president. But history does tell us one thing.

All right. Nia-Malika Henderson, Michael Shear, great to have you with us.

HENDERSON: Thanks, guys. CAMEROTA: So as we've been talking about, President Trump has called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to look into who wrote that op-ed. But are there grounds for an investigation? A Democratic congressman on the House Intel Committee will tell us, next.


[07:22:31] BERMAN: The White House is intensifying the hunt for the author of that expose, that scathing "New York Times" op-ed about a resistance inside the Trump administration. President Trump now calling on his attorney general to launch an investigation.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Do you see any law that was broken by the publishing of this op-ed?

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Of course not. I mean, you know, Americans don't sacrifice their First Amendment rights just because they go to work in the White House. So, you know, revealing classified information, of course, is a crime. There's no allegations that there was any classified information released there.

So now. I mean, this just feels like another sort of, you know, shot in the dark by the White House.

Now, you know, was it a good idea? I keep scratching my head, asking myself what was the individual trying to achieve. It worries me, watching the president closely as I do, that provoking this guy, particularly as we go into an election that could have an outcome that is not good for him, is a little bit of a scary thing.

But no, the idea that a law was broken is just -- is crazy.

BERMAN: Kellyanne Conway told Jake Tapper -- we just played that sound last segment -- says we don't know that a law was or wasn't broken, so that in and of itself is grounds for investigation. Is that an adequate standard?

HIMES: Not for an investigation. An investigation happens because there is probable cause.

Again, the First Amendment is pretty clear on this. I think you'll -- the Justice Department may not stoop to address the, you know, "We do not know." It's one of those things you can say anything after that phrase.

But no, no law was broken here, and I think that's a narrative that they will pretty quickly stop using.

BERMAN: I don't know about lie detectors. I don't know if lie detectors is the right way to deal with it or not.

But you certainly -- if they wanted to bring in someone to launch an internal investigation, not a legal investigation. But any corporation in America, any business might want to investigate itself if they had someone writing this kind of thing, correct?

HIMES: Yes. I mean, you know, of course they've got the authority to run lie detector tests. It's just, you know, at some point you scratch your head and ask yourself, what has this country become? I mean, it's people like Josef Stalin or Maduro or, you know, dictators around the world who get, you know, all of their close aides into a room and make them take lie detectors and beat them up and that sort of thing.

Again, I continue to scratch my head over exactly why this individual published this op-ed. I don't -- it's not clear to me that that achieves anything, other than perhaps making he or she feel better. But I mean, you know, the notion -- first of all, lie detectors aren't perfect. Right? Can you imagine if you're a cabinet secretary and all of a sudden, you're, you know, being asked to roll up your sleeve and put a cuff on? I mean, just -- it's just not the country we want to be.

BERMAN: But I'm sure you were out there. You were driving UPS, like, a few weeks ago. I saw that. Leave that aside, but you were out there this weekend. I'm sure everyone was asking you who wrote it?

[07:25:07] HIMES: Yes, and of course I've got -- I've got no insight. I mean, I'm in the opposition party in the Congress, so I've got no insight.

And remember, you know, the guy who ultimately, you know, turned out to be Deep Throat in Watergate denied it at the time, so the notion that these denials carry a lot of water, I think -- I think is total uncertainty.

BERMAN: All right. You were on the House Intelligence Committee. One of the things that Axios started reporting overnight -- and it may not be disconnected, by the way, from this "New York Times" op-ed that perhaps the White House is trying to pull focus.

But Axios is reporting that as soon as this week, the president could declassify some of the information and legal documents surrounding Carter Page, who was a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, who we know there were FISA warrants out against. And also declassify some of the search investigations involving Bruce Ohr, who works at the Justice Department.

The president has the authority to do that. If he wants to declassify this, he can. What would your reaction be?

HIMES: Well, I have two reactions. No. 1 is, and this, of course, has been a hallmark of the White House's defense of itself: "Let's declassify stuff that historically has never been declassified." FISA affidavits, you know, stuff that was made public in the famous Nunes memo. Now widely discredited Nunes memo.

So the president, of course, has the authority to do it. You know, the American in me says, "Hey, let's not -- let's not start declassifying everything just so that you can make a case about your own innocence or political viability or whatever it may be." I will tell you, John, though, if I sort of set aside that national

interests argument, the opening up of documents, whether it's the affidavits or anything else they want to declassify will do one thing and one thing only, which is make it clear that everything that was done in this investigation was done by the book; that the president and his defenders in the Congress are doing nothing but slandering good people like Bruce Ohr, professionals who have dedicated their life to this country. They are slandering them in the interest of trying to delegitimize this investigation.

So you can't name a document that has been made public that has done anything other than refute the president's central contention that this investigation has not been done on the -- on the up and up.

BERMAN: Have you seen the unredacted FISA applications?

HIMES: I have.

BERMAN: Well, so you can't reveal classified information, but let me ask this. You just made the case that, if the president does declassify this, and we all do see it, you're saying it will not help his case?

HIMES: I believe that anything they declassify -- and I haven't seen everything, but I have seen a lot of it -- anything that they declassify will simply erode their case that something was done wrong.

And we've seen this a million times, right, you know? They started with the argument that the investigation started because of what they like to call the dirty dossier. Now set aside the fact that nothing -- nothing -- in that dossier, the Michael Steele -- Christopher Steele dossier has been proven to be wrong. Set that aside.

When they declassified and started talking about the FISA application, lo and behold, it turns out that one of the campaign people, Papadopoulos, initiated this investigation by bragging to somebody in Europe in a wine bar that he was told by probably a Russian agent that the Russians had -- had Hillary's e-mails.

So every time something is declassified or made available to the public, it's one more blow, one more arrow in the back of this ridiculous argument that the White House had been making that this investigation was not started or conducted properly.

BERMAN: Well, we'll see. If he does release it, we'll take a look. We'll have this conversation again when we know what you've already seen.

President -- former president Barack Obama out on the campaign trail Friday or Saturday. And Saturday, I should say. I'm curious what you make of that as a current Democrat. Does it help your case to have figures from the past out there as the standard bearer for your party?

HIMES: I think it's a political question, and there's a whole other question about, you know, what was the president's thinking, Obama's thinking in terms of jumping in, in a fairly unprecedented way. And look, he made his case. He said these are not normal times. I think most Americans agree with that point of view.

From a political standpoint, there's no question in my mind that it helps the Democrats going into November. Look, President Obama's approval ratings around the country generally are much, much higher than Donald Trump's. And of course, you know, the president always won by mobilizing certain communities. Communities of color, young people --

BERMAN: He didn't win in the midterms that way. In 2010 and 2014, you know, you know, he did not help Democrats in the midterms.

HIMES: Yes, but 2010, look, was a reaction to the immense wave of legislating to the Affordable Care Act, you know, to the very deliberate policy on the part of Republicans to paint everything inaccurately.

BERMAN: I guess my question is what does it say about the current state of the Democratic Party if you're leaning on figures from the past Democratic Party to make your case?

HIMES: Well, you know, it's not that unconventional; nor is it surprising. We don't have a president. The president is a Republican. Or at least says he's a Republican.

And so, you know, we -- you know, you look back at your presidents, at people like Barack Obama, at Bill Clinton, dare I say, Jimmy Carter, who was once an exemplar of moral probitude [SIC] in the oral -- in the Oval Office. But you know, look, you shouldn't -- you shouldn't regard that as surprising when the Democrats don't have a president or a presidential candidate out there.

BERMAN: All right. Democratic Congressman Jim Himes from Connecticut, we appreciate it.

HIMES: Thank you.