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Aired September 10, 2018 - 17:00   ET



[17:00:10] JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. The coming storm. Mandatory evacuations begin as Florence barrels toward the U.S. East Coast with millions of people in its path. The Category 4 hurricane expected to get even stronger, and there's a new forecast just out.

Lack of trust. As the White House tries to discredit critics of President Trump, our exclusive new poll shows only 32 percent of Americans think he is honest and trustworthy. Now the White House says maybe the Justice Department should investigate the anonymous op- ed that detailed dysfunction inside the Trump team.

Trading cases. Porn star Stormy Daniels and President Trump switch positions on her lawsuit against the president, with Mr. Trump now ready to end their nondisclosure agreement. But Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, says the president only wants to avoid being deposed. Michael Avenatti joins me live this hour.

And parading Kim's power. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un marks his country's 70th birthday with a show of military might but chooses not to display his big ballistic missiles. Meanwhile, President Trump has received a new letter from Kim. What does it say?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Acosta, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ACOSTA: Breaking news this hour. Troubling new numbers for President Trump in our exclusive new CNN poll. While the White House tries to discredit damning portrayals of the president painted by members of his own team, our survey finds only 32 percent of Americans believe the president is honest and trustworthy.

Also breaking, the National Hurricane Center has just put out a new forecast for Hurricane Florence, a Category 4 storm that's already prompting mandatory evacuations along the U.S. East Coast.

We'll talk about that and more this hour with Congressman Mike Quigley of the Intelligence Committee and Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti. Our correspondents, specialists, analysts, they're also standing by. But first, let's go to CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff


Jeff, the White House broke almost three weeks of silence. They dusted off the podium inside the briefing room today. What did they tell us today, Jeff?


Quite literally they dusted it off shortly before Sarah Sanders entered the White House briefing room for the first time since August 22.

Now, we saw her defend the president. She blasted Bob Woodward and the writer of that anonymous "New York Times" op-ed. But she did say this. She said, "People here at the White House are focused on things that actually matter."

But the president may not have gotten that memo. He's been fuming about all of it for days. The White House tonight trying to move beyond a war within its own walls.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's frankly, I think, sad and pathetic that a gutless, anonymous source could receive so much attention.

ZELENY: It's been 19 days since White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had appeared at the podium. Aides even cleaning it before she took questions in the briefing room for the first time since August 22.

She wasted little time, blasting Bob Woodward and his new book. "Fear," that chronicles deep dysfunction inside the West Wing.

SANDERS: To not even take the time to get a $10 fact-checker to call around and verify that some of these quotes were happened, when no effort was made, it seems like a very careless and reckless way to write a book.

ZELENY: Yet, even as she tried to downplay the book, it's the 1-2 punch of Woodward and the anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times" that's enraging the president, who called the book a joke, "Just another assault against me."

A parade of top administration officials have come forward to say it wasn't them, with the vice president taking the extraordinary step of volunteering to submit to a lie detector test.

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

ZELENY (on camera): Do you know if the president believes these denials that have been coming in from some of his top advisers? Or does he believe that it's someone from within? And does he believe that lie detector tests should be issued, as the vice president volunteered to do on Sunday?

SANDERS: No lie detectors are being used or talked about or looked at as a possibility. Frankly, the White House and the staff here are focused on doing our jobs.

ZELENY (voice-over): On the eve of the book's official release, Woodward defended his findings.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR": But there's a war on truth by him. And he says, "Oh, these are unnamed sources." But these are not unnamed incidents. Specific people on specific dates.

ZELENY (voice-over): As for the top officials who denied specific critiques of the president, from chief of staff John Kelly to Defense Secretary James Mattis, Woodward said this.

WOODWARD: They are not telling the truth.

ZELENY: Tonight a new CNN poll finds the president's approval rating has fallen six points in the last month. And now stands at a new low among independent voters.

Overall, just 36 percent approve of the way the president is handling his job, down from 42 percent in August. Among independents, the drop has been sharper, from 47 percent approval last month to 31 percent now. Only 32 percent find the president trustworthy.

[17:05:14] Yet nearly 7 in 10 Americans give the economy high marks. A ray of optimism for Republicans two months before the midterm elections. The president crowed about the economy in a series of tweets today, declaring it "So good. Perhaps the best in our country's history."

Yet he incorrectly stated its exact strength, writing, "The GDP rate, 4.2 percent, is higher than the unemployment rate, 3.9 percent, for the first time in over 100 years." But Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said that wasn't true.

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISORS: What is true is that it's the highest in ten years. And at some point, somebody probably conveyed it to him, adding a zero to that, and they shouldn't have done that. And again, I'm not the chairman of the Council of Twitter Advisers.


ZELENY: Now, the White House has been trying to keep the focus on the mystery of all of this, the great whodunit, if you will, here in Washington, rather than answer head-on questions about the substance of what was revealed in that book and the op-ed, the deep dysfunction inside this White House, according to many officials.

Now Sarah Sanders had this to say when she was asked if they would be putting out a list of everything that she believes is wrong in the book. She said, "That would be a complete and utter waste of our time, so no" -- Jim. ACOSTA: All right, Jeff Zeleny, thank you very much.

There are new developments in the case of alleged Russian spy Maria Butina, who federal prosecutors say tried to infiltrate on behalf of the Kremlin. CNN political -- or justice correspondent, I should say, Jessica Schneider is joining us now for more on that.

Jessica, there's a new gag order in the case. Tell us about that.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is, Jim. And the defense team here really issued a double blow by this federal judge.

She imposed a gag order on Butina's attorneys, saying they can't keep giving interviews, and the judge denied bail for 29-year-old Maria Butina, meaning she will be behind bars until trial, which won't be until at least next year.

But the judge also reprimanded the prosecution in this case after the government admitted in court filings late Friday night that they misinterpreted a text message. The judge said that she was, quote, "concerned and dismayed that prosecutors overreached and used that text message, in part, to claim that Butina had offered sex in exchange for a position in a special interest organization."

So here's the text message in question. Butina sent it three years ago to a friend in Russia, who took her car in for an insurance inspection. So you see first there the friend identified as "D.K.," and it said, "I don't know what you owe me for this insurance. They put me through the wringer."

Well, that's when Butina responds, "Sex. Thank you very much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name."

The defense team says that those texts were in jest, and prosecutors initially used it as their basis for arguing that Butina was a flight risk. They said that her relationship here in the U.S. with a political operative, Paul Erickson, was a sham, since she was offering sex to other people.

But now prosecutors are admitting that their understanding of that text was mistaken, and really, Jim, today the judge expressed great concern that the prosecution had rested a lot of their case, a lot of these salacious claims, on really what was a text just joking around.

ACOSTA: And Jessica, there is also some new scrutiny on former Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, who Friday was sentenced to 14 days for lying. What more can you tell us about that?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, really, and it revolves around George Papadopoulos's recent disclosures to our own Jake Tapper, as well as other media outlets, and it's drawing a lot of scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers.

So George Papadopoulos on Friday was sentenced to 14 days for lying to investigators. But right before that sentencing, he also went on somewhat of a media blitz; and Papadopoulos told our Jake Tapper that he likely didn't tell anyone on Trump's campaign team that he had been approached by a professor in a London bar, claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The key thing here, though, is that George Papadopoulos didn't give an unequivocal denial. He really did seem to leave some wiggle room. Take a listen.


GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: I might have. But I have no recollection of doing so. I can't guarantee it. All I can say is my memory is telling me that I never shared it with anyone on the campaign.


SCHNEIDER: And it's that somewhat wavering answering that's leading Democrats to say they might need to call George Papadopoulos to do their own questioning of him.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We've gotten some documents from Mr. Papadopoulos. We'd love to talk with him, as well, on the Senate intelligence side.

But one thing that's fairly clear: this is an ambitious guy who wants to be a player in the Trump campaign. He -- Trump had chosen him as part of his foreign policy team. It just stretches, I think, most people's credibility that, if Papadopoulos had this knowledge and he wanted to try to further ingratiate himself with the campaign, that he wouldn't have shared that with somebody on the campaign.


SCHNEIDER: So Democrats floating that possibility out there. But they haven't called George Papadopoulos.

[17:10:05] However, Jim, Papadopoulos, he hasn't been sent to serve those 14 days yet. He's still out, awaiting when he'll actually go to prison. So it's possible maybe he could be called to Capitol Hill.

ACOSTA: He is available right now.


ACOSTA: All right. Justice correspondent Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Let's get more on all this with Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois, a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. The White House still wants to investigate this writer of the anonymous op-ed. But they can cite -- they cannot cite a law that was violated. Is this an abuse of the Department of Justice, in your view? REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Just another one,

unfortunately. The president needs to appreciate the fact the Justice Department is not his own private law firm.

The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves, Mr. President. Clean your own House. You need to address this internally. Obviously, you have issues to address.

ACOSTA: And some Democrats have said that using the attorney general to carry out a personal political investigation could be an impeachable offense. Do you agree with that?

QUIGLEY: You know, I do. But it joins a long list of issues that could meet that standard, unfortunately.

I think the president is in panic mode. I think he's far too worried about an op-ed. He's far too worried about a book. If, as his press secretary says, reviewing all the mistakes the book would be a waste of time. If the president thinks these aren't true, then treat it as a waste of time and get on with the nation's business.

Obviously, the person who wrote the book is the most senior and probably most respected journalist, so he has a lot more credibility, in my mind, than the president of the United States.

ACOSTA: And even if this unnamed official didn't commit a crime, do you share the concerns that this person could hurt national security? We were hearing this earlier today by the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, that national security could be harmed in some way by undermining the administration from within. What do you make of that?

QUIGLEY: Yes, it sounds sort of Nixon-like. I think our country was undermined. Our reputation was undermined. We can only imagine what our allies must think of us.

But the president of the United States not wanting to be bothered with daily intelligence briefings; not acting on his advisers' consent -- advising consent issues, but instead acting on a whim. These are the things that would concern a foreign ally. They certainly concern those of us in Congress.

ACOSTA: And what does it say about this administration that the vice president of the United States feels the need to go on television and offer to take a lie detector test? We saw that over the weekend, to prove that the op-ed wasn't from him or his staff? What did you think about that?

QUIGLEY: It's theater of the absurd. The fact that the person second in line to the president of the United States feels the need to address this by saying he would take a lie detector test. Where is trust within this administration? Who would assume that the vice president would feel the need to say something like that to clear the air?

Obviously, the dysfunction that's talked about in this op-ed and talked about in this book is bearing fruit openly and publicly with the president's own vice president.

ACOSTA: And I want to get your thoughts on the recent developments in the case of Maria Butina, the alleged Russian spy who stands accused of attempting to infiltrate conservative American political groups. Is that something that the House Intelligence Committee should look into? Should you be looking into her activity? And has it happened?

QUIGLEY: Well, she was one of 40 witnesses that the Democrats on the House Select Committee on Intelligence wanted to call when the Republicans shut the investigation down. She's obviously of great interest allegedly being part of a years'-long effort as a covert agent under the direction of the Kremlin to infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the National Rifle Association. She's an obvious person to bring forward to talk about these issues.

Obviously, we won't get that opportunity under the president -- the present administration in the House.

ACOSTA: OK, Congressman Mike Quigley from Illinois. Thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for coming in tonight, sir.

QUIGLEY: Thank you. Take care.

ACOSTA: All right. You, too.

Breaking news ahead. Details of the new forecast just released for Hurricane Florence. A Category 4 storm with millions of Americans in its path.

And up next, Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti joins us to talk about the sudden reversals in her case against President Trump.


[17:19:05] ACOSTA: In a series of new court filings, including one just hours ago, Stormy Daniels and President Trump have seemingly reversed roles regarding the porn star's lawsuit against the president and his former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to stay silent about the affair she says she had with Mr. Trump a decade ago.

Daniels is suing to get out of the nondisclosure agreement she signed, but now the president, through his lawyer, says he won't contest Daniels's effort to get out of the deal; and Cohen has agreed to tear it up if Daniels repays the money.

But tonight, Daniels's lawyer he wants the court to let him continue the case and depose President Trump.

Stormy Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, joins us live now.

Mike -- Michael, thank you very much for joining us. Let me ask you this. What do you make of this? It looks like the president and Michael Cohen are giving in to your original demand. Why not just declare victory, case closed? MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Well, it's not that

simple. I mean, they've been lying to the American people and lying to the federal judge and the court for six months, Jim.

And now they realize that they're in a world of hurt, because what's happening here is that Michael Cohen and Donald Trump do not want me deposing either one of them. They don't want to have to answer questions under oath about what happened, about the coverup, about the flow of the $130,000, because they realize that that is going to result in considerable problems for Donald Trump.

So they don't get to just rip cord this or parachute out of the case under the circumstances or under the conditions that they've set forward. There are things that have to be accomplished here or ruled on before they're able to do that, including the illegality of the contract, which we've been alleging for some time. We've been alleging that this contract, this NDA was illegal by law and, of course, Donald Trump doesn't want to admit that, because he'd be admitting, effectively, to a crime.

ACOSTA: And if this is not about money, why not take Michael Cohen up on this offer, return the $130,000, let Stormy Daniels speak without fear of retribution?

AVENATTI: Well, first of all, they effectively got what they wanted by muzzling my client in connection with the 2016 election, paid her the $130,000. And now they want the money back, now that Donald Trump was elected in 2016. Again, it doesn't work that way.

We've alleged the contract is illegal. We want a ruling or a stipulation that, in fact, the contract was illegal. Neither Michael Cohen nor Donald Trump will agree to that.

There's other provisions in the contract, including fees and costs that have to be paid. They're refusing to pay those fees and costs. I mean, this is a complicated issue. It's not as simple as, after six months of lying to everyone, they now claim that they just want to get out of the deal and pretend it never happened.

ACOSTA: And what's your end game? Is it confession from President Trump what you're after here? There's talk of lie detector tests going around the White House these days. What are you after?

AVENATTI: Well, I find it interesting that Mike Pence has suggested he'll take a lie detector test in a heartbeat. You know, my client took a lie detector test and passed one. I'd be curious to see if Donald Trump would take a lie detector test. It'd probably break the machine or the needle would break off in the middle of the test, frankly.

But, you know, our goal has been the same all along, Jim. And that is, this is a search for the truth. And we want all of the facts and the evidence to be laid out before the American people so they know exactly what happened in connection with this $130,000 payment, the coverup, the flow of the money, and all of the lies that took place surrounding it. ACOSTA: And do you really think a court is going to allow you to keep

this case going until you get that chance to depose the president, sort of a Bill Clinton moment in all of this?

AVENATTI: Well, I do, Jim. Because, again, and I think we set this out in the filing earlier today in federal court, which is very detailed, which explains exactly why Michael Cohen and Donald Trump cannot do what they're trying to do at this point. And, you know, I would encourage people to go online and read that filing if they want more information about it.

ACOSTA: And, you know, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask this question, Michael. Your critics say you're just using this to stay in the spotlight, because you want to run for president. There was a story over the weekend that you want to base your campaign in St. Louis, where you spent part of your childhood.

Are you just doing this -- are you just continuing this case in any way you can to keep that conversation going?

AVENATTI: Jim, that's just patently false. I don't need this case to stay in the spotlight, frankly. At this point, I've received a lot of publicity and notoriety, as my client has over the last six months. I don't think that's going to change one bit if the case goes away.

And our goals have remained the same. We want the truth laid out for the American people. And I think that people want the president deposed. They want to know exactly what happened here. They want the facts and the evidence so they can make their own determinations. And, you know, people over the last 72 hours have been coming out of the woodwork and encouraging us to keep up the fight, and we're going to continue to do so.

ACOSTA: And if you got that deposition, would you keep the conversation, would you keep the deposition contained to the facts of the case, or would you be able to go in any direction you wanted?

AVENATTI: Well, it's not as broad as any direction, but generally speaking, you're entitled certain breadth when it comes to a deposition, and we'd interested in any facts and evidence that relate to any of the issues in this case, including payments to my client and perhaps others.

ACOSTA: And in the defamation case brought by Summer Zervos, the former contestant on "The Apprentice," who claims the president assaulted her in 2007, President Trump will provide written responses instead of doing a deposition in person.

Do you think we might learn information that could be relevant to your client's case? And what do you make of this idea of a written deposition, written answers?

AVENATTI: Well, I mean, while written answers are helpful, they're not nearly as helpful as sworn testimony under cross-examination in a deposition or at trial. You really can't compare the two. I'm highly doubtful that we're going to learn anything in those written answers that will be helpful.

[17:25:10] You know, very often those written answers are drafted by lawyers, as opposed to the actual party at issue in the case. So I'm not a big fan of written answers to deposition questions. Never have been.

ACOSTA: And whatever happened to the allegation from Stormy Daniels that somebody was trying to rough her up? There was a sketch that was released at the time. I know we ask you this from time to time, Michael. But, you know, it would be interesting to know, have you made any headway in trying to identify who that individual is?

AVENATTI: Well, I think we have made headway. I mean, there's a handful of individuals we have continued to take a look at. And we're trying to pinpoint exactly who that was.

But Jim, this raises a really good question, a really good area of inquiry for the depositions and the discovery that we want to take of Michael Cohen and Donald Trump. We want to get to the bottom of who threatened my client and the circumstances surrounding that. That's one of the reasons why we intend on marching forward.

ACOSTA: Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, thanks so much for coming in. We appreciate it. Good talking to you.

AVENATTI: Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: Coming up, amid the hunt for the author of the anti-Trump op- ed in "The New York Times," Sarah Sanders says no lie detectors are being used at the White House.

And breaking news. A just released poll from CNN shows a significant drop in President Trump's approval rating and even lower numbers for questions about his honesty.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: This afternoon in the first White House press briefing in, yes, 19 days, press secretary Sarah Sanders declared no lie detectors are being used or talked about in the hunt for the source of the "New York Times" op- ed slamming President Trump.

Her assertion comes after Vice President Mike Pence offered to take such a test to prove he didn't write it. Let's start there with our legal and political experts, all -- all of whom who have not taken lie detector tests. We can't vouch for what he's going to say.


CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Never, ever. I wouldn't say in my life. I said not today.

ACOSTA: Not willing to go that far. But anyway, Laura Coates, the White House still can't identify which crime they believe was committed, but yet the Justice Department is supposed to look into this.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the reason they can't identify one is because there's not one to be had, based on what we see right now. They're grasping for straws of the Espionage Act, essentially. They say, "Well, if you disclose any information that may show some disloyalty to the president or the troops in some way or the military forces, then surely you are guilty of a crime."

But in reality, your democratic duty is to criticize the government, and the Espionage Act was never intended for you to be completely compromised if you choose to do so. And so I don't see any classified information there, but they're desperately trying to find that.

Also, the DOJ is full of thousands and thousands of employees who work on hundreds of thousands of cases, which means that the president would like them to focus on one singular vendetta, and that would compromise so many powerful and important investigations if they were to do so.

ACOSTA: And Mark Preston, the vice president really wants to make it clear that, you know, he's willing to take a lie detector test to prove that he didn't write this op-ed. Let's listen to what he had to say over the weekend.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't think anyone on your staff, since they're calling themselves a Trump appointee, had anything to do with this?

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just -- I wouldn't know. And I would -- I really would hope not. And I was -- I was heartened to see so many of our colleagues make it very clear that they weren't involved in this in any way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, I asked you earlier if anyone on your staff wrote this op-ed. Have you asked your staff?

PENCE: Well, I thought you were speaking about the administration's staff. Let me be very clear. I'm 100 percent confident that no one on the vice president's staff was involved in this anonymous editorial.

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

PENCE: I would agree to take it in a heartbeat.


ACOSTA: What do you make of all that, Mark Preston? It's just strange to hear, you know, what doesn't sound like a very adamant "No, you know, we didn't have anything to do with this," and then all of a sudden say, "Well, I'll take a lie detector test."

PRESTON: Well, when is the last time you heard a vice president say, "I'll take a lie detector test to prove to the president that I've been loyal to him"?

This just shows -- the problem with this whole situation, and let me try to explain this, I think, in simple terms. The problem with this is not the reaction from the White House being upset by this or the president being upset by this. It's how he has reacted and how he has gone to the nth level to say, "I'm going try to find this person. Oh, by the way, when I try to find this person, they might have created or committed treason. We may hang them by the trees," basically what he's saying.

Instead of saying, "You know what? If this person doesn't want to be on my team right now, I want you to come forward, and I want you to leave." And any president should expect that from their staff. Just handle it like a grownup.

But instead, he handled it where he went totally out of control, off the whack, train off the rails. If I can make another example of where he's going with this, I would.

But the bottom line is, that's the scary thing about President Trump. Is that it's not when he reacts, it's how he reacts and the severity of his reaction.

CILLIZZA: Yes, I think it's odd, too, just to add to that. Sarah Sanders today, as you pointed out, Jim, had given a press briefing a long time -- I think they gave us a very short period of notice about it, to sort of prepare any questions. Put that aside.

She essentially said, "Well, we're moving on. We're focused on what really matters."

[17:35:06] Now, what is difficult is the selling of that proposition is directly undercut by a little thing called @RealDonaldTrump, right, his Twitter feed, in which he makes clear over and over again, and there are a lot of tweets this morning -- I didn't count all the tweets and retweets but there were ton -- that he is still quite -- I don't know if I want to say fixated, obsessed, but he is still quite interested, let's say, very interested in knowing who this is.

So this idea that some -- the media is so interested in knowing who it is, that's because the president is so interested in knowing who it is.

ACOSTA: Kaitlan, he hasn't moved on, right? He's going off on the Bob Woodward book also.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is. He's equally fixated on both of these. But for good reason, of course, with the op-ed. That is someone who still works in his administration. And as he was saying, you know, sometimes now that he's in staff meetings, he looks around the room, thinking it could be that person.

And it's also confirming a fear that the president already had, that there are people who are actively working against him in this administration. Now, I think the Woodward book is a lot different, because I think it

puts names and faces and quotes on exactly what is in this op-ed, what this anonymous official is describing. They say it pretty plainly in 500 pages in Bob Woodward's book. So I think that is something that people inside the West Wing realize is a pretty big problem.

But it's the president who wants to root out and find who it is that wrote this op-ed, and I don't think that's going to go away for President Trump.

ACOSTA: No. He's still looking for that lodestar, I think.

PRESTON: Can I say just one quick thing?


PRESTON: What's interesting today is that you don't see any of you White House reporters going out there and speculating who the name is. However, you're seeing former administration officials do so. Omarosa did it today. She went out and named somebody. I'm not going to say who it was, because it's not fair to that person. But it's not as if we're driving this narrative. It's their own people that are.

COLLINS: And what Sarah Sanders made perfectly crystal clear today at the briefing is they have no idea who it is that wrote this.

CILLIZZA: If they did -- if they did, you'd know.

PRESTON: They'd be gone.

CILLIZZA: They're not keeping it to themselves.

ACOSTA: And speaking of lie detector tests and being honest and trustworthy, there's a new CNN poll out, Mark Preston, with some pretty amazing and -- I mean for the White House, should be jaw- dropping poll numbers.

The president's approval rating has dropped to 36 percent. That disapproval rating is quite high, 58 percent, nearly 6 in 10 Americans.

And then we also showed, Mark Preston, these numbers earlier today that -- these honesty numbers. People who think that the president is honest. I mean, it's just plummeting, 32 percent of Americans -- I mean, I suppose that includes some of the Republicans who are still supporting this president. They support him, but they don't find him to be honest.

PRESTON: Right. And to put those numbers in perspective, very simply, think about putting ten people in a room, and only three of those people in that room believe the president is honest. I mean, that's what that says. It's very simple.

I know we use percentages, we use numbers. Sometimes it can gloss you over. But you're talking about 7 out of 10 people who don't trust the president of the United States. COATES: Including his own -- his own lawyers are a part of that camp.

If you read the Bob Woodward book and think about the notion that they think it's a perjury trap when he speaks.

And if you are Robert Mueller or a member of his criminal probe and staff, you're thinking, "I'd like to talk to you even more now, to see what you lie about."

ACOSTA: Well, they're trying to keep me honest on time. Thanks, guys very much. I appreciate it. Good segue there.

Still ahead, more than a million people ordered to evacuate as a major hurricane heads for the U.S. East Coast. We've just received the updated forecast for Hurricane Florence.

And later, North Korea's latest show of force is noteworthy for what's missing.


[17:42:55] ACOSTA: Tonight at least a million coastal residents in the Carolinas are under mandatory orders to pack up and leave, because a major hurricane is headed their way.

CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar has the newly updated forecast on Hurricane Florence. Allison, this looks like a very bad and dangerous storm.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Indeed. And it's continuing to strengthen, which is not what you want to see.

Right now, winds are 140 miles per hour. That is an increase from the last advisory. The gusts are up to 165 miles per hour, and it's moving west-northwest at about 13 miles per hour.

We expect it to continue that trek up to the west-northwest before finally making landfall, likely somewhere between Virginia and South Carolina.

The timing of the landfall, however, is still kind of up in the air. Some models suggest it's going to be late Thursday afternoon or into the evening. Others want to hold it off until the very early portion of Friday. So really, from Thursday at noon until Friday at noon is still a possibility.

But one thing that the models really are starting to agree with is more of that landfall target: between Virginia and South Carolina being that landfall point. Now the one thing to consider, this does not mean that those will be the only three states to have impacts. It just goes to show you where the most likely scenarios for that center of circulation. And around those areas is where you're likely to have some of the heaviest rainfall.

If this storm slows down once it makes landfall and stays pretty much stationary for a few days, or even if it does move, but it just doesn't move very fast, it has the potential to dump a significant amount of rain. Widespread amounts, Jim, about 10 to 15 inches. It is not out of the question for some areas to receive over 20 inches of rain.

ACOSTA: And Allison, what about the threat of flooding? Could this be as bad as Harvey was in Houston? That was devastating.

CHINCHAR: Right. So what you'd really need to look for is some of those spots that would be right along the coast, and if the system stalls out. Then it's not out of the question to get 30, if not even potentially as much as 40 inches of rain. It will all come down to whether or not this storm continues to move after it makes landfall.

And the one thing to note, Jim, too, any area, from Florida up to Massachusetts, will still likely get some type of impact from this storm.

ACOSTA: OK. Allison Chinchar with some very important warnings to all of our viewers along the Carolina coast and up and down the East Coast. Thank you very much for that important information.

Coming up, North Korea's latest military parade is getting attention because of something we didn't see, and it may be a hint as to what Kim Jong-un is thinking.

Plus, CNN's exclusive new poll shows President Trump's approval rating sinking and raising concerns about his standing among independent voters.


[17:50:12] ACOSTA: Today, the White House confirmed President Trump has received a warm and positive letter from Kim Jong-un about the possibility of holding a second meeting.

We may have gotten another hint, by the way, about the North Korean leader's thinking over the weekend during a big military parade. CNN's Brian Todd is here with us.

And this has something to do with what we didn't see. Is that right, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. We did not see North Korea's long-range ballistic missiles which have always been a big part of these parades. It's seen as a sign of goodwill from Kim Jong-un to President Trump.

The questions tonight are, is Kim serious about moving forward with denuclearization or is he trying to manipulate the President?


TODD (voice-over): From above the square named after his grandfather, Kim Jong-un looked pleased, taking in the grand display.

Hundreds of North Korean soldiers goose-stepping in perfect cadence. Tanks, rocket launchers, mobile machine gun units rolling through the heart of Pyongyang.

What's not seen in this parade celebrating 70 years of rule by the Kim dynasty? North Korea's long-range ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States, once a staple of the events.

BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW FOR NORTHEAST ASIA, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: North Korea was sending a message to Washington that they're trying to have a positive outcome. They're trying to resume denuclearization talks. Had he paraded ICBMs, it would've been seen as a slap in the face.

TODD (voice-over): Instead of a slap in the face, the North Korean dictator was rewarded with tweets from President Trump, pointing out the lack of missiles on display and saying, thank you to Chairman Kim, we will both prove everyone wrong. There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other.

Today, the White House Press Secretary confirmed the President received a new letter from Kim Jong-un which she described as warm and positive.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The primary purpose of the letter was to request and look to schedule another meeting with the President, which we are open to and are already in the process of coordinating that.

TODD (voice-over): But the reality on the ground tonight is more stark. Analysts say there are no indications that Kim is making serious moves to draw down his nuclear arsenal.

In fact, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog recently said North Korea's nuclear activities have continued. And there are indications Kim's regime is hiding the buildup, so far not allowing U.N. inspectors to access the sites.

President Trump's own national security adviser said today that Kim, in recent months, made a promise but could now be stalling.

JOHN BOLTON, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Kim Jong-un said we'll do it in one year. I thought they could do it even more quickly than that, but one year is not bad. We're still waiting for them.

TODD (voice-over): Meantime, new indications that Trump and Kim could have been on the verge of war earlier this year. Author Bob Woodward reports the President was about to send a tweet that the North Korean's secretly said would have been viewed as an escalation.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": He drafts a tweet, saying we are going to pull out dependents from South Korea, family members of the 28,000 people there.

TODD (voice-over): CNN has previously reported that Trump ordered his national security officials to prepare to evacuate the families of U.S. military personnel in South Korea. KLINGNER: There's always been the concern that the defensive move

might be seen by North Korea as an offensive move or a prelude to our initiating an attack. Any of that could have led North Korea to initiate a military attack themselves.

TODD (voice-over): Trump's tweet was never sent. The order to evacuate never issued. Tonight, some analysts worry that Kim is the one calling the shots with President Trump.

GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": He's gotten almost everything he wants from President Trump. Kim Jong-un's messaging is not to provoke the President of the United States and also to entice the President of South Korea into some form of political union with the North.


TODD: Now, the Trump team tonight is pushing back on the idea that Kim Jong-un is getting what he wants and driving events right now.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council telling CNN President Trump is personally directing the pressure campaign against North Korea, that he's clear-eyed about the challenges.

But analysts say at the same time, China, Russia, even South Korea are being allowed to skirt around sanctions and do business with Kim's regime -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Brian, it looks like there are several events coming up just in the next couple of weeks which could really shape how things will go in this nuclear back and forth with North Korea, right?

TODD: That's right, Jim. You have the possibility of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heading back to Pyongyang after Trump got this positive letter from Kim Jong-un. You have another summit in the next couple of weeks between Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang. Then you've got this gathering of the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.

There are huge questions on that. Is Kim Jong-un going to attend that? Is he going to speak? And if he does, if he does go to it, could he then make a trip to Washington, and are we all ready for that spectacle?

ACOSTA: If he makes it to Washington, it looks like he is getting a lot of what he wants.

TODD: That's right.

ACOSTA: Brian Todd, thank you very much. Stay with us. We'll go live to Pyongyang in the next hour of the SITUATION ROOM.

[17:55:03] Breaking news next. Americans speak out about President Trump in our exclusive new CNN poll, which numbers -- shows numbers that are very disturbing for the White House.


ACOSTA: Happening now, breaking news. High alert as a powerful Category 4 hurricane approaches. More than one million people are ordered to evacuate in the Carolinas. Many more are at risk along the East Cast as Florence gets closer and stronger tonight.

[18:00:04] Trust deficit. Nearly two-thirds of Americans view President Trump as dishonest in CNN's exclusive new poll, his worst rating yet.