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Hurricane Florence Strengthens; Trump Slams Woodward; White House Changes Phone Policy; Trump Nearly Tweeted into War; Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: One of the many, many -- 57 days. This is fascinating. We'll keep at it every day.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. Jim Sciutto's in for Wolf. Hope to see you back here tomorrow. Jim starts right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto. It is 1:00 here in Washington. Thanks so much for joining us today.

The East Coast on high alert, bracing for a monster hurricane barreling towards the U.S. This as several major storms now fill the Atlantic.

Plus, President Trump defiant as pressures mounts over his own officials question his fitness to be president, either through a book or anonymously through an op-ed. And now his vice president says that he would be willing to take a lie detector test.

And prosecutors admit that they wrongly accused a suspected Russian spy of offering sex for access to Republicans. Moments from now she'll be in court. Will this hurt her case or their case against her?

But we begin today with Hurricane Florence barreling towards the East Coast. Just strengthening to a dangerous category four hurricane and still gaining steam. The Carolina bracing for impact. State of emergencies are in place. Mandatory evacuations have bene ordered for parts of the North Carolina coast.

But the threat doesn't stop there. The storm could stall after making landfall, bringing Hurricane Harvey-like flooding to the coast. This coming at the peak of hurricane season. Three massive storms now churning in the Atlantic.

Let's check in with CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar.

So, Hurricane Florence, I mean, you look at those pictures there and the pictures from space and it's just incredible. How big is this relative to what we've seen before?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. So you've had -- it's not like North Carolina has never been hit before, but it's been a while. In fact, specifically the Carolinas haven't had a category four hurricane hit them since Hugo back in 1989. That's nearly 30 years ago.

The most concerning thing, especially when we start to look at a lot of these satellite images coming in, is look at that eye. It's really starting to gain some really good structure and you're really starting to be able to see it clearly. Typically, that is a sign to us that the storm is continuing to strengthen and intensify.

Now, the track of this storm still expects to make landfall somewhere between Virginia, North Carolina or South Carolina. But I want to emphasize, those are not going to be the only states that are impacted. Tropical storm force winds will be felt from Florida all the way up to New Jersey. So you're going to have those strong, gusty winds that are felt.

But rain is actually going to be one of the biggest factors we have with this storm because once it makes landfall, it's just going to sit and hover. And in doing so, it's going to be able to dump a tremendous amount of rain.

This is the European model, which pushes the heaviest rain, oddly enough, a little bit further inland. Cities like Lynchburg, Raleigh and even Greensboro could get in excess of 10 to 15 inches of rain. The American model tends to keep those heavier amounts over the coastline. So cities like the Outer Banks, Hatteras, but even still portions of Raleigh could end up getting excessively high amounts of rain. Not out of the question, by the way, to see over 30 inches of rain in those coming days, Jim.

And that's going to be the main concern going forward. But also, keep in mind, other states will be impacted as well, even if it's something simple as rip currents or gusty winds.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. We'll be watching.

Allison Chinchar, thanks very much.

To politics now. The president calls it a joke, but no one in the White House seems to be laughing as Bob Woodward reveals more disturbing claims from his new book. "Fear: Trump in the White House" officially comes out tomorrow. Among the latest revelations, that President Trump almost tweeted the country into a war with North Korea.

Also, the race is on to find the author of that anonymous op-ed in "The New York Times." It also paints an alarming picture of an internal resistance fighting West Wing chaos. Vice President Mike Pence now says that he's willing to take a lie detector test to prove that it wasn't he who wrote the article.


CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": Should all top officials take a lie detector test? And would you agree to take one?

MIKE PENCE, 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: Well, look, that would be a decision for the president.


SCIUTTO: CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins over at the White House today.

Kaitlan, the president facing, well, a double whammy, you can call it. You have this op-ed. You have the Woodward book and details dribbling out over the course of a week. How is the White House responding today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're reeling today, but they're trying to convince the president that it wasn't someone in his inner circle that wrote this op-ed and they're really trying to push that suspicion out of the West Wing by telling the president this is likely someone who is in the national security realm that wrote this op-ed calling his leadership ability into question.

Now, that's what aides are doing. For the president, on his part, he's trying to discredit the Woodward book and the claims made in it, tweeting about it several times, calling Bob Woodward a Democratic operative who is simply writing this book because it is ahead of the midterms.

[13:05:02] Now he's also citing the denials from the defense secretary, James Mattis, the chief of staff, John Kelly. But Bob Woodward responded to those denials saying that he believes that they're not telling the truth. That they're just simply putting out these denials because they need some political cover here to save their jobs.

Now, of course, this also comes as the president is calling the White House a smooth running machine, discrediting a lot of what is said in the book and in the op-ed about what is actually going on in the walls of the West Wing, that they're trying to work against the president and have him not make some decisions that he feels he should make.

But the fact of the matter is, we've even come to the point where the vice president, Mike Pence, is having to volunteer to take a lie detector test to prove that he wasn't the one who wrote this op-ed. And, Jim, I'm not sure by anyone's description that that would be called a smooth running machine.

SCIUTTO: Kaitlan, amid all the paranoia over the book, you're saying there's a new policy change at the White House regarding phones. What can you tell us?

COLLINS: That's right. This is the second big change in phone policy that we've seen here in the West Wing in recent months. And now staffers are not allowed to leave their government-issued devices outside of the Situation Room. Now that change comes after Omarosa Manigault Newman revealed that she had taped the chief of staff, John Kelly, when he was firing her in the Situation Room last December. Something she had record and then published a few weeks ago.

Now, when staffers go into a small room, before they go into the Situation Room, instead of putting their phones in lockers and then being buzzed into the Situation Room, they are now told by staff to go back to their offices and leave their government-issued devices there.

Now, of course, that comes after the Chief of Staff John Kelly banned personal cell phones in the West Wing, requiring staffers to put them in lockers at those entrances.

Now, what the big part of all this shows is a heightened sense of paranoia in this West Wing that there are going to be more leaks that are coming and also that they are really unable to stop damaging information from coming out of this West Wing. That is put on full display by this op-ed that was written by someone who still works in the administration. And from that Bob Woodward book, who says he spoke to multiple people who worked here or work here now for that thing and now they are trying to change the phone policy once again in order to try and stop some of that damaging information from coming out of here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So to be clear here, I mean it's not like it's a huge number of people who can -- who have privileges to go into the Situation Room, but does this indicate that the White House does not trust many people working in that building to even bring their phone close to the situation room?

COLLINS: Well, that's the question, because these aren't their personal cell phones that they have all their messages on and whatnot. These are the government issued, White House issued devices that typically, even when that phone ban went into place, that personal phone ban, they could still have their government issued devices with them. So when they did those sweeps to go through and see if people still had their personal phones, they would allow them to have those government-issued phones. But now, after it was revealed that she taped the chief of staff firing her in the Situation Room, they don't even want any staffers to bring any kind of devices into that room in order to prevent anything of this nature from happening here again. And time will only tell if that's going to be something that's effective here.

SCIUTTO: That's pretty remarkable.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks very much.

He broke the Watergate scandal, along with his colleague, Carl Bernstein, but Bob Woodward says he has never seen anything like the chaos within the Trump administration today. Woodward says it's his deepest look ever into any administration and he has a warning for Americans.


BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": This one was in the belly of the beast.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did you conclude about the beast?

WOODWARD: That people better wake up to what's going on.


SCIUTTO: People better wake up.

Let's get some insight now from our guests. We have congressional reporter for "Politico," Rachael Bade, CNN's senior politics writer for "U.S. News and World Report," David Catanese, and national political reporter Maeve Reston.

Rachael, first of all, a whole host of remarkable things to run through.

Bob Woodward is not an alarmist. He's a pretty careful guy. Certainly a careful reporter. For him to say those words, issue a warning in effect to Americans, what do you make of that? Why would he do that?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, when these excerpts were starting to trickle out last week, I was actually having coffee with a Republican source on the House side and this Republican said to me, you know, the president is so easily to dismiss -- easily dismiss journalists, reporters, call them, you know, fake news and his base listens. This is Bob Woodward we're talking about. People are not going to listen. And this source was worried.

Look, we are 58 days away from midterm elections about this center of who is going to control Congress and will Democrats take the House and potentially impeach the president? This is not something that presidents should be looking at right now, but it's certainly distracted everyone in the White House away from the midterms. And right now all the drama is really taking over the entire headlines in all the newspapers.


David, and, I'm sorry, I used the Italian pronunciation for your name. Forgive me.


SCIUTTO: I just can't run away from own Italian roots. But Catanese I should say.

The president and the White House do have a point because you have a number of senior officials issuing very public denials that they said the things contained in this book.

[13:10:05] Now Woodward's explanation for that, that we referenced earlier, is that, listen, these are folks who are not telling the truth to save their jobs. How does -- how does Woodward answer that? And does the administration have a point when you have folks so publically denying that they were -- or at least that the quotes attributed to them were accurate. CATANESE: I find it very hard to believe the White House officials that are denying it. You have 20 some, 30 some now cabinet or senior administration officials saying that they weren't responsible for this op-ed.

Remember, Mark Felt, "Deep Throat," was very quick to deny he was "Deep Throat" back in the '70s.

SCIUTTO: Yes, for 30 years.

CATANESE: So it took a while. I think it will eventually be revealed who was -- who this source was.

But I actually think "The New York Times" op-ed took a little wind out of the sales of the Woodward account because Bob Woodward is the most respected, revered journalist of our time and I think his incidence in this book are airtight because they are specific incidents with names on them.

Then you have "The New York Times" op-ed come out. It's a senior administration official. We don't know who it is. We don't know if it's cabinet level. We don't know if it's from national security. But it's anonymous. And that sort of opened up a bigger debate about whether "The New York Times" should have even published it, I think gave Trump a battering ram to knock down.

So I think if -- they got -- the Woodward story, which I think is highly credibility, got a little bit undercut because of the focus on "The New York Times" op-ed. And I think Trump seized on that opening.

SCIUTTO: The fact is, though, both of them tell a similar story, right? And it's been -- it's been trickling out in reporting from your publications, our network, over the course of months and years.

I guess what struck me about the denials is that you don't have Trump senior officials coming out and saying, by the way, he's the most impressive executive I've ever worked for and he's on top of all the issues and it's a well-oiled machine as Trump claims. I mean they're not, it doesn't seem to me, challenging the substance of the claim.


SCIUTTO: Yes, it wasn't me. Let me save my job, please. Yes.

RESTON: Yes. And I think that we've seen that so often. I mean, just as Kaitlan was just talking about, there's such a sense of paranoia in the White House at all times. People hanging on to their jobs, that they're going to be the next person that the president rips their head off.

But I do think that this, beyond the fact that it totally distracts from the economy right now and the things that President Trump should be talking about, it underscores this -- this continual sense of instability and scandal that is such an issue for many of the voters who are going to matter most in, you know, 68, 67 days, particularly suburban women who don't like, you know, what they see going on in the White House. And, you know, the kinds of details that came out both in the op-ed and the Woodward book are things that scare people.


RESTON: I mean that, you know, starting a war over Twitter or just the sense of only having a fifth or sixth grade understanding of complex, geopolitical issues, that scares a lot of voters and that's not good for the Republicans in the midterms.

SCIUTTO: Yes. You referenced the case there, it was -- is that Trump was going to -- he drafted a tweet calling for the withdrawal of U.S. families -- families of U.S. troops in South Korea, which -- which he was strongly advised against by his advisers because North Korea might very well read that as, oh, my gosh, the U.S. is going to start shooting missiles at us. I mean that's a pretty remarkable, specific example, Rachael, isn't it, of the larger picture that Woodward's trying to paint here.

BADE: Yes, it's interesting too because, you know, the book there's apparently an antidote where the president says, why are we in South Korea at all, and Mattis says something like, to try to prevent World War III.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes.

BADE: You know, but it just again speaks to sort of a limited understanding of foreign policy in our -- in our alliances out there.

But just to go back to the trust issue. This is practical implications going forward because a lot of Republicans are worried that the president is no longer going to listen to people who are constantly walking him back to the edge because of these op-ed and because of people recording things. And right now we're potentially facing a shutdown fight a couple weeks before the election. Republicans are petrified that he's going to do this and that they're going to lose the House and they're trying to walk him back. But if he's not listening to anyone because he's paranoid, you know, this totally -- you know, it's a problem for them. It's a problem for the party.

RESTON: (INAUDIBLE) person to keep it in mind.

SCIUTTO: Yes, exactly. He has not (INAUDIBLE) to like having people who challenge him, right? They have very short honeymoon periods with him.

On the issue of the economy, again, because the president does -- I mean the fact is that the numbers are good. Yes, economic growth and recovery certainly started for many months under Obama, but it has accelerated. The tax plan seems to be improving corporate profits, et cetera, you name it. So the president has a good story to tell there. But today he could -- almost couldn't resist himself because he, in effect, over told the story and got into the realm of not true.

He tweeted today that the GDP rate is highest than the unemployment rate for the first time in 100 years. Not true. The fact is, in the last 72 years, it happened in 62 quarters.

[13:15:02] And that then becomes the story today, David, whereas you could be talking about this. You could be talking about rising blue collar employment or declining unemployment for blue collar and yet the president gets caught in a pickle of his own making.

CATANESE: He could just be saying, 4 percent GDP, 3.9 percent unemployment, 200,000 new jobs in August, it's a great economy. And he can be running on it, pointing those states in Ohio, where there's competitive Senate and governor's races. Instead, you're right, he stepped on his own foot, like he does every day because he governs by tweet with basically no oversight.

And I think to your point, the trust issue with advisers that he'll listen to now, who is that circle? Is it maybe Ivanka and Jared? Is it the family basically left here? I don't know who he trusts.

So you've got -- you have these (INAUDIBLE) forces right now setting up a midterm election. A really strong economy, which should be good for the Republicans, but a scandal infested White House and they just can't get out from over that.

SCIUTTO: And you wonder what the midterm numbers would be like if you didn't have a low approval rating president, right, you know, which clearly dragging the public back based on these economic numbers. Sorry.

RESTON: Yes, I mean it completely masks what the possible -- what the possible boom or the boost could be for Republicans with the president's economic policies. I mean traveling all over the country in the midterms, you actually constantly talk to people who say, I've seen my paycheck go up. Details like that, you know, that they attribute to the tax bill.

But there's so much other noise that it's just impossible for people to focus on that and give that credit to the president.

BADE: There's some a great reporting in "The New York Times" saying just that this weekend.


BADE: Mick Mulvaney was apparently talking to a bunch of Republicans in New York and said something like, well, if you discount hate for the president, distrust for the president, we would be doing fine right now. So Republicans know that's a problem and could potentially cost them the House.


SCIUTTO: That's quite a revelation there. I wonder if the president heard that.

Rachael, David, Maeve, thanks very much.

One of Bob Woodward's disturbing revelation, that the president nearly got the U.S., as we were saying there, into a war with North Korea with a tweet that he didn't send, in the end. We're going to take you to North Korea live.

Plus, the Trump administration closing the Palestine Liberation Organization office in D.C. A move the group is calling a dangerous escalation.

And just a short time from now, the woman accused of being a Russian spy appears in court after prosecutors admit they got one detail wrong, an important one, that she offered sex for access to Republicans.


[13:21:50] SCIUTTO: On the brink of war it seemed with North Korea. Before their friendly summit, President Trump fired off several pointed tweets, including the one you may remember calling Kim Jong-un "little rocket man." But we are learning from Bob Woodward's new book that a tweet the president almost sent some worry could have prompted a war.


BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": He drafts a tweet saying we are going to pull out dependence from South Korea, family members of the 28,000 people there. At that moment there was a sense of profound alarm in the Pentagon leadership that, my God, one tweet and we have reliable information that the North Koreans are going to read this as an attack is imminent.


SCIUTTO: Remarkable.

Our Will Ripley is live now in Pyongyang.

Pulling out dependents, Will, knowing how North Korea watches very closely moves by the South and certainly the U.S., would they have seen that potentially as a precursor to war?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jim. And a lot of it would have really depend on the timing of the tweet. Let's say that President Trump tweeted that, and he didn't, but if he would have done -- sent out the tweet at the time that the U.S. was staging large scale joint military drills which happened -- they did happen every year until they were suspended by President Trump around the time of that summit back in June, you know, the North Koreans have a hard time distinguishing during those military exercises whether the bombing runs that come close to the demilitarized zone are an actual assault or if it's just training. That's one of the reasons why the North Koreans hate the joint drills so much.

So let's just say that the drills were happening and President Trump sends a tweet like that. The North Koreans read the tweet and then they see a plane flying close to the demilitarized zone and decide, OK, this is the attack, it's happening, and they shoot it down. You can see how that tweet could lead to a series of events that could potentially be catastrophic for the world, and certainly for this region.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Remarkable.

In more recently their 70th anniversary parade, just in the last couple of days, North Korea did not roll out their ICBMs. President Trump glomming onto that said, quote, this is a big and very positive statement from North Korea. Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong. And then he goes on to say, there is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other.

What are you hearing from the North Korean side about that decision because, the fact is, there have been no -- there's no evidence of substantive progress towards denuclearization or any pullback of North Korea's missile program. This, in effect, a show that North Korea pulled back from.

Was there a substantive reason behind that?

RIPLEY: Well, I mean, if you think about it, Jim, it's really remarkable what Kim Jong-un pulled off over the weekend. He staged a military parade, which had the potential to be highly provocative. And yet because he chose not to display the intercontinental ballistic missiles that he still possesses and likely he possesses even more than he did at the last military parade I attended in April of last year when they unveiled these ICBMs because U.S. intelligence has indicated that North Korea is likely building new missiles every single year, he hasn't gotten rid of any of them, or dismantled any of them. But because he didn't put them in the parade, he gets praised from the U.S. president, possibly bringing the U.S. stalled diplomatic process back on track.

[13:25:13] At the same time, he hosted a special envoy of Chinese President Xi Jinping. They raised hands together. He solidified that relationship. Xi is expected to visit Pyongyang at some time in the near future. And China even put out a statement saying they greatly valley North Korea's efforts towards denuclearization.

So simply by managing the optics, Kim Jong-un has scored political points with two superpowers and he still has all the nuclear weapons today that he had yesterday and likely will have tomorrow and in the weeks to come.

SCIUTTO: Bought himself more time. Will Ripley live in Pyongyang, thanks very much.

One senior Trump official says that Senator Ted Cruz may lose his seat because he's not likeable. And now reports of a rescue mission to save him.

Plus, she's accused of being the Russian spy infiltrating America's political circles, but not prosecutors admit that they made a crucial mistake about accusations -- harsh accusations that she had offered sex for access. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)