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Hurricane Warnings Issued as Life Threatening Florence Strengthens; President Trump: Hurricane Response in Puerto Rico was "An Incredible Unsung Success"; Interview with Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:12] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

More than a million people are being told right now to get out because of this. What you're looking at right now is a satellite image of the eve of Hurricane Florence, a potentially devastating category 4 hurricane, approaching the southeastern coast. Now from space, you can see what a monster storm this really is, as it picks up strength and heads for coastal areas in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

We're going to have a lot on Hurricane Florence, obviously, in this hour. It's important that you know about it. We're going to tell you how people are getting ready, the evacuation orders, the danger of the storm surges that are expected, big storm surges. The National Hurricane Center has just released its latest advisory on Florence.

Our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, joins us now from the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta with the latest.

So talk to me about what you have just learned.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, basically, no change from the 5:00 advisory. This is still a very powerful category 4 storm, with winds of 140 miles per hour, gusts to 165, moving to the west- northwest at 17 miles per hour.

This storm is very strong, it is very symmetrical, and it is going to cause destruction wherever this makes landfall. It's going to remain a category 4, but possibly increasing in strength by the time we get into tomorrow, remaining a category 4, then possibly weakening just a little bit, to a category 3, right as it's making landfall, some time early on Friday and then, with Anderson, it is going to slow way down.

COOPER: So, it's not just the coast that we're talking about here. Inland areas could be affected, a lot of flooding, even for days.

GRAY: You're exactly right. We talk about these storms. We talk about evacuate away from the coast, get away from the coast.

With this storm, it's very different. You are going to have to go far inland and away from this storm to get away from all of the rain, because it is going to dump 20 to 30 inches of rain across this area. Those are the watches and warnings.

And look at this. That white area right along the coast, that's 20 or 30 inches of rain. But as you go very far inland, even western portions of North Carolina, we're talking about more than 10 inches of rain. So if you evacuate away from the coast and some of these inland locations, you could be inundated with rainfall and this is a part of the country that is already extremely saturated.

We have had a very, very wet year. And so, any additional rainfall is going to be catastrophic, not to mention the storm surge that they're going to be facing.

COOPER: And just quickly, in terms of the strength, how does this compare to past storms that we've seen on the East Coast?

GRAY: Well, a lot of people have been comparing the storms to Hugo, back in 1989. The problem is, the population has increased by about 25 percent since Hugo. We hate comparing storms, because each storm is completely different. These are both very powerful storms, though. So, it is a decent comparison.

But with the population increase, the storm surge, and the rain already on saturated ground, the storm has the potential to be a lot worse.

COOPER: So, Jennifer, the idea that this may become a cat 3 by the time it actually makes landfall, I mean, that's obviously better than it being a 4, still an incredibly strong storm, why might it go down to a 3? And is that new information?

Because I remember yesterday, Tom Sater talking about the possibility of this storm not being able to maintain itself as a 4.

GRAY: Well, I think that's basically because this storm is going to slow down so much, the steering currents for this storm are basically going to go away in the next three to five days. So, this storm is going to sit right off the coast. And when it does that, it's going to continue to shred that coastline and start to weaken and tear apart just a little bit.

And so, it could still maintain a weak category 4 strength by the time it makes landfall. So, it's either going to be a strong 3 or a low- end 4. But I really think, regardless of what it is, it is going to be devastating.

COOPER: And just one more thing. You said that you talk about it slowing down and slowing down on land. How many days are you talking about it being a presence in this entire region inland?

GRAY: We're still going to be talking about this storm Sunday, maybe even Monday. Some of the models are disagreeing as to where exactly it's going to go, once it goes inland, because it's going to slow so much. Some models are now taking it a little bit farther to the south, so places like South Carolina, even Georgia need to be on the lookout for this storm. But we're going to be talking about this well into the weekend and into the early part of next week. COOPER: Wow. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, even Monday, that's


Jennifer Gray, thanks very much.

Joining me now on the phone is Air Force reserve, Lieutenant Colonel Kait Woods, who's an aerial reconnaissance weather officer heading for the storm right now.

Kait, I know you haven't reached the storm yet. Can you explain what your team has been seeing so far this week on your flights?

[20:05:03] LT. COL. KAIT WOODS, CHIEF METEOROLOGIST, 53RD WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON (via telephone): Well, to be honest, this is our crew's first flight. We're actually headed south currently. We're going to start our descent in about 20 minutes. So, it will be our first discovery.

It's been a pretty strong storm. It's been intensifying as the day's progressed, the latest data was 554 millibars, I believe.

COOPER: Explain the importance of these flights, the data that you and your crews gather on these flights, because it really can save lives.

We lost Lieutenant Colonel Kait Woods. We appreciate her efforts and the efforts of her crew.

Joining me now is Woody White, the board chairman of the New Hanover County commissioners in North Carolina, it's a county that includes Wilmington.

Woody, there's a mandatory evacuation currently in place in parts of your county ahead of the storm. What are your top priorities going to be, say, in the last 24 hours before this hurricane hits?

WOODY WHITE, BOARD CHAIRMAN, NEW HANOVER COUNTY COMMISSIONERS: Well, Anderson, we've got a few of them. Our top priorities are just to continue to raise awareness to our citizens about the seriousness of this storm, and not just in one area, but in all areas. Of surge, potential flooding inland, and the wind speed. And getting that message out, not only to evacuate on your own, if you can, but to take advantage of the resources that we've put in place, to evacuate those that can't help themselves.

And primarily, those that are going to stay in the voluntary evacuation areas, think about your family first. Think about your pets. Think about the things that matter in life.

And worry about your property later. We'll rebuild. Things will be fine. But those are really the priorities and the messages that we're trying to push right now.

COOPER: You know, everyone focuses on people just being able to get in their cars. There are folks that don't have access to vehicles.

What -- what options are there for people who don't have their own vehicles, who it's not just so easy for them to just get up and leave?

WHITE: Well, we have a local shelter first off, we also have an agreement with a school in Raleigh in Wake County. We ran our first bus today. There were 38 people on it. We're running two more buses tomorrow at 10:00 and 2:00 and we encourage folks that need to avail themselves of those resources to stay in touch with our local emergency management hotline.

And so, we feel like we're fully prepared for that, because the main threats, as your experts say and as we all know from experiences, that we've seen and lived through, is in the surge areas and the high flood areas. There's nothing we can do about the wind, necessarily. Oftentimes, and more often than not, for that matter, people are safer in their own homes, if it's a nice home, a good home, a safe home, than they are out on the road or elsewhere.

But there are exceptions to that. There are manufactured homes, there are people that need to be in shelters, and for those folks, we have put those resources in place.

COOPER: How concerned are you about what seems to be the -- you know, this thing slowing down once it hits land, and making this an event which, you know, we were just talking, could go on for days and days.

WHITE: It's frightening, because we remember Floyd. We remember Matthew. I've been a victim of flooding myself in Matthew recently. It's disastrous.

And it -- you know, the cameras, which, by the way, we're thankful that you guys come down here and give awareness to our community. I wish I had given a Chamber of Commerce speech about how awesome our community is during the tourist season. But when the cameras leave and the storm passes, but when the flooding comes, it stays with us for months, often years. And it devastates communities.

And that's really something we're worried about. It's something we try to prepare for, but Mother Nature has a unique way of making every storm different and every storm more of a challenge than the last, it seems. But we'll be prepared and we're going to recover no matter how bad this is.

COOPER: Well, Woody White, I wish you the best and appreciate all your efforts and we'll continue to check in with you in the days ahead.

I want to get more now on the damage this kind of hurricane can do, the things we've seen in the past.

Tom Foreman joins us now with that -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, if there were a 100-mile- an-hour storms, sure, you would lose some homes, you'd lose some sheds, you'd have localized flooding, probably not a whole lot more. But when you start talking about 130 to 160 miles an hour, roughly, which is what we're talking about with these categories, look at the model. It's so different then. Now, you're talking about winds that are strong enough to rip the

roofs off of houses, to knock big trees down, to do a tremendous amount of damage out there. And when that happens, there's really nothing to do, except try to get to a safe space, if you possibly can, because that damage is so devastating out there.

And, that's not counting the storm surge. When you start talking about a storm surge of 13 to 18 feet, maybe, that's going to have a big impact, especially in this area. And let me explain why.

[20:10:00] Much of this part of the eastern seaboard is not really very high at all. If you look at this, if you had a storm surge of just 9 to 10 feet, everything in red here is going to be submerged. And that is an awful lot of people, Anderson.

COOPER: There's a lot of talk about this hurricane possibly stalling on the coast, just sitting there instead of moving inland. I was just talking to our last guest about that. Can you explain the difficulties that that's going to bring?

FOREMAN: Yes. Essentially, you have a pincer effect. This is what Jennifer was talking about a little while ago. You have the water that's pushing in from the ocean, and it's piling up onshore. And at the same time, the inland rain is pushing water this way. And then you wind up with an indeterminant amount of water in some communities.

And that storm surge really is where the damage comes. Look at the record. If you go back to Hurricane Ike in 2008, storm surge, 15 to 20 feet. Deaths, 103, $30 billion in damage.

Of course, we all know about Katrina. You know it best, Anderson, storm surge, 20 to 28 feet, more than 1,800 deaths, more than $128 billion worth of damage.

And you made mentioned a while ago about Hurricane Hugo, also in the East Coast, back in the late '80s, 20 feet storm surge, deaths, $9 billion in damage. And as we have noted, that's back when a whole lot fewer people were living in the bull's-eye, as they are now.

COOPER: Yes. Tom, appreciate it. Tom Foreman.

Much more ahead on how people are getting ready for Hurricane Florence or just getting out of its way.

Also ahead, as this new monster hurricane heads towards millions of Americans, the president says the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. We now know that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of the storm, a death toll that the government refused to acknowledge for months and one that they made it difficult for researchers to firmly establish.

We're keeping 'em honest, next.


[20:16:04] COOPER: The president of the United States woke up this morning on a day of remembrance and also a day that a dangerous hurricane is on a collision course with the southeastern coast of this country and got on Twitter. His first tweet of the day was about himself and Hillary Clinton and Russia and a, quote, he apparently saw on Fox News.

Quote, we have found nothing to show collusion between President Trump and Russia, absolutely zero, but every day we get more documentation showing collusion between the FBI and DOJ, the Hillary campaign, foreign spies, and Russians. Incredible. And he tagged a Fox News contributor and a Fox Business anchor.

Now, that was just after 7:00 this morning. About nine hours later, the president tweeted about Hurricane Florence, posting a video of himself. Here's part of what he said when he spoke at the White House today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are totally prepared. We're ready. We're as ready as anybody has ever been. And it looks to me and it looks to all of a lot of very talented people that do this for a living like this is going to be a storm that's going to be a very large one, far larger than we've seen in perhaps decades.


COOPER: Well, keeping 'em honest, we don't have to go back decades to see a dangerous hurricane. Maybe he was just talking about on the East Coast, but we don't even have to go back a full year. Just ask the people of Puerto Rico, the ones who survived, but lost loved ones, the ones who lost their homes, the ones who moved to the mainland when they lost everything.

Last year, Hurricane Maria struck the island, it was catastrophic. Now we know that nearly 3,000 died in the aftermath, nearly 3,000 Americans. A death toll that the government has only recently acknowledged.

The island has never fully recovered. There's no sense of when, or if that will happen. At the White House today, the president was asked as another dangerous hurricane has millions of Americans in its path once again, what lessons can be applied from what happened in Puerto Rico.


TRUMP: I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all, because it's an island, so you can't truck things on to it. Everything's by boat. We moved a hospital into Puerto Rico, a tremendous military hospital in the form of a ship. You know that.

And I actually think and the governor has been very nice, and if you ask the governor, he'll tell you what a great job. I think probably the hardest one we had by far was Puerto Rico because of the island nature. And I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about.


COOPER: Incredibly successful, he called it, one of the best jobs that's ever been done. No mention of the nearly 3,000 Americans we now know died. He mentioned one Puerto Rican, the governor, and what a great job he supposedly thinks the president did.

When talking about the America government's response to a natural disaster that caused a catastrophic loss of American lives, the president kind of created an alternative reality.


TRUMP: The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, with I think, was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.


COOPER: An unsung success. Again, nearly 3,000 people died and the vast majority of those were people who died in the weeks and the months after the storm hit, dying because of a lack of access to medicine, electricity, attention, and care.

Until recently, the government refused to acknowledge that the death toll was far greater than the official death toll of some 64 people. And in the days immediately after the storm, the president downplayed the scope of what had happened, saying it wasn't a real catastrophe, like Katrina.


TRUMP: I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that's fine. We've saved a lot of lives.

If you look at the -- every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overbearing. Nobody's ever seen anything like this.

[20:20:02] And what is your -- what is your death count as of this moment? Seventeen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixteen certified.

TRUMP: Sixteen people certified, 16 people versus in the thousands.


COOPER: Well, now the government admits it is in the thousands, 2,975 is the official death toll in Puerto Rico. That's more than the 1,833 people killed in the Katrina aftermath and just two fewer than the number of people killed in the 9/11 terror attack 17 years ago today.

Until today, it was difficult to imagine anything more shatteringly tone deaf than the president of the United States throwing rolls of paper towels at hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, which actually happened. And then nearly 3,000 people died and the president of the United States called the response an unsung success. In Puerto Rico, thousands of lives have come to an end, but inexplicably, the president's self-congratulation has not.

Joining me on the phone is the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz.

Mayor Cruz, I'm wondering, first of all, just what you have to say to the president tonight in light of his comments calling the response one of the best jobs that's ever been done.

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN (via telephone): Well, the president just keeps adding insult to injury. And I think his words are despicable. They really do not have any connection with reality and it just shows that for him, everything is about him and political posturing.

The man has no idea. He has no solidarity, no sympathy, no empathy for anything that does not make him look good. Well, I'm sorry, sir, shame on you. You did not do a good job in Puerto Rico.

If he thinks that 3,000 people dying on his watch is a good news story or is an unsung success, you know, nobody's going to be singing his praises, because this was a despicable act of neglect on the part of his administration.

COOPER: You know, one of the things that's often overlooked in the reporting on this death toll is that the government of Puerto Rico, and the federal government, stuck with this artificially low death toll of 64 people, and they actually made it difficult for reporters and researchers to get accurate statistics to determine what the real death toll was.

CNN sued to get mortality statistics from the government of Puerto Rico. Harvard researchers said the government in Puerto Rico didn't give them access to mortality statistics and numbers that would have helped them in determining the real death toll months ago.

CRUZ: And you know, what's important about that is when somebody wants to lie about something and they know that the world has seen him for what he did not do, then somebody has to help cover them up. And unfortunately, most of the political class in Puerto Rico, when the president says jump, they say, how high?

You know, in a humanitarian crisis, you should not be grading yourself, you should not be just having a parade of self-accolades. You should never be content with everything we did. I'm not content with everything I did. I should have done more. We all should have done more.

But the president continues to refuse to acknowledge his responsibility and the problem is that if he didn't acknowledge it in Puerto Rico, god bless the people of South Carolina and the people of North Carolina. If he doesn't learn from his mistakes, he's going to make them again and people are going to continue to die.

Today, I had a very short conversation with the governor in North Carolina and the mayor of Wilmington City, just letting them know, we know how it feels. We know how much they're going to have ahead of them. And you know, not only our prayers, but it's time to pay it forward. If the president turns his back on the American people, the Latino population and the Puerto Rican Diaspora.

So we have to be watchful going forward, but this is a stain on the president, with on his presidency, and the world has seen what he's done. He says he's done a good job when 3,000 people have died. Well, God bless us all if this man continues on this path.

COOPER: It is one thing if those 3,000 people or nearly 3,000 people had died immediately when the storm hit. That's a horrible act of nature and a horrible disaster. The fact is, though, that many of those people died in the weeks and the months, even, after the storm hit, because of a lack of access to medicine, to pharmacies, to hospitals, to electricity and things like that.

CRUZ: Mm-hmm.

COOPER: Those were deaths, some of which, perhaps even many of which, could have been prevented.

CRUZ: People that didn't have dialysis, people that didn't have access to just simple things like oxygen in hospitals, they could have been prevented, but in order to do something right, you have to be able to look at the truth and say, look, let's get it done.

Brook Long said for some time that the United States did not get a very speedy time.

[20:25:04] And they took a long time to get off the ground. Well, when you're in the business of emergency management and you admit that it takes you a long time to get off the ground, you're admitting your failure. And unfortunately, when this failed, people lost their lives.

Now, we need and are still in a very weak state in Puerto Rico. There's about 60,000 blue tarps or blue roofs. The suicide rate has gone up by 25 percent. The suicide attempts have gone up between 60 and 70 percent. You know, between 55 and 70 percent. It depends on who's doing the counting.

But the thing is that we're not ready. And the president continues to not acknowledge the truth, perhaps because he cannot handle the truth. He failed, he failed the people of Puerto Rico and the world is watching. And the world saw him for what he is -- a man that doesn't get it and is incapable of getting it.

COOPER: Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, I appreciate talking to you tonight. Thank you very much.

Joining me now to continue the conversation is Max Boot, Kirsten Powers, and Rick Santorum.

Max, what do you think it is about this president that he seems incapable of admitting fault or at least acknowledging this huge death toll now, which makes this, you know, a storm of massive proportions?

MAX BOOT, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, Anderson, this is kind of his M.O. I mean, he oversold everything when he was in real estate, thought that admitting any mistake was weakness and would lead his critics to tear him down. He still won't admit any mistake and still claims that everything is wonderful, because he thinks he can snow people under.

And there's a tendency, I think, when we talk about the Trump presidency to say, well, he hasn't really faced a crisis. And by saying that, we kind of give into his narrative, because as you were just discussing, he did face a crisis and he failed miserably. And it wasn't just a natural disaster, there was a GAO audit that was done which found that FEMA was not prepared.

And that we know that instead of focusing on responding to the disaster, Trump was at his golf club in New Jersey. He wasn't focused on what was happening. And then when Mayor Cruz raised these issues, he insulted her. He accused her of poor leadership and then he said that people in Puerto Rico just want everything done for them, which is basically trafficking in these racist stereotypes about supposedly lazy Latinos.

So, this is disgraceful and it's amazing to me that he has not been hurt more badly by his horrible performance during Maria.

COOPER: Senator Santorum, how do you see it? Does the president bear some responsibility for -- for the response in Puerto Rico?

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR, PENNSYLVANIA: Sure. I mean, you know, the federal response is an important component of it, but as we all know, and as Max knows, the primary responsibility, the people who are most responsible for that response is not FEMA. FEMA is not a huge operation that can do all things. It is a thing that supplements state and local, in this case, the country of Puerto Rico, their response.

And, of course, that was woefully deficient. And in the errors made by FEMA and the staff was, they didn't have enough to compensate for the situation -- the bad situation in Puerto Rico prior to it, particularly the electric grid, but also the inability of the Puerto Rican government to respond.

So, yes, does he -- do they have blame? Absolutely, there's blame to be put on FEMA for not providing more help to an organization that needed more help. But to throw it all on the federal government, it's simply not fair. And it's a misreading of how emergency response actually happens.

COOPER: Kirsten, we saw this in Katrina. There was federal responsibility, there was local responsibility, local failures and state failures, as well. There were failures across the board. That's certainly, you know, I'm sure, is the case here as well.

I'm wondering what you make of the president's comments today.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Well, regardless of that, his comments are not truthful or accurate or a fair representation of what happened. So to cast this as a success for anybody is just -- goes completely against all the facts that we just heard all the facts from the mayor. So we're not just talking about a death toll, we're talking about enormous suffering, that's been ongoing, because of this and because of the response.

And so, you know, I think that saying that Puerto Rico didn't respond well, OK, but let's just do a thought experiment. If this has been Houston, if this had been the state of Texas, I think that it wouldn't have mattered if they were not responding well. The federal government would have gotten more involved. Donald Trump would have not been golfing, probably. He probably would have been paying attention.

I think the way he talks about this, there's a lack of decency and it's almost as if he has such a low opinion of Puerto Rico that this would be a success in his book, because this should be the best that they could expect.

SANTORUM: I -- Kirsten, I don't think that's fair. I think the reality is, yes, look, Donald Trump is not -- does not have a very high level of compassion, period. And he doesn't, as Max said, doesn't like to admit his mistakes. So let's just -- I accept both of those things. But to suggest that responding to a problem in Houston is the same as responding to a problem in Puerto Rico, which is logistically much more difficult to get resources to, it's just -- I just thought, it's not a fair thing to say.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Rick -- you know, actually, let's just -- it's an important point that the senator is making. I want both of you to be able to respond to it. We've got to take a quick break. We'll continue the conversation on that point.

We're also keeping a close eye on Hurricane Florence, dangerous category 4 storm taking aim at the southeastern seaboard. Getting an update from North Carolina which could take a direct hit.


COOPER: We're keeping an eye on Hurricane Florence and we'll have the latest on that in a moment, as another massive hurricane has millions of Americans in its path. We've been talking about how the President today called the hurricane response in Puerto Rico one of the best jobs that's ever been done.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did working along with the governor in Puerto Rico, I think, was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Nearly 3,000 people we now know died in Hurricane Maria and its aftermath, numbers the government only recently acknowledged, despite earlier studies that showed thousands had died, far more than the official death toll of 64.

Back now with Max Boot, Kirsten Powers, and Rick Santorum.

Kirsten, Senator Santorum had said to a comment you made right before the break that comparing, you know, a hurricane in Houston or in Texas to Puerto Rico, it's difficult to compare, given the difficulties of dealing with of an island that had the problems that Puerto Rico had previously, but just the logistics of getting supplies to an island.

[20:35:10] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, they're very different, but that -- so you could can maybe say the outcome would be different, because maybe a big effort could be made, the same effort that you would make for Texas, you would try to make for Puerto Rico and your outcome might be different, because you're dealing with a different situation, but the effort wasn't made. That's the point. That -- it wasn't -- we're not saying that, you know, that everything should have gone perfectly.

I think what people are trying to say is that there could have been a lot more attention paid to it, and it could have mitigated a lot of the suffering and a lot of the death that they experienced there. And I think the fact that the President continues to talk about this in a way that's just dishonest, describing something as a success that clearly was not a success, at a minimum, just to me shows that it's just not something that he really cares about.

MAX BOOT, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: And remember that President Bush was pilloried for his response to Katrina when he said, for example, to the FEMA director, heck of a job, Brownie. He was seen as being out of touch, because 1,800 people died in Hurricane Katrina. Well, nearly 3,000 people died in Hurricane Maria and President Trump, even today, is still saying that it was a heck of a job. He's still saying it was an incredible unsung success story.

So how out of touch is President Trump? Far more so than President Bush. And a lot of the factors that Rick raised having to do with local response and natural conditions, various difficulties, all that was true in Louisiana, all that was true during Hurricane Katrina. But ultimately at t the end of the day, people said, you've got to hold the President accountable. And in this present case, sure, there were difficulties. Nobody's saying it was all FEMA's fault, nobody was saying it was all Trump's fault. But you have to hold them accountable for this massive failure that -- to respond to the suffering of our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico.

COOPER: It is -- you know, Senator Santorum, one of the things that the President early on said, and we played the that clip in the last segment was early on when he was down in Puerto Rico, he talked about this not being a real catastrophe on the scale of Katrina. We now know, just if you're talking about death toll alone, it had a greater death toll than all the souls who lost their lives as a result of Katrina. And yet the local government in Puerto Rico, I assume, the federal government as well, they have downplayed this death toll from the beginning.

I mean, there were people early on saying, you know, it's not just 16 or 17, which the governor was saying to the President then, and then for the last -- most of the last year, it's been an official death toll of 64. CNN literally sued in Puerto Rico to get access to mortality statistics a Harvard team says that they weren't given access to mortality statistics. They still came up with a death toll in the thousands.

And now, finally, this last counting, which was done with the aid of -- with the permission of the Puerto Rican government, shows it was nearly 3,000 people. So it seems -- I don't know if a cover-up is too strong a word, but it certainly seems like they have been pushing off a factual accounting of what happened for a long time.

SANTORUM: I -- you know, I'm not familiar with all the details. I'm not familiar with how they arrived a to the death count. I mean, obviously, if it was over a period of months, I mean, a lot of factors can go into that, and maybe that's some of the questioning of that, I don't know. But all the things you've described are things that the federal government and the people -- the government of Puerto Rico should not be proud of. They should be transparent and they should try to get to the bottom of it.

And I would think it would be in the interest to try to learn what you can learn from doing things better in the future.


SANTORUM: To get a better understanding of what the consequences of these things on an island nation like Puerto Rico or island country.

COOPER: Yes, I mean frankly, the way these studies were done, they compared both Harvard and local universities in Puerto Rico and in the final study that was done, they compared mortality statistics would normally be and they came up with this range of the death toll.

Kirsten Powers, Senator Santorum, Max Boot, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., says he's not worried in the least about going to jail, as a result of the Mueller investigation. Coming up, I'll talk with the man who led the Clinton independent counsel team, Ken Starr, about how he sees the Mueller probe playing out and whether Donald Trump Jr. should be appearing on TV and talking about this kind of stuff, anyway.

We're tracking Hurricane Florence as it gets close to the Carolinas with dangerous storm surge, drenching rains, a live update from North Carolina ahead as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:43:31] COOPER: Amid the ongoing Mueller investigation, President Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr. appeared on ABC "Good Morning America" to say that he wasn't concerned in the least that he would go to jail when it was all over.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your father has denied reports that he's worried that you might in legal jeopardy because of the Mueller investigation. But are you scared that you could go to jail?

DONALD TRUMP. JR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I'm not. Because I know what I did and I'm not worried about any of that. You know, that doesn't mean they won't try to create something and we've seen that happen with everything. But, you know, again I'm not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But some say that Mueller has been successful. He has indictment of Manafort. He has a plea deal from Cohen. He has Papadopoulos sentenced. You know, he's got a litany of close associates of your father's under investigation.

D. TRUMP: All for things that happened way before they were ever part of any campaign. So if they get Manafort on a 2006 tax charge, you know, again, I understand that they are trying to get my father and they'll do anything they can to get that.


COOPER: Well, the Mueller team, of course, has been resolutely silent about practically everything, something my next guest knows a great deal about. Ken Starr was the independent counsel in charge of the Clinton probe that led to the House of Representatives impeaching him. The Senate acquitted President Clinton, preventing his removal from office. Mr. Starr is the author of the new book, Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation. It's fascinating. He joins me now.

Thanks for being with us. Congratulations on the book.

KEN STARR, LAWYER: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: First of all, do you think there's truth to what Donald Trump Jr. is saying, essentially that Mueller is out to get the President and he'll do anything to do that. I mean is that how it works?

[20:44:58] STARR: I have a different perspective, Anderson. It shouldn't be how it works and I don't think that is the way that it's working with Bob Mueller.

COOPER: You don't think he's that kind of a person?

STARR: He is not that kind of person. Now, there have been concerns. I share those concerns about some of the people around Bob Mueller.

COOPER: Right.

STARR: And their partisanship. I think those are fair issues to comment about. But Bob Mueller is an honorable guy. And I served with him in the administration of President Bush '41. And I know him to be an honorable guy. He's going to give it his best judgment.

COOPER: Does it make sense to you that Donald Trump Jr. is giving television interviews? I mean, there's no -- I mean, I'm not sure I understand the strategy behind him giving television interviews, but is it wise just from a legal standpoint?

STARR: Well, there are two perspectives. One is this public relations strategy and preparing the battlefield, so to speak, being aggressive --

COOPER: Which is certainly something that -- that the President's team has been doing as well. Playing to public relations.

STARR: As I describe it in my book, they're taking a page, and they say they're taking a page from what the Clinton White House did, which is continually attack the prosecutor, raise questions about the prosecutor's motives and so forth. And it can take a toll. That's the public relations perspective. The legal perspective is, needless to say, we're talking about an investigation of the President. The President has obligations, faithfully, to enforce the law. If we're talking about the son. If I were his defense lawyer, I would say, more is less -- or less is more, I should say.

COOPER: You write about this in the book, but what is it like when you are running an investigation and you see, I mean, in your case, it was the Clinton team running a public relations effort to discredit the investigation. I imagine the folks on the Mueller team, are -- you know, they're not commenting, but they're looking and they're seeing a full court press by the Trump administration to discredit just about everything about them. What is that like -- what's it like being on the inside, not being able to really speak publicly about it and to watch that happening?

STARR: The reaction should be, as I describe in the book, just do your job. Try to shield yourself and the team from all of that. And so I have a feeling that Bob Mueller is, as I tried to do, and again, as I describe in the book, just don't watch, with all due respect, CNN or Fox or anyone else. Read a great book, stay with --

COOPER: Do you worry, though, that it starts to have an impact? I mean, clearly, the President is doing it, because he feels it's having an impact discrediting Mueller.

STARR: It could have an impact on one or more jurors. When an impression seeps into the public consciousness that an investigation is unfair, that an investigation is a witch hunt, it can have an effect. It could demoralize the team. But I don't think so. Our team was not demoralized. I think we had one exception to that, who was demoralized and who left the investigation, because of the very brass knuckles tactics used by the White House.

You know, this is the survival of the President. And it is, as James Stewart said in his award-winning book "Blood Sport," it can get pretty bloody in Washington, D.C., figuratively speaking. COOPER: Right. It was interesting, I talked to one of the jurors on the Manafort case who said, she was a Trump -- she is a Trump supporter. She thought the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt, but, nevertheless, she felt it was her job to look at the evidence, look at the evidence only, and she voted to convict Manafort on the charges.

STARR: And as I write in the book, that same phenomenon was happening in our investigation in Little Rock. That group of jurors, and it was a very representative jury, it was biracial, it was actually dominated by women. And so the word on the street was, oh, this is a great defense jury. So Jim Guy Tucker, James and Susan McDougal, they're golden because they've got a great jury.

COOPER: Right.

STARR: But we had a judge who was in control of that courtroom. He allowed the lawyers to try the case. He was intent on it being a fair trial. But the jurors followed the evidence. And apparently, that's what happened in the Paul Manafort trial.

COOPER: The -- the Trump team has been saying that they don't want the President to sit down with Mueller, that it's a perjury trap. The counter argument to that is, well, if you're telling the truth, there's no such thing as a perjury trap. Is there a perjury trap?

STARR: There should not be and I don't think that there will be one. But once again, from my own experience, and there are these eerie echoes in the present of what happened 20 years ago, as I write about in the book. Because we had to ask the President of the United States, bill Clinton, five times to come before the grand jury voluntarily.

COOPER: Right.

STARR: And eventually we subpoenaed him. We did not want to do that, but we were forced to do that. And then through negotiation, we agreed to withdraw -- the point is, you squabble over these things. The defense lawyers never want their client to go in front of prosecutors or a grand jury.

COOPER: In the book, "Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation," you say you chose that title in part because you believe that Bill and Hillary Clinton's legacy is a contempt for justice. If you believe that, do you believe that of President Trump as well?

[20:50:03] STARR: The jury is out, but I do not like what the President says about our justice system, and I have said that. I've written that in the "Washington Post" over a year ago. I don't think he should be criticizing the Attorney General of the United States who I believe is an honorable guy. Whether you agree or disagree with him, I think he's a person of integrity, and I think that's inappropriate.

What we do know is the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, was actually held in contempt by a federal district judge, and that's what gave the book its name. The only President in the history of the country, unfortunately, or I should say fortunately, but it's unfortunate that it came to that, that a President was actually held in contempt.

COOPER: Again, I want to put the book on the screen. It's "Contempt, A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation," it's a new book by Ken Starr, it's a fascinating look back. Thank you so much for being with us.

STARR: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Appreciate it.

Straight ahead, the latest on Hurricane Florence. We'll check in with CNN's Martin Savidge in North Carolina, still directly in the Bullseye for landfall.


[20:55:12] COOPER: Earlier we were talking about the President saying his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was a quote, "unsung success". Nearly 3,000 Americans died because of the storm so unsung success isn't the way most people or really anyone else might describe Maria's aftermath.

Now Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Receo has just released a statement about the President statement, I'll reads part, this was the worst natural disaster in modern history. Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of our people lost their lives and many others still struggle. He added there's work that need to be finished before we can completely move on to a different stage in the recovery. I'm still expecting the President's response to our petition to extend 100% federal coverage of categories "a" and "b" to complete the unfinished work on the emergency housing restoration programs and debris removal. This reconstruction is a pivotal moment in our history, will help pave the way to a new and stronger Puerto Rico.

Now back to the breaking news. The current massive hurricane taking aim at the Carolinas is expected to unleash life threatening storm surge and rain fall up to 30 inches of rain in some areas. Hurricane Florence currently category 4 storm, with maximum sustain winds 140 miles an hour.

Martin Savidge reports right now from Carolina beach, in North Carolina.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's the question everyone asks, are you staying or going?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am definitely leaving. It's going to be doubt -- no doubt, yes.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Dava Villapiano has also made up her mind. DAVA VILLIAPANO, OWNER, SILVER DOLLAR RESTAURANT AND BAR: Oh I'm going, I'm definitely going. I was here through Pierce (ph) and Fran and several others. But this is not the same kind of storm.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): She owns the Silver Dollar Bar and Grill, where the last of the boards are going up to the windows, and the last of the food is coming out of the fridge.

VILLIAPANO: If it comes sent us a four, this could be, you know, the whole island can be desolated.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Carolina beach is under a mandatory evacuation order. And the order is simple, leave. If you are here after 8:00 p.m. Wednesday, you're on your own.

At a local gas station you find folks who are definitely out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't get off you will be a causality. Plain and simple.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): And you find some who still seem undecided.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I may change my mind, but right now, I'm planning on riding out.

SAVIDGE (on-camera): So we got a tip in town, it's cliche as it sounds that on this particular street there is a whole group of neighbors that abandoned together and apparently they're going to stay.

Are you staying or going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we're heading out.


SAVIDGE: Especially with the little one there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, exactly. Send here without power for about five days and it seem like a great ideas.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): But in a nearby garage I find friends Bill and Stan and they're staying and they won't be alone.

(on-camera): How many people do you think are going to be staying?

BILL SKINNER, RESIDENT, CAROLINA BEACH: One -- we see we have one, two, three, four, five, we had -- five to six by in the (INAUDIBLE) are staying.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The guys laugh about it, but both say they're getting calls and text from friends begging them to leave.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are calling, they say don't stay, don't stay this is going to be a killer.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The pair of a brand new generator and joke about a fridge full of beer, but there is a seriousness as to why they want to ride it out.

SKINNER: I want stay here and protect what I have. And, yes stay with my neighbors and help them if I can and the others.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Back on the beach I find Gel Yelmudie (ph), seating all by herself at the waters edge. She moved here just 20 days ago.

(on-camera): What you going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, we're going to seek shelter, we're going to go and stay with some family inland.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): She and her fiance just finished building their dream home and now have to leave it behind. She is here for a few last moments of peace.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just wanted to get one more -- one more glimpse of it.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): She is going and worries a lot of what she's looking at. They soon be gone.


COOPER: Wow, she just moved there. Martin, from what I understand, the -- there is a bridge collusion tomorrow, which could affect those residents who were still deciding whether or not to leave.

SAVIDGE: Right, they're down to about their last 24 hours to make their decision stay or go. But eventually that decision is going to be made for them. And it's going to be made as a result of the weather. And primarily once the winds reach maximum or sustain speed at 45 miles per hour, they will close the only bridge to the mainland. And once that happens, the only avenue of escape for anyone here will be gone.

So that's when the decision is finally made if you can't make the decision.


SAVIDGE: There's also going to be curfew that will go into effect here starting at 8:00 tomorrow evening. You have to remain in your home.

COOPER: All right Martin --

SAVIDGE: Anderson.

COOPER: -- be careful. We'll see you down there. Martin Savidge, thanks. A reminder, don't miss "Full Circle" our daily interactive newscast on Facebook at 6:25 p.m. eastern every night. News continues next in "CUOMO PRIME TIME".

First a look at tribute and light at the World Trade Center site on this the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

[21:00:06] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you to Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome everybody to "Prime Time".