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Bracing for Hurricane Florence; Trump Touts Administration Response to Maria; GOP Rep. Meadows Alleges FBI "Media Leak Strategy"; D.C. Cardinal to Discuss Resigning with Pope; Hurricane Florence Impacts College Football Games. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 05:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Low-income Americans have yet to come back. Those households had a median income of just over $25,600 in 2016 and did not reach the nearly 27 grand they made in 2000.

[05:00:07] How workers at two of the biggest U.S. steelmakers are threatening to take action as tariffs on foreign metal pushed prices and profits to their highest levels in years. The United Steelworkers Union voted to authorize their bargaining committee to initiate a strike at U.S. steel facilities. They're demanding higher compensation and better benefits after a 30 percent rise in steel prices in year.

They say they could strike at steelmaker ArcelorMittal if an agreement isn't reached soon. Contracts for both companies expired September 1st.

We're hearing from steelmakers, wait a minute, steel companies are having better profits, prices are up, and hey, what about us? What about the worker?

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Where's the trickle-down? Yes.

All right. EARLY START continues now with an update on Hurricane Florence.


ROMANS: All right. Breaking news, a brand-new advisory from the National Weather Service about Hurricane Florence. CNN's weather center has those details.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that Puerto Rico was in an incredible unsung success.


BRIGGS: President Trump slammed for saying the response to Hurricane Maria was a success despite 3,000 killed in Puerto Rico.

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: And is that sort of a "heck of a job, Brownie" moment?

BRIGGS: We'll look back and wonder about that question. Yes.

ROMANS: I'm Christine Romans. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

A brand-new forecast for Hurricane Florence issued moment ago. Its path has been adjusted slightly southward. It is still expected to slam into North Carolina's coast tomorrow night or Friday morning. Florence, a category-four storm, it picked up strength overnight, it could become a category five today.

One meteorologist at the National Weather Service warning there is the potential for, quote, unbelievable damage. Florence is currently packing 140 mile-per-hour winds and is expected to stall when it makes landfall, raising concerns about catastrophic flooding.

BRIGGS: And now, the EPA tells CNN there is a threat of Florence triggering the release of toxic chemicals from nine hazardous waste sites along the Carolina coastline, the agency performing eventually ability assessments on the sites now.

Meteorologist Chad Myers tracking Hurricane Florence live in the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, good morning. The storm surge is always a problem, but how about the speed and the stalling of the storm? How deadly could that make it?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it will certainly, 20 inches of rainfall not out of the question, now it's not for North Carolina. Now it has shifted to the south. There are big, big model changes overnight.

We hinted at this yesterday where models were turning to the left. Now, they're turning a lot to the left. Now, it's still 130 mile-per- hour storm. Nothing changed since the overnight hours there. But what has changed is the potential landfall or near landfall near Wilmington or Florence or somewhere in North Carolina.

The storm beginning to maybe come back out to sea or scour the entire coast and go southward toward Charleston. Look at the cone, it has changed. Charleston, you are back in it, whereas yesterday at this time, really you were out of it. Well, the models have turned to the left and eventually will turn back to the right into parts of Georgia.

So, major updates from the hurricane center today because the models have changed that way. 145 miles per hour, 150 miles per hour not out of the question before landfall. That's still going to have a major surge. Hurricane warnings are posted. They may be adjusted now because we will see that adjustment to the forecast track, probably another adjustment at 11:00 today.

Heavy, heavy rainfall along the coast. Everywhere that's purple is ten and the blue or white is 20 inches or more of rainfall before it finally stops. The surge is going to be tremendous. It could be 13, 15, 18 feet in some spots, depending on where it truly crosses land or if it does ever cross land here in the Carolinas or does it turn left before it crosses land.

That is a possibility. And models are hinting at that possibility, as well. What does that mean? That means the impact is too many more people if this does travel along and parallel to the coast later on Friday and Saturday. We'll see.

The stalling is obviously an issue, but the change in the track is a bigger issue this morning. We'll you up to date and keep it going.

ROMANS: That is one big storm.

All right. Thank you very much for that.

Standing by live is Gary Lackmann. He's atmospheric science professor at North Carolina State University. He joins us via Skype.

And a lot of people look at the path there and see the people leaving the outer banks and the barrier islands. But really when you talk about North Carolina, you got hog operations, hog waste lagoons, superfund sites, super treatment plants, poultry farms. I mean, there's a huge, huge chunk of land that's going to get a lot of water and wind.

[05:05:03] GARY LACKMANN, ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE PROFESSOR, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY: Yes, that's correct. There's a lot of vulnerability along the coast with development on the barrier islands and, you know, it could be a worst case scenario with the storms stalling and some of the communities really remaining in the wheelhouse for an extended period of time.

BRIGGS: So sometimes it's the wind, sometimes it's the rain, the surge. What is it about Florence that makes this storm so unique?

LACKMANN: Yes. Well, I think the fact that there are so many threats that are still on the table. A lot of times you'll have a storm where it was just the wind or just the storm surge or just the inland flooding from rain. Florence really has all of the above as potential threats. And I think that in its intensity make it a unique threat.

And the fact that it could stall and move along the coast, you could really extend the -- expand the number of people that are experiencing those conditions.

ROMANS: Talk a little about the water temperature. We know like the water temperatures along the East Coast here, they're running a little bit warmer than average. That adds to the intensity of the storms.

Talk to us about that. Is that something we should be preparing for going forward?

LACKMANN: Well, certainly, you know, the hurricane is drawing its fuel from all the water vapor. And having more motion basically increases the level of fuel available to the storm. So temperatures in the western North Atlantic are running one to two degrees Celsius, or two to four degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average. So, there's a bit more fuel available than is usual in this area. You know, and what that means going forward, part of that is just the

pattern that exists, this particular year. We saw the same thing with Harvey in the Gulf of Mexico last year, the water was warmer than average. And I think with, you know, a continual increase in water temperatures, you know, it will be more common to have the higher fuel levels for the storms.

BRIGGS: So, oftentimes, Gary, people see the track and say, oh, I'm south of where the model projects the storm. The latest update from Chad Myers just now tells us we don't really know where exactly the storm is going to make landfall.

How unpredictable are the models?

LACKMANN: Yes. Well, this is another unique aspect of Florence is there's a nice steering flow, you know, for the next couple of days. Then it sort of runs out of track and when you have a light steering current like we'll have with Florence, when it's near the coast, that reduces the predictability. And if it sets up just inland versus if it sets up over the coast versus staying off shore, those all have very important implications for who gets affected and how much and how long the storm survives.

So, the predictability in the short term in the next couple of days is really, really high. Then after that, it's basically wandering aimlessly, and it could go in a number of different directions. So that means that more people have to be prepared. And it's unfortunate that it worked out that way. A lot of times when storms are moving at this point in their trajectory, there's a more certain track.

ROMANS: When you look at the picture we were showing on the screen from NASA, you see how smooth the eye is and how organized that storm looks right now, just out there in the open ocean gathering the fuel as you say from the warm weather. You know, we heard from authorities that they are preparing for power outages for days if not a couple of weeks. They are preparing for unbelievable damage, they say. What's your advice to someone who lives around there in that region, who's watching you this morning?

LACKMANN: Well, certainly, if you're in one of the coastal areas, head inland if at all possible. Heed the evacuation warnings and advice. Do what you can to get in-land, away from the strongest winds and strongest storm surge. And, you know, just stay tuned because the lack of predictability, hopefully that will become clearer later in the day and tomorrow. Be prepared for a change in the forecast or changing conditions.

And prepare for the worst because the potential for really catastrophic damage -- if the eye wall sets up over the barrier islands, it's going to be bad news. There should be no one left on the islands when the storm approaches. There's been plenty of warning.


BRIGGS: Yes. LACKMANN: So, my advice is get out.

ROMANS: They won't get any help either. We know the mandatory evacuation means they're not going to make you leave. If you don't leave, you will not get help.

Gary Lackmann, thank you so much for your time this morning and expertise. Thank you, sir.

BRIGGS: Thank you, Gary.

All right. President Trump also advising people to heed those warnings and evacuate in a statement from the Oval Office.


TRUMP: They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever.

[05:10:04] It's tremendously big and tremendously wet. Tremendous amounts of water. It could be very well be very similar to Texas in the sense that it's tremendous amounts of water. Texas was the one that had I would say to this point brought probably more water than we've ever seen in a storm or a hurricane. And it went out for seconds and thirds.


BRIGGS: The president drew criticism for another statement he made from the Oval. He praised his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico where the death toll was just revised upwards from 64 to nearly 3,000.

Kaitlan Collins with more from the White House now.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, President Trump raising several eyebrows when he cited his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico when talking about how they're preparing for Hurricane Florence as it barrels toward the East Coast. The president was in the Oval Office. He had just finished a briefing with the FEMA administrator, Brock Long, and he cited Hurricane Maria as one of his administration's most successful times since he's been in office.

Now, of course, that was a storm that devastated Puerto Rico, killed roughly 3,000 people, and left millions without power for months. So, the president raised a lot of eyebrows when he made comments like this --

TRUMP: 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.

COLLINS: Now, in that same Oval Office meeting, President Trump brought up the denials of his two former top staffers. His chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and his staff secretary Rob Porter, both who played pivotal roles in Bob Woodward's new tell-all book about the Trump White House. President Trump said he appreciated their denials. He felt that they were extent and thought they showed that Bob Woodward's book is fiction, making it pretty clear why Rob Porter and Gary Cohn issued those denials in the first place -- Dave and Christine.


ROMANS: All right. Kaitlan at the White House, thank you.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon claims the Trump administration is diverting hurricane relief money from FEMA to fund Immigration and Customs Enforcement just as the hurricane season is starting. Merkley released a Homeland Security document showing a transfer of $9.8 million.

BRIGGS: That document says the money is coming from the agency's travel, training, public engagement, and I.T. budgets, not disaster relief. But Senator Merkley insists the White House is diverting money from response and recovery budgets to fund additional immigrant detention camps. He says any shift in funding will make it even more challenging for FEMA to respond to natural disasters.

History will be made one way or another in New Hampshire this November. Voters in the first congressional district will either elect the first openly gay or first African-American congressman, a district that regularly swings between the two parties and back President Trump in 2016. Democratic voters chose Chris Pappas from a crowded field in last night's primary. A field that included Levi Sanders, the son of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Pappas will take on Republican primary winner Eddie Edwards, a former black, former police chief and navy vet who got a big assist on the campaign trail from Rudy Giuliani.

ROMANS: All right. Time for early start on your money.

President Trump putting a positive spin on talks with Canada as the future of NAFTA remains in limbo.


TRUMP: Trade talks are coming along very well. We're dealing with China, as you know, we've taken a tough stance on China. I would say to put it mildly. And with Canada, they want to make a deal very much.

Me, if we make it, that's good. If we don't make it, that's OK, too. Canada wants to make a deal. We'll see if we can get them into the deal we already have with Mexico. I think the deal with Canada is coming along very well. We've all been dealing in good faith.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Mr. Trump was speaking yesterday at the White House. Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau said he will not sign a deal that is bad for his country. The U.S. reached a preliminary agreement with Mexico last month. But talks with Canada failed. They resumed last week.

One sticking point here is the U.S. demands more access to Canada's dairy market which is a relatively small part overall of U.S.-Canadian trade. But Canada wants cultural exemptions for industries like dairy and Canada wants a dispute resolution mechanism. The U.S. has set an October 1st deadline for to renegotiate NAFTA.

BRIGGS: OK. We're continuing to track Hurricane Florence, as you can see in the corner of your screen. But ahead, a House Republican pointing to newly discovered text messages from former FBI officials he says are proof of misconduct at that agency. The latest, next.


[05:18:47] ROMANS: One of the president's closest allies in Congress, Mark Meadows, claims newly discovered text messages revealed a coordinated effort at the FBI and Justice Department to harm the Trump campaign. The House Republican suggesting that texts between former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page point to what he calls a media leak strategy.

We get more from CNN's Laura Jarrett in Washington.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Dave and Christine, good morning.

For the past several months, something of a pattern has started to develop here as Republican lawmakers uncover a text exchange between these two former officials. The president tweets out a suggestion that the fix is in at the FBI, and this latest controversy appears to be no exception. Congressman Mark Meadows has now seized upon a text exchange from Strzok to Page in April of 2017 where he says to her, I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ.

Now, the timing is something that the congressman finds troubling because it happens to fall during the exact period of time when the "Washington Post" and other outlets publishing stories about the FBI's surveillance of former Trump adviser Carter Page.

But Strzok's attorney tells me it has nothing to do with that, and instead it was about a department-wide initiative to stop leaks to the media.

[05:20:01] And a source close to Page told me it had nothing to do with anything about that. All it was is they were preparing department leadership at the Justice Department to face leaks and the legality around that.

But, of course, the larger political backdrop to all of this is that even though these two people no longer work at the FBI, their text messages will be continued to use as political ammunition against the special counsel's investigation because they both worked for Robert Mueller for a short period of time. And so as long as Mueller is around, these texts will continue to pour in.

Dave and Christine, back to you.


BRIGGS: OK, Laura Jarrett, thanks.

The embattled leader of the archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, says he'll soon travel to the Vatican to discuss with the pope his possible resignation. Wuerl faces increasing calls to step down over his handling of clergy sex abuse scandals.

ROMANS: In a letter to priests in the D.C. diocese, he writes, at issue is how to begin effectively to bring a new level of healing to survivors who have personally suffered so much and to the faithful entrusted to our care who have been wounded by the shame of these terrible actions and have questions about their bishop's ability to provide the necessary leadership.

Cardinal Wuerl submitted a resignation letter three years ago at the customary retirement age of 75 but has continued to serve. Wuerl does not say when he will travel to Rome.

BRIGGS: All right. Coming up, what happens when a St. Louis Cardinals fan with a baby in his arms has a foul ball hit right at him? Hines Ward has the answer in the "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:25:58] BRIGGS: Hurricane Florence lurking off the East Coast, but the impacts already being felt on the college football schedule.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

Hines Ward has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hi, Hines.

BRIGGS: Good morning.


Yes, this storm is the real deal. The impending arrival of Florence in the Carolinas, well, it's causing college football teams to adjust their schedules. Check it out, 13th ranked Virginia Tech's home game against East Carolina has been canceled. N.C. State's game against 14th ranked West Virginia will not be played. While 18th ranked Central Florida in its game against North Carolina has been postponed.

Meanwhile, Virginia, they decided to move their game against Ohio to Nashville. And players and coaches say they're ready for whatever Mother Nature brings. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANDY ALONSO, VIRGINIA DEFENSIVE END: Yes. Actually just got a Texas this morning saying that there was like a hurricane coming here. And I was like, what? And yes. I mean, I wasn't really like -- it's not really a big change for me because I'm used to it. But, yes, I was pretty shocked it was a hurricane.

LARRY FEDORA, NORTH CAROLINA HEAD COACH: My main concern is for the safety of the fans and the safety of the people who work in the stadium and the safety of the players. So, I know the university will do what's right, you know? I don't doubt that. I'll go along with whatever they decide.


WARD: Now, the U.S. men's soccer team taking the field for just a second time on September 11th, since the tragic attacks 17 years ago. Before the game against Mexico in Nashville, Team USA unveiled a huge American flag to honor and remember those whose lives were affected or lost.

Nineteen-year-old Tyler Adams scoring the only goal of the game, and that was the teenager's first score at the international level. It came at just the seventh game with the U.S. team.

And finally, a Cardinals fan showing us why you don't need to bring a stinking glove to the ballpark, guys. This guy caught a foul ball one handed with the baby in his other hand. Pretty impressive.

Now that takes some serious skills. Now if that wasn't enough to make the fans happy, the Cardinals went on to beat my Pirates 11-5.

Now, Dave, that just brought me back to the good old days when I was catching balls with one hand in Pittsburgh. You remember those days, Dave.

BRIGGS: Yes, I do -- I do remember them well. But did you ever do it with a baby in your hand, my friend?

WARD: No, I did not, Dave.

ROMANS: What that tells me, that guy logged a lot of hours dragging that baby around. Seriously, when you have a baby that age, you can do almost anything -- you can make dinner --

BRIGGS: As long as you shield said baby. Multitasking, guys can do it.

All right. Our Super Bowl MVP, thank you, my friend.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

The National Weather Service calling this the storm of a lifetime, 30 million people in the path of hurricane Florence. CNN's weather center has a live forecast next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)