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President Trump Addresses Hurricane Relief Efforts; President Trump to Travel to Texas Tomorrow; NY Times: Trump Organization Considered Trump Tower in Moscow During 2016 Campaign; Beginning of Trump Press Event with President of Finland. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 28, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: And good afternoon to you. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper today.

We're going to begin with breaking news in the national lead.

President Trump is about to hold a news conference, this coming just days after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast and began unloading just a staggering amount of rain on the state, 11 trillion, with a T., gallons of rain and counting.

At least seven people have died across the flood zone, and the serious part is this is nowhere near over. This is also the first time that the president will likely face questions about those Friday night moves that he made while the nation's attention was turned to this national disaster emergency, including pardoning the controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt in connection with heavy-handed immigration crackdown policies.

Moments ago, the president met in the Oval Office with the president of Finland and he spoke to reporters about that storm.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a historic amount of water in particular. There's never been anything like it. So the people are handling it amazingly well.

And the people of Texas, as you know, have really persevered. And when you watch the spirit and the enthusiasm and helping each other, the teamwork, it's really been something for people to say -- even in Finland, they would say it's been pretty incredible.


KEILAR: My political panel is here with me now to talk about all of this as we await the president's press conference.

And we also have our correspondents out in force across the disaster zone with lifesaving rescue attempts that are going on right now as we speak.

I do want to begin with CNN's Brian Todd. He is in Houston, which is where that's more than 2,000 people have been rescued.

Brian, earlier you were on an airboat with some of those first- responders. What are you seeing now?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it was a harrowing scene earlier on this, but we're back in downtown Houston now just getting pounded by another feeder band from this hurricane as it moves excruciatingly slowly through this area.

You can see the damage here in downtown Houston. I will take you over here. This is the convention center. These people and how they got rescued from their homes, so many of them, have become a huge part of the story today as this storm has just continued to pound their neighborhoods.


TODD (voice-over): Floodwaters are still rising in Houston and its suburbs, making rescues an urgent priority. In house after house, stranded residents signaling for help.

Maralyn Rice and her daughter Lisa are said overnight the waters in their house rose and rose.

MARALYN RICE, FLOOD VICTIM: Everything started floating. And we picked up where we could to try to save it, but it didn't do no good, because the water just took over everything.

TODD: They were up all night and were huddled on the hood of their car until they were rescued by good samaritans.

RICE: I thank God for these gentlemen.

TODD: Another resident, Beverly Johnson, was waiting on her car since last night. Flood rescues are the top priority now in Texas as rain from Hurricane Harvey continues to pour down.

Houston's mayor says more than 2,100 people have been rescued from high water, some even by Coast Guard helicopter. But countless more have been saved by private individuals using jet skis, paddles, even canoes.

Rescued families carrying what little they can with their most precious valuables in plastic bags.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much water is in your house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Seven feet maybe.

TODD: This comparison by "The New York Times" shows how deep the water is just west of downtown Houston. On the left is a normal day, and on the right is the flooding now. Flooding will only worsen in the coming days, forecasters say. About 25 inches more rain could fall in addition to about 25 inches

that has already come down. More than 6,000 victims have already been evacuated to centers in Houston and Friendswood, and authorities are bracing for that to reach up to 30,000 as flooding worsens under the continuing rain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to have to leave because it's just too much water.

TODD: Overnight, authorities made an excruciating choice, intentionally releasing water from two dams in West Houston because they're so full.

SYLVESTER TURNER, MAYOR OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: If they don't do it, let's say they hold back the water, and it builds up, then it will go be forced, it will go around Addicks and the situation would be exponentially worse.

TODD: But that means even more floodwaters will hit neighborhoods downstream. Residents downstream forced to evacuate even though their streets aren't not flooded yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're giving us until -- not time to tardy up, so we're out.


TODD: We're showing you some live pictures of people who have taken refuge here at the convention center in downtown Houston.

These are among what we're told are about 2,500 at least, that many people who have taken refuge inside the shelter. We have now six confirmed deaths total from the storm just in Harris County, seven total from the hurricane, Brianna.

And I can tell you, having been in those neighborhoods, the really heavily flooded neighborhoods, the death toll could easily rise given how difficult it was that we witnessed, how difficult it was for people in airboats or any kind of watercraft just to get to those houses. They are going to be pulling people out of there for days -- Brianna.


KEILAR: That's right, so much ahead of these first-responders.

Brian Todd in Houston, thank you for that.

As we wait to hear from President Trump, we are joined now by our political panel to talk about the president's very busy weekend, and also what he has ahead of him as he addresses this natural disaster.

Bill Kristol, you look to the president heading tomorrow to this disaster zone or really getting as close to it as he can. This is a test for a president when you're talking about this. What do you think about the response so far of President Trump and his administration?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It's hard to tell, obviously, and we will know much more later.

I do think one thing we want to remember that John Kelly, the very capable chief of staff, was secretary of homeland security before becoming chief of staff. And FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is part of Homeland Security. So, John Kelly knows more about this a typical White House chief of staff.

He was a four-star Marine general and is probably pretty good at making sure get things organized and happen on time. Obviously, state and local government have the biggest role here, it looks like the federal government response has been competent.

KEILAR: There is a lot ahead, of course, Jen, but as someone who worked for the former president and saw his reaction through various disasters, what do you think?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's really tricky figuring out when the right time to go is, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, because you want to be there to show your support, but any president who goes uses a significant amount of local resources.

Now, local authorities and officials have been pretty supportive of Trump. Politically, they're aligned with him. I'm not sure how much that has to do with it. But it's very tricky because you take up local forces, emergency services. Sometimes roads and streets are shut down, and those are areas that really need to be focused on recovery. So it's a gamble to go tomorrow.

KEILAR: And we know at this point that looking at Corpus Christi and Austin as well, which is somewhat removed, but Corpus Christi, that's an area that saw certainly some damage. It's not the same as, say, going to Rockport, but this is the balancing act, right?

PSAKI: That's right, and I have no doubt that John Kelly is thinking about all of these things.

I think the issue is people are being evacuated from their homes as we speak. They're being moved to Austin and Corpus Christi and a lot of different areas. So it's just a tough calculation. And sometimes you think it's going to be OK and you get to the ground and you're using resources you shouldn't be using, local authorities and emergency vehicles are being used. And so to me it feels a little soon, but I guess we will see how it goes tomorrow.

Jack Kingston, former congressman from Georgia, you know about all this, representing a district along the Georgia coast, seeing disasters through the years and seeing the response of various presidents, right?


And one of the trickiest parts that Washington is going to call certain shots, but locally you have to have cooperation, so you have to have all these mayors and county commissioners and sheriffs, everybody has to be in step.

One of the things we found over and over again in Savannah is we would say, you need to evacuate, the hurricane is coming on Friday, get out of town by Wednesday. Well, guess when they left? Friday. You would block -- you would open up both sides of the interstate, no incoming traffic, and yet all four lanes out of town were still bumper to bumper moving two miles an hour because everybody waits until the last minute.

But then, you know, I have evacuated cats and dogs and grandmothers and different generations of people. You want to make sure the medicine is there, you want to make sure the food is there. You want to have your comforts. It's a very tricky process when you're talking about thousands and thousands and even millions of people.

KEILAR: And, Juana, we're expecting that the president is going to be asked about this. He will have a somewhat limited news conference here with the president of Finland. What kinds of things do you expect he could be asked and the things he needs to address?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: I think one of the big things that people are just going to be curious about is whether or not he will be able to work with Congress to get funding, because as we have heard from federal agencies over the weekend, the impact on Texas and these communities that have been hit really hard could be not just days and weeks, but really years, so to be sure they have appropriate funding.

And in a legislative environment where the president and Republicans have not been able to pass a lot of things they have wanted to do, can they get through some sort of a funding presence, when we're also taring down the possibility of a government shutdown I think will be one of the biggest questions.

Another question I think will be about his tweets over the weekend. While the president has clearly demonstrated via Twitter that he's been engaged, he has been following the storm -- he tweeted I think 14 different times over the weekend about it.

He also tweeted about his trip to Missouri on Wednesday, and Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, saying Republicans will win that Senate seat. He also tweeted about the wall he wants to build on the southern border.

So I would expect he will also get questions about the other things he's paying attention to other than what's going on in Texas right now.

KEILAR: That's right, and he had a very busy weekend, even as this will be the first time he gets to respond and is asked questions, we expect, about this storm.

All of you, stick around with me as we await President Trump.

We are moments away from the president speaking, as we watch this catastrophe unfolding in Texas. You can see there are reporters getting ready as the president is going to address alongside the Finnish president members of the press there at the White House.


We're also getting reports about e-mail investigations that appear to show attempts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, in Russia, during the campaign. There is so much more ahead of us here, and we're going to see what the president has to say about it. Stay with us.


KEILAR: Welcome back now to THE LEAD.

You're looking at live pictures there as we are just moments away hearing from President Trump at the White House.

My political panel here with me.

And this is a press conference that is coming as we witness really unbelievable flooding in Texas, also after a slew of controversial moves coming from the White House.

[16:15:01] This started with the sudden departure of senior adviser Sebastian Gorka, ending with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, appearing to distance himself from the president. And that's not even including the bipartisan criticism that President Trump faced after he pardoned Joe Arpaio, a controversial former Arizona sheriff. And, of course, this is all happening as the president faces the first major national disaster emergency on his watch.

I want to bring in now, CNN's Sara Murray. Sara is at the White House for us.

So, what are we expecting from this press conference, Sara?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, obviously, as you pointed out there, there is plenty to ask about today. We are expecting the president will potentially make more comments about Hurricane Harvey and the efforts there.

But in addition to that, remember, you're going to have American press in that press conference as well as foreign press, and the foreign press may have other things at the top of his mind, such as the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, also, Russia aggression. Remember, Finland says a border with Russia. So, that could be a topic in this press conference as well, Brianna.

KEILAR: And the storm, certainly, we're expecting him to be asked about that. The storm response is a major test for the administration. How has he responded so far?

MURRAY: Well, it is, and I think as your panel was pointing out there, it's tricky gain to figure when exactly is the right time to go to an area that's going through this kind of a catastrophe. So far, most of what we've seen from the president has been on Twitter. Save a few comments in the Oval Office today, this will be a chance for him to speak to the American public on camera tomorrow. He's going to be visiting Corpus Christi, along with the first lady, and he's also holding out the option of potentially going back over the weekend, back to Texas, also as well as to Louisiana, presumably to meet with victims and to tour some of these flood-ravaged areas.

But one of the keys here is to time it so they're going to a place that's not going to a search and rescue effort. That's the reason they chose Corpus Christi because you don't want to draw resources away from what law enforcement, what local current officials are currently trying to do there.

KEILAR: Yes, that's right. It's certainly affected, but it's not exactly the middle of it.

Sara Murray, at the White House, thank you.

And you are watching there, top aides who have been seated, cabinet members seated there in the front row there in the East Room of the White House as we await President Trump. He could face some questions about the growing scrutiny on a series of e-mails that show Donald Trump's company was looking to build a Trump Tower in Moscow while he was running for president.

"The New York Times" is reporting that these e-mails show a Trump business associate pushing for this deal, bragging about his ties to Vladimir Putin and how this could help get Donald Trump elected.

I want to go now to CNN's Manu Raju.

Tell us what you're learning about these e-mails that are now under multiple investigations, Manu.


We are learning now that the president on three different occasions discuss this hotel and condominium project in Moscow with his attorney, Michael Cohen. That is according to a report in Bloomberg. In a separate "Washington Post" report now says that in January 2016, Cohen wrote an e-mail to one of Vladimir Putin's most trusted aides, Dmitry Peskov, to know that the talks between the two over the project have stalled and this would mark the highest level discussion between a Kremlin official and a Trump official that we know of today.

Now, a man who's trying to broker this Moscow deal is a man by the name of Felix Sater, a Russian-American business and associate of the president. Now, Sater says in a 2015 e-mail obtained by "The New York Times" that, quote, our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it, saying he would get the Putin's team buy-in for the project.

Now, Brianna, Cohen is now downplaying the matter in a statement to CNN saying, saying today that in late January 2016, I abandoned the Moscow proposal because I lost confidence that the prospective licensee would bring the proposal to fruition. It was a building proposal that did not succeed and nothing more. Cohen also said subsequently to CNN that he sent an email to that Putin aide, Peskov, regarding the Moscow project, saying it was an email that went unanswered and nothing else. And he also told congressional investigators that Sater actually made that recommendation to reach out to that Putin aide, but, Brianna, all these developments undercut the president's regular claims that there were no business dealings whatsoever with Russia.

KEILAR: Yes, they certainly do, and, Manu, this isn't the only e-mail that's under review that shows an attempt to connect the Trump campaign with Russian officials, right?

RAJU: Yes, that's right, Brianna. Last week, CNN reported about an e-mail from a top Trump aide Rick Dearborn turned over to the Hill that showed him relaying a message from an individual from West Virginia who wanted to set up a meeting with the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin.

Now, CNN has learned that the West Virginia man is a 54-year-old contractor named Rick Clay, who also informed GOP Senator Shelley Moore Capito he wanted to talk to the campaign about Russian contacts. Now, Clay told me that he was simply trying to relay his own message from a friend who works with Christian organizations who had been in contact with Russians who wanted to discuss, quote, shared Christian values with the campaign.

Now, Dearborn, we're told, rejected the request and said it should go through the state department.

[16:20:01] But intelligence officials say, Brianna, this is a growing practice of Russian intelligence of trying to build alliances with conservative group to try to penetrate the political system. Now, that's uncertain that's uncertain that that's happened here, but it's something that investigators would have to look into further, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Manu Raju, thank you so much. We have our eyes right now on the East Room where we are awaiting President Trump at the press conference with the Finnish president. I'm going to -- actually, here he is. Let's listen in.



It is my great honor to welcome President Niinisto to the White House. We just concluded a very positive meeting. And I want to begin today by extending my thoughts and prayers to those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the catastrophe of flooding and all of the other difficulties that they're currently going through in Houston, in Southeast Texas, and now it's looking more and more like the state of Louisiana will be also affected.

My administration is coordinating closely with state and local authorities in Texas and Louisiana to save lives. And we thank our first responders and all of those involved in their efforts.

We're working directly with Texas Governor Greg Abbott -- who, by the way, is doing a fantastic job. And his entire staff, likewise -- as well as with Governor John Bel Edwards, who's very much involved in starting the process of Louisiana.

We've pledged our full support, as Texas and Louisiana battle and recover from this very devastating and historic storm. There's probably never been anything like this.

Under the supervision of FEMA Administrator Brock Long, there has been a tremendous amount of work done. He has -- he has been so outstanding in so many ways. More than 8,500 federal workers are involved in the Texas effort alone.

I've also today declared emergencies in Louisiana at the request of Governor Edwards.

Recovery will be a long and difficult road and the federal government stands ready, willing and able to support that effort.

Right now, the single most important thing is the safety and security of those still in harm's way, including the first responders, who have been so terrific and brave. Protecting the lives of our people is my highest priority.

Every asset of my command is at the disposal of local officials.

Tragic times such as these bring out the best in America's character. Strength, charity and resilience are those characters. We see neighbor helping neighbor, friend helping friend, and stranger helping stranger. You see that all over. You watch on television, you just see such incredible work and love and teamwork.

We are one American family. We hurt together, we struggle together and, believe me, we endure together. We are one family.

To the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are 100 percent with you. We're praying for you, we're working closely with your leaders and officials, and I will be visiting the impact zone tomorrow to ensure that you're receiving full support and cooperation from the federal government. And on Saturday, we think we're going back to Texas and also we will be going to Louisiana. Nothing can defeat the unbreakable spirit of people of Texas and Louisiana. Right now, every American heart sends its love and support to those whose lives have been up- ended -- totally up-ended, totally -- by this very horrible storm.

We ask God for his wisdom and strength.

We will get through this, we will come out stronger. And believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before. The rebuilding will begin. And in the end, it will be something very special.

I just want to thank everybody in the affected area, because it has been absolutely incredible to watch the spirit, the cooperation and the love.

I would also like to share a message to the people of Finland, who have recently suffered a terrorist attack in Turku.

We stand in solidarity with you against the terrorist threat. We must all work together to deny terrorists safe havens, cut off their finances and defeat their very wicked ideology.

Mr. President, Americans are grateful for your support as an ally in the fight against terrorism -- we appreciate it -- including your membership in the coalition to defeat ISIS.

Finland makes important contributions to the coalition in its effort in Afghanistan and has troops on the ground in Iraq training Iraqi soldiers.

In Afghanistan, Finland provides troops and financial contributions to support the Afghan national defense and security forces on a modern- day frontier between barbarism and civilization.

That's what you have. It's barbarism versus civilization.

We are particularly grateful to the Finnish citizens who have sacrificed for our mutual security.

Finland is a leading expert in cybersecurity.

In fact, we should be calling you pretty soon. You do -- do a fantastic job with cybersecurity, and I congratulate you. And I think in a very short period of time we're going to be right there with you, believe me.

The United States is very proud -- partner of Finland's European Centre of Excellence to counter modern threats, including cyber attacks.

In addition, we look forward to your leadership as chair of the Arctic Council. The Arctic region has strategic and economic importance for both of our nations; very much so.

The foundation of our friendship is our shared love of freedom. On behalf of all Americans, I congratulate you and the Finnish people on the 100th anniversary of Finland's independence. 100 years. Fantastic.

In honor of Finland's centennial, the United States is contributing an additional half-million dollars to the Fulbright Finland Foundation. Through the Fulbright program, we are sending more of our best and brightest to Finland, forging lasting connections between Americans and Finns.

On the economic front, we seek fair and reciprocal trade to benefit both of our countries. I applaud Finnish companies for their commitment to increase investment in the United States, adding new technologies and adding good jobs for hardworking Americans.

Thank you.

The U.S.-Finnish partnership is rooted in our shared interests and common values. As president -- and I must say, and I want to thank you, President -- we've discussed and we look forward to further strengthening these bonds of culture, commerce and cooperation between our two countries, so that our citizens and our nations can thrive and prosper together.

Mr. President, I'd like to thank you very much for being at the White House. And had a great meeting in the Oval Office. It's my honor to have you here. Thank you. Thank you very much.

SAULI NIINISTO, PRESIDENT OF FINLAND: Mr. President, I want to thank you for your very kind words. And I just want to tell you that it is a great pleasure and honor to be here today. I thank you also for the discussions we have had. They have been of most interest.

TRUMP: Thank you.

NIINISTO: We have been closely following Hurricane Harvey. Our thoughts are with the people of Texas and Louisiana. They and you, Mr. President, have shown strength and courage to overcome this catastrophe. It has been touching to watch the TV and see how people help each other. That is what we basically are built of (ph), helping each other.

And I (ph) highly appreciate our close relationships with the United States. Today, they are broader (ph) than ever, ranging from security, to defense cooperation, to trade and innovation.

We are indeed celebrating our hundred years of independence. I want to thank you for the generous gift presented to the Fulbright Finland Foundation.

I want to -- also to take this opportunity to greet the almost 700,000 Americans who have a Finnish origin.