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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Will Hurricane Irma Hit U.S.?; Hurricane Aftermath; Longtime Trump Aide Keith Schiller Tells People He Intends to Leave White House; Hurricane Irma Churns Toward East Coast. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired September 1, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Dangers lurking in what Harvey left behind?
THE LEAD starts right now.
Coming home to a catastrophe -- an entire city waiting for clean drinking water in the aftermath of Harvey, as a new major storm threat lurks in the Atlantic.
Breaking news. The White House said a decision on protections for undocumented immigrant children will come Tuesday. What will the man who pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio do?
Plus, breaking today in the Russia investigation, the special counsel gets a new look at what might have been in the president's head before he fired Jim Comey.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.
And we begin today with breaking news in the national lead.
Desperate and dangerous times in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the waters receding across Southeast Texas and revealing the devastation, piles of debris, pulverized homes, cherished memories and prize possessions gone, pieces of people's lives now piling up on the curb, this and many other things, including waste and chemicals, adding to the health concerns after the storm.
And, today, the military is sending water pumps to Beaumont, Texas. It's a city that was dried out by the great flood. There has been no clean drinking water there. It is now slowly coming back on.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.
He made his way to that hard-hit city of Beaumont.
Brian, much of the area is really at mercy of the water system. Are crews close to fully restoring it?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're not sure yet, Brianna.
And we got some bad news from the governor a short time ago. I will take you as we walk along the perimeter of this facility here.
Governor Greg Abbott said just a short time ago the Neches River just over here alongside Beaumont is continuing to rise. It's seven feet above its record stage. And the governor says it may stay at that level for maybe the next week.
That has triggered an emergency here at the water treatment plant in Beaumont. They brought in engineers from Exxon and other companies to try to restore water. They've got a temporary pumping station pumping water from the Neches River into this facility.
Can they treat it in time to get water to the people of Beaumont? That is the key question tonight. Officials here and throughout the region are now still responding and assessing, trying to get their minds around the devastation from Hurricane Harvey.
TODD (voice-over): A first look at the destruction Harvey has left behind. Roads destroyed, homes knocked off their foundations, boats precariously perched, lives and livelihoods destroyed by floods.
But in Beaumont, they're desperate for more water. The roughly 100,000 residents of Beaumont have been without drinking water since about 1:30 Thursday morning. Now they're lining up for a bottled supply. The motors on the main water pumping station shorted out when the river spilled over its banks.
The secondary pumps also disabled by floods. So the city rushed specialists in who are working urgently to get the water flowing again.
(on camera): Right now, that is the water lifeline for residents of Beaumont. It's a temporary station set up by Exxon engineers and other engineers, pumping water from the Neches River through this orange pipe right here and up to the pumping station. It takes a long time to get up there and to treat the water, and that's what residents here are counting on.
(voice-over): The engineers understand how desperate residents here are to have their water back. But they have got to make sure it's safe to use.
ASHLEY ALEMAYEHU, EXXONMOBIL: There is a lot of steps that still need to be completed. They need to get through the water treatment phase and work through all of the treatment facilities that you need in order to actually get back into the homes. I know the city doesn't have a timeline on that just yet.
TODD: At Beaumont's hospital, they aren't waiting. The most fragile of Harvey's evacuees are being airlifted to safer locations. Among them, these premature babies who have been separated from their parents for days due to flood conditions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just calling them and letting them know every couple of couple of hours how their babies are doing. They need to take care of themselves right now and we will take care of their babies.
TODD: There have been more than 72,000 Harvey-related rescues this week, adults, children and pets of all kinds plucked from the rising water and taken to safety. But in some areas, residents remain.
In Houston, these families are just now getting to dry land after seven long days in waterlogged neighborhoods.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, so long as we have food, it's tough. But now we're running out of food and water, so I'm out here.
TODD: In West Houston, officials strongly urging those with water in their homes to leave now, as water is planned to be released from stressed reservoirs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Floodwaters in the homes is a hazardous situation. There is dangers of electrocution. There is dangers of structural compromise. It is not a safe place to remain.
TODD: But residents in this area of Texas could be getting some help from federal inspectors.
There are about 1,000 federal housing inspectors that have been sent to the Southeastern Texas area. About 200 more of them are on the way.
So, Brianna, hopefully, some of these people, when they do return to their homes can get an accurate assessment of how safe it is, whether it's safe to go in or maybe they stay out for some days or weeks.
KEILAR: So important. Brian Todd, thank you for that report.
I want to go to Houston now, where you heard the mayor is warning those with water still in their homes to leave immediately.
CNN's Nick Valencia joins me.
So, Nick, you're in an area where crews are still making water rescues today.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Barker Cypress neighborhood of Houston is still underwater.
It's been a week since Hurricane Harvey hit, and still this is the situation. In some places, Brianna, it's high as the waist. It's four-feet deep in some areas. You can see behind me some of these water rescues continue. These are civilian boats helping taking people here that have been lining up all day long. The crowd has grown.
People trying to get back into their homes for the first time. Yes, the mayor is telling people to get out, but in some cases, they can't.
Thieron Robinson, you're one of the people here that you have just shown up here. You're part of the crowd that's growing.
THIERON ROBINSON, HURRICANE VICTIM: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I am.
VALENCIA: So, tell us what have you been going through the last week. You had to evacuate?
Well, they didn't tell us about the evacuation right off the jump. And I lost my car, my house, personal belongings, everything.
I grabbed what I could and everything else, we just lost it. You know what I'm saying?
VALENCIA: When you're looking at this situation, you look at people walking into this water, there's no telling what's in here. This is as desperate as ever.
But it's like I'm numb to it, because I went through it with Hurricane Katrina before in 2005.
VALENCIA: You're a Hurricane Katrina survivor?
ROBINSON: Yes, sir.
It's like I went through the same thing before. But it wasn't as bad. It was bad, but it's like losing things everything two times on the same day. It sucks. You know what I'm saying? But you can't do nothing but work through it.
VALENCIA: And we know that your heart is probably really heavy. Your mind is going through a lot.
ROBINSON: Yes. Yes.
VALENCIA: We wish you a lot of luck going in there.
ROBINSON: All right, man, thank you.
VALENCIA: We went in to this neighborhood yesterday. We were in waist-deep water ourselves. We went with a man named Ryan Short, who had a cut on his leg, but he risked his own safety because he wanted to help out his little 2-year-old boy.
A lot of people are going through misery and being displaced.
And his child is one of them, having a lot of trouble connecting. So, Ryan said he wanted to go in there to go back in to get his child's favorite toy. We went in with a boat, and what we saw, you're looking at there, his house is ruined and he doesn't really know what to do.
A lot of people in this place don't either. This is not a flood zone, Brianna. This is not supposed to happen here. But what is the case, this is the Addicks Reservoir case and a lot of water has dammed up here.
You see this line? It seems as though the water is slowly starting to recede, but just not fast enough. That's why a lot of boats have come as far away as San Antonio, Austin, Texas, in some cases just right around the corner, people who have gone through their own misery risking it all to help out those who have been through worse -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Nick Valencia in Houston with that report, thank you.
The president is returning to Texas tomorrow as locals take stock of what they have lost. What the president is expected to see and how he's planning to help, we will have that up next.
KEILAR: Welcome back. As the White House prepares to ask Congress for almost $6 billion in Harvey recovery funds, the president is prepping for a return trip to the devastated Gulf Coast.
CNN's Boris Sanchez joining me now live from the White House.
So, Boris, tell us about the president's plans for tomorrow.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Brianna.
As you said, this will be the second time the president heads to Texas after that destructive storm last weekend. And it's a second chance really for the president to change the tone from his first visit.
You will remember that he was criticized for the tone of that first visit. Some GOP officials, even officials here at the White House privately telling CNN that he needed to do more to connect with survivors. He needed that optic. It is the right thing to do, is what one person here at the White House told my colleague Jim Acosta.
The president will get the chance to do that over the weekend, visiting Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana, tomorrow to see damage firsthand and hear from survivors himself. The president also today declared a national day of prayer for Sunday alongside some faith leaders in the Oval Office.
Here's more of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When one American suffers, and I say this quite a bit and especially lately when you see what's going on, we all suffer.
We're one American family brought together in times of tragedy by the unbreakable bonds of love and loyalty that we have for one another.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: And we also heard from Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders just a few moments ago saying that the White House is finalizing this request to Congress for, as you said, Brianna, $5.9 billion in relief aid.
Much of that money, about $5.5 billion going to FEMA, which, as you might imagine, is rapidly burning through funds trying to help people. This will likely be the first wave in a series of efforts to try to bring relief to an area that desperately needs it, Brianna.
KEILAR: It sure does. Boris Sanchez at the White House, thank you, sir. There are more possible changes on the White House staff. Stay tuned
for our breaking news.
And coming up, powerful Hurricane Irma is crossing the Atlantic as we speak. Will it make landfall in the U.S.? We will have the latest on that ahead.
[16:18:18] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Breaking right now on THE LEAD, we are finding out about plans for another major White House departure, a man who has been with the president for quite a long time, first as his muscle and then as his director of oval office operations. He was the man who delivered the letter that was James Comey's pink slip.
Dana Bash has this reporting and she joins us now.
What's this all about, Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he really is one of President Trump's longtime and most trusted aides and he is telling people that he is leaving the White House. We are talking about Keith Schiller who was Donald Trump's bodyguard for decades and now serves as the director of Oval Office operations. He is telling people that he intends to leave the White House by the end of September or early October. And that's coming from three sources familiar with the matter and they're telling myself as well as CNN's Noah Gray and Jeremy Diamond.
Now, the primary reason Schiller is giving for leaving is financial. He has been a constant presence around Trump. When he was a businessman from then to the campaign and to now in the White House, and Schiller's absence could leave President Trump feeling a bit more isolated. His potential departure comes just over a month after John Kelly became the chief of staff, and Kelly's mission is instilling new order inside Trump's often chaotic White House, and Trump has chafed at some of Kelly's attempts to restrict access and Schiller has actually expressed some frustration to people we've talked to about this new system.
Now, it's unclear whether Schiller could be convinced to stay longer in this position. The former New York Police Department detective has been entrusted with some of the most sensitive issues, one of the most controversial decisions of Trump's presidency, and that was delivering, physically delivering a letter to the FBI headquarters notifying then-FBI director James Comey that Trump decided to do fire him.
[16:20:03] Now, I should say the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that the story is not true and Schiller declined to comment, Brianna.
KEILAR: Well, that's very interesting.
You covered the Bush White House. I covered the Obama White House. And I don't recall someone leaving this position really causing a whole lot of attention on the issue, but this is different, right?
BASH: Exactly. This is really part of the president's inner circle, part of his posse. His posse from the business world, again, from the campaign to now. And this is a president -- I mean, a lot of presidents, most presidents, feel that the White House tends to be a lonely place and they rely on people who are very familiar to them.
And by all accounts, Keith Schiller has been one of those people for President Trump, has really been kind of a source of a connection to the outside world, not just by getting him in touch with people from the outside world but as a reminder of somebody from his past. So, that is why, if Keith Schiller does go ahead with, again, what we are told he is telling people and leave the White House, it could potentially and will potentially be sort of another feeling of potentially being isolated for President Trump at a time where it's -- he's already chafing at this new system that he wanted in place by putting John Kelly in there.
But the fact that he is already limited in who he talks to, and if Keith Schiller leaves, it could add to that.
KEILAR: It's interesting. It hasn't been that long since the new system has been in place so this is a fascinating development.
Dana Bash, thank you so much.
Another hurricane is now gathering strength. Is the U.S. about to get hit by a second big storm? We'll talk about what to expect from Hurricane Irma after a quick break.
[16:26:13] KEILAR: As the Gulf Coast tries to shift into recovery mode from Harvey, the U.S. could be bracing for yet another destructive storm. Irma quickly gained strength in the Atlantic. . It's now a category 2 hurricane headed west.
I want to meteorologist Allison Chinchar. She is in CNN Severe Weather Center.
So, Allison, when are we going to know better where Irma is headed?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You're going to have to wait about five days because right now, Irma is pretty much just sitting over the open Atlantic, nowhere near land at this point. What happens in the next five days, that's really going to be the big indicator of where it will go from there.
So, for example, right now, it's a category 2 storm. It had been a category 3. It has weakened a little bit because it's now starting to enter slightly cooler water and more of an unfavorable environment.
But now, let's head to the floor because this is where we kind of talk about what's in store for Irma. So, we take a look right now again over the open Atlantic, not really doing all that much. But in the course of the coming days as this plays out, you'll notice that it's going to track off towards the west and make its way towards the U.S. When it does that, if we can get it to move here, it's going to end up in the next five days over towards, say, the Dominican Republic and in towards Haiti.
Now, when it does that, it's going to take a dip south. And when we go back to the wall, again, you'll notice that it's going to take that track where it enters warmer water, OK? After that point, that's when it really starts to become much more of an indicator of where.
So, here's two of our top models, OK? This is the American model. We know it's going to trek toward the Leeward Islands in the coming days. After that, where does it go? The American model puts it pretty much between Bermuda and around the Bahamas.
But the European model dips it a little bit further south, into much warmer water. This would also be not a good thing for folks around Florida. It takes it a little bit closer to Florida. It also gives it a much higher chance of perhaps skirting along the Carolina coast as well.
So, this is where we have to keep an eye out. We know in the short term, in the next five days, Irma is going to move south and towards the west. It's after that. That's where the real question becomes whether or not it ends up making landfall over the U.S. we're also keeping an eye on this x you can see here, Brianna, because this also has about a 50 percent chance of development over the next five days. So, again, we're keeping an eye on Irma but also any future development of any other storms in the coming days as well.
KEILAR: Wow. More ahead here. Allison Chinchar, thank you for that.
The politics lead now, more eye-opening details in the Russian investigation. A letter from the president, the White House counsel was hoping you would never see. "The New York Times" reports that special counsel Robert Mueller now has this memo drafted by the president and controversial White House aide Stephen Miller explaining why FBI Director James Comey was being fired.
CNN's Jessica Schneider reports.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, special counsel Robert Mueller has new details about the real reason President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. "The New York Times" reports the Justice Department handed over a letter President Trump and top political aide Steven Miller drafted to Comey but never sent, in which the president explains his rationale for the firing. The details of that letter had not been disclosed.
"The Washington Post" reports it was a multi-page letter that detailed Trump's frustration with Comey's unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation was part of the Russia probe. "The Times" says White House counsel Don McGahn opposed sending the letter and ultimately, a different one written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was sent.
The Rosenstein memo faulted the former FBI chief for his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. The letter disclosing President Trump's true intentions comes as the president's lawyers are making the case to Mueller in meetings and memos that the president did not obstruct justice when he fired FBI Director Comey in May.
A source familiar with the memos says the legal team lays out the president's constitutional right to fire any reason and argues that --