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Crisis in the Keys; White House: Look at Prosecuting Comey; Indians Streak Toward History, Win 20th Straight. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 05:00   ET


[05:00:00] CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: This is about people getting back into the job market. Fascinating 59,000 --

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Some more people can pay $1,000 for an iPhone? Is that what you're telling me?

ROMANS: I don't recommend that's the best financial decision.

BRIGGS: Yes, you would not recommend that.

All right. EARLY START continues right now with the latest devastation we're seeing from Irma.


ROMANS: Years of rebuilding ahead in the Florida Keys. Ninety percent of homes either damaged or destroyed. More of the same in the Virgin Islands where the power is out, supplies are running low.

We have reporters in the Keys, Tampa, U.S. Virgin Islands, and on St. Martin.

BRIGGS: And the Justice Department should certainly look at the prosecuting former FBI Director James Comey. Did he, as Sarah sanders suggested, break the law?

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everybody. I'm Dave Briggs.

ROMANS: Nice to see you this morning.

BRIGGS: And you.

ROMANS: It is 5:00 a.m., bright and early. I'm Christine Romans. It is Wednesday, September 13th.

Up first, along painful recovery underway in the Florida Keys, authorities and a handful of residents are finally reaching some of these areas hardest hit. Twenty-five percent of the homes on this chain of islands are destroyed. Another 65 percent, major damage. This is according to the initial FEMA estimates.

BRIGGS: There are some signs of progress in Monroe County where the Keys are located. Eighty percent of the roads in the Keys now cleared and according to the Florida Department of Transportation, U.S. 1 and its 42 bridges have all been inspected and are safe for travel. ROMANS: Key West International Airport and Florida Keys Marathon

International have both open, but only to handle emergency response- wise. They're closed until further notice for any commercial flights. A dusk to dawn curfew remains in place until further notice.

BRIGGS: About 5 million customers throughout the Southeast, that's customers, not people, could represent north of 10 million people still without power this morning, the majority of them in Florida. Nearly two dozen counties remain at least 50 percent in the dark. Even some of the most populated counties where more than half of the power is back on, 1.5 million customers remain without power.

ROMANS: Thirty thousand out of state utilities workers trying to help get the lights back on. Full restoration could take weeks. President Trump heading to Fort Myers area of Florida tomorrow. The death toll from Irma now reaching 55. Twenty-four of those fatalities in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We will have more from the Caribbean in just a moment.

BRIGGS: The Lower Keys remain closed to everyone at this hour, but some residents of the Upper Keys are being allowed back into their homes. That does not mean life is returning to normal though. Everyone along the island chain is facing challenging days and weeks ahead.

CNN's Brian Todd with more from the Keys.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, we're in Lower Matecumbe Key, just south of Islamorada, probably about a third of the way south from Key Largo to Key West. You would think this is a single level family home that got gutted by Hurricane Irma. Well, you'd be wrong if you thought that. This is a three-story condominium complex with 12 units in it that got crunched down to one level. Right behind me is the third floor. Below it, crunching to the ground and into the water is the second floor and the garage, 12 units in here. We talked to one of the owners.

His name is Tom Ross, 73 years old. He's had a unit in here for 18 years. He believes that everybody lives here evacuated. Thankfully, they did because they wouldn't have survived this and he says he actually wants to rebuild.

He thinks that if they do come here and rebuild it, they'll build it to a better code. This was built in the 1970s where the codes weren't as strong and he thinks he can get it rebuilt to a better code and survived these strong hurricanes.

A lot of frustration on the part of Key's residents as they're coming back into their homes or trying to. We've seen a steady stream of cars, steady streams of military police, utility vehicles, all trying to get past check points. Well, at certain points, south of us, near Marathon Key and other Keys, they're not letting even residents pass the checkpoints because they say it's too dangerous to go in there. Sheriff's deputies tell us, if they go in there and something happens

to them, they're not going to be able to call out. There are no comms here still. There's no cell phone. There's no landline. There's no water. There's no power.

So, a lot of frustration on the part of residents here that that's going on, but the sheriff's deputies and others are saying, look, you've got to do this for your safety. You've got to try to be patient. You know, we don't know when communications and power are going to be back up.

I mean, this place is a disaster area. It looks like a war zone throughout this 115 mile stretch of the Florida Keys -- Christine and Dave.


ROMANS: Yes, those keys is just something. A drive from Miami, all the way down to Key West. It's a very fragile set of islands. You know, the place is paradise, but paradise at a cost.

The extent of the damage becoming painfully clear in the Caribbean as well. CNN has several crews on these islands.

[05:05:00] Correspondent Sara Ganim is on St. Thomas. She has more for us on the long recovery expected not only there but for all the U.S. Virgin Islands.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This island, St. Thomas, was one of the first to get hit business Hurricane Irma, a category 5 when it hit last Wednesday. And it has become very clear that it is going to be one of the last to fully recover from that storm.

As we approach today, six days later, it was immediately clear there is still devastation across this island, barely a structure that wasn't touched, barely a leaf on a tree.

We spoke to people who spent days just chain sawing themselves out of their own local roads, their own community to get to the main streets. We saw people who six days later are trying to get off the island. Getting in and out of this island is incredibly difficult with the airport and the ferry ports damaged, just now are people beginning to be able to leave.

[04:10:00] And just now are supplies beginning to be able to come in. We have seen locals helping each other using private resources, like private yacht and private airplanes to ferry in medicine, food, water, diapers, formula, things that people stranded here desperately need as they move forward in recovery. I'm here at the local headquarters for emergency management. FEMA came to the island before the storm hit, and military assistance has since arrived.

But almost a week later, they are now just starting to get to some people. Authorities here admitting to us they have not yet been able to search all of the corners of these islands.

Back to you.


ROMANS: All right. Sara, thank you for that.

BRIGGS: Devastating.

A surprise suggestion from the president's press secretary.


REPORTER: Would the president encourage the DOJ to prosecute Comey?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's not the president's role. That's the job of the Department of Justice and something they should certainly look at.


BRIGGS: Why is Sarah Sanders says the DOJ says should weigh prosecuting the former FBI director, next.


ROMANS: The White House is suggesting the Justice Department take a look at prosecuting former FBI Director James Comey. Administration officials claim he's a leaker who lied to Congress.

The president's press secretary, Sarah Sanders, making a case for criminal charges.


SANDERS: Comey, by his own self-admission, leaked privileged government information weeks before President Trump fired him. His actions were improper and likely could have been illegal.

REPORTER: Would the president encourage the DOJ to prosecute Comey?

SANDERS: That's not the president's role. That's the job of the Department of Justice and something they should certainly look at.

REPORTER: Is that something he'd like to see?

SANDERS: I'm not sure about that, specifically, but I think if there's ever a moment where we feel someone's broken the law, particularly if they're the head of the FBI, I think that's something that certainly should be looked at.



All right. Let's go live to Washington and bring in Zach Wolf. He's the digital director of CNN politics.

Good morning, Zach.


BRIGGS: How unusual is that suggest from the White House podium and is there any law that as we know it Comey broke?

WOLF: Well, I would say it's pretty unusual but it's no more unusual than firing the FBI director in the face of Russian meddling questions. So, we're still in uncharted territory here. I don't think we're going to find our way back into normalcy for quite a while.

I don't think that there is a law that I know about that Comey broke. I haven't seen many people say that. He did share some information, you know, with a law school professor, but it's not exactly clear to me if that was just him talking with the president or if it was classified. I'm sure if they are able to prosecute him and Donald Trump's Justice Department, they will look at a way to do it.

On the other hand, he's paragon of the justice community. These are people who would investigate would probably have a lot of respect for him. So, I'm not holding my breath for that one.

BRIGGS: We do know that memo was not classified, that information he shared with his professor. Maybe privileged but not classified.

ROMANS: Can we talk a little bit about what's happening on the other side of the aisle for a moment, because there's a lot of talk about this Bernie Sanders's movement for single payer, Medicare for all, and this idea that this could be the new as one of the papers, one of the op-eds in the paper this morning said, this could become the repeal and replace for the Democrats, this Medicare for all mantra.

What do you make of what's happening there?

WOLF: It's really incredible. It has essentially become a litmus test for all these Democrats who are sort of eyeing the Democratic nomination in 2020. People like Kamala Harris, people like Kirsten Gillibrand, people who, you know, a couple of years ago, Hillary Clinton said it was impossible to do this. It's not possible. She's been, you know, selling this -- she's now selling this book saying the ideas of Bernie Sanders were too pie in the sky, they couldn't be achieved.

And now, you have all the people who want to succeed her as the top Democrat essentially joining on as something that Democrats for so long, Barack Obama, they passed, you know, they tried to have a public option with Obamacare. Didn't work. And now, you have basically the entire field of Democrats to choose from signing on to this idea.

BRIGGS: But not leadership. Chuck and Nancy have not yet signed on to this bill. They're making deals with President Trump. So as much as the suggestion is that Republicans are fractured, are Democrats completely in the weeds here and is there potential peril in those people signing aboard to this single payer bill?

WOLF: Well, I mean, there's peril and that are not much peril because this thing is never going to get a vote. It's never going to get to the House floor. It's never going to get to the Senate floor until Democrats take charge of those bodies and they could do that in 2018.

[05:15:02] The Senate seems like kind of a stretch, but, you know, it's only -- there's only political peril if they end up having to put their money be their mouth is and they don't right now.

BRIGGS: Right.

ROMANS: Front page from papers this morning, paychecks hit high for middle class. You know, President Trump really rode to the White House on the coattails of this idea that the middle class was just getting screwed, right? And you see median income up 53 percent, $59,000 median family income. More opportunities for people in the labor market. Record job openings.

Do you think money really is at the core of what was driving the Trump base or was it culture?

WOLF: Wow, that's a great question. Do I have to choose?

ROMANS: OK, both?

WOLF: A little bit of both and I think money might be, you know, have something to do with culture as well. If you look at the -- he rode the idea that the middle class was getting screwed but the people he relied on I think as his political base are these uneducated white voters in Rust Belt states who, you know, might have already been left behind I think by the middle class. So, there's a distinction there that's important.

ROMANS: Good point.

BRIGGS: And, of course, the economic story there is the tax cuts, tax reform. Which is it going to be? Will there be bipartisan work on that? We'll discuss that with you in about 30 minutes.

President Trump met with three Democratic senators last night, members of the House today, see if they can build a coalition. We'll talk about it in just a bit.

Those are the Democrat and Republican senators they met with last night. Again, we'll talk about that with Zach in about 30 minutes.

So, a quick programming note: Hillary Clinton, she'll speak tonight on CNN with Anderson Cooper. You haven't heard, she's written a book. It's called "What Happened." That's tonight, 8:00 Eastern Time. Hillary and Anderson here on CNN.

All right. In the wake of Equifax's huge security fail, lawmakers want to investigate three executives for insider trading. Thirty-six U.S. senators seek a federal probe into $2 million in Equifax shares sold after the internal discovery of that hack back in July. Equifax only made the news of the hack public last week. Equifax's

breach exposed the personal data of 143 million of you and its response has been widely condemned. For example, at first, Equifax only offered free credit monitoring if victims waived your right to sue. Couldn't join a class action, sign up here. It later backtracked due to prompting by the New York attorney general. Massachusetts attorney general plans to sue Equifax and the hack even concerns the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Americans shouldn't expect these things to happen and the current situation is obviously quite unfortunate.


ROMANS: It's unfortunate and it's unfair and it does happen too often here. Mnuchin added that the safety of U.S. financial data is his top priority. Stay tuned to see if there are new regulations on the financial industry because of this. Doubtful.

Equifax CEO Richard Smith accepts all of this criticism and there's plenty of it. He wrote an op-ed that the company vows to strengthen against cyber crime.

BRIGGS: All right. Here's the deal. In the commercial break, I checked out how long it takes to find out if you've been compromised. It takes like two minutes.


BRIGGS: I had not been. A person right next to me had been. Check it out. Do it.

Also, stay tuned, because the Cleveland Indians attempting to rewrite baseball history last night. Coy Wire has history in this morning's "Bleacher Report", next.


[05:22:52] BRIGGS: All right. This amazing late season run continue for the Cleveland Indians. The tribe, 20 straight wins.

ROMANS: Wow. Coy Wire has more on this morning's "Bleacher Report".

Hi, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Top of the morning to you, Christine and Dave.

Cleveland lost a heartbreaking World Series with the Cubs last season. But now, they are the hottest team in baseball, and a trip back to the World Series doesn't seem to be out of the question. The 2000 Oakland A's is the only other American League team to win 20 in a row. And for you movie buffs out here, that's the team Brad Pitts' "Moneyball" was about.

Indians pitcher Corey Kluber was dominant last night against the Tiger, pitching a complete game shutout. With a win today, the Indians would tie the 1935 Cubs for the longest winning streak since 1,900, but if you ask the team, they aren't thinking about that streak.


COREY KLUBER, CLEVELAND INDIANS: We haven't talked about it at all. I haven't heard anybody in there talking about how many games in a row we've won or anything like that. I think that, you know, we're aware of it just because of the attention it gets but it's not something we're focusing on.

FRANCISCO LINDOR, INDIANS SHORTSTOP: We're focusing on our daily jobs and it just happened we won 20 in a row.


WIRE: Check this out. The Indians changed their Twitter name to Windians, with 20 Ws as the most characters Twitter will allow.

The Jacksonville Jaguars returned home from Houston yesterday and star running back Leonard Fournette joined the Florida Air National Guard and some teammates to deliver water, clothing, shoes and food to Irma relief shelters there in the city on their off. Leonard lived through Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and he said this adversity is going to make the people stronger.

The team's donating a million dollars to relief efforts and is giving 5,000 tickets to first responders, impacted residents and relief agencies as well.

Jacksonville's mayor spoke yesterday about how the Jaguars will play their home game against the Titans on Sunday and about what that means to the city.


LENNY CURRY, JACKSONVILLE MAYOR: This is about bringing our city and our community together. This is about getting back to normal operations. And Jacksonville was on the way up before this and continues to be on the way up.


[05:25:06] WIRE: And one more example here of why athletes shouldn't just stick to sports. Former Heisman winner and all around great dude Tim Tebow was spotted at a Jacksonville special needs shelter spending time with a World War II veteran and that veteran showed off some mad harmonica skills. Listen.

A little pup got scared through but Tebow spent a couple days and countless hours at multiple shelters and he's just a microcosm, guys, of the people who are coming together from all walks of life to help with their time and money to help those affected by the hurricane.

BRIGGS: Tebow.

ROMANS: I've got to tell you, all the nurses and doctors and the schoolteachers who have been working in all the shelters, volunteering in those shelters, hats off to all of them.

BRIGGS: Indeed.

ROMANS: Thanks. Nice to see you, Coy.

BRIGGS: Thanks, Coy. Indians, noon Eastern Time, going for 21.

ROMANS: All right. From the Florida Keys to the Virgin Islands and beyond, people are looking at homes, businesses, livelihoods in ruins. Emergency help just starting to get to some towns. This is years of recovery we're facing here, everybody. We have reporters stationed in the areas hardest hit areas by Irma.