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Unmasking Trump Associates; Hurricane Irma Aftermath; Trump Touts Bipartisanship Ahead of Dinner With Top Dems; More Americans Treated After Suspected Sonic Weapon Attack. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 13, 2017 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:10]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: deaths in the heat. The Florida governor is demanding answers after residents died at a nursing home left powerless by Hurricane Irma. The death toll rising tonight as a criminal investigation gets under way.

Leveled. A week after Irma hit the U.S. Virgin Islands, some residents are pleading for more help from the United States. CNN is live on the hard-hit islands, reeling from power outages, food and water shortages, and looting.

Unmasked. Exclusive new CNN reporting tonight on why President Obama's national security adviser unmasked top members of the Trump team to learn who was involved in a secret meeting with a foreign leader.

And going after Comey. The Trump White House is escalating its criticism of the fired FBI director, attempting to justify his ouster. Even Hillary Clinton is piling on. Has the credibility of a key witness in the Russia probe been damaged?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.

Two more elderly patients have died after their Florida nursing home lost power, bringing the total number of deaths to eight. Some witnesses say the temperature inside the facility had risen above 100 degrees. Investigators now trying to determine exactly what went wrong and whether it may amount to a crime.

More than 100 other residents have been evacuated from the Hollywood nursing home to a hospital next door. Some remain in critical condition.

Just hours later, police evacuated an assisted living home in North Miami Beach. They say it's no longer safe for residents to stay there without air conditioning. The health of Florida's large elderly population in danger tonight, with more than three million homes and businesses without power across the state. The death toll from Irma now climbing to at least 77 people in the

United States and in the Caribbean. Some of the greatest devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Residents of the U.S. territory are in an increasingly desperate fight for survival, a week after they were battered by Irma, with no electricity and little if any food and water left.

We're also monitoring the dangerous conditions in the Florida Keys, when 90 percent of the homes have been destroyed or damaged. Some residents of the Lower Keys trying to return to their wreckage of their lives, they're being turned away by deputies if an attempt to keep them safe.

Our correspondents, guests, and specialists are all standing by as we cover the hurricane disaster and other breaking news.

First, let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's in the Lower Florida Keys for us.

Brian, residents there and in other parts of the state, they are still facing extremely dangerous conditions tonight.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Wolf.

South Florida still very much on edge tonight, three days after Hurricane Irma passed through here. You have got some angry, frustrated people at this checkpoint in the Florida Keys being turned away as they try to get to their homes. And, tonight, law enforcement officials are looking into the deaths of multiple people at a nursing home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, an investigation is under way into the deaths at a nursing home facility in Hollywood, Florida. The deaths are believed to be related to power outages caused by Hurricane Irma.

TOMAS SANCHEZ, HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA, POLICE CHIEF: We're conducting a criminal investigation inside. We may we believe at this time that they may be related to the loss of power in the storm. But we're conducting a criminal investigation and not ruling anything out.

TODD: About a dozen residents of the Rehabilitation Center in Hollywood Hills are in critical condition. The remaining residents have all been evacuated to a nearby hospital. Power outages in Florida are becoming increasingly dangerous, as the temperature swells above 90 degrees.

Over three million people are still without electricity in the state and it could take weeks to be fully restored.

ROBERT GOULD, FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT: This is going to be tough and a long road for many.

TODD: Officials warn downed power lines present a serious danger to residents. GOULD: It's when our customers go out, they go out, they don't pay

attention, perhaps, and they step on a wire, a downed line. And that can be fatal.

TODD: In the Florida Keys, the situation remains dire. More than 80 percent of customers are still without power on the islands. And most of the Keys are without Internet and cell service, leaving virtually no communication with the outside in one of the hardest-hit areas.

On U.S. Route 1, the only road in and out of the Keys, local residents are on edge. At a checkpoint between Lower Matecumbe and Long Keys, tensions are at a boiling point. Residents are being turned back by deputies, told they go home.

[18:05:05]

A man on a three-wheeled motorcycle shows a medication bottle to a Monroe County deputy. When he's denied, and tries to make an end-run, the deputy snaps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No! No! You're going that way!

TODD: The man wheels around and takes off the other way. Three days after the storm, people have started to camp out at this checkpoint. It's becoming a de facto refugee camp, with a lot of frayed nerves.

RICHARD MACCLUGAGE, HURRICANE VICTIM: They're teasing it. It's all the way down here. I have got another 20 miles to go. My house is in good shape. I have got a generator. I have got more food than I need.

TODD: One sheriff's deputy explains why they're turning residents away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Still trying get hospital personnel down there. We're still not ready with everything yet. We just want to make sure they're safe. OK, God forbid something happens to them, we want to be able to communicate with them and them be able to call us.

TODD: That explanation only frustrates Richard MacClugage.

(on camera): They're saying that it's for people's safe. If you go on in there and you get hurt, they can't -- you can't call.

MACCLUGAGE: That's my call. That's my call. It's my life.

TODD (voice-over): Letti Garcia is at the end of her rope. She just wants to get back home to Key West and protect her property.

(on camera): What are you concerned about back home?

LETTI GARCIA, HURRICANE VICTIM: Looting. Looting. Our stuff being exposed, you know, if we're not getting down there, because they're saying, oh, well, it's too dangerous, then who's taking anything to the people down there? Our stuff is available. Our stuff is, you know, open. They can loot

our house and break into our house. You know, I mean, if they do, it's just stuff, but, you know, we already don't have money. Like, what are we going to do?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: We have repeatedly pressed sheriff's deputies here for a timetable as to when they're going to allow these frustrated, exhausted people back through this checkpoint, back into their homes.

The sheriff's deputies have not been able to give us a timetable for that. One man who didn't want to give us his name told us -- quote -- "I'm fixing to bust through that line."

Just now, Wolf, that have threatened to come and arrest people who are here at nightfall. Authorities threatening to bring additional law enforcement officers and National Guardsmen to arrest anyone who's still hanging out at this checkpoint at nightfall.

They're trying to enforce a curfew, Wolf, and it's just making these people more and more angry.

BLITZER: A lot of frayed nerves. Very tense situation. Brian Todd on the scene for us, thank you.

Let's turn now to CNN's John Berman. He's on Big Pine Key. That's one of the hardest-hit areas in Florida.

John, a lot of devastation where you are, certainly continuing danger. Is it safe for residents to return?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the problem, Wolf, is once they get here, it's unclear what they will find. Imagine coming back to your house and seeing it's like this, behind me, where the storm surge just washed out the wall and wiped everything away.

The people who live here happened to try to ride out the storm. And they have been staying at another house. They have been coming back and forth over the last few days. But the people driving in from the north, how could they possibly know what is in their home? And once they get here, they will be cut off from the rest of the world. There's no cell service out here. There's no way to communicate with anyone back in Florida or anywhere else.

And then the resources that are here are taxed to the limit already. They're getting water in here, they're getting food in here. Some fuel beginning to trickle in. But it's just barely enough for the people who rode out the storm and the first-responders here are trying to reach those people and establish some kind of infrastructure.

It's got to be so frustrating for the people at that checkpoint, where Brian Todd is. And I can certainly understand why those people want to be back. And I hope they can come back soon. But I do understand, also, why they have to be careful before letting them cross that path -- Wolf. BLITZER: You know, John, that woman in Brian Todd's report saying she

wants to get back because she's afraid of looting and her possessions could be stolen. What are you hearing where you are? You're in the middle of things over there in the Keys. Have there been significant reports of looting?

BERMAN: I have not heard any reports of looting, but to be clear, Wolf, the only way I would have heard it is if someone walked by and told me or someone I spoke to. I have had no communication other than with you and with people at CNN and then the people we see firsthand.

It's the only way to communicate. I do know that everyone here is terrified of looting. One thing people tell us is, you know, be careful if you're approaching anyone's house because people here have guns. It's something that they do down here to protect their belongings. They want to be careful.

I can understand why people are concerned about having an empty house for a long period of time. But so far, Wolf, no reports that I have heard of looting, at least in the Keys.

BLITZER: It's one thing, John, where you are, during the daylight hours. But at night, without power, without electricity, it gets very dark over there. It must be pretty scary at times.

BERMAN: Yes, look, you don't want to be moving around here in the dark, because there are no lights at all. And, yes, you have the highlights of your vehicle, maybe. But the roads, especially off the main road, US-1, still littered with debris. Still littered with downed lines. Still littered, you know, with things they have holes all over them.

[18:10:02]

So you don't know if they're safe. And if something happens to your car when you're stuck, particularly on one of these side roads, in the middle of the night, you're in big, big trouble, so they want people in their houses after dark.

BLITZER: Good point.

All right, John Berman for us on the scene in the Keyes, thank you.

Let's get some more on the hurricane destruction in Florida, the danger specifically right now to elderly residents.

We're joined by Florida State Senator Anitere Flores.

Anitere, thank you so much for joining us.

So let's get to this very, very awful situation in Hollywood, Florida. Eight elderly people in that nursing home are dead right now. Others remain in critical condition. The air conditioning, apparently, ended. No one called 911. Governor Scott of Florida says he's demanding answers. What questions do you have? ANITERE FLORES (R), FLORIDA STATE SENATOR: Well, first and foremost,

I would say it's absolutely unacceptable that any person in the care of others to die in this way.

It's something that's absolutely horrible. What we have heard very initially that this is a nursing home that had some challenges already in the past. They had had some violations. The laws in the state of Florida are very clear that the nursing home has to have an evacuation plan, a plan in action to ensure individuals that they are servicing have livable conditions. And that includes water, food, and in South Florida, it really does mean air conditioning.

So for us to have gone to this point is something that is unacceptable. I know there is a criminal investigation that's happening right away. But as soon as we need legislation to further enforce the laws, to make sure that this doesn't happen again, we will definitely be doing that.

BLITZER: Do you worry, Anitere, that senior citizens across the state are also vulnerable right now? This nursing home, as you know, right across the street from Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, one of the major hospitals in South Florida.

FLORES: Well, look, honestly, the nursing home administrators should have used that close area to be able to then take vulnerable elderly to the hospital.

What we do know is that power is being restored at a record pace and, in most cases, homes where there are elderly, nursing homes, assisted living facilities are being restored and they have a priority. Why this happened is something that we will find out after a full investigation is happening.

I do know that other nursing homes up and down particularly the east coast of Florida have taken this news in Florida to heart and are starting to evacuate some of their own residents to nearby hospitals, to make sure this doesn't happen somewhere else.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers, Anitere, some aerials of U.S. National Guard troops in Lauderhill, Florida, preparing water for delivery. It's not just power. It's clean water, it's cell phone service, still tremendous shortages throughout the state. You must be so frustrated.

FLORES: I think that the biggest frustration, you know, as was mentioned previously, for residents of the Florida Keys that are trying to get back into the lower Keys.

My legislative district includes the entire Monroe County, that beautiful 100-mile stretch where so many people go to vacation to. And to see some of the pictures out of there are very troubling, very disheartening. But here's some of the good news. The good news is that in only three days since this storm has hit, the roads are clear. The roads are able to withstand the ability of people to come over the bridges. The challenges that exist in the Lower Keys is really that of running

water. I know that the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority is working diligently around the clock to make sure that they have the water pressure necessary so that when people get down to the Lower Keys, that they're able to, you know, flush their toilets, quite frankly, something that we take for granted every day, but it's so important.

And so that's why you see that these checkpoints exist and that only part of the Keys, people are able to return to, because you want to make sure that once they get down to the Lower Keys, those areas that were hardest hit, that they will be able to have things like running water.

But I have been in constant contact with the manager and city officials that tell me that they're moving this quickly. And one thing I did want to mention, I know people are concerned with looting. The sheriff down in Monroe County, Rick Ramsay, is -- I would say he's the best in the entire country.

We were on a call with him this morning and he has assured us that looting is virtually nonexistent, if at all. In fact, there have been very, very few arrests, in the very single digits, and most of it has been for people going out past curfew. So I know it's frustrating for those watching that live down there that you can't get down there. But know that your homes are in good hands, because, as I mentioned, the reports from the sheriff's office is they haven't received any reports of looting in residential homes at all.

[18:15:08]

BLITZER: That's encouraging to know.

State Senator, Anitere Flores, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to you and good luck to all the residents of Florida. And Monroe County is where the Keys are, for our viewers. Thanks so much.

FLORES: Thanks so much. I know that people have been asking how they can help. We do have a text ability. So if you text to 74747, that will automatically trigger a $5 donation that will go to the neediest folks directly in South Florida and the Keys.

Again, that's texting 74747, and that $5 multiplied across the nation. Hopefully, it will go a long way to really help the people that need it the most.

BLITZER: Senator, thanks so much for that. Thanks for all your good work.

FLORES: Also tonight, many Americans who live on the U.S. Virgin Islands, they are looking to Washington for more help. They need it. They're struggling to get the basics that they need to survive one week after Irma's rampage through the Caribbean.

CNN's Sara Sidner is getting a firsthand look at the devastation there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On St. John, the smallest of the three major islands and arguably most ruggedly beautiful, Hurricane Irma swept away life as we know it.

Nearly 30 square miles of island wiped out. It took life here as well. The struggle for survival crushing, the suffering endless. Most of the inhabitants on this island lost what little they had. Most have no means to rebuild without a Herculean relief effort. Help is on the way, but it has taken far too long, nearly a week for it to arrive.

A few miles away on another island, more tragedy. In St. Thomas, the stunning landscape that attracts tourists from around the world is decimated. The sheer force of sustained winds at tornadic speeds turned this island inside out in spots.

From St. John to St. Thomas, there is no end to the destruction. Nothing was left untouched by the punishing winds. Right now, in much of the Caribbean, life is anything but paradise.

Sara Sidner, CNN, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Heartbreaking developments, indeed.

Just ahead, CNN's exclusive reporting. We're getting new details on the Obama administration's controversial unmasking of top Trump team officials who took part in a secret meeting at Trump Tower in New York City. What does it mean for the Russia investigation?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:25]

BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, exclusive CNN reporting on the unmasking of top Trump campaign transition officials, I should say, by President Obama's former national security adviser.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is working this story for us.

And, Manu, you're learning this involved a secret meeting in New York.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Wolf.

Last week, when Susan Rice was on Capitol Hill meeting with the House Intelligence Committee, I'm told she talked at length about unmasking the names and identities of Trump officials whose names were actually shielded in those classified intelligence reports.

Now, Rice explained she was trying to figure out why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York last December, because the Obama administration actually was not notified in advance of the crown prince's visit, which is typically a customary thing to do. Now, it turns out that the crown prince was in New York to meet at

Trump Tower with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, and then his incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Now, "The Washington Post" did report on that meeting, Wolf, earlier this year, but this is the first time we're hearing Susan Rice in her own words detailing it as a reason to unmask, under questioning from the House...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And we're also hearing about another, what, secret meeting involving the Emirates?

RAJU: That's right. And this New York meeting that we were just discussing proceeded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House to talk about issues of mutual concern, including Iran.

Now, we're told that that back-channel discussion did take place in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, shortly before the inauguration.

Now, sources who know about that meeting in New York insist to us, Wolf, that Russia was just not discussed there. But the timing of that New York meeting, followed by the Seychelles meeting, and the fact that the UAE did not notify the Obama administration in advance about why the crown prince was coming to the United States has raised questions that investigators want answers to.

BLITZER: The president, President Trump, earlier this summer, he called out Susan Rice for the unmasking. What are they saying now at the White House?

RAJU: You know, I put the question to White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders. I asked her explicitly, does she still -- does the president still believe the president committed a crime?

And she did not explicitly say that he does, but said that instead the issue of leaking classified intelligence and unmasking identities needs to be investigated by Capitol Hill and the Justice Department.

But, Wolf, a number of Republicans who sat in on that Rice testimony said they don't believe she did anything illegal. They believe that she acted properly and Rice herself, Wolf, declined to comment. And the UAE also declined to comment.

[18:25:01]

BLITZER: And you also have some exclusive reporting, Manu, on the FBI refusing to let two senior FBI officials testify up on Capitol Hill. What are you learning?

RAJU: Yes, the Senate Judiciary Committee wants to talk to these two senior FBI officials, who may have firsthand knowledge about the circumstances around James Comey's firing, and because the Judiciary Committee is are looking into the issues of possible FBI interference.

Now, what was interesting, earlier this summer, the Justice Department said, no, they cannot interview them in a private, transcribed interview, in a private setting, because this could potentially interfere with the special counsel's own investigation.

The Judiciary Committee went back to them, said, we can narrow our request, we can just talk about just the Comey firing, not the investigation at large. And they came back and the Justice Department just is not cooperating with the Judiciary Committee going forward.

And this raises questions about whether or not the special counsel is, in fact, looking into the circumstances of Comey's firing, looking into the issue of obstruction of justice, and that could be one reason why these FBI officials are not allowed to come and meet with Senate investigators, Wolf.

BLITZER: Manu, I want you to stand by.

I want you to bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, as well.

Amidst all of this, there's a new government edict that has gone out banning a Russian cyber-security firm from working with U.S. government agencies?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

This is Kaspersky Lab. It's a Russian software developer. It makes software that is used around the world, including by many U.S. government agencies.

And several months ago, they were deemed no longer a preferred vendor for the U.S. government. But just today, the Department of Homeland Security taking a more serious step, saying that federal agencies, executive branch departments, et cetera, can no longer use this.

They have got 30 days to identify if they have any of this stuff on their computers, 90 days to take it off their computers. And their concern is very real, in their view. The Department of Homeland Security in their statement said that, under Russian law, Russian intelligence agencies may be able to compel Kaspersky Lab to cooperate or provide access in a way that could undermine the security of U.S. federal agencies.

They're concerned about that, so it will no longer be allowed to be used on government systems. I should say that Kaspersky released a statement following this.

They said the following: "Kaspersky Lab has never helped, nor will help any government in the world with its cyber-espionage or offensive cyber efforts."

Kaspersky says as well there's no hard evidence that they have done this in the past. But the DHS has made this decision and they will no longer be on U.S. government computers. BLITZER: Interesting development.

I know there's more developments both of you are working on. Stand by.

The breaking news continues, with more of our exclusive reporting on the secret meeting that sources say prompted the Obama national security adviser, Susan Rice, to unmask top Trump team officials.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, exclusive CNN reporting. Sources say that former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crowned prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year.

[18:32:48] Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts. And Gloria Borger, some Republicans, as you well know, they held out hope that Susan Rice's role in unmasking these Trump transition officials would lend some cover to the outrageous claim that then candidate -- that President Obama, that then candidate Donald Trump -- that President Obama -- that then-candidate Donald Trump made that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. Actually, he was president when he made that suggestion, that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. Actually, was president when he made that suggestion, that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign.

So is that whole argument now thrown out by all of this?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think -- I think it is, Wolf. And the argument, in fact, that Susan Rice, who, as you know, has been a lightning rod for Republicans for quite some time, that Susan Rice was somehow unmasking these names out of some willingness to gossip or trade on this or find out just sort of what was going on inside Trump Tower was ridiculous. That, in fact, as the national security adviser, she saw the crowned prince coming to the United States. She did not know about it. He was having a meeting about geopolitics. And she needed to know who he was having that -- that meeting with.

And I think that when Republicans on the committee, as Manu reported, discovered what was going on, they kind of shrugged and said, "Well, that makes a lot of sense."

Now, Republicans and Democrats are also going to hear, we believe, from people like Samantha Power, the former U.N. ambassador, and Ben Rhodes, who also worked in national security. And they're probably going to be asking these same kinds of questions. But it really does hurt the argument of the former House Intel Committee chairman, Devon Nunes.

BLITZER: Yes. And even, Bianna, even the Trump administration has said there's no evidence that President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower at any point. What's your analysis, Bianna, of all of this?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Yes, once -- once again, the president digging himself into a hole that months later he's now having to pay for. And seeing the consequences unfold from this.

I mean, this was all transpiring, the meeting took place December 15. This was at the time that the Obama administration was getting a bit frustrated, saying publicly, "There's one administration at a time. We know that we're about to transfer power to a different administration of a different party," but what typically happens in the transfer of power sequence of events is that you have administration officials reaching out to the incoming administration, saying, "Let's facilitate meetings with other representatives from different countries."

[18:35:37] We heard that representatives from the Obama administration were reaching out to deaf ears, apparently. No one was responding from the Trump administration. And then now, of course, we're hearing about these secret meetings, one after another. Of course, they -- none of them were disclosed. And they all somehow seem to come back to Russia.

We're also hearing, of course, right now, this week, that Vladimir Putin, right around this time, just a few months later, had issued an emissary to come to the U.S. and specifically propose reinstating and re-normalizing relations with the U.S. Obviously, this had been months in the making. And it's all seeming to unfold now, when the president wants to be focusing on other issues, like tax reform.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: But is it a mistake -- it's like -- Bianna is saying, "Oh, he made a mistake. He dug himself a hole."

He made an unfair, inaccurate accusation against Susan Rice. And how many people are going to remember that she's been completely exonerated? How many people will simply remember there was something sinister about Susan Rice? Because the president of the United States, who has a pretty big platform, made this accusation.

You know, that's the problem here, is that when you have presidents making false accusations against people, the exoneration, which came today, has a hard time catching up.

BLITZER: And amidst all of this, Rebecca Berg, for the second straight day, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, says that the Justice Department should now investigate whether the fired FBI director, James Comey, committed a crime. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The memos that Comey leaked were created on an FBI computer while he was the director. He claims they were private property, but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document. Leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case, regardless of classification, violates federal laws, including the privacy act, standard FBI employment agreement, and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign. I think that's pretty clean and clear that that would be a violation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what do you want to see happen?

SANDERS: That's not up to me to decide. I'm certainly not an attorney. But I think that the facts of the case are very clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And she came prepared with that answer, as you can see. She was reading it from a prepared text. So the White House officials, they were clearly trying to achieve something here.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, well, this is intentional. This is a strategy. And what the White House is trying to do, quite obviously, is undermine James Comey, cast doubt on his character, cast doubt on whether what he did as director was proper. And also try to bolster the case for why the president fired him.

Because as we know, Mueller, according to multiple reports, is looking into particularly the circumstances surrounding the president firing James Comey. Was this potentially obstruction of justice? Was this, as the president said, because of the Russia investigation?

You saw right there that Sarah Sanders did not mention that this was because of the Russia investigation. Instead, focusing on the circumstances surrounding these Comey memos. Also did not mention the word "classified." Because the president alleged before that these memos were classified that Comey leaked. In fact, they were not. So now they're grasping at straws.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, should the White House be commenting on a sensitive issue like this, saying the Justice Department should actually start investigating the fired FBI director?

TOOBIN: There are actually long-standing rules about contacts between the executive -- the White House and the FBI about whether there should be any sort of contact in terms of criminal referrals or references to investigations. What Sarah Sanders did today was a complete violation of all of those standards.

They're not laws. It's not like Sarah Sanders broke the law. But there are customs; they are traditions. They are norms of behavior between the White House and the FBI, that were completely violated by what Sarah Sanders did today.

BORGER: Norms?

TOOBIN: Norms.

BLITZER: Gloria, go ahead.

BORGER: Norms?

TOOBIN: Yes, I know. Remember norms? We used to have norms.

BORGER: Norms? No! TOOBIN: Way back, January 19th, 18th, back then.

BORGER: Right. There are no norms. Look, this -- this was a president who called his own attorney general beleaguered, remember that?

They're trying, you know, as Rebecca points out, they want to discredit Comey, and they want to discredit the special counsel, Mueller. And they're going to continue doing that, because clearly, they understand that these men could create problems for them.

[18:40:05] And when Steve Bannon came out and said to "60 Minutes" that the firing of Comey was the biggest mistake in modern political history, the White House had to figure out a way to kind of say, "No, it wasn't," because Donald Trump will never admit he made a mistake.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. Stand by. There's much more coming up. President Trump prepares to head to the heart of the hurricane disaster zone. New information coming in. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:15] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump is touting bipartisanship ahead of his dinner tonight at the White House with top Democrats to talk tax reform. In his message to conservatives: don't be skeptical.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining us with the latest.

Jeff, the president is dining tonight with the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, or as he likes to call them, Chuck and Nancy.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he has also called them clowns and losers. But tonight, he is inviting both of these top Democratic leaders here to the White House to break bread. The bigger question is if they can break the partisan gridlock consuming Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I am having dinner with Senator Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. And we'll continue some discussions. So, we have a lot of things in the fire.

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump and Democratic leaders expected to discuss tax reform, immigration, and infrastructure.

As the White House tries to jump start its agenda, the president is extending a hand to Democrats and moderate Republicans, including at this bipartisan meeting of House members today.

TRUMP: More and more, we're trying to work things out together. That's a positive thing, and it's good for the Republicans and good for the Democrats.

ZELENY: In the cabinet room, we asked about this new approach.

(on camera): Mr. President, some conservatives are skeptical of this new approach with Democrats. What would you tell them -- why have Leader Pelosi and Senator Schumer overnight tonight? What's your message for skeptical conservatives?

TRUMP: Well, I'm a conservative. And I will tell you, I'm not skeptical. And I think that if we can do things in a bipartisan manner, that will be great. Now, it might not work out, in which case we'll try to do them without. But I think if we can do in a bipartisan manner, if you look at some of the greatest legislation ever passed, it was done on a bipartisan manner.

ZELENY (voice-over): The Democratic leaders have hardly been shy, airing their feelings about the president.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It doesn't seem to be any ethical standard in the White House.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The president was being petty. The president was being small. The president was not presidential at all.

ZELENY: And the president has often responded in kind.

TRUMP: I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

ZELENY: In a deeply divided Washington, it's an open question whether any of these meetings and tonight's dinner will produce results, but it does allow the president to show he's trying. If it fails, the White House believes Congress will own the blame.

TRUMP: If it works out, great, if it doesn't work out, great. Hopefully, we'll be able to do it anyway as Republicans.

ZELENY: The specifics of the tax cut package have been in short supply. But the president indicated today he's open to raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, a view deeply at odds with Republican orthodoxy.

TRUMP: I think the wealthy will be pretty much where they are, pretty much where they are. If we can do that, we'd like it. If they have to go higher, they'll go higher, frankly.

ZELENY: With skepticism rising from some conservative corners, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders explains why Republican leaders weren't invited to the dinner tonight.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's pretty disingenuous for people to say, he's only meeting with Democrats. The president is the leader of the Republican Party and us with elected by Republicans.

ZELENY: And then she broke from the bipartisan moment, bluntly acknowledging it was good politics to at least try.

SANDERS: This president has done more for bipartisanship in the last eight days than Obama did in eight years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: So, Wolf, why this sudden rush of bipartisanship? For one reason, I'm told by one official here, that it gives Democrats part of the ownership and, of course, part of the blame if nothing actually happens with any of these bills here. But that dinner is set to start in about 15 minutes or so. The president doing that and then, Wolf, he'll be traveling to Florida tomorrow to take a look first hand at the hard-hit areas around Ft. Myers, and around Naples -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

By the way, coming up later tonight, Hillary Clinton talks to CNN about what happened in the 2016 presidential race. She sat down with CNN's Anderson Cooper, who is joining us now live with a preview.

Anderson, Hillary Clinton spoke with to you about James Comey, the fired FBI director, and the lessons of the election. Give our viewers a sense of what she said.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, AC360: Well, you know, she said she takes responsibility for the mistakes that she made during the campaign and that her campaign made. She clearly believes that Director Comey, that his decision to reopen the investigation, just about a week and a half into her e-mail, so a week and a half before the election, she believes that was the pivotal event. That that was the moment that she started -- the inroads she had started to make, she says, in some battleground states, particularly with white women voters, those started to decline after that. She lays the blame for this directly with Jim Comey.

[18:50:01] Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What's important to me going forward is, as I say, I think it's important to focus on what happened, because lessons can be learned. But the more important lessons that will affect our democracy going forward are not about him and his investigation. He I think forever changed history, but that's in the past.

What's important is the fact that the Russians are still going at us. He himself admitted that before Congress. People I really respect like Jim Clapper and John Brennan and others who knew what the Russians are doing have been doing have been sounding the alarm.

I will tell you this, Anderson, If I had been elected president under the same circumstances, so that, you know, I lost the popular vote, I squeaked through the Electoral College and evidence came up that the Russians for whatever reason were trying to help me, I would have said on the first day in office, we're going to launch the most thorough investigation, no nation, particularly an adversary nation, can mess with our democracy. I would have had an independent commission. I would have done everything I could to get to the bottom of it because it's not going to stop. That's what I'm worried about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: She still believes, though, Wolf, though that despite the Russian intervention, that -- I mean, that she believes that did have an impact on people's votes, which is something Republicans have pushed back on repeatedly, that no vote was actually altered by Russian interference. She definitely blames Director Comey and the decision just a week and a half or so before the election to reopen the investigation.

BLITZER: Did you get the sense, Anderson, the process of writing this book helped her come to terms with the results of the election?

COOPER: You know, it definitely seems to have in some way, made her more relaxed or made her more open. Less guarded, I would say. I think as a candidate, you know, one always had the sense or often had the sense that she, you know, was very careful and in the words that she used. And she'll say, look, she's been in the public eye, the center of the storm for a long time. She was cautious.

I definitely got the sense in talking to her, it's a slightly different and slightly more open Hillary Clinton than I've certainly interviewed in the past.

BLITZER: Anderson Cooper, thanks very much.

And don't forget, coming up later tonight, Hillary Clinton speaks to Anderson about what happened in the 2016 presidential race and a whole lot more. You can see the entire interview right here later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just ahead: a growing number of victims in a mysterious attack on U.S. diplomats and their families in Cuba. Were they targeted by a mysterious sonic weapon?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:17] BLITZER: Tonight, new developments in a deepening mystery surrounding a suspected sonic weapon attack on Americans in Cuba.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is working the story for us.

Elise, you're learning some new information.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Now, tonight, the sophistication of this attack has U.S. officials suspecting a third country is involved, possibly Russia, could also be China, North Korea, Venezuela or Iran. And the extent of Cuba's involvement is also a mystery. The number of U.S. diplomats believed to have been affected by this

mystery sonic weapon in Havana continues to rise. Now, 21 diplomats and family members are now receiving treatment. There are few leads as to who is responsible. Now, this all began last November when diplomats started experiencing concussion like symptoms, including nausea, headaches, hearing loss. And State Department sent a medical team went down and they found this came from a sophisticated sonic weapon operating outside the range of audible sound deployed inside or near their residences.

Now, some of the diplomats were attacked while they were asleep. Two U.S. diplomats suffered long-term injuries including hearing loss, they were unable to return to Cuba. Others have decided to leave Cuba early because of the harassment.

Now, the mystery deepened this summer when five Canadian diplomats and their family members reported similar symptom, even though Canada has strong ties to Cuba.

And the State Department has expelled two Cuban diplomats working in the U.S. to protest, but officials say the Cuban government is taking it very seriously. This summer, they took the extraordinary step of allowing FBI agents and members of Canada's Royal Mounted Police to travel to Cuba to investigate.

Now, authorities keep a close watch on foreign diplomats in Cuba. They're required to rent their homes and hire employees through the government. Now, we know President Trump is taking a harder line on Cuba, but leader Raul Castro has said he wants to improve ties to the U.S.

So, was this a rogue Cuban security officer trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba? Investigators are still puzzled and the attacks seemed to have stopped this spring, but, Wolf, more and more diplomats continue to come forward and say they were affected. So, we could see this number rise.

BLITZER: And their hearing loss, that could continue for the rest of their lives.

LABOTT: We understand that some of these people experienced permanent hearing loss and we still don't know how many others have been affected and obviously a very traumatic experience for these diplomats and their families. Some of them said they cannot go back to Cuba. They're too afraid.

BLITZER: Yes. All right. Let's hope they figure this out and figure it out soon.

Thanks very, very much, Elise Labott, reporting for us.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.