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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Rescue Efforts Continues in Mexico; Trump's Poll Numbers Move Up; U.S. Imposes New Sanctions on North Korea; Interview with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; President Trump: Puerto Rico "Absolutely Obliterated". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's one poll President Trump might not want to call fake news.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: Brand-new CNN polls hitting right now on THE LEAD show President Trump's approval might be turning a corner.

And there's breaking news in the Russia investigation, Facebook just moments ago making a major announcement that it will show Congress the ad it sold to Russian trolls during the 2016 race, that as the special counsel's probe reaches the president's doorstep.

[16:00:07]

Plus, total devastation, total blackout. Hurricane Maria pummels a piece of America and could leave Puerto Rico in the dark for months.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right.

Welcome to the lead. I'm John Berman, in for Jake today.

And we begin this hour with breaking news in our politics lead. President Trump's watched his approval ratings tick downwards since he took office until now. A new CNN poll releasing right now shows that number is edging back up, with 40 percent of Americans now saying they approve of the job that the president is doing.

Now, by any normal historical measurement, that is not a good number, but it is better, and largely because a healthy majority, 64 percent of voters, approve of how the president responded to the hurricanes that slammed in the southern U.S. coastline this month.

Meanwhile, here in New York at the United Nations today, the president confronting another challenge, North Korea's nuclear program. After threatening to destroy the country, today the president tacked back towards diplomacy, promising to level increased sanctions.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now live right here in New York.

And, Jeff, our polling also shows that the country's anxious about the threat from North Korea.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: It does indeed, John.

Half of all Americans now say they believe there is an immediate threat for North Korea. that is a significant increase from only a few months ago. But as the president signed that executive order earlier today, it is one sign diplomacy is still an option, despite what many saw as saber-rattling earlier this week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): Trump is backing up his brinksmanship toward North Korea with new economic sanctions, trying to cripple the regime's nuclear program.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea's efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind.

ZELENY: Two days after threatening to wipe the isolated nation off the map.

TRUMP: We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.

ZELENY: The U.S. presented a unified front with South Korea and Japan by announcing new sanctions to financially squeeze and further isolate North Korea from the outside world.

TRUMP: Foreign banks will face a clear choice, do business with the United States or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea.

ZELENY: Chinese President Xi Jinping also reportedly ordering Chinese banks to stop conducting business with North Korea, a move Mr. Trump hailed today.

TRUMP: I want to just say and thank President Xi of China for the very bold move he made today. That was a somewhat unexpected move and we appreciate it.

ZELENY: While it's unlikely a new round of sanctions will persuade Kim Jong-un to rethink his nuclear ambitions, the moves are a sign the U.S. and its allies are searching for diplomatic and economic solutions, not only military ones.

A new CNN poll today shows that half of Americans now say North Korea poses an immediate threat, up from 37 percent in April. That comes after months of missile launches on the Korean Peninsula and saber- rattling here in the U.S.

TRUMP: Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself, and for his regime.

ZELENY: The poll also found that nearly six in 10 favor military action if diplomacy or economic sanctions don't work. Overall, 41 percent approve of how Mr. Trump is handling North Korea, while 50 percent do not, essentially unchanged from last month.

Mr. Trump was all smiles today during a meeting with the South Korea president, who called the North Korea nuclear program deplorable.

TRUMP: I'm very happy that you used the word deplorable. I was very interested in that word.

ZELENY: That word, which Hillary Clinton once used to describe his supporters, became a soundtrack of his campaign.

TRUMP: Welcome to all of you deplorables.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ZELENY: Today, Mr. Trump was happy to relive those moments.

TRUMP: That's been a very lucky word for me and many millions of people.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, President Trump has now wrapped up a weeklong series of meetings with world leaders here at the U.N. He, of course, is taking some pleasure at that 40 percent approval rating, considering what it was.

But, John, there is one other Trump that has a higher approval rating. That's Melania Trump. Our poll shows she has a 44 percent approval rating.

BERMAN: We should note again, 40 percent not good by historical standards, but...

ZELENY: Trump standards, not bad.

BERMAN: Better. And he will take that.

Jeff Zeleny, always great to see you in person today. It's an extra special treat.

More breaking news just in from Facebook related to the Russia investigation. Just moments ago, Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company will now hand over to Congress content and related information on the ads it sold to Russia-linked accounts.

[16:05:00]

Let's go to CNN's Manu Raju Capitol Hill.

Manu, the Senate Intelligence Committee, they have been pressing for this information for weeks now.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. In fact, after Facebook earlier this month did brief Senate Intelligence Committee staff in a classified briefing, the leaders of that committee came out and said, we need more information, including the vice chairman of the committee, Mark Warner, who in particular had said that those ads, roughly 3,000 ads or so that could be linked to a Russian agency, actually needed to be provided to Congress.

And Warner even went a step further and said they need to be provided publicly. But what the company announced today is that it would at least give this information over, these ads over to Capitol Hill, give it over to the Senate Intelligence Committee to review in a classified setting to help move forward with their investigation.

But this comes after, John, that Facebook did provide some of these ads to Robert Mueller's investigation after a search warrant was obtained by Mueller's team to get access to these ads.

And I can tell you, on Capitol Hill, they were not ruling out the idea of issuing subpoenas for this information. And Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, telling me yesterday, they plan to bring him before a public setting next week in a hearing. So, clearly, the pressure was on, John.

BERMAN: All right, interesting.

And, Manu, this comes as the special counsel making a big request of the White House to turn over documents related to the president's firings of both Michael Flynn and James Comey. What do these documents tell us about where the special counsel might be focused?

RAJU: Well, increasingly, the actions of the president, particularly was particularly revelatory, according to people who are following this very closely, was the fact that they were interested in the president's interactions with Russian officials in that Oval Office meeting after the firing of James Comey earlier this year, once the president reportedly said that firing Comey would relieve great pressure on him from that FBI investigation.

And, of course, John, another area, that another indication that shows that Mueller is in fact focusing heavily on the firing is the fact that Bob Mueller's team is preventing the Senate Judiciary Committee from interviewing two senior FBI officials who may have firsthand knowledge about the Comey firing. Why, John? Perhaps because it could intrude on his own investigation -- John.

BERMAN: But, wait, there's more, Manu, when it comes to Russia. There's intense pressure on former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

What's his status with the committees investigating on Capitol Hill?

RAJU: Well, there are several committees that do want to hear from him. The Senate Intelligence Committee did talk to him on a staff level earlier in the summer to actually talk to him about that Trump Tower meeting that he sat in on with Donald Trump Jr. and about -- with Russian operatives and that effort that was told -- billed to Mr. Trump Jr. to get dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign. But the full committee wants to interview him about a range of issues. And the Senate Judiciary Committee is not ruling out the idea of issuing a subpoena for him either, also, to bring him forward. And also the House Intelligence Committee too, John, wants to talk to him as well.

Right now, given the pressure he's under from Bob Mueller, it's uncertain whether he will come forward to Capitol Hill, John.

BERMAN: All right, Manu Raju, a bevy of information for us on Capitol Hill today. Thanks so much, Manu.

All right, more breaking news. For more than 24 hours now, we have been watching as rescue crews work at this school in Mexico City. They were looking for what everyone believed to be a young girl trapped in the rubble of that building after the 7.1-magnitude earthquake 48 hours ago.

We have been watching this situation very closely, and we now have an update from Mexican officials about the status of the schoolchildren.

Miguel Marquez has been there.

Miguel, what are you learning?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Mexican officials saying that all of the children are accounted for. Either they were killed when the earthquake happened. They're saying 19 kids were killed there, 11 were pulled out. The others that were in the hospital have all been accounted for, they are with their families, their family knows where they are.

So they don't have any missing or kids who are unaccounted for. They believe that they may have an adult who is buried beneath the rubble still, either a teacher or somebody else who was at the school.

They are trying to get to that person same way, through two different ways now, one from the roof and one from the side, trying to get down to that person and get them assistance.

I want to show you the frenetic activity going on here right now. These are very, very large, very heavy pieces of steel that they are moving in to the area that they need to shore up right now. They have been moving steel beams, lots of wood, but the steel is new, very large steel beams they are moving in there.

It is precarious work back there. It is like trying to prop up a bolder with a bunch of toothpicks basically. There was one part of the building that did collapse as they were working on it in the last 24 hours.

So, they are going very, very slow, literally brick by brick, by handful of earth by handful of earth. They're handing it off to a line, anyway human chain of people who are then taking it to a central location.

So, it is slow, methodical, and difficult and hopefully it will result in somebody coming out of this alive -- John.

[16:10:02]

BERMAN: Miguel Marquez, just to be clear, they believe they are searching now for an adult who could be trapped in the rubble?

And, as for the children, one particular child they were focused on, is it their belief that she was never in there, or do you know whether or not they recovered a body?

MARQUEZ: They did not recover a body. They have recovered one body today, and that was a teacher who was in her 50s.

They were communicating with somebody down there who identified themselves or responded to the name Freida at one point. And then they sort of changed the story on that. Maybe they didn't.

What they're able to say is that they can still hear sounds down there. Throughout the day, we still had those moments of silence, sometimes long moments of silence here, as searchers try to pinpoint and listen to what's happening under the earth. We still have those.

They say they can hear things down there, but it's not clear who it's coming from or what it's coming from, John.

BERMAN: Miguel Marquez been doing fantastic reporting down there. It is a very confusing situation right now.

The important thing, the search goes on for someone who might be trapped in that rubble.

Miguel, thank you very, very much.

BERMAN: All right, in our politics lead, with the special counsel digging in on Oval Office meetings, what are lawmakers learning in their own Russia investigations?

A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:15:38] JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: We're back now with the politics lead.

Major developments in the Russia investigation that we reported before the break. The special counsel now seeking answers from inside the White House on some of the president's dismissals. Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reports that President Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort offered to privately brief a top Russian billionaire with ties to President Putin on the presidential race during the campaign.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thank you so much for being with us. We have no indication that any meeting or briefing took place between

Paul Manafort and the Russian billionaire. But in your view, does the proposed briefing raise any red flags?

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D) MINNESOTA: Well, the proposed briefing, it does, of course, and we're waiting to get all the facts, which is why we want Mr. Manafort to come before the Judiciary Committee because once again, you see this as part of a pattern whether it is the national security advisor or the campaign chairman or what you see with the firing of Jim Comey, it's a pattern. You know, number of intelligence agencies, multiple intelligence agencies found that Russia attempted to interfere in our election. And right now, the focus of the special counsel, the investigation, is on getting to the bottom of that.

So, I don't think it's a surprise that they have been looking into Paul Manafort's dealings, and it's certainly not a surprise they're looking into the White House meetings involving Jim Comey.

BERMAN: You're talking about Paul Manafort's dealings, much of the special counsel's focus seems to be on financial dealings by Paul Manafort, potentially going back a decade, predating his involvement in the Trump campaign, predating the whole campaign, in fact.

Would you be satisfied with an investigation that ends up charging Paul Manafort for breaking laws years ago, but doesn't shed any new light on possible campaign collusion?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, John, I'm a former prosecutor. And I believe that you get satisfied when you get at the truth.

And so, whatever Bob Mueller comes out with, as long as I believe that he has gone into things with great detail and looked everywhere that he should look, then that's fine. I'm not going to presuppose what he's going to find here or who he's going to find violated the law.

But I do think these reports that they're looking into the firings are interesting, just because you look at the Comey firing -- I was law school classmate and a friend of James Comey. You look at what happened here, first we were told it was because he had lost the faith of the FBI agents and now you have, you know, Jeff Sessions number two who had testified under oath that that wasn't the case, as well as the then acting director of the FBI back at that time.

And so, we were later told by the president himself that he was mad about what was going on with Russia and that he had made a decision before any memos came out. So, I'm sure they're looking into that firing because it plays directly into Russia.

BERMAN: So in spite of all of this, a new CNN poll out just this hour finds that the president's approval rating is on the rise, it's at 40 percent right now. And he gets high marks, 64 percent for his response to the hurricanes.

Do you think the president deserves credit here? KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think, first of all, polls are polls. And I look

at what's been going on. And I was supportive of the negotiation that was made, of course, with Senator Schumer and Leader Pelosi and the president to stop the government from shutting down by doing something about the debt ceiling, as well as what we were doing with the budget. I think that was a good thing and that was an agreement across the aisle.

Where I differ, of course, is the fact that instead of allowing these bipartisan negotiations to go on to fix the Affordable Care Act, we're now heading into another repeal effort.

BERMAN: Let me does you a quick question on that before I let you go. On Graham-Cassidy, do you think Democrats were caught flat-footed here, this latest Republican push, did it catch you all by surprise?

KLOBUCHAR: That bill had been out there for a while. I think what was really surprising is that you had that dramatic speech by Senator McCain who was so courageous in his last vote and Senator McCain had asked for something called regular order, that we go through the committee process and Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington state, were working together. And it's basically stymied that process where we were bringing in governors from all over the country.

I don't think also we should be surprised that all of these governors have come out against it, including a number of Republican governors, including one in Ohio.

[16:20:07] That is because the bill basically is going to kick people off of insurance again, basically repeals the Affordable Care Act without fixing it, and really does a lot of harm to Medicaid.

BERMAN: You're going to have a big debate about this next week. Big week for health care in the Senate.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, thanks so much for being with us.

KLOBUCHAR: It was great to be on. Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. Cut off and dealing with rapidly --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:11] BERMAN: We're back with the national lead.

Maria is now a category 3 hurricane. It's making its way northwest. Millions of people still in its path.

And in Puerto Rico, more than 3 million American citizens are feeling its devastation. The entire island is without power, food, and clean water in short supply. Rescue still happening today.

I want to bring back CNN's Leyla Santiago in San Juan.

Leyla, what kind of devastation are you seeing there now? LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there is debris in

a lot of areas, flooding in a lot of the areas and roadways. And so, for us, it's been difficult to get into some areas and for some residents, it's difficult to get out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO (voice-over): This is the path that Maria left behind. CNN drone footage gives us our first aerial view of the hurricanes aftermath in Puerto Rico. Roads now rivers, homes demolished, and a once lush landscape reduced to twigs.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They say they've never seen winds like this.

SANTIAGO: President Trump has now declared the U.S. territory a disaster.

TRUMP: Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated. Their electrical grid is destroyed.

SANTIAGO: All 3.4 million residents here are without power, 100 percent of the island. Officials warn it could be months before electricity is restored. And Puerto Rico is not out of harm's way yet. The island was under flash flood warnings much of the day, the National Weather Service reports more than 30 inches of rain here in the last 24 hours. And more is on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of water here.

SANTIAGO: At San Juan airport, air traffic controller Gian El Rios (ph) filmed this video of destroyed terminals saying it was, quote, raining in inside.

Airport management says some commercial flights will resume tomorrow. It's just a single step in a very long road to recovery.

San Juan's mayor told NBC, she has never seen her city like this.

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: The Puerto Rico and the San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there. So, we have to reconstruct, rebuild, reinvent, and we have to be resilient. And we have to push on.

SANTIAGO: Puerto Rico's economy heavily reliant on tourism has been in recession for more than a decade. With much of the vacation destination now heavily damaged, recovery will require not just resilience, but robust financial support.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANTIAGO: And, John, communication is such a big problem. You can see here, this gentlemen is offering free 30 seconds of a call or WhatsApp message because so many people have not been able to reach their relatives on this island -- John.

BERMAN: That would be so, so frustrating. You just want to get the message out you're OK.

Leyla Santiago, thank you very, very much.

All right. Late night comedian versus Republican senator. The battle over the latest effort to overhaul health care. Who's right about what the bill will do? That's coming up.

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