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Trump to Announce more Sanctions on North Korea; Rescuers Race to Save Survivors Buried in School Rubble; Puerto Rico Devastated by Monster Storm; Washington Post: Manafort Offered "Private Briefings" to Russian Billionaire Close to Kremlin. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 21, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, top of the hour 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow.

We begin with breaking news. The president, just moments ago, saying to reporters that he plans to announce new additional sanctions on North Korea. He is set to make that announcement in just a few hours. As you know, in just a few hours, he's also meeting with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, key allies on this front. We'll have more on that and the significance in just a moment.

But first this, two days now since that deadly earthquake struck Mexico City and rescuers are still scrambling to try to rescue survivors buried under the rubble of the school including a 12-year- old girl. So far, 26 people known to be dead at that site alone. 21 of them are children.

And in Puerto Rico, a different disaster, no less urgent, though, the rescue from flood victims, the process as they try to bring back electricity, that island potentially without electricity because of Hurricane Maria for months. More than 3 million Americans, of course, live in Puerto Rico. It is a crisis there and they are just starting the recovery process.

That is where we begin. Nick Paton Walsh joins us in San Juan. What can you tell us? You were in the middle of it yesterday and now you're amid the damage.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is amazing to see the city try and bring itself back to life, but I mean just behind me, you can see the extent of the trees torn down. And it's important to bear in mind, you know, we're hearing this entire state will be without power for four to six months possibly. Now you can hear possibly the noise of generators in the background. That's how people are trying to get life going.

But just - I mean, look down here about what this sort of really means. This is incredibly quiet for a city center, and, you know, Walgreens does appear to have its own generator and people down the street are trying to get their cafe going. People walking around assessing exactly what it means for their daily life because this is the first dawn they've really had to actually take stock of what that damage means.

And there's possibly more rain to come, but, you know, you look down here. This in itself is a good couple of day's work, simply to get rid of the debris. And I think that's where people are beginning to feel its broader sense of unease because there's no cell phone signal, as well. Basic things you take for granted in terms of checking on your family that they have spent the night OK, that's hard to do as well.

So you see now, we saw the ferocity and the drama of the storm yesterday, how extraordinary to be where it hit, made landfall down in Palmas Del Mar. We drove pretty much at dusk up Highway 3 to see trees torn clean out of their place, dumped in the middle of the highway, highways turned into rivers, wind turbine with their propellers torn off. Staggering devastation, that in itself is all heart rendering to see, but then there's a very boring and important job now beginning, people in the center of the streets here, just waking up and wondering how do we get back to where we were 24 hours ago. Poppy?

HARLOW: Indeed. How do we get back to where we were? Nick, thank you for the reporting. We appreciate it very, very much.

A lot of questions this morning, where is this storm going next and what is the next storm that may hit? Let's go to Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center for the very latest. So, with Maria?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is certainly going to the Turks and Caicos next. But not before it really takes a glancing blow, a lashing blow at the Dominican Republic. Here's the north shore of the D.R. We have a reporter right there, Polo Sandoval. We'll try to get to him in a second.

But the onshore flow is making storm surge on that northern island, northern coast. And also, there are a couple mountain ranges through here, likely causing an awful lot of flooding, flash flooding going on, flash flood warnings throughout most of Puerto Rico, throughout the morning hours.

And we talk about the power that's out in Puerto Rico. You think how can it possibly take four to six months to put the power lines back up? Well, you can't take bucket trucks from Georgia, put them on the Interstate, and send them to Puerto Rico. What you have is what you have. So, the normal bucket truck brigade is there.

Now there may be some ferries coming back and forth, but not like you can send trucks right there and have everything put back up in a couple weeks like in Florida. There just isn't the infrastructure. They have to rebuild the infrastructure and they have to try to work manpower, man on man on man, a normal routine.

And so, there's the storm, it does not appear like this point in time that it's going to hit the United States or Bermuda. We call that a gutter ball. There it is. This is the European and the American model. Yesterday they were way over here. This day they're a little slightly off to the right. So, a little bit better forecast for the U.S. mainland. Obviously, this has already hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Croix and also all of Puerto Rico and lashing at the Dominican Republic now.

[10:05:00] Poppy, something else I think four to six months without power, it means four to six months without work for some people. Because if you work in a cafe and you can't make coffee because there's no power in your cafe and you don't have a generator, you don't have a job.

HARLOW: Yes. That's a great point. And they can't afford it, being $70 billion in debt and bankruptcy as a nation right now, as an island as part of the United States, these are American citizens. Chad Myers we appreciate it. Thank you very much.

So, relief and recovery efforts underway in Puerto Rico this morning, the immediate concern, of course, is getting medical personnel in, basic supplies like water and food to these residents with no power potentially for months.

With me now is Rear Admiral Peter Brown, he's one of the Coast Guard members, who is in charge of this entire recovery operation for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. What is the number one need right now, sir?

REAR ADMIRAL PETER BROWN, COAST GUARD, 7TH DISTRICT: Well, thank you, Poppy, for having me on your show and the opportunity to talk about what the Coast Guard did to prepare and what we're doing now to respond to the storm. So, the Coast Guard's primary responsibility is for life-saving search and rescue operations.

And so, before the storm, we sheltered in place some of our assets, our small boats and our helicopters, those helicopters stayed at our air station on the west coast of Puerto Rico. And some of those helicopters will be in the air right now going out toward the eastern side of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands where we've already had a couple search and rescue calls to begin to work those cases. We expect that there will be more requests for life-saving search and rescue assistance and we actually have more aircraft coming.

We staged six wing aircraft at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And we also have our Coast Guard cutters, some of them home ported in Puerto Rico that are already moving back to the area after evading the storm and they will be in the vicinity of the Virgin Islands and the east coast of Puerto Rico later today.

HARLOW: Do you have a sense of the damage to the more rural districts, right? I mean, a lot of these images we're seeing are out of the business district, the tourist district, where frankly, the buildings are concrete. I mean, what about the residents that live far out and that do not have concrete or steel structured homes?

BROWN: Well, I served in Puerto Rico, the first two years of my Coast Guard career were spent on the island of Puerto Rico. And I had the opportunity to see some of those outlying towns, not only on the main island of Puerto Rico but also the smaller eastern islands of Culebra and Vieques. And we can anticipate that those areas will be hit very, very hard, both because of the track of the storm, but also as you described, because of the vulnerability of their construction and the weaker infrastructure in those parts of the island.

HARLOW: Rear Admiral Peter Brown, thank you for being with us. Thank you for all that you and your team are doing to assist in this urgent and immediate recovery. We appreciate it.

BROWN: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Of course.

Breaking news also out of Mexico City, we have been following these rescuers as they search for survivors in the rubble of that collapsed elementary school. Crews have made contact with a little girl, a 12- year-old girl. They can hear her. They can send her water and oxygen. Now, they are desperately trying to reach her. This, as heat sensors indicate two other people may still be alive under that debris as well. It has all been dramatically unfolding as the death toll has been rising and it now stands at 250 people killed as a result of this 7.1 magnitude earthquake.

Let's go straight to Rosa Flores who is there with more. So, Rosa, any progress since we talked last hour?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Poppy, I was able to talk to a woman who lives in front of this collapsed school. And she says that the parents are communicating via WhatsApp groups that have been created before this tragedy even happened because as you know, parents usually like to know the parents of their classmates. And so, they had created groups to communicate and to perhaps celebrate birthdays and things like that.

Well now, they're using those groups to communicate and let each other know if their children are OK. And unfortunately, she was telling us that they're also communicating now about funerals. Because as you know, 21 of the bodies have been recovered from the school are children.

And so, this woman was still trying to grapple with the fact that those are the conversations that are happening with these parents. Not about school parties and birthday parties, but about funerals. Now the other thing that she told us with was that the signs of life that she can hear because she's so close to the school.

She says that about 1:40 a.m. to 1:45 a.m. this morning, all of a sudden, all of the machines were called off. She could hear that the rescue workers were saying raise your hand. Please give us silence, because they could hear signs of life.

That, of course, for the parents and for the community and the school, such great hope that they know that first of all that the rescue workers are working around the clock and secondly, that they have been hearing signs of life and that they're following those signs of life to try to save those children. Poppy?

[10:10:11] HARLOW: Rosa, thank you very much. Please keep us posted.

So, new sanctions coming, the president set to make a big announcement today in just a few hours on North Korea. We're on top of that.

Also, can Republicans reel in the holdout on their latest plan to repeal Obamacare? It is a race against the clock for them and we will take you live to Capitol Hill.

Plus this -

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's total chaos, seven guys, machine guns, dodging bullets, shooting people hand in hand.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: On the line, the future of Afghanistan. The American Special Forces who helped overthrow the Taliban right after 9/11 tell their story for the first time.

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[10:15:00] HARLOW: All right, to new and potentially major developments in the Russia probe. According to new reporting from the "Washington Post," former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort offered to brief a Russian billionaire with ties to the Kremlin in the heat of the 2016 election.

Also, CNN has learned that Special Counsel Bob Mueller has requested White House documents related to the president's own actions and meetings in the Oval Office, including the firings of James Comey, former FBI director, and, of course, former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Joining me now to talk about all of this is CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. Paul, look, there's been a lot of drip, drip, drip, if you will, in the past few days, but I mean this seems significant. These are Mueller requests for documents about the president's words, meetings and actions inside of the Oval Office. How do you see it?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's very significant, Poppy. This is laser focus now - finally, by the special prosecutor on actions that touch directly on the White House. I mean, he's looking for material relating to Flynn being fired, to Comey being fired. Now, that could suggest that they're looking at obstruction of justice because if Comey was fired because he was getting close to something about the Flynn firing, that could lead to an obstruction of justice theory. We don't know, of course, whether there's merit to it but it suggests the special prosecutor is looking very, very closely now at White House actions.

HARLOW: Well, then of course, the president's words in that meeting with the Russians, Ambassador Kislyak, Sergey Lavrov, according to "The New York Times."

"I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job."

"I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off." So those are words that certainly would pique the attention of the special counsel. We also have Carol Leonnig with us, national reporter for the "Washington Post."

And Carol, congrats to you and your team, breaking this news last night that Manafort was talking to this Russian billionaire with some sort of ties to the Kremlin, saying, basically, I'll brief you. You want a briefing on the election, I'll brief you -- two weeks before the president accepted the Republican nomination. What can you tell us about that and who this Russian guy is?

CAROL LEONNIG, NATIONAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": So, it's pretty stunning that now e-mails in the hands of Special Counsel Bob Mueller and described to us show that the top campaign official for Donald Trump was trying to figure out a way to get paid by a person with close ties to the Kremlin and the Putin government.

Paul Manafort was a person who had done a lot of consulting work in the past for foreign nationals, and especially Ukrainian interests that wanted a Ukrainian government more aligned with Putin's view of the world and he wanted to get repaid by people who he felt owed him money. And one of those people was Oleg Deripaska. And that's the person he was offering private sort of backdoor information to about the campaign.

HARLOW: So, Carol, there's no -- and you know, very prominently in your reporting, there's no sign that he did brief this Russian billionaire or that anything happened past the offer. But who is this guy?

LEONNIG: So, there are no e-mails that show that. We'll see as we go along. Deripaska has said emphatically through a spokesperson that there was no meeting.

But what's important to know about him is he's really quite an interesting character. He has been a -- one of the most wealthy men in Russia. He has been a sort of prong -- sort of front prong, for the Putin government over the years. He has been a person who's been very eager to get access to the U.S., a visa to allow him to travel here freely. And he's been blocked from doing that. He has been able to visit the country temporarily on short-term visas.

But he's a person on the sanctions list and he does not like that, and he's been eagerly trying to push with consultants, with contractors, with a PR campaign to have the U.S. government allow him in. And so, you can see why it would be valuable to him to know someone who represented a man who would be president.

HARLOW: Paul, Paul Manafort wasn't just some figure on the Trump campaign. He was chairman of the Trump campaign not for a week, not for two weeks but for five months. Is he looking more and more to you, given all of this reporting by Carol and her team and then the reporting we have, the raid on his house, the fact that we now know the investigation on him goes back 11 years. Is he looking like the Achilles' heel here? CALLAN: Very much so. And you know, I think things are looking very grim for Paul Manafort. Remember, they raided his house using a tactic that they use for drug dealers and mob guys, a no knock warrant, to get materials.

But I think you have to bear in mind that Manafort may have information about the Trump administration, but the president probably will take the position that he was dismissed as campaign chairman and had nothing to do with any of the things that has to do with my role as president or if he did have something to do with the Russians I didn't know anything about it.

[10:20:02] So, I think you're going to see a distancing taking place between the Trump administration and Manafort because Mueller is going to try to turn Manafort. He thinks Manafort knows where the skeletons are buried and he will try to make a deal with Manafort to go after other high-ranking officials. We'll see if such a deal can be made.

HARLOW: Carol, how do you see it? The same way as Paul?

LEONNIG: Well, I agree about a few of these things. It's true that to get the warrant and basically break into Paul Manafort's home at the crack of dawn as we reported. He -- Mueller had to establish that there was evidence of a crime and fear that Manafort might destroy records. So, I do think he's in a lot of jeopardy at the moment, whether he has information about Donald Trump, whether he ever participated in any coordination about campaign information with Russians. That is still to be seen.

HARLOW: Carol, thank you for being with us and you and your team for your reporting, breaking that news. Paul Callan, the legal analysis. Appreciate it as always, my friend.

Moments ago, the president previewing a pretty critical announcement. He says the administration will slap new sanctions on North Korea, as tension rises and as he has key meetings today with our allies in the region. Stay with us.

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[10:25:40] HARLOW: All right. Right now, you see images of President Trump who is meeting - bilateral meeting with the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. This is, obviously, one of many meetings he's having with foreign leaders here in New York amid the U.N. General Assembly. We'll bring you more on that in just a moment.

The president this morning, making some big headlines saying that we can announce a major announcement on North Korea in just a few hours, listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: More sanctions on North Korea? More sanctions on North Korea?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Any comment on Paul Manafort?

TRUMP: We will be putting more sanctions on North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: All right. You heard his words. "We will be putting more sanctions on North Korea."

Now, today, he in just a few hours, he's also set to meet with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, two key U.S. allies in the region.

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is back with more. This is really significant because the sanctions that have been passed against North Korea in the past few weeks have been unanimously passed by the U.N. Security Council which means they haven't been as strong as they could because Russia and China have veto power over them. What do you make of this?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think it's just more, you know, ratcheting up the pressure. I think they're kind of symbolic sanctions. If they're -- if they're on North Korea because North Korea's sanctioned up the hill, right? But if the president is going to make good on his threats to pass sanctions against China or Chinese banks, to get them to pull the squeeze on North Korea, I think then you could see something. The question is how does China respond?

HARLOW: He was asked, though, by this reporter, are you planning new sanctions on North Korea. And he said yes. Can those have the teeth that they would unless they have the full backing of the U.N. Security Council?

LABOTT: I don't think that they can. Because if -- they have to affect China in some way. China is really the key here. And all roads to North Korea lead through China. You heard Secretary Tillerson say and we just talked about this a little while ago, that they're starting to feel the effect of the fuel shortages.

HARLOW: Right.

LABOTT: If China, who holds 90 percent of North Korean fuel, were supposed to cut those -- cut the fuel shipments -- that's what they're looking for China to do -- that would be a huge impact. But, you know, whatever sanctions the United States is going to put on North Korea. I don't think it's going to bring North Korea to the table in the way that they're looking for them to.

HARLOW: Elise, this is what you do day in and day out. You breathe this stuff.

LABOTT: Yes.

HARLOW: You were the one questioning Secretary Tillerson about this last night. How do you see this all? Because it's been about a month or more now since the president warned of fire and fury if North Korea were to even threaten again. Well, North Korea has threatened and tested more missiles. So, what options does the administration have at this point?

LABOTT: Well, they're very limited. Look, let's not - you know, H.R. McMaster was saying the other day. It's not that there aren't military options. There are plenty of military options. There are just no good military options.

HARLOW: Of course.

LABOTT: They don't know where North Korea's nuclear weapons, a lot of them are hidden, and it wouldn't necessarily -- certainly they would still have the knowledge, there would be catastrophic retaliation against South Korea, thousands of innocent civilians, we have thousands of U.S. troops on the DMZ. And so, that's not a good military option there. All experts say, there's going to have to be some kind of way to talk to North Korea, find out what it is specifically they want.

HARLOW: Right.

LABOTT: And see if there's a deal to be had.

HARLOW: But Nikki Haley said "freeze for freeze" is not an option.

LABOTT: It may not be an option if you call it "freeze for freeze." There could be some ways and the U.S. has done this in the past, to find some face-saving way. Look, it's not as if North Korea hasn't entered agreements before. Not under Kim Jong-un.

HARLOW: They just haven't worked long term.

LABOTT: Look, they just haven't worked. But if you remember under the Bush administration, North Korea in exchange for getting off the U.S. terrorism list, for getting a load of food, aid and energy aid, blew up its cooling tower which was a significant thing.

HARLOW: Right.

LABOTT: That was one of the first times the U.S. went into to North -- CNN went into North Korea to watch that. That was very significant. When the Obama administration came in and says, no, you have to dismantle your nuclear programs before we'll talk to you. And then you saw nuclear tests and then you saw this whole retaliation.

So, I think the U.S. really has to figure out what North Korea would settle for in order to start having these talks. They're never going to give up their full nuclear program.

HARLOW: Hard to get into the mind, if not possible of Kim Jong-un and that regime.

Elise, thank you.