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Florence Takes Aim at Carolinas; Evacuations Ordered Ahead of Storm; Hurricane Florence's Movements; Don Jr. Defends Trump; Porter Says Woodward is Misleading; Midterm Senate Elections; Trump's Approval Down. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 13:00   ET


[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Have a great day.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Thank you so much for joining us.

Right now millions on the East Coast are bracing for a monster hurricane that is heading straight for the Carolinas. Hurricane Florence already packing winds of up to 130 miles per hour. A category four storm. This could be the strongest storm the Carolinas have experienced in more than two and a half decades and it is still gaining strength. A million and a half people are being told to get out now and prepare for catastrophic flooding and widespread power outages.

CNN is all along the Carolina coast to track this storm. And we will check in with our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray, for a look at everything you need to know about this storm in just a moment.

But first, let's start with CNN's Nick Valencia. He is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the mayor is now pleading with people to heed the warning to evacuate now.

Nick, as you watch there, are people listening to those warnings?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, we've talked to a lot of residents who, frankly, are not listening to the warnings. They think that they're going to be safe enough to ride it out.

We are outside here in front of one of the local Costco's in Myrtle Beach as we watch people prepare for this storms, which is expected to be just a monster one hitting the coastal Carolinas.

I'm with two folks here who are planning, they're getting ready for this storm. You guys are not planning on sticking it out here, Dustin and Keith Whitley (ph).


VALENCIA: You guys have been planning for a little while now and you actually are down here taking care of one of your beach houses. What are you guys doing? K. WHITLEY: Yes. Yes, we're securing the beach house, tying everything

down, making sure the refrigerator is cleaned out, everything's -- nothing can blow around and things like that.

VALENCIA: But you -- you're originally from Rockingham, and you guys came from there and you guys said you ran out of bread and water there? Tell me about it.

DUSTIN WHITLEY, PREPARING TO EVACUATE: They didn't have any bread and water. They sold all the generators and everything else just about. I mean they old them like -- they just said like donuts.

VALENCIA: Wow. Yes. So out here you guys are trying to get plywood? Getting more stuff. What are you guys in there getting? What kind of supplies are you focusing on?


VALENCIA: Come on in here a little closer to Dustin.

K. WHITLEY: So we had to have like tie down straps and things like that. Just securing everything. We put plywood up on the windows of the beach house, screws. You know, anything to take care of --

VALENCIA: Anything that could blow away, right?

K. WHITLEY: Anything that could blow away, yes.

VALENCIA: So I was talking to the mayor earlier and she seems to think that this is a really -- it's going to be a really serious storm.

K. WHITLEY: Oh, it's going to be terrible, yes. My granddaddy's house is on 24th Avenue and it's probably going to like be ocean front by the end of -- by the time the water comes in. There's no telling what -- I don't know what's going to happen, but it's going to be bad.

VALENCIA: They're comparing this to Hurricane Hugo, which you lived through and you were a child for. Do you remember Hugo at all, a little bit, Keith? Tell us about it.

D. WHITLEY: Yes, sir. Yes, I do. Category five. It came in. And then had a lot of devastation. And went all the way through Charlotte and tore a lot of things up.

VALENCIA: Yes. Yes. and they think it could be as bad this time around.

We don't want to keep you. We know you guys are busy. We really appreciate you taking the time.

D. WHITLEY: Thank you. I appreciate your time.

VALENCIA: Yes, we're covering this from start to finish.

D. WHITLEY: And if anyone -- if anybody is listening to me, please don't take advantage of this situation. Prepare yourself. Do whatever you got to do to --

VALENCIA: Make it ready.

D. WHITLEY: To make it right. And take care of your loved ones and your animals.

VALENCIA: All right, thank you so much, Keith. Get back in there and get your stuff.

You know, I don't think he could have said it any better here. A resident here warning others.

We spoke to, Jim, a few resident just a couple of hours ago who think that they're prepared, they're going to ride this out.

I did just speak to the representative of this district, Tom Rice, and he's concerned about that. He says that he wants people -- he's also pleading with people to leave from the area. Don't make those first responders have to work harder than they already are going to have to. This is going to be a serious thing.


SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, that's absolutely right, there is no heroism in sticking this out. And it does put an enormous burden on first responders.

Thanks very much. Nick's there.

People up and down the East Coast are boarding up their homes, getting out of harm's way as the hurricane churns towards the Carolinas. And 1.5 million people are under mandatory evacuation orders, and that has led to long lines for gas, food, supplies.

CNN correspondent Kaylee Hartung is at a gas station along the evacuation route in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Kaylee, what are you hearing from people there as they go? I mean any hesitation to listen to these warnings?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A little bit from a couple of people.

Jim, it was interesting earlier I spoke to two young men who said they had to drive 25 minutes just to find the nearest gas station that had gas. These pumps staying busy. You've got truckers in the back. Some of these guys, like those two I spoke to, they're either filling up gas for their generators to try to wait this thing out, or they're gassing up, filling up canisters to take with them to get well out of town. As is the case in these storms, you know you can always find those folk who are willing to take a chance.

[13:05:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm gassed up. I'm ready to go. But I'm planning on sticking it out. I will -- I'll make an evaluation tomorrow afternoon. If that thing's still coming at us at about 120 miles an hour, I may change my mind. But right now I'm planning on riding it out.


HARTUNG: You know, folks here do have time on their side to prepare, Jim. But officials really hoping that people will take that time to go ahead and get on the road and get out of town.

Don McGahn (ph), who you just heard from there, he lives in Brunswick County, 100,000 people under mandatory evacuation there. And I should say, by and large people living in mandatory evacuation zones are heeding these warnings.

But the city of Wilmington is just right over this bridge. I should just mention, there are two bridges that can get you out of that town. They are under voluntary evacuation. It's places like that where people are saying they're going to take their time and wait and see how bad it will truly get here. But we know one thing's for certain, and every official has said it, this storm is headed this way one way or another.

SCIUTTO: Kaylee Hartung, that's a big risk to take, thanks very much.

Tropical storm force winds could start hitting the Carolinas by tomorrow night with Florence expected to make landfall on Thursday evening.

Meteorologist Jennifer Gray is tracking the storm's movements.

As you watch it there, I know there were some reports that the eye is getting bigger, which might be a sign of strengthening. What are you seeing?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is a sign of strengthening. It's also a sign that this just went through an eyewall replacement cycle. You can see the eye sort of collapsed a little bit and then it comes back. These storms are so big, they carry so much energy within them that they can't maintain that powerful strength for so long. So it's basically like they exhale and then take a deep breath again.

So this one is reorganizing, as these big storms do. This is still a category four major hurricane. Winds of 130 miles per hour. Gusts of 160, moving to the west northwest at 16 miles per hour.

Here's a closer look and you can see it's very symmetrical. The hurricane force winds extend about 40 miles from the center. This is a monster, Jim, and I wish people would not wait and see before they leave because the confidence is getting stronger and stronger with this storm.

We do know that it is going to be making landfall by late Thursday or early Friday morning. It's going to slow down once it gets to the coast. And the cone is getting narrower and narrower. That means that the confidence is extremely high with this storm.

Of course, this is where the center could be anywhere within this cone. So the effects of this are going to be far reaching. The impacts as well.

And, look, it just basically stalls over the Carolinas. It is going to dump a lot of rain. That is going to be a huge concern. Not only that, but with a storm this powerful, you're going to have all that storm surge pushing inland. You're also going to have all the water coming in up the rivers. It's going to cause extreme flooding, not only along the coast, but inland as well. And as this storm stalls out, we could see 10 to 20 inches of rain all the way inland. This pink color well west of Charlotte could see 10 to 20 inches of rain. Charlotte could see six to 10. And this could change a little bit, so just because you see six to 10 doesn't mean that that's what you'll see. You could see even more by the time we get to it.

Here's the storm surge height, six to 12 foot storm surge. Anywhere from say Moorhead City, all the way down to coastal areas around Wilmington. Five to eight in northern sections in that orange. Two to four as far south as Charleston.

So, Jim, this is a monster. It's not something people should sit out. It's not something you want to ride out. This is going to be extremely serious.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Absolutely. Please listen to those warnings. Jennifer Gray knows a thing or two about storms.

Thanks very much.

We're going to have much more on this going forward.

Meantime, Donald Trump Junior asked about whether he is scared of prison as the Russia investigation intensifies. This as he said the number of people who his father trusts is shrinking.

Plus, the president's approval rating has remained steady despite the controversies, but now new signs that's cracking.

And, 17 years after 9/11, as President Trump honors the fallen from Flight 93, there is new CNN reporting on what homeland security sees as the most urgent terror threat to America today.


[13:13:50] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

Donald Trump Junior coming to his father's defense, talking about Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and what he sees as the possible end result.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your father has denied reports that he's worried that you might be in legal jeopardy because of the Mueller investigation. But are you scared that you could go to jail?

DONALD TRUMP JUNIOR, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SON: I'm not because I know what I did and I'm not worried about any of that, you know? That doesn't mean they won't try to create something. I mean, we've seen that happen with everything. But, you know, again, I'm not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But some say that Mueller has been successful. He has an indictment of Manafort. He has a plea deal from Cohen. He has Papadopoulos sentenced. You know, he's got a litany of close associates of your father's under investigation. And some convicted --

TRUMP: All for things that happened way before they were ever part of any campaign. So if they get Manafort on a 2006 tax charge, you know, again, I understand that they are trying to get my father and they'll do anything they can to get that.


SCIUTTO: Here now with me is Karoun Demirjian, CNN political analyst, congressional reporter for "The Washington Post," and Laura Coates, CNN legal analyst.

Of course we should not that Donald Trump Junior tried to wrap everything into the Manafort conviction, crimes that happened before, but Papadopoulos meeting happened during the campaign. Michael Flynn's lie during the campaign. And, of course, 25 indicted Russians.

But what's your reaction, Laura, as you watched Donald Trump Junior there? Does he look worried about running into legal trouble himself?

[13:15:14] LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's important you did the fact checking to show that he's being very dismissive about this. When you have dismissiveness in the -- really in the face of real proof that there has been actually some progress made on behalf of Special Counsel Mueller and his probe, you have to -- this is really fanned in some ways. I don't know -- I can't get into his head. I don't know what he really, truly believes, what he really does fear. But he really seems to be emboldened about this narrative about there being a witch hunt and everyone's out to get his father, when, remember, the actual mandate of Robert Mueller is to figure out whether there was collusion with a member of a campaign in the United States trying to undermine democracy. And the focus consistently being on whether his father is being attacked misses the mark of why the probe even exists.

SCIUTTO: Karoun, I wonder, you cover this White House, you cover this administration. Here again contradicting Donald Trump Junior's characterization of this, for instance, the Michael Cohen plea involves a payment days before the election itself. So it was not some ancient crime unrelated to politics here.

Did that, in particular, change the White House view, the Trump view, of this investigation that, wait a second, we might be in trouble here?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean I think the -- that that point is when it started to come closer to the inner circle. Michael Cohen had a lot of Trump's secrets, was keeping them, had been such a loyalist when we started this whole affair and then has made such a turnaround that that had to rattle the Trump family basically. Now, we're really getting to the level of the family, kind of, you know, closing ranks around their own and trying to protect what they have.

This is -- also the timing of this has to be taken into account, I think, because as much as we're saying, look, Mueller -- he's kind of putting a spin on what the Mueller probe is and where it might go. Before Mueller is done, we are likely to see the midterms elections happen. And so that -- they have to take that into account too because the political message does matters on this (INAUDIBLE). The substance of it matters what may happen to the president's closest associates and the president himself matters. But the way the country feels about it matters, too.


DEMIRJIAN: And when you're trying to protect the House majority because, if it flips, you'll have Democrats trying for impeachment, it really kind of matters to be able to spin this and dismiss it as much as possible --


DEMIRJIAN: Especially because the message will carry probably before Mueller's probe will close up.

SCIUTTO: And it's interesting because if you look at Donald Trump's declining approval numbers, you know, where you have the number polls, including CNN's out yesterday, where he's now down in the 30s, if you look at marks on the timeline as to when that happened, that Michael Cohen plea seems key, among others as well.

We have some news into CNN, and this is a reaction from Rob Porter. You remember the Trump White House former staff secretary who left under a cloud when he was accused of spousal abuse. But he's responding to Bob Woodward's book and anecdotes in that book that describe Porter as being one of the White House officials, administration officials, who removed documents from Donald Trump's desk to avoid the president from making what they viewed as bad decisions.

I'm going to read some of that statement now. He says, having now read Bob Woodward's "Fear," I am struck by the selective and often misleading portrait it paints of the president and his administration. As staff secretary, I was responsible for managing the flow of documents to and from the Oval Office and ensured that anything the president was asked to sign had been properly vetted. The suggestion that materials were stolen from the president's desk to prevent his signature misunderstands how the White House document review process works and has worked for at least the last eight administrations.

What's interesting about that, right from the get go he calls -- and he's one of several official now who have called Woodward's book inaccurate or denied statements, et cetera. But he doesn't deny that documents were taken away from the president here., It seems like he's placing that within the regular operations of the White House. Is that how you take this?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. I mean, look, there's both pushback and confirmation in this statement, right, which is, this is arguing about the motivations. It's not necessarily refuting the events that Woodward said happened when documents were removed from the president's desk. It's just saying, look, that's not a resistance move, this is something that is a legitimate action because it shouldn't have been there in the first place.

I mean that is now going to come down to -- it's a different way of pushing back, right? You've seen other members of the administration just flat out saying, I never said that. That didn't happen. And now this is saying, OK, well, the nuance of it is, it's a misinterpretation.


DEMIRJIAN: And that's a different way of pushing back against Woodward, who has a pretty stellar reputation in terms of basically being right about these things when he writes these books. And it's -- we'll see what the back and forth is, depending on Woodward's sources.

SCIUTTO: It's interesting because of the series of denials by a series of senior administration officials in the last several days since the Woodward book has come out.

What struck me is many of them, and also with this anonymous "New York Times'" editorial, many of them denying, for instance, not the substance, but denying that they were involved. In other words, not fighting the overall narrative of dysfunction and conflict within the administration.

[13:20:01] COATES: Well, they're trying to, as Karoun talked about, saying that they're not to be labeled as resistance members. They are somebody who are fulfilling their duty as members of the White House administration to try to ensure he has all of the opportunity, the information in front of him to make a decision. But they are very clear, especially in this particular statement, that they believe he is capable of making a decision. So incompetence is what they are saying they don't want to be part of their personal narrative and their personal motivation.

Now that seems to be a theme across all sorts of books, "Fire and Furry," "Unhinged" and now in "Fear" about questioning the competence and that's the reason for the movement. But this is what largely a statement about whether you want to be labeled as somebody who was against the president or somebody who wants to be considered in the overall narrative in history as somebody who was pro-America and doing their part. Which is why the anonymous op-ed was written in the first place, it seems.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, Rob Porter better believe it because he's now on the campaign for 2020. He may have left the White House, but he's still got a job with Trump.

Thanks very much, Karoun and Laura.

DEMIRJIAN: Thank you. SCIUTTO: One major question facing the president now and Republicans,

are they also at risk of losing the Senate? Mitch McConnell says it's so close it's like a, quote, knife fight in an alley. We've got the numbers coming up.

Plus, Hurricane Florence, a powerful category four hurricane gaining strength as it gets closer to the East Coast. You'll hear from some folks who are amazingly and irresponsibly, you might say, refusing to evacuate.


[13:26:04] SCIUTTO: This week marks the end of primary season before we hit the midterms in November. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is bracing for a possible historic fight.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: WE know this is going to be a very challenging election on the Senate side. I'll just list you a bunch of races that are dead even. Arizona, Nevada, Tennessee, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, and Florida. All of them too close to call and every one of them like a knife fight in an alley. I mean just a brawl in every one of those places. I hope when the smoke clears, that we'll still have a majority in the Senate.


SCIUTTO: A knife fight in an alley, he said.

Let's bring in CNN political director David Chalian.

So, David, there's, of course, a lot of talk about the House. Democrats having a good chance there. But the map for Democrats in the Senate is tougher. Where do things stand?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That's true, Jim. And it has always been more challenging on the Senate side because Democrats are defending so much turf in very Republican states. You heard Mitch McConnell list a few of them. But just to go through it here, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia. Those five states, they have all -- they -- Donald Trump won them by double-digits. And Democratic incumbents are running for re-election in those states. So it is a very tough map.

But what -- the reason there is this sliver of hope now for Democrats, a very narrow potential path to the majority, is that we're starting to get some polling numbers, Jim, in these races. And in a place like Indiana, the Democrat, Joe Donnelly, is up six points. In a place like Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, the Democrat, is plus two. So these red states have not completely been put away by the Republicans yet.

So how did the Democrats do it? They've got to convert some Republican states. Nevada currently held by Republican Dean Heller. Arizona, Jeff Flake is retiring. That seat is open. I mentioned Tennessee. And in Texas, Beto O'Rourke, the congressman there, is giving Ted Cruz a real run for his money.

So the Democrats have to hold all their own in Republican territory and then they've got to convert a couple because they are only two seats away from the majority. The only way to do that is to hold all their own and convert a couple of those Republican states. There is a path for them, but it's narrow one.

SCIUTTO: Yes, remember that phrase, narrow path from 2016. It seems so familiar.

The president's approval rating coming down. CNN, of course, had a poll yesterday down to 36 percent. And that mimicked in a number of other polls recently. How does that play into these midterm races?

CHALIAN: Right. So this brand new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, this 36 percent approval rating is down six points from where the president was last month in our poll, Jim. But you noted, it's not just our poll that's showing him down. It is every reputable poll that we approve of here at CNN in terms of their standards and methodology where he is down from where he was in that organization's previous poll. That suggests that this indeed is Donald Trump taking on a bit of water with just eight months to go in the midterm -- eight weeks to go in the midterm election season.

SCIUTTO: David Chalian, thank very much.

Here with me now is Congressman Ryan Costello. He's a Republican from Pennsylvania.

Thank you very much, congressman, for taking the time.

REP. RYAN COSTELLO (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: As you look at those numbers there for the president, concerning to you for Republican's chances in the midterms.

[13:29:47] COSTELLO: I think so. And I think, as David pointed out, in a lot of these double-digit Trump states for senators, all of a sudden you don't have the wind at your back. I would add, for Republicans though, Florida and New Jersey are two prime pick-up opportunities. Then you look at the House and the president, in just -- in virtually every single competitive House district is under water. Now in a district like mine and in a lot of suburban districts, he's been under water since the day he was sworn in.