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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Explosions At Chemical Plant; Water System Still Down In Beaumont; West Houston Running Low On Food, Water; Hurricane Irma Could Affect Eastern U.S.; Sources: Keith Schiller Has Decided To Leave The White House; Mueller Previewing Draft Of Letter Trump Wrote Explaining Comey Firing; Vanessa Carlton Offers Help To Harvey Survivor. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 21:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Thankfully, that fire has died down. Company officials warned new explosions are all about certain. We're going to have more on the story shortly.

It is just one of the strings of different developments here tonight that should signal loud and clear this is not over. I know people think the weather is fine and that, you know, the rest of the country is moving on. Folks here can't move on. This is not over by any means, including at the airport where (INAUDIBLE) where Gary Tuchman discovering an airlift underway. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an emergency airlift. Hurricane victims who lost their homes, their belongings, everything. Bussed to a tarmac at the airport that serves Port Arthur and Beaumont, getting ready for a flight on a C-130 to Dallas where they will receive shelter.

(on camera) Are you nervous about going on this plane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am.

TUCHMAN (on camera): You'll be OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks.

TUCHMAN (on camera): I wish you luck.

(voice-over) Evacuees originally arrived at the airport to the hurricane zone hearing there was a temporary shelter here. Indeed, there is. Generous volunteers helping out, supplying food, clothing, and medicine. But it is hot inside.

So the evacuees stay on air-conditioned buses while they wait for a spot on a plane. Phyllis Skillman's home was destroyed in Port Arthur.

(on camera) How do you feel that you are leaving and you are aboard this bus and you're going to a new city? PHYLLIS SKILLMAN, STORM EVACUEE: I'm glad. I'm glad because I have never ridden -- I lived in Port Arthur all my life but I never experienced nothing like this. I never seen water flood like this.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Shalonda Sammons and her family lost their home too.

SHALONDA SAMMONS, STORM EVACUEE: I think this is my first time flying on an airplane. But otherwise I'm alive.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): They wait for hours but finally board their flights sitting side by side on the same planes that send American troops into battle. Donna and Emmet Colbert who lost their home were still waiting for their flight when we talked to them.

DONNA COLBERT, STORM EVACUEE: We feel lucky, you know. I went through stage four breast cancer not too long ago in '15 and my scans come back good all of the time, so.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): So this isn't that much of a problem compared to that.

D. COLBERT: Yes. And my husband just broke his hip so we are just like, yes.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): You both have remarkable attitudes.

D. COLBERT: Yes.

EMMET COLBERT, STORM EVACUEE: Well, you don't -- that's all you can do. If you get down, you're not helping yourself or anybody around you.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Colberts, and hundreds of others who waited on the buses now starting over in Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Gary, they have an incredible attitude. I mean, as they said, hard not to get down. How long is this going to continue?

TUCHMAN: Anderson, there is no end time in sight right now. As long as there is a demand for people to fly to Dallas, the military is going to fly in the C-130s. Already, 1,500 people have been evacuated from Beaumont, Port Arthur area.

These planes to Dallas right now, the C-130 is just being finished being loaded up, and people are aboard and it will leave shortly. I can tell you right now, Anderson, there are still several buses outside of this airport and they too are waiting to board the planes to fly to a new life. Anderson?

COOPER: Gary, I'm glad you're there. So many important stories to tell in so many different parts of the state, Louisiana as well. More now on the Arkema fire. The EPA has just released a statement. For an update, I want to go to CNN's Brian Todd. So, first of all, what do we know about this fire, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the fire was pretty horrific-looking. Huge plumes of smoke and fire in the air from the Arkema Incorporated plant starting this afternoon. We do know what caused that. I'll talk about that in a second. But we need to tell you about the EPA, they just posted a statement saying that they flew an aircraft right through that fire this afternoon looking for any airborne toxins. And they said that despite the intensity of this fire, and these are the EPA's words here, no high levels of toxic chemical have been detected but everyone in the area should still follow the safety instruction of local authorities especially staying out of that evacuation zone.

So, no high levels of toxic material have been detected airborne from this fire according to the EPA. But they're still recommending that officials keep that 1.5 mile radius evacuation zone intact.

What Arkema Incorporated and local fire officials said just a short time ago in a news conference was that, these are two trailers that caught on fire. One of them, there was smoke initially then one caught on fire, it quickly spread to another trailer. And they say, Anderson that this fire is supposed to spread to six more trailers.

So these fires could get very intense in the hours and days ahead but officials at Arkema say they expected this to happen. That they know this is going to play out. They knew that these chemicals were going to degrade. This is organic peroxide inside these containers, they have not been able to be cooled for several days.

They knew that they would degrade and then probably heat up and catch fire. And they say the best course of action right now is to let these fires burn out. Anderson.

[21:05:06] COOPER: So -- and you're in Beaumont, so let's talk about what residents are facing. There are serious problems with drinking water. What is the situation with that right now?

TODD: Well, we thought there might be some cause for optimism earlier, few hours ago when we were told that they're at about 10% capacity of pumping out water, the ability to pump out water, and that they hope to have the water on tonight. But indications are, Anderson that they may not get their water back tonight.

I just spoke to a local official who said that what they're being told is that the amount of water that they're pumping into that treatment facility behind me from the Neches River through these pumps that are -- that these temporary pumps that they've set up, it is not matching the actual levels that they are reading in the gauges in there.

And they have to figure out why there is a disconnect between the water they're pumping in and the amount of water that they're seeing in the gauges and all the dials that they have inside that plant. Once they figure out that disconnect. Then they've got to figure out how to treat that and then get it out to the people of Beaumont. So it may not be tonight, Anderson before these people get their water back.

COOPER: Yes. Brian Todd, a great reporting all this week. Thanks so much.

And one note, the White House is saying Congress, its request for emergency hurricane funding, it's higher than expected. We should point out, $7.85 billion according to a senior official.

Now, as all of this unfolds, there's another storm out there, Hurricane Irma. We don't want to freak anybody out, it's a long way off but it is important to just keep an eye on it. Forecasters say, two possible tracks could mean trouble for the East Coast or possibly even the Gulf.

But again, let's just get the reality check on this. Allison Chinchar, following it from the weather center and she joins us now. So where is this, what's the latest?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: So where the storm is basically in the middle of the Atlantic right now. And the reason people are focus on it, again, it's in the middle of nowhere right now but we're paying attention because of how quickly it intensified. It is a category 3 storm right now.

But again, the good news is, it's a far, far away from land at this point. But it is going to edge a little bit closer in the coming days. Right now, category 3 storm, winds around 120 miles per hour. Moving west at about 13 miles per hour.

Now in the coming days, it's going to start to take a little bit of a southerly dip. In doing so, it actually going to enter slightly warmer water. This will actually allow for the storm to intensify a little bit. Getting up to perhaps a category 4, if not even stronger of a storm in the short-term, Anderson

But again, the real question is where does it go after that?

COOPER: So when are we going to have a better handle on potential impacts on the U.S. if any.

CHINCHAR: Right, that's a great question because that's really the question everybody wants to know. Right now, we're looking at about seven to 10 days from now. We're looking at next weekend.

So what we need to do is look at two of our more promising models, the ones that we often look at in these storms. We refer to the American model and the European model.

In the short-term, the next five days, they really all for all intents and purposes, the exact same. It's once we get towards the end of next week, we really start to see them split apart. The European model keeps it a little farther south and a little farther west. This would be more concerning for folks, say, around Florida and even into the Gulf because it could continue on that westerly track.

The American model, however, goes a little bit farther north and maintains a little bit farther east. This would potentially put it more in line with say the Carolinas, Anderson, or potentially even the Northeast Coast.

So again, you got two models going two entirely different ways, but both at this point entirely decent possibilities. So something we'll have to keep a close eye on in the next seven to 10 days.

COOPER: All right, Allison Chinchar, appreciate it.

Joining me now is the mayor of Beaumont, Texas, Becky Ames. Mayor, thanks for being with us again. If you could just give us the latest update on -- that you have on the -- with the water situation in Beaumont. Any idea of when things may get back online?

MAYOR BECKY AMES, BEAUMONT, TEXAS: Well, we're hoping to get real accurate information when the crest is going to happen in the Neches River so that will make a huge difference. That has not happened yet. We were hoping that it would this afternoon. So we're just waiting it out. It's very hard to say before we know when the crest will be at its highest for the Neches River.

COOPER: And just in terms of clean drinking what are people doing -- I mean, how are they getting by. I know relief crews are trying to bring in trucks of water. Is access -- I mean, for some people, access must be an issue.

AMES: Not so much. The areas that don't have access have evacuated for the most part. We are still in rescue mode. A lot of people think we're not because it doesn't look like it everywhere but we are.

We did have an apartment complex flood today. And our fire and police went out and rescued them right away. So we're still doing that. We have multiple operations going on from shelters to rescue mode. And then we do have the pods where we're giving out free drinking water to our citizens.

[21:10:07] The one was open this morning at -- the Harris Park which is one of our parks. And we have pods, they're going to be opening over the city as we speak. And it took 12 minutes to get through the very long line for them to get a case of water, a jug of water, some (INAUDIBLE) and some other supplies.

So -- there are also multiple sites throughout the city that are not city operated. They are probably taking a little longer because of their resources and manpower. That the ones at the city will be at (INAUDIBLE) -- to Harris Park, we will have one at Westbrook and there's two others that we have not decided yet.

COOPER: So I just want to go back to something you said --

AMES: So drinking water is not a problem.

COOPER: Yes. I just -- OK. I just want to go back to something you said about being in rescue mode. So just to be clear, you are still in rescue mode and rescues are still taking place as you talked about at an apartment complex that flooded today.

Those -- are those are new areas that are flooding? Or some of these people who just were riding it out and then just decided the water hasn't gone down enough and enough is enough?

AMES: No, not at all. We go door-to-door when we think a certain area is going to flood to get people out. This was very nearby a place that we did that. But what is happening is, the flooding happened from the rain. But a lot of people don't realize some of the major flooding happens after the rain occurs, because the bayous and the river near us, in this case the Neches River, that's what we talk about the crest. It will come up and that will flood areas that might have been dry two hours before.

So, yes we're in rescue mode and we have shelters set up.

COOPER: When is it going to crest?

AMES: Well, I wish you could find that out for me, Anderson. We think it was supposed to crest --

COOPER: I'm sorry, dumb question.

AMES: -- this afternoon. No. We thought it was supposed to crest this afternoon and it didn't. And now some are saying sometime tonight, there are also some that are saying tomorrow. There is many different models.

But I did meet right before I came over here with some of our staff that are very proficient in our emergency operations center and they are telling me that it may not be as high as we originally thought. We're hoping for that. I really can't give a time and an amount right now. I have one in the back of my mind but I don't want to go there right now because we are monitoring it just by the minute and we will continue to do that through the night.

Planning a press conference tomorrow as soon as we know more, but we are keeping our citizens safe. We have hotlines setup for them to call if they have rising water. We have firefighters and police officers out there continuously rescuing people.

If you have rising water, you're not as much as in danger, obviously because you can see it coming and you can call us and we can get to you. Drinking water is here, we're giving it out. Once we find out what's going to happen with the river, we'll try to bring our work around, if you will, with that one of our engineers came up with because our water treatment -- our water plant -- operation plant is under water.

So as soon as we get that -- if we get that confirmed, that it's not going to get into our control room, which we hope it doesn't. We've been talking about that quite a lot. Then we will -- actually at least have flushable water and shower water and then we have plenty of drinking water. So we're bringing this back on much quicker. If we had waited until the river receded, and waited to go in and look at that pumping system that is totally under water, it would be day and possibly weeks. So this is brilliant what these engineers, we have private industry, we got city employees, they're doing a great job.

COOPER: Well, Mayor Ames, I appreciate that, and I know there are a lot of people that were going to add your town to their prayer list tonight so that the crest happens quickly and is lower than had been anticipated. Thank you so much. Best wishes for the coming day.

Coming up next, an entire area -- a town where people worry they may have been forgotten. We'll tell you where that is.

And later, a fellow musician, what she did after she saw our story of the piano player who turned a moment in his own hardship into something that has inspired millions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:18:13] COOPER: Well, here in Houston, obviously, the destruction has been widespread but entire neighborhoods were also spared. Now, in the town of Warden, Texas, though the destruction is pretty much everywhere and it is so often the story in storms like this.

The big areas tend to get the most coverage. We saw it during Katrina when we made it into places like Waveland, Mississippi where we spent the first couple of days after the storm. CNN's Martin Savidge has more this time from Warden.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Warden is maroon. Floodwaters either flow over or sit on top just about every road in and out of this town of 9,000. It's been like that since Wednesday when the Colorado River and other nearby waterways poured out of their banks flooding 60% of the town.

How fast did it come up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say an hour. An hour from the time I talked to him, everybody was out of there. Maybe a little bit longer than that but it was quick.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The heart of the town is filled with water, so are the neighborhoods nearby. Folks here are just trying to make do. Richard Brown (ph) and his son were out checking on family and searching for food.

RICHARD BROWN, WARDEN, TEXAS RESIDENT: Most of the staples are out. Milk, bread, they just got a shipment, that's why we're able to get that, we got lucky. But lot of the aisles are empty, really picked over, meat, eggs are gone.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Since we can't get to their home they gave us some video of what it looks like. BROWN: There's our house. Every square inch of the yard is submerged.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Groceries and gas are in short supply. The two shelters are filled. Bessy Walker (ph) and her husband Robert (ph) and their dogs and cats prefer to live out of their truck in a parking lot at the junior college.

BESSY WALKER, STORM EVACUEE: My husband sleeps in the truck. I make it on the tailgate and I sleep on the tailgate. That's where I sleep, works for me. It's nice, it's cool and it had rained on me.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The couple fled flooding in Houston and came to Wharton to stay with a friend.

[21:20:03] WALKER: We came from Rosenberg and we were here one day. I got a nice hot bath and dinner. The next morning, my husband then went to get cigarettes, he came back and water is everywhere.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Now they all sit in the shade by the road waiting for the water to go down.

(voice-over) Do you think towns like this are overlooked?

WALKER: Yes, I do. I really do because where is it, where is FEMA? Where is, you know, you need a place to stay, we'll set up a place for you. Where is it? Because it's not here.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The Red Cross and National Guard are here, still residents are feeling overwhelmed and overlooked, lost in all of the focus on Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's a lot of people even in neighboring towns that aren't even aware that we're still flooded. That we still cannot access parts of our town. And that people are still displaced.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Do you feel forgotten and overlooked?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. Sometimes you do feel forgotten.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Fortunately, what Wharton has plenty of is people like Kelsey Thomer (ph). She too grew up here and left but after hearing about the flood came racing back to help.

(on camera) You are like a whirlwind. You are.

KELSEY THOMER, VOLUNTEER: Maybe I'm trying to keep up. Like I said, I wish I had 10 phones and a hundred voices to get the word out.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): She's got tents going up and a food truck coming in.

THOMER: Yesterday we fed 400 people. Today we're hoping to feed much more than that.

WALKER: I've never seen such outpouring of help as I have in Wharton. SAVIDGE (on camera): The good news is, the water has begun to recede. But, this town's problems are not likely to go away any time soon. And the people here would like those outside of the community to know they're doing OK, nobody died. They are making do with what they have. But once the water is gone, they sure could use a lot of help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Martin Savidge, thanks very much. They're going to need a lot of help from Wharton tonight, a town not forgotten. It's also another reminder that disasters like this were slow rolling and the needs are always evolving and sometimes in unexpected ways.

Retired Army Lieutenant General Russell Honore already knows that from his experience with Katrina. He touched on it with us that last night. We're glad you come join us once again. You know, (INAUDIBLE) I mean, again, I think back to Waveland, Mississippi, where I think spent three days there or two days, I can't even remember.

Twelve years ago, it was just one of those towns that wasn't getting a lot of coverage and yet the devastation was extensive.

RET. LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY: Absolutely. The focus generally ends up where the large populations are. And the good news is in that conversation that the Red Cross is there, and the National Guard is there. That's the life line.

And over time, citizens like this standing up and volunteering is a success story of how this supposed to work. But it speaks to the fact that we need to come to grip to it, that a dynamic disaster like this on any given day, the government isn't good enough to take care of everybody.

That's why we speak to that culture of preparedness after Katrina and everybody have to collectively be prepared. Then number two, once it happens, that the government will put that lifeline out there. But citizens like this lady here, is what will put some quality of life in there.

But the fact that the National Guard is there, and the Red Cross is there, they've got to figure out how they're going to deal with getting FEMA people there now to start making sure that people get signed up and I'm sure that will happen in the coming days.

COOPER: Let me ask you, how much is learned from one disaster to the next? Because, you know, I heard somebody said, I can't remember who this was, just recently, that, you know, the war in Afghanistan has been 16 years but it's been -- it hasn't been -- it has been 16 one- year wars because there's been -- you know, there's such turnover. There's, you know, probably a lot of potential, working disaster preparedness now that weren't around during Katrina.

HONORE: There were many examples. You know, we talk about debris removal. Two weeks into the operation, in Katrina, they're going to ask the engineers to take over debris removal. Up until that time we're paying $9 a cubic ton to remove debris. They gave it to a Fortune 500 company and the price went to $16 a cubic ton. The guys doing the hauling, the local truckers got $9. So we got almost doubled the price as opposed to being more efficient, but the government don't deal with the small business guy.

If that had happened in New Orleans, a lot of people would have been able to restock their personal businesses. But the fact they were working as subjugates to these big companies that get the contract who basically got these high-rise apartments and the local people don't get to participate and get better as a result of that.

They go to work for the big companies. But we thought after Katrina that would change but they are back again and they're going to give it to a Fortune 500 company who will take the profits off the top.

COOPER: General Russel Honore, great to have you here as always. Thank you.

HONORE: Chemical plant.

[21:25:03] COOPER: Yes, we'll talk about that next. Also, when we come back, a little boy who was rescued by boat from his flooded home has one wish to thank the hero who saved him. We'll make that happen, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:28:39] COOPER: So many brave rescues in Texas have been at the hands of volunteers, strangers, neighbors helping neighbors. Many of whom disappear back into the floodwaters to go on and rescue someone else.

That was the case for 7-year-old Nash Benson and his family who are rescued from their home in Katy, Texas, by good samaritans in boats. Once on dry land, Nash wanted to find the man he had started calling his hero and say thank you. His mom, Lindsey posted a picture that Nash drew on Facebook with only a first name of the man who rescued them and the church that he attended, and asking if anyone knew who he was.

Well, we found that hero and reunited them just before air. Lindsey and Nash Benson and their hero, Shannon Townsend, he's an elder at the Fellowship Church in Katy, Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So Lindsey, take us through what happened on Monday when you saw the water coming up to your home? What did you and your family do next?

LINDSEY BENSON, STORM EVACUEE: Yes. On Monday, about lunchtime, the water was coming up and lapping at sandbags that we had put out on our front porch, and my husband and I felt like it was time to evacuate. And it was time to leave our home and not stay there another night with our three young children. So we stepped out on our street and we saw a little float boat, a man named Rod helped us load up in the boat and he took us to our elementary school just across the street. And then my husband waited out in the water and flagged down a bigger boat which had Shannon and Travis on that boat and they took us to safety as our neighborhood was impassable by car or foot.

[21:30:09] So they were our heroes on Monday to help us evacuate.

COOPER: Nash, what was that like for you to see all of the water?

NASH BENSON, STORM EVACUEE: Not very scary for me. It was kind of fun. Kind of scary.

COOPER: It was kind of fun? It was kind of fun to see the water in your neighborhood. Kind of cool? At the same time, yes.

N. BENSON: Yes.

COOPER: Had you ever seen anything like that, Nash?

N. BENSON: No.

COOPER: Shannon, why were you out there? When did you decide to get in a boat.

SHANNON TOWNSEND, STORM RESCUER: We got a text from one of our church family members that leaves in that neighborhood and they asked if I could come and get them because they knew I had a boat and I planned on doing something, I don't know where. So I woke up that morning and left and went to that neighborhood. It was very difficult to get back in there and met a guy named Travis Marrow who helped me get my boat off the truck, then we had some guy in a big white jeep that was all jacked up that drove us over the bayou bridge because we were kind of land locked.

We got so far then we were stuck and he helped us get over and went and got that family out and people were just flagging us down left and right. We had to yell to them, hey, we'll be back for you. We'll be back for you. We'll be going to here all day. COOPER: Do you remember Lindsey and Nash?

TOWNSEND: Yes. I sure do.

COOPER: Yes. Because that's -- you know, a lot of rescuers don't have much of a chance to really talk to the people they are rescuing, but Shannon, you were talking to them in the boat.

TOWNSEND: Yes. Most of the people, when they got in the boat, you can tell they're very scared or almost in shock so I was just trying to say, you know, where are you guys from. Trying to get them to talk and, you know, talk to the kids. How are you guys doing other than being in a major flood? You guys doing OK?

Most people would start talking and ask me where I was from And I'm telling them I'm from the Fellowship which is just about a quarter of a mile from the flooded area. It's my home church. So, yes, just trying to talk to them.

COOPER: So Nash, I understand you wanted to meet Shannon and you wanted to see him again and you were trying to track him down. Is there anything you want to say to him right now?

L. BENSON: What do you want to say to Shannon?

N. BENSON: Thank you, Shannon.

TOWNSEND: You're welcome, buddy.

L. BENSON: Thank you Shannon for rescuing us. I still remember your -- your steadfast calm really helped us not be fearful that day. We'll remember.

N. BENSON: You're our helper.

TOWNSEND: That was definitely my pleasure. It was probably the highlight of my life other than seeing my kids being born. It was incredible.

L. BENSON: Nash wants a boat like you now so he can help people.

N. BENSON: I want a boat like you so I can help people when I grow up.

TOWNSEND: Yes.

COOPER: Nash, you want to get a boat too now?

L. BENSON: Do you want to get a boat too now, right?

N. BENSON: Yes. Be a helper.

COOPER: Nash, I hear you drew a picture. What does it show?

L. BENSON: What is the picture you drew?

N. BENSON: It is me and my dog and you, Shannon.

COOPER: That's so cool. You're a good drawer.

L. BENSON: We were thankful Shannon had room on the boat for our dog Gus. Nash was pretty pumped about that.

N. BENSON: Yes.

COOPER: And Lindsey and Nash, how you all doing now?

L. BENSON: We're doing great. We are staying dry and the outpouring of love and support from our community and my husband's employer (INAUDIBLE) just rallied behind us and we're very, very blessed.

N. BENSON: Yes.

COOPER: Well, I'm going to let you go. Is there anything Lindsey before we go, anything else you want to say to Shannon? Or Nash, anything else you want to say Shannon?

L. BENSON: Shannon, we're forever changed by witnessing your embodiment of the human heart and we're forever grateful.

TOWNSEND: You're welcome

COOPER: Well, Lindsey, thank you so much and Nash, thank you. And that's a great drawing and we'll get it to Shannon. And Shannon, thank you so much for all you've done.

TOWNSEND: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Really incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Wow, such a great story. We're going to have plenty more in Hurricane Harvey coming up. But first, we do have some breaking news out of the White House. Find out what new evidence Special Counsel Robert Mueller is considering in the Russia probe when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:38:14] COOPER: Welcome back to Hurricane Harvey shortly. Tonight though we also have two big stories out of Washington D.C. that they want to quickly get to.

First, the New York Times, an d the Washington Post, reporting tonight that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now reviewing a draft of a letter explaining why President Trump wanted to fire FBI Director James Comey. The White House counsel reportedly told him not to send that letter.

Also tonight, a key White House aide who's been Donald Trump's side for almost two decades back when they were in private business has decided to leave the White House. Sources tell CNN, Keith Schiller is his name, he's reportedly leaving for financial reasons. One source adds that he's also frustrated by new restrictions put in place by the chief of staff, John Kelly regarding access to the president.

Now just before air, I spoke about all of this with David Axelrod and David Gergen and Maggie Haberman who reported that New York Times story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Maggie, your reporting says in part, and I quote, the contents of the original letter appear to provide the clearest rationale that Mr. Trump had for firing Mr. Comey. What specifically does that mean?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NEW YORK TIMES: It's a wonderful question. We have not seen the letter so we are trying not to say what we don't know. What has been described to us is that it was essentially an unfettered screed, several people used the word screed, who were familiar with the contents of this letter. It was the president talking about his views of Comey and his views of Comey's professionalism over the course of the Clinton e-mail investigation but also at various points through 2016. And he made a reference to -- I'm paraphrasing here, but he made a preference to Comey telling him, the president, in private conversations, that he was personally not under investigation. The implication was obviously related to the Russia investigation which was ongoing at that point and Mr. Comey's refusal to say that publicly and to publicly clear the president.

[21:40:07] But basically, this was a stew on the part of the president that he had been laboring over mentally for several days. You know, he had had a bunch of instructions for his aide Stephen Miller to essentially to esterify into a letter for Comey, that letter did not ultimately see the light of day. But Robert Mueller is looking at the original.

COOPER: And David Axelrod, I mean, the president has already acknowledged he decided he was going to fire James Comey because of the Russia investigation and he said that on, you know, Lester Holt in NBC. How significant is the letter one way or the other, do you think?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't know but I think that they're looking at the aggregation of evidence and clearly obstruction of justice is something that's very much on the mind of Mr. Mueller. We now know that attorneys for the president have met with the special counsel to address specifically this case of obstruction. So anything that adds any weight to the notion that the president's true motivation was to stop Comey from pursuing this investigation would be of great interest to Mr. Mueller.

COOPER: David Gergen, I mean, how do you see this? What do you make of the draft letter, particularly that the White House counsel reportedly thought it was a bad idea.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think we need to be cautious because no one has seen the letter outside of the Mueller team, few people at the White House. But I do think that Mueller clearly is looking for questions.

Does this add to a sense that there was an intent just as David Axelrod said, was there a motivation on the part of the president to shut Mueller down? Does this add to the weight of that charge?

The fact that the White House counsel did not want the president to send the letter because as Maggie reported, he found it, quote, problematic, I think there suggest there are things in there that the White House counsel didn't want Mueller, doesn't wants the public to see.

So you have to say that there is something going on here that the White House would block the letter, but we did -- we can't be definitive. It may add to the weight of Mueller concluding that the intention on the part of the president was to obstruct. COOPER: And Maggie, I mean, talking about the Comey firing, the White House staffer who delivered that termination letter from the president to Comey's office, Keith Schiller who's been a close aide to Donald Trump for decades is telling people that he's leaving the White House because of financial reasons. The White House Press Office denies the story altogether. You know Schiller's place in the presidential orbit. Does -- would it surprise you if he left?

HABERMAN: I think that Keith Schiller had not planned on being in Washington for more than a year regardless but certainly, should he leave the president's side, it would be very noteworthy. He's been, you know, a member of sort of the guard around the president and somebody who he feels very secure with, he's the one of the very few people who this president trusts as he's in a city and frankly, in a building where he has found himself unable to trust a lot of people or unwilling to trust a lot of people.

I do think the financial issue is real. I think it's both in terms of the pay issue, frankly. You know, I think when people go into government, when they have worked in the private sector, it often involves taking a pay cut.

I think it's also worth remembering that Keith Schiller, and we don't know this, but Keith Schiller is likely to have some attorney fees given that he was the person who attempted to deliver that letter to James Comey and he was aware of certain aspects of that process. That can also become very expensive.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, David Axelrod, what you just think about the sheer number of people who have left from the president's inner circle or at least those who were starting out in the White House. Especially amidst this idea of the president feeling isolated, you know, when the stress of the Russia investigation. How important it -- what kind of impact do you think that has?

AXELROD: I think it does have an impact actually, Anderson. I think presidents want people around them with whom they're comfortable. You know, President Obama had a group of people, Marvin Nicholson, who's his trip director, Reggie Love who was his body man, who were with him for years and it gave him comfort to have familiar people around him.

Now, what we've seen is the chief of staff, John Kelly has come in and a number of people have left in quick succession. He's trying to impose a rational White House structure on the Trump White House which it has lack. And the question from the beginning is been, how will the president tolerate this new culture.

Now you have one of his closest and longest aides leaving, and it'll be interesting to see whether that just exacerbates his feeling of isolation.

COOPER: Maggie Haberman, David Axelrod, and David Gergen, thanks very much.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: When we come back, an update on a story that we first brought you last night. The Houston dad of seven who played a waterlogged piano in his flooded out home to show that his son -- to show his that the piano was still there. The video has inspired a lot of people around the world. Now musician, Vanessa Carlton wants to help his family and she'll tell us her plan next.

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[21:48:42] COOPER: One Hurricane Harvey survivor caught our attention and many others with his reaction to the devastation around him. Aric Harding is his name. You may have seen the video. He returned to his flooded Houston home to get some of his kids' toys when he spotted his family piano with its keys just above the water. He took this video initially just to check whether it's still working to show his son the piano is still work because his son was worried about it, but the video went viral, you can see why.

(MUSIC)

COOPER: A fellow musician, and kindred spirit, Vanessa Carlton saw that video and was moved to help any she could. I spoke to her just before air time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Vanessa, the video of Aric playing the piano, I'm wondering what went through your mind when you first saw it?

VANESSA CARLTON, MUSICIAN: Well, I saw it on my phone, this image of a man playing piano at about a room filled with six feet of water. And I started to cry. I, myself, am a pianist and it occurred to me (INAUDIBLE) the musicians and the instruments and that's when I tried to figure out who that man was?

[21:50:05] COOPER: You want to try to help Aric and his family, can you tell us about it?

CARLTON: Yes. I reached out to Aric, I found his number and I called him this morning. And I reached out to Yamaha because I am a Yamaha- sponsored musician. I thought maybe they could help. And, actually, I haven't told him this yet but Yamaha agreed to replace the piano for him.

So --

COOPER: Wow.

CARLTON: -- that's amazing.

COOPER: That's cool.

CARLTON: Yes.

COOPER: So he doesn't know about that yet? CARLTON: No. I don't think he knows about that yet. But, you know, he represents a lot of people down there who are musicians. And as you know a lot of these people don't have flood insurance. And when they replaced their items they are going to replace their essentials first. And, you know, being a musician, music is like, you know, it's like oxygen, and I think it is an essential.

And I was just so thrilled to see Yamaha come to the play. And I just hope that, I am sort of here representing all of the musicians in a way down there who are going to need their instruments replaced.

COOPER: Well, I'm not sure if you know this but, you know, Aric has seven kids. And it was his son who was particularly concerned about the piano which is what made Aric sit down and start to play the piano. He basically made that video to show his son that the piano was still OK.

Obviously the piano is not OK because it has been submerged in water now for so long and will continue to be. So this is going to have a huge effect not only on Aric but obviously on his kids as well. So, it's really sweet of you to make all of that happen. I appreciate your time, Vanessa. Thanks so much.

CARLTON: You're so welcome. Thanks for having me on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: An act of kindness. We've been in Texas for a couple days now. And the one constant has been all of the -- just the -- all of the heroes of this storm. Not just the people whose job it is to help others, the everyday people who have done extraordinary things, who jumped in to lend a hand, who reached out to help those in the floodwaters. Complete strangers sometimes.

Let's take a look at some of the heroes of the storm and the aftermath. Randi Kaye reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you're going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll go try to save some lives.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ordinary people, answering the call, now heroes of Hurricane Harvey. This man and his wife called a fastfood chain for help after their home flooded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called Chick-Fillet (ph), now that sounds kind of funny. But I ordered two grilled chicken burritos with extra egg and a boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it's such a blessing that in that exact moment I was there to answer the phone and get him help.

KAYE (voice-over): The quick thinking manager arranged for a boat to go get them. The boat also had a jet ski in tow, problem solved. Strangers came together to rescue an elderly man trapped in his car as he was being swept away by the floodwaters. The group quickly formed a human chain, stretching from dry land to the man's car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grab him!

KAYE (voice-over): The car was sinking fast but rescuers were able to get the driver's door open and pull the man to safety. He was taken to a local hospital, and reunited with his son.

Monster truck owners also answered the call, the self-proclaimed Redneck Army used their trucks to rescue people from the floodwaters. From an elderly woman in a wheelchair, to this submerged military vehicle.

Truck driver, Nick Sheridan (ph) drove more than 200 miles in his big rig to help rescue those stranded in floodwaters. The military veteran told ABC his team of three big rig drivers rescued more than 1,000 people.

Members of the Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue group that formed after Hurricane Katrina, saved a 73-year-old woman who had been laying face down in the floodwaters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seriously I thought it was a trash bag. As we got closer and the current pulled it closer to our boat, we realized it was a body. And instantly, Donnie (ph) jumped from the vessel, brought her up out of the water.

KAYE (voice-over): Joshua Lincoln (ph) and two others got her breathing again and reunited her with her family.

ROWDY SHAW, HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES: Good boy, good boy. You get to go home. You ready to go home.

KAYE (voice-over): Rowdy Shaw from the Humane Society of the United States, was a hero to this dog, and many others abandoned in the storm.

SHAW: Is that good? (INAUDIBLE) there, are you hungry?

KAYE (voice-over): Countless citizens open their businesses and homes to evacuees seeking shelter. Including furniture store owner, Jim Mockinvale (ph). His store's fleet of trucks picked up more than 200 people and offered his mattresses to evacuees and rescue workers in desperate need of rest.

JIM MOCKINVALE: We're frying trying to help as many people as I can.

[21:55:01] KAYE (voice-over): And since every hero works best on a full belly, one generous resident did his part to keep them from going hungry. He delivered cooked chicken drumsticks to soldiers from the Army National Guard like this woman. And two others helping evacuate neighborhoods.

Already, too many heroes to name. And the acts of kindness, continue. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Yes. All those volunteers, the heroic heart of Houston. We'll be right back.

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