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Health Secretary Price Under Fire for Private Plane Travel; Food, Water, Fuel & Cash Scarce in Puerto Rico. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired September 29, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill is a million dollars. He's paying 52,000. Who's picking up the rest? The taxpayers are.
[05:59:25] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of these trips were official business, within budget. All of them were approved.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It reinforces every bad stereotype about the Trump administration.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking at that very closely. I am not happy with it.
REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CA. MINORITY LEADER: This is a national emergency. Millions of our fellow Americans are in peril.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Will you acknowledge it was a mistake not to have this research (ph) on the ground earlier?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not at all.
ELAINE DUKE, ACTING DHS SECRETARY: It is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need help. Tell the president that everybody needs help here.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, September 29, 6 a.m. here in New York.
On the starting line for you, the controversy over Health Secretary Tom Price's use of private planes on the taxpayers' dime continues. CNN now reporting that Price also used military aircraft to travel overseas. Price is offering to pay the government back but only for the cost of his seat, not the total travel cost that is reported to be over a million dollars.
President Trump is reportedly mad as hell over the travel flack. And CNN has learned exclusively that Jared Kushner, the president's
son-in-law, failed to disclose his use of personal e-mail for government business to the Senate Intel Committee.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So that's one kind of accountability controversy. And there is a very different one more than a week after Hurricane Maria. This is not hype or the media ignoring a good news story. Nobody wants bad news to come out of Puerto Rico. Everybody wants more good news. It's just the reality that is the problem.
These are the images of the destruction. They're not doctored. They're not old. They're right now. There are an increasing number of people desperate for aid. There is no question there are tremendous resources and manpower being brought to bear by the United States government. And there is increasing planning. But it is not enough.
Thousands of containers that you're looking at right now, they're filled with food, water, medical aid, other types of essentials that will be needed for store shelves. They're stuck at the port of San Juan. They're just sitting there.
So the question becomes, why is the Trump administration insisting everything is going well and anything else you hear is fake news?
We have reporters on the ground. They will show you what they are seeing. We have it all covered.
Let's go first to CNN's Joe Johns live at the White House -- Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
Members of the House and the Senate are now asking questions about this jet travel issue involving the health secretary. He's promised not to take any more chartered flights. But the inspector general is looking into it also.
The president would love to put it behind him. But the drip, drip, drip of information continues.
JOHNS (voice-over): Health Secretary Tom Price under fire for spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for trips on private jets. And CNN has learned it doesn't stop there.
An Air Force official says Price also took military aircraft for two multi-stop international trips earlier this year, racking up a $500,000 bill, according to Politico. Those overseas trips, which the White House approved, bringing the total cost of Price's travel over $1 million.
TOM PRESS, U.S. HHS SECRETARY: We've heard the concern and the criticism, and we look forward to the inspector general's report. JOHNS: Price pledging Thursday to pay back a fraction of this total,
writing a check for $51,887.31, the cost of his seats on the chartered planes but not the military flights.
PRICE: To pay for my portion of those trips. This is -- this is unprecedented.
JOHNS: The White House releasing a statement Thursday defending Price's travel on military aircraft, insisting that it is sometimes an appropriate and necessary use of resources.
As for the 26 chartered flights Price has taken since May, the administration taking a tougher tone.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The White House does not have a role on the front end of approving private charter flights at the agencies. And that's something that we're certainly looking into from this point forward.
JOHNS: Sources tell CNN that Price's partial repayment for his flights is not helping his case with the president but that Mr. Trump is not yet ready to fire his health secretary. Although names of possible replacements are being floated.
TRUMP: I am not happy about it, and I let him know it.
JOHNS: This wasteful use of taxpayer money flying in the face of one of Mr. Trump's key campaign promises.
TRUMP: It is time to drain the damn swamp.
JOHNS: It's also the same type of spending Price railed against then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for in 2010.
PRICE: I want to say to the speaker, don't you fly over our country in your luxury jet and lecture us on what it means to be an American.
JOHNS: The treasury secretary and the EPA administrator have both come under fire for taking chartered flights. And according to Politico and the "Washington Post," the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, has also taken a charter flight, including a $12,000 flight to his hometown on a political trip. According to the press secretary for the department, it was approved.
Chris and Alisyn, back to you.
CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much. Let's bring in our political panel to discuss this.
We have associate editor for RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard; and CNN political analysts Alex Burns and Karoun Demirjian. Great to see all of you.
[06:05:07] A.B., Tom Price is offering to pay $51,000 out of a million? I mean, this is laughable. How is that -- he's saying -- you heard him there last night saying, "It's unprecedented. I'm taking on this responsibility, taking accountability. How does that -- how does the math work there?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: It's hard to believe he can be so defiant given the tape you just rolled with him excoriating other people like the speaker, who at the time that she was speaker was supposed to be flying in a military plane.
It's -- it's -- there's no way that coughing up $51,000 after having all of these people fly, including his wife, and going places two days early, is remotely acceptable. But he -- there's something that made him do this, that thinks that he could get away with it. And I think his bluster shows that Tom Price thinks he might be able to keep his job, and I don't think there's a chance he can.
CUOMO: Karoun, what are you hearing in terms of reporting? Is it bubbling up that, look, you know, this -- we get that people don't like this, but this is what happens. People take these kind of flights all the time in government. I've been hearing that a lot.
Of course, they came in there with a mandate to drain the swamp. And it seems that, you know, the president surrounded himself with alligators. What are you hearing in terms of trying to rationalize this?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, certainly, there are people who are defending Tom Price, because they know him for a long time, because they believe in what he's trying to do at HHS.
But I think the president has kind of set a tone here where it's OK to criticize since the president is criticizing this, too. And it make it slightly less of a partisan issue there. The numbers don't add up in a way that makes sense to a lot of people.
And remember, again, this is -- this is an administration. This is a party that has talked about trying to be, you know, more responsible with dollars about, you know, deficits and responding to taxpayers. And as you played the clip of Price from 2010 has criticized the former administration and the opposite party for not doing that at times. So it doesn't look good. It's not a comfortable thing for anybody right now to have Price in the headlines like this.
And, you know, as A.B. was saying, not offering to put up the entire cost of what is the extra expense from having chartered this flight and taking his staff along with him in all of these different circumstances.
CAMEROTA: But Alex, since when is President Trump a budget hawk? I mean, he and his family are on track to outpace, for Secret Service bills, any other president. I mean, just in their short time. They're traveling. You know, he has a big, obviously, extended family, lots of kids who get Secret Service. So they're spending a king's ransom on that. Why is he zeroing in on Tom Price on this one?
ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, there's certainly hypocrisy on the part of the president and his family, as well. We all remember the kind of criticism that you heard from the right for years of, you know, Michelle Obama's foreign vacations and the security costs attendant on that.
But I do think that Americans in general tolerate a pretty high degree of, you know, spending on things that they perceive as essential to the president and the president's security.
Tom Price flying on private jets is certainly not in that category. And, you know, I've spoken to a number of people who have known Tom Price over the years. And the thing that's most surprising to them is Tom Price is a wealthy man. He is not somebody who has not lived the good life, and now that he has reached -- you know, reached the pinnacle of government feels like now is my chance to live it up. This is a guy who has the money to live it up and has chosen to do this anyway. And one person I was talking to was speculating, is this about being surrounded by, you know, people like Wilbur Ross and Steve Mnuchin, other members of the cabinet who are just in an entirely different...
CAMEROTA: They are uber wealthy.
CUOMO: Or are they just not used to flying commercial? You know what I mean? For them to have to fly commercial, you know, it kind of gets to, like, Gary Cohn saying the other day that, you know, people don't buy homes because of the mortgage deduction. People like you don't buy the home because of a mortgage deduction. Most people are completely dependent on what kind of nut and vig they're going to have to pay on a house before they buy it. Maybe there is that disconnect.
But I think Alisyn's getting at something different. How big a problem did Tom Price have anyway because of what happened with the health care roll-out and how the president does like to blame others? You know, some of this just an opportunity for the president to make good on a prior grievance.
STODDARD: Right. And I think this "We'll see," and "I'm not happy about it, let him know," he kind of does like to let people twist in the wind. I do think Tom Price will be let go. But you're right.
This started with -- the people who have served in Congress -- Mick Mulvaney at OMB, Paul Ryan as speaker now, Tom Price, even Vice President Pence -- they were supposed to go in and deliver the votes for health care. Ultimately, it passed on the House side. But the president made it known months ago that those guys were supposed to just make it happen.
And so it is layered on top of -- of Tom Price losing something for the president.
[06:10:03] But Alisyn makes a point. Trump is allowed to -- I think with his supporters, to do whatever he wants: not separate from his businesses, get his legal fees now paid for by RNC donations. It is -- there's no end.
All the travel that will -- that will add up at the end of this year to Obama's eight or less more more, but it's the other people around him, but he knows his voters will not tolerate taking plans now. Cabinet Secretary Zinke at Interior, and A.P. administrator Scott Pruitt. This is these kinds of -- these kinds of stories. It's not just Price. It's several others. And so it's just -- it's just not tolerable for the "drain the swamp" voter.
BURNS: Even before this scandal came out on, Tom Price had basically become an invisible person in the health care debate, that he was seen as helpful getting that bill through the House. When it came to the Senate, he was involved in July, and that failed to push. He got a lot of flack from senators, from governors who felt like he was not delivering honest, reliable, persuasive data. And over the last month, we've just not seen him playing any major role in lobbying senators and the latest unsuccessful.
CAMEROTA: So very quickly, Karoun, we just need to talk about another person in the president's inner circle. That is Jared Kushner using, it turns out, which he did not originally disclose, private e-mail. I wish we had a sound effect for hypocrisy alert. We need the bell to ring. So how is this going to go over?
STODDARD: I mean, this is not good, right? It looks like they are trying to -- that there's something that they're trying to hide. Now of course, Kushner's lawyers are saying, "No, of course, we looked into the e-mail account. We didn't think it was there. So no problem. We'll disclose whatever you want."
The fact that they weren't fully forthcoming with it at the outset when the administration has tried to say, basically, oh, we're cooperating with every aspect of this Russia probe. Clearly not, if they didn't disclose a private e-mail account.
The fact that they spent how much time during the campaign season railing against Hillary Clinton for her private e-mail account to have the president's son-in-law and daughter be the worst defenders in this, potentially, is certainly shaking the White House a little bit. Because, you know, it's a very obvious, you know, "Do what I say, not what I do" sort of a thing. And that doesn't really work. And when you're the center of attention and center of a major probe also in Washington.
CAMEROTA: Look, I get that it's not a private server. It's a private account. I understand that there are differences. He didn't delete, as far as we know, 30,000 e-mails, things like that. However, don't all of us now have private e-mail just seared into our brain of what is bad to do during an investigation?
CUOMO: No, apparently, is the answer to the question. I don't know, but they didn't.
DEMIRJIAN: This is the thing. A lot of people have, you know, professional e-mail accounts and private e-mail accounts when you're the subject of a probe to disclose everything. But this administration made such a thing out of the idea of the private e-mail account to have anybody in it still using their private e-mail anything that's connected to official business that is that much worse than it might have been in a different circumstance.
CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much.
CUOMO: All right. So look, this is one kind of intrigue that's going on. This is about politics, leverage and hypocrisy. You see, there's a very different conflict playing out in Puerto Rico. The Trump administration is defending their response to the storm. They're saying that this is a good news story, that they're doing well.
You heard the president say that he gets an A-plus on the storm. And there's no question. There are more than 10,000 workers on the ground to help, and there's more planning, more resources coming in. The Pentagon has now appointed a three-star general, General Jeffrey Buchanan. We're going to talk to him this morning, to help deal with logistics on that island. Homeland security adviser Tom Bossert is going to be on the show this morning. He's saying the relief efforts are unfolding at a good place.
Here's the problem. We see on the ground.
CAMEROTA: OK. Yes. Absolutely. So the pictures on the ground from our correspondents tell a very different story. Our reporters are seeing really nothing but devastation everywhere they look.
Watch as these people try to cross this river with a wire after Maria wiped out a bridge. People -- this is people in the town outside of San Juan. They're pleading for help. They're walking hours trying to get food, just even bread or rice. They're still trying to get water, so the reality is very frightening, and the drone video here says it all.
You see, obviously, houses mangled, roofs blown away. This is an island in ruins.
So we have a team of our reporters in Puerto Rico. Let's start with CNN's Boris Sanchez. He's live in San Juan with what the latest is there. What's happening with all of the aid that people need, Boris?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Alisyn and Chris.
Many people that we've spoken to here on the ground in Puerto Rico say they are simply not feeling it. Case in point, I want to step outside of the way so you can see this massive line behind me. It looks like street parking. It's not.
[06:15:05] There are at least 100 cars going as far as the eye can see. People have been here for hours waiting for gasoline. The guy at the front of the line got here at 9 p.m. last night. When they ran out of gas, he parked his car and went to sleep. He's been here since, hoping to get his hands on some gasoline. You see people bringing as many containers as possible, as well.
And it's not just lines for gas. One woman I spoke to here told me she waited for several hours outside a grocery store yesterday, trying to get water and canned food. When she finally got in, she was disappointed because the store shelves were totally empty. There is a major logistical bottleneck here in Puerto Rico when it
comes to getting supplies into stores. Yesterday we were standing at a main port in San Juan with some 10,000 shipping containers that couldn't get out of the port, because there wasn't enough truckers available and there wasn't enough fuel available to get those containers where they needed to be.
So the need here, the desperation is palpable. And to make things worse, there is rain in the forecast today. It adds insult to injury, because folks here are already dealing with very difficult conditions. And that rain may make it more difficult to what get what they need -- Alisyn and Chris.
CAMEROTA: All right, Boris. We're going to spend our program trying to get answers for you and the folks down there. Because we have the general, who led the response after Hurricane Katrina, on with us. And he's slamming the case and the magnitude of the current relief efforts in Puerto Rico. So we'll get reaction from the Army Corps of Engineers, as well, who are live on the island of what they're doing today.
[06:20:29] CUOMO: Trump administration defending its response to the crisis in Puerto Rico amid growing criticism because of growing need, frankly. Listening to acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke. She says that the island today is a good news story. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I am very satisfied. I know it's a hard storm to recover from. But the amount of progress that's been made. And I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: That last part is true. It is shocking that to this point -- remember, we have secondary and tertiary, you know, third step waves to come to this. Water-borne illness. People who have long-term illness that can't get the treatment that they want. Sanjay Gupta is going to take us through that.
So we don't know what the toll of this storm will be. But to this point, she's right. It is surprising that there hasn't been more death. But it is not surprising that there is so much disconnect between a good news story and the devastation that we see every day on the ground.
Now, one of the men leading that relief effort, putting in the hours, the sweat, the blood, the tears, is U.S. Army Corps of Engineer Commander of the Puerto Rico field office, Colonel James DeLapp. I've seen your men and women in action in other places. I'm hearing your reports from the ground. I know that you guys are putting your all into it. There's no question about that.
But let's deal with the realities, Colonel. What is -- you know, you've been given the job of restoring power. I mean, that is the heart of the situation. It's going to be very difficult. What is the status on the ground of how much still needs to be done to get power back?
COL. JAMES DELAPP, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Good morning, Chris.
First of all, our thoughts and prayers are with those who are impacted and will remain impacted for quite a while. The chorus here, trying to restore power to those critical facilities right now to get those back on up and running.
Meanwhile, we're continuing to do assessments of all the other facilities and understand better what the complete damage is to that infrastructure. We're working really closely with the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority, as well as the energy on behalf of FEMA, to make those assessments and determine a plan forward to go ahead and get the power restored as quickly as possible across the island.
CUOMO: Now, because you're on the ground and you understand the island so well, it's probably not surprising to you that you're seeing an emerging disconnect between logistically, we're checking certain boxes. We have a certain number of hospitals back up now. We're getting more gas stations up. We're getting some banks up. And the reality for people on the ground of "I can't get cash. I can't get gas. I don't have any power. I don't have any water."
I mean, in a situation like this, both can be very true, right?
DELAPP: Sorry, Chris. I lost you there. But I tell you, if you can hear me still, the -- the challenge is that obviously, the logistics moving the equipment and people here, as well as the repair pieces required to get this -- the power restored. And the terrain is significant. There is a logistical challenge, clearly.
But the Corps is working as hard as it can with the local power authority to get that restored as quickly as possible. Clearly, the folks at the very end of the line are going to see their power return to service last.
CUOMO: Totally understood. Can you hear me now, Colonel?
DELAPP: Yes. Sure can.
CUOMO: All right. Thank you, sir. I'll just repeat this question because it matters. Because you know the island well, and you're there on the ground. It's probably not a surprise to you to hear this disconnect. That, you know, you're hearing from Washington, "Look, we're happy with how we're doing with things to this point." And people on the ground there saying, "I can't get cash. I can't get gas. I don't have clean water. I don't have power. I don't know how long I can make it. Both realities can be true in a situation like this, yes?" DELAPP: Absolutely. And the reality is, though, is that the whole of
government is really trying to get the -- the material here as quickly as possible and provide that combined response to get that restored. There will be those that see it sooner and those, as I had, at the end of the line that will see that return much later. Just because the massive destruction.
According to the Puerto Rican power authority, 80 percent of the system is down on the ground. And that's going to take a bit to get restored.
CUOMO: We keep hearing from guys working from you and other branches of the recovery. It's like rebuilding an island from scratch. That nothing is in place. We have the shells of certain things. But that the task can't be underestimated.
[06:25:14] But that said, what is your guess? We're showing different images while we're doing this interview of people where there's no bridge, and they're doing a rope line across. We know how dangerous that is. Of people trying to find water sources from natural resources. We know how risky that is from a health perspective. How long do you think it is until the every-day Puerto Rican says, "Yes, I got power. I got my cell phone back. I can get my car and get gas." How long do you think we're talking?
DELAPP: Sir, Chris -- it's really hard to determine exactly how long it will take. This is a massive undertaking, one in which -- I don't think that we've ever undertaken before, in terms of this magnitude.
The closest thing we've had is when the Army Corps led the effort to restore Iraq electricity exactly how long it's going to take to get that power back to the everyday citizen.
CUOMO: Well, look, I understand that, too. I was there, watching you men -- your men and women do that job in Iraq. And we've of course, thank God, the big difference is nobody in Puerto Rico is going to try and destroy what you do on a daily basis, which is, of course, one of the challenges within the theater of war.
Listen, Colonel, let me let you get back to the job. No one doubts how hard you and your men and women are working. We've all seen it on the ground, firsthand. We appreciate your efforts. Thank you for what you're doing.
CAMEROTA: All right. Meanwhile, CNN has new reporting about the Russian government's attempts to amplify racial tensions during the 2016 election using fake accounts on social media. We have all of the details for you in our exclusive report next.