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Food, Water, Fuel & Cash Scarce in Puerto Rico; Health Secretary Price Under Fire for Private Plane Travel. Aired 7-7:30am ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 07:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't just five flights. Not just 15. It's what, about 75.

[07:00:32] TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HHS: The optics in some of this don't look good. And that's why we have taken this to heart.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to conduct a full review, and we'll see what happens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It goes against everything Donald Trump said he would do in terms of draining the swamp.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a sad situation to see a major American city in this condition.

TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: The Army Corps of engineers has been given a mission to restore power on Puerto Rico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This bureaucratic response is not working.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are doing everything we can to assist the people who are suffering.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY.

The Trump administration is defending its response to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. Fact: there are more than 10,000 people on the ground to help. Homeland security adviser Tom Bossert says more are on the way. The Pentagon has now appointed a three-star, Jeffrey Buchanan, to lead the logistical efforts on that island.

Tom Bossert and General Buchanan, the two men now heading up the recovery effort are said to join us here on NEW DAY in the next half hour.

CAMEROTA: We can't wait to talk to them to get the real facts. The situation in Puerto Rico on the ground is growing more desperate by the second if you talk to people on the ground there. Our reporters see widespread devastation.

So our cameras were there as people tried to cross this river using a wire and rope after Maria wiped out a bridge. People in this town about 40 miles outside of San Juan are pleading for help. They are walking hours just to get some bread or rice.

So the reality is very frightening. Look at this. This is drone video that was shot just yesterday. Obviously, you see all the houses, mangled roofs blown away. It's very hard for people to live in these conditions.

CNN has the story covered with a team of reporters in Puerto Rico for you. So let's begin with Boris Sanchez. He's live in San Juan with more. Tell us what you've learned, Boris, about how supplies can get out to people.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. Good morning, Alisyn. It certainly has been a challenge. And people here on the ground are asking us where is FEMA, where they can find FEMA, where they can find the supplies that they desperately need.

We're standing outside a gas station in San Juan that just opened a few moments ago. And you see people lining up. There are massive, massive lines. If you look just down the street, this isn't street parking. These are about 100 vehicles, as far as the eye can see, parked here. They've been waiting in line for hours.

I spoke to the gentleman that was at the front of the line. He told me that he got here at 9 p.m. last night. They ran out of gas. So he parked his car and decided to go to sleep, to wait until this morning when the police finally showed up to direct people into this gas station to get what they need.

I also spoke to one woman who said these lines aren't just at gas stations. She was at a supermarket yesterday. She told me she was waiting for several hours to get inside. And she became extremely disappointed when she finally got inside and there wasn't any water available. The food that she was looking for just wasn't on the shelves. So it is a serious problem, this logistical bottleneck that's keeping a ton of supplies, some 10,000 shipping containers full of goods at the port.

Hopefully today, it will have enough truckers and enough fuel to get them out into store shelves where help is desperately needed, Chris.

CUOMO: Look, just one example of the reality and proof of why it's not simply a good news story all around.

Boris, thank you very much. Stay well down there.

President Trump is standing behind his administration's response. He's been tweeting, saying, "Puerto Rico was devastated." True. "Phone system, electric, many roads gone." True. "FEMA and first responders are amazing." True. "FEMA. Governor said great job." All true. But there seems to be a disconnect between what you're hearing in

Washington about it all being good news and what the obvious reality is on the ground. CNN's Bill Weir has been there in Puerto Rico all week seeing the destruction firsthand, telling us stories to help us connect to it. He joins us now live from San Juan.

And Bill, look, as you know, and you've seen it before, two things can be true at once. They can be doing a good job, getting a lot of resources, trying damn, damn hard as only Americans can. And the situation on the ground can still be a crisis of epic proportion.

[07:05:05] BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. But when you call 911, you don't want to hear a cascade of excuses. You want to hear, "We hear you. We feel for you. And we're coming as fast as we can."

This is a problem with an administration that spends every day trying to shoot the messenger. Ultimately, it doesn't hurt us. It hurts the people that we're trying to help by sounding the alarm down here.

And yes, this is an epic challenge for FEMA. It's a quadruple whammy after Harvey and Irma and Mexico City and the rest of the Virgin Islands.

We have fantastic military. But they have to worry about North Korea and Afghanistan and the Middle East, in addition now to humanitarian aid.

All of those things are true.

But the reality is, I have yet to see one federal uniform outside of our hotel here in San Juan, out in the countryside, on the island of Vieques. We've had a dozen people come up to us and our team and ask, "Are you FEMA?" So that's the reality.

I would love to tell you amazing stories of airlifts and, you know, sailors amphibiously storming the beaches of these hard-hit communities. We just haven't seen it yet.

So that's just the pure reality of the situation. We are hearing little bits of better news, like on Vieques, after our just gut- wrenching report of the 10,000 there who are stranded, the Coast Guard brought water. They did get a fuel shipment in there and a little bit of food. But that's just the beginning of the triage that's needed from the islands to the mountains, Chris.

CUOMO: Look, I hear you. Thank you for what you're doing. You have helped us understand a situation. Without you there, as difficult as it is, we wouldn't know the other side of the story. So Bill, be well. Thank you very much.

Joining us now on the phone is the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricard -- Ricardo Rossello.

Governor, it's good to hear you, as always.

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO (via telephone): Thank you, Chris. And thank you for the opportunity and thoughts and prayers.

CUOMO: It is for you as long as you want it. If we can be of service, you have an outlet here as long as you want it.

The president points to you as someone who is providing proof that the effort on the ground is great. And you know that there is a stark contrast between the word "great" and the conditions that way too many of your people are living in. How do you explain these two versions of reality?

ROSSELLO: Well, it is a limitation of the logistic support and forming good news. You know, we're increasing those capabilities. But within the limitations, everybody has all hands on deck. That's what's important.

And recognizing that, you know, the different components of the National Guard, the military, FEMA and our government are working together on the -- on the priorities.

Certainly, Chris, there is a lot of work to do over here. We really want -- we really need to increase the delivery rates. We really need to enhance our logistics. But also, from that side, I have to say that the administration has responded to our petitions. FEMA, Brock Long, has been on the phone virtually all the time with me, checking out how things are going.

You know, this morning alone, I had a conversation with our generals, seeing how much of the capabilities and we're increasing, you know, about more than 1,000 personnel that's coming over here. Just on the generals and militia (ph) side. And we're also starting to get some EMACs from New York and New Jersey, as well as other key states.

CUOMO: What do you say to the people on the island of Vieques in the outlying areas outside of San Juan when they hear that the recovery is going great? They can't believe that. They tell our reporters all the time, "We haven't seen anything. We are in a state of pitched desperation."

What do you say to them that the reaction so far has been great? They don't understand that.

ROSSELLO: I understand it. That's why I think you alluded to it in your intro. There are two components that can happen at the same time. One, there -- we are maximizing all of the resources that we have right now so that we can deliver goods, water, food, and supplies. We do have a logistical -- severe logistical limitation. It has been enhancing. But it's still nowhere near where it needs to be.

However, we do have, again, information that a lot of these, you know, personnel, people that will transport, that will manage fuel, that will be engineering bridges, that will be working with our medical personnel, are here or are on their way.

Again, we got a report this morning that over 1,000 of them we looked into yesterday are here and are ready to be deployed. Missions are going all over Puerto Rico. We've identified 11 regional spots so that mayors that can go get water, food and supplies.

[07:10:03] And now, they're really working on the logistics of diesel and fuel so that we can distribute them. We are starting to get some more tankers. And the truck drivers are starting to respond effectively.

CUOMO: What wasn't understood about the logistical considerations early on? Because obviously, there's been a shift. They've changed. They're changing the infrastructure on the governmental side. Who's in place, how many are in place, how they're doing things. What wasn't understood early on that needed to be shifted?

ROSSELLO: Well, here's what happened. We lost all energy. Therefore, we lost most of the telecoms. Roads were blocked, so we couldn't really get to a lot of the places in Puerto Rico.

In the early onset, a lot of the truck drivers that we have we couldn't communicate with. So we couldn't ask them to report, and there was a lower percentage of truck drivers that was available at that juncture and enough trucks that weren't damaged to provoke the -- you know, the massive logistical effort that is needed.

So therefore, as soon as that was identified very early on, petitions went out so that we can get equipment. You know, fuel tankers and that we could get personnel to drive it. Equipment comes, in general, through boats. It takes a little bit longer. And the air traffic control has been severely clogged (ph). But I'm at least happy to report that, thanks to the installation of provisional radars, and the opening of two additional airports in Puerto Rico, we've been able to flex (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and augment meant that band width of air traffic in Puerto Rico.

That is starting to increase, for example, because we were getting seven flights. Now we're up to 28 flights on hour, based on this change. And we might get to 36 today.

So things are starting to increase, and I recognize, it is my biggest challenge and biggest concern, you know, that they are people in Puerto Rico that either haven't -- we haven't reached. And we need to reach them. And we need the capability to reach them.

And this is why it is important that we look at this as a whole government effort, the local government, federal government. You know, the different capabilities of the -- of the militia and the different capabilities of the National Guard and work together, having a logistic -- plan in place. See results and expectations. So that the people of Puerto Rico know that.

CUOMO: Governor, I think I lost you. If you can still hear us, I hope you know that the reason we keep reporting on the need is because it's real. It's not about knocking the government or the president or getting into a political spat. If we don't tell their stories, if we're not honest about the need, we are disrespecting the people on that island. That's why we have to tell the truth about the situation. And to keep the urgency and the demand here in America to be able to get involved. Help that is fueled by people knowing about the situation. That's why we're doing it.

Governor, you are welcome here whenever you need to get the word out, we'll call away.

ROSSELLO: Thank you, and we do need that help. We are still calling for it, and all hands on deck. It's the only way to get Puerto Rico out of this very serious situation.

CUOMO: Let us know what we can do. Be well.


CAMEROTA: So Chris, we'll have much more on the crisis in Puerto Rico throughout the hour, but up next, Health Secretary Tom Price caught in the middle of a private plane controversy that reportedly cost taxpayers about a million dollars. We have all of the new details, and sources tell us those details have the White House fuming.


[07:19:46] CAMEROTA: The controversy is growing over Health Secretary Tom Price's use of private planes on the taxpayer's dime. CNN now reporting that Price also used military aircraft to travel overseas. Price is offering to pay the government back, but only $50,000, the cost of his one seat, not the total cost that's reported to be more than $1 million.

CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with all the details.

Hi, Joe.


Members of the House and Senate from both parties are now asking questions about this issue involving jet travel and the health secretary. Tom Price has promised to pay the money back and says he will not take any more chartered flights. But the inspector general is looking into it.

The president, for his part, would certainly love to get beyond this issue, 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.

PRICE: 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.

SANDERS: 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.

[07:20:07] 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.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: Now, the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, and the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, have also come under fire for using taxpayer dollars for costly flights. And according to Politico and "The Washington Post," Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, has taken some flights, too, including a $12,000 flight to his hometown for a political trip. The spokesperson for the department says that trip was approved by ethics officials.

Back to you.

CAMEROTA: All right, Joe, thank you very much.

Let's discuss all this with CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN contributor and former director for the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Walter Schaub.

Walter, I want to start with you, because you described what you saw unfolding yesterday with Tom Price's story as, quote, "really weird." What -- what was it in particular that stuck out to you?

WALTER SCHAUB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you've got the secretary of interior flying around on a jet owned by the oil and gas industry. And then even stranger, we're paying for it.

There's authority for the acceptance of reimbursement of outside travel from outside sources if you go through a process with the ethics officials. And when they reference the ethics officials, I thought that might be what they're talking about. But apparently, we paid the bill for that.

CUOMO: So, the word from the inside here, the spin is, "Look, maybe it was too much. But this happens. People use the government flights when they're in government office. That's how they get around. It's often easier. They don't have to pre-plan as much. They can move last second. It happens." Do you buy that?

SCHAUB: No, not at all. This doesn't happen. And on the rare occasion when it does, it's always big news. You heard Secretary Price himself when he was in Congress shouting, "Don't you fly over America in your luxury jets." And then he ran off and started doing that.

This is completely outside the culture of the executive branch and completely inconsistent with the ethical principles of preserving the public's trust and their resources. But this is also the inevitable consequences of a bad tone from the top that I started warning about in a speech on January 11, when I risked my career to warn the president that, if he keeps behaving the way he does, keeping his properties and advertising his properties, his cabinet and even lower- level official are going to follow his lead.

CAMEROTA: But yet, President Trump is reportedly quite upset about this with Tom Price, Jeffrey. So despite what he, whatever liberties he may be taking, he's upset with Tom Price.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, when you look at the federal budget, which is over $1 trillion, $1 million is less than a drop in the bucket.

But Donald Trump understands how the public perceives things. And this million-dollar -- these million-dollar private plane flights, that's what people are going to remember about Tom Price. They're not going to remember anything else. And that's embarrassing to the administration about someone who appears to be, you know, luxuriating on the public's dime.

CAMEROTA: He's offering to pay $52,000 back for his seat.

TOOBIN: Yes, I know. I mean, I wonder if that makes it worse or better. Because all it does it point out the contrast that the taxpayers are on the hook for a million dollars, and he's paying 50 grand. It's a gesture. It sounds to me like his job is hanging by a thread.

Remember also, Tom Price is a member -- former member of Congress who came, in part, in significant part, to do healthcare reform, which of course, has gone up in flames. So the president is ill-disposed towards him to start with.

CUOMO: All right. Other controversy. The e-mail usage. Let's start with you. On an ethical level, before we get to any legal exposure because of Kushner being part of that investigation, what is the rule about using a private e-mail account if I'm working in the White House?


SCHAUB: You're asking me. Well, the rule is you're supposed to use the government e-mail.

CUOMO: Do you have to? Is it -- is it a mandatory thing? Can you also use -- can you get a waiver? Is there a way to disclose it? What's the deal?

SCHAUB: No, no. There's no -- there's no waiver for it. They're covered by the Presidential Records Act, which unlike the Federal Records Act, that covers other agencies, mandates the retention of all work-related records.

[07:25:08] Now they do have a policy to sort of be a catch-all when people violate the rule. They are supposed to forward copies of the e-mails to the White House systems.

CUOMO: Just relevant ones or all of them?

SCHAUB: Well, all of them if they're work-related because of the Presidential Records Act.

CUOMO: So there is some discretion?

SCHAUB: Only if they're work -- only if they're not work-related. The problem is, if you go around using your private system, you're just inviting investigators to come to check your e-mail, your personal e-mail to see if you followed the rule to forward them to the White House.

CAMEROTA: I thought we learned this lesson, Jeffrey. Can I have the two years of my life back from the last presidential race?

TOOBIN: Right. I mean, you know, it is -- the hypocrisy is almost too perfect. I mean, you know, every rally the chant was "lock her up," because Hillary Clinton used a...

CAMEROTA: Private server.

TOOBIN: ... private server.

CAMEROTA: Is that different than using a private e-mail account?

TOOBIN: I don't see how it's different.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's bigger. You install a private server in your home, as opposed to using Hotmail.

TOOBIN: But it's still a...

CUOMO: Hotmail?

CAMEROTA: I went there. I went there. Thank you.

TOOBIN: Thousand back war (ph) on NEW DAY here.

CUOMO: You got us wrapped because of that. The Hotmail got the whole segment ended.

CAMEROTA: You don't really -- honestly, you don't see any distinction between...?

TOOBIN: No. Absolutely not. The rule is either that you use government e-mail or you don't. And the fact that one is a private server or one is Hotmail, if anybody remembers what Hotmail is, or Gmail, which is a little more contemporary, there is -- they're private; they are non-governmental e-mails.

CUOMO: We have to go. We know what the distinction will be. It will be that she had control of the e-mails. She decided what she'd turn over. And that there were efforts to destroy things by Hillary Clinton that we haven't seen evidence of here.

TOOBIN: But Jared Kushner's lawyer has said, "We are turning over those e-mails." In other words, he is deciding...

CUOMO: He's doing the same thing.

TOOBIN: So it's the same thing. You're right. It is different because she had a private server, but the question is whether that's a distinction that makes a difference.

CAMEROTA: Gentlemen, thank you very much. You can all reach me on Hotmail.

CUOMO: Has the White House done enough to help people in Puerto Rico? The president is saying, "Yes, we're doing great. Listen to the governor. He says everything he asks for we give him."

OK. Tell that to that man walking in the water in front of your face right now. Tell that to the people who have no power, no water, no chance of sustainable life right now. Do they feel it's great? Of course not, and that's why it is a tale of two realities there right now. We're going to check in with one of the people in charge of the effort next.