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Tillerson: U.S. In Direct Talks With North Korea; Devastated Cities Facing Risk Of Flash Flooding; Trump Tweets Than San Juan's Leadership Is "Poor" Aired 11-12p ET

Aired September 30, 2017 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:00:26] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. It's 11:00 on the East Coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Welcome.

We begin with what is quickly becoming a life or death situation for the people of Puerto Rico. And this was the backdrop of the President of the United States Donald Trump, attacking those struggling to survive.

In a series of tweets from his private golf club this morning, the President saying this quote, "The mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, had now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort." All of these in a series of tweets. "10,000 federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job." That from President Trump.

Right now in Puerto Rico nearly 1.5 million people still have no access to clean drinking water. Some are being forced to fill up jugs in creeks and streams. More than three million people still have no electricity. And they are waiting in line for hours just to get a few gallons of fuel. And even in many cases after waiting hours, still no fuel.

These are the people the most powerful man in the world is attacking.

The criticism the President refers to in his tweet addresses this desperate plea for help from the mayor of San Juan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying.

If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We have team coverage on all of this from Puerto Rico to the White House. Let's begin with CNN's Boris Sanchez in San Juan.

So Boris -- no electricity in many places, Internet scarce, inability to call out on cell phones, et cetera. People there -- are many aware of what the President has been tweeting this morning?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNCDRPD: Oh, they are -- Fred. It may be difficult to get access to Internet and cell service may be spotty at best but word of what President Trump is saying about this community is spreading. And I cannot repeat what some have told me about the President on television after hearing what he said that these communities have to do more to help themselves.

One man actually telling that the only reason he was able to get out of his home is because of the help of neighbors who loaned him a machete and a chainsaw so he could take out a tree that went into his home.

I heard this again and again just two days ago a young mother with two small daughters telling me that she's living off of the favors of others because she can't get her hands on potable water or food.

Yesterday I talked to one man who said that in his neighborhood after several roofs were blown off of houses, he had to take in two families in his own home and share what few precious resources he had with them.

Further complicating things, Fred, there's said to be rain this weekend in Puerto Rico. The ground is saturated, and in that neighborhood where that man lives, there's a channel that runs through it that floods for just a typical rainstorm. Raw sewage was flowing into people's homes in that neighborhood. And this weekend it is expected again to flood as we face two to four inches of rain -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So Boris -- when the President tweets out that people should be helping themselves. They are waiting for somebody else, you know, to take care of them. What have you seen while you've been there in terms of how -- you described in part how some people are helping themselves, helping out neighbors -- but what have you seen in the time that you've been there in terms of how people are pulling together to help themselves until there is a bigger coordinated effort to help them?

SANCHEZ: Well, we spent quite a bit of time in lines, Fred, waiting with Puerto Ricans, watching them as they spent hours and hours on end to get gasoline or to get ice, sometimes to no avail. And during those encounters, you see people helping people -- whether it's lending them a hand to pump gas, whether it's lending them something as simple as a bottle of water as people are camped out, literally, overnight waiting for fuel.

[11:05:04] The community is lending a hand neighbor to neighbor -- Fred. The problem is distributing resources some of which are already on this island. We mentioned there is a lack of fuel and that's preventing more of the supplies that are already at the port from getting on to store shelves. I spoke to one woman yesterday who told me that she waited hours outside of a grocery store to get inside. When she finally did, there was no water inside. The shelves were barely stocked.

It is a problem of supply and demand, and in Puerto Rico right now, there is a lot of demand for help -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And, Boris, these are Americans citizens. Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, but these are American citizens. And for many to hear the President reference them as they, and they in this tweet want everything to be done for them -- how is that translating to people?

SANCHEZ: Yes. Yes, the gentleman that I spoke to that needed his neighbor's help to get out of his house told me that it's just hurtful. It hurts them to remind people that they are Americans. And it is almost humiliating that they would have to beg for help, such as the mayor of San Juan giving that desperate emotional plea.

It is certainly not being received well, the way that the President, the leader of the free world, is treating a territory of the United States.

WHITFIELD: Boris Sanchez -- thank you so much.

All right. So with the President lashing out at Puerto Rico and some of the leaders there on the island the governor of Puerto Rico now responding to the President's tweets and criticism. FEMA and Puerto Rican leaders wrapping up their daily press conference updating the recovery, as well.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has an update on the relief efforts and the response to the President of the United States.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred -- we actually read that tweet from the President to the governor here at this news conference. He said he hadn't seen it, but he also just remained above neutral in his response to it, really saying he's focused on the collaboration between the government here in Puerto Rico and federal officials to really get what's needed here on the island and to help the people.

He also sort of had a few words for the mayor of San Juan saying everyone really needs to focus on the task at hand, again, which is in his mind the people of Puerto Rico and their needs. But here's more of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICARDO ROSSELLO, GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO: I've spoken to the President. I don't feel that -- that message was sent in general. I do reiterate that the only way for this to work is for us to have collaboration.

And let me stress this, I am committed to collaborating with everybody. This is a point where we can't look at small differences. We can't establish, you know, differences based on politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRAS: The governor admitting in this news conference really saying that there's no doubt, we need to do more because we are in a state of emergency.

But he did also reiterate that there has been progress. He said there's more gas on the island. He says they are making priorities. The hospital and the airport and they are really relying on local municipalities to communicate their needs to get food and water and other supplies to areas outside the major cities.

So he did again say that they are making progress. They are working together. But he was honest in his response that there needs to be more done and that they are working on it -- Fred.

All right. Brynn Gingras -- thank you so much.

All right. I want to bring in now CNN senior international correspondent Ivan Watson.

Ivan -- you have been out in the neighborhoods of Puerto Rico and what are you seeing as you talk to people? And in general what has been the response to federal response -- the new sentiments from the President of the United States this morning?

All right. We're going to have to try and reconnect with our Ivan Watson. None of us can hear him right now. Thanks so much, we'll get back with you, Ivan. We'll work out that audio problem.

Meantime, the President is at one of his golf courses in New Jersey. He is spending his weekend there and at the same time tweeting these sentiments about Puerto Rico from the comfortable confines of his golf course.

Ryan Nobles is live in Branchburg near that golf club. And so, Ryan, the President is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. He now says that the first lady Melania will accompany him.

But with his tweets this morning, what is the President's objective in this scheduled visit?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the President wants to demonstrate that he and the federal government are doing all they can to help the people of Puerto Rico and emphasize the point that Puerto Rico is not a separate country. That it is part of the United States, an American territory and, therefore under his responsibility to make sure that they get all the help that they need.

[11:10:01] And this is a pattern that we've seen with this president. When he feels that he's under attack, when he's being criticized, he usually doesn't take responsibility. Instead he fights back and that's exactly what he's doing on Twitter this morning.

To your point about his visit there next week, he did tweet about the visit. He said, quote, "I will be going to Puerto Rico on Tuesday with Melania. We'll hopefully be able to stop at the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well." In parentheses he writes "People working hard" because of course, it's not just Puerto Rico that was hit hard by Hurricane Maria.

A number of those islands in that part of the world are also in serious trouble, the U.S. Virgin Islands being among them. But the President seems very upset about the response to how the federal government handled this situation. And the White House in general seems to be pushing back on that criticism.

In addition to the President's tweets this is morning, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, has been pretty active on Twitter, as well, responding to a "Washington Post" story about the response by the President and the optics of him spending time at his private golf course as opposed to being at the White House or surveying the damage in Puerto Rico.

And Sarah Sanders tweeting this morning that the "Washington Post" story on Puerto Rico is false; POTUS gave military and first responders 100 percent support and is updated daily on the efforts by General Kelly and FEMA."

And to that end, Fredricka, later this afternoon for about 45 minutes the President will be on the phone with five different people associated with the response in Puerto Rico, including the governor of Puerto Rico, the administrator of FEMA.

He's also going to talk to some leaders from the U.S. Virgin Islands with the hope of getting a sense of exactly what is happening there and what more the federal government can do.

And I'll also add one other wrinkle to this back and forth between the White House, the President, and the folks on the ground there is that the White House seems to be spinning this as if there's some sort of criticism by the first responders and the people on the ground, the military folks that are helping aid the recovery there. And there hasn't been a whole lot of that.

You haven't heard complaints from the mayor of San Juan, for instance, that the soldiers and the FEMA employees are not working hard enough. This appears to be a logistics issue. They are complaining about the bureaucracy and when it comes to getting all those things in line, the person who's most responsible for that is the President of the United States, which is perhaps part of the reason that he's feeling the heat this morning -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles -- thanks so much.

Let's check back and go right back to Puerto Rico now and check with our international -- senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. I think we've worked out the audio wrinkle there -- Ivan.

So, you know, give us a sense of what people are feeling there, particularly after the President's sentiment. Is this kind of salt to the wounds? They've already been victimized by these two hurricanes and now to hear the President of the United States with such strong language and, you know, differentiating people by saying it's they, making no real direct reference to these Americans there in Puerto Rico and instead criticizing particularly the mayor, who has been pleading for help after saying people are dying there.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka -- I don't have specific response to the President's latest tweets. Where I've been traveling to outside of San Juan, when you reach the edge of the Puerto Rican capital, that's where the cell phone signal for the most part dies.

And as you drive on the highway and the roads are very cleared in the areas that I've been. There are pockets on the highway where people pull over on the side because there might be a little bit of cell phone signal and that's where people try to make phone calls.

Not necessarily do e-mails and check Twitter, but try to call their loved ones on the mainland U.S. and communicate and let people know that they are ok.

And when you go into smaller towns what you see is long, long lines of people waiting -- for gas, for fuel, for diesel to run their generators. And at those locations I've tried to ask again and again what information are you getting? Is anybody giving you information?

And one lady, a cancer survivor in her 60s, told me, you know, I haven't had electricity since Hurricane Irma. We have no Internet. We have no television, of course, but also no running water right and clearly no fuel and no telephone.

So people aren't -- don't have any information whatsoever. And she told me in this town called Florida, that she has not seen any federal presence whatsoever. The municipality, the mayor and the municipal officials have been working, have provided some assistance, created a local shelter for people made homeless by flooding, but they hadn't seen any federal assistance.

During our visit there on Friday, the first assessment team from FEMA, as they told me, visited that town for the very first time, nine days after the hurricane. That's one town, one example.

[11:14:58] And it's a town that's only about an hour's drive from where I'm standing right now on wide open roads if you have the gas to fill up your car to get there. And people are spending 24 hours at a time in line for gas.

But there is an information vacuum once you leave San Juan and the cell phone presence here. There's an information vacuum and people are listening to AM radios with battery power to try to get any information about the outside world. And most of this is coming word of mouth, basically, from their communities standing in line at a gas station, hearing maybe that a fuel truck will arrive in the coming hours and that they maybe could get a ration of $10 or $20 worth of gas.

So in areas like that not much reaction to tweets on social media right now from the commander in chief -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Yes, so there may be aid that has made it to the island but distribution still a major obstacle.

Ivan -- we watched you interacting with people throughout the week. There were times in which you were traversing, you know, a river, you know, rushing water, that others were doing in order to get to fresh water or to find some other aid.

When the President this morning tweeted, I'm quoting him now, "They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort." What have you seen that demonstrates there have been community members, neighbors, helping one another, especially when aid has not been able to get to them? And we're looking, again, at some images that you and your crew were able to get people trying to get across this rushing body of water?

WATSON: All I've seen here so far is a community effort -- Fredricka. I've seen neighbors helping their neighbors. I've seen families relying on each other for if somebody's house is destroyed, you move in with your in-laws or you move in with your cousins down the street. That's pretty much all I've seen.

I've seen some municipal government support, and I know that the federal government is on the ground. I've been out with the U.S. Navy and seen the helicopters in the air. And there is an effort on that front. But as you go from community to community, there are ordinary Puerto Ricans who are helping each other in the absence of assistance or guidance coming from the local or federal government -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ivan Watson -- thank you so much.

We're going to check back -- check back with you momentarily.

Meantime, let's get back to some of the President's words that he tweeted out this morning. At least one direct dig at the mayor of San Juan, saying, poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others. And the President tweeting they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.

All right. With me now to talk more extensively about this, CNN's Brian Stelter, CNN political commentator David Swerdlick, CNN contributor Salena Zito. Good to see all of you.

We have seen the San Juan mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, waist deep in flood water. She is sleeping in a cot, in a shelter, surviving on emergency rations herself pleading for help for her city, imploring people to understand that this is life or death. People are dying, she says.

So, you know, Brian -- to you first. Is and does this demonstrate, as the President has been putting it, poor leadership in the mayor?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: At best the President's tweets are insensitive today. I think at worst, Fred -- they are a racist dog whistle, a disgraceful reaction to what he's seen on television. He's clearly watching the mayor of San Juan on CNN and other channels calling for more help, begging for more help, and reacting this way. I think it's personally beyond the pale and unpresidential. And I think it's a tough situation for journalists because we've got to call it that. We've got to identify what we're seeing.

I'm so glad that all of our reporters are there in Puerto Rico are describing what's actually happening on the ground. And I hope the President in between his golf game today watches more of those reports from the ground, rather than just impulsively reacting to what he's seen from the mayor of San Juan.

WHITFIELD: Salena, it doesn't just look bad particularly when you talk about the President tweeting like this while he's at a comfortable golf course, you know, in New Jersey, and he has these very disparaging remarks, insulting remarks, adding salt to the wounds, but it is bad. It's not that it just looks bad --

STELTER: Yes.

WHITFIELD: -- it is bad. So, how does the President go to Puerto Rico on Tuesday with or without Melania? He's tweeted out that Melania will be now going with him, whereas first it was going to be too, you know, too much for the two to be going together because of the resources it would take.

But what can he say or do? And how do you comfort people that you've just insulted?

[00:19:58] SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, like you said, optics are everything. So doing this from a golf resort while people are suffering was not his best move although you could set a clock by it.

I went to bed last night expecting some kind of tweet this morning, sadly.

WHITFIELD: Well, you didn't expect something like this -- I mean, direct insults like this -- this people while they're down.

ZITO: I kind of did. Because, you know, I do -- I mean, I did. You know, you think about -- you think about his typical reaction to things whenever people are poking at him. And this is the type of reaction that he has. This is who he is.

In normal circumstances with a traditional president, you would hear more remarks about aspiration, right; pulling people together to, you know, say we're here for you. We're coming for you, we'll see you Tuesday. We're doing the best that we can. We know there's flaws, we're trying our best.

All those are true facts. I do believe they are trying their best. I do believe it's difficult. Logistically, their infrastructure isn't the same as what happened in Houston. They didn't have the same sort of ability to prepare locally, because Texas and Florida had already seen devastating hurricanes 10, 20, 30 years earlier, so they kind of knew they had that ten-year ability to prepare for when these things happen. Puerto Rico did not. But this is not the reaction that serves anybody well, you know. It doesn't serve the country well. It doesn't serve people that you know are hurting well.

You need more messages that say, look, we're here for you. The system is flawed, but we're trying our best to get to you. I'll see you Tuesday. That's what he should have said.

WHITFIELD: So, David, should anyone in Puerto Rico be looking forward to the President's visit in terms of it representing any real change? That their lives will suddenly improve. That they will now have fresh water in places where they don't have it? And we're not talking about just downtown in the San Juan area.

But you heard our reporters describing go an hour out, 45 minutes out, even further than that, and it's beyond bare bones. They really have nothing.

Does the President seem like he's coming in to rescue and save the day, particularly with this language?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Fredricka -- good morning. The President is showing up far too late, but it's still good that he's going, whether or not the first lady goes, as well. People want to see their president on the ground, surveying the situation, getting a sense of exactly what it's like, and also comforting people.

He is the President of everybody in the United States. I think one of the problems here -- this is not making an excuse for him -- is that he has not over the course of a week gotten his hands around this idea that he is the President of every American.

Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, on the other side of the world, Guam, Saipan, on and on -- these are Americans. These aren't just secondary -- second-class citizens. And the fact that as Salena said, Puerto Rico maybe has different infrastructure than Texas or Florida should not change the level of concern and responsibility that the President had.

The other thing is that when you look at his tweets, they fly in the face of exactly the way a president should approach the situation. He says the mayor of San Juan is exhibiting poor leadership. No. He's exhibiting poor leadership in this situation.

He says, oh, it's surrounded by an ocean. The distance between San Juan and Miami is the same distance between Miami and Washington, D.C. -- Fred/

So if he's not willing to embrace that and do his best, clearly, there's always going to be snags and problems -- but try to address it and be proactive -- then he's not doing his job.

WHITFIELD: Right. At least 700 miles -- something like that. But, you know, the comfort part -- when you talked about the comfort part --

SWERDLICK: Right.

STELTER: Yes.

WHITFIELD: I mean if he hasn't exhibited it yet, how does he? How does this President try to exhibit that in a sincere manner on Tuesday because that has to come with him, right? It has to come with the President of the United States.

You talk about it's important; it's symbolism that a president would show up. But how does he convince people that this is sincere comfort upon reflection that he is now bringing? How important is it to have that?

SWERDLICK: Oh, you asked me.

WHITFIELD: Yes.

SWERDLICK: So I guess I would say all presidents have to ramp up and get -- look, I will say, President Obama by the end of his term clearly embraced this and understood it. If you think of Joplin, Missouri when that town was flattened by tornados, President Obama was right there hugging people, walking through the damaged areas.

There were earlier times in his presidency you take the Gulf oil spill, where even though people will say, and people from that White House will say, they were doing everything they could to contain that situation, he was not as visible as people wanted him to be. And they paid a political price for that, whether it was fair or not.

[11:24:55] President Trump now is seeing that the politics and the optics of this are parts that they've got to get the job done, right -- ultimately it's food, water, electricity that Puerto Ricans need.

But they also got to show that his presence in Puerto Rico next week will focus the rest of the country's attention on exactly what's going on there. That is part of his job and responsibility.

WHITFIELD: And Brian -- this is nothing personal, those of us in this business have thick skin and we're not trying to be friends, you know, particularly, with leadership in which we are reporting responsibly. But when the President tweeted today -- fake news CNN and NBC are going out of their way to disparage our great first responders as a way to get Trump. Not fair to first responders or effort.

The President's method of trying to turn the tables here while there's criticism --

STELTER: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- and there's anguish being expressed out of Puerto Rico that they need more. The President is making a concerted effort to say this is the media's fault, and it's disparaging first responders when I don't think anybody has any record of being able to see evidence of that, that there is criticism of first responders. It's that people living there --

STELTER: Right.

WHITFIELD: -- enduring this agony are saying, help us, we're in trouble.

STELTER: They are asking for more of those resources. They have some, they are asking for more. And the President is trying to make this a political fight. He's trying to make this about his enemies he thinks he has in the media.

I think it's best not to take that bait. There's, obviously, much more important things going on. But, you know, I think if this ends up being a political argument where Trump supporters feel one way and the rest of the country feels another way, that's too bad. Because we see the pictures, all of us, no matter who you voted for see the pictures and see what needs to be done.

President Bush during Katrina never said quote, "they want everything to be done for them". And President Obama during the Gulf oil spill never said, quote, "They want everything to be done for them".

Presidents know how to react to disasters, but this President doesn't. I think that's why most of the country is going to be shocked when they see these tweets. I know that Trump supporters are going to defend it, but most of the country will be shocked.

And once again the country will be more divided, when, in fact, this is a moment for everybody to be on the same team and try to help out the commonwealth.

WHITFIELD: And Salena, this is an improvement at the end of the week of what has been a pretty tough week, not just for the President, but for America. You know, we're talking last weekend the President, you know, using the word SOBs, you know, when he was in Alabama and making reference to NFL players, mostly black players, there was that.

And then this week with his own Health and Human Services secretary and the revealing, further revealing of secretaries, not just, you know, Tom Price, but secretaries who are using private planes or military planes potentially inappropriately. And instead of the President now getting a handle of things now with the resignation of HHS secretary now there's new material -- something else to further divide.

ZITO: Right. I think the President got one thing right, one thing really wrong, and one thing (inaudible) awkwardly this week in terms of political cred.

So, with Price, it was best to get rid of him. The one thing that I will always say that will get detached Trump voters from Trump will be if he becomes part of the swamp. Price became the epitome of the swamp by his behavior, so that was the best thing possible.

He completely misread the Alabama race. That race was not about him. That was not about weakening support about him. That was specifically local and that had everything to do with the former governor who was having an affair on the taxpayer's dime, resigned, and those voters never had the ability to punish that governor.

That governor's appointed Strange, Strange did not indict him, and he paid the price. This was against mobile establishment. This was not about Trump.

In terms of the NFL, you know, that's a real difficult one, especially in a place like Pittsburgh and with the Pittsburgh Steelers. You know, people have not liked in general the -- and polling showed it prior to what the President said, right -- they did not like the kneeling for the flag. It had nothing to do with not being supportive of the issue, but they felt it was not respectful of the people that went before it.

It's sort of like spitting on a funeral of a gold star mom, right. The flag is symbolic --

(CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: So I wonder, should this instead be a moment of a realization for the President of the United States, that perhaps, you know, his instincts or how he's acted on certain instincts really have not bode well not just for the country, but even for him politically or even personally? And are we at that juncture?

I mean is it a feeling that you might have that the President will come to that moment of a realization of, you know, perhaps his calculus is off?

[11:29:54] Well, impulses -- impulses are never good. I mean, I've always taught my children, if you impulsively feel you should do something but you hesitate, take a walk around the block and clear your head, you know.

So you should never tweet in anger. You should never, you know, make impulsive statements in anger and in frustration.

And does that -- I don't know if he's ever going to stop doing that. It was a part of what attracted voters to him, because they saw him as a fighter, but I don't know if it's sustainable. I mean, that's sort of the unknown answer.

WHITFIELD: Yes, OK. Well, we'll stop it right there for now. We've got more, Salena Zito, David Swerdlick, Brian Stelter, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Still ahead, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has direct lines of communication to Pyongyang, this as the U.S. works to bring down tensions in the region over North Korea's continued missile tests. Tillerson's advice to both sides in the conflict next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:07] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. In addition to what is happening and not happening in Puerto Rico, we are also following breaking news on North Korea and its nuclear threat. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the most immediate need is to calm the situation down, and for the North to stop firing off missiles.

He also said the U.S. has direct channels to Pyongyang and is talking directly with North Korean officials. Tillerson, who is now heading back home, made the remarks following a meeting with China's president.

Let's go live now to CNN's Matt Rivers in Beijing with more on this -- Matt.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we were in a meeting with the secretary of state just a few hours ago with a dozen or so other journalists, and we had the opportunity to ask him some questions, and that's when those lines, that news about the direct communication with North Korea came up.

This was an off-camera briefing, but the secretary of state was asked, have you reached out to North Korea and have they given indication that they are ready to talk, and because it was off camera, let me give you the exact words from the secretary of state.

He said in response to that question, we are probing so stay tuned. We asked the North Koreans would you like to talk. We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation or a blackout. We have a couple of channels to Pyongyang. We can talk to them.

We do talk to them directly through our own channels, and that's very interesting, Fred, because what you're seeing there is for the first time the Trump administration actually admitting that they do have direct lines of communication with Pyongyang about the missile issue.

Now, what the secretary of state did not say is what the North Koreans have said back. He didn't say if they would be ready to sit down. It was very clear that this is still in the very beginning stages.

But you know, we've known that U.S. and North Korean officials have talked before over things like hostage's release so you remember Otto Warmbier, the American student that died after being released from North Korean custody, but to negotiate his release, American officials and North Korean officials actually met in Norway.

So, we know there's been direct communication in the past, but not about the missile issue. So, when you take into consideration the kind of rhetoric that we've seen from Pyongyang, the kind of rhetoric we've seen from President Trump, how tense this situation has become.

This is probably a good sign that there could be some point down the road the chance for a diplomatic solution to this very tense situation.

WHITFIELD: All right, Matt Rivers in Beijing, thanks so much. And we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:41:58]

WHITFIELD: All right, dire situation in Puerto Rico, still so many people without power and clean water, and making matters worse now on that island, more heavy rain is moving in to the islands and even flash flooding is also a serious threat.

CNN meteorologist, Allison Chinchar, is there in the weather center. So, it is bad, it could worsen.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It could, yes. We've already seen about two to three inches fall in some locations of Puerto Rico, mostly in the northwestern section of the state, but all of the region is under a flood watch.

Now we have had some flash flood warnings over the past 24 hours in this region, and that will likely continue as more rain continues to fall. Part of the problem with the flooding is that we still have issues from Hurricane Maria.

Rivers, creeks, and streams still have not been able to recede back to normal levels, which means they are more likely to swell again when you add more rain. And it was a lot of rain that we had during Hurricane Maria. The red regions on this map for Puerto Rico show about six to 10 inches.

The purple area is 10 to 15, and the white areas on the map of the territory show at 20 inches, if not more, that we were able to see from Hurricane Maria. Now we're talking about adding in most areas about one to three inches of rain, but there will be some spots that pick up in excess of four inches of rain.

And again, we talked about the rivers, creeks, and streams, but there's also the concern of we still have some streets, some neighborhoods in Puerto Rico that are still under water, and now you're going to be adding more rain on top of that.

Here's a look at the region, OK, here's the Virgin Islands and here's the Puerto Rican territory right here. Again, you can see we've got a lot of tropical moisture surrounding this, with the majority of it down to the south beginning to push off to the north.

So, this isn't just going to be one storm. You're likely going to get waves of rain that come in, Fredricka, and that's going to be a problem, because it's going to be one storm after another after another, and it really doesn't give people the ability to clean up and recover from Maria, let alone then have to clean up from what this event will do.

WHITFIELD: All right, Allison Chinchar, thank you so much. We'll check back with you. We have so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

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[11:48:21]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You could say this city is deeply devoted to denim, but that might be an understatement. Kojima, Japan, started making jeans about 50 years ago, and today high end local brands like Momotaro help attract visitors from around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): At first, Momotaro was the only jeans shop running on the street. There was a small number of people, about 50,000 visited in 2010, but now it has become more than 300,000.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: Blue jeans may have been born in the United States, but they've brought new life to this part of Japan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. We're following developments out of Puerto Rico today, and President Trump tweeting just this morning, quoting now, "The mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them, when it should be a community effort. Ten thousand federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job." That from the president.

I want to bring in CNN national security commentator, Mike Rogers. So, Mike, good to see you. When the president has those sentiments that are tweeted out just a couple days before he is to arrive in Puerto Rico, people expect him to be the comforter in chief.

[11:50:05] What's your point of view having served in U.S. Congress, you know, for many, many years representing Michigan, to hear a president talk in this matter during a time of crisis for people?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: It certainly isn't helpful at the very least and may be harmful at the very best. This is the time for the president to rise above his personal animus toward anybody, and it seems to be a long list these days. It's not hopeful.

So, the president can do a lot for Puerto Rico. He can urge a nation to stand up and help support them in any way that we can including funds and food and any other, multiple ways that he could help, as well as encouraging the people of Puerto Rico to hang in there, we're coming as soon as we can.

We're going to get as much aid as we can. This thing will never be a success, and no president, no director, no secretary should ever say this thing is going fantastic even if the logistics part is coming together the way it was planned until the last person has water, food, they have a hospital to go to that's operational and meet their medical needs and have security patrolling the streets.

Until that happens, this is a work in progress and nothing more. Encouragement is always a better approach to these things. These folks are in really, really tough shape down there.

WHITFIELD: Would you go as far as saying it's a mistake that the president would use the word fantastic or it's going well when, A, he not seen it, yes, there may be federal workers who have been sent down there, but to not have seen for himself, to not see evidence that, yes, indeed, everyone does have water or food to eat and medicines?

ROGERS: Yes. You know, where I think that came from -- I'll play devil's advocate. The president is the briefed on the progress that FEMA is making. And so, you remember in the beginning, they had a huge challenge. They had no electric grid.

The airports were not working at all. Nor were the ports. If you're going to help the island, you have to fix those things first and have things arrive so that you can get them disbursed.

I imagine what he heard in those first few days was that part was going well. They're working on getting the airport ready and did that pretty quickly. The ports are now able to take at least limited shipments into the ports. Those are all successful things, but not -- I wouldn't say it was fantastic.

I imagine he heard that and said, it's going fantastic. Our plan is working. Not understanding that, boy, we are a long way from anything close to fantastic. We had families that are devastated and haven't been touched yet by either local authorities or federal authorities.

WHITFIELD: All right. Onto your show, "Declassified," tonight's episode, the FBI and the CIA embarking on a decade-long effort to catch the highest-ranking CIA officer to ever commit espionage and his son also joined the spy game. Here's a quick look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a call when I was in Los Angeles. We want you to come back and run this group. When I went to the counter- espionage group I asked if I could bring an assistant with me, somebody from the FBI. And John and I worked together previously in Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This opportunity to be the first FBI agents really inserted in almost like cover in the CIA is what I called a singular opportunity. I tend to value those more. I said to Ed, "I'll come," and I've never regretted it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the people in the CIA did not know I there was looking for a spy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a CIA badge or FBI --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CIA badge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, they didn't know you were from the FBI?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Within the first week, everybody in that building knew I was from the FBI. They didn't particularly care for me being there, but they definitely knew who I was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside the CIA headquarters building, people were whining and bitching about all kinds of things, the FBI this and that. The FBI has a job to do just like we do. We clearly had a serious problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I get over there, I get all my briefings and learned I had over 300 cases in the CIA where CIA employees had failed counterintelligence polygraph. That means you had 300 potential spies in the CIA that had never been resolved. At the time, if you fail a CIA polygraph, nothing ever happens to you. Aldrich Ames failed several times, and nothing was done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: That's a being number, 300. How -- that's a big number, 300. How did this change the way the CIA would vet people and assess any possible threats?

ROGERS: Well, what happens is if you fail the polygraph, you immediately go into kind of a remediation effort to figure out why and maybe redo it. They start a background investigation to make sure that the polygraph is not always, always 100 percent accurate.

I mean, polygraphers will tell you it is, but there is some error rates in there and so what you to do is kind of close that with investigation.

[11:55:06] But in this case, this was the highest-ranking CIA officer to ever be recruited and run by the Russian spy organizations. And he got so good that he was put in jail and then still recruited someone else, his son, to spy again.

He was -- he has the -- a few pretty big moments in the CIA, highest ranking CIA officer ever to spy for the Russians. He got convicted of that. Recruited someone else, and then got convicted of that while he was in prison.

And how they catch him is fascinating. So, you're going to want to watch this. This is better than any Jason Bourne movie you'll watch.

WHITFIELD: That's right. I am sold. All right. 9:00 tonight, "Declassified." Thank you so much, Mike Rogers. Good to see you.

ROGERS: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: We've got so more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.

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