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Gulf Coast Prepares for Tropical Storm Gordon; Trump Blasts Sessions Over Indictments of GOP Congressmen; Confirmation Hearings Begin Today for Supreme Court Nominee. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 06:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[05:59:09] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, September 4, 6 a.m. here in New York, and we do have breaking news. An urgent warning to more than 2 million people on the Gulf Coast. You could get slammed by a hurricane as soon as tonight.

What is now Tropical Storm Gordon is moving more quickly than expected and seems to be gaining more power than expected. It is forecast to make landfall tonight as a Category 1 hurricane. We will track the storm all morning, and we have a new update from the Hurricane Center.

We also have a new update on President Trump's level of support for an impartial and apolitical justice system. That level apparently approaching zero this morning. The president is criticizing federal charges against two Republican members of Congress, because those charges hurt chances for Republicans to hold those seats. His unambiguous statement is raising alarm even with members of his own party, one senator saying, "This is not some banana republic."

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And while that drama is playing out, confirmation hearings begin in a few hours for President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.

Overnight, the George W. Bush administration turned over 42,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House. But Democrats are angry about this timing, because they say that doesn't give them enough time to read all of those pages before the hearings.

So let's begin our coverage with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers. He has the latest forecast for Tropical Storm Gordon.

Where is it heading, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is heading to Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Dauphin (ph) Island, that area there just to the east of Louisiana.

Now here is where it is now: in the Gulf of Mexico in very warm water, gaining a little bit of strength. We're up to 65 miles per hour. This time yesterday we were going from 30 to 35 to 45. Now it's in there. The airplane has flown in. It will be making landfall tonight somewhere between 10 p.m. and midnight very close to Bay St. Louis.

Don't focus on the middle of the eye. The effect will be a storm surge effect, all the way from parts of Mobile Bay, all the way through Gulfport and Biloxi and all the way to west of there, all the way even into parts of Louisiana right there at the Pearl River. That's where the most surge will be. Three to five feet. If you are less than three to five feet above sea level, you need to get away from that water, especially up those rivers, because that's where that water will be going.

Sixty-five miles per hour, forecast to be a 75 mile-per-hour hurricane making landfall, because the temperatures are warm. The temperatures are middle 80s. This is -- this is fuel for this storm. This is why this storm will get stronger as we go from here, even though we only have 18 hours now before it actually makes landfall.

Hurricane warnings all the way from Pensacola through Biloxi, all the way over to the Pearl River. And that's where the biggest impact will be, again, with that surge pushing that water on land. Yes, we'll get some wind damage at 75, but the water is a lot more powerful than the wind.

Guys, back to you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chad, we will check in with you throughout the program. Thank you very much.

As Chad just said, Gordon is expected to make landfall tonight as a Category 1 hurricane. So how is the Gulf Coast preparing? Let's get to Jennifer Gray. She is live in Gulfport, Mississippi, with more. What do you see there, Jennifer?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Alisyn, just to echo a little bit of what Chad was saying, he's right.

What people are worried about here the most is the flooding, the storm surge. Because very low-lying areas right here along the Mississippi, Alabama coast, and if you get three- to five-foot storm surge, a lot of this area along the coast is going to be under water.

We are at Gulfport's marina, where the boats have been ordered to get out of water by 2 p.m., because if we're planning on a storm surge anywhere between two and four feet, a lot of those boats are going to be banging together. And so that's why they wanted those boats out of the water.

The schools are closed for today here. Also, the hurricane flags are flying along the beaches. So, a lot of people are just staying away from the coast, which is good news.

A lot of it's going to depend on exactly where that storm makes landfall. Because if we end up on -- in that eastern quadrant of the storm, we are going to get a lot of that storm surge, as well as four to eight inches of rain expected here on top of that, which is expected to pick up a little bit later this afternoon and then continue throughout the evening hours. Of course, if we are in that western quadrant, it's not going to be

quite as bad. So time will tell. That storm is still about 200 miles away. But we will be feeling the impacts here in the next couple of hours.

BERMAN: All right. Jennifer Gray, thanks very much. We're watching this storm very closely all morning long.

In the meantime, back in Washington, President Trump is slamming his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and more importantly, making it clear he doesn't want the Justice Department to remain apolitical.

Last month, New York Congressman Chris Collins was charged with 13 counts of fraud related to an alleged insider trading scheme. California's Duncan Hunter was indicted by a grand jury after allegedly misusing a quarter million dollars in campaign funds.

CAMEROTA: And yet, the president is decrying the Justice Department for launching investigations on these two men ahead of the midterms. These, of course, are two Republican congressmen who were Mr. Trump's first two supporters of his 2016 campaign.

The president tweeted in part that, quote, "Two easy wins now in doubt, because there is not enough time. Good job, Jeff." Meaning Jeff Sessions.

Joining us now are Phil Mudd. He's a former CNN counterterrorism analyst and is now a CNN counterterrorism analyst. Jackie Kucinich, she's the Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast" and a CNN political analyst. And CNN senior political analyst, John Avlon.

So guys, I just want to fact-check the president's tweet that he sent out yesterday afternoon that, once again, goes after Jeff Sessions, as though, Jackie, this is Jeff Sessions' fault. The Department of Justice is investigating these two men for misusing campaign funds and for insider trading.

So, here it is: "Two long-running Obama-era investigations of two very popular Republican congressmen were brought to a well-publicized charge just ahead of the midterms by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department."

OK, that's not a fact. Those aren't true. These were investigations started by the Justice Department in 2017 when President Trump was president.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And let's not forget there is footage of Congressman Collins making -- taking a call about this insider trading on the White House lawn during a picnic.

So there's so much to unpack here. But let's also not forget another person in the Trump orbit, Paul Manafort, when he was convicted, the president said that was unfair.

So this is long-standing. This has as much to do with Jeff Sessions as it does with the president's own view that the Justice Department is there to protect him and, apparently, his political supporters. And that's just not how it works.

There -- Senator Menendez is someone who was indicted during Obama's tenure as president. And we can go -- we can go back and back and back with other lawmakers who are behaving badly. That's just -- this is -- I can't say it enough how this is not the function of the Justice Department. Also, let's not forget who the third person to endorse the president was. That was Jeff Sessions.

BERMAN: Wow. That's a troika right there. Phil Mudd, we introduced you as a CIA guy, but you also spent some time in the FBI. Law enforcement has been your life. As a law enforcement guy, how do you feel about how the president set this up, that prosecutions shouldn't happen to his political supporters?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think the president when you look at what he's done in the year and a half he's been in office has used executive power a lot, for example, overseas in his decisions to meet with the Russians, to meet with the North Koreans. He's realizing the limitations of executive power.

As someone who's sat there at the Department of Justice, under that at the FBI, anybody in the investigation is saying, "You can't do anything about this, Mr. President. Executive power doesn't authorize you to interfere with an investigation."

There is one laughable part of this, John. And that is let's imagine that Jeff Sessions, when he saw those cases come to him via prosecutors, said, "I want to interfere and shut down those investigations."

Can you imagine what would have happened then? No. 1, it would have leaked, and the Congress would have gone nuts. And No. 2, the inspector general at the Department of Justice would have said -- would have said, "I'm going to investigate you as I did James Comey, and you're going to get crushed, Jeff Sessions."

Sessions couldn't have stopped this, I don't think, if he'd wanted to.

CAMEROTA: John, here's what Ben Sasse, senator from Nebraska, said about this: "The United States is not some banana republic with a two- tiered system of justice, one for the majority party and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began. Instead of commenting on ongoing investigations and prosecutions, the job of the president of the United States is to defend the Constitution and protect the impartial administration of justice."

AVLON: Yes. Let's not lose sight of the fact that we've got a Republican senator giving a remedial version of what the Justice Department is supposed to do in the United States of America to the president. We are not a banana republic. We don't have a two-tiered system of justice. That this has urgency and edge to it is itself stunning.

But the president does seem to have a vision of the Justice Department that's Nixon era without understanding what happened at the end of Watergate, that you can use vehicles of executive power to attack enemies.

It is not what we do. He's fundamentally wrong about the timing and the facts, as you pointed out. And it just so happens that, yes, these are his first two endorsees. That's an unfortunate coincidence, perhaps. But Jeff Sessions has got nothing to do with it. You've got to treat a Democrat criminal and a Republican criminal the same way. It's basic.

BERMAN: I've got to say, being wrong about the timing doesn't even scratch the surface of what's wrong with this statement. He's basically saying don't prosecute --

CAMEROTA: I can only fact check sentence by sentence, John Berman.

BERMAN: That's a good point.

AVLON: We could diagram it.

CAMEROTA: We can diagram it. But you know, it's word for word at this point.

BERMAN: Don't investigate Republicans --

AVLON: Right.

BERMAN: -- because Republicans could lose their seats. That's really crazy.

AVLON: Full stop.

BERMAN: That's really crazy. And he said it. It's right there.

KUCINICH: Or they could -- of they could just not commit crimes. I mean, that's the other --

CAMEROTA: Slow down, Jackie. Slow down.

BERMAN: They haven't been convicted.

KUCINICH: Sorry.

BERMAN: They haven't been convicted of anything.

KUCINICH: No, they haven't been convicted of anything. But if you read the indictments of both of these congressmen, they are fairly damning. They are very detailed.

Congressman Hunter even goes as far as as to say, you know, what was in his bank account when money from the campaign was being spent. So these aren't -- I'm no legal analyst here, but these don't seem to be flimsy cases.

But you're right, they haven't been convicted of anything. But you could also not spend campaign funds, or not have the appearance of insider trading.

BERMAN: Yes.

KUCINICH: That might get you a little bit further in keeping your seat and maybe not have the Justice Department looking into you in the first place.

BERMAN: And again, the charges here, these charges were filed well before the window of the Justice Department guidelines. The Justice Department guidelines -- again, this is not scripture, the Justice Department doesn't have to follow them -- are about 60 days before an election. This happened August, mid-August, early August, well before the 60 days.

[06:10:11] The Justice Department making clear that it wasn't political, even though the two people who are in this investigation happen to be Republicans.

Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, his office put out a statement: "The Justice Department should always remain apolitical, and the speaker has demonstrated he takes these charges seriously."

Is it? I guess that's my question, Phil Mudd, to you is that the kind of bold "over my dead body, out of my cold hands" statement that Paul Ryan should be making as the president takes on the idea of impartial, apolitical justice?

MUDD: Look, I think Paul Ryan is going to walk away from his office with people saying that he's a respectable man. But if you looked at his behavior under the Trump administration, what he said repeatedly is "I want to counsel the president in private. I'm going to be reluctant to criticize him in public."

The problem I've got with that statement, I hope the problem a lot of the people have, is there is a public debate in this country about what's appropriate from the Oval Office. The president of the United States appears to confuse the presidency with the president.

The presidency is about protecting things like the Constitution, not protecting your personal interests. And I think Paul Ryan has been derelict in not criticizing the president, who's overstepped his bounds. I thought that was a weak statement.

CAMEROTA: And that's why the Ben Sasse statement, I think, John, is so notable, because we often talk about how any Republican who has had the audacity to speak out about some of the policies or the things that they don't like about the Trump administration retires.

AVLON: And we said good-bye to John McCain this weekend, and he has sort of led that class. We've got Corker leaving the Senate, Flake leaving the Senate. So it really -- because it's come down to a very few Republicans who've had the spine and the guts to stand up and call out the president publicly, as opposed to doing what Ryan has done, which is statements that may uphold -- so old-school that they uphold the basic principles of our democracy but prefer to criticize the president in private rather than public for fear of losing influence. This is a debate that should be had in public in a democracy. That's

what Ben Sasse is doing. That's a better standard to reflect.

BERMAN: I will say, there are Democrats and liberals, Jackie, who are already going after Ben Sasse saying, "Well, if you really feel this strongly, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to hold up the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court justice, which we'll see in a second." I'm not quite sure that Ben Sasse sees this as an either/or type of thing.

KUCINICH: And linking Kavanaugh with all of this has been something Democrats have tried to do. It's sort of been the latest salvo in a series of salvos to try to slow down the Brett Kavanaugh nomination.

That said, I would be shocked if he wasn't asked about this and he wasn't asked about the role of the Justice Department during his confirmation hearing. He just -- Democrats just added another question to their long roster as a result of this. And he's certainly not making that piece any easier for his Supreme Court nominee.

CAMEROTA: All right. Phil Mudd, Jackie Kucinich, John Avlon, thank you all very much.

So supreme showdown confirmation hearings.

BERMAN: Is Diana Ross coming? Really?

CAMEROTA: I wish. One night only.

BERMAN: She should do that, because she would win.

CAMEROTA: No, it's actually going to be all week. There -- the hearings begin in just a few hours for Brett Kavanaugh. Do Democrats stand any chance of stopping President Trump's nominee? We get into all that.

BERMAN: You can't hurry love.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:16:55] CAMEROTA: OK. So in just hours the confirmation hearings begin for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Now, overnight a lawyer for former president George W. Bush handed over 42,000 pages of documents from Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House. This is what Democrats wanted. But they argue that they will not have time to review them before the hearing begins this morning.

So let's bring back John Avlon. Joining us also, we have Supreme Court biographer and CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic; and senior correspondent at "The New York Magazine," Irin Carmen -- Carmon. She's the author -- co-author of the book about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, "Notorious RBG."

OK, so Irin, John Avlon just told me that the way they're going to read all this is that they have hundreds of elves. I don't think that that's true. So what is the thinking of releasing 42,000 pages that have to be reviewed before 9:30 this morning?

IRIN CARMON, CO-AUTHOR, "NOTORIOUS RBG": Well, any journalist would ask, what are you hiding? Why don't you want a full accounting of this nominee?

I mean, I'm old enough to remember that back in July when Justice Kennedy retired, Mitch McConnell reportedly, according to "Thee New York Times," said, "Don't pick Kavanaugh, because he's got such a big paper trail."

But our system is such that there's no mechanism, if you are in the minority, to force this kind of disclosure. We're on an unprecedentedly fast schedule with respect to how many documents are out there about Kavanaugh and his time in the Bush administration. And so the answer is they're just going to skip it. They're just going to rush it through. And there's a lot of questions that we haven't even gotten a chance to ask, because the public didn't really know.

And these 42,000 are on top of the 100,000 that the Trump administration has decided to shield from view entirely, including from the committee.

BERMAN: And Joan, you have some history on that. Compared to say John Roberts, who's now the chief justice of the United States, when there were documents handed over, what's the difference now?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, when there were documents handed over in 2005, they were revealing documents. John Roberts spent many hours having to defend himself against some memos that he wrote when he was in the White House counsel's office, just as Brett Kavanaugh was in the White House counsel's office.

But John Roberts answered those questions about racial issues, about abortion, about women's rights. And he survived, was confirmed 78-22.

But those same kinds of memos that Brett Kavanaugh wrote during his tenure that would correspond to John Roberts' tenure in the White House counsel's office are not available at all.

And further, a whole group of documents that we haven't even mentioned at all, because they've been completely shielded, those were the documents from his three years as staff secretary to George W. Bush, where he served right next to him during Katrina, during the Supreme Court nominations of Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

CAMEROTA: So no wonder Democrats are miffed, John.

AVLON: Yes, miffed is a --

CAMEROTA: Miffed, and why -- why is this acceptable? Why is it acceptable to hold back documents that are relevant?

AVLON: It shouldn't be, and there's a bipartisan standard, as Joan just pointed out, that this violates. I mean, when Elena Kagan was put forward, the Obama administration didn't, you know, exert executive privilege. And the Bush Library has tried to actually say, you know, "Look, be as transparent as possible." And it's apparently the Trump team that has -- has dialed that back.

The reason -- let's just look at last night's document dump. OK? Because his time as staff secretary, as Joan pointed out, enormously impactful questions about warrantless wiretapping, waterboarding, the selection of two Supreme Court justices that came up under his watch should be enormously revealing.

Forty-two thousand documents, at least, the night before a hearing, just over 12 hours. At 10:50 last night, the majority of the Senate released a tweet saying, "The majority has reviewed all the documents. We're good."

The reason I've suggested perhaps elves were an explanation --

CAMEROTA: Yes.

AVLON: -- is that's around 10,000 documents an hour.

BERMAN: And they're very fast readers.

AVLON: And they're very fast readers, notoriously.

The idea that this is proper scrutiny, let alone transparency, is laughable. And it's a departure from past precedent. And that's why we should care.

BERMAN: I will note, the Democrats are holding a news conference. Democrats in the Senate are holding a news conference at 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time about two hours and 20 minutes from now. Not sure what they'll say. I imagine they're going to be upset about this.

CAMEROTA: Even miffed.

BERMAN: What they'll do about it is a different story, because they really can't do anything.

CAMEROTA: And they can't stop this.

BERMAN: The reason this is happening is because Republicans can do it, and Democrats cannot stop it. And I'm not even sure that, if the documents were out there, and even if Brett Kavanaugh were to face tough questions on it, that it would do anything to change the outcome of what's happening here.

CARMON: Yes. But it -- I mean, it's interesting that we just sort of assume that Republicans are not going to care about the process, as well. You know, if they want this nominee to be part of a proper advise-and-consent process, why shouldn't Republicans also be concerned about seeing this information?

I mean, talk about politicizing the judiciary. We're just assuming that this is something that only partisans, only Democrats are going to care about. AVLON: And not only that. We're also immediately adapting ourselves

to a simple majority world, which didn't exist for Supreme Court justices until this term.

BERMAN: Well.

AVLON: Yes, Democrats did the nuclear option for lower court justice --

BERMAN: Yes.

AVLON: But for Supreme Court justices, it has been a 60-vote filibuster-proof standard until Gorsuch and Trump.

BERMAN: Right. Although -- although Republicans make clear when Democrats opened that door, they were going in that direction.

AVLON: I get it, but I think there's a difference.

CARMON: The other thing here is that there was never a hearing for Merrick Garland. I mean, the moment that you say that only Republican presidents can nominate Supreme Court justices, you are irrevocably politicizing the judiciary. You are saying, "It's my team versus your team."

So that -- that does not really give an incentive for somebody like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, who are supposed to be concerned about women's reproductive freedom, to then step forward; because this has become a blue team versus a red team question.

CAMEROTA: Joan, here's what we've learned about what the Democrats are planning, though they probably can't stop the outcome. They can create some impediments along the way and certainly lots of questions. So here's what we've learned about the lines of attack that they plan to take on Brett Kavanaugh.

They plan to go after him about untruthfulness. You can expound on that for us. His views on upholding Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, but the pre-existing conditions that, of course, the most popular area of that. His views, naturally, on Roe v. Wade and his views on executive power, investigating and indicting a sitting president, because in 2009 he seemed to suggest that presidents do not have to play by the same set of rules that the rest of us do.

So tell us more about these lines.

BISKUPIC: Sure. And this is what really matters. You know, the Democrats, I think, feel like they want to complain about the documents; but they really need to focus themselves and the American people on what matters.

And I'll -- I'll go in reverse order there, because it is so important, the executive power question. Brett Kavanaugh has written about wanting to protect the president more from investigations, a very salient question when we have Special Counsel Robert Mueller right now investigating the Russia election interference and ties to the Trump campaign.

And, you know, so that could be questions of indicting a president, questions of subpoena, questions of can a president pardon himself, perhaps, would all be coming -- could all be coming to the Supreme Court.

And then when you mention Roe v. Wade and the Affordable Care Act, those are issues that really play to the heart of people's concerns. The Affordable Care Act is still the subject of much litigation, working its way up toward the Supreme Court. He actually voted in one case on the Affordable Care Act and kind of punted, but Roe v. Wade, we know he's got -- had a vote that was against letting a teenage migrant get an abortion immediately, when the Trump administration was trying to block her.

BERMAN: I expect we'll see Democrats playing not for the confirmation vote, because I think they probably assume that's a foregone conclusion, but playing for the midterm vote. And that's where you'll see the questions of health care. That's where you'll see the questions about abortion and particularly executive power. The Democrats can turn this into a Russia hearing. I think they'll think that it is serving a political purpose.

[06:25:05] CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you all very much for the insights.

Coming up on NEW DAY, we will speak with two senators both -- from both sides of the aisle who will be questioning Brett Kavanaugh. Senators Chris Coons and John Kennedy. We'll hear what they have to say.

BERMAN: President Trump warning Syria's president and its allies not to attack the last rebel stronghold in Syria. Russia responding this morning with new airstrikes. The latest ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: A Syrian war monitor says that Russia launched new airstrikes against insurgents in the Idlib province, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria. This comes hours after President Trump warned Syria, Iran and Russia against such attacks, saying it would be a grave humanitarian mistake.

Our CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, live with the very latest -- Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, this is really the last chapter, potentially, of what has been a long spanning rebellion inside of Syria against the Assad regime.

Now, the Idlib province has seen airstrikes in the last hours or so. Again, a scenario called al-Shukra.