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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Hurricane Florence Rapidly Intensifies Into Category 4 Storm, Threatens Carolinas; White House: DOJ Should Look Into Who Wrote Anonymous Op-Ed. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 20:00   ET

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


[20:00:10] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us.

We begin tonight with a warning from the governor of South Carolina. This is a real hurricane we have coming. Hurricane Florence is getting stronger, bigger, and closer to the East Coast. Satellite imagery gives an amazing look at the eye of the storm right there. That was earlier today.

A mandatory evacuation order goes into effect at noon tomorrow in eight counties along the South Carolina coastline. There's also mandatory evacuation orders in Virginia and North Carolina. Hundreds of thousands of people affected.

I want to get the latest from Tom Sater in the CNN Weather Center in Atlanta.

So, talk to me, how much stronger is this storm expected to get?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, yesterday it was a category 1. So it jumped to a 3 to a 4.

It is very difficult for storms this size to maintain this strength and this forward movement. I expect some fluctuation to take place. But I think once it stars wobbling a little bit, like taking a top and spinning it on a table, it's going to reorganize. I think it could get to category 5.

And with that said, how long will it hold that before we're expecting it to drop back to a category 4? I mean, this is historic. It's been almost 30 years with Hugo, September 22nd, back in '89.

COOPER: I mean, the concern is not just about the initial impact, obviously, of the storm, but also about the possibility that it stalls, like Hurricane Harvey did over Texas last year.

SATER: Exactly. You could out-walk Harvey, and that was a big concern. When you look at the end of this track, it starts show a big bubble. That means this system wants to slow down, and once that occurs, we could be in big trouble, because you've got to look at these colors here of purple.

I mean, you're looking at 10, 20 inches of rain. And this is high terrain. I mean, this is like the Piedmont, it's the Smokies, it's part of the Blue Ridge. So that's a big concern.

COOPER: We have, obviously, some technical problem with your thing, there's nothing up there.

SATER: Oh, OK.

COOPER: If you can go back to the original map, though, and just talk about the chances that the forecast actually shifts.

SATER: OK, that is a concern. I mean, you can see this cone of uncertainty, we call it, from just north of Charleston. And that's actually where Hugo made landfall, all the way to the outer banks. This is the bubble that I was talking about when it puts on its brakes.

There's always some fluctuation with this, to the north and to the south, but we're running out of time and space for it to make its turn to the north. In red is the U.S. model, the GFS, and the European is in blue. We're pretty much discarding the U.S. model right now. It's not grasping it. It could still happen.

But, again, it looks more and more like the European model is going to be right on, which gives us a landfall Thursday afternoon into Thursday evening. But again, anything really happens here, Anderson, and it comes with it so many different elements of concern, obviously.

COOPER: Hey, Tom, I think we have the virtual thing working. If you can go back there and just kind of walk us through that again.

SATER: I can do that.

COOPER: Thanks.

SATER: The rainfall is the big concern. And if I can Taylor here, our producer, let's go back to the floor here, if we can.

The rainfall and the problem that we're going to have, like with Harvey, it took a few days for the models to grasp Harvey putting on the brakes. And when it did that, the amount of rain was staggering in Houston. I mean, we had 40, 50 inches of rainfall, an all-time record. Notice the colors of purple here, Anderson, from Wilmington northward, you get into the high terrain and flash flooding is going to cut off some communities, it's possible, with 20 inches of rain, again, from the Blue Ridge area southward, northern areas of the Rockies. But it's the storm surge, too.

Water is the big element when it comes to the loss of life. Storm surge could be 15, 20 feet. That would pretty much be from around Wilmington up towards Cape Fear, Moorhead City and then the outer banks.

So, the storm surge and then the heavy rainfall. I mean, this is going to be historic. It's possible, Anderson, that this could be a little stronger than Hugo. There's a whole generation of people 30 years ago that have never lived through something like this. And so, it could really make its mark. And that's why everybody needs to know exactly where their evacuation zones are.

COOPER: And just in terms of the timing, again, it all depends on the speed of this thing, but if it's making landfall around Thursday night, it looks like the states could still be affected moving into Saturday.

SATER: Absolutely. When Harvey moved into Texas, when it made landfall in Rockport, it stayed a named storm for like two weeks. It was feeding off its own rainfall. If that happens, this is just catastrophic. I mean, this changes the whole story here and the whole game plan.

There's been heavy rain in the D.C. area up to areas of Pennsylvania. If this moves into that region, I mean, the flooding right now is already, in some communities, it's chaotic. This is going to make it much, much worse.

So again, it looks like Thursday night, but I want everyone to understand, timing can change a little bit, this can fluctuate to the south and north, but we're pretty sure this is going to be pretty close to Wilmington, northward.

COOPER: Yes. All right. Tom, appreciate it. We'll continue to monitor this throughout this hour.

Keeping them honest right now, the White House dusted off the podium for the first press briefing in 19 days today, like they literally dusted it off, it's been so long since the White House actually had a briefing.

[20:05:00] That's them dusting it right there.

The dust hasn't begun to settle, though, from the scathing "New York Times" op-ed from a White House official and the search for the writer's identity. The president has said his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should investigate who it is, that it's somehow a matter of national security, that "The Times" should turn the, quote, gutless anonymous person over to the government immediately.

Some of those points were echoed at the White House today. But at the same time, Sarah Sanders said the White House really isn't focused on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Is the White House actively trying to find out who this person is or do you not really care and you're moving on to other things?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're certainly focused on things that actually matter and the staff here that are here to do their job and not undermine the great work that this president and this administration has done. And we're going to continue focusing on that. It's, frankly, I think, sad and pathetic that a gutless, anonymous source could receive so much attention from the media. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, I mean, look, of course Sarah Sanders would try to turn this op-ed into media criticism, but saying that it's sad and pathetic, it's not every day or every year or every administration, that for that matter, that someone in the administration publishes a scathing criticism of the president of the United States, saying his leadership style is, and I'm using the words the op-ed user uses, impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective. It's not every day that someone in the administration claims that many officials in that administration are working to frustrate parts of the president's agenda and his worst inclinations. It's not every day that someone writes, and I'm quoting, we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.

That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our Democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump's more misguided impulses until he's out of office. It's not every day that an administration official writes: The root of the problem is the president's amorality. Anyone who works with him knows that he's not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making. Or says: Meetings with him veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants and his impulsiveness results in half- baked, ill-informed, and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back.

And it is certainly not every day that you hear this from someone inside the administration. Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president, but no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis, so we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until, one way or another, it's over.

Now, when asked about the 25th Amendment whispers today, Sarah Sanders said it's ridiculous, as ridiculous in her words, as, quote, most of Bob Woodward's book. Tomorrow, that book, "Fear: Trump in the White House" actually comes out. The president was tweeting again today about the book, calling reporter and author Bob Woodward a liar.

The White House line is pretty much the same, that Woodward, of Woodward and Bernstein fame, does sloppy work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: A number of people have come out and said that Woodward never even reached out to corroborate statements that were attributed to them, which seems incredibly reckless for a book to make such outrageous claims to not even take the time to get a $10 fact checker to call around and verify that some of these quotes were happen, when no effort was made, it seems like a very careless and reckless way to write a book.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Well, the president has called it fiction, a scam, et cetera, but as we know, the president also thinks that you shouldn't believe your eyes and ears about anything, that only his words are true.

Sanders was asked whether the president thinks he can actually win a credibility battle with Bob Woodward. Now, before we play you what she said about that, a new CNN/SSRS poll just out today shows just 32 percent say the president is honest and trustworthy, 65 percent say he's not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: I would certainly rather take the actual, on-record account from people who are here, who have been working in this building, who have interacted with the president day in, day out, like General Mattis, like General Kelly, like myself, not disgruntled former employees that refuse to put their name on things when they come out the to attack the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Well, it's true that Mattis and Kelly have denied some or all of their quotes in the book. Kelly is quoted as calling the president an idiot. He denies that. The book says Mattis told people that the president has the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.

On the "Today" show, Savannah Guthrie asked Woodward if they were lying when they denied saying those things.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE": They are not telling the truth.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, TODAY SHOW: That's lying.

WOODWARD: Well, no, but, look, what's going on here and my old boss at "The Washington Post," Ben Bradley, the great editor, used to say, the truth emerges. Sometimes it takes time. These people, these are political statements to protect their jobs, totally understandable. But this is as carefully done as you can do an excavation of the reality of what goes on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: As for how the public feels about Bob Woodward's credibility, if you can gauge it by interest in the story he has to tell, today, we learned the publisher of "Fear" is printing a million copies to keep up with demand.

[20:10:07] It's already in his seventh printing and doesn't even come out until tomorrow.

Senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny was at the White House briefing today. He joins us now. So I guess, I'm wondering just how the administration thinks it can

win a credibility contest against Bob Woodward because the book actually tracks with other media organizations, CNN included, about what's going on inside the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does, Anderson. It offers a deeper look into the dysfunction here, but certainly not a surprise to anyone who's been watching this or a reading about what's been happening.

But the audience here is important. The press secretary there and the president not talking to, you know, the entire American people. They are talking to the president's base. They are trying to question and undermine the credibility of all of this.

And there's a good reason to believe that the supporters of the president will believe it, because he has been successful in undermining the credibility of actual reporting. But the question here, the problem is, are those independents? When you look at political independents from our poll today, his approval rating has fallen from 47 percent among them to 31 percent among independents in just a month. All of this has been happening in the last month, so I think that's an interesting indicator, Anderson.

COOPER: So as for the anonymous "New York Times" op-ed, I just want to play an exchange that you had with Sarah Sanders.

ZELENY: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: Do you know if the president believes these denials that have been coming in from some of his top advisers, or does he believe that it's someone from within? And does he believe that lie detector tests should be issued as the vice president volunteered to do on Sunday?

SANDERS: No lie detectors are being used or talked about or looked at as a possibility. Frankly, the White House and the staff here are focused on doing our jobs and trying to show up here every day and do what we can to help better the American people, not deal with cowards that refuse to put their names in an anonymous letter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So maybe no polygraph machines, but it's not like the White House has given up on trying to figure out who wrote the piece, right? I mean, they certainly seem to be -- that's one of her lines today, that they're basically downplaying that the White House is focused on this, but it seems like there's plenty of people in the White House who are focused on this.

ZELENY: No question. And the person at the top of that list is the president. From the Oval Office, the president has added so much more fuel, so much more interest and spotlight on to all of this. So, yes, the White House staff, Sarah Sanders there, we saw it happening in real time, is trying to move people beyond this story. The question is, will the president move beyond it or not? So far, he

has shown few signs of wanting to do that. And I thought this lie detector question very interesting. The vice president of the United States volunteered to do this in two Sunday show interviews, really extraordinary when you think about it. So Sarah Sanders says they're ruling it out. Is the president ruling it out?

We know that Rand Paul, Senator Rand Paul suggested this idea. So we'll see if this is as done of an opportunity as not. But the question, Anderson, will the president stop talking about all of this? We'll find out.

COOPER: Yes. Especially as Bob Woodward continues to do interviews, really, he's just getting going.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much.

Joining me now is former adviser to four presidents, David Gergen, Trump biographer, Michael D'Antonio, whose new book, "The Shadow President: The Truth about Mike Pence" is out now, and Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor, now at Columbia Law School.

So, David, waging these attacks on Bob Woodward, they may play well with the president's base, do they get the White House anything beyond that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYT: No, this is -- they've embraced a communications strategy that is a loser. It's coming back to haunt them now. The fact that the president's personal approval among Americans would go down six points since last month, a sharp drop among independents, a great number who no longer believe he's honest, all of that says that they haven't handled this well.

We're in the sixth day, the sixth day of obsessing with who this person was, who the anonymous writer was. They should have been able to close this down a few days ago, listen, and say, listen, we have some unorthodox ways of doing things here in the White House, you may like it or not like it, but look at the results. Look at what's happening in the economy and so forth, and keep coming back to this.

There was a time, Anderson, as you know, I thought they were whipping this up to distract us from what's going on in the White House. But, clearly, now, they've let this whole thing go on so long, they need to change course or eight or nine weeks here before the elections, the Democrats can only sit there and say, keep going. Keep going. Just do what you're doing.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Michael, it makes sends for Sarah Sanders to say, we have important work to do, that's what we're focused on every day. But when you have the president tweeting about this stuff, and as I said, Bob Woodward, you know, he's just getting going with the interviews, it's hard to believe that the president is going to go along with this line of, we have more important things to be thinking about.

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, DONALD TRUMP BIOGRAPHER: Well, you're right, Anderson. And I think it's also true that Sarah Sanders would like to draw attention to the positive things the administration is doing.

[20:15:04] But who -- what worse person could the president pick than Bob Woodward to get into a credibility fight with? This is a guy who's literally published millions of words of prose, going back to the early 1970s, when Donald Trump was telling lies about his real estate endeavors, bob Woodward was telling the truth about Watergate.

So, this is the wrong person to pick a fight with. And it's going to go on for weeks. We now have a million people having indicated they're going to buy this book. I don't see how the president gets out of this.

COOPER: Jennifer, you know, about the anonymous "New York Times" op- ed, is there any national security rationale that, you know, which was sort of floated by some in the White House?

JENNIFER RODGERS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF PUBLIC INTEGRITY: No, there's no crime for writing the op-ed and there's no crime for doing what the op-ed writer suggested what he and others are doing, which is to try to undermine some of what the president is doing here. You know, Sarah Sanders tried to say, well, if the person's in a national security meeting, then, you know, someone should look into what he's doing to undermine the administration. But in all of that huge federal code, there are lots of crimes there, right?

You could be a spy, espionage, leaking of classified information. But if what the op-ed writer is doing is what he said he was doing --

COOPER: Or she.

RODGERS: Or she, no crimes there that I can see.

COOPER: David, I mean, you worked for President Richard Nixon who became unmoored, paranoid, whatever you want to call it, during Watergate, but the current red alert for someone currently working for President Trump, is there any precedent for that?

GERGEN: None of which I'm aware. There were rumors, a lot of people in Washington were gossiping about Nixon toward the end, with the drinking and one thing and another. And he did -- you know, he did become unhinged. He was -- he was a dangerous situation.

And it was really important for the secretary of defense to tell the armed services chiefs, don't fire anything if he orders you. Call -- you've got to call me first. We've never been through anything like that before.

So I don't think there are any precedents, but what I do think is that the longer the president keeps tweeting about this anonymous and the search for that and tweets about the Woodward book and also keeps pushing the idea that the Justice Department now should investigate all of this, it shows -- it increasingly shows a disrespect for the law and for the legal traditions of the country, the independence of the Justice Department that fuel your sense of -- well, if he has so little respect for the law over here on these issues, why are we to think that he was so careful about obeying the law on the Russian issues?

COOPER: Hmm.

Michael, I mean, vice president pence, obviously, has been unwavering in his support for president Trump publicly, even just this past weekend, amid the reporting by "The New York times" that some of the president's staff wonder whether someone in the vice president's team may have had something to do with the op-ed, which the vice president has obviously denied, are the president's allies and the vice president's allies always on the same page?

GERGEN: No, they're not. And I think what you point out that the vice president's team could have been involved in this, but the vice president himself left no fingerprints is likely. When my co-author, Peter Eisner and I read the initial publication in "The New York times," we both thought we saw the vice president's speechwriter or maybe his former chief of staff at work on that prose.

So you've got now a vice president who's racing to humiliate himself. This whole idea of there being a lie detector test, he goes one step further and says, well, I'll take the lie detector test and that's something out of reality TV, but it's certainly not something dignified. It's degrading to any executive to be asked to do that and it's really pretty pathetic for one to volunteer to do it. If he truly had nothing to do with this, he would issue his denial and then move on. But I also think he's protesting too much.

COOPER: Jennifer, can lie detector tests be given to people in the administration? I mean, they're given toll people who are applying to the CIA, not at the State Department. Can it be applied to any federal worker?

RODGERS: Well, they're not admissible in court. So if this was a matter in court, they would not be admissible, but they can be used as an employment tool, like the CIA uses them. So, you know, Donald Trump is a boss, and as an employer, he has the right to find out if someone working for him is not doing what that person is supposed to be doing.

So, in theory, yes, he could administer lie detectors as an employer. The problem is he's using the Department of Justice as his HR department. You're not supposed to use the Department of Justice, which is a law enforcement entity, to do what is really an employment matter. That's really the issue here and where he's going way too far.

COOPER: It would also, David, I mean, what kind of an impact would mass polygraphing of, you know, White House employees have, you think?

[20:20:04] GERGEN: It's completely degrading. It's completely demoralizing. You do not do that to professionals. And it would leave a trail of bitterness that I just think is very destructive for this president.

But you know, we're six days into this and we still do not have an administration that can identify a single law that potentially has been broken. They are asked repeatedly, Sarah Sanders was asked about this repeatedly today, and she kept retreating into sort of, you know, mouthy words, and just sort of a fog bank, but did not and could not identify any law, any crime that has potentially been committed here. That's what's so objectionable, is about having -- trying to beat up the Justice Department to get them to investigate.

COOPER: Yes. David Gergen, Michael D'Antonio, Jennifer Rodgers, thanks so much.

Is the op-ed a matter of national security or is this just insecurity and fear in the White House? We're going to talk to the former head of the national security agency, next.

Also ahead, the latest on Hurricane Florence. We'll hear from a hurricane hunter pilot who got an up close view of how strong this is right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:25:21] COOPER: We're keeping an eye on Hurricane Florence tonight, as it heads for the East Coast. The governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina all have issued mandatory evacuation orders. Now, Florence was upgraded to a category 4 today, we'll be updating its progress throughout the hour. More on that ahead.

As we mentioned earlier today, the White House press secretary continued the president's narrative that the anonymous "New York Times" op-ed by a senior White House official, somehow a matter of national security.

So we want to talk to somebody who knows a little bit about these things. Joining me now is former NSA director and CNN senior national security analyst, Michael Hayden.

General Hayden, is this an issue of national security?

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: No, I don't think so. Certainly not within the four corners of the anonymous op-ed, Anderson.

Look, I willingly concede the president has legitimate administrative, political, and even policy reasons to find out who this individual is. But this is not a question of law or a crime or national security. And, Anderson, if I can suggest, I frankly think the White House is looking through the wrong end of the telescope here.

COOPER: How so?

HAYDEN: Well, if you got the Woodward book and all of the anecdotes in that and what's been revealed in the op-ed, we would define this as a problem of command climate. When you have so many people seeming to be disloyal to the commander's intent, we would say, we've got a problem with the unit. And command climate is a function of command. And so, I think the White House should be focusing at least as much on introspection as it is on investigation. COOPER: That this is -- I mean, that in any rational organization,

this would be a point where someone might step back and say, well, wait a minute, is there actually something I as the leader am or as the CEO, maybe I'm not setting the right example. Is this actually a reflection on me?

HAYDEN: Exactly right. And we do hold the commander responsible for the overall climate within their organization. So you've got the president and frankly, the key members around him and on his staff and I think John Kelly would know this very well, as a marine, that the commander, the command section bears responsibility for the morale of the unit, for the purposefulness of the unit.

And I really do think that the White House would be well advised -- and here, I'm trying to be supportive -- would be well-advised to look inward to see what it is they're doing to make this kind of climate possible.

COOPER: But you are, I mean, uh, you're being generous then to the president to suggest that he is the type of person who might think along those lines. I mean, that -- that, you know, that he -- I'm not sure that he agrees that the fish rots from the head.

HAYDEN: Yes, well, and again, I wouldn't even use that metaphor, but simply say, if I'm in that position, I think a good commander, a good commander in chief says, have I done anything? Am I doing anything? Is my staff doing anything that creates this kind of low-level rebellion within people whom I think are essential personnel in my unit?

Now, look, I think this is a low-probability shot, Anderson. I'm not holding my breath, but anyone looking at this objectively, in addition to the investigation, which I've already said is legitimate --

COOPER: Right.

HAYDEN: -- but not a matter for law enforcement, you need to be looking inward. What are we doing or not doing that creates these type of circumstances, which are self-destructive by definition.

COOPER: Bob Woodward revealed this weekend something else that's in his book, which is that the president had drafted a tweet saying the U.S. was going to pull the family members of U.S. troops out of South Korea, but according to Woodward, before he could send the tweet, the North Korean sent a back-channel message, that they would interpret it as a sign the U.S. was about to attack, which sounds like if true, the president was dangerously close to inciting a conflict.

HAYDEN: If all of that is true, he was. I was doing some reflection on this, and other than popping off TLAMs from the East Sea in the direction of North Korea, it's hard for me to see anything that the North Koreans would view as imminent hostilities, and since they weren't planning to initiate them, they would only assume that the Americans were planning to initiate them. Otherwise, why would you take such a dramatic and frankly very expensive act of withdrawing American dependents from the republic? COOPER: General Hayden, appreciate your time. Thank you.

HAYDEN: Thank you.

COOPER: We're going to have more on the new CNN polling on President Trump's approval rating. Just ahead, we'll tell you the results and why there's bad news and at least some good news for the president.

And we're keeping an eye on hurricane Florence, now barreling its way towards the Carolinas. We'll look at how other storms have battered the region and the lessons learned from them when we continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: There's new CNN polling on President Trump's approval rating, and mostly, it's pretty bad news for the President. The latest results put the President's approval rating at just 36% and 58% of those polled disapprove of the job he's doing. These after excerpts of the latest Bob Woodward book were released and the publication and the op-ed in the "New York Times" by what the paper described as a senior administration official blasting the President's performance.

His job approval is down six points since our poll on the same topic last month. There is some good news, just to point out, 69% of those polled believe the economy's in good shape, something the Republicans believe they can certainly build on for the upcoming midterms.

Joining me now to discuss is Trump supporter, Steve Cortez and Jen Psaki, former White House communications director for President Obama. Good to have you both on.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Great to be here.

COOPER: So Steve, the overall approval rating is one thing, but you look at the approval rating among independents, it's dropped 16 points since August. How much of a concern should that be for the President and what can he do about it?

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Well, look, I think, Anderson, if we were to compare this -- the President used to own beauty pageants. If politics were a beauty pageant, the President clearly would do very poorly on congeniality. He would not be Mr. Congeniality, but he would win, I submit, the talent competitive, why? Because he's so effective. And so I think that's what you're seeing in these poll numbers. There's a lot of people that are not certainly drawn to him I think largely because of his pugnacity and because he's been in such an entrenched fight with the media and with the Washington establishment.

[20:35:00] But those same people are willing to concede he's particularly effective on the issues, particularly the key issue of the economy.

COOPER: So you don't think these numbers are a problem for him? Or is there -- if you do, is there something he can do? I mean, to reach out to people? Or is that not a winning cause? CORTES: No, listen, I think there are concerns. I'd be the first to admit that I wish his poll numbers were higher. I do think if we continue to succeed on the key issues, particularly prosperity and security, the key macros, I think these poll numbers will rise. But I also think polls are important, but they should never be -- to borrow a term that's being used a lot lately -- they should never be the lodestar. They shouldn't be the northern light by which we decide every policy at every prescription. So they're important, pay attention to them, I think they will rise in time, because, you know, nothing succeeds like success, and the success of this country and the confidence of this country right now, I think will transit late into approval for the President. But yes, I'll be the first to admit that I'm frustrated that it hasn't already.

COOPER: I like your use of the word "lodestar," getting it in there. Jen, I mean even though the President's support among Republicans has dropped slightly, the fact of the matter is that Republican support is still very strong at 82%.

PSAKI: That's true. And he's consistently had strong support among the base of his party. The problem he has are not just the independents and the drop among independents, which is a double-digit drop, as you mentioned, but also on some of the personal, you know, characteristic attributes. So he came in, running as the candidate who was going to change Washington. He lost points on that in this last poll.

He also came in as the person saying he was going to fight for the little guy. He lost several points on whether respondents thought that he was fighting for them. Those are problematic. I agree that polls are not the be all, end all, especially after the 2016 election. But they are indicators and even the generic ballot numbers are problematic for Republicans who are going to be on the ballot in this come this November.

COOPER: But what about to Steve's point which is, look, OK, maybe he's not get the congeniality award, but if the economy is doing well, thing seem to be working, that he's going to get rewarded for that.

PSAKI: I guess we'll see, Anderson. But I mean, I think some of the polling numbers that came through are typically, historically problematic for other candidate -- for candidates that are lower down on the ballot. So the generic numbers, his approval rating. His approval rating is below 40%. I mean, that is a hugely problematic number, if you're a vulnerable Republican running for office. And his change number is hugely problematic, as he's looking to 2020, which we know he's looking to

COOPER: Right.

PSAKI: But he's no longer the change candidate. And that's who he ran as and who he really wants to be positioned as.

COOPER: Steve, you know, we've been talking about the White House claims, the pushback on the Bob Woodward book. 65% of the people in this poll believe the President is not honest, not trustworthy. I'm wondering what you make of how the White House -- the strategy the White House is using on the Woodward book, on the op-ed. Is it wise, is it keeping it in the headlines?

CORTES: You know, no, I don't think it's wise, quite frankly, to keep those stories in the headlines. I think it's wise to try to find out who it is, because I really think that there is a really sniveling, dishonest, disloyal person who needs to be ousted within the administration, and perhaps people. So I think that part is important. But I don't think that the President should be focusing on it in terms of his social media, in terms of his speeches, his interviews. I'd like him to focus on the things that are going on.

For instance, the idea that he's not supporting working class people in this country, the facts are otherwise. We were seeing the best blue collar job creation we've seen since the 1980s. So I want to hear him talk more about that and less these things like this op-ed as reprehensible as it maybe.

COOPER: Jen, I mean -- you know, Mick Mulvaney the federal budget director has reported by the "New York Times" suggesting that the Republican Party officials in a private meeting on Saturday, that Republicans might fare better in November if they, quote, "subtract the President's divisive personality from voters' minds". Number one, do you think he's right, and two, is that possible?

PSAKI: No, with of course it's not possible. The President -- any midterm election is a referendum on the President, his policies, his personal attributes. Look, we were walloped in 2010 when I worked for President Obama, because he used his political capital to get health care through or move health care through. And the candidates who voted for that were caught up in the cross fire of that as the tea party was rising. People have concerns, as we saw in this poll, about President Trump's leadership, his fitness for office, whether he's actually fighting for the little guy. That impacts people, as well. You can't just subtract the President's approval rating.

It is fascinating, though, because Mick Mulvaney has been on every short list out there for chief of staff. And your potential chief of staff is saying, subtract the President's approval rating from the, you know, calculation here, which you absolutely can't do politically.

COOPER: All Right. Jen Psaki, Steve Cortes, good discussion, thank you very much.

PSAKI: Thank you.

COOPER: Up next, Hurricane Florence gathering strength in the south Atlantic and right now heading on a collision course with the Carolinas. This is a big, big storm, as it is right now. A live look, at just where Florence is tonight.

Also, I want to talk with a hurricane hunter pilot who flew into the storm and got an up-close look at it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:43:55] COOPER: More on our breaking news. Take a look at this incredible video. The eye of Hurricane Florence. Now, imagine flying a plane right into that massive category 4 storm. Maximum winds, 140 miles per hour. That's what my next guest did. He's monitoring the storm as it takes aim at the Carolinas, where about a million people have been ordered to evacuate. Many more at risk along the east coast, as Florence gets closer and stronger tonight.

Joining me is that brave pilot, Commander Justin Kibbey, a hurricane hunter for NOAA. Commander Kibbe, what were you able to learn from your flight today?

JUSTIN KIBBEY, HURRICANE HUNTER, NOAA: Well, from our flight today, we learned that Florence is getting stronger and stronger by the minute and it's truly turning into a beast of a storm.

COOPER: You've been flying in and out of Florence since Saturday. Can you just talk about the changes that you've seen since then?

KIBBEY: Sure, yes. Our first flight Saturday, Florence was just under hurricane strength and then Sunday, it was just over hurricane strength. And today, it was a category 4 storm. So it went from, you know, a tropical storm to a major hurricane in a matter of 72 hours. So it has -- it's what they call rapid intensification. So the storm has really got its act together and is just a heck of a storm out there.

[20:45:09] COOPER: Can -- you know, I talked to our meteorologist earlier who was saying, you know, it's a cat 4 now. He wasn't sure it's going to be able to sustain this, you know, it might kind of fall apart a little bit and then gather strength again. Is that possible?

KIBBEY: Yes, anything's possible. I think -- I think, you know, us in there taking measurements, the Air Force taking measurements. So I think we're going to find out, you know, hopefully instantaneously what this storm is doing before it makes landfall.

COOPER: How does this storm compare to other storms that you've flown in?

KIBBEY: Well, comparatively to last year, you know, last year was the busiest hurricane season that I've flew. And, you know, this storm is on -- it's on par with the storms we flew last year, like Maria and Irma. So it's -- it's a powerful storm.

COOPER: And the eye of this storm, how do you -- I mean, it seems pretty well, I guess, is I don't know if well organized is the right term, but it seems pretty distinct.

KIBBEY: Absolutely, yes. It is very well organized. We saw today anywhere from about a 10 to a 12-mile eye that was just absolutely spectacular to be in. But, knowing that the power and the damage that those eye walls can do, you know, it's kind of scary. But it is a very powerful storm that's got its act together. So it is -- it is -- it is no joke storm.

COOPER: What is it like flying through it?

KIBBEY: It is moments of intensity followed by some lulls, but it's a challenging environment for any crew and any pilot.

COOPER: It's just fascinating, what you do. And I appreciate what you do, because it allows everybody else to know exactly minute by minute where this thing is and how big it is. So thank you and your crew, Commander Kibbey, thank you very much.

KIBBEY: No problem. Thank you.

COOPER: The Carolinas have been in this dangerous situation before. Our Gary Tuchman has that for us tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 29 years ago this month, the last category 4 hurricane to hit the Carolinas. Hurricane Hugo striking just north of Charleston, with 140-mile-per- hour sustained winds. Hugo had already created calamity in the Caribbean and it continued in South Carolina. More than 20 people were killed in the Palmetto state. The hurricane, which continued down to North Carolina as a category 2 storm, caused billions of dollars of damage in the Carolinas, where people were stunned by what they saw.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a little rocky. See, the dogs were petrified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was this house built?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 1790.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Two other category 4 hurricanes have hit the Carolinas in recorded weather history. Hurricane Hazel struck the North and South Carolina border area 64 years ago in 1954. More than 400 people were killed in Haiti before it hit the U.S. coast. At least 19 people were killed in the Carolinas. Five years later, another category 4 hurricane, Gracie hit southern South Carolina. That storm killed at least ten people in South Carolina and in Georgia.

The last major hurricane of any type to hit the Carolinas was in 1996. Category 3 Fran. The winds, which peaked at 120 miles per hour, made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina. 22 people were killed in the U.S., 13 of them in North Carolina. Damage in the Carolinas was estimated to be over $50 billion. It's very rare for major hurricanes to hit the Carolinas. And these words uttered almost 30 years ago during Hugo remain accurate today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just a terrible thing. The storm was extremely severe, a category 4. Biggest hurricane this city's had in a century, maybe in its history.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But now, here comes Florence.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Just -- that is a big storm. I want to check in with Chris Cuomo to see what he's been working on for "CUOMO PRIME TIME" at the top of the hour. Chris, I mean, category 4 at this stage, it's incredible.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Looks like we're staring at our future right there. Those people on the coast, that is a particularly vulnerable coastline.

COOPER: Yes.

CUOMO: So we're going to be taking people through what the latest is on the trajectory, what they can prepare for, how they're doing it, and what they can't prepare for. You'll remember during Irma, we hooked up with these federal first responders from South Florida. They just got the call. And this is pretty early, Anderson. They're headed to South Carolina.

So, we're bringing on one of the guys that we were with down there to tell us why they're going, what they're looking for, and you know, what our future will probably be in terms of the need to cover this.

COOPER: Yes, and I mean, just in terms of the size of this and the slow speed of it, you know, if it comes, makes landfall Thursday night, I was talking to Tom Sater earlier, this thing could -- you know, through the weekend, could be affecting people still in that area.

[20:50:04] CUOMO: That is the exact right point. You know, people get such eye focus. You know, like when does the real big deal come? They don't understand that the outer bands and those that come behind it with the eye are often the most destructive. I mean that's what we saw with Irma also. That's when they make the funky turns, once they hit the coastline like that one did. It supposed to go up the east coast. Made a left. All of us had to scramble. That's what they worry about. People start getting affected tomorrow my friend. So obviously we'll stay on it hour by hour.

COOPER: All right, Chris, I look forward to that. Chris joins us in about 10 minutes from now.

There are already concerns with the state of Georgia's voting system. I want to tell you about that what happens when you lose in a election, when your name isn't where it's supposed to be on the ballot.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: In the state of Georgia, there are new questions about the integrity of voting. Georgia is already being sued by voting rights activists who claimed the states election system are subject to attack and hacking that could influence voting. [20:55:09] Well now there's evidence an election outcome in Georgina may actually be wrong. Our senior investigator correspondent Drew Griffin tonight has details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On May 22nd, the only two people running for state representative district 28 in northeast Georgia squared off in a tight Republican primary that would decide who would hold the office. State representative Dan Gasaway lost in a squeaker.

DAN GASAWAY, GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: At the end of the day, I lost by 67 votes.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Remember that number, 67 votes. Gasaway congratulated his opponent and thought it was all over. Until the next day when his wife came home from her teaching job.

GASAWAY: And said, that Dan, my colleague came in and said she had gone to vote for you last night, and your name was not on her ballot and she's in my district.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): His name wasn't on her ballot? How could his supporters vote for him when they couldn't find him? Turns out it wasn't just one voter. Gasaway broke out maps. Overlapped voting rolls and found for each one of these dots, voters were assigned to the wrong district.

(on-camera): Let's get real specific, your district is district 28.

GASAWAY: That's correct.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): And these people were voting for district 10.

GASAWAY: That's right. Well, I realized then we had a serious problem. I don't know how it happens. But it did.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): How many votes were affected? It's now up to 70. More than the number Gasaway lost by. Meaning the wrong person may have won the election. He is suing.

(on-camera): This election shouldn't really stand.

GASAWAY: Right.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The County sent out a news release conceding that errors were made and we owe the voters of Habersham County, the assurance that their right to vote is not being compromised. The secretary of state's office, which initially certified the election, has now opened an investigation. Habersham County has called for a new election. It's up to a judge to decide. Jake Evans is Gasaway's attorney.

(on-camera): The secretary of state's office runs the elections in this state. I would think the secretary of state's office and perhaps the secretary of state would be just jumping at the bit trying to rectify the situation. You've got an election that was wrong.

JAKE EVANS, ATTORNE: Yes, that's a valid question. I wish I knew the answer to that question. I would direct that to the attorney general's office of secretary of state's office.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The top election official in Georgia of secretary of state Brian Kemp. He is running for governor. And his office is distancing itself from the mess in Habersham County. Properly districting voters is a county responsibility, Kemp's office told us, reiterating Kemp's claim that Georgia's election systems remain secure. But the botched Georgia primary is just one in a series of problems challenging voter confidence in the state.

Last month, CNN reported a massive security breach that exposed the records of millions of Georgia voters for more than six months. A lawsuit is challenging the potential security of Georgia's all electronic voting system. That same lawsuit details case after case of voters allegedly assigned to the wrong precincts. Gasaway said he's found 1,200 voters who were assigned to the wrong district.

GASAWAY: Through this, I've learned that there are some serious problems that need to be fixed.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): For now Gasaway just wants a new election, a fair one this time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So Drew, how would this work? I mean how would it be fair to the person who won the primary?

GRIFFIN: That is a good question. It's not fair either way, Anderson. But keep this in mind. There's no Democrat in the race. It was just these two Republicans who ran for this seat. So re- running the race would essentially be a re-match if you will. The easiest solution would be to have that re-match on November 6th in a winner take all general election. But as you said the winner did win. It's somewhat unfair to him he has to go through it again. But the loser may have lost by this error.

COOPER: So -- but, I mean just to go back to the core of the problem, is anyone saying what exactly went wrong? Is there guarantee it didn't happen in other places around the state?

GRIFFIN: This is what is so troubling, there has been no explanation for what happened. And until that's determined what went wrong here, it's really hard to tell how widespread or perhaps how localized this problem is. That is very unnerving for those watching Georgia's elections, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, it certainly is. Drew Griffin, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Quick reminder everybody, don't miss "Full Circle" is our new daily interactive newscast on Facebook. You get to pick some of the stories that we cover. You can see it weeknights, 6:25 p.m. eastern at facebook.com/andersoncooperfullcircle.

A lot of news ahead. The new continues. I want to hand it over to Chris Cuomo. "CUOMO PRIME TIME" starts now. Chris?

CUOMO: All right thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to "Prime Time"

The Woodward book drops tomorrow. Trump calls Bob Woodward a liar. Woodward says, America better wake up to Trump's attack on truth. Who will readers believe? We have the latest on which way that might go.