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Revealed New Texts from Fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok; Trump Gets Briefing on Hurricane as Storm Approaches; FEMA Says Florence Will Be Devastating Event to Carolinas; Trump Says Puerto Rico Response "One of the Best, Ever"; New York Tax Investigators to Meet with Cohen's Attorney. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Text messages from fired FBI agent Peter Strzok are back under scrutiny. This time his attorney is denying reports that Strzok and his ex-girlfriend, Lisa Page, had a strategy to leak information hoping to harm the Trump administration. President Trump seizing on the allegations, tweeting today that Department of Justice and FBI are doing nothing. CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is with me now. And so, it's Strzok's attorney, Laura, who is saying the characterization of the texts is all wrong. What's going on here?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Brooke, for months we've seen something of a pattern develop here, where House Republicans find a text message exchange without much context at all, and then the President jumps on it, amplifies it on Twitter, and it takes off from there. And today appears to be no exception. This time around Congressman Mark Meadows, a Republican, found a text message from April of 2017 where Strzok says this.

He says to Page, I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ.

And the Congressman is raising questions about this because of the timing, and it happens in the exact period of time where news organizations start to publish stories about the surveillance warrant on Carter Page. And so, Congressman Meadows is questioning whether in fact Page and Strzok had some sort of cabal to out that to different news organizations. But his attorney is firing back in a statement saying, absolutely not, that's nonsense. And Aitan Goelman says this in a statement to us, Brooke. The term media leaked strategy in Strzok's text refers to a department wide initiative to detect --

BALDWIN: Laura, hold that thought for me, let's go to the President.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A senior staff regarding hurricane Florence and other tropical systems that will soon impact the United States and its territories.

TRUMP: OK, thank you very much. I've received a briefing from Secretary Nielsen, Administrator Long, and my senior staff regarding Hurricane Florence and other tropical systems that will soon impact the United States and its territories. The safety of American people is my absolute highest priority. We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared. We're ready. We're as ready as anybody has ever been.

And it looks to me, and it looks to all of -- a lot of very talented people that do this for a living, like this is going to be a storm that's going to be a very large one -- far larger than we've seen in perhaps decades. Things can change, but we doubt they will at this stage. It's a pretty late stage. We doubt they're going to be veering very far off course.

The places that are in the way and in the most jeopardy would be Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina -- that area. And again, they haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years -- maybe ever. It's tremendously big and tremendously wet. Tremendous amounts of water. So, I've spoken with the governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.

[15:35:00] They're prepared. We're prepared. We're working very well in conjunction with the governors.

I'd like to ask Brock Long, our Administrator, who's done so well for us in Texas and Florida -- we have something that could very well be very similar to Texas, in the sense that it's tremendous amounts of water. Texas was the one that had, I would say, to this point, Brock, probably more water than we've ever seen in a storm or a hurricane. And it went out for seconds and thirds. We've never seen anything like it.

But FEMA, as you know, did a fantastic job, and a fantastic job also in Florida. And I'd like to ask Brock, if you would, to just say a few words to the media as to where it is now, what's going to be happening, and how well prepared we are.

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Thank you, Mr. President. Unfortunately, Hurricane Florence is setting out to be a devastating event to the Carolinas, and potentially Virginia as well.

So, as you can see, they're forecasting a major landfalling storm -- Category 3 or 4 storm at landfall. The biggest hazard that we're worried about is storm surge. That's the primary driver of the evacuations that are underway by the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia right now. But as this system comes in and makes landfall, during the weekend it's forecast to stall out, lose its strength and its steering currents, and drop copious amounts of rainfall.

Unfortunately, the remnants of Gordon passed through the Mid-Atlantic over the weekend and dropped a lot of rain, saturating rivers. So, Hurricane Florence, as it comes in and puts anywhere between 20 and 30 inches more in isolated areas, could create a lot of inland flooding.

So, right now, sir, we're supporting the governors with achieving their life safety evacuation and movements. We're focused on mass care and sheltering. And then we'll be focused on helping them to execute their response and recovery goals.

TRUMP: What are the chances that it veers off course and the hit won't be so direct? What are the chances of that?

LONG: Unfortunately, I believe there's quite a bit of certainty in the track forecast because the forward speed is picking up. It's getting faster. And when systems do that, the track forecast becomes a lot more accurate. And I think the expectation needs to be set with the citizens in this area that, if you've been asked to leave, get out of the areas that are going to flood, and get into a facility that can withstand the winds.

Let's set the expectations as well: This has an opportunity of being a very devastating storm. The power is going to be off for weeks. You're going to be displaced from your home in the coastal areas. And there will be flooding in the inland areas as well.

So, these are going to be statewide events. The hazards will be statewide.

TRUMP: Thanks. You wanted to show us this one then?

LONG: Yeah. This is a seven-day rainfall graphic. As you can see, the pink areas and the purple areas indicate 20 inches. That's mean area rainfall; that's an average rainfall amount. But you may see isolated amounts greater -- into the 30-inch range -- over Virginia, the central portions of Virginia and West Virginia. And these impacts are -- they're going to be through the Mid-Atlantic. So, we're coordinating not only with South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia, but other Mid-Atlantic states, all the way to Delaware.

TRUMP: Good. And it has been great coordination. I have to tell you, the states have been terrific. Everybody is working together. The governors and all of their representatives have been absolutely fantastic. And FEMA -- there's nobody like you people. I mean, what they're doing is incredible.

Do you have any questions for Secretary Nielsen or for Brock Long, please? Anybody?

REPORTER: What lesson do we take from what happened in Puerto Rico? How do we apply the lessons we took from Puerto Rico?

TRUMP: Well, I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Puerto Rico was, actually, our toughest one of all because it's an island, so you just -- you can't truck things onto it. Everything is by boat. We moved a hospital into Puerto Rico -- a tremendous military hospital in the form of a ship. You know that.

And I actually think -- and the Governor has been very nice. And if you ask the Governor, he'll tell you what a great job. I think probably the hardest one we had, by far, was Puerto Rico because of the island nature. And I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done with respect to what this is all about.

Puerto Rico got hit not with one hurricane but with two. And the problem with Puerto Rico is their electric grid and their electric generating plant was dead before the storms ever hit. It was in very bad shape. It was in bankruptcy. It had no money. It was largely -- you know, it was largely closed.

And when the storm hit, they had no electricity -- essentially before the storm. And when the storm hit, that took it out entirely.

The job that FEMA and law enforcement and everybody did, working along with the Governor in Puerto Rico, I think was tremendous. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.

[15:40:03] Texas, we had been given A-plusses for. Florida, we've been given A-plusses for. I think, in a certain way, the best job we did was Puerto Rico, but nobody would understand that. I mean, it's harder to understand. It was very hard -- a very hard thing to do because of the fact they had no electric. Before the storms hit, it was dead, as you probably know.

So, we've gotten a lot of receptivity, a lot of thanks for the job we've done in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was very important.

And, by the way, speaking of Puerto Rico, they're going to be affected, pretty much, pretty soon by something else that's on its way. Is that right?

LONG: Potentially, Hurricane Isaac right now is tracking south of the island, but we are -- we have several thousand people inside Puerto Rico right now working on long-term recovery that have shifted to the response mode to monitor as Isaac passes to the south.

TRUMP: We do not want to see Hurricane Isaac hit Puerto Rico. That's all we need. But we have a big hurricane out there, and it's sort of skirting along Puerto Rico and the edge of Puerto Rico. That would not be good.

REPORTER: Mr. President, how much money do you think you'll need for recovery efforts to this next hurricane? And do you have that already, or do you need to get it?

TRUMP: Well, we have it currently. Obviously, these are all unanticipated, so we'll go to Congress. Congress will be very generous, because we have no choice. This is the United States. And whether it's Texas or Florida or, frankly, if it's Virginia -- because Virginia, it's looks like it's very much in the path. Maryland, by the way, could be affected -- very seriously affected -- just to add. It's a little bit outside of the path. And then, of course, South Carolina and North Carolina. I think that any amounts of money, whatever it takes, we're going to do.

But we're already set up. We have tremendous trucking systems, we have food systems. We have a lot of -- a lot of contractors waiting. But for the most part, it's been handled by FEMA, and also, we've coordinated locally. We have food for days. We have emergency equipment and generators for many days. We should be in great shape.

Now, I've also heard it could be 21 and 22 inches. If you can imagine what that is -- 22 inches of rain. It is not something that we've had. Certainly, we've never had this on the East Coast. So -- but I think we're very well prepared and very well set up. Wouldn't you say?

LONG: Yeah. I think this storm right here is very similar to Hurricane Hugo and almost like a combination of Hurricane Hugo in '89 and Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

But look, successful disaster response and recovery is one that's locally executed, state managed, and federally supported. So what FEMA is doing is pre-positioning the federal government's assets to support each one of those governors that are about to be impacted with achieving their response and recovery goals. And that's the way emergency management and disaster response works best.

I also think -- I'd like to point out that what we learned last year is we have got to build a true culture of preparedness within our citizens here in America. This is a partnership, and it takes anything from neighbor helping neighbor all the way to the federal government when it comes to correctly responding and recovering.

REPORTER: Can we ask you about the (INAUDIBLE) and power outages? What things are right now to --?

LONG: That's a great question. So, FEMA doesn't own the power grids in any one of these states. A lot of them are owned by the private industry. So, what we have are business emergency operation center calls. We're concentrating with the private vendors to make sure that they have strong mutual aid programs in place. And we set up incident support bases to help stage power crews coming in from other states. And largely, it's FEMA's job to get out of the way to make sure that the private power companies can get into these areas to set up their grid. We don't own it. We don't own it.

TRUMP: But unlike Puerto Rico, you have very strong power companies. They're very powerful, very well managed in the sense that they have -- they have tremendous overcapacity. They are going to do a great job. They also have made contracts with other power companies that won't be affected, and they're going to be coming in -- just to answer your question, they'll be coming in to the various states that will be affected.

They're going to be coming in very strongly, and they're already lining up. They'll be here probably, for the most part, tomorrow, or shortly before the storm hits. So, they're going to be in great shape. These are, really, states that have very, very strong power authorities.

REPORTER: What's your message, Mr. President, to people who might not have evacuated yet?

TRUMP: Well, that's very risky. I mean, again, we've never seen anything quite like this on the East Coast, at least. And if it turns out to be as bad -- you know, we go out there; you have people that actually go fly through these storms. These are very brave people. But they fly through. And from what I'm hearing, the sites that they're seeing have not been seen on the East Coast before. So, I would say everybody should get out. I mean, you have to listen to your local authorities and -- whether you're upland or downland.

[15:45:01] But depending on where you are, you have to listen and you have to get out. If they want you to get out -- because it's going to be impossible to have people get in there, whether it's law enforcement or FEMA or anybody else. Once this thing hits, it's going to be really, really bad along the coast. OK?

Anything else?

REPORTER: Do you believe Rob Porter and Gary Cohn's denials today?

THE PRESDIENT: Ah, well, you shouldn't be talking about that right now because it doesn't matter. But I really appreciate their statement. Their statement was excellent. And they both said that beautiful, which shows that the book is just a piece of fiction.

Thank you very much. I think we're very well prepared. And thank you all very much. Appreciate it.

REPORTER: Do you mind giving us an update on the trade talks?

TRUMP: Trade talks are coming along very well. We're dealing with China, as you know. We've taken a very tough stand on China, I would say, to put it mildly. And with Canada, they want to make a deal very much. Me? If we make it, that's good. And if we don't make it, that's OK too. Canada wants to make a deal. We'll see if we can get them into the deal we already have with Mexico. I think the deal with Canada is coming along very well, and we've all been dealing in good faith. OK?

Thank you everybody.

BALDWIN: OK, let's hone in on one of the President's points when he was asked about Puerto Rico. It is wonderful that we are hearing from FEMA in how the administration is preparing, I couldn't help but notice the President's comments on Puerto Rico, referring to the response as incredibly successful and unsung success and one of the best ever. That is successful, despite the fact that this study found nearly 3,000 people died. Kaitlin Collins, I want to come to you on this over at the White House. 3,000 people died according to this most recent George Washington University study and the administration's response is still under fire. Where is this incredibly successful even coming from?

KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's the question a lot of people are going to have after hearing the President's comments there. First, it's a very leadership, Presidential comments, hearing from the President, hearing from the FEMA administration ahead of the hurricane Florence and what people need to do to prepare on the coast. But then the President looking back at Puerto Rico saying that it was an unsung success, that it was very successful, talking about the praise they received after that hurricane hit for the administration's response. Which frankly, Brooke, just isn't the case here. It's actually been widely criticized because, of course, at first the death toll was in the dozens, and then it was raised to roughly 3,000 people who died there in Puerto Rico.

Now, of course that's not that shocking that the President made those comments. Because just last week he was praising the way his administration responded to Puerto Rico, and of course, we know that in the past he said he believed they had responded, that he would grade that response as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, saying they did a good job. That is simply not what a lot of people and a lot of experts who look at the situation would say with the way Puerto Rico was handled. Not only 3,000 people dying but several people -- hundreds of people going without power for so long. So of course, certainly that's going to raise questions there, the President in the Oval Office.

And something else you saw, Brooke, in the past few days, aides then tried to redirect the President's focus to focus on hurricane Florence and the administration's response as they prepare for this. Something the President said they're sparing no expense for this and warning Americans that this is going to be a very big storm that is headed towards the east coast.

But he also was asked about those denials from those two former top aides today that responded to the Bob Woodward book, Gary Cohn, the former chief economic adviser and Rob Porter, the President's former staff secretary. There at the end he was asked if he believed their denials of what is attributed to them in Bob Woodward's book. He chided the reporter for asking about it, but then said that he believed they were excellent statements and that they proved that the book was not true.

That raises a lot of questions after those denials which were largely seen as non-denial denials. Because they denied things the book did not accurately portray their time here in the White House. But they didn't deny specific instances from that book. But of course, the President answering that question there after saying the reporter shouldn't have asked it does show how the President's focus has been on that as well as his administration is preparing for hurricane Florence.

BALDWIN: Kaitlin Collins, thank you so much with all of that, all those headlines coming out of President and the West Wing at this hour. I want to take you back to this hurricane. I want to get now to one

of the places directly in Florence's path, Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, is under a mandatory evacuation order starting at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow. We saw the lifeguard stands being hauled off the beach just a little while ago. With me now, Todd Byrd. He runs this live web cam of this boat ramp there in Wrightsville Beach. And so, we've seen, Todd, this steady stream of people pulling their boats out of the water, in preparation for this storm.

[15:50:04] And I hear you've decided to ride this thing out. Tell me why. TODD BYRD, WAITING OUT THE STORM (via phone): Well, I've sent my

family away. We'll say this first. I've sent my wife and my kids on a little vacation down to Florida, let them go to Disneyland, while we ride this out. Actually, about a mile in shore. So, I feel pretty safe here. We've battened down the hatches. Yesterday was a big day at the boat ramp. And it's just been steady as she goes. Everyone is preparing.

BALDWIN: What's wrong with you going to Disneyworld with them?

BYRD: I've got to stick around. We've got to take care of our property here. We've got a lot of friends doing a lot of work. My buddy, Chris Willetts with Sea Tow has Sea Tow International helping him to help with the aftermath of this storm, which is expected to, from what I understand, get a doozy.

BALDWIN: You may indeed get a doozy. And I think you've lived through some doozies, as well. You've been there since the '80s. What are some of the worst hurricanes you've seen, and did you ride those out, as well?

BYRD: Yes, ma'am. I've been here since 1984, probably one of the worst ones I've seen hit here at Wrightsville was hurricane Fran. We also had hurricane Floyd, which was pretty bad. The thing that kind of bothers me now, is we have a new generation here who has never seen anything like this. And it's going to be quite interesting to see how many people will take and heed the advice of our officials in order to get out of harm's way. Because this is nothing to play with.

BALDWIN: And just lastly, the fact, though, you're sticking around. What have you learned through those storms like Fran, as you have stayed behind?

BYRD Well, the first thing you learn is how human nature comes together in a time of crisis. Some folks may not speak on certain days, but when hurricanes come, your neighbors come to you, what can I do for you. It's an amazing thing to see the human element work together during a crisis. That's something that has always amazed me about these storms, on how people help one another. It's very important in these times. And we will have those that are going to need a lot of help after this storm.

BALDWIN: They will indeed. I know those EMS crews, fire crews, they have their work cut out for them. Todd, be safe, please. Thank you so much, sir, for calling in. Appreciate it, in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.

Coming up next, new details on Michael Cohen's legal troubles. We'll explain what tax investigators are now interested in.


BALDWIN: Just in, new details on the legal troubles for President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen. A state investigation could now come into conflict with the federal case in which Cohen has already pleaded guilty to eight counts, including tax evasion. CNN's Erica Orden has the story. So, tell me what you know.

ERICA ORDEN, CNN REPORTER: Sure, what we know is that today New York state tax investigators are scheduled to meet with Michael Cohen's attorney, Guy Petrillo, the inquiry from the tax department in this case involves tax fraud examination regarding the Trump organization. And that stems from some of the material or information that was included in the federal charges against Michael Cohen that were brought in August by the U.S. attorney's office for the southern district of New York. As with any ongoing criminal investigation or criminal case, federal prosecutors usually don't want other offices from taking certain investigative steps that might potentially interfere with their case. And in this matter, we know that the U.S. attorney's office has dissuaded other offices from doing that at this moment until their case regarding Cohen and some of the other related matters is over.

BALDWIN: Is part of those eight counts when he pleaded guilty downtown a couple weeks ago, one of which was campaign finance violation. Right, and so you and I were talking on commercial break that the southern district of New York also has an inquiry into that.

ORDEN: The southern district of New York has an inquiry that stems from their Cohen investigation, and that is a probe into potential campaign finance violations by the Trump organization, as opposed to Cohen himself.

BALDWIN: OK. OK. Erica Orden, thank you so very much on that. You can check out her whole story just go to

And with this final bit, let's just remind everyone as we have been talking to people up and down the Carolina coastline, hurricane Florence, category 4, the story here as we have been talking to meteorologists, isn't just the powerful winds, right? Isn't just the fact that it could really stall over the coastline and pour 20 to 30 inches of rain. The issue is, so many of these areas are under this mandatory evacuation that it's going to continue in. And so, for folks who are leaving the coastline and going inland, you really need to go quite a bit inland, as Jennifer Gray was just reporting out this last hour. Even in land Carolinas could see up to 20 inches of floodwater. So, we are thinking about all the EMS crews, the rescue crews, you know, fire, as they prepare for what is to come here with hurricane Florence.

Stay put. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Let's go to Washington. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts now.