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Hurricane Dorian Gains Strength, Takes Aim At Florida; Former Defense Sec. James Mattis Speaks Out In New Interview; Manhunt Underway For Couple Accused Of Murder Who Escaped Custody. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired August 29, 2019 - 07:30   ET



[07:30:55] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hurricane Dorian gaining strength and taking aim at Florida. It is forecast to make landfall as a category three hurricane or stronger over the Labor Day weekend.

CNN's meteorologist Chad Myers has the new forecast. What now, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think the thing that we woke up this morning most alarmed about Alisyn is the number 125 miles per hour. Now it becomes real because at 85 or 90 it's like, OK, I can deal with it. But at 125, it becomes a point where people will have to evacuate a certain area.

Now, there's no time to evacuate now as we're days away. And if you remember what happens in some of these other storms, you evacuate to one side and then you have to go back to the other side, so no reason to really get moving now.

But, 125 miles per hour after midnight Saturday into Sunday morning. Then we move you ahead from Sunday morning into Monday morning here, right along the coast as another cat three. Then it tries to stall or slightly turn to the right a little bit, but sit over Florida for quite some time.

That's the official forecast. But if notice, it could be all the way to the Keys, which we doubt, or all the way up to Jacksonville, which one model is still up there. So that's not completely out of the question.

The deal we have here is Dorian. What else started near Dorian? Well, Jeanne, Irma, Frances, and Hugo all started in the same general area but all took very different tracks. So we're going to have to see what the high pressure that's north of this system does pushing it toward Florida.

Now, I was in Jeanne, Charley, Frances, and even Ivan with Anderson Cooper. And people know and they remember to get their water, they get gas, they get food, they get their meds, they tie their boats up.

The most important thing that we needed after the storm was cash because nobody has a register with electricity, but they can still take cash if you need to buy something. So don't forget to get that today, even if it's $100. You can always put it back into your account.

There you go. This is all the models right into Central Florida and there's the one still to Jacksonville. No time to move right now. Today is the day to prepare -- John and Alisyn.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Exactly right. Start getting ready now.

Chad Myers, thank you very much.

MYERS: Right.

BERMAN: We'll check back in with you in just a little bit.

This morning, a new interview with former Defense Sec. James Mattis. He's speaking out in "The Atlantic" and in some ways, it's all more revealing about what he will not say.

This is a quote. He goes, "There is a period in which I owe my silence. It's not eternal. It's not going to be forever."

Joining us now, CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. And, retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former Army commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army. He's a CNN military analyst.

Barbara, I want to start with you here. Let me read one more quote. He talks about why he is not being publicly more critical of President Trump.

He goes, "The duty of silence. If you leave an administration, you owe some silence. When you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity to defend the country."

What are we seeing here from Gen. Mattis between the release of those book excerpts yesterday and this interview now? There seems to be this public struggle about how far he should go in criticizing the president.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think this is something that Jim Mattis has been thinking about forever. This is what four-star generals think about.

When they are in -- on active duty, they are not permitted to speak against the commander in chief. And, in fact, they do owe him their silence. And as Secretary of Defense, exactly the same thing.

But it comes -- there comes a point where can you still accept the leadership you have? Jim Mattis couldn't. He decided to resign and leave. So now, he has to decide how silent -- how long he wants to be silent.

I think the fundamental question right now for him and for others who are deciding whether they want to speak out, as they look at the Trump administration is their silence actually perceived to be acquiescence to what the Trump administration is doing? And maybe that's one of the key questions Jim Mattis is wrestling with.

[07:35:12] BERMAN: And he addresses that a little bit, too. He says, "You don't endanger the country by attacking the elected commander chief. I may not like a commander in chief one fricking bit, but our system puts the commander in chief there."

General Hertling, I'll pose this question to -- and this was suggested by Ron Fournier. He used to write for the Associated Press.

Does he owe his duty to the president now to be silent or does he owe a duty to the American people to tell us what he really thinks?

LT. GEN, MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. ARMY EUROPE AND THE SEVENTH ARMY: I'm going to answer that John by saying he owes his duty to the Constitution -- and this is a constitutionally-elected president -- and the people that he used to serve in the Defense Department.

I'm going to add a couple of more words that are a part, I'm sure, of the consideration by Sec. Mattis -- loyalty, and professionalism, and leadership.

He knows he came from an organization with millions of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, and by him speaking out it could cause a great deal of churn within those organizations between the two sides that either support President Trump or don't support President Trump.

So he doesn't want to cause more churn in an organization that actually is required to defend the country in very perilous times and anything he would say right now would certainly do that. It would cause a hubbub in the Pentagon, that Barbara knows so well, that is unaffordable, given the circumstances of the global environment right now.

BERMAN: He does take some stands though and there are some things that he will speak about a little bit more.

There was this tweet -- and we don't even necessarily quote the tweet or put it up on the screen, but it was a few weeks ago where he compared Joe Biden to Kim Jong Un in North Korea and basically compared Kim favorably to Joe Biden.

In this new interview, Mattis says, "Any Marine general or any other senior servant of the people of the United States would find that, to use a mild euphemism, counterproductive and beneath the dignity of the presidency.

Let me put it this way. I've written an entire book built on the principles of respecting your troops, respecting each other, respecting your allies. Isn't it pretty obvious how I would feel about something like that?"

So, General, is it obvious enough how Mattis feels about something like that?

HERTLING: John, it's certainly obvious to me and probably any other senior military commander what he's saying.

It is a head-slapping moment when you see the president -- the commander in chief -- say the kinds of things that he says.

But again, it goes back to that loyalty to the troops, the loyalty to the Constitution. As long as Mr. Trump is still president, he has to give that loyalty.

But I've got to tell you, when I read that quote I know exactly what he's saying. He probably had his head down and said, oh no, not again because that is what so many of us have experienced in -- that have worn the uniform -- where it's very difficult to speak up because it counters the professional ethos that you've been taught while wearing the uniform.

BERMAN: Barbara, that quote that I read in the introduction where Mattis says, "There is a period in which I owe my silence. It's not eternal. It's not going to be forever."

There are some people in the old Republican establishment who have been looking to people like Jim Mattis to come out and make some kind of grand statement or grand gesture.

You covered him for a long time. It's what, a year and two months before the general election. Is there any reason to believe, based on the Jim Mattis you covered, that we'll get more than this? That he would make a clearer statement?

STARR: Well, you know, we had spoken to him about this general broad notion when he used to walk around the Pentagon hallways and stop and chat with reporters. He always wanted to make the point that he didn't want people to look at him as the "last adult in the room," to use that phrase, as the sort of savior for the country against President Trump.

But the fact that we're even talking about this -- does somebody have to speak up -- I think it comes back to two fundamental questions.

Do military commanders feel that the president is fit as commander in chief? You will generally find they don't want to address that question. They believe that is a political question.

But the real underlying question here as you ask all of that, has the Trump administration fundamentally changed the nation's relationship with its military? Is the military potentially on the precipice of being a more political organization?

And that is something -- I think that is the one thing that will make commanders and people like Jim Mattis step up and speak out if they see the Trump administration's influence bringing the military into the political arena.

BERMAN: General, we've got about 30 seconds left and this is something that Gen. Mattis, I imagine, might take issue with.

[07:40:00] There are reports this morning that the United States, and the president, and the administration is considering cutting military aid to Ukraine.

Just very quickly, based on your experience as a NATO commander, what do you make of that?

HERTLING: Yes, it's horrible.

Ukraine has been in a fight for its freedom since 2014. I have openly spoken up about that, both in Ukraine when I visited there a couple of times. They are in an unbelievable fight and they are doing well.

They have had the support of the United States. The military runs a training base there. We've been providing weapons. And to cut that support would mean that Russia might have an increasingly upper hand in Western Ukraine -- excuse me, Eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

It's horrible. We've got to support alliance and this partnership.

BERMAN: We don't know that it's going to happen, we just are reporting that it's being considered. And we also know that Vladimir Putin would be thrilled if it did take place.

HERTLING: He would.

BERMAN: Barbara Starr, Gen. Hertling, thanks so much for being with us.

HERTLING: Thank you, John.


There is one race from the 2018 midterms that could be a big test to President Trump's 2020 message. So we have more on the do-over election happening in North Carolina, next.


[07:45:19] CAMEROTA: Believe it or not, the 2018 midterms are not over yet. North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District is holding a special election next month. This, after the original results from 2018 were thrown out over allegations of election fraud.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in Charlotte with more. So what's happening, Dianne?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Alisyn, the people who live in the Ninth District have gone without representation for almost a year at this point.

Now, last night, the two candidates had their first and only debate. And while they tried to keep the topics local, there's been a cloud over this election and it wasn't just dealing with that election fraud. It's coming from Washington to where parties from both sides believe that this kind of a crystal ball offering a glimpse into a very murky future.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GALLAGHER (voice-over): It's the final race of 2018 and, in a way, the first test of 2020. The do-over election in North Carolina's Ninth District offering a glimpse into the future to see if the president's playbook still plays in a changing political battleground.


GALLAGHER (voice-over): Republicans investing time and a lot of money to stop the Democrats from flipping their final mid-term House seat, boosting two-time State Sen. Dan Bishop with the party's biggest draw, the Trumps.


DONALD TRUMP, JR., SON OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now this is going to be a big state for us in 2020.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Bishop tells CNN he feels the national narrative playing out here benefits him. He's closely tied his campaign to the president.

GALLAGHER (on camera): So, in District Nine, is a vote for Dan Bishop a vote for Donald Trump?

BISHOP: I certainly will go to Washington and work very aggressively to help President Trump.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Democrat Dan McCready is entering his 27th month of campaigning in the sprawling district, a longtime Republican stronghold that stretches from the southern Charlotte suburbs along the border of South Carolina.

The former Marine lost the original 2018 race by just 905 votes. But state election officials refused to certify those results due to allegations of ballot fraud committed by a consultant hired by then- Republican candidate Mark Harris' campaign -- who, citing poor health, chose not to run again.

DAN MCCREADY (D), NORTH CAROLINA NINTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT HOUSE CANDIDATE: This is a district that went for President Trump by almost 12 points. The fact that we're tied really means we're 12 points up of where we should be and it's a testament to our message of bringing people together.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): McCready admits some of the debates happening in his party's presidential primary don't exactly help him in a conservative-leaning district. Still, millions of dollars in outside spending have poured into the district from both sides --

CAMPAIGN T.V. ADVERTISEMENT: When they were banned from social media, Dan Bishop took their side.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): -- mirroring national controversies, attempting to tie Bishop to white supremacy -- a charge he denies.

BISHOP CAMPAIGN T.V. ADVERTISEMENT: I'll go to Congress and fight these clowns for you.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): And paint McCready, who says he's running as a moderate, as a liberal who would align with the so-called "Squad."

GALLAGHER (on camera): Do you feel like you're running against Dan Bishop or do you feel like you're running against Donald Trump?

MCCREADY: Well, I'm running against Dan Bishop. Unfortunately for him, he's not running against a socialist. He's running against a capitalist who's built a business from scratch. He's running against a United States Marine.


GALLAGHER: And, Dan Bishop is going to be getting more help. Don, Jr. here yesterday. His father, Donald Trump, the president, will be back in North Carolina at a rally on election-eve to support Bishop. This is an important race for Republicans.

John, McCready says that he's going to keep doing what he's been doing for more than two years now, simply going out, talking to people and letting them know he thinks he's going to be the best representative for them in Congress.

BERMAN: All right, home stretch there after 27 months.

Dianne Gallagher, thanks so much for being with us --


BERMAN: -- this morning.

So, on a related note, if you look around Congress, lately, a surprisingly high number of Republicans who were there before Donald Trump became president are no longer serving. So what's causing that?

John Avlon has a reality check -- John.


So look, we talk a lot about Republicans who come hell or high water have latched onto President Trump and will hold on no matter what he says or does. But there's a counter-trend -- an exodus away from the party of Trump.

Get this. Since Trump took office, the House GOP has seen a stunning 38 percent turnover. It's not a sign of strength or stability, it's a sign of moral and political exhaustion perhaps. And here's how it all breaks down.

Now, in Donald Trump's first two years, 14 House Republicans resigned before running for reelection. A scandal claimed conservatives like Trent Franks, Blake Farenthold, Tim Murphy, and Pat Meehan, while five left to join the Trump administration, including Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney. Others just threw in the Trump towel. [07:50:01] But what's really surprising is that 34 House Republicans chose not to seek reelection in 2018 while they were still in the majority. Eleven seeking higher officer, but 23 retiring outright.

Among the ranks was the sitting Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who told "Politico" he'd had enough of, quote, "identity politics and exploiting divisions." I can't imagine who he was talking about.

Now, two Republicans, South Carolina's Mark Sanford and Rob Pittenger from North Carolina lost primaries for being insufficiently pro-Trump. So how did that party purge work out? South Carolina's First District was won by a Democrat for the first time in decades, while North Carolina Nine is being relitigated -- a special election just mentioned, scheduled for September 10th.

And on Election Day 2018, another 30 House Republicans lost their seats to Democrats. Suburban swing districts in the South and Midwest turned against Trump and urban Republicans are now utterly extinct.

And that's not all. House Republicans now have only 13 women in their ranks, fewer than at any time since 1993, a quarter-century ago. Maybe that's what they meant by "take the country back."

And folks keep heading for the exits. In the first eight months of this year, two House Republicans have resigned while another 11 have announced they won't run for reelection. And this includes Will Hurd, the only African-American Republican in the House of Representatives.

Tally it all up and that's 93 House Republicans out of 241 -- more than 38 percent turnover in a party that had unified control over Washington until late last year.

But beneath the surface, there's deep discomfort with the direction of the party under President Trump as it turns into what looks like a demographic dead end.

But here's the thing. Most House Republicans are afraid to say it in public. They're afraid of being attacked by this president and they're afraid that if they speak out they'll lose their job in the close partisan primary.

There's no question Trump remains very popular with the base -- some 88 percent in the latest Gallup poll. But, Donald Trump is also the only president in the history of Gallup polling to have never been above 50 percent approval rating. He's down to 40 percent in the most recent CNN poll.

Six months after his inauguration, Trump's job approval was underwater in 11 states he'd won, and he's only taken on more water since. No wonder so many Republicans look like they're running for the hills.

We'll see whether transforming the party of Reagan into the party of Trump will be worth it when the dust clears.

And that's your reality check.

CAMEROTA: John Avlon, thank you very much for our dose of reality.

All right. Police say a husband and wife duo accused of murder have overpowered two guards and escaped from a prison van in Utah. The manhunt to find them, next.


[07:56:40] CAMEROTA: A manhunt is underway for a husband and wife duo facing murder charges. They escaped from prison guards in Utah and police say they are armed and dangerous.

CNN's Dan Simon has more.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wanted for murder, these two suspects, a husband and wife, are on the run after overpowering the security guards transporting them across the country.

Authorities say Blaine Barksdale, who has ties to the Aryan Brotherhood, and his wife, Susan, pretended to have some kind of emergency, forcing their guards to pull over.

SIMON (on camera): How did they overpower these guards?

DAVID GONZALES, U.S. MARSHAL, DISTRICT OF ARIZONA: We believe that they used some kind of a medical emergency or medical bathroom break for them to pull over to the side of the road. And once they got over to the side of the road they were able to overpower them, bind them, and threw them in the back of the van they were in.

SIMON (voice-over): The Barksdales are suspected in the April murder of 72-year-old Frank Bligh of Tucson, Arizona. His home burned, but his body never found.

Bligh's brother telling CNN Frank had a relationship with the Barksdales, especially the wife.

WILLIAM BLIGH, BROTHER OF FRANK BLIGH: Sue and my brother were very good friends. And it was just a -- you know, they were just -- it was a good friendship relationship.

SIMON (voice-over): Police haven't commented on the motive, but the Barksdales also face robbery charges.

William Bligh is stunned that the couple was able to get away.

BLIGH: We thought everything was going to be fine, you know. We actually thought that this week they were going to be into Arizona and they were going to start all the court processing and everything like that. And now, everything's just up in the air. They don't know what's going to happen right now.

SIMON (voice-over): In May, police arrested the couple in Upstate New York. This week, the cross-country extradition. The couple making their escape, attacking the guards on Monday in southern Utah. GONZALES: Well, it took a few hours for the guards to break out of the van and were able to notify the local sheriff's department. What kind of concerns me at this point is that they need money and maybe another vehicle.

SIMON (voice-over): That's why authorities worry about the potential for more violent crimes. On the lam now for a couple of days, the Barksdales could be anywhere.

Dan Simon, CNN.


BERMAN: Serious reasoning for concern considering how they got away and how long they've been on the loose.

Our thanks to Dan for that.

And thank you to our international viewers for watching. For you, "CNN NEWSROOM WITH MAX FOSTER" is next.

For our U.S. viewers, we're getting a new update on Hurricane Dorian posing a serious threat to Florida as a major hurricane.

NEW DAY continues now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAMEROTA: All right, good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Thursday, August 29th, 8:00 now in the East.

And we do begin with breaking news on Hurricane Dorian. This hurricane is getting bigger and stronger. It is taking direct aim at Florida. It could make landfall as a category three hurricane or even stronger over the Labor Day weekend.

BERMAN: It's coming. Please pay attention. Twenty-six counties in Florida are now under a state of emergency.

Exactly where Dorian will make landfall not clear. Look at the cone there. It covers the entire state from Key West all the way up to Jacksonville. You all need to be on high alert.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, they were spared the worst of the storm. There were some strong winds and rain -- you can see pictures right here -- but as far as we can tell as we're waking up this morning, no significant damage.