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Monster Hurricane Now a Category 3 and May Strengthen; Interview with Governor Greg Abbott; President Trump Facing His First Natural Disaster Test; Source: Cohn Almost Resigned Over Trump Rhetoric. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 25, 2017 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We're going to start with the breaking news in the "National Lead."

Harvey is now a major category 3 hurricane and closing in on the Texas coast. Forecasters say Harvey will be the strongest hurricane to hit the continental U.S. in 12 years when it makes landfall overnight. The outer bands of the hurricane are already stinging the Texas coast. Authorities warn that in some areas, it is already too late to get out of dodge.

Forecasters expect Harvey to be a slow mover with days of rain dropping around 3 feet of water in some places. The worst-case scenario? Some weather models show Harvey making landfall, then going back out to sea, regrouping, and then returning to shore. Either way, the storm surge is forecast to push walls of water onto shore. Today FEMA moved gigantic generators to Texas, anticipating massive power outages.

This will be the first most major natural disaster in the U.S. on President Trump's watch. Moments ago he left for Camp David. He will be monitoring the storm from there.

CNN has teams positioned along the Texas coast.

Nick Valencia is in Corpus Christi which is bracing for a direct hit. Ed Lavandera is in Galveston, Texas, where heavy rain is picking up. Polo Sandoval is inland in San Antonio where folks are also preparing for disaster. But we're going to start in the CNN Severe Weather Center with meteorologist Chad Myers.

And Chad, often weather forecasters and we in the media were accused of overhyping the risks of hurricanes.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely, Jake. But this storm has the same central pressure that Sandy had when it came on shore. Think of the devastation, the feet of inundation that Sandy had, and this has one more added aspect -- it doesn't move once it gets on land. It's about 70 miles from Corpus Christi right now. The eye is easily definable on radar. This is going to be a 1-2-3-4-5 punch. It's going to keep on going for five solid days. 120 miles per hour at the core.

I'm not even worried about that core. That's only five miles wide. This storm goes all the way from Brownsville to Louisiana. This is going to affect a wide swath of America.

Here, right through here, this is where the models are taking it, right on shore. Let me put you after 24 hours, the models have no idea . Honestly they have no idea where this thing goes. Loop left, loop right, whatever it could be. They have no concept of where this is going to be and there are some spots that could pick up over three feet of rain and storm surge of at least 12 feet.

Let me take you now to something else. How much rain is actually going to fall across the southern part of the country? From Texas all the way to Brownsville, all the way as far south and southeast as Corpus Christi, and then as far northeast as Houston. That gray area is 25 inches everywhere. Not in one storm. Everywhere. And that's what we're going to see all the way to Houston, Port Lavaca, all the way up and possibly even into Lake Charles.

If the models don't have any idea where they're going next, this could go to New Orleans after that. That's not out of the question, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Meteorologist Chad Myers, thank you.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in Corpus Christi as I mentioned where we expect landfall this evening.

And Nick, we've watched the winds pick up there. How are conditions now?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it just blew my hat off my head, Jake, if that's any indication. It's about as bad as we have seen it all day long, Hurricane Harvey living up to the hype here. That heavy wind just whipping, that rain starting to sting. And this is really what's ominous. These waves what we've been keeping an eye all day long.

We're on the very edge of the seawall here in Corpus Christi, a place that is expected to be especially hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. Over the course of the last 48 hours, the city's mayor here ordered voluntary evacuations. I was talking to one city official here who says they hope they don't regret issuing a mandatory evacuation here.

You could see, though, that there still are some residents out. I'm not sure if you could make them in the distance under gazebo there. A lot of curious hurricane tourists, if you will, trying to check out how bad things are. That's exactly what first responders don't want you to do. But that's the situation here in Corpus Christi.

The city, for all intents and purposes, is shut down. Schools are closed, businesses are boarded up. The airport stopped taking flights as early as 6:30 this morning. They won't continue until Monday.

One of the local representatives here told me that there is an anticipation that people here could do without basic food and services for as up to five days -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Valencia, stay safe, my friend.

Let's go now to up the coast to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's in Galveston, Texas.

Ed, what's the story where you are?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we're going to be on the eastern edge of this hurricane as it makes landfall. We've had a series of rain bands already whip their way on shore here this afternoon.

[16:05:05] We're in between one of those now. But as you can tell, the winds are now kind of remaining sustained here. Not hurricane force winds by any means just yet, but definitely winds that have picked up and we anticipate that this will continue sustaining, if not increasing. But what we hear repeatedly from emergency officials here on the ground is not just about what is going to happen here in the next couple of hours but in the next couple of days.

As Chad was talking about that, flooding is a concern. We're hearing and we're getting indications from emergency management officials that there is a lot of prepositioning of rescue boats and swift water -- high water rescue teams getting moved into position, anticipating that there will be a number of those types of rescues that will have to be carried out over the next couple of days.

That is of great concern just in Brazoria County, which is one county over here from Galveston Island. I was told by one emergency management official that they are somewhat satisfied with the way people are heeding these mandatory evacuation warnings, but that not everyone has evacuated.

Here on Galveston Island, it's a voluntary evacuation order and officials here just kind of re-punching that out there, urging people to heed those warnings -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Ed Lavandera in Galveston, Texas. Thank you. Stay safe.

Let's go a bit inland now to CNN's Polo Sandoval. We find him in San Antonio.

And Polo, evacuees from the coast are heading to where you are. How is the city going to handle them?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Jake, we understand about 150 people have made their way here to San Antonio. Many of these individuals have evacuated some of these coastal communities and taking refuge inland where the main threat here will be flooding at this point about 150 to 250 miles inland. The effects of the storm have been limited to occasional wind gusts. All of that will change, though, tonight as conditions begin to deteriorate. Now back to that 150 number that is only expected to grow with that

threat of flooding. More flooding means more displaced families and more people looking for a safe place to stay throughout the weekend, Jake, so that is really the next stage of this event that's scheduled to happen this weekend, or it's expected this weekend, which is the main flooding that will happen in cities like Austin, Houston and here in San Antonio -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

The outer bands of the Hurricane Harvey are just starting now to hit Texas. The storm is now a category 3. Packing a year's worth of rain. We're going to talk to the governor of Texas live, next. Stay with us.


[16:11:44] TAPPER: Welcome back. Continuing with our coverage of Hurricane Harvey, the life-threatening storm barreling towards Texas with more than 17 million people in its path.

Joining me by phone is Texas Governor Greg Abbott. He's on his way from Austin to San Antonio.

Governor, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Forecasters say the storm could sit over the Lone Star State for days, potentially dumping three feet of rain. Is Texas prepared?

ABBOTT: We are prepared, but you've articulated our greatest concern and that is all of the flooding that will occur because of all of that rain. But Texas has been preparing for this for days. I've just got through with a briefing with more than 30 state agencies as well as with FEMA, as well as with the Red Cross. We have hundreds of people away across the entire Gulf Coast region, and that is on top of the people who are working at the local level.

So we are prepared to deal with this. It's just a matter of working person by person to ensure that people are safe. The most important thing that we can say right now is that people need to understand the most important thing to have is their life. And they must do everything they can to preserve their life and they can take care of their property later.

TAPPER: Yes. I spoke with one of your mayors earlier, Mayor Jimmy Kendrick of Fulton, who told me that about 40 percent of his citizens are staying put. They're planning on riding out the storm. What is your message to those who are not evacuating and who think that they can ride this out?

ABBOTT: Well, it kind of depends upon where they are. There are some locations that are low water areas where it can be more dangerous. There are other locations that are high enough where the water will not impact them. The important thing for people to know, and that is this is going to be most likely a much heavier rainstorm than what people are familiar with, and as we discussed earlier today in our meeting, we are just setting a record amount of flooding in regions ranging all the way from Corpus Christi up to the Houston area.

So people need to be prepared for very heavy flooding and take the measures they need to both stay safe and be prepared for the potential of being without power, water and supplies for several days.

TAPPER: Is it too late to evacuate in some areas of Texas?

ABBOTT: Well, in areas like Corpus Christi, it is too late to evacuate at this point in time. It probably would be more dangerous to evacuate. People need to make plans for, let's say, plan B and plan C.

But listen, if you're in a house and the area is susceptible to rising water, you need to have a plan to get up to the second floor. If not from there, frankly, even higher. We will have hundreds of people involved in the process of water rescues where we will be constantly looking for people that need any type of evacuation.

But what people should do is they should listen to and heed local warnings by local officials who will understand best about who may be endangered and about who needs to evacuate. Understand this also, and that is we have multiple evacuation zones throughout the state of Texas as well as our state public parks are open for free for anybody who wants to evacuate there.

TAPPER: The National Weather Service says that parts of Texas might be uninhabitable for weeks, or even potentially months following the hurricane. How are you planning for the potential aftermath?

ABBOTT: Well, this is something we deal with all the time, and the good news is we have such a terrific working relationship with FEMA. And we will go in and work rapidly to get people back into their homes and relocated as quickly as possible. We need to wait and see how much wind damage or flood damage there is, and, of course, as you probably reported, there could be some tornadoes that crop up here and there.

But we have tornadoes and hurricanes sporadically, so this is something we're accustomed to dealing with and we'll get people back in their homes as quickly as possible.

TAPPER: You spoke with President Trump yesterday. This afternoon, you requested a presidential disaster declaration. Governor, are you getting everything you need from the federal government as of now?

ABBOTT: We're getting everything we need. The president was very kind and very generous, as well as dealing with the secretary of homeland security, as well as the FEMA administrator. They're working very closely with us, and we have a local administrator for FEMA who works hand in glove with our operations, and we have one of the best Department of Emergency Management coordinators in the country.

So, we are prepared to deal with this storm. Our chief concern (ph) right now is to our citizens, that they have control over lives and they need to take the measures they need to take to make sure they stay safe. TAPPER: All right. Governor Abbott, thank you. Good luck. We are

all hoping for the best for the people of Texas.

ABBOTT: Thank so much.

TAPPER: The White House is weighing in on how President Trump is preparing for what is the first natural disaster of this magnitude of his presidency. That story is next.


[16:20:40] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

We're following the breaking news at this hour. Close to 20 million people in the danger zone as Hurricane Harvey now a major category 3 hurricane comes to Texas, some biblical floodwaters move closer to the Texas Gulf Coast. The White House says President Trump has been briefed. He'll be watching the storm closely, not from the Situation Room but rather from Camp David.

CNN's Sara Murray is live at the White House.

And, Sara, top administration officials say they're confident that the president and the administration are ready for this. What are they telling you?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They say that President Trump has been fully engaged on preparations for this storm, that he may issue a major disaster declaration before the hurricane makes landfall, and he's also considering a trip to Texas early next week. Now, we spoke earlier today with Tom Bossert, he's a homeland security adviser. He came to the briefing room to brief reporters.

Here's how he explained some of the preparations President Trump has been involved in.


TOM BOSSERT, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: What the president will do as we move forward is continue talking directly with them, directly with the governors. If they have any unmet needs, that's our problem, that's -- the president won't tolerate that. But he'll also continue talking to me as secretary and now chief of staff Kelly. And he move up to Camp David, as you know, he's got a full resources and capability to communicate with us.


MURRAY: Now, the governor -- or the president spoke with the governors of Louisiana and Texas earlier today. He also took to Twitter to share some advice ahead of this storm saying, I encourage everyone in the path of Hurricane Harvey to heed the advice and orders of their local and state officials. That mirrors what we heard from Tom Bossert. Obviously, that was a little bit more prepared remark on Twitter. Trump also made some quick comments before he headed off to Camp David, basically saying, good luck to everyone -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Sara Murray at the White House for us, thank you so much.

While President Trump prepares to deal with his first national disaster, there is still fallout inside the White House from his Charlottesville remarks. The storm inside the White House, that story next.


[16:26:37] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. You're looking at a live shot right now in Corpus Christi, Texas, as Hurricane Harvey barrels toward that state. We're going to have much more coverage of Hurricane Harvey as it approaches the Texas coast.

But let's turn more momentarily to the politics lead. It might be a good thing President Trump is getting out of town for the weekend because his war within his own party is only growing. The president lashing out at more Republicans in Congress today while a source tells CNN that a member of his own cabinet, at least cabinet level, was on the brink of resigning after the president's remarks on the racist violence in Charlottesville.

CNN's Alex Marquardt has more on yet another tumultuous week for President Trump.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One of the president's closest aides today harshly criticizing his response to the deadly Charlottesville violence.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

MARQUARDT: National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who is Jewish, did consider resigning, a source told CNN, but defended his decision to stay. I believe this administration can and must do better, he told "The Financial Times", in consistently and unequivocally condemning these groups and do everything we can to heal the deep divisions that exist in our communities. Cohn said he has spoken with the president numerous times on the subject, adding, I have not been bashful saying what I think.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Gary has not held back how he feels about the situation. He's been very open and honest. And so, I don't think that anyone was surprised by the comments.

MARQUARDT: This as the riff between Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill grows wider by the day. Today, yet another top Republican senator in President Trump's crosshairs, this time, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Strange statement by Bob Corker, considering he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18, the president tweeted. Adding, Tennessee not happy. The president clearly stewing over Corker's comments from a full week

ago, questioning the president's competence.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.

MARQUARDT: Corker becomes the fifth GOP senator this month targeted by Trump.

TRUMP: And for our friends in the Senate, oh, boy.

MARQUARDT: Threatening a civil war in the party.

Former Republican Missouri Senator John Danforth today calling Trump, the most divisive president in our history, adding, our party has been corrupted by this hateful man and it is now in peril.

The division is only hurting the president's next major initiative as he launches his sales pitch for tax reform next week. The friends he needs in Congress grumbling that he's too busy attacking members of his own party, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who is privately locked in a bitter feud with the president, but publicly trying to put a positive spin on things.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, MAJORITY LEADER: I think we'll be able to produce a much better tax code that will make a huge difference for our country, and it will be done during this Congress.


TAPPER: Alex Marquardt -- go ahead, Alex.

MARQUARDT: Sorry, Jake.

The president now dealing with this political storm as he's dealing with that actual storm down south. Earlier today at the White House press briefing, we did hear from Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who did have comments about Gary Cohn.