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CNN NEWSROOM

Widespread Devastation in Texas as Flooding Begins; Aired 6-7p ET

Aired August 26, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: -- every angle of this disaster. Rosa Flores is in Houston, Martin Savidge in Rockport, Texas, and meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center.

Let's get started with our special coverage. First to Rockport, one of the areas hardest hit by those 130-mile-an-hour winds from Hurricane Harvey. Rockport is also where the only fatality from the storm so far is being reported. Harvey came ashore as a category 4 hurricane causing widespread destruction.

The town's mayor called the storm a severe blow to his community. And take a look at what people are encountering there. Local and state officials are still assessing the damage caused by that initial hit.

Our Martin Savidge joins us from Rockport, and, Martin, what a scene there behind with you. I understand you ran into some of the public safety officials there. What are you hearing from them?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What we're finding out is that a lot of the public safety here is they are still here, but the infrastructure for the police and fire and everything else has been absolutely devastated, that's why they are getting a lot of help coming in from the outlying communities.

Getting here is extremely difficult. We had a very hard time. Water is overflowing, many of the roads, many of the main highways to get in here, power lines are down all over, and then there are the trees on top of that, so devastation on the outskirts of town, especially for trailers, but absolute destruction on the inside of town here, and the problem is, they are only just now getting organized to try to come about the first responders. Take a look.

You can tell this is very much a town that is still caught up in the shock of the storm. They are still trying to organize their first response. You've got emergency teams that are starting to arrive, a lot of them have come from outside the area. But they've been a lot of problems here. Number one, no sign of electricity, no cell phone service, and it's clear looking down here, they also get water problems, so that means sanitary issues, drinking water, basics of that.

Then you take a look at the issue of just plain law enforcement. This is the Rockport Police Department's vehicles. At least a number of them. You can see what the wind and the pressure did, blew out just about every one of the windows in their vehicles there. And there's one pulling out. So despite the damage, they are still on the job.

Let's walk you over. There's a lot of street flooding. In fact, as we try to come into this town, there's a lot of flooding, period. A lot of downed power lines, state troopers, and this is the sort of resources that are continuing to come in here. They are just now trying to organize.

This is the Public Safety Center. Took a devastating blow. There's water everywhere you look. There's downed power lines everywhere. So that makes the streets very difficult to pass. The only flag that's still up is apparently the city flag. But look what the wind did to the flag poles here. Snapped them. Broke them. Didn't bend them. Snapped them. They brought them down to the grown.

What they're trying to do inside here is basically organize life. But what you realize is that it is going to be not just days, but it could be weeks and months before this town even starts to function once again.

Another view of the destruction here. You look at this and it actually reminds you what happens when maybe a major tornado goes through town. There probably is some tornadic damage that is here, but a lot of this is just what happens when a category 4 storm, a massive monster, comes roaring into your town and that's what happened here in Rockport. One fatality as we said -- Ana.

CABRERA: Our heart goes out to the community. Thank you very much, Martin Savidge.

Now 8 percent of hurricane deaths are caused by wind, 90 percent are caused by water. And that takes us to Houston, already coping with senior flooding and more heavy rain is on the way, officials setting up a staging area right now for emergency vehicles and crews at Darrell Tully Stadium in West Houston.

That's where Rosa Flores is joining us from.

And so, Rosa, you've been on the ground today. What are you hearing from the emergency officials in terms of the preparations for all this rain that's yet to come?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, they are preparing for this Texas-sized parking lot to be turned into a staging area for all of the vehicles that first responders will need to respond to any emergency. You can take a look behind me. There's already a row of ambulances, but other EMS vehicles will also be filling this parking lot, and as we swing around, you'll see this parking lot is very large.

We're expecting all of the military-type of vehicles to be parked on this side, and you can already see that some fuel tankers are over here to my right. The idea here is for a command center type of location where calls can come in very quickly and resources can be deployed very quickly.

[18:05:10] Now we've seen bans of rain here come and go. It just stopped right now, Ana. We've seen gusts of winds. The Harris County sheriff has been tweeting about a potential tornado about 30 minutes just north of where we're located. So there is a lot of activity happening in Houston right now. Just because the rain stopped doesn't mean that the danger has stopped.

The concern in Houston, of course, like you mentioned, is flooding. They are expecting a lot of rain and because the ground is already saturated, this is a clay ground, once that clay is saturated, then flash flooding happens very quickly, rising water can turn deadly and that's the big concern. That's why they are expecting to stage here in this area in west Houston hoping, of course, this is a safe area for all of these vehicles to then be deployed in the case of an emergency -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right, Rosa Flores in Houston for us continuing to wait out the upcoming rain.

And let's check in now with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers who's keeping an eye on this forecast.

Boy, we see all those colors behind you, Chad. It doesn't look good. Talk about where this storm is headed, if anywhere right now. It's kind of hovering, isn't it?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Sure. The center is just stopped, that's why that we're there, it's stationary. The center, which his no longer an eye in the tropical storm, has really just stopped in the middle of Texas, but the rotating bands will not stop. And in fact, the next band for Rosa may be there in one hour in her next live shot, that big red ban that's headed toward Houston right now. That will be over Houston all evening and all -- overnight long into the morning hours, and that's where the flooding problem there for Houston will be.

It's raining in San Antonio, it's raining in Austin, and it's even making some tornados around the Houston area as Rosa said. And this is a possibility as this next band -- you can see kind of the colors right there, rotates over Houston in the next, I would say, 30 to 45 minutes and it will last for five to six hours.

There's your tornado watch. Anywhere in that box, you could see tornados. But the big problem is, I think, let's shift our attention from the wind and shift our attention to the flooding because there's already rain here. That purple area right there. That's 10 inches already on the ground. This thing hasn't even been on land for 24 hours, like something like 18, and we've already had almost two feet of rainfall potential here, and that's not hard to get to if you are already at 14. So we're probably going to be piling it up even deeper than that.

Here is the forecast radar. You figure out what the radar looks like now. Here's what it's going to look like by the model standards over the next few hours. Heavy, heavy rainfall tonight. Houston right in the middle of that heavy band. That's 4:00 in the morning coming up in the morning. If you wake up in the morning, going to church, whatever, before sunrise, I need you to realize how much water could be on the roadways in the ditches, and in the bayous and over the roadways because it will rain all night and even here all the way at 10:00 tomorrow morning, it's still raining. And Lake Charles, you're back in it by then as well -- Rosa.

CABRERA: Oh, boy. Chad Myers, thank you for that update.

And now that the storm has made landfall, the heartbreaking search, rescue, and recovery efforts have begun. I spoke with Texas Land commissioner George P. Bush. He's the son of Jeb Bush. And he says his agency plays a crucial role in the hurricane preps, oil spill prevention. We talked about some of the challenges in the initial response. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE P. BUSH, COMMISSIONER, TEXAS GENERAL LAND OFFICE: Because of downed power lines and the dangerous situation, our first responders are now trickling out throughout the coastal communities to assess what the final toll will be. And this is going to be a long marathon. Right now it's about life, protecting life and making sure that we're getting our search and rescue teams out and responding to the crisis as it unfolds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: The Salvation Army has deployed throughout Texas and is providing some of the relief and supplies to those areas hardest hit. And joining me on the phone right now is Robert Webb, he is the Salvation Army area commander for San Antonio.

So, Robert, can you describe what you've seen so far?

ROBERT WEBB, AREA COMMANDER, SALVATION ARMY: So far we've seen rain moving through the area. We're concerned about the potential significant flooding in the area. We've worked to shelter as many people as possible to get them out of the storm, storm's way, to make sure they're safe and sound, and we've staged our resources strategically throughout the state. As soon as the storm settles, we are able to respond across the state of Texas.

CABRERA: And what does that mean? I mean, how long do you have to wait since we're hearing that the rain, which could be, perhaps, the biggest threat for this area could last for days.

WEBB: We already have some of our local can teams responding in Corpus Christi, in the Victoria area.

[18:10:10] Seven can teams responding now. We have 29 other units on standby in San Antonio, Texas County, Dallas, Galveston areas, to respond as soon as the weather dies down in the areas where we're most needed.

CABRERA: So when you say respond, what does that look like exactly?

WEBB: Well, we'll provide food to those where there is no electricity, no ability to cook for themselves. We'll help to provide food. We'll provide assistance in other areas, perhaps some clothing or with shelter wherever possible. We'll work in connection with the local EMCs to ensure that we have coordinated services throughout the areas that are in need.

CABRERA: And what's the greatest need you're finding so far?

WEBB: Right now the greatest need is safe and secure sheltering. From there, it's going to be providing for the needs of those people who have been displaced by the storm. Whether that means if they end up in longer term care or in an area which is no longer their home, it's going to take a combined effort of the Salvation Army and other agencies to help address those needs.

CABRERA: All right, Robert Webb, we really appreciate your time. Good luck as we know you'll be working hard for the next few days. Thank you.

Still ahead, as cities prepare for the floods from Harvey, President Trump is keeping a close eye on the storm.

Up next, the White House, how it's responding as Texas residents are bracing for more damage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:15:53] CABRERA: Our breaking news today, Tropical Storm Harvey threatening to add insult to injury. Already it has caused one fatality in Texas, at least 12 to 14 people with injuries, and President Trump says he's staying on top of this, monitoring the situation from Camp David.

A senior administration official tells CNN the president says he wants to travel to Texas, quote, "ASAP," but will wait until conditions on the ground are safe.

Now Tropical Storm Harvey is slowly churning inland, seemingly unsure of its next target. In the meantime, it is dumping a tremendous amount of rain. A short time ago, President Trump conducted a video teleconference on this disaster in Texas, and participating on the call, Vice President Mike Pence, White House chief of staff John Kelly, FEMA chief William Long among others.

President Trump is tweeting his support for Texas, quote, "Thank you to all of the great volunteers helping out with Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas." And by the way, the FEMA chief, of course, is Brock Long.

Now this is from Vice President Mike Pence. I quote, "Our thoughts and prayers are with first responders and emergency crews working to keep the public safe."

I want to turn now to a massive prisoner evacuation in Texas. Authorities moved more than 4,000 inmates from three prisons near the swollen Brazos River today. The prisoners were transported by bus to facilities in east Texas.

Joining us now on the phone to talk more about this, Department of Criminal Justice public information officer or director, Jason Clark.

Jason, so talk about this undertaking, the effort to move all of these prisoners. How did that work exactly?

JASON CLARK, DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE, TEXAS: Well, it's really a massive undertaking. I can tell you it's still ongoing. We've moved about a third of those 45 inmates to facilities in east Texas, and so we're going to continue that movement throughout tonight and likely wrapping up early in the morning hours.

CABRERA: Where are you putting them? Where are they going?

CLARK: They are going to numerous for a minutes in east Texas. The three facilities that are affected are near the Brazos River and that river is rising rapidly, and projections put it about 52.8 feet. And if that stands true, that would put water inside those facilities, and so the decision was made this morning to go ahead and evacuate those three facilities.

CABRERA: Now have you done this before?

CLARK: Unfortunately last year around May, there was historic flooding in Texas which, again, caused the Brazos to rise. A little bit different situation because we had more time. That was where it was flowing down the Brazos, and so we were able to prepare and then move them that way.

I can tell you, this one is because of significant rainfall, because of Hurricane Harvey. But again, we do have the ability to move inmates and we do that effectively and so that's what's going on right now. A lot of moving parts, but I can tell you that we have a lot of hard working men and women that are out in the storm right now protecting these men and women and protecting the public.

CABRERA: Yes. When you talk about how many people, are any of these evacuated prisoners dangerous criminals and do you have to put in place extra security precautions?

CLARK: You know, the custody levels of these inmates vary from minimum to maximum. But I can tell you we have security procedures in place to make sure that we're able to move these offenders safely and get them where they need to be.

CABRERA: Long term, what's the plan?

CLARK: So at this point, we're going to continue that movement throughout today and get them moved to facilities, and then we've got a 24-hour command center set up, and so we're continuing to monitor this storm, and then we'll make adjustments as needed.

CABRERA: All right. Jason Clark, our thanks to you. Good luck.

Coming up, as Harvey unleashes damaging winds and rain on the Lone Star State, one pregnant mom is now left in limbo. You'll hear her amazing story next live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:24:03] CABRERA: Incredible winds earlier today our of Victoria, Texas, about 40 miles north of Rockport where Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane last night. It is now a tropical storm. It could cause severe flooding in parts of Texas as it moves inland. One person we now learned has died in the storm. That victim was in a house that caught fire in Rockport.

More than 3,000 -- 300,000 people are without power in the Texas Gulf Coast, and the U.S. Coast Guard has 800 active duty personnel in Houston right now and the Galveston area ready to respond.

The storm has left many in limbo, including an expected mother named Danielle Weeks, who was forced to evacuate. She lived in Port Aranas and is scheduled to have a C-section on Tuesday, but right now she's trapped in a hotel room in Corpus Christi. I spoke with her last hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: What have the past 24 hours or so been like for you?

[18:25:02] DANIELLE WEEKS, EXPECTANT MOTHER: Pretty stressful, just nerve racking, wondering if the hospital could be able to do this C- section on Tuesday, where we're going to go after we get out of the hospital and stuff like that.

CABRERA: Do you have a backup plan right now?

WEEKS: Well, after the C-section, we can always go back to where our families lived in Kings Lake until we can figure out the damages and how we're going to get everything fixed and sort everything out, but as of right now, we'll be in the hospital, be in this hotel until we can have the baby.

CABRERA: Do you know how your home is doing? How if it survived without damage?

WEEKS: No, we do not know. We have seen pictures of the area and a lot of the RVs and stuff which is what we live in, are on their sides or tore apart, so we're just waiting until they give the OK to go back to Port Aranas to go assess the damages.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: We are continuing to keep an eye on all the latest. We have meteorologists on the ground and in the CNN weather center. Chad Myers is tracking Harvey for us. And Derek Van Dam is in Victoria, Texas.

So I want to start with you, Derek, in the heart of where this storm continues to have an impact. How are the folks in Victoria coping with the damage and the ongoing weather conditions?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Ana, the storm continues to surprise me. Every couple of minutes, we get this strong one-two punch of this vertical rain and winds gusting 45, 50 miles per hour, and it gets pretty intense. I should say horizontal rain, but it gets pretty intense very quickly.

Just coming into Victoria, we're about 10 miles outside of the coast, we saw some minor structural damage. There are trees all over the streets here. You can see a couple of the branches mind me, but I want to say that it's safe to say that we're starting to transition into our flood threat, but we still have the strong winds that are whipping up some of the debris across this area, so I would say at least another couple of hours of these tropical storm force winds we've been measuring on our anemometer at about 50 miles per hour.

Going forward, we know that the storm had stalled out. So the ground here is extremely moist. It's got a lot of rain. In fact rainfall totals here have been about eight inches since the storm started about 12 to 18 hours. And what we're going to see now is just Harvey stalls over southeast Texas is what is known as the brown ocean effect. It actually works just like as if the ocean -- the storm was over the ocean, drawing in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, but this time, it's actually taking from the moisture in the soil.

That's called the brown ocean effect that they can actually helps fuel more rainfall, more precipitation, and that's what's making this storm so particularly dangerous. The flood threat going forward and the additional rainfall on top of what we've already seen, and not to mention the strong gusty winds that are pelting my face as we speak, Ana. It's tough out here.

CABRERA: Good luck. And do stay safe. Obviously, we know that those folks are not out of the woods yet, and you'll be there to help guide us through this.

Meteorologist Chad Myers is here now with us, and, Chad, I know you have been watching the movement of this hurricane that's become a tropical storm, but yet it is sort of just hovering. Any sense of when it could move back out?

MYERS: No, I don't think it will. I think it will stay right over land. Remember the models really predicted to go back over the ocean. That's good. A lot of it back over the Gulf for me because if it goes back over the gulf, it could regenerate, but the center of the storm has stopped just to the east of San Antonio. So that's why we're getting so much rain back in San Antonio and Austin and the like.

But here is the warning for Houston proper for tonight. That is your rain band. So the storm isn't moving. But the bands are moving like a pin wheel. You are going to get a pin wheel tonight that will wake up -- or you'll wake up with 12 to 18 inches of new rainfall on the ground.

Now if you live near a river or a bayou and your house floods when there's three to five inches of rainfall on any given day and just happens in different parts of the city, if you live in that area, I need you to go someplace higher tonight because there will be flash flood warnings in the overnight hours that will wake you up and when you get outside, there's going to be water in your driveway. Where do you go? Go now. It's that serious. And here's why I say

it's that serious. Here's where the rain has been. Not really over Houston. OK, three to five. You can handle three to five. But what's going to happen tonight is that pinwheel right there is -- that's right there right now, is going to park itself over Houston.

Here is the forecast radar for tonight. Here comes the rain. Shower or storm after storm after storm, Sugarland, I just checked in 18 hours, you could get 15 inches of rain - 15 in the next 18 hours. Houston Hobby, about 12. Intercontinental Bush, somewhere around 10. Now, there's not a city in America that can handle that kind of rainfall.

We get you all the way to 10:30 tomorrow morning. It's beginning to stop and move toward Lake Charles and Beaumont, but the damage will have already been done.

And if I pile up all the rain that I just showed you, this is how it's going to look like over Houston, and especially the Western suburbs. There will be 5 to 10; and some spots, there will be 12 to 15 by morning.

So, you have a few hours to get your stuff together and find a friend in a higher spot if your house always floods anyway. It's that dangerous tonight.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Chad, I know you have been doing this a long time, and when you look back at the hurricanes that have hit the US in years past, we know we haven't seen one make landfall as a Category 4 hurricane since 2004. So, that's 12 years ago. But the last one to hit the Texas area was in 2008. That was Hurricane Ike. It wasn't as strong as this last storm.

What we're seeing in terms of damages and injuries and fatalities so far, is it about what you would expect with a storm like this at this point in the storm? I know each one is different, so it's hard to make comparisons, but give us a sense in terms of your perspective.

MYERS: In 2004, Anderson Cooper and I were in Florida, in Tampa, waiting for Charlie to arrive. Charlie made a right-hand turn and just slammed Punta Gorda.

The damage I see from Rockport is exactly what we saw in Punta Gorda. So, yes, it's exactly what I would expect from a C4 landfall.

No one could expect, no one could ever think in their mind in a PhD paper what happens if a Cat 4 stops overland for five days. That's just so far out of the standard deviations of possibility, no one would even think about that, but it is.

It is stopping. It is not moving. There is 24 hours' worth of movement. There is 72 hours' worth of movement. Yes, some models do move it around. That would be great, but if it doesn't move at all, this is devastating.

CABRERA: All right. Chad Myers, thank you very much for that insight. And Derek Van Dam as well. Coming up, President Trump facing his own storm after a late-night announcement to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio. We'll discuss the potential political fallout from his controversial decision.

You are live in the CNN news room. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:37:01] ANA CABRERA: Turning now to breaking news out of Washington this hour. House Speaker Paul Ryan is now publicly criticizing President Trump's decision to pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for knowingly violating a federal judge's order to stop detaining people simply because he believed they may be in the country illegally.

A spokesman for the speaker tells "The Wall Street Journal", "The speaker does not agree with the decision. Law enforcement officials have a special responsibility to respect the rights of everyone in the United States. We should not allow anyone to believe that responsibility is diminished by this pardon."

CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones is joining us from outside the White House. Athena, the Trump administration dumped this news late last night at the same time the Category 4 hurricane was barreling toward the Gulf Coast. Clearly, they knew it wasn't going to be popular, did they know it would be this unpopular?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. You're right. The administration is facing a lot of criticism even from fellow Republicans, like Speaker Ryan.

I should note that Sheriff Arpaio's lawyer not surprisingly disagrees with the House speaker. The president has also been criticized, though, by the two Republican senators from the State of Arizona.

But, Ana, this decision is not going to be unpopular with supporters of Sheriff Arpaio or with many of the president's own supporters.

We've been talking a lot about him making decisions throughout the first seven months of his presidency that appeal directly to his base, but don't do a whole lot to grow that base.

Many Trump supporters are hardliners when it comes to immigration and would support this move. Sheriff Arpaio spoke to one of our affiliates there in Arizona and had this to say in response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE ARPAIO, FORMER SHERIFF: He is a big supporter of law enforcement. I know it came from his heart. Two years ago, I supported him, first rally, and I always said, regardless of pardon or no pardon, I'll be with him to the end. And I say that.

So, I'm really happy with all the support I received across the nation and Arizona for this pardon. And I have more to speak out and let the true story come about the abuse of the judicial system and politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So, there you heard Sheriff Arpaio speaking to one of our affiliates. He's also been tweeting about this pardon and even sent out a fundraising appeal to his supporters to try to raise money for his legal defense fund to pay his legal fees.

And he used some language that will be familiar to folks who are used to reading the president's tweets. He said in part, on Twitter and in this appeal, that his prosecution was a political witch-hunt by holdovers from the Obama Justice Department. He thanked the president for seeing his conviction for what it is.

[18:40:00] We've heard that term witch-hunt used by the president before and it's just one more sign of these two men being like-minded when it comes to immigration.

We know that Sheriff Arpaio was one of the president's early supporters. We also know that Sheriff Arpaio was a part of the birther movement, the people who questioned President Obama's citizenship.

It's important to note also that the state newspaper, the Arizona Republic, put out a pretty bluntly worded editorial saying that this move to pardon Sheriff Arpaio in a case that involved racial profiling is a slap to the Latino community and makes it clear that the president believes that institutional racism, he's not just OK with it, it's a goal. So, very, very strong reaction there.

CABRERA: All right. Athena Jones at the White House, thank you.

I want to bring in CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who is a former federal prosecutor. Michael, I had a chance to speak with Arpaio's attorney last hour. And I asked him about this criticism specifically from Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK WILENCHIK, ATTORNEY FOR SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: There should have been a jury in this case. We should have had one from day one. And at this point, the appeal - in fact, the sheriff is an old man. We can't forget that. He's 85 years old.

This could be a lot more money and waste of time all around. So, I would have rather seen this go to jury in the first place, get the right verdict. But at this point, we're dealing with a wrongful verdict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So, what is your response to that? Was Joe Arpaio treated unfairly by the judicial system in some way?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, hardly. I think if you look at his case, he was profiling Latino members of his community and arresting them without probable cause.

A civil action was brought for contempt, telling him to stop it. He refused to stop it, denigrating, if you will, the authority of the judiciary to check his behavior.

He continued. He then was held in criminal contempt for failing to abide by the court order. All the while, he was keeping these detainees in these Tent City prisons, wearing pink underwear and being chained.

So, when he says that the president is a big supporter of law enforcement as is he, this is a complete abrogation of that responsibility. This is not law enforcement. This is really very bad behavior that was properly sanctioned.

And if he thought that he had a better day in court coming up, he should have told the president please don't pardon me. I want to go to court and be found not guilty of that which I'm being held responsible for. So, he had an option to put an end to the president's effort to pardon him, if he wanted to.

The thing that also was sort of offensive to this notion that this is a supporter of the rule of law is that there's a process in the Justice Department.

There's an Office of Pardon in the Justice Department that's supposed to handle these things and make recommendations and hear from victims and hear from the local US attorney. None of that was followed in this case. So, it's a slap in the face of law enforcement.

CABRERA: And that's what I wanted to ask you about in terms of the typical procedures with pardons. The president has full power to do a pardon like this, but we do know that he did it without consulting the Justice Department while he's able to do that. How common is that?

ZELDIN: It's very uncommon. And, in fact, if you look at the Office of Pardon attorney website in the Justice Department, it will say a couple of things that are important as it relates to this case.

First, it says, normally, you wait five years because they want to see what the behavior of the person was after the sentencing was issued or if he got to jail after the jail term was over.

They want to see contrition and acceptance of responsibility. They want to be able to ask the US attorney, who prosecuted the case, what's your opinion about this, how will this impact your community. They want to ask victims of the illegal behavior, how this will impact them.

Then that's all put into the mix, evaluated and the Justice Department makes a recommendation that this is in the interest of justice to do or not to do.

None of that process was followed here. And I think that's what is the most offensive from a legal standpoint. I don't have a position on the politics of this, but just from a legal process point, I think it is a slap in the face of law enforcement, of the US attorney and of people in the police force, who are trying to abide by the Fourth Amendment and other rights that the individual citizens of that county assess.

CABRERA: Now, the White House pointed to Arpaio's age. We also heard the lawyer back that up.

Let me read you part of the statement from the White House regarding this pardon. It says, "Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old. And after more than 50 years of honorable service to our nation, he's a worthy candidate for a presidential pardon."

What does that mean that he is a worthy candidate for a presidential pardon? What makes somebody a worthy candidate?

ZELDIN: Well, the guidelines that are set forth in the Justice Department, which is that he served his time, if he served time; or he didn't serve time, he accepted responsibility for his illegal conduct; he is behaving himself in a way that recognizes that assumption of responsibility, that the victims of his behavior are OK with it and that the US attorney who prosecuted the case is OK with it. None of that was followed here.

[18:45:23] So, the notion that he is 85 years old is undermined by the fact that, at 83 years old, he was still doing the exact same behavior that he's now being pardoned for.

So, it's not like he did this 50 years ago and he is now 85 and we want to sort of allow the man some sort of peace before he meets his maker. That's not the case. He was doing this two years ago and there's been no contrition and there is, still in his press statements today, no contrition. He says he's being railroaded in a witch-hunt by legacy Obama people, which couldn't be further from the truth.

CABRERA: Yes. And he is claiming he is the victim here. Now, the American Civil Liberties Union calls this pardon a presidential endorsement of racism. What message do you pick up from this pardon?

ZELDIN: Well, so I think in pure legal terms, it is a sort of a denigration of the rule of law. That is, two judges found this fellow in contempt of the Fourth Amendment and the rights of the individuals of that county.

And when a president, without going through the Justice Department and obtaining the permissions or the input of the Justice Department on that which the rules set forth, I think what it is is not a respect of law and not a respect of process, but rather a political act, which is not what I think the pardon process should be about.

CABRERA: And bigger picture, could this pardon send a message to people at the center of the Russia investigation that President Trump isn't afraid to use his pardoning powers even if they are unpopular?

ZELDIN: Well, maybe. He has the right to pardon anyone probably except himself. And we saw that George W. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger in the midst of an investigation and Gerald Ford pardon Richard Nixon in the midst of an investigation. So, it's not without precedent.

Whether it's a good policy decision or not, well, we can leave to political policymakers.

But in this case, I think that the message is so bad, both as matter of the civil rights of the people whose rights were abused and the Justice Department in terms of the lack of following of the orderly process, that is just not really acceptable for anyone who sort of respects the rule of law and orderly processes.

CABRERA: All right, Michael Zeldin. Thanks for joining us.

ZELDIN: My pleasure.

CABRERA: North Korea launched three short range ballistic missiles. US officials say this move posed no threat to the US or even Guam, but will it reignite the tensions that flared up earlier this month between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

You are live in the CNN news room.

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[18:52:29] CABRERA: North Korea has again defied the world's demands with three new ballistic missile launches. The US military says two of those missiles flew about 155 miles before falling into the sea. The other exploded after blastoff.

Now, this launch comes less than one week after North Korea was actually praised by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for showing restraint in its weapons program.

The launch does nothing to calm tensions between North Korea and the US and the timing is likely not a coincidence. It comes as US troops are holding annual joint drills with the South Korean military.

Now, CNN has not been allowed inside North Korea during these drills until now. Will Ripley is the only Western journalist inside North Korea amid all these tensions.

Will, I understand you have had a chance to actually speak with government officials in North Korea. What are they saying?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're saying, Ana, that this is an extraordinarily tense time, even more tense than August normally would be because of those joint military drills.

And it all goes back to President Trump's remarks when he threatened to rain fire and fury on this country. The new cycle in the US moved on from that a long time ago, but North Korea doesn't work that way.

There is no fast-paced, high frenzied news cycle here. There is one narrative and it's the narrative of a looming war with the United States. That's what North Korea tells its citizens is coming and they point to these joint military exercises that are happening regularly scheduled. They happen every year.

But North Korea tells citizens this is a dress rehearsal for an invasion, and that may be why, after weeks of fiery rhetoric, we are now seeing some actual military action here in North Korea.

Those three missiles that you mentioned flying just over 150 miles, putting within striking range, theoretically, all of Seoul, South Korea, major US military bases in South Korea. But, of course, this is not threatened launch towards Guam that North Korea was talking about earlier in the month after they successfully launched an intercontinental ballistic missile.

We don't know why they have held off on that. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did make remarks saying that he was going to continue to watch the behavior of the West.

And we actually have seen him emerge just within the last several hours on state media overseeing a special forces operation with commandos simulating attacks on South Korean islands.

So, after a lot of talk from North Korea, now we're once again seeing an uptick in military action and we need to watch very carefully what will happen as we enter week two of those joint military exercises happening in South Korea, just miles from where I am here in Pyongyang. Ana?

[18:55:03] CABRERA: All right, Will Ripley. We look forward to hearing more of our reports as you continue to stay there in North Korea, the only Western journalist inside Pyongyang right now.

Stay with us for the latest on tropical storm Harvey, the damage, how Texas is coping and how some of cities are still bracing for what's expected to be potentially massive, massive rainfall in the coming days more. More after a quick break.

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CABRERA: Top of the hour. You are live in the CNN news room. I am Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you for being with us.

We began this hour with dire warnings of potentially historic flooding in Texas. Harvey is now a tropical storm churning and now stalling onshore within range of flood-prone City of Houston.