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Harvey Dumps Historic Rain on Southeast Texas; Interview with San Antonio Mayor; Mystery West Virginia Man Tried to Set Up Meeting with Trump Officials & Russia; Interview with Sen. Ted Cruz on Federal Efforts After Hurricane; State of Emergency Declared in Louisiana. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired August 28, 2017 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me show you some debris so you can see. There's barricades, peoples' belongings, a rug, I mean, all sorts of things. A lot of debris that's been flowing through here. This walkway turned into a pier while that water was raging. Now, behind me is -- well, I mean, it's an overflowed Buffalo Bayou. Now, this is where two bayous meet, supposed to empty into the Gulf of Mexico. You know Houston is a bayou city. And these waterways are designed to drain all of the water.
Now, we just heard from city officials today that they are going to release water from a reservoir that's about 30 miles west. And they are saying that more water is coming through Buffalo Bayou. All of that water has to flush through here. So we're expecting, at any point, for this water level to rise again. We just don't know the timing of that. It's impossible to predict, really, how quickly that water is going to flow.
But, Jim, look around me. It is still raining. And --
JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Wow.
FLORES: -- we're expecting another 15 to 20 inches of rain. On top of all of that water flowing this way from a reservoir, we're getting more from old Mother Nature.
ACOSTA: Well, we certainly hope things get better down there. Sounds like folks will have to brace for more of those conditions you were just talking about. Obviously, shows just what a mess they'll have down there in Houston to clean up once these floodwaters finally recede.
Rosa Flores, thank you.
And, Polo Sandoval, we appreciate your contribution as well.
Survivors in Rockport, Texas, are just trying to make sense of the devastation left behind from Harvey.
Our Nick Valencia met a man who lost everything and it helped him reconnected with his dad for the first time since Harvey hit. Look at this extraordinary footage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm scared. Seen a lot of things, that terrified me.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I see the look in your eye. You look shocked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I don't -- just lost everything I worked for. Ah -- everything. The only thing I got is the clothes on my back and hopefully my dad got out somewhere. And -- I don't know. Maybe I should have left. Maybe I should have left.
OK, Dad. I'm going to jump on the bus. I'll be there. Are you OK? Yes. I'll jump -- I'll jump on one. Yes. I'm in Rockport. OK. Dad, I love you. OK. All right. Dad, I love you. I'm going to get off here and I'm going to -- I -- I'll be right there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Gives you a sense what people are going through down there. That is just one of the many emotional stories we've seen unfold before us as thousands devastated by Harvey searching for a safe haven.
Joining me, San Antonio's mayor, Ron Nirenberg.
Mayor, thank you so much for joining us, Mayor.
It's heartbreaking to hear those stories. How are you responding right now to your fellow Texans?
RON NIRENBERG, MAYOR OF SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: Well, our situation has turned from a preparation effort to now rescue and relief of our coastal neighbors. You know, we're a compassionate city here in San Antonio. We're a compassionate people here in Texas. And so we will rise to the occasion to make sure that we help our neighbors in need. It's a tough situation down there. We have been a staging location for a lot of the search-and-rescue operations you're seeing right now. That have taken place along the coast. We will continue to be prepared for evacuees. We've taken it over 1,000 folks into local shelters and we're currently increasing capacity so we'll be ready to do more.
ACOSTA: If there are folks in that area, that hard-hit area of Houston and so forth, if they want to come to San Antonio seeking relief, seeking shelter, they can come to you, and what will San Antonio do for them once they arrive?
NIRENBERG: Absolutely, they can come here. No one will be turned away. We will do whatever it takes to make sure needs are met. We have an outpouring of support from volunteers through the Red Cross. We have citizens who are absolutely willing to donate items that will be needed to keep their stay here as comfortable as possible. And we'll be there for them when they're ready to rebuild their lives. But want to make sure that San Antonio is here to help our neighbors no matter how great the need.
[13:35:05] ACOSTA: Mayor, your city has had practice doing this. San Antonio received 25,000 people back in 2005, during Hurricane Katrina. I remember that storm well. People were going to all parts of the country to get away from that area. And it seems to me you may be facing a similar situation in that these folks may not just be coming for a couple of days. They may be coming for some time.
NIRENBERG: Yes, and they will find open arms here. I'm pleased to hear that same sense of compassion from other cities around Texas. But certainly, we know that we're very close to the areas hit. In fact, we were very fortunate not to be hit ourselves. So we're ready to help. And our shelter capacity is increasing as we speak. No one will be turned away no matter their circumstance or how great their numbers. San Antonio stands ready to help our neighbors in need.
ACOSTA: OK. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, from the great city of San Antonio, we appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us.
NIRENBERG: Thank you, Jim.
ACOSTA: Our special coverage of this historic storm continues, right after this.
[13:40:29] ACOSTA: And President Trump is closely monitoring the situation in Texas, and the devastation from Harvey. We're expecting to hear from him later on this afternoon. The White House says he and the first lady will travel to Texas tomorrow to take a look what's happening there. And an administration official says they are taking specific steps to mitigate any interruption and recovery efforts when President Trump travels to Texas, and essentially doesn't get in the way. We'll have more on the historic flooding in a moment.
But first, we're learning more about how a West Virginia man proposed setting up a meeting with the Russians and President Trump's campaign and how campaign officials responded.
CNN senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, first reported this and joins us.
Manu, what can you tell us about a mystery person from West Virginia?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, Jim, new details about an e-mail discovered by congressional investigators that said an individual from West Virginia had sought to set up a meeting between Vladimir Putin and the Trump campaign. Since we broke the news last week, we've learned the man's name is Rick Clay, who's a former contractor during the Iraq war, who privately reached out last year to Rick Dearborn, a top aide in the Trump campaign, and now the president's deputy chief of staff. Mr. Clay told me he was passing along a meeting request from one of his friends, who came into contact with Russians during work with a Christian organization. They wanted to discuss, according to Mr. Clay, their, quote, "shared Christian values." Mr. Clay said that Mr. Dearborn rejected the request but thought it was serious enough that it should go through the proper channels of the State Department instead.
Also, Jim, another twist. A Republican source tells me Mr. Clay informed his Senator, the Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, about his desire to talk to the campaign about his Russian contacts. And the Senator's office confirmed she passed along his contact information to the campaign and said that was the extent of her involvement.
ACOSTA: This is obviously going to be of interest to investigators, these congressional committees looking into this. And I suppose it adds another layer to this investigation for these panels to look at?
RAJU: Absolutely, and raises key questions for investigators to sift through. Current and former intelligence officials state that Russians sought to employ covert tactics to find entry points into the Trump campaign, but more broadly, experts say, Russian intelligence services have sought to court conservative organizations, including religious groups, to build alliances in the United States.
I should caution, it's unclear whether this attempted meeting amounted to a tactic or if it just an innocent request for a meeting. Jim, that's something investigators have to look at.
ACOSTA: What has the White House's response been? It doesn't sound like we'll have a briefing today. The president is holding a news conference. What are they saying?
RAJU: Last week, when we presented them with our findings of the story, they declined to comment on the Dearborn e-mail. When I contacted senior White House officials about this development, they wouldn't confirm Clay's account or discuss who the Russians were that he wanted to set up this meeting with. But Ty Cobb, the president's senior legal counsel, who is dealing with the Russian issue, said that the facts I presented to them have now, quote, "vindicated" Dearborn, and accused the media of, quote, "salacious speculation" following the first story. We now know this is at least a second time Trump campaign officials have rejected a meeting with Russians after Trump advisor, George Papadopoulos, suggested meetings with senior-level Russian officials as well. That was not acted on by the campaign. But this Dearborn memo came around the same time as that June 26th Trump Tower meeting with senior campaign officials, Donald Trump Jr and Russian operatives, after Trump Jr was promised dirt on the Clinton campaign. And that meeting, too, Jim, also under investigation.
ACOSTA: The Russia investigation continues.
Manu Raju, thank you very much.
Back to our coverage of Harvey. Let's get more on this developing situation in Texas.
I'm joined on the line now by Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
Senator Cruz, you're in Houston right now. I understand you were just working with some volunteers a few moments ago. As you're looking at the situation there right now, what are you seeing? What's the greatest need?
[13:44:42]SEN. TED CRUZ, (R), TEXAS (via telephone): Well, Jim, it's good to be with you.
This storm continues. Rain and flooding is still happening and Houston is reeling, and all of the gulf coast in Texas is reeling. And in Houston, we've had over 2,000 high-water rescues. And I got to say the first responders, police officers, firefighters and the National Guardsmen and Coast Guardsmen have been incredible. And every bit as amazing has been just the incredible generosity of ordinary men and women. Neighbors helping neighbors. We've had hundreds of individual Texans get in flat-bottom boats and rescue their neighbors from high-water, threatening situations.
And we're grateful for the coordinated response of the federal, state and local government, and everyone coming together focused on saving people from this terrifying storm.
ACOSTA: And Senator, what is your sense of -- I know that Texans are always incredible about helping Texans. We've seen that unfold over the last couple days. It's been extraordinary. What is your sense of the federal response so far? I'm taking it by your comments now that it's been pretty good. And we know that President Trump and the first lady are coming down to Texas tomorrow.
ACOSTA: That's fairly early on after a major storm like this hitting part of the United States. Is it a good idea, do you think, for the president and that entire entourage to be coming to the state of Texas right now?
CRUZ: Well, the federal response has been very strong. I spoke with President Trump and spoke with the vice president and with several cabinet members over the course of the last several days, and the consistency from the administration. The president said, Ted, what does Texas need? We are leaning in and leaning in hard, aggressively and swiftly. The president, in a cabinet meeting a couple days ago, in a videoconference, instructed each of the cabinet members to move as quickly as possible providing everything need, and that has been conveyed at every level. The cabinet, multiple cabinet secretaries, they've reached out, from head of DHSs to the head of Health and Human Services to the secretary of Education, to the secretary of Labor. Across the administration, the federal government has been working to provide resources. And one of the things I've spent a great deal of time on, trying to coordinate that federal response with our governor, who I'm talking to regularly, and then our local officials, our mayors and county judges. And the collective response has been very strong.
When I visited with the president, he didn't want to come so early to distract from relief efforts. That's why he delayed the trip to tomorrow. My understanding is, where he's going to be traveling will be away from where the direct life-threatening challenges are right now. But I think he wants to just to be here and to lean in with federal resources. And here in Texas, we're grateful for the national outpouring of love and support we've received the past several days. ACOSTA: And Senator, I know because you've been in washington for
some time now, that these debates come up over relief for disaster areas and so forth. I'm curious. If your perspective changed at all when it comes to that need for quick disaster relief for a hard-hit area? I know during Hurricane Sandy, Superstorm Sandy, this became an issue. There were some Republicans in Texas opposed to that funding. And now many of those members of Congress would like to see help come in as quickly as possible. And I know at that time, you were one of those Republicans opposed to that emergency funding. What is your sense of it now? Has your perspective different now, now that you're seeing this happening in your home state?
CRUZ: Well, Jim, it's not accurate there was Republicans opposed to hurricane funding. Every Republican, including Texas Republicans, agreed that hurricane funding is an important and critical role for the federal government, and that Hurricane Sandy, a great many people were hurting from it. Now, there were a number of us who were concerned that that particular bill became a $50 billion bill filled with pork and unrelated spending that wasn't hurricane relief. It was simply local members of Congress spending on their pet projects. And two-thirds of what was spent in that bill had little or nothing to do with Hurricane Sandy.
Of course, the federal government has a critical role in disaster relief. It has before and should continue to. But you should not have members of Congress that are exploiting disasters to fund their pet projects. And so there will be time for all of those debates in washington. Right now, Jim, the immediate focus is on preserving life and saving lives. There are still substantial numbers of people in Texas experiencing.
But let me say to the folks at home, if you're in an area that flooding is threatening your home, keep safe. Don't go up in the attic. A number of folks have done that. If you go up in the attic, you need to make sure you have an ax or some other way to get out. Because the attic can be very dangerous. You can get trapped and rescue works can't get to you. If water is rising, you're safer on the roof than in the attic.
Secondly, if you're in an area where the floodwaters are rising, if at all possible, don't go in the car. Unless it is an absolute emergency. The most dangerous thing you can do is get in your car and drive into moving water. Moving water is deceptive. You think you can make it through, and yet moving water can carry the car away. And it is the easiest and fastest way to risk the lives of you and your family.
Listen to the local authority, stay high and safe, and don't take a risk.
[13:50:35] ACOSTA: That's all very good advice.
And Senator, this debate that I guess is happening in Texas right now over whether Houston should have evacuated, I know the governor has said, well, maybe people should have been evacuating even though there weren't evacuation orders. The mayor of Houston said, no, we could not have evacuated all those people at once. That would have caused other problems. What is your sense of this? This happens storm to storm, we have these discussions. What was the sense of that discussion being made?
CRUZ: Jim, I think there's plenty of time that has subsided as we look back with hindsight and to debate what was done right and what could have been done better. I will say, we have an active disaster unfolding. This is a 500-year storm. We are seeing flooding that has never before occurred in Texas, the magnitude of it, the damage from it. And I think the focus of everyone, from the president to the governor to all the local officials and first responders, is right now, quite rightly, on preserving right. Yesterday when I spoke to the mayor of Houston, he raised significant concerns there were not enough boats and helicopters and high-water trucks. So I spent much of the day yesterday on the phone with federal officials trying to mobilize more assets to the area. And, you know, we have seen a number of whether it is National Guards being mobilized, whether it is Texas, DPS troopers being mobilized, or Border Patrol agents with high-water rescue capability coming up from the border to assist, we have seen an incredible outpouring.
ACOSTA: Senator Cruz, I know you're staying on top of it, as we are, and we appreciate your time in calling in and talking to us about this. And all of our best, of course, to everybody down there in Texas and who you're in contact with as well. And we'll try to keep tabs with you as this develops. Obviously, this is going to be something that Texas is going to be in need of in terms of help and assistance for some time now. We'll be following it as you are as well.
Thank you, Senator, for your time. We appreciate it.
CRUZ: Thank you, Jim. We appreciate it so much. And we're so grateful of the people across the country and the support they're giving to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and all the incredible volunteers standing with Texas at this time of need.
ACOSTA: All right, Senator Cruz, thank you so much.
Harvey is headed east to Louisiana right now. The state has already declared a state of emergency. Just ahead, we'll talk to the state's lieutenant governor about how they're preparing for the storm threat.
[13:56:07] ACOSTA: Harvey has already dumped more than two feet of rain in parts of Texas. And just this morning, the heed of FEMA warned the worst may not be over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROCK LONG, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: This is a landmark event. We have not seen an event like this. You cannot draw this forecast up. We've been telling people this is coming, it's still ongoing. But you couldn't draw the situation up. The bottom line is that it is going to continue on. We need the whole community, not only the federal government forces, but this is a whole community effort from all levels of government and it's going to require the citizens getting involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, as the storm moves eastward, a state of emergency was declared this morning in Louisiana.
I want to bring in Billy Nungesser, the state's lieutenant governor.
Lieutenant Nungesser, thanks for joining us.
As I just mentioned, a state of emergency has been declared for Louisiana. What does that mean in terms of resources for your state?
BILLY NUNGESSER, (R), LOUISIANA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Well, if we need federal resources, they will be available. Unfortunately, we are very good at this kind of response going through the flooding last year in Louisiana, and we prepared for the worst, and hope for the best at this storm moves closer to Louisiana.
ACOSTA: And we heard the FEMA director say that citizens need to get involved. We have seen plenty of examples of that in Houston. You just said a few moments ago, obviously, people in Louisiana are very accustomed to jumping in and pitching in to help their neighbors. What are you seeing in terms of those assets coming together? Should we hope to see basically the same response of volunteers, like the so- called Cajun Navy in Houston, to help with rescues?
NUNGESSER: Absolutely. You know, we're trying to coordinate the efforts through volunteerlouisana.com. All of our volunteers, when the time is right to go over and assist in mucking and gutting homes, which we absolutely are very good at here in Louisiana. It's going to take a lot of volunteers moving quickly to help these people muck and gut their homes to get into their homes quickly. We started here in Louisiana with our veterans and our seniors, and really the faith- based groups step in big time in coordinating the efforts. And we hope to assist Texas in doing the same.
ACOSTA: And when people think about big hurricanes, obviously, they think of Katrina and what happened in New Orleans. Being the lieutenant governor of Louisiana, you must be thinking back to that time. Has your state, has that city fully recovered from Katrina? Can it take a punch like this from Harvey here in the next couple of days?
NUNGESSER: Well, of course, we're concerned about the southern part of the state. And now the storm looks like it will cross Louisiana somewhere north of Toledo Bend between Shreveport and Toledo Bend. So we are concerned for those areas. We do come back quickly. Last year, we had flooding across Louisiana equivalent to dumping the Mississippi River for 18 days into the middle of the state. We are still rebuilding from that flood and so, hopefully, we'll get a break on this one and see minimal flooding in Louisiana.
ACOSTA: But it could strengthen there in the gulf. That is something unpredictable at this point.
NUNGESSER: That's what keeps us up at night. I ran for office after Katrina and seeing the response to Plaquemines Parish. Every night there's a storm near the gulf, we all sleep a little lighter. And this thing is dragging out for many days and could be as much as a week before we know we're out of the woods here in Louisiana.
ACOSTA: All right, Billy Nungesser, lieutenant governor of Louisiana, we'll be thinking about you over the next 48 hours. We appreciate your time.
That's it for me.
Our special storm team coverage of Harvey continues right now. Stay with us.
[14:00:04] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN special coverage of the storm that made landfall as a category 4 hurricane and has now turned huge parts of Texas, including Houston, into --