Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Press Conference; Victims Return to Ruined Homes; Hopes are that Beaumont Will Have Water Soon; Mueller Has Draft of Trump Letter; Toxic Floodwaters. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired September 1, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But his spirit and everything else that's been involved over the last few weeks getting ready, because really this has been probably now almost two weeks since we felt it was probably going to hit that area. But General Kelly's done a fantastic job. And Elaine Duke, who's -- has been terrific.

So, I want to all -- I thank all of our folks.

Tell me, Red Cross, how we doing?

GAIL MCGOVERN, RED CROSS CEO: So, first of all, our hearts go out to the people of Texas. And on behalf of the entire American Red Cross, so many people have lost everything and presented in our shelters with just the clothes on their back.

I visited one of the shelters outside of Austin. And it housed about 200 people. And I had the opportunity to talk to all the families. Everyone from a six-month-old baby to a 6'8" man. And everything in between. And you heard stories of heartbreak and heart ache.

But the one thing that I have seen in the nine years that I've been with the American Red Cross is the incredible resiliency of the American people. They are bound and determined to build back. And there are about 40,000 people in our shelters right now across the state of Texas. And our volunteers are pouring in, giving them comfort, hope. We've served about 390,000 meals and snacks.

And the incredible thing is our partners are there. They are getting hot meals into our hands so that we can serve them. The government has just been phenomenal. I mean when we had a hard time getting our volunteers in, the city gave us dump trucks so we could get volunteers and cots in. Department of Defense gave us high water vehicles, 20 of them, so we could break in and bring need supplies.

So I'm just so appreciative of the team work. I'm appreciative of your support. And, again, our hearts go out to the people of Texas.

TRUMP: Thank you very much, Gail. That's very nice. Three hundred and ninety thousand.

MCGOVERN: Meals and snacks.

TRUMP: And that's up until now.

MCGOVERN: Just up to -- as of last night.

TRUMP: You'll be doubling that. That's tremendous.

MCGOVERN: I'm quite sure we will.

TRUMP: Tremendous.

Yes, Mike, would you like to say something?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just, Mr. President, having just returned from southeast Texas yesterday, we heard the resilience, the character, the faith of the people of these communities. We heard their gratitude to you and the first lady for the administration's support, for your compassion, for their admiration for our first responders from FEMA down to local leadership.

But I also heard, Mr. President, about their gratitude for volunteer organizations that have literally been there from the very outset of this storm. And I want to thank you and the first lady for taking the opportunity to call attention to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief.

But anyone looking on should know that while the federal government is going to be there at your direction, we'll be seeking resources from the Congress to make sure that disaster relief is available for individuals and businesses. Literally the work of meeting people's human needs each and every day will take all of us. And these volunteer organizations need resources, and they need people.

And I would just add, Mr. President, that anyone looking on can go to nvoad.org. It's our website where all these organizations are listed. People can find out how they can be supportive of national volunteer organizations that at this very hour and for weeks and months ahead will be coming alongside families as they rebuild their lives.

TRUMP: That's great. Thank you, Mike. Thank you very much.

This is just some of the locations that, over a very short period of time, they've managed -- they and others have managed to go to some of these locations, as you know very well. Some of the press has been there. And I will say, they are devastated.

Two days ago, there was water like nobody's ever seen before. I guess in the history of our country, we've never had a -- an amount of water like we've had. And yet, you were able to occupy all of these different locations and take care of people. You and the others.

So, we want to just thank you. That's really a special, special job. Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, thank you very much.

TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Gail. Thank you very much. Great job. Great job.

Thank you all very much. Appreciate it.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you think DACA is illegal? Do you think DACA is illegal?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you, everyone.

QUESTION: Will you be talking about DACA later today?

TRUMP: We'll be releasing on DACA sometime over the weekend, probably Sunday, Saturday. Latest will be Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everyone.

TRUMP: Great feeling for DACA.

QUESTION: Do you think it's illegal, DACA?

[14:05:00] TRUMP: Excuse me?

QUESTION: DACA is illegal (INAUDIBLE) --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thanks, everyone.

Thank you.

TRUMP: We'll be making a request, absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone.

TRUMP: For the state of Texas, yes.

QUESTION: OK.

TRUMP: And Louisiana. And tomorrow I'm going to Louisiana with the first lady and Texas. It will be Texas, Louisiana. OK. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

TRUMP: Take care, everybody.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so you heard it there from the president, sitting there flanked by, of course, the first lady and the vice president, all of whom have been to Texas now this week. You just heard from the president, he and Melania Trump will be heading back down to Texas and Louisiana tomorrow. Also declaring Sunday a national day of prayer, flanked by Salvation Army, Red Cross, and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief there, just really expressing their gratitude for all the folks, first responders, military, organizations all who have really lent a much-needed helping hand in this time of just utter disaster in Texas and Louisiana.

A quick note at the very end. He was asked about DACA. That's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. And the question was, would he end this Obama-era policy. And so you just heard him there at the very end saying he will make a decision at some point this weekend, latest Monday. But he was heard saying -- someone was asking if dreamers should be worried and the quote from the president was, we love dreamers. We love everybody.

We'll loop back all around to that. There's going to be a White House briefing in just a bit. Thank you so much for being with me on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We are also watching and waiting to hear from the governor of Texas to address his state and address really the world about the catastrophic flooding left behind after Hurricane Harvey's violent landfall.

One week since Harvey slammed into the Texas coast and the true extent of the damage is just only now starting to reveal itself. The receding flood waters exposing the mass devastation. Aerial rescues are still going on right now all across the Texas gulf coast as crews hope to find people with no escape from the historic flood waters.

A lot of people finally able to return to their homes, and many of them are finding they don't have much left.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very confusing. Can't get it wrapped up in my mind what's going to be next. And what I'm going to need to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not even real. You see this stuff on TV. But this is total devastation in every way, physically, emotionally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes, yes, it's a -- I'm not an emotional guy and I'm pretty calm. And this has been too much for me. To be honest, I don't know if I'm going to be here very long.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. It's going to be -- you know we always get through this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The human stories are touching and tragic while the numbers are simply staggering. More than 72,000 people have been pulled out of flooded homes, plucked from rooftops and now praying that their loved ones are just as lucky. The storm's death toll continues to climb. As of right now, 47 people were killed by Harvey and its aftermath. And that number will likely rise.

The White House has a dire estimate that more than 100,000 homes are either damaged or destroyed. So the scope here of Harvey's catastrophic flooding captured in these stunning images here, these are satellite images, the before and the after, entire neighborhoods that were once green are now just submerged in brown water.

And as people are wading through their neighborhoods, one of the biggest concerns right now is contamination and disease. Keep in mind, in Beaumont, the water system, that's still gone. Floods have disabled pumping stations. And now a hospital has had to transfer its patients and shut down.

And on top of all of this, there is Irma, a category two hurricane, churning across the open Atlantic toward, well, no one really knows as of yet.

Let's start this hour with Nick Valencia. He's standing by in a community just outside of Houston where flood victims are just beginning to pick up their lives and take those next first steps forward.

A lot of these families are finally getting a glimpse of what remains, Nick. What are they finding?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a line of people that are waiting to go in to see what they can find in some of their apartments. And in some cases everything is gone.

We've been here since very early this morning in the Barker Cypress neighborhood of Houston. Just behind me here is the Addicks Dam. And you look here, Brooke, this water shows no signs of receding. It is still flooded in some places up to two, perhaps even four feet of water.

But what we're seeing here is a lot of help from local residents who even themselves have been affected by this storm. But they want to help out people that were affected even worse. We've been hearing harrowing stories of people who say that they aren't getting that much help. Other people, though, are getting help from people like Robby and Shane (ph).

[14:10:05] Robby, come on over here. Shane. I want to highlight the good work you guys are doing. What brought you guys out here?

ROBBY HEOS, HELPING FLOOD VICTIMS RETURN TO HOMES: Well, we have some friends that are stuck in there and we're trying to help them out, get all their -- all of their documents, all their passports, things like that. They weren't able to get to the -- whenever they were getting recovered. So --

VALENCIA: People here are still stranded? That community still has people stranded inside, huh, Shane?

SHANE MUKHERJEE, HELPING FLOOD VICTIMS RETURN TO HOMES: Yes, sir. As far as I know, we were out here, was it, Tuesday night. We were out here getting people out and doing as much as we can. Right now it's taking a lot of people back in. I mean, for me, we just live around the corner behind HEB (ph). I mean Mason and Highland Knowles. I grew up here.

VALENCIA: That was hit. That area was hit. Why do this? You guys are affected yourselves. Why help out here?

MUKHERJEE: Well, I mean, we're just doing what's right, man. We're just --

VALENCIA: I guess that's a dumb question, right? I mean, if you have a good heart --

MUKHERJEE: We're just helping our neighbors out.

VALENCIA: Yes.

MUKHERJEE: It's -- you've got National Guard and everyone's here, but there's only so many of them. There's more of us.

VALENCIA: What are you seeing?

HEOS: And we have friends and family that live in here and we want to take care of them, just like they took care of us during Alice and during Ike. So we're just here to do our part.

VALENCIA: Thank you, guys. God bless you guys for the work that you're doing. We know you have to get back to work.

We're standing in some water here. This water is still affecting this community, Brooke. And we went in yesterday to one of these residences with a guy named Ryan Short (ph). I can't begin to tell you how badly people are affected by being displaced. Ryan Short's sons, two years old, he's having trouble connecting with things. So Ryan Short, even though he had a cut on his leg and risked infection, went back in to try to get his son's favorite toy just so that his son could connect with something.

I mean the misery here is hard to describe. I don't think you really need to use your words just looking behind me here, the desperation speaks for itself.

Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, the pictures tell the story. And, you know, despite any circumstances, this is what you do for your kids.

Nick Valencia, thank you. And thank those guys so much. Awesome, awesome work that they're able to do there.

Let's go now, though, to about 100 miles east from Houston to the city of Beaumont. We've been talking about Beaumont because people there are now in day two of not being able to brush their teeth or take a shower or use their faucets after flooding knocked out both pumps of the city's water system. So now there's word their water woes could end very soon. Hopefuly, hopefully.

Brian Todd is live in Beaumont with the very latest.

Brian, what's the deal with the water?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, it was a disaster here because it -- the water pumping stations seemed to break down all at once at about 1:30 Thursday morning. More than 36 hours ago. They've been -- since then they've been without water. And this is kind of the ground zero area for trying to get that water back. This is the main water treatment plant here in Beaumont, Texas.

What happened was that the main pumping station, a few miles up the Neches River, which is just over here, that shorted out. The motors in that pumping station shorted out because of flooding. Then a secondary source pumping station several miles away, which takes water from a well, that shorted out too because of flooding. So people here were out of luck. No water.

This is where they're trying to get it back. Here's the main water treatment plant. And we were just inside there a few minutes ago with engineers from Exxon, a company called Tiger Industrial, a company called Echo. They've brought in specialists in, you know, again, engineering for water stations. They've brought in purification specialists, technicians, everybody to try to get this thing going again.

What they've had to do is, just beyond here, they have had to set up a temporary pumping station on the Neches River, which is just at that tree line over there, to pump water on a small line into the treatment plant here, but then they've got to go through all the tweaks, all the tests and the treatment plant just to get that out to the people of Beaumont.

I spoke to Ashley Alemayehu a short time ago. She's a spokeswoman for ExxonMobil. She talked about the effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHLEY ALEMAYEHU, SPOKESWOMAN, EXXONMOBIL: Together with our collaborative partners, we've developed a temporary solution. It's a pump that can get things going. It's powered by generators that were definitely moving at a faster pace than we were yesterday.

TODD: Can you give us even an estimate on the timeline? Can you say anything to the 100,000 residents of Beaumont who are just so desperate to get their water back?

ALEMAYEHU: I'm hopeful to take a shower tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And aren't we all hoping to take a shower tonight, because this is part of the process that's going to hopefully restore that capability back to Beaumont. You see the engineers up there looking at the water treatment plant. There's some water being processed out of those two spouts over there.

Again, they're working furiously here, Brooke. They've brought in these engineers from ExxonMobil and other places to try get this going. But they've got to do it right. They've got to make sure the water that's getting out goes through this treatment plant and is clean and healthy for the people of Beaumont. BALDWIN: I'm still back on the notion of not taking a shower. Listen,

something we all take for granted unless you are in Texas or parts of Louisiana right now.

Brian Todd, we're thinking about you all in Beaumont. Thank you so much. Hopefully they can get that fixed, and quickly.

We're going to stay, obviously, on the story on Harvey and the aftermath. But I want to get you to some breaking news here out of "The New York Times" today here, reporting that the special counsel, Bob Mueller, has obtained this letter that President Trump and a top political aide drafted in the days before the president officially fired the now former FBI Director James Comey. And according to this reporting, the president's White House counsel actually opposed the president sending the letter and won, successfully blocked the president from sending it. The contents of the original letter appears to provide the clearest rationale that the president had for firing Comey.

[14:15:24] So let's go to our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

And, yes, it is significant that Don McGahn opposed it. Do we have any indication of the contents of this original draft.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So "The New York Times" does not have the contents. But what's significant about this, as it pertains to the Mueller investigation, Brooke, is that this could reveal the president's real reason for firing FBI Director Comey and that, of course, could be significant in Mueller's obstruction of justice investigation.

So, here's what "The New York Times" is reporting. They say the letter was drafted by the president and his top aide, Steven Miller, at Trump's Bedminster golf club in May when they were trying to devise a rationale behind Comey's eventual dismissal.

Now, this letter, it was never actually sent, in part because White House Counsel Don McGahn opposed it. And, ultimately, a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was released and that letter faulted Comey for his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.

But, you know, now that Mueller has this original letter written by the president, Brooke, the question is, does it disclose that the Russia investigation, perhaps, was the real rationale behind letting Comey go? Of course it was just after Comey's firing that the president revealed in an NBC interview that he fired Comey at least in part because of that investigation.

So really, Brooke, this letter, drafted by the president, now in Mueller's hands, it could potentially be a game changer because we know that Trump's legal team has been meeting with Mueller, sending memos, making their case that the president had the constitutional right to fire for any reason, that no obstruction occurred. And they've also argued that the really reason for firing Comey was that he just wasn't credible. So the question is, does this letter, now in Mueller's hands, reveal

the real reason for Comey's firing, if it was different than what was initially disclosed, and could it tip Mueller's obstruction of justice investigation, Brooke, one way or the other. That is the question now.

BALDWIN: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Coming up here, two important briefings expected to begin shortly. We've got the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, he'll be up live with an update on the recovery effort in his state.

Also the White House press briefing set to get underway this afternoon as well where there are a couple of key issues to discuss, one of which Jessica Schneider just brought up, that "New York Times" report. We'll take that live.

Also ahead, dehydrate and had starving. She waded through water after Hurricane Katrina with twin baby boys. And now, 12 years later, this mother is coming face to face again with the man who she credits with saving her life, Lieutenant General Russell Honore. CNN was there for their remarkable reunion in, of all places, Houston, Texas. Do not miss this story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:22:35] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

The flooding triggered by Harvey has swamped homes and destroyed property. There are now, though, growing concerns that all the flood water could pose all kinds of serious health risks. The EPA is warning that those in the flood zones, that the potentially toxic water is the biggest threat to public health at this time.

So with me now to discuss these dangers, Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the dean of National School of Tropical Medicine over at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine.

So, Dr. Hotez, thank you so much for joining me.

And, you know, we saw the pictures a moment ago, just outside of Houston, where folks are starting to head back into their homes, seeing what's left. What are those immediate health concerns?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, first of all, thanks for having me on, Brooke.

We know -- you can just look at that brown water and you know it's not very healthful.

BALDWIN: Yes.

HOTEZ: We know that from our past experiences with Katrina, that the bacterial content is likely very high. That can promote various skin infections, from staphylococcus. And we also have a unique type of flesh-eating bacteria here on the Gulf Coast called vibrio vulnificus. And actually during Katrina there were several deaths from that. So, we have to watch out for those flesh-eating bacteria.

But, unfortunately, that's just the beginning. These are bacteria that cause diarrheal disease. There's salmonella, shigella, e.coli.

And then, even after people are taken out of the water and placed in evacuation centers, there is -- those are very stressful and crowded conditions. And, again, from Katrina, we've learned that there's very high rates of respiratory infections, upper respiratory infections. There's norovirus, which is a diarrheal pathogen. So we're in for a number of days and weeks of illness following Katrina.

And then there's the longer-term implications of viruses that are transmitted by all the mosquitoes that are going to accumulate as the flood waters recede.

BALDWIN: Dr. Hotez, I'm still back on flesh-eating bacteria. I mean when these people -- I mean they have to go back to their homes. Or, you know, you heard that one guy talking about how they're trying to get folks back in to get passports or driver's licenses. I mean what should people do to avoid this sort of bacteria, et cetera?

HOTEZ: Well, the really serious infections, skin infections from staph and vibrio is from contaminated wounds. So keeping wounds covered, keeping wounds scrupulously clean, that's going to be the number one priority.

[14:25:04] In terms of diarrheal disease, that's something that you're going to have to look out for. If you start having symptoms, if you start having diarrhea and fever, you want to contact your medical professional since you may need an antibiotic.

And then what we're now seeing, what we expect to see from Katrina, is, as the flood waters recede, we'll begin probably seeing an uptick in West Nile Virus infection. And, remember, during the time of Katrina, we did not have Zeke or Dengue or Chikungunya and now those are added risks in the coming weeks. We still have a few more weeks left of mosquito transmission season here on the gulf and in south Texas it lasts into December. So this is something we're going to be having to watch out for, for several months, I'm afraid.

BALDWIN: These are the conversations we need to be having over the next couple of weeks.

Dr. Hotez, thank you so much. I have a feeling we will be chatting again. You are right, that brown water looks no good.

I know people want to help. You can. You can go to our Impact Your World website. We have a list of vetted organizations. That's cnn.com/impact.

Coming up next here on CNN, it was a reunion some 12 years in the making. The doctor was just talking about Katrina. Look at this. You see General Russell Honore, the man who took charge in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he is actually getting a chance to reunite with some twin boys he helped save so many years ago. We'll share their emotional reunion in yet another city ravaged by flood waters.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)