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THE SITUATION ROOM
Texas Governor: Some Areas Remain 'Deadly Dangerous'; Urgent Effort to Restore Water to Beaumont; White House: Trump Finalizing Aid Request Ahead of Texas Visit; White House: Trump Decision On Yong Immigrants Tuesday; Longtime Trump Aide Saying He Plans To Leave White House; NYT: Mueller Has Trump Letter On Reasons' For Firing Comey; Latest Forecast On Dangerous New Hurricane; Police Making Arrests In West Houston. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired September 1, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. The river still rising one week after Harvey first slammed into Texas. The governor warned that some areas remain deadly, dangerous. The flooded city of Beaumont has no running water, and more evacuations are likely as the river there continues to rise.
[17:00:15] The recovery. As President Trump plans his second visit to the disaster zone, the White House is expected to request the first $6 billion in emergency funding. That is likely just a fraction of what the federal government will have to pay to help the region recover.
The next threat? A powerful new storm is churning across the Atlantic and could pose a major danger to the U.S. Is Hurricane Irma on the way?
And the real reason? The special counsel has a copy of a letter President Trump drafted before firing FBI Director James Comey, according to a report from the "New York Times." Does the letter reveal the real reason the president fired Comey? Could Special Counsel Robert Mueller use it to make an obstruction of justice case against the president?
Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
SCIUTTO: The breaking news, one week after Hurricane Harvey first made landfall in his state, the Texas governor says that some areas remain, quote, "deadly dangerous," with rivers there still rising.
President Trump is poised to make his second trip to the disaster zone. This time, he will visit both Texas and Louisiana, and unlike last time, he will meet with some storm victims.
The situation remaining dire in the city of Beaumont, still largely under water and nearly isolated. Residents have been lining up for bottled water after the storm knocked out the clean water supply. The situation has forced one hospital to evacuate newborns. Emergency services are still rescuing residents in Houston and
canvassing neighborhoods to account for those still missing. But Houston's mayor says the city is starting to dry out. As residents return to ruined homes, the focus is turning there towards recovery. He says that Houston urgently needs federal money. The White House expected to make an initial request for almost $6 billion in federal funds. But that is just a small down payment on the total cost of the disaster.
And more problems for the White House. Special Counsel Robert Mueller reviewing a letter drafted by the president days before he fired FBI Director James Comey, this according to the "New York Times." The letter reportedly lays out in detail why the president wanted to get rid of Comey, including his frustration that Comey was unwilling to publicly exonerate him in the Russia meddling probe.
That letter was replaced by another, which instead focused on Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation.
This all comes tonight as CNN is learning of yet another departure from the president's staff.
Our correspondents, analysts and specialists have full coverage of the day's top stories.
Let's go straight to Texas. CNN national correspondent Miguel Marquez is in the hard-hit city of Beaumont, where flooding has knocked out the water supply. And as you can see there, the river behind him still rising.
Miguel, tell us what the conditions are like on the ground there.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is the Natchez River there, Jim. And I just want to show you, this looks more like the Mississippi right now. It is way outside of its banks. That is an industrial area that has been completely overtaken by the river. While it may crest soon, it won't recede for a very long time.
MARQUEZ (voice-over): One week after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast, the danger far from over.
(ON CAMERA): Anyone in there?
MARQUEZ: Rescuers still searching to save those trapped by high water. In Beaumont, residents faced by a cruel reality, surrounded by water but not safe to drink.
BRAD PENISSON, BEAUMONT FIRE AND RESCUE: Our biggest situation, like we said, is the water supply, and it's cut off, so what we're also looking at is some alternative solutions, a temporary solution to get a pump up and working that would bypass the entire pump station and get water to our water treatment plant.
MARQUEZ: That lack of water forcing Beaumont's Baptist hospital to evacuate patients. Their highest priority? Newborns in the intensive care unit. In addition to helicopters, some will be taken by ambulance to the airport to evacuate by plane.
DR. SNEHAL DOSHI, BAPTIST HOSPITAL: We're going to have a nurse and another physician try to get those babies out one at a time. So depending on how stable they are, we'll do that one at a time. Sometimes we may pair them up.
MARQUEZ: Though much of the region is still flooded in some areas, the receding water reveals the widespread destruction. Washed-out roads destroyed homes, cars and other possessions in ruin. And Harvey's effects being felt well beyond the impact region. Disrupted gas production, causing a spike in prices and a rush to the pumps in Dallas.
[17:05:14] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been driving around for 35 miles looking for gas. This is the first station that I've found.
MARQUEZ: Back in Houston, tanker trucks at a fuel transfer station line up to fill up so they can get the gasoline out. Nearly 30 percent of the nation's refining capacity shut down or reduced, thanks to Harvey.
MARQUEZ: Now, I want to bring you up to date on some of those premature babies that were being moved out of Baptist Hospital here today in Beaumont. We believe two are left now in the hospital, so about nine have been moved to Galveston where they will be cared for.
It is just one small piece of this incredible disaster, to see those little tiny babies, those arms and legs clinging to life and how important it was for that hospital staff to get them out there safely. Just incredible to see. Just one piece, though, of this massive, massive story -- Jim.
SCIUTTO: No question. We've been watching that evacuation for a couple days now. It takes time. These things take time.
Miguel Marquez there in hard-hit Beaumont, Texas.
In Beaumont, a city of more 100,000 people, residents have been lining up for drinking water because a system knocked out the system's pumps. An urgent effort now underway to restore that water supply.
CNN's Brian Todd also live from Beaumont, Texas. So I know you're live there in front of the plant there. What kind of efforts are being made now to get it up and running again?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some very frantic efforts, Jim. This is kind of ground zero for the effort to get Beaumont's water up and running again. We're here at the water treatment facility. I can show you over here, these crews are unloading these huge plastic mats. They're going to be used to place underneath temporary pipes that are going to be coming from this area over here. Just beyond here, we were over here earlier. The Natchez River is
right here. They set up a temporary pumping station. Exxon engineers and other engineers set up a temporary pumping station over there to pump water from the Natchez River, which is just over there, into this water treatment facility. These pallets are going to go underneath those pipes because the ground is so saturated, they need support.
As we take you along the perimeter here, I can tell you this about what happened last night. The city has been without running water for about a day and a half now. At about 1:30 in the morning on Thursday, everything shorted out. The pumps just completely broke down. The Natchez River flooded. The pumping station about two or so miles up the Natchez River flooded and shorted out. The actual motors that run the pumps are above ground, and they flooded and shorted out.
Then a secondary source, a well not far from here, operated by other pumps. Those pumps also shorted out, because they flooded. So the city was really out of luck at that point.
So what they're doing now, we've got engineers from Exxon, from other companies. You can see some of them up there. I can show, if Eddie, our photojournalist, can pam up there. You can see those engineers up there. They've been working around the clock here, Jim, to try to get water running.
We were told a short time ago by the city manager that the city is at 10 percent capacity for water. We've been trying to get clarification on that. Does that mean 10 percent of the residents have their water? Does that mean some other context for 10 percent? We're trying to get answers on that.
The bottom line, Jim, is that water is slowly, slowly coming back to the city. I asked an Exxon spokeswoman a short time ago, "Come on. Just give us some kind of an estimate, a timeline so that these 100,000 people in Beaumont can have some idea of when they're getting their water back."
She would only say, "Well, I hope to be taking a shower tonight." That can be said for maybe 120,000 other people around here, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Yes, the great ironies of flooding: water everywhere, not a drop to drink.
I know that your drive into Beaumont was -- was a harrowing trip, because this is one of those many communities that's virtually cut off.
TODD: That's right. We drove through some water on Route 90 going east from Houston here. And our crew actually didn't have it as badly as some other CNN crews who came in yesterday and the day before.
You know, normally the drive from Houston to Beaumont, Jim, is maybe two hours. Some of our teams were taking five or six hours to get in here. We didn't take that long. So that is a good sign. I mean, a lot of the water on land is receding. But here's the problem. The Natchez River, I think I heard Miguel talking about it a short time ago. The Natchez River, according to Governor Greg Abbott, is 7 feet above its record, and the governor says it's going to stay that way for maybe a week. So people here are not out of danger yet. The water pumping stations are not out of danger. You know, they've just taken it, really, on the chin in this community.
SCIUTTO: Yes. A lot of people are going to lose their homes. It's sad to see. CNN's Brian Todd. Thanks very much.
And joining me now, someone who knows the repercussions very well. Sheriff Zena Stephens of Jefferson County, Texas, which includes the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, another community that's been particularly hard hit.
Sheriff Stephens, thanks so much for taking the time tonight. I know the tendency, the temptation with storms like this can be, while the rain has stopped, the danger must be over, but Lord knows, your community is still facing a great deal of danger.
[17:10:10] SHERIFF ZENA STEPHENS, JEFFERSON COUNTY, TEXAS (via phone): Oh, absolutely. The rain has stopped, but right -- you know, you alluded to that a little bit earlier. We still have, you know, water rising because of the Natchez River and all the water in the area.
You know, there are other dangers out there, too, that people forget. Our water is septic, because you have sewage, you know, because of the flood. You have refineries in our -- inundated in our area, and so, you know, there's a lot of dangers here even though the rains have stopped.
SCIUTTO: Yes. So here in the Natchez River, 7 feet over what was already a record, are there any efforts that can be made to mitigate the risks from the rising river, or do you just have to let this pass?
STEPHENS: Well, you know, one of the things that we've been doing in the community that's close -- in close proximity to the river and the low-lying areas, we've been going door to door still, trying to, you know, get people to leave their homes. Because you know, a block away from the river, even though it hasn't crested yet, people are still there. They may not be experiencing high water yet, but it's going to happen.
And so without, you know, causing a panic, we're encouraging people, you know, to monitor that and to get out of those areas. You know, even with all the devastation, some areas, they're unaware, you know, that just, you know, maybe less than 15 or 30 miles from them, people are already suffering severe flooding. And so until the water gets to some of these neighborhoods, they're unaware of it, believe it or not.
SCIUTTO: Yes. I believe it.
The Houston mayor has said the flooding there could continue for 10 to 15 more days, and that's a city where the water is going down in some areas. Where you are, when do you expect relief? Are you looking at weeks out from now?
STEPHENS: I would suspect in some areas. I flew over today and -- you know, to try to assess some of the areas. Some of the areas, you know, as I flew over Port Arthur, it was -- you know, it was -- surprisingly many of the areas are already starting to see the water receding and are, indeed, you know, dry at this point. And so it just depends.
Some areas are receding; some areas are still experiencing. You know, Double Oak (ph), Pondwater (ph) communities in our area, to the north of us or northwest of us, and there's still a lot of water sitting on those neighborhoods. And, you know, we're still doing rescues in some of those areas. So it just depends on what area, geographically, these people are located in our community.
SCIUTTO: It's hard to predict at times, too. I'm sure it's changing all the time. Where are residents of Jefferson County evacuating to, and do those areas have the capacity to keep them there for days, weeks if necessary?
STEPHENS: Well, some of -- many people, hundreds if not thousands, have already been flown out of the area. People that we had to pull off the -- out of houses and off rooftops have been flown -- you know, put on planes and flown to Dallas and, you know, other areas in the state.
There are many shelters opening up here, now that some of the roads are accessible from outside the community now, and so we're getting more resources in. And we're able to have operational shelters, you know, for temporary amounts of time.
The problem is the lack of water in the city of Beaumont. That creates a problem, you know. So we're encouraging people, if you could fly out on those military planes that were flying people out, please do so. Because again, we don't have operational water or water, you know, to sterilize or even, you know, take care of the necessities. So, you know, we're using Port-a-Potties. I operate a jail facility, the correctional facility, so it even causes a problem in terms of, you know, housing inmates. It's been -- it's been a challenge.
SCIUTTO: Yes. All those things that you take for granted every day, clean water, et cetera, they become an issue.
We've been watching very closely the effort to evacuate the Beaumont hospital over the last couple days, particularly newborns in the intensive care units, some of the elderly patients. Where does that stand right now?
STEPHENS: I haven't had an update. I've been doing some other things. But I'm certain that they've gotten most of those people taken care of with ambulances and, you know, medical helicopters and through our aviation units here.
Again, with the roads now being a little bit more accessible, it's a little easier to get to the Houston area. It's not easy, but it's a little more bit accessible than it has been. You know, last -- over the past few days, we have not been able to get out. Now we are able to get out and, you know, I know we flew a couple of people out with some medical conditions earlier today, and so those things are starting to happen on a regular basis. And so I'm certain that's what they're still doing that for the hospitals here.
SCIUTTO: The area in Jefferson County has a lot of oil services industry plants, chemical plants, industrial plants. They pose a secondary risk, whether it's contaminating the water or explosions like we saw at Arkema in Crosby, Texas. Are there any current, pressing threats from those kinds of plants to the community?
[17:15:14] STEPHENS: Well, we work, you know, very closely with our refineries. You know, they're a part of our community and have been for many, many years. And so those individuals are, you know, relentlessly you know, trying to contain any possible, you know, things that could hurt our area environmentally or our community. And so right now there's no immediate threats. Everybody is monitoring that. We are in -- you know, our emergency management team is constantly meeting, you know, and has been throughout this ordeal with all the plant managers. And, you know, just everybody in our community trying to make sure that we take care, you know, of all the citizens.
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, Sheriff Stephens, I know this is your community, too, so you're feeling it. But I've got to say, when I talk to you and your colleagues, I'm always impressed with just how tough you sound and how well you're weathering this. So I want to send our best to you and wish you the best of luck.
STEPHENS: We appreciate it. Again, you know, you guys are so helpful in terms of getting us resources. I think, you know, people -- so many people watch you, and so one, you know, of the things I'd say right now while we transition from, you know -- I guess water rescues, you know, I want people to remember that now the cleanup starts. And so we're going to need some things from the world in terms of cleanup -- clean out supplies and other things. So if you could get that message out, as well.
We don't need any more boats. You know, because of you guys, we were able to get a lot of stuff done quickly, and so now we have to transition to the next stage of this.
SCIUTTO: Understood. We will make sure that message is loud and clear. Take care, and we hope to talk again soon.
STEPHENS: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, much more breaking news. Another powerful storm making its way across the Atlantic. We are tracking Hurricane Irma. How great a threat does it pose to the U.S.?
And we are learning of yet another likely departure from the White House. This time it is one of the president's most loyal, long-term and trusted aides, who's been at Trump's side for decades.
[17:21:41] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Our breaking news: a week after his state was first hit by a devastating storm, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said today that some areas are still deadly dangerous, with rising rivers meaning more evacuations are still likely. Beaumont, Texas, is without clean water after the storm damaged the water pumping system.
Joining me now by phone is Mike Sinegal of Jefferson County, which includes Beaumont.
Commissioner, it's good to talk to you again. The first question for you is this: as Washington debates how much money they're going to send your way, I'm curious, what help does your community need most?
MIKE SINEGAL, JEFFERSON COUNTY, TEXAS, COMMISSIONER (via phone): Well, my -- my community needs food, water. And as you said, Beaumont is without water. It's been estimated that maybe 4 to 7 -- it may be 10 days -- but I think they have a plan in place that they'll get it back even quicker.
So most of the needs is food and water. We did get to quite a few of our citizens. They sent them to other areas, you know, to rescue, out of the state and some in Dallas, even.
But I think we're doing OK. The sun is shining here today, and -- and we're going in the right direction.
SCIUTTO: Well, it must be a relief to see that -- to see that sunshine. And I know it's early to make these kinds of estimates, because in some areas, the water is still rising, but do you have any sense of how much damage has been done to the community, how much it will cost your community? Or for instance, just how many homes have been lost?
SINEGAL: Just remarkable (ph). It's in the -- it's in the millions of dollars. We were told it's an emergency city. The entire city was under water. You could pick one or two homes in certain areas that may have not been affected, but every home around it was affected. So I mean, the damage is still 55,000 citizens.
SCIUTTO: Do you fear that some of those residents will never come back or can never come back?
SINEGAL: That's my biggest fear, is that some of those residents can't even afford to come back. I mean, they're debating in Washington about, you know, how much damage. I can give them an estimate, if they just -- I may have, if the president had visited. We -- I've been through a hurricane before, and it's in the millions of dollars. Millions and millions, close to -- close to billions.
SCIUTTO: And that's just one community of many. Listen, Commissioner Sinegal, we've had the opportunity to talk a few times this week. I want to say, I'm always impressed with your resolve. We're looking and watching, and we wish you the best.
SINEGAL: Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Jim.
We do have communities that are still under water. I just had a call from a -- from a state senator that he still has water in his -- in this neighborhood, that he can't get out a soul (ph). And when I hang up with you, I'm going to try to find out how long it will be before they get that water out of there, out of his neighborhood. He's our foremost state senator in Dustin County in Texas.
SCIUTTO: Well, I know you're going to keep at it. We wish you the best.
SINEGAL: Thank you, Jim. And appreciate your good work. You all keep it up. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Well, as millions are left reeling from Harvey's devastating impact, another powerful storm, if you can believe it, already making its way across the Atlantic.
I want to speak, to get the last on Hurricane Irma from meteorologist Allison Chinchar. She's at the CNN Severe Weather Center.
[17:25:08] So you look at that storm coasting up towards Category 5 already. I mean, do we know it's going to hit the U.S.?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We don't know that for sure. We only really know where it's going to go in the next five days, but even if it did hit the U.S., you'd be talking seven to 10 days out. So that's the thing. We know where it's going to go in the short term. We just don't know long-term.
But yes, there is some apprehension for a lot of folks in the U.S., having just dealt with Harvey. Because Irma right now is already a Category 3 storm. That puts some nerves in people on edge, just knowing that already.
Right now, Irma is just sitting out over the open Atlantic. OK? It has gone through been a Category 3 this morning, dropped back to a Category 2, now back up again to a Category 3. Winds right now about 120 miles per hour.
You can see that eye has started to come back, and it's actually very apparent on our satellites right now that you can clearly see it. The track of the storm takes it pretty much due west, if not even slightly southwest. That's actually not necessarily a good thing, because it will actually dip it back into slightly warmer water. Warmer water being favorable for further development.
So it's possible that this could even go up to, say, even stronger, a Category 4. But likely won't do that for at least the next couple of days, until it hits that warmer water.
In this region, again, we've noticed this is where you really start to hit some of that warmer water, once you get awfully close to the Caribbean.
Now, one other thing to note is where the models take it from there. You've got two separate models that really kind of show where this storm goes, OK? You've got the brighter pink color off to the right and the yellow color off towards the left. This is where they start to vary. So you notice once we start getting to day seven, eight, nine, this is where they finally start to split apart.
The European model actually takes it closer to the U.S., potentially even bringing some showers and thunderstorms to, say, Florida, into the Carolinas. Whereas the American model really kind of keeps it further out to the east.
So again, Jim, that's the concern. It's not so much will it, won't it? It' which -- you know, we have to wait a few more days, because right now all the models pretty much have a consensus of where it goes the next five days. It's after that that they split, and they split pretty wide. So again, we'll just have to keep a very close eye on this over the next couple of days.
SCIUTTO: And just to be clear, the European model was the one that was correct for Harvey's path, right?
CHINCHAR: For the most part, yes. Yes. This one had a more consistent track with Harvey than some of the other models did.
SCIUTTO: Well, I know -- we know you're going to be watching it closely. Allison Chinchar, CNN Severe Weather Center. Thanks very much.
And stand by here for more updates from the disaster zone. President Trump heading back to Texas and Louisiana tomorrow. And the White House now says that he is finalizing a first request for disaster aid.
Also breaking, special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly is reviewing a previously undisclosed Trump letter listing his reasons for firing FBI director James Comey.
[17:32:41] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Our breaking news, new and dire warnings from Texas Governor Greg Abbott who says that some areas remain deadly dangerous, and flooding may affect more areas before the crisis ends. President Trump and the first lady head back to the disaster area tomorrow.
Let's go to CNN's Sara Murray. She is at the White House. The White House says the President is finalizing a request for disaster aid, the region of $6 billion, is that the first ask?
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. The White House is trying to defend the signal that this is the top of their concerns that this $6-billion initial request is only going to be the first bite at the apple, part of a much broader, much more expensive recovery effort, one we're hoping to get more details on this evening.
TRUMP: We're working on emergency funding. We're doing everything we can --
MURRAY: President Trump preparing to ask Congress for nearly $6 billion in disaster relief funding.
TRUMP: The federal government is on the ground bringing in significant resources to bear, and I want to assure these organizations and the others involved that we will continue to coordinate with them and bring all of the relief and the comfort and everything else that we absolutely can to the Gulf Coast.
MURRAY: The initial ask, a down payment on what is sure to be a lengthy and expensive recovery process for areas ravaged by Hurricane Harvey. The President and First Lady Melania Trump are poised to get a first-hand look at the devastation when they return to Texas as well as Louisiana this weekend.
MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going tomorrow to visit them, and I just want to tell them to be strong and everything will be OK.
MURRAY: Meantime, Congress could act on the disaster-funding request as early as next week. A kick-off to a hectic September, in which Congress also needs to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government. All of this, as the President weighs whether to bring to an end deferred action for childhood arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era program that protects undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. and children from deportation. Today, Trump said a decision could be coming soon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A decision on DACA?
TRUMP: Sometime today or over the weekend, we'll have a decision.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Dreamers be worried?
TRUMP: We love the Dreamers, we love everybody.
MURRAY: But Congressional Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan are urging the President to hold off on scrapping it, and allow Congress to come up with a permanent fix.
[17:35:07] SEN. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I actually don't think he should do that, and I believe that this is something that Congress has to fix.
MURRAY: As for Trump, he's hurdling into September after a chaotic August. Trump dismissed a handful of his top aides as newly-minted Chief of Staff, retired four-star General John Kelly aimed to bring some semblance of order to the White House. Now, sources tell CNN that Trump is growing annoyed with those constraints, like his limited access to staffers and outside associates. This, as members of Congress expressed their own irritation over Trump's tumultuous style of governing.
In a Washington Post column, Arizona Senator John McCain describes Trump as a President who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed, and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct. (END VIDEOTAPE)
MURRAY: Now, the White House is trying to keep the focus on Hurricane Harvey clean-up efforts and the President's visit there over the weekend today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said no decision or announcement on DACA is going to be coming until Tuesday. Back to you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Sara Murray at the White House there. Let's bring in our political specialist. Dana, I want to begin with you because you have new reporting about another departure from the White House?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A potential departure and that is, Jim, Keith Schiller, who was Donald Trump's bodyguard for decades and he now serves as the Director of Oval Office Operations. He has told people that he intends to leave the White House, that's according to three sources with knowledge of this, they told me and our colleagues Noah Gray and Jeremy Diamond.
Now, the primary reason that Keith Schiller is telling people that he is going to leave is financial. But it is also noteworthy, given what Sara was reporting about General Kelly, the new Chief of Staff, and the way he has clamped down on access to the Oval Office, access to the President, we are also told that Schiller has expressed frustration with that process, especially since he is somebody who has had unfettered access to Donald Trump for decades. You know, he has been a constant presence with Trump, Jim, since he was a businessman, during the campaign, and so forth.
And we, of course, remember that he is somebody who delivered perhaps the most consequential -- could end up being the most -- one of the most letters of the presidency, he hand delivered to the FBI James Comey letter, firing him. And I think that the reason why, you know, we don't normally don't talk about the White House Oval Office Director, operations director, but this is somebody who is a part of Donald Trump's posse, and if he does, in fact, end up going, which now he is telling people his plans are the end of September, beginning of October, it really could add to the President's feeling of isolation because he really yearns for people who he is close to, has known for a long time and is limited in his communications with those people. Keith Schiller is one of them.
SCIUTTO: Yes, the fact that he was the one chosen to deliver that letter of firing James Comey of the FBI is a measure of his closeness to the President. Ryan Lizza, I know you've been following this closely. We've been hearing particular in recent days of the President feeling perhaps pushing back against some of Chief of Staff Kelly's efforts to formalize things in the White House. To lose a long-time aide who goes back to New York days, would -- as Dana was saying, would that not make him -- would that not be likely to make him feel more isolated in the White House?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it's a -- it's a good point. I mean, the entire White House over the summer has essentially changed, and this would really change the character of that place. He's one of Trump's closest and longest-serving aides and protector, literally a bodyguard. And with people like Steve Bannon gone, Reince Priebus, the whole cast of characters has really changed, the only -- the only people closer to the President than Schiller are really his children and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. So, I don't know how related it is to what Kelly has been doing, but, I mean, I think some of the stories about Kelly tightening operations are -- you know, he's basically just being a traditional Chief of Staff. They had almost no structure there, previously, and he is -- you know, he's overlaid a sort of traditional Chief of Staff structure, the kind that every White House has really had.
SCIUTTO: Well, early administrations always have personnel movements, but this one certainly remarkable in how many departures there. And Dana, if I can just go back to you, briefly. DACA on the -- you know, very much a headline here, the President teeing up a decision today, this weekend, now we know it's going to be Tuesday. What is CNN's sense of which way the President is going to go here, and you know, with the proviso that we don't know for sure and it could change?
[17:40:00] BASH: Well, the answer to that is that it's hard to know because it seems pretty clear that they don't really know inside the White House yet. And they're really trying to feel out exactly how to deal with this, given the fact that the President made a commitment over and over again during the campaign, one that was, you know, loved and cheered by his core base, to get rid of DACA, which is to get rid of the executive order that allows so-called Dreamers to stay -- to stay in this country.
But now that he's President and now he has a lot of pressure and we've seen it come out in public over the past 24 hours from Republican leaders, many of them who say, don't do this, let's figure it out, you know, it seems as though it's very possible that he could take them up on that and say, OK, Congress, you want to deal with it, you deal with it. I'll give you a deadline. If you don't deal with it by X, let's say -- I don't know, two months or so, then I will deal with it by executive order. But it doesn't seem entirely clear that's how it going to go. There is a lot of pressure from Republicans again externally and some, I am told, inside the White House for him to do just that because this is such a dicey issue.
SCIUTTO: And just to be clear for folks at home, if they don't know for sure what a Dreamer is, a Dreamer is someone who came into the country under the age of 16, undocumented, has been here continuously for five years. Manu Raju, you, of course, cover the Hill, you've heard from Speaker Ryan as Dana mentioned, saying, we should let Congress do that. We saw the Republicans, for instance, Jeff Flake, tweeting that today. Here's a question for you, do Republicans on the Hill actually want to make this decision and have a vote on the record on this decision?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Some do but it's a minority of Republicans both in the House Republican Conference and the Senate Republican Conference. And that's really the challenge going to be going forward if the White House does kick this decision to Capitol Hill. Certainly, there are some from states that have heavy Latino -- big Latino populations, people that worked on immigration reform like Jeff Flake, people like Paul Ryan who have spout more liberal views on immigration policy. And the President himself have called for something to do with the Dreamers, have called for things to do with undocumented immigrants, but this is a minority of both conferences. It would take a lot of -- it would be a lot of push from the White House, frankly, to get the Republicans in line behind something that a lot of members don't want to do.
It would probably require some Democrats to give on some other issues like the President's border wall, which a lot of Democrats don't want to do. For that reason, I'm pretty skeptical that they could get anything through Congress this year, and if they don't get anything through Congress this year, that would put it back at the White House to figure out what they want to do. So, I don't think it's a very easy calculation for the White House to simply say, Congress will deal with it, because if that happens, they also could get sued by various states that don't think they should go forward, and that would put their own Justice Department in a tricky position of deciding we're going to have to defend this administrative action that the President has said in the past that he opposes. So, it is a tricky situation for the White House even if they decide to let Congress do it, and there's no guarantee that Congress will do anything.
SCIUTTO: Yes, imagine that game of legislative ping-pong in Washington. I mean, it's worth noting, too, there's a (INAUDIBLE) of politics here, and my understanding, the states most opposed to renewing this policy are ones that have the fewest immigrants. It's, you know, it's such a political calculation here. Russia, Bianna Golodryga, we have the news today first reported by the New York Times that the special counsel Bob Mueller has a letter drafted by President Trump, and Steven Miller on the President's actual rationale for firing James Comey. This one preceding the letter that came out on the day of the decision from the deputy A.G. that said this was all about James Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. How significant is this letter, do you think, and does it lead down the path, perhaps, of an obstruction of justice investigation?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, FINANCE ANCHOR, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, it does leave open the option of intent from the President that he intended on firing his FBI Director before he actually did. It also shows that those within the White House like Steven Miller were privy of this decision as well. It was interesting because I had heard an interview months ago after Comey was fired with the former White House Counsel for President Obama, Bob Bauer, he said, listen, Don McGahn is getting a lot of pressure for the letter that he released, formally. The President and the White House formally released when they fired Comey, but he said we have no idea what the initial letter, the first letter, the first draft that McGahn had seen, that the President had given to him, what that may have looked like and McGahn may have done work on that letter, and come to find out, that appears to be what played out.
[17:44:51] SCIUTTO: And to be clear, the President has made public comments about this in an interview with NBC News. He said that it was Comey's handling of the Russia investigation, so he's even telegraphed that to some degree. Susan Hennessey, you cover this very closely. As you look at this, in effect we are getting clues as to where the special counsel's investigation is headed. What does this -- does this tell you about the direction of Bob Mueller right now? SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: All right, so one of the hardest elements of sort of an obstruction charge to prove is that mental state. So sort of the revelation about this letter which, you know, allegedly sort of lays out exactly what the President was thinking, was potentially, legally problematic. And that's going to be really significant. In terms of what we might be able to sort of glean about where the special counsel investigation is going, and we also saw reporting yesterday of the Wall Street Journal about these series of memos that Trump's legal team had sent to Mueller's team sort of opened up a channel of communication, they really seemed to be focused on obstruction of justice as the primary issue. That was what they were sort of engaging in a dialogue.
I mean, it was also reported that Trump's team appears to thinks that Mueller's team is sort of is focusing on the obstruction issue, first and foremost. Now, they're interpreting that as good news as a way of saying, well, we're going to get this out of the way early. The President is going to be cleared and then we'll move on. You know, there's another way to look at that, which is that usually prosecutors look at sort of the easiest issues, the issues that they think are going to be most significant in an investigation first. And so, this really is an indication that that obstruction issue is going to be, you know, front and center for the next several months.
SCIUTTO: No question. As Susan referenced there, Ryan Lizza, CNN has reported as well that President Trump's lawyers have met with Special Counsel Mueller to make their case already, pre-emptively, perhaps, that the President isn't guilty of obstruction of justice, and also to attack James Comey's credibility as well. But when you look at the President's own words, his own tweets on this, does that damage his case?
LIZZA: Well, yes, I think there's been a big conflict since the beginning between what Trump says publicly, about this case and what any, you know, someone fresh out of law school defending a President, would want him or her to say. So, his comments, you know, from saying on the record in an interview that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation just some of the other -- the other tweets attacking the investigation, he seems to have increased his legal jeopardy. And I just think this news has gotten sort of buried because of the hurricane and so much stuff that's going on, but from what we -- we're talking about here both the letter that Comey has now -- excuse me, that Mueller has now gotten and this meeting between the special counsel and Trump's lawyers, there is a serious obstruction of justice investigation going on against the President of the United States.
SCIUTTO: No question, yes.
LIZZA: He's personally being investigated. And I don't think the political system has digested that yet.
LIZZA: And, you know, up and -- SCIUTTO: Well, it's a story -- it's a story certainly we're going to -- we're going to follow closely and in the days and weeks ahead. But as you say there, it's a clue to how serious this investigation is proceeding. Thanks very much to our team there.
Coming up, the latest forecast for Hurricane Irma, an already dangerous storm in the Atlantic expected to grow even stronger as it heads towards the U.S.
[17:52:53] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. These are new pictures just in to CNN. We've been watching arrests taking place. This is in West Houston, Texas on the interstate there. Police arrested people that are now handcuffed there in boats. They were in the water there on a flooded part of the interstate. We are calling for details now to see what transpired here. One of many stories, and this is live picture of police holding several people there who were arrested in boats in a flooded area in West Houston, Texas.
Well, a week after Harvey first came ashore, the Governor of Texas said that some areas are still deadly dangerous today with rivers in some areas still on the rise. Let's go live to CNN's Ryan Nobles, he's in Orange Texas, near the Louisiana border. Ryan, tell us what the conditions are like there, any signs of hope, waters coming down anywhere?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, we've been in this neighborhood all day today in Orange, Texas which as you mentioned is in the eastern part of Texas. And this neighborhood is still pretty much flooded out as you can see. And we're in a truck now with our friend, Brad (INAUDIBLE) who actually lives in this neighborhood. He's got a truck that is just enough above the water that we can take a tour of this neighborhood. And you can see the devastation at some of these homes. There are folks that are attempting to start cleaning out this mess that was left behind by Harvey.
But as you mentioned, the big concern right now is, is the flooding over with? The Governor himself said today that there are two big rivers (INAUDIBLE) and the Sabine River which actually surround this part of Texas that have yet to crest. They may not crest until the middle of next week, and that means that the potential for flooding still exists. So, while the clean-up is slowly underway here, many folks in this part of the state are remaining vigilant because the threat of flooding is still not over. Jim, back to you.
SCIUTTO: It's a reminder those rivers sometimes don't crest until days after the rain stops. Ryan Nobles there in Orange, Texas.
Coming up, more breaking news with millions still reeling from the devastating impact of Harvey. A powerful new storm, if you can believe it, now churning across the Atlantic. How big a threat does Hurricane Irma pose to the U.S.? And word of another likely departure from the White House. This time it is one of the President's most loyal aides who has been at his side for decades. [17:55:06] ANNOUNCER: August 2017, catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey hits Houston and the Coast of Texas and Louisiana. Destruction is massive, families have lost everything. The final impact, not yet know. But you can help, go to cnn.com/impact for information and to find links to charitable organizations and resources. Your donations can make a difference. Stay with CNN for continuing coverage of Hurricane Harvey's aftermath, and "IMPACT YOUR WORLD".