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Trump & First Lady in Houston Touring Flood Damage; DOJ: No Evidence Trump Tower was Wiretapped. Aired 3-3:30pm ET

Aired September 2, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: -- then Tropical Storm Harvey, of course. And he is there, you can see helping with some of the first aid and first responders. We saw him earlier meeting with people in shelters, giving kisses and hugs to some of those who have been affected, who have had to evacuate, who have lost everything.

Let's listen in just a little bit and see if we can hear.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You, too.

Hello, everybody.

(CROSSTALK)

CABRERA: Again, these are live pictures. You see the full press corps that is there with the President on this visit. He is making a point on this visit to hit several different stops that he wasn't able to make the first time he visited the storm area on Tuesday. That's when he was able to meet mostly with just some of the local, state and federal officials.

He went to a fire house there. This time he's been able to, again, meet with the residents and those who are directly affected. He was criticized earlier of not being empathetic enough, not being compassionate enough on that first visit. Of course, the White House said some of the reasons he didn't meet and greet with some of those folks previously was because he didn't want to impact the emergency response efforts that were still ongoing at that time when they were literally in rescue mode throughout much of the Houston area that was flooded.

So he is tapping into the heart of Texas and, of course, the heartbreak of one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

Less than two hours ago, this was the scene when he met with evacuees who took shelter inside NRG Stadium in Houston. Now, the President again doling out hugs and kisses even to the children. He reassured the adults who were there that the federal government will stand by them in a recovery that could take years.

This visit this afternoon blunting the criticism that followed his first Texas trip four days ago. Critics even within his own party were saying he failed to show enough empathy and compassion. And today, he really seems to have embraced that role as the nation's Comforter-in-Chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Really, I think people appreciate what's been done. It's been done very efficiently, very well. And that's what we want. We're very happy with the way everything's going. A lot of love.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What did the family tell you earlier?

TRUMP: They were just happy. We say a lot of happiness. It's been really nice. It's been a wonderful thing. As tough as this was, it's been a wonderful thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: Across Houston and much of southeast Texas, receding flood waters now show the daunting magnitude of the work ahead. Returning homeowners are emptying their flooded houses. Streets now overflow with soggy and stinky trash, ruined items that were once their belongings. The death toll across southeast Texas has risen to at least 50.

In Beaumont, Texas, that's northeast of Houston near the Louisiana border, the situation there is still grim. And getting even worse. The city of 118,000 is now in its third day without running water. And thousands there still don't have power. Workers are hoping to restore the water today if the river levels drop enough.

Let's bring in White House correspondent, Athena Jones. She has been traveling with the President, is joining us now from Houston.

Athena, we saw President Trump there, hugging evacuees, kissing children. He and the first lady then were serving meals at a shelter. We saw them at a distribution site helping with the water and the need there. How is he being received?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, the first shelter that he went to, the NRG Stadium, housing several hundred -- I think about 1,700 people right now. There were a lot of smiles on the faces certainly on the children, but also of the adults as the President came in.

This was a surprise, of course. The White House doesn't announce where he's going to go. They say he's going to a shelter, but they don't say which one. So he walked in and caught a lot of folks by surprise. You saw him kissing and hugging children, posing for selfies. You saw he and the first lady then handing out food supplies, a meal of hot dogs and chips, we're told.

He also spoke briefly with the press. Here's some of what he had to say there at NRG Stadium.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: A lot of water. But it's moving out. But I think most importantly the governor, the relationship with the governor and the mayor and everybody has been fantastic. And with the federal government it's been really great.

And we're signing a lot of documents now to get money. $7.9 billion. We signed it. And now it's going through a very quick -- hopefully quick process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: And we heard the President talk again about the hopes that Congress will approve that first tranche of aid, much needed aid for the people of this region next -- as soon as they come back next week.

[00:05:03] The hope is that there could be a vote as soon as next week, at least in one of the chambers of Congress, perhaps both of them.

We heard him mention that, at that second stop that he went to, that distribution center, a church, I should say, that's acting as a distribution center, we've also seen him helping dole out supplies there, unloading some boxes, and telling the volunteers that they're doing a great job.

I should note that we talked before about how the President's first trip to Texas on Tuesday, he wasn't able to meet directly with storm victims. He instead met with state and local officials. He toured an emergency operations center. But the White House said they wanted him to avoid the hardest hit areas so as not to divert resources that could be used to help search-and-rescue efforts. They didn't want to divert those resources to protecting the President and planning his trip.

Well now, he's been able to come here and talk to these victims firsthand. And we know from the pool of reporters who are traveling closely with the President, who were on Air Force One, that they were able to see some of the flooded areas as they came to land in Ellington Field at about 10,000 feet. We saw several pictures of what the President would have seen from the windows of Air Force One. He spoke about that briefly as well at NRG Stadium.

And we're also learning that between that shelter at NRG Stadium and this church, where the President has been doling out boxes of supplies, the motorcade passed more devastation. So he would have seen the debris in the streets outside of homes. Pool reporters describe couches and wood panels and rugs as people begin to rebuild or to tear down so that they can then rebuild.

And, Ana, these are the kinds of pictures people want to see from a president in a tragedy like this. And he has now been interacting directly with people in a way that he didn't do over this week.

CABRERA: Yes. And I'm taken by some of the images that we're seeing, as we're talking here, Athena, with him sitting by a table full of toys and talking directly with the children there. I'm curious how much of this, do you think is choreographed? We know that he's a little behind schedule. The schedule they put out, he was supposed to be departing for Louisiana by now, but we saw him just moments ago there, still on the ground in Texas. Are some of these interactions spontaneous or is all of this planned in advance?

JONES: Well, on some level, it's planned because they have to decide where they're going to have him go and who they're going to have him try to interact with. But he's just playing the role that you would -- you often would expect from a politician, interacting with the people that he encounters.

But it's very clear the White House is sensitive to this idea that some of the President's critics earlier this week said that he didn't -- he hasn't shown a lot of empathy for the storm victims.

And so we saw Vice President Pence, just a couple days ago, fill that role pretty easily, that role of consoler and comforter. We saw him hugging a lot of people. We saw him clearing debris. We saw him praying with his wife and Texas Governor Greg Abbott over the storm victims. And so people were saying that's what we'd like to see from President Trump. Well, now we're seeing more of that on these several stops today.

And you mention, yes, he has several more things on his agenda. He is supposed to meet -- or was supposed to meet earlier with storm victims there at Ellington Field soon after landing. That was changed to afterwards. So he's expected to possibly meet with more storm victims at Ellington Field, also meet with the Texas delegation, then fly onto Louisiana to meet with victims there and volunteers there.

So they're really packing it in in terms of all of these stops. And I think it's part of the White House wanting to show continued engagement, which he really has shown all along, but this time, on this particular day, on a more personal level.

CABRERA: All right, Athena Jones reporting in Houston with the President. Thank you so much, Athena. Of course, we'll continue to monitor the President's visit to the storm-ravaged area. We'll bring you more live images as we're able to.

Let's talk more about President Trump's second chance to act as Comforter-in-Chief. Joining us, CNN political commentator, Symone Sanders, she is the former press secretary for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, and also with us CNN political commentator, Scott Jennings, who served as a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.

So, Scott, I want to begin with you, because you started working in the Bush White House about two months or so after Hurricane Katrina. President Bush, we all know, is heavily criticized for his initial response to that disaster. How is President Trump doing today compared to what we saw Tuesday?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he's off to a great start. I think the President has done a good job, from the response mechanism that his government is coordinating between state, federal and local. I think he's doing a great job today. These images we're seeing today, as the reporter said, is exactly what you'd expect to see out of a president who is often called on to be Comforter-in-Chief.

There's really two parts to managing these disasters. There's the initial response, but then there's the ongoing rebuilding effort. And what we're seeing in Houston right now is we're going to have years of rebuilding. It's going to cost billions and billions of dollars and take years and years of effort. And so the President will be judged on what he does in the short term, which I think he's off to a great start. But then all of Washington will be judged on what happens over the next several years as we try to pull this city back together.

CABRERA: Such a good point. We cannot overstate the fact that this is really the beginning of the recovery process.

[00:10:05] Symone, let's put optics aside, what the images are telling us today. Listen to what the state's Republican governor has said about what President Trump is actually doing to help that state.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[15:10:13] GREG ABBOTT, (R), TEXAS GOVERNOR: From the President to the Vice President, to the entire Cabinet, there's been one of both compassion from their very heart, by the way, that they've been moved to see the devastation, but also there's been a deep commitment to ensure that they will do all they can to help rebuild Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABRERA: So the President has promised to give this state everything it needs to recover. He's meeting personally with victims today. Is he doing exactly what a president should be doing?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, look, I think in going there today and working effectively with the state and local government, yes, President Trump is doing what he should be doing. But I think he also has come off, one, a little bit disconnected. And, two, there are some wider reaching implications.

And so two weeks ago, President Trump signed an executive order that reversed an Obama-era EPA regulation that said every piece of public infrastructure project, whether it's hospitals or housing, has to be built a few feet above the 100-year floodplain. That will make -- that will ensure or reduce the risk of flooding.

If you are really interested in preventing things like Houston from happening again -- remember this is the third 500-year flood in Houston in the last three years -- it is really, really important that regulations such as those that the EPA is actively involved, that President Trump and his administration understand the wider-reaching implications, which are -- which, again, will take time rebuilding down the road, but there are things that this administration can do right now that I don't think they necessarily understand the ramifications of, and I don't think they're doing it. CABRERA: Scott, do you agree with that in terms of some of the

actions that he has taken in the past? Do you think he'll have second thoughts on that rollback of that one regulation or the money that he had redirected from FEMA to go toward building the border wall?

JENNINGS: Look, I think that only a liberal Democrat could come in and tell us that EPA and government regulations could prevent an epic hurricane like what we just saw come ashore. I mean, that's sort of a nonsense talk. I just think that what is important right now is that we save lives, that we get this city back on its feet. And then all of Washington, led by the President, focus on rebuilding.

Again, what happened after Katrina is really important. It took years and years and years of money and rebuilding effort coordinated between the federal and state government to get that city back on its feet. And it really was a bipartisan effort. I think really the time for partisan attacks is not today. I think we've got to all come together as Americans.

SANDERS: But, Ana, I want to be clear --

JENNINGS: I think the President is leading us in that effort right now.

SANDERS: I want to be clear that I'm not making a partisan attack. What I'm saying is actual and factual. Rebuilding is going to be really, really important. Bipartisanship in this effort is going to be really important. And it is vital that people understand that what happened in Houston, what happened in Katrina, what is currently happening all across the world, there are floods in Southeast Asia right now, in Nigeria, these things are not once-in-a-lifetime happenings. These things are becoming more normal due to the state of our climate, however, you want to call it.

And so because of that, if we talk about rebuilding, we have to talk rebuilding in a way that prevents things such as this from happening again. An easy fix to that is every single public infrastructure project that takes place from now until whenever has to be built above the 100-year floodplain. I don't think that's partisan. I think that's smart. And for folks --

CABRERA: Those ideas and --

SANDERS: Yes, for folks to not -- for folks to automatically see me talking about practical things that the federal government can do to prevent things like this from happening again, taking into account how we plan our cities, to say that that's partisan, I think is a copout.

CABRERA: Well, I think this is just the beginning of a discussion that is sure to continue to happen in the days, weeks and months to come as we do continue to follow the recovery process and the rebuilding process there in Houston and beyond.

Symone Sanders and Scott Jennings, thank you both for joining me.

Coming up, President Trump and the first lady are expected to have more events there in Texas before heading to Louisiana to view the storm damage there. We'll bring all of that to you live, right here on CNN, just ahead.

And also, the Justice Department now weighing in on the Trump claims that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him during his campaign. We have the breaking news when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[00:18:34] CABRERA: President Trump's visit to Texas continues at this hour. Earlier, we showed you him passing out supplies at a shelter. He met families as well. We'll bring you much more of the President's visit as we are able to do so.

Meanwhile, we have some major news out of Washington. The Justice Department revealing it has found no evidence that Trump Tower was ever wiretapped, as the President has alleged in a series of tweets. In an official filing, the DOJ writes this, "Both FBI and NSD confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets."

Among the President's tweets were these accusations, "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism." And this, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad or sick guy."

I want to talk more about this with the man who led the Justice Department under Republican President George W. Bush, former attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez.

Thank you so much, former Attorney General, for being with us.

I know you are just learning this news since as it's breaking at this hour. I just want to get quickly your reaction. How significant is this, the DOJ saying there's no evidence to support President Trump's controversial wiretapping claim?

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't think there are going to be many Americans surprised by this filing by the Department of Justice. I think what happened is President Trump relied upon a source in making these tweets.

[00:20:02] And that source was obviously terribly wrong. So the Department of Justice has confirmed, I think, what most Americans have believed or known to be true for quite a long time. And that is that President Obama did not engage in ordering wiretapping of Trump Tower.

CABRERA: Have you ever seen the DOJ directly contradict a President like this before?

GONZALES: I think if you gave me enough time to think about it there's a strong possibility that that would be true. Again, you know, sometimes statements are made that come out of the White House, sometimes directly by the president of the United States, based upon incomplete or inaccurate information. And it does occur from time to time where there is a correction has made by one of the agencies within the executive branch.

CABRERA: Do you think the President will learn a lesson from this one?

GONZALES: Well, let's hope that he does. I think, obviously, when something like this happens when you make an error and you make a mistake, you make a misstatement, you know, hopefully, you learn from that and try to be a little bit more careful next time.

CABRERA: I want to turn to the Russia investigation. We'll let you get a chance to get more read-in on the other stuff, but there was some other news that is pretty major when it comes to the investigation into the President perhaps obstructing justice, which we've learned is part of the probe that special counsel, Robert Mueller, is doing. Now "The New York Times" is reporting Mueller has a letter the President apparently drafted himself with White House aide, Steven Miller, that explains his reasoning for firing then-FBI Director James Comey.

Now, this letter is different than the letter written by Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein that Trump officially submitted as his explanation for Comey's firing. And the "Times" says that White House counsel, Don McGahn, saw its contents as problematic. What does that tell you?

GONZALES: Well, listen, oftentimes in government and in business, in the private sector, you know, you draft things and you discover later -- as you think about it maybe this is not the best way to say it, that maybe this is not accurate. And it becomes a draft and remains a draft and doesn't go into final form.

I've always suspected that it's more likely than not that President Trump remove James Comey not because that James Comey was leading this investigation into Russia, but because James Comey would not announce publicly that Donald Trump was not the subject of the investigation, even though Mr. Comey had informed the President many times that he was not the subject of the investigation.

I've always suspected that is the reason why Mr. Comey was fired. And apparently, if you take the draft, you know, as being true, that appears to be the reason why the President decided that he should make a change at the FBI.

CABRERA: Just a quick follow, we don't know the contents of this letter, this original letter, apparently, but do you think it will have an impact in the obstruction-of-justice issues that the special counsel's looking into?

GONZALES: Well, I think Bob Mueller is going to be looking at why there were so many different explanations or rationales given publicly for the removal of James Comey. That obviously does raise questions about what was real motivation. So, again, it presents a challenge for the administration in that, I think, it is going to encourage the special counsel to dig deeper into the real motivation behind the removal of Mr. Comey.

CABRERA: I really want to also get your take on this important decision that's upcoming, talking immigration, the President's decision on DACA, which is a program, for our viewers who are maybe less familiar, for young working immigrants known as Dreamers. It temporarily protects them from deportation, it gives them get work permits, let's them go to college. If you have the President's ear -- I'm just getting word the President is speaking right now. Forgive me for interrupting.

Let's listen in real fast.

TRUMP: How many days was it up?

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: That's unbelievable.

Look at this guy. You just became famous.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: You just became famous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's good. That's fine. Let me take my glasses off.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell you what we did, we looked out the window and tried to find the ark to see if it was coming down the street and it didn't come. You guys did.

TRUMP: Thank you.

Thank you all very much. I appreciate it. And it's going to happen. Going to happen very fast. It's already happening.

Thanks. Good luck, everybody.

(CHEERING)

(APPLAUSE)

CABRERA: Again, here we have the President meeting with more survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. We heard briefly that interaction with one of those storm victims there, saying we were waiting for the ark, referring obviously to Noah's Ark. And he was sort of making a joke about it. And he said, it didn't come, but here you are, that's what counts. So showing appreciation for the President making the effort to go there and meet directly with the people.

We'll continue to monitor the President's trip to the storm-ravaged area in Houston, as well as his upcoming visit that is still expected to happen later this afternoon in Louisiana.

[00:25:01] I want to bring back former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and talk about a really important issue affecting millions of people in this country, potentially. Specifically, we're talking about DACA, which affects about 800,000 young undocumented immigrants, again, giving them work permits, letting them go to college.

If you had the President's ear right now on this issue, what would you advise?

GONZALES: Well, there are two key questions to ask. One is, do you believe these individuals, again, that were brought here by their parents through no fault of their own, this is the only home they've ever known? Do you believe these individuals deserve some kind of legal status? And if you don't, then they should be removed from this country. But if you do believe they should receive some kind of legal status, what is the best way to achieve that? From my perspective, I think there is a question as to whether or not President Obama had the authority to do what he did, in terms of providing this program.

A much better route would be to seek legislation through Congress. We've already had Speaker Ryan talk about the fact that he believes these people should remain in this country. And that is fine. But anyone who's in this country, in a post 9/11 world, we need to know who they are, and they need to be here on some kind of legal status. Many of these children present very sympathetic stories. But even refugees we bring from other countries that are persecuted, we bring them over in some kind of legal status.

And so if we're going to keep these children here, if they're going to remain in this country, they need to do so under some kind of legal status. There is a question whether or not the President can bestow that status. And so let's resolve the issue. And if you believe that they are entitled and should receive some kind of legal status, Congress should do it through legislation.

CABRERA: Should the President extend it or end it?

GONZALES: Should the President -- again, it depends on whether or not he believes they should be entitled to legal status and if he's advised that the has --

CABRERA: Right.

GONZALES: -- the legal authority by his counsel and by the attorney general then he may go ahead and do that. But even if he does have that authority, in my judgment, a much better route is to simply work with Congress and pass legislation to make it more permanent.

CABRERA: And that's what we're hearing from Congress as well, even those who agree that these people should be protected or given some kind of temporary status, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Now, one of the reasons there appears to be a deadline this week was because 10 states attorneys general threatened to sue the federal government over DACA, and they asked for action from the administration before September 5th. Now, we've learned one of those AGs, the one from Tennessee, has since changed his mind. Let's say the others move forward with legal action, then what happens? GONZALES: Well, again, it depends on what the White House is going to do. The White House -- the President may pull down the executive order ending the program. If he allows it to continue, to expire on its own, I'm assuming the legislation -- the litigation will continue. However, if Congress takes action, it may rule out the litigation. So a lot is going to depend, again, on what the Congress does. For those people who believe that these individuals are entitled or should receive some kind of legal status, I really am hopeful it's done through legislation.

CABRERA: What do you believe? Should they receive some kind of legal status in your opinion?

GONZALES: In my judgment, yes. They present a very sympathetic story. Again, these are individuals who were brought here through no fault of their own by their parents. This is the only home they've ever known. Many of them, you know, are very, very productive in this country, quite frankly. Now, Congress will have to decide the parameters of who would qualify. For example, you know, it would have to be someone who doesn't have a criminal record, someone that is responsible, people, perhaps, if they go to college. So Congress can work through exactly what qualifications would be -- would have to be met in order to qualify for any kind of legal status.

CABRERA: Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, we really appreciate all your time this afternoon. We hope to have you back to continue our discussion another day. Thanks, again.

GONZALES: Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, more live pictures out of Texas. This is in Beaumont, where residents there have gone days without drinking water. Now, we will go live to a distribution center when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:33:36] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM.