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Harvey's Devastating Hit; Russia Investigation; Top Kenyan Court Orders New Election; North Korea Tensions; Katrina Victim Reunites with Her Rescuer. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired September 2, 2017 - 00:00   ET

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


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ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Harvey floodwaters are finally receding but the scale of the disaster is still being realized.

Also reports of the special counsel investigating potential ties between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia is looking at a draft letter that lays out in detail the reasons for firing former FBI director James Comey, an angry draft the White House lawyer terms problematic.

Plus Kenya's supreme court throws out last month's presidential election result and orders a new vote. We will have the latest from Nairobi.

Hello, everyone, thank you for joining us. I'm Isha Sesay in Los Angeles. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

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SESAY: One week after making landfall on the Texas Gulf Coast, floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey are beginning to recede but the death toll that has risen to 50. A huge fire broke out for a second day at a crippled chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, after the storm knocked out the plant's cooling systems.

The company says more containers of volatile chemicals are likely to explode as they heat up. The Environmental Protection Agency says it has detected no high levels of toxins in the air.

Houston's mayor is seeking millions of dollars in aid. He says hauling away storm debris alone will cost tens of millions of dollars. On Friday, the Trump administration asked Congress for $7.85 billion in federal aid.

President Donald Trump will make a second trip to the area Saturday.

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DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When one American suffers and I say this quite a bit especially lately, when you see what's going, we all suffer. We're one American family brought together in times of tragedy by the unbreakable bonds of love and loyalty that we have for another.

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SESAY: Harvey's impact is being felt far from the Gulf Coast like this scene that you're looking at north of Dallas. Long lines of cars have been turning up at gas stations after social media warned of fuel shortages.

The government said there is no cause for alarm.

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GREG ABBOTT, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: There's plenty of fuel, plenty of gasoline in the United States of America. There's plenty of gasoline in the state of Texas. All that said, we are ensuring an even greater supply of gasoline so we can tamp down any concern about accessibility.

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SESAY: CNN correspondents are spread across the disaster zone to bring you the very latest information. We get more now from Brian Todd.

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BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd in Beaumont, Texas. There are indications now that the crisis in Southeast Texas is not over. In Crosby, Texas, the site of a chemical plant run by a company called Arkema Inc., massive fires broke out on Friday in trailers where chemicals were being stored.

These were deadly and toxic peroxide chemicals, organic peroxide, and they were stored in trailers that caught fire on Friday. Officials at Arkema Inc. expected this to happen. They knew that these trailers would catch fire. They said that there are going to be more trailers, maybe as many as six that will catch fire in the coming days.

That's because the peroxide chemicals that they store there and that they work with have not been cooled in days. They had severe flooding in the plant which shut down the cooling systems. But they do say that so far there's no danger to the public.

The EPA said they flew a plane through there to monitor airborne toxins. There's no dangerous toxic material in the air, at least at this point. But they'll be monitoring that in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, here in Beaumont, at the water treatment plant behind me, engineers are working furiously to get the water supply in Beaumont back online. They've been without water for a couple of days now.

And they brought in engineers from Exxon and other companies to try to get water pumped from the Natchez River into the treatment plant here and back out to the people in Beaumont, Texas. About 120,000 people have been without water -- Brian Todd, CNN, Beaumont, Texas.

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SESAY: The retreating floodwaters are leaving behind thousands of severely damaged home that cannot be lived in. For some of those flood victims being airlifted to another city is their best option of finding shelter.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has our report.

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GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an emergency airlift. Hurricane victims who've lost their homes, their belongings, everything, bused to a tarmac at the airport that serves Port Arthur and Beaumont.

Getting ready for flight on a C-130 to Dallas where they'll receive shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you nervous about going on this plane?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll be OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish you luck.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): For evacuees originally arrived to the airport to the hurricane zone, hearing there was a temporary shelter here. Indeed, there is, generous volunteers helping out --

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TUCHMAN (voice-over): -- supplying food, clothing and medicine. But it's hot inside.

So the evacuees stay in air-conditioned buses while they wait for a spot on a plane. Phyllis Skillman's (ph) home was destroyed in Port Arthur.

TUCHMAN: How do you feel that you're leaving and you're aboard this bus and you're going to a new city?

PHYLLIS SKILLMAN (PH), TEXAS EVACUEE: I'm crying (ph), crying because I have never ridden -- I lived in Port Arthur all my life but I never experienced nothing like this. I never seen water flood like this.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Shalanda Salmon (ph) said her family lost their home, too.

SHALANDA SALMON (PH), TEXAS EVACUEE: (INAUDIBLE) first time flying on an airplane. But otherwise, I'm (INAUDIBLE).

TUCHMAN (voice-over): They wait for hours but finally board their flights sitting side-by-side in the same planes that send American troops into battle.

Don and Emma Colbert (ph), who lost their home, were still waiting for their flight when we talked to them

EMMA COLBERT (PH), TEXAS EVACUEE: We feel lucky, you know. I went through stage IV breast cancer not too long ago in '15. And my scans come back good all the time. So...

TUCHMAN: So this isn't that much of a problem?

EMMA COLBERT (PH): Yes.

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EMMA COLBERT (PH): And my husband just broke his hip, so we're just like, yes, you know.

TUCHMAN: You both have remarkable attitudes.

EMMA COLBERT (PH): Yes.

DON COLBERT, TEXAS EVACUEE (PH): Well, you don't -- I -- that's all you can do, if you get down, you're not helping yourself or anybody around you.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): The Colberts (ph) and hundreds of others who waited on the buses now starting over in Dallas -- Gary Tuchman, CNN, Midraland (ph), Texas.

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SESAY: The people of Texas are going through so much.

Harvey isn't completely done but there is another named storm brewing in the South Atlantic. Meteorologist Karen Maginnis joins us with the latest on that.

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SESAY: Coming up after a quick break, special counsel Robert Mueller may have new evidence in his investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Details next.

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SESAY: Hello, everyone. CNN has learned one of President Trump's closest aides plans to leave the White House.

Multiple sources tell CNN that Keith Shiller (ph), the director of Oval Office operations, intends to depart at the end of this month or the beginning of October. He reportedly cites financial concerns as his primary reason.

Shiller (ph), a former New York police detective, has known and worked with President Trump as his bodyguard for years.

"The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller is now reviewing a draft of a letter written by President Trump and a top aide.

That letter lays out the president's reasons for firing former FBI director James Comey. More now from CNN Justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider.

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JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Special counsel Robert Mueller has new details about the real reason President Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

"The New York Times" reports the Justice Department handed over a letter President Trump and top political aide Stephen Miller drafted to Comey but never sent, in which the president explains his rationale for the firing. The details of that letter have not been disclosed.

"The Washington Post" reports it was a multi-page letter that detailed Trump's frustration with Comey's unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personality under investigation as part of the Russia probe.

"The Times" says White House counsel Don McGann opposed sending the letter and ultimately a different one, written by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, was sent. The Rosenstein memo faulted the former FBI chief for his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. The White House wouldn't confirm the existence of President Trump's letter but says his lawyers are working with Mueller.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To the extent the special prosecutor is interested in these matters, we will be fully transparent with his investigation. And, frankly, I don't have anything to add beyond that.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The letter disclosing President Trump's true intentions comes as the president's lawyers are making the case to Mueller in meetings and memos that the president did not obstruct justice when he fired FBI director Comey in May.

A source familiar with the memos says the legal team lays out the president's constitutional right to fire for any reason and argues that Comey's questionable credibility prompted the firing.

But it was the president himself who admitted to NBC that he fired Comey in part because of the Russia investigation.

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TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

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SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Mueller's team is also coordinating with New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman. Schneiderman launched an investigation into Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort this summer, delving into Manafort's financial transactions.

Since the president cannot pardon state crimes, any threat of prosecution from Schneiderman could prompt Manafort to cooperate in Mueller's broader Russia investigation.

Meanwhile California congressman Dana Rohrabacher is insisting Julian Assange and WikiLeaks were not behind the WikiLeaks of hacked Democratic National Committee emails last year.

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REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R): I think what we have here, it's really important for the truth to be known.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Rohrabacher met with Assange in August at the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where Assange was granted asylum. Sources say the Senate Intelligence Committee is now considering calling on Rohrabacher to talk about the meeting while Rohrabacher is promising to brief the president on the details Assange disclosed.

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ROHRABACHER: And I understand that a meeting with myself and the president is being arranged. So at that --- the Americans -- but it's a purpose is to alert the American people to the truth.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): And the Russian American lobbyist, who was inside that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, which included Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer among others, is telling his story.

The "Financial Times" reports Rinat Akhmetshin testified before a grand jury. Special counsel Mueller is using an August 11th. Donald Jr. took the meeting when he was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump Jr. has agreed to sit down with the Senate Judiciary Committee for a transcribed interview behind closed doors as the investigators dig into the June 2016 meeting.

Senators have told CNN they expect him to appear as soon as this month. It is still unclear, though, if Don Jr. will eventually testify publicly. But committee leaders do say an open --

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SCHNEIDER: -- session is still on the table -- Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

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SESAY: I want to bring in political analyst, Peter Matthews, who's here in Los Angeles. He's also a professor of political science at Cypress College (ph).

Peter, always great to have you with us. Lots to get to. Let's start with the headline from Jessica's report about that unsent letter. Talk to me about the significance here as you see it.

I mean, how important is this, the special counsel Mueller's task, of establishing whether there was an effort to obstruct justice by the president?

PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: It's extremely important because it's physical evidence. Letter's a physical piece of paper or whatever it is with writing on it; whereas when Trump went on air with Lester Holt and verbally said that partially the reason was that he fired Comey was because of the Russia thing, that's not as good as the letter.

So the letter's very significant and I'm sure Mueller's going to make good use of that in the prosecution and eventually when charges are brought up or the Senate -- the House decides to put forth articles of impeachment, this will be part of it as an obstruction of justice charges. So the letter gives credence to that type of a charge much more than (INAUDIBLE).

SESAY: All right. We'll see how that one develops and if any more details emerge.

On Friday the administration asked Congress for almost $8 billion as part of an initial request for funds in response to Hurricane Harvey. Right now those funds, Peter, are not tied to any proposal to increase the federal debt limit, which as you know is extremely controversial.

But that need to happen in the next couple of weeks to stave off a series of problems.

Is tying disaster aid to the debt ceiling the key to preventing an impasse on this debt ceiling issue?

MATTHEWS: Absolutely. That's probably the best that could come -- it's a horrible thing to have this hurricane and the disaster relief needed. But it actually has helped to possibly salvage a debt ceiling crisis because, don't forget, they had a debt ceiling crisis before this and it lasted for weeks and it really sent the markets ablaze and it was really bad for the economy, for economic outlook.

So, yes, in this case, the debt ceiling increase will be tied to aid to the hurricane victims. I think it'll pass. That's the only way that some of the Tea Party members don't want it tied to it.

But the majority of people, both Democrats and Republicans, will vote for it when it's tied together. And I think that's a good thing.

SESAY: Yes. And before I let you go, I want to bring up the fact that the president heads back to Texas on Saturday, which could be seen as a change for a do-over. As you know, he came in for criticism for not meeting any survivors or survey the damage first-hand.

What are your expectations for the second trip?

Can he step up to be consoler in chief?

MATTHEWS: I'm really hoping so because the people there in Texas and the country as a whole need someone at the top of the helm that will show compassion and show outreach and sustaining -- a sustenance of our American people are suffrage and for vice president Trump (ph) did a very good job -- Vice President Pence did an excellent job with that the other day when he was in Texas. And so did Ms. Pence, when she led a circle of prayer. That was very touching for the country to see.

And President Trump has to bring forth his emotion, allow his -- let his emotions flow, especially with compassion for the people that are suffering and (INAUDIBLE) a human side to him as well. And that'll help him a lot.

I hope he can do it. But he has to do it natural, not in a forced way.

SESAY: Yes, that's the key, has to be natural, it has to seem unforced.

MATTHEWS: It has to be generation.

SESAY: Peter Matthews, always good to speak to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, Isha, appreciate it.

SESAY: Now in a move that is believed to be unprecedented in African politics, Kenya's top court has nullified results of the presidential election last month and is ordering a rerun within 60 days. Our Farai Sevenzo reports.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A declaration is hereby issued that the presidential election held on the 8th (INAUDIBLE) 17 (ph) was not conducted in accordance with the constitution and the applicable law rendering the declared results invalid, null and void.

FARAI SEVENZO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The moment a Kenyan supreme court judge halted the country's political affairs, the high court ordering the country to hold another presidential election, opposition candidate and former prime minister Raila Odinga, who had been trying (INAUDIBLE) process for so long, was jubilant at the court's decision.

RAILA ODINGA, FORMER KENYAN PRIME MINISTER: This is a very historic day for the people of Kenya and, by extension, the people on the continent of Africa. For the first time in history, a ruling of African democratization, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying the irregular elections of a president. This is a precedent-setting ruling and very historical.

SEVENZO (voice-over): While the current president, Uhuru Kenyatta --

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SEVENZO (voice-over): -- struggled to maintain his composure in the face of this massive setback.

UHURU KENYATTA, PRESIDENT OF KENYA: I personally disagree with the ruling that has been made today. But I respect it. As much as I disagree with it, I respect it. I disagree with it because, as I have said, millions of Kenyans queued, made their choice. And six people have decided that they will go against the will of the people.

SEVENZO (voice-over): The decision to annul the election was actually divided, 4-2. However, the majority ruled.

Meanwhile in the streets in Mr. Odinga's strongholds of Kisumu and the crowded and poor neighborhoods of Nairobi like Kibera, celebration erupted. The decision by Kenyatta's supreme court was most clearly felt in areas like this, Olympic, in the center of Kibera, the most massive, sprawling slum in all of Nairobi and, indeed, one of the largest in Africa.

The court ruled Friday the country must recast their vote for a president in the next 60 days. They court did not blame President Kenyatta for the irregularities in August's election but laid the blame at the foot of the independent electoral and boundaries commission, saying the IEBC failed, neglected or refused to conduct the election in accordance with the Kenyan constitution.

The court has not yet published its full ruling. But the head of Kenya's electoral commission, Afulu Chebukate (ph), suggested that the discrepancy between the electronic results and the manual count was the basis for Friday's announcement.

The election process in August had been praised as free and fair by most election observers, from John Kerry of The Carter Foundation, to the African Union to the European Union. Now as voters head back to the polls, these two long-term rivals are once again center stage of Kenya's ongoing political drama -- Farai Sevenzo, CNN, Nairobi.

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SESAY: A remarkable moment indeed in African politics.

The U.S. and South Korea are vowing to keep up economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang to curtail its missile and nuclear ambitions.

The White House says U.S. President Trump spoke with South Korean president Moon Jae-in on Friday. They also discussed the sale of billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment to Seoul. The call between the allies came days after the North fired a missile over Japan. North Korean state media signaled the U.S. must now accept its nuclear program and back off; otherwise, Pyongyang could, quote, "rapidly increase its striking capabilities."

A quick break now and Hurricane Harvey stirred memories of Katrina and one survivor of both storms is finally able to thank the man who saved her 12 years ago.

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SESAY: The impact of Hurricane Harvey has drawn a lot of comparisons to what New Orleans went through with Hurricane Katrina. When that storm hit in 2005, General Russel Honore oversaw the military's disaster response.

For one woman who has survived both hurricanes, his leadership got personal.

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ALEXANDRA WHEELER, KATRINA SURVIVOR: I really owe this man my life because the things he did for my children --

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nearly a week after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 --

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ELAM (voice-over): -- Alexandra Wheeler was at the end of her rope.

WHEELER: We hadn't eaten in maybe six days.

I ran out of formula and food for them. So they were really hanging on by a thread.

ELAM (voice-over): After the levee broke, flooding her neighborhood, Wheeler waded through the water with her 6.5-month-old twin boys.

WHEELER: I had one in a carrier in the front and one in back.

ELAM (voice-over): At one point, something in the murky water caught her foot.

WHEELER: It was two bodies collided like this. Their arms were stretched out. They were full of water and they raised up to the top from me lifting my leg up.

ELAM (voice-over): By the time Wheeler made it to the convention center, she and her boys were starving, dehydrated and exhausted. That's when she first heard his voice.

GEN. RUSSEL HONORE: Put those weapons down, damn it.

ELAM (voice-over): Unarmed, Wheeler and a group had been stopped by the military.

WHEELER: We're like, we're the victims.

What are you pulling guns on us for?

ELAM (voice-over): Then she saw the three-star commander who ordered the guns lowered. Gen. Russel Honore, the man who led the military response after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, is also the man Wheeler credits with saving their lives.

It's a moment CNN captured as it happened. The general personally coming to Wheeler's aid.

ELAM: What do you think would have happened if you did not (INAUDIBLE) the general?

WHEELER: We would have died. We would have -- it's no question. We would have died.

ELAM (voice-over): Almost 12 years later to the day, Wheeler and her boys rode out Hurricane Harvey in Houston, the city that became their home after Katrina. While the water came close to their apartment, the family fared much better in Harvey.

And after years of trying to get in touch with the general.

HONORE: I understand there's some Who Dat boys over here.

Who dat?

ELAM (voice-over): Finally the opportunity to thank the man in uniform who had shown them such compassion.

And for the general chance to see how those tiny babies, who were once so close to death, are now thriving.

HONORE: Boy, you guys grew up in 12 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you (INAUDIBLE).

HONORE: Well, God bless you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for saving our lives and our mom's life.

HONORE: All right. God bless you.

ELAM (voice-over): A bond forged in devastation, unbroken by the passing of time -- Stephanie Elam, CNN, Houston.

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SESAY: that's a beautiful reunion. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isha Sesay. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.