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Flood Victims Return Home; Russia Investigation; Top Kenyan Court Orders New Election; Ordinary People Become Rescue Heroes in Texas. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired September 2, 2017 - 02:00   ET

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


[02:00:00]

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ISHA SESAY, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Harvey's floodwaters are finally receding with the scale of the disaster is still being realized. We'll have the latest from Houston.

Also (INAUDIBLE) another hurricane building in the mid-Atlantic (INAUDIBLE) Caribbean and possibly the U.S. could be in Irma's pathology.

And a draft letter reportedly emerges detailing Donald Trump's reasons for firing former FBI director James Comey. How it could play into the Russia investigation.

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 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 a rapid infusion of emergency funding. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 out 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 Texas Gulf Coast is dotted with dozens of small towns and many of them are now coping with the catastrophic flooding caused by Harvey. But they've been largely overlooked because of all the focus on Houston.

CNN's Martin Savidge reports from one such town which is normally about an hour's drive from Houston.

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MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wharton is marooned. Floodwaters either flow over or sit on top just about every road in and out of this town of 9,000.

It's been like that since Wednesday when the Colorado River and other nearby waterways poured out of their banks flooding 60 percent of the town. How fast did it come up?

MILIO MATA, TEXAS WHARTON FLOOD VICTIM: I would say an hour. An hour from the time it took and everybody was out of there, maybe a little longer but it was quick.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The heart of the town is filled with water so are the neighborhood near by. Folks here are just trying to make do. Richard Brown and his son Alex were out checking on --

[02:05:00]

SAVIDGE (voice-over): -- family and searching for food.

RICHARD BROWN, WHARTON TEXAS FLOOD VICTIM: Most of the staples are out. Milk, bread they just got a shipment that's why we were able to get that. We get lucky. But a lot of the aisles are empty, really picked over. Low on meat, eggs and eggs are gone.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Since we can't get to their home, they gave us video of what it looks like.

BROWN: There's our house. Every square inch of the backyard is submerged.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Groceries and gas are in short supply. The two shelters are filled. Betsy Walker and her husband Robert and their dogs and cats prefer to live out of their truck at parking lot at the junior college.

BESSIE WALKER, FLOOD VICTIM : My husband sleeps in the truck. I have a pallet on the tailgate. I sleep on the tail gate, that's where I sleep, works for me. It's nice, cool and hadn't rained on me.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The couple fled flooding in Houston and came to Wharton to stay with a friend. WALKER: We came from Rosenberg and we were here one day. I got a nice hot bath, dinner, the next morning my husband went to get cigarettes, came back and water is everywhere.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Now they all sit in the shade by the road waiting for the water to go down.

Do you think towns like this are overlooked?

WALKER: Yes, I do. I really do because where is it? Where is FEMA? Where is, you know, you need a place to stay? We'll set up a place for you. Where is it? Because it's not here.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): The Red Cross and the National Guard are here. Still, residents are feeling overwhelmed and overlooked, lost in all of the focus on Houston.

PAULA FAVORS, WHARTO, TEXAS PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER: There's a lot of people even in neighboring towns that aren't even aware that we're still flooded. That we still cannot access parts of our town and that people are still displaced.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Do you feel forgotten, overlooked?

FAVORS: Absolutely. Sometimes you do feel forgotten.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Fortunately, what Wharton has plenty of, is people like Kelsey Polmer. She, too, grew up here and left. But after hearing about flood came racing back to help.

(on camera): You're like a whirlwind. You are.

KEYSEY POLMER, VOLUNTEER: Believe me, I'm trying to like keep up. Like I said I wish I had ten phones and 100 voices to get the word out.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): She's got tents going up and a food truck coming in.

POLMER: Yesterday we fed 400 people. Today we're hoping to feed much more than that.

WALKER: I've never soon such outpouring of help as I have in Wharton.

SAVIDGE (on camera): The good news is the water has begun to recede. However, this town's problems are not likely go away anytime soon. And it's not just Wharton. There are many other small towns just like it struggling just the same way -- Martin Savidge, CNN, Wharton, Texas.

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SESAY: They're going to be battling that water for a long time.

Harvey isn't completely done but there's another named storm brewing in the mid-Atlantic.

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SESAY: All right. We've been seeing the damage from Harvey up close for a week now. But thanks to NASA, we're now seeing the impact of the storm from out in space. Look at these images with me. These images, taken by satellite, showing the Texas coast and Houston, you can see if you look closely the rivers and bays, those have been turned brown now by all that sediment that has been stirred up by the massive storm, so much damage that you can see it from space, thanks to that satellite there.

[02:10:00]

SESAY: We're going to take a quick break now. Coming up, when President Trump decided to fire FBI director James Comey, he purportedly wrote a letter explaining his decision. That letter was never sent. Find out who has it now -- next.

Plus Kenyans went to the polls less than a month ago to vote for president. Why they have to go back within 60 days to do it all over again. We'll have the details.

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SESAY: Hello, everyone. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Los Angeles. And parts of the Los Angeles Metro area are under mandatory evacuation order because of a growing wildfire. You are looking at these incredible frightening live pictures.

This fire broke out Friday afternoon and is now consumed more than 800 hectares. Officials say it only 10 percent contained. They've got about 260 firefighters out there, batting the blaze. The mandatory evacuation order was for Brace (ph) Canyon Park, an area of Burbank. People there are asked to leave immediately and head to an evacuation shelter.

Now the firefighters in that area that was evacuated or is being evacuated, they're now performing structure defense operations in an attempt to protect these homes from the approaching flames.

As you see, this fire is blowing wildly. It started as quite as more a small fire conflagration, if you will, but the winds shifted and with these shifting winds this fire grew and it has now spread, as we say, and consumed more than 800 hectares and they've close parts of the 210 Freeway.

They expect that that area that stretches, the freeway still to be closed on Saturday morning as they fight to get these flames under control. But right now as a precautionary measure, residents living in areas that could be affected by these flames have been ordered to leave immediately. There is now a mandatory evacuation underway for Brace (ph) Canyon Park, an area Burbank and the L.A. Metro area. CNN will stay on top of the story for you so. So stay with us for the latest details.

All right. Moving on, CNN has learned one of President Trump's closest aides plans to leave the White House 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 --

[02:15:00]

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): -- 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

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SESAY: Well, in an unprecedented move Kenya's top court is throwing out the results of last month's presidential election and ordered a new vote within 60 days. Our Farai Sevenzo explains how the court made its decision.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The decision 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, struggled to maintain his composure in the face of --

[02:20:00]

SEVENZO (voice-over): -- 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: A new vote within 60 days. We'll see what happens next.

Time for a quick break now. In a huge emergency, a host of non- professionals fill critical gaps. Ahead, Hurricane Harvey's citizen heroes.

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SESAY: Hello, everyone.

Over the past week, we've seen it over and over again, people stepping up to rescue neighbors, strangers and animals from Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters. At times, they risk their own safety to do it. Randi Kaye brings us some of the stories of the heroes of the storm.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to try to save some lives.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ordinary people answering the call, now heroes of Hurricane Harvey. This man and his wife called a fast food chain for help after their home flooded.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called Chick-fil-a. Now that sounds kind of funny but I ordered two grilled chicken burritos with extra egg and a boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was such a blessing that, in that exact moment, I was there to answer the phone and get him help.

KAYE (voice-over): The quick-thinking manager arranged for a boat to go get them. The boat also had a jet ski in tow. Problem solved. Strangers came together to rescue an elderly man trapped in his car as

he was being swept away by the floodwaters. The group quickly formed a human chain, stretching from dry land to the man's car.

[02:25:00]

KAYE (voice-over): The car was sinking fast but rescuers were able to get the driver's door open and pull the man to safety. He was taken to a local hospital and reunited with his son.

Monster truck owners also answered the call. The self-proclaimed Redneck Army used their trucks to rescue people from the floodwaters, from an elderly woman in a wheelchair to this submerged military vehicle.

Truck driver Nick Sheridan drove more than 200 miles in his big rig to help rescue those stranded in floodwaters. The military veteran told ABC his team of three big rig drivers rescued more than 1,000 people.

Members of the Cajun Navy, a volunteer rescue group that formed after Hurricane Katrina, saved a 73-year-old woman who had been lying face down in the floodwaters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seriously thought it was a trash bag. As we got closer and the current pulled it closer to our boat, we realized it was a body. And instantly Donnie (ph) jumped from the vessel, brought her up out of the water.

KAYE (voice-over): Joshua Lincoln and two others got her breathing again and reunited her with her family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good boy. Good boy. You getting to go home? You ready to go home?

KAYE (voice-over): Rowdy Shaw (ph) from the Humane Society of the United States was a hero to this dog and many others abandoned in the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that good?

Good, are you hungry?

KAYE (voice-over): Countless citizens opened their businesses and homes to evacuees seeking shelter, including furniture store owner Jim McIngvale. His stores fleet of trucks picked up more than 200 people and offered his mattresses to evacuees and rescue workers in desperate need of rest.

JIM MCINGVALE, MATTRESS STORE OWNER: We're trying to help as many people as I can.

KAYE (voice-over): And since every hero works best on a full belly, one generous resident did his part to keep them from going hungry. He delivered cooked chicken drumsticks to soldiers from the Army National Guard, like this woman and to others helping evacuate neighborhoods.

Already too many heroes to name and the acts of kindness continue -- Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESAY: Well, thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Isha Sesay. I'll be back with the headlines in just a moment.