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Florida Braces for Monster Hurricane; Extremely Dangerous Core of Irma Nearing Puerto Rico; Trump: 'No Second Thoughts' on DACA Decision; Nunes Threatens Sessions with Contempt Over Trump Dossier; Trump Deal with Dems. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 6, 2017 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news. Extremely dangerous. The latest forecast is just coming in for Hurricane Irma. The Category 5 monster is smashing through small Caribbean islands, lashing Puerto Rico and aiming for the United States.

[17:00:20] Widespread evacuations. Tens of millions may be in the path of the storm, and evacuations are already underway in Florida, including low-lying areas of the greater Miami area, which alone has some 6 million people. Could a mass evacuation lead to gridlock?

Dealing with Democrats. President Trump bucks his own party and strikes a deal with Democrats to ensure passage of disaster relief funding along with short-term debt ceiling increase and spending measures. GOP leaders say they were blindsided.

And closed-door testimony. With Congress back in session, the Russia investigations are clearly picking up steam. Donald Trump Jr. will go behind closed doors at the Senate Judiciary Committee as former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice sits down with the House Intelligence Committee.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: The breaking news, the latest forecast is just coming in for Hurricane Irma, now hammering the Caribbean with winds of 185 miles an hour, one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever. It's on a path to wreak havoc in Florida and potentially up the coast. Depending on Irma's track in the days ahead, tens of millions of people could be in harm's way. South Carolina and Georgia have followed Florida in declaring emergencies.

The storm is now lashing Puerto Rico after battering a cluster of small Caribbean islands. Officials on the island of St. Martin say the four strongest government buildings there were destroyed. The concern is that similar scenes could play out in Florida, where mandatory evacuations have begun and more are expected. The governor is activating the National Guard and calling for volunteers.

After the House today approved the nearly $8 billion initial disaster relief package in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, President Trump is siding with Democrats on a deal to provide disaster relief, raise the debt ceiling for three months, and pass a short-term spending bill.

The president says he has no second thoughts about his decision to end protections for nearly 800,000 young immigrants who came to the United States as children. But he's confounded nearly everyone by saying that if Congress can't fix the program in six months, he'll, quote, "revisit the issue."

I'll speak with FEMA administrator Brock Long. He's standing by live. And our correspondents, specialists and guests are also standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's start with the breaking news. A new forecast is just in for Hurricane Irma. Let's go to our meteorologist Tom Sater at the Severe Weather Center. So what is the latest, Tom?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're actually not seeing much of a change from the National Hurricane Center, Wolf. When it comes from their track from this morning, any difference from this afternoon? No, not much. It still wants to place it right into around Miami and on the east coast of Florida.

Let's talk about it. We're running out of adjectives to describe the staying power of this massive storm. Irma is now the strongest hurricane to ever plow into the Leeward Islands. Yesterday, we mentioned only Hurricane Allen from 1980 was stronger in recorded history by the Atlantic, by 5 miles an hour.

Irma today, however, has surpassed Allen by continuing to churn for over 24 hours with winds above 180. Allen never did that.

We are going to get in closer now and take a look at this massive eye that was 23 miles in diameter. Yesterday, expected it to swallow up Barbuda, St. Martin, Anguilla. Communication is out. Power is out. Until the back edge slides through these islands, aircraft will not be able to get up to assess the damage from above.

I'm sure civil emergency management crews are on the ground, trying to assess the damage, but we have had no contact.

The system is moving at 16 miles per hour. Remember, Harvey only moved at 2 or 3. We could outwalk it. But on Barbuda, if you look at the winds, gusts, 118, 27, 131, 151, 154, 155, and then the instrument broke. That's how massive the storm is.

Four to six-foot storm surge on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The center is now 55 miles from San Juan. Hurricane-force winds are spreading across the island.

So again, heavy amounts of rain mainly in the mountainous areas. Could cause, obviously, some landslides, flash flooding and a concern on the coastline.

Warnings now into Turk and Caicos. They're expecting a storm surge of 20 to 25 feet, because they're going to be in the north and northeastern quadrant. That's where the winds, and those winds are going to be a little stronger in those surf waves as they crash into that area.

[17:05:03] Here is the change. Now, from last night until this morning, the National Hurricane Center shifted their center -- notice where we have our little Category 4 in southern Florida -- shifted about 60 to 70 miles eastward. They have left the cone of uncertainty stretching west. It gives us that window if the system decides to edge that direction.

But they also have extended that cone of uncertainty further eastward, which may now tell us if it's continuing to trend eastward. Maybe we're looking at a landfall either on -- of Miami, along the east coast of Florida, or into the Carolinas.

Let's break it down a little closer for you. Look at these spaghetti plots. Another change is this. Yesterday, more of the models moved in to Cuba. The higher terrain with the mountains over 6,000 meters would shred the system down and maybe break it down to a Category 2. Most of the models do not interact with Cuba now. So it sustains its strength over the very warm waters.

Still, sometime Saturday, a turn to the north. And now with that shift eastward, it looks like Monroe County, Miami-Dade, right on Miami, maybe even making its way along the coast, possibly back over water around Cape Canaveral, slides into Savannah, Georgia.

If I show you quickly what the models are doing, again, let's just go ahead and pull up the U.S. and the European. They're on top of each other right now. Let's put this into motion. You're going to see no interaction with Cuba. Here is landfall near Miami. It continues to make its way northward. Both models carry it back over water and then into Georgia and the Carolinas.

We've got an interesting situation right now we're setting up, because we now have Jose back behind the system as a hurricane and another one. But just to remind you of what Matthew did along the coastline, $15 billion in economic losses, and that was just off the coast. Guess what? Katia just became a hurricane. In the southern Gulf of Mexico, we have three. It has not happened since 2010 when we had Karl, Julia and Igor, I believe it was. But Jose may become a major category, follow suit and come very close to those northern islands, again, of the Lesser Antilles before turning northward. This is getting crazy, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And it's so very, very dangerous. Tom, I want you to stand by.

Hurricane Irma is already carving a path of destruction across the Caribbean. Our Brian Todd is in THE SITUATION ROOM, monitoring the storm's impact for us and what may lie ahead.

Brian, what's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's a path of destruction that at this hour has struck more than 300 miles and, of course, it is growing. The storm is hitting near Puerto Rico now. And in the places where it's just past, people are describing walls shaking and say they had to take shelter in bathrooms just to survive.


TODD (voice-over): On the Caribbean island of St. Martin, wind and rain so powerful, it's difficult to see through it. Hurricane Irma pounds this home in the British Virgin Island as the people inside try to ride it out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is it. I hope this is it.

TODD (voice-over): One oceanfront hotel in St. Martin--


TODD: -- flooded right through the courtyard this morning. Officials say the island of Barbuda is so badly damaged, it lost all communication with its neighbor island, Antigua.

This video from a cockpit shows the eye as hurricane hunters from NOAA fly directly into the storm. With maximum sustained winds of 185 miles an hour, Irma is tonight the strongest storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is intense.

TODD: Forecasters predicting rainfall of up to 20 inches, and storm surge could reach as high as 20 feet in some places.

Wind and rain started to lash Puerto Rico this afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The whole house is vibrating; the glass is shaking.

TODD: Islands that are usually a tropical paradise, like St. Thomas, giving Florida a look at what they might be in for this weekend. Florida Governor Rick Scott is warning all his state's residents, not just some, to be ready and have a plan.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Important to not focus on the exact path of the storm. A storm of this size could have effects statewide, and everybody should be prepared. It is life-threatening. This is not a storm you can sit and wait through.

TODD: Already, heavy traffic on some Florida interstates, even though so far only the Florida Keys and some parts of Broward County are ordering evacuations. Also, long gas lines and scattered, empty grocery shelves.

MAYOR CARLOS A. GIMENEZ (R), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: My advice is to leave early. We don't want you to be caught in a hurricane in your car. That's the worst thing you could do.


TODD: That is a big concern tonight, that if this storm triggers what could be one of the biggest mass evacuations in U.S. history, that as the storm approaches, people could be caught on those primary highways that go north, south in Florida: I-95 along the east coast, I-75 further west; and the Florida Turnpike in the middle. They are waiving tolls on all those roads to help ease traffic, though, Wolf. Hopefully, that will help.

BLITZER: Yes, it might help, but it's going to be tense. All right, Brian, thank you very much.

The extremely dangerous core of Hurricane Irma is expected to pass near or just of Puerto Rico.

[17:10:05] CNN anchor George Howell is in San Juan for us. So what are the conditions there now, George?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, getting worse and worse hour after hour. I'll show you the scene out here. You can see the winds. Just a few moments ago, we felt one of those very intense wind gusts come through. Those come by one after another after another. So that's the situation right now with the winds. Keeping in mind we're very close, as you say, to that eye of the storm that will get some 30 miles close to the north shore of this island.

So officials telling people to seek shelter. There's a mandatory evacuation here for people to go to safer ground, to go to any of these 500 shelters that are available.

Let's talk about the flooding, the possibility of storm surge and also storm swell. That could be anywhere from two to three feet storm surge, and then storm swell later, Wolf, can get anywhere from 25 to 30 feet of water. So you're talking two to three stories of water that can come in on any part of this island. Again, the north and the eastern parts that are affected.

So what we're watching right now, conditions are getting worse. Around 8 p.m. tonight, that's when we understand that we'll be closest to the eye of the storm, the closest to the churning, the most intense part of this storm. So that's when conditions will be the worst and getting even worse through the night.

BLITZER: Are people really prepared for this? Because it looks like it could be a disaster, George.

HOWELL: As prepared as they can be, Wolf. I mean, we're talking about a Category 5 hurricane. Nothing like this has been recorded in the Atlantic.

This island is accustomed to these big storms coming through, but nothing like this. There is concern of the electrical grid, which is already vulnerable in big storms like the one we're seeing here. There's concern about what it means to rebuild here on Puerto Rico, keeping in mind the backdrop, the context here. This is an island that is grappling with a debt crisis, $70 billion in debt. So locals wonder what does recovery look like? How long does that take?

Right now it's a matter of wait and see. Sorry, every time I look over here, I'm just making sure -- I know it's coming this way. It's a matter of waiting to see how bad this damage is, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, George. We'll stay in close touch with you. Be careful over there. Good luck to all the folks over there in Puerto Rico.

Joining us now, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the administrator, Brock Long.

Thanks so much for joining us. I know you're incredibly busy. What should the people down in the path of this storm, especially down in South Florida, be doing right now to prepare?

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: Well, they -- they better be listening to the local officials and the warning orders coming out from local officials and Governor Scott right now.

No community in America is prepared to -- to be hit by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. And so life safety is the message. Make sure you understand why they're asking you to evacuate, and when they do, you know, please heed the warning.

BLITZER: But as you know, Administrator, it's so difficult to evacuate Florida, because it's a peninsula, so everyone has to go in the same direction. We're still a few days away from potential landfall, but traffic already is building up on the roadways. Do you believe that gridlock will make evacuations impossible for some people?

LONG: I don't know the answer to that, but I can tell you that, when it comes to best practices, I do believe that the state of Florida is leaning forward and trying to time/phase the evacuation message out. You know, they started yesterday with the Florida Keys in Monroe County, and they're moving people progressively up through the state and out. So they are doing things correctly. And I've got great communication with Governor -- Governor Scott and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

BLITZER: Is there a plan in place to deal with people who eventually will be stuck on the roadways as the storm approaches?

LONG: Well, so the goal is, is to get people out of the storm surge areas. So you don't want to be in an area that's going to experience storm surge. And, you know, you have to travel far enough outside of the storm surge area and into a facility that can withstand the winds, and so that's the goal.

As far as -- we're not in a refuge of last resort problem at this point. We still have some time to see how the evacuations progress over the next 48 hours.

BLITZER: You guys have been doing incredible work, but for the last week and a half, FEMA's resources already have been focusing in on southeast Texas, the recovery there from Hurricane Harvey. Here's the question: Is FEMA stretched too thin to deal with Irma?

LONG: We're not stretched too thin. You know, the goal is -- right now is we've established recovery command in Texas, so we have a good footprint that we're establishing to make sure that we're doing everything we need to do in Texas to, you know, clean debris, you know, move people out of shelters and into hotels and more temporary housing capabilities. So we have a good footprint when it comes to managing the recovery in Texas.

Now what we've done is, since the response phase has, you know, basically come to a close in Texas, we're now repositioning search- and-rescue teams and other commodities, you know, into the Southeastern United States and ready to go with our partners in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

[17:15:09] BLITZER: If -- if FEMA does shift resources out to -- let's say to Florida, if there is a real disaster there, will that hurt the recovery effort in Texas?

LONG: No, it shouldn't. You know, like I said, the goal is, is we've got recovery assets in Texas. We don't want to take away from that. We've got good momentum in Texas, helping with Governor Abbott and then -- then to achieve their recovery goals.

And you know, when it comes to Irma, we're not just looking at Florida. So, Wolf, I think the message here is this is not just going to be a Florida hit. We're looking at the southeast. If this thing were to encroach into the Gulf, there could be implications, you know, for Alabama and Georgia. Or if it decides to follow the forecast track, it's going to go up and be an east coast problem in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia, as well.

So, you know, we're preparing for a multi-state hit incoming to the United States.

BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this before, this -- this monster of a storm like this approach the United States?

LONG: It's a big storm. You know, Category 5 landfalling events are very rare if my memory serves me correct. We've only had three Category 5 storms since 1851, so if this did make landfall as a Cat 5, we would be breaking a record here.

BLITZER: As you know, Harvey in Texas and Louisiana was extremely expensive to deal with for FEMA. Irma could be even worse, potentially. Are you confident that Congress will set aside enough funding for FEMA?

LONG: You know, that's up to the Congress, and I know that the White House and Congress and Homeland Security have been working very closely. They are incredibly concerned and moving forward on passing the supplemental, which is -- you know, will allow us to keep operating in kick start. But I'm not going to let money get in the way of my operation, and I'm pushing forward.

BLITZER: Good luck to you, Brock Long. Good luck to all the workers, all the people at FEMA. You guys are doing lifesaving work for all of us right now. We know there are millions and millions of people in South Florida and up the coast who are deeply worried right now. We're counting on FEMA to get the job done. Thanks so much for everything you're doing.

LONG: Real quick, Wolf, it's not just FEMA; it's the whole community. It's like what we just saw on Harvey, too. It's the citizens saving citizens, all the way up to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It's a group effort here in everything (ph).

BLITZER: It certainly is. We're grateful to everyone involved. Brock, thanks so much for everything you're doing. Appreciate it very much. Good luck.

LONG: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have more on the breaking news. We're tracking Hurricane Irma right now as it rips through the Caribbean, where Florida braces -- while Florida braces for a potentially devastating blow.

And President Trump says he has no second thoughts about his decision to end protections for nearly 800,000 DREAMers. Then, without a second thought, bucks his own party to make a debt ceiling deal with Democrats.


[17:22:11] BLITZER: All right. Breaking news as Hurricane Irma carve a path of destruction across the Caribbean, Florida is now bracing for impact, with millions and millions of people in the path of the storm. Mandatory evacuations have already begun.

Also breaking, President Trump tries to deal with the fallout from his DREAMers decision, even as he makes a debt-ceiling deal with Democrats.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, a lot of twists and turns today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump tried to clean up the mess left behind after his decision on the DREAMers. The president insisted to reporters he is not sending mixed signals, despite some pretty clear waffling on the subject.

Perhaps more surprising was the president's sudden embrace of Democratic leaders on a plan to prevent a government shutdown this month. In doing so, the president bucked his own party, and we're told even his own treasury secretary.


ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump's message one day after terminating the program that shielded young undocumented immigrants from deportation: he would do it again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any second thoughts about DACA?


ACOSTA: Just hours after igniting an uproar, the president sounded as if he was wavering on the issue, tweeting, "Congress now has six months to legalize DACA, something the Obama administration was unable to do. If they can't, I will revisit this issue." Talking to reporters on Air Force One, the president denied he was backing down.

TRUMP: No mixed signal at all. Congress, I really believe, wants to take care of the situation. I could see something where we have good border security, and we have a great DACA transaction where everybody is happy and now they don't have to worry about it anymore, because obviously, as you know, before it was not a legal deal.

ACOSTA: The president cited one surprising reason for his optimism: the potential for working with not Republicans, but Democratic leaders in Congress, namely Senator Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

TRUMP: Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I. And I said, if we can get something to happen, we're going to sign it, and we're going to make it -- make a lot of happy people.

ACOSTA: That's remarkable, given Pelosi and Schumer just blasted the president's decision on the program known as DACA.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA, MINORITY LEADER: We all agree that President Trump's decision to end DACA is a despicable act of political cowardice.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, MINORITY LEADER: The president's decision to end DACA was heartless, and it was brainless.

ACOSTA: And after House Speaker Paul Ryan praised the president.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So President Trump was right in his decision. He made the right call.

ACOSTA: But there were more surprises in store. Sources told CNN the president also blindsided GOP leaders as they huddled with their Democratic counterparts and Mr. Trump at the White House. The president shocked Republicans, supporting the Democrats' plan to raise the nation's debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown, pushing that deadline to December. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted afterward he was on board.

[17:25:07] SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, MAJORITY LEADER: I will be adding that as an amendment to the flood relief bill that's come over from the House on the floor, and I'll be supporting it.

ACOSTA: Republicans sounded so irritated by the meeting, one aide vented about Ivanka Trump's interrupting the gathering, saying, quote, "Toward the end of the meeting, Ivanka Trump entered the Oval Office to say hello, and the meeting careened off topic. Republican leaders were visibly annoyed by Ivanka's presence." An aide to House Speaker Paul Ryan disputed that account, saying that's not true. TRUMP: Come on -- should I bring Ivanka up? Come on.

She actually said, "Daddy, can I go with you?" I like that, right? "Daddy, can I go with you?"

I said, "Yes, you can."

ACOSTA: At a tax reform speech in North Dakota, the president seemed to touch on the upside-down day on Capitol Hill.

TRUMP: Mitch and Paul and everybody, Kevin. And we walked out, and everybody was happy. Not too happy, because you can never be too happy. But they were happy enough.


ACOSTA: Despite that happiness and even with all that on the president's plate, the president still has to keep an eye on the Russia investigation. Tomorrow the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., is scheduled to meet with staffers with the Senate Judiciary Committee. One key member of that committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is insisting that Trump Jr. eventually testify in public to tell about all he knows about Russian meddling in last year's election, Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots to discuss there, as well. Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

With Congress back in session, this Russia investigation is now clearly picking up lots of steam. Joining us, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

Congressman, we have lots to discuss. There's lots of breaking news. I need to take a quick break. We'll have our conversation right after this.


BLITZER: Our breaking news: as Hurricane Irma slashes across the Caribbean, Florida is bracing for a potentially devastating impact. We're tracking all of the developments. We'll update you on that in just a few moments, but there's other big news we're following tonight, as well.

[17:31:37] Congress is back, and there are new twists in the Russia investigations.

Joining us now, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: You bet. Good to be here.

BLITZER: Very curious development today. Your chairman of your committee, Devon Nunes, he wrote a scathing letter to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, last week, the letter threatening to hold Sessions and the FBI director, Christopher Wray, in contempt of Congress if they don't hand over documents related to that so-called dossier compiled by a former British intelligent agent. The dossier contains allegations about Trump's personal and financial life.

As you know, chairman Nunes removed himself from the Russia investigation. Why is he doing this now?

SCHIFF: Well, he shouldn't be. This has been a continuing issue. The chairman, when he recused or stepped aside, should have delegated the authority, as our rules permit, to Mr. Conaway, but he was unwilling to do so. So he still formally issues subpoenas. He also, evidently, writes letters to the Department of Justice and the FBI, taking issue with their production, which is also something, frankly, I don't understand, and we raised as an issue with the majority when they said they wanted to subpoena the department, and that is we hadn't even sent them a written request, a voluntary request for the information. And our practice has been we request voluntary compliances; it's only when they refuse that we issue a subpoena. They departed from that practice here.

It seems like they want to discredit Mr. Steele and also discredit the FBI's investigation. I don't know what's to be gained by that, honestly. It doesn't bring us any closer to figuring out what the Russians did and how they did it. So we don't agree with what they did, and I think it's an unfortunate distraction.

BLITZER: Well, do you believe Chairman Nunes really is going to hold the FBI director, the attorney general, in contempt?

SCHIFF: No, I don't. And you know, the threat to bring the attorney general before our committee in an open hearing, I would welcome that. Bring him in. There are a lot of questions I would like to ask the attorney general. I can't imagine they would actually follow through with that, but frankly, I'd be delighted if they did.

BLITZER: Have you spoken with Chairman Nunes about this?

SCHIFF: You know, we don't discuss the Russian investigation, because he's purportedly recused himself from it. He really shouldn't play a role in it. So I confine my discussions on that to Mr. Conaway and the other members who are working on it.

BLITZER: But if he recused himself or removed himself from the Russian investigation, why is he writing these kinds of letters?

SCHIFF: He shouldn't be. He shouldn't be. And only he can explain why he's taken that role.

BLITZER: He -- it's a very, very serious development.

Another statement coming out from Facebook today. It said that they sold about $100,000 of advertisements to what they call inauthentic accounts operated out of Russia during the campaign. Facebook says they've shared this information with investigators. Are you concerned that these ads may have deliberately targeted voters

in some of those key swing states?

SCHIFF: You know, this is information that we're trying to gather. From what I understand, and I've only gotten a preliminary briefing about this, Facebook's conclusion is that most were not geographically targeted, although some were. And among those that were, we need to find out why and on what subjects. And were they at a level of sophistication where they would have needed help or assistance from the campaign. Those are unanswered questions that we want to get to the bottom of.

[17:35:00] We, I think, already knew the Russians were using paid social media trolls to try to influence the election, try to sow discord. This certainly confirms that finding. But we want to explore not only with Facebook, with other social media platforms, as well, what evidence, to what degree? A hundred thousand may seem like it's not a huge amount, but at the same time, that's millions of people seeing or liking or passing on this information, and that can be influential. That's a lot of money.

BLITZER: Are you concerned that that may be just the tip of the iceberg, there are other -- that there were other operations involving Russians in the U.S. presidential election?

SCHIFF: Well, this is just one platform. We need to find out what is the evidence with respect to other social media platforms like Twitter, for example. What kind of internal analyses have these other companies done? Were there things they missed earlier on when they didn't believe that this activity had necessarily occurred?

So we do have a lot of questions. Facebook, I think, has been very cooperative with us, but still, there's a lot we need to press on this.

BLITZER: Another significant development unfolding. We learned, what, last week that the president, President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, asked the Kremlin for help, potentially, with developing a Trump Tower hotel development in Moscow during the campaign last year. It never -- it never wound up happening, but as you know, at the time Donald Trump always repeatedly denied; he had no business dealings with the Russians. How do these revelations affect, if they do, your investigation?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, they certainly raise additional concerns, because now we know that the Trump organization was pursuing business in Russia, a business that would effectively have to be approved by Putin. At the same time, the campaign was taking a very pro-Russia, pro-Putin policy. Was this being guided by their financial interests? And why did the president make false statements about his financial interests in doing business in Russia at a time when he was pursuing that?

That also means that we can't accept any representations coming from the president or his organization about whether the Russians have done business with him in the past. Among the chief concerns I have is the issue of money laundering. If the Russians had been engaged in business with the Trump Organization and some of that business was illicit, like money laundering, that would be the most powerful--

BLITZER: Explain that money laundering issue. What do you mean by that?

SCHIFF: Well, real estate is a very convenient way to launder money. And if there was a time when the Trump Organization found it difficult to borrow from banks and responsible financial institutions and had to turn elsewhere, and there was a marrying of interests between the Trump Organization and the Russians, who have historically needed to do launder huge amounts of money, and they did business together in that way, that is far more compromising than any salacious video would be.

So in our national interests, we need to make sure, did this happen, did it not happen? If it did, it means the Russians have continuing leverage over the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Well, do you know right now whether or not there was this kind of money laundering that was going on?

SCHIFF: This is the subject of the investigation. I think we need to try to figure out whether this occurred. If it did, we need to be able to tell the American people about it. If it didn't, we need to be able to tell the American people about it.

I also think this is something that Bob Mueller is uniquely capable of ascertaining. He has a lot of resources to devote to this and expertise among his staff that we simply don't have in Congress.

BLITZER: Has this changed at all your scope of the investigation that your committee, the House Intelligence Committee, is undertaking?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, we continue to have internal discussions about the scope of our investigation. I certainly think that this could be an area of the Russian active measures campaign and, as such, very much within the scope of our investigation and something that I think would be negligent for us not to get to the bottom.

BLITZER: President Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, met with your committee earlier today behind closed doors. What, if anything, can you tell us about that meeting?

SCHIFF: You know, we don't usually go into the contents of our closed meetings. We allow the witnesses to discuss it if they wish. The most I can say is she was completely forthcoming with us, answered every question we had. I think everyone was quite satisfied with her testimony in our closed session.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Congressman: the Justice Department revealed the other day that there was -- there's no evidence that President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the campaign. You remember the allegation that was leveled by Donald Trump at the time. What do you make of that revelation coming out right now? SCHIFF: To be the definitive explanation point after Comey testified

to that and Rogers testified to that, and everyone else who has been asked that was in the intelligence community has essentially said the same thing. No evidence behind the president's baseless claim.

But that claim lives on in a different way. It lives on in the form of an unmasking inquiry that's being done. The suggestion now is, OK, maybe there wasn't deliberate wiretapping of Trump Tower. Maybe the president got that wrong, but somehow there was back-door surveillance through unmasking. So unfortunately, that tweet lives on, I think, in a way that it should have been put to rest a long time ago.

[17:40:15] BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks for joining us.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Stay with us. We're getting updates right now in the disaster, Hurricane Irma. It's leaving the -- as it batters the island of the Caribbean, it's leaving and heading towards the United States and Florida right now. Millions of people are preparing for the worst. We'll have an updated forecast. That's coming up.


BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now. Category 5 Hurricane Irma pounding the islands of the Caribbean right now. It still poses a major threat to Florida. The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia today join Florida in declaring emergencies.

We'll have an update on the forecast. That's coming up.

Also breaking, a source says President Trump left Republican leaders, quote, shell-shocked today by agreeing with congressional Democrats on a deal to fund disaster relief, avoid a government shutdown, and raise the debt limit. Let's bring in our political specialists.

And, Dana, I want you and our viewers to take a look at this photo, a photo of President Trump and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader and the minority leader, in the Oval Office.

Look at that picture. They seem to be, you know, best friends in that picture, but Republicans were reportedly stunned by the President's sudden alliance with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. What happened in the Oval Office?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What happened is that the President completely surprised everybody, the Republicans and the Democrats, by effectively ignoring the pleas from Republicans to go -- Republican leaders in Congress to go along with what they thought was a plan to push for an extension, first of all, at the most -- excuse me, at the very least, 18 months, for the debt limit. Because they thought, tactically, and then just policy and politically, all of the -- for all those reasons, that they would want to kind of take it down past the next election.


BASH: Well, the President not only said no to that, I am told by a source who's familiar with the meeting. Then the Republicans said, OK, 12 months. No. OK, six months. No.

Democrats were firm on saying three months and that's it, and we'll tie it to the relief for Hurricane Harvey. And the President said, OK, deal. And then, at that point, the Republican leader, the majority leader Mitch McConnell said, OK, well, if we're going to do that, let's at least extend the funding for the government so that we have it all in one package.

And I was told that the Republican leaders were shell-shocked. They didn't expect it. Certainly, the Democrats didn't expect it. They thought that they were just going to come out with a kind of agreeing to disagree situation which they usually do, and that's not what happened at all.


BASH: And there are a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill who are -- feel pretty blindsided, but you also have a President who said, you know what, I am ready to do a deal. I am sick of this fighting. And we've seen, over the past couple of months, that the President also doesn't have a lot of faith in the Republican leaders, and I think this was an example of that coming through.

BLITZER: Yes. And, Gloria, just listen to the Speaker Paul Ryan before that meeting in the Oval Office. He made clear where he stands. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Democrats now say they'll only support a three-month increase in the debt ceiling. It seems like they're trying to extract something.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: I think that's a ridiculous idea. I hope that they don't mean that. Let's just think about this.

We've got all this devastation in Texas. We've got another unprecedented hurricane hitting -- about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur.

And they also want to threaten default on our debt? I think that's ridiculous and disgraceful.


BLITZER: Ridiculous and disgraceful but the President liked it. BORGER: Right, he did. And, look, this is not about what the

Republican Party wants or what the Republican leaders want. I mean, we know the President spent half of his summer dissing Mitch McConnell on Twitter, for heaven's sakes. This is about what Donald Trump wanted.

And what Donald Trump wanted was to show the American public that, OK, I can get my hurricane funding through. I'm not going to let it get tied up. I mean, he was clearly affected by what he saw in Texas and what he see is coming in Florida. And he decided that it didn't matter that Republicans feel that they're walking into a trap here because they're going to have to vote on raising the debt ceiling again in December.

BASH: Exactly.

BORGER: And what it also means is that the Republicans understand now that the President doesn't care about them. So it will affect, I think, and Dana, correct me if I'm wrong here, but it will affect what they do on tax reform and on everything else because they have clearly parted ways.

BLITZER: Clearly the Democrats, though, got what they wanted, Bianna. And by the way, welcome to CNN.


BLITZER: You're now a formal CNN contributor. Great to have you as part of our team. But remember, back in January of 2013, then private citizen Donald Trump tweeted against a short-term debt ceiling extension. He -- I'll put it up on the screen.

The worst negotiators in history, otherwise known as Republicans, have just offered to suspend debt ceiling for four months. Pathetic!

[17:50:00] Was the President -- back in 2013, that's what he tweeted then. Was the President just outsmarted this time by the Democrats?

GOLODRYGA: Well, we call it a tale of two Donalds, right, Wolf? I mean, it's almost a game now. There is a tweet for just about everything the President has said from his private life that can be contradicted now to what he is saying when he's in office.

The President, many Republicans could argue, does come across as very desperate for a deal. We only had 12 legislative days in the month. He's got this huge Russia investigation headache as well, as you mentioned, he saw the devastation firsthand in Texas. He sees what's happening in the Caribbean as well.

But then we say, listen, he could have at least tried to extend the debt limit for a longer term. You have zero time now to get tax reform done. I completely agree with Dana and Gloria. And he also could have tied higher defense spending in as well, or at least attempted to.

But I will say, this is a president that never ceases to surprise. So never say never until the ink is dry.

And I was also struck by what Mitch McConnell said. He said this president speaks for himself. Remember who else said that? Rex Tillerson. Rex Tillerson said that last week when he was asked about Charlottesville. So you do see this public divide within the party.

BASH: And not only does he speak for himself vis-a-vis congressional Republican leaders, I'm told that it happened within his own administration. That, in this meeting, he cut off his own Treasury Secretary who was making the argument for extending the debt limit for a longer period of time.

Of course, it is the Treasury Secretary in any administration that has to deal with the debt limit and kind of gets a sense of when the U.S. is bumping up against the point where it has to be raised. And it was the President who said, you know what? Uh-uh, and then he moved on.

But also, if you kind of take a step back, this is the Donald Trump that a lot of people coming into the inauguration thought that they might see. A Donald Trump who -- is he a real Republican?

Does he -- he doesn't know the ways of Washington. So is he going to then say, forget you, fellow Republicans, I am going to do a deal with Democrats?

It hasn't happened. And today, it happened. So it does show a different side of him. And it might be because he has the past eight months of experience where he's gotten very frustrated with his fellow Republican leaders and the way Washington works normally with party politics. Or, you know, it might be just the idea that he really did see this devastation and wants to move it forward, or all the above.

BORGER: Well, you know, this is Donald Trump. I mean, as we were talking about before, he is not a politician by training, and he cares about himself and how he's perceived.

And he wants to be perceived as somebody who is funding hurricane relief, period. And I don't think he wanted anything to get in the way of that, including his own political party and including his own political future in terms of what he can get done in the Congress.

This is who he is. We haven't seen a lot of it because there has been this push and pull in the White House for who can get to Donald Trump and who is he going to agree with today.

Well, what does this mean for DACA, for example? We don't know, you know. The President's tweet this morning about DACA was, well, maybe we'll revisit it. What does that mean?

As we've been fond of saying, leaders say the President speaks for himself. Members of his press team say the President's tweets speak for themselves. And everybody is still left scratching their heads.

BLITZER: And you know --

GOLODRYGA: Yes. BLITZER: And I want to get back there, Bianna. He was so nice and

friendly with the Democratic leaders, calling Nancy and Chuck as if they were old pals. And that's clearly going to put a lot of Republicans in an awkward position.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, you didn't see him calling Chuck Schumer "Crying Chuck," right, or the fake tears anymore. But if I were in the P.R. business -- which I'm glad I'm not. I'm glad I'm a journalist here and a contributor, especially, with CNN. I'm so thrilled to be here.

But if I were in the P.R. business, I would tell the Democrats that the last thing they should be doing is gloating right now because the President, of course, follows the media very closely.

And as we saw that head scratcher tweet this morning about DACA and him potentially revisiting it, if he sees that he's getting a lot of push back from this and the Democrats view this as a huge win, he could very well change his mind. As I said earlier, the ink is not dry.

BASH: Right, very true.

BORGER: And, you know, Ben Sasse, the Republican senator from Nebraska tweeted and called it the Schumer/Pelosi/Trump deal and said it's bad. And, you know, so it's already being called Schumer/Pelosi/Trump. Let's how that lives.

BLITZER: Let's see if the President revisits that deal as well. All right, guys. Everybody stand by. There is breaking news we're following.

[17:54:34] Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 monster. It's battering islands in the Caribbean and aiming for the United States. Right now, tens of millions of people may be in the path of the storm. Evacuations are now underway in Florida.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Record-breaking threat. Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever seen in the Atlantic, is churning toward Puerto Rico and Florida, ravaging Caribbean islands as it takes aim at the U.S. mainland. Where will this monster storm strike next?

Racing to leave. Dire warnings prompt thousands of people to flee as Hurricane Irma barrels toward American soil, packing wind gusts over 200 miles an hour. We're already seeing traffic jams and water and gasoline shortages. Is Florida prepared for a mass exodus?