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NFL Controversy; Will Trump Fire U.S. Health Secretary?; Crisis in Puerto Rico; Food, Cash, Power Still Scare 9 Days After Maria; U.S. Pulling More Than Half Its Staff, Families from Cuba. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: A new CNN poll showing Americans sharply divided about NFL protests during the national anthem, but a majority of them throwing a flag on President Trump for weighing in on those protests.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump saying the federal government has made tremendous strides in Puerto Rico. We are going to go live to the island, where millions of Americans are still without power, water and gas nine days since the hurricane.

Then, just moments ago, President Trump said he's going to decide the fate of his health and human services Cabinet secretary, Tom Price, tonight. Will Price be told you're fired over his private plane use?

Plus, a racist attack at the Air Force Academy prep school prompting a lieutenant general to deliver this message:


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you can't treat someone from another race or a different color skin with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.


TAPPER: We will have more on the speech that everyone is talking about today.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin today with our national lead, the crisis in Puerto Rico and the growing division between the island and Washington, D.C.

It's a chasm that almost seems to match the actual ocean and distance that separates the two. In Puerto Rico this morning, some good news, some reports of progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: We have 36 hospitals that have been open that are either in power by generation or powered by diesel. With the effort of HHS and the leadership of FEMA, diesel has been able to be distributed to all these hospitals.

ALEJANDRO DE LA CAMPA, FEMA DIRECTOR FOR PUERTO RICO: We have been able in the last couple of days to distribute around the island over two million liters of water, and close to one million meals around the island.


TAPPER: But on an island of 3.5 million Americans, that, of course, is not enough. And millions remain without food or water or power or gas to fuel generators.

And as Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan discussed, there are only 5,000 U.S. troops there right now.


LT. GEN. JEFFREY BUCHANAN, LEADING PUERTO RICO RECOVERY MISSION: To answer your question, no, it's not enough. And that's why we are bringing in a lot more. In particular, aviation, we have got 25 federal military helicopters here, and we are bringing many more. That's not enough.


TAPPER: That's not enough.

But just moments ago, the president offered a somewhat more glowing assessment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have done an incredible job, considering there is absolutely nothing to work with.


TAPPER: Earlier today, President Trump pledged support to the people of Puerto Rico. But he also, again, underlined the country, Puerto Rico's debt crisis.


TRUMP: We want them to be safe and sound and secure, and we will be there every day until that happens.

The government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort, will end up being one of the biggest ever, will be funded and organized and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.


TAPPER: Contrast that, as many people in Puerto Rico are, with the president's many messages to Texas and Louisiana and Florida, assuring those states, with no caveats, "We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you every single day after to restore, recover, and rebuild."

A somewhat different message to Puerto Rico. Now, the relationship between United States and Puerto Rico dates back to at least 1898, when the U.S. invaded the island during the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917.

The island became a U.S. commonwealth more than a half-century ago. More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. military, and yet we and they certainly see an acute difference between the attitude of President Trump towards them.

Simultaneously, we are also seeing a brigade, a battalion of administration officials being ordered to charge onto your TV screens to win this spin war about the recovery effort.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand the coverage in some cases is giving the appearance that we are not moving fast enough.

I don't expect that we are doing anything short of everything we can do.

This is textbook, and it's been done well.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: I'm sorry very much that there are certain people, particularly on TV, trying to politicize this.

ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I'm very satisfied.. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.



TAPPER: A good news story.

And the president himself writing in a series of tweets last night: "FEMA and first-responders are doing great job in Puerto Rico. Wish press would treat fairly. And governor said great job."

Once again this morning, President Trump touting -- quote -- "Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated 'The administration and president, every time we have spoken, they have delivered'" -- unquote.

And he did say that, but the governor of Puerto Rico also told CNN this:


ROSSELLO: There is a lot of work to do over here. We really want -- we really need to increase the delivery rates. We really need to enhance our logistics.


TAPPER: The head of FEMA detailing the problems that still exist in getting aid to those who desperately need it.


BROCK LONG, ADMINISTRATOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: We have millions of meals, millions of water. I don't want to get into specific number, but the bottom line is, is that once they come into the ports or the airports or the waterway ports, we have 11 regions where we have set up mass points of distribution sites.

So a couple things are happening. The problem has been getting it down to the last mile.


TAPPER: Perhaps nothing better illustrates this chasm how this relief effort is being felt and applauded by the Trump administration in Washington, D.C., and how it's being felt or not felt in Puerto Rico than the response of the mayor of San Juan this morning on CNN to the comments of Elaine Duke, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that this is a -- quote -- "good news story."


CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, MAYOR OF SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life-or-death story.

This is -- there's a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen, because people are not getting food and water. If I could scream it a lot more louder, it is not a good news story when people are dying.


TAPPER: Now, landing in Puerto Rico today, Duke clarified that she meant the good news was how well people are working together.

And few would argue otherwise. And few would doubt the intentions of those trying to help.

But the bottom line here is, according to those on the island, our fellow Americans there need much more focus on getting them the supplies, the diesel, the generators, the medical supplies, the food, the water. And they would like less focus from the administration on tweets or

cable news appearances insisting that all is well and everything is going great, when it clearly is not.

Let's go now to CNN's Boris Sanchez. He's live in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Boris, is the situation improving at all?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I would say incrementally, Jake.

We have been standing at this gas station since about 5:00 a.m. I want to show you the line here, because it has not let up since we've been here. The first person in line here, a gentleman who told me that he was here at 9:00 p.m. last night, when this gas station ran out of gas. He decided to just park his car and sleep in the line.

When it finally opened this morning, he was able to get gas. And just a few moments ago, a large tanker came and provided more fuel to this gas station. But it appears that they will be open for a bit longer.

But people in line told me they are hungry and they are flustered. The desperation, the anger here, Jake, is palpable.


SANCHEZ (voice-over): Getting key resources has proved daunting for Puerto Ricans, many camping in their cars outside a gas station, forming a line more than a quarter-mile long, waiting hours to fill their tanks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really hard like when you have to go and check on your family, You have wait for gas. You have to come and make all these lines so you can get gas. It's pretty hard.

SANCHEZ: Massive lines are also forming outside grocery stores and banks. And many businesses are only taking cash, which is now in short supply.

Much of what these people desperately need, essentials like food, water, and medical supplies have proved elusive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not here. Not here. Nada. Nothing. Water. Food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It's been about nine days that we don't have help. Supposedly, the U.S. has provided help, but we don't have water, we don't have food, we don't have medicine. They keep telling us it's coming from the U.S., but we don't see it.

SANCHEZ: In other parts of Puerto Rico, cries for help are being answered.


SANCHEZ: People run on to the streets to wave down the mayor and other officials in Guayama City as he drives through town offering emergency food and water from FEMA.

The mayor asks for calm and admits he knows they will need much more. Further complicating the recovery efforts, the weather forecast. While many remain homeless, parts of Puerto Rico are at risk for flash flooding this weekend, with rain again expected to hit the already battered island.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said there was rain coming on this weekend. I don't know how we're going to deal with it, because it's still flooded everywhere.


SANCHEZ: And that gentleman, Kevin, lives in a neighborhood where many people are homeless, Hurricane Maria ripping the rips off of several homes.

We were there yesterday, and we were told that there is a canal that runs through the center of their neighborhood, and it often floods for just a typical rainstorm. During Hurricane Maria, raw sewage was flowing into people's homes.

Keep in mind, Jake, again, there is set to be more rain this weekend.

TAPPER: All right, Boris Sanchez in Puerto Rico, doing a great job for us.

Thank you so much, Boris.

A packed shelter with no generator for six days, access nearly impossible with the roads cut off. Our CNN reporter finally makes it to her own hometown in Puerto Rico for the first time since Hurricane Maria.

You don't want to miss this. Stay with us.


TAPPER: We're back with more in our national lead.


FEMA saying today it has more than 800 personnel working with federal staff on the ground in Puerto Rico. Teams have now visited all 78 municipalities on the island, FEMA says, searching for more potential victims, surveying areas for damage.

But some in Puerto Rico say they are still forced to fend for themselves.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is originally from Puerto Rico. After more than a week of covering Hurricane Maria and the aftermath, she was finally able to make it to her hometown of Corozal. She's back in San Juan now. And, Leyla, how was your family? How bad is the damage?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, my family is OK. Thank you for asking, Jake. I had actually flown over Corozal a few days ago, so, I knew how bad the damage was, and it's not good. I mean, this is interior part of the island. It's up in the mountains.

And -- I mean, it looks like -- I mean, it looks horrible. It looks horrible. Stores are down. Roofs are ripped off.

And so, when I was finally able to get in and find my family, it was emotional. It was emotional.

And I realize that I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm one of the lucky ones because there are thousands of people in the U.S. mainland that haven't been able to hear what I heard, which was my family saying I'm OK. You know, my family saying we survived. You know, we lost some stuff with the business, but that's fine, you know, that's all material. And we will rebuild.

But to hear your family say I'm OK. I mean, I know we need a lot of relief on this island, but for many, that's the relief we are looking for on a personal level, to hear your family say, look, we don't have power, we don't have water, but we're OK, especially in an area like Corozal, which is right in the interior where it is devastated. It is destroyed.

Those buildings, I couldn't even recognize some of the areas. I sort of had to figure out where I was, because I couldn't even recognize some parts of it, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Leyla, we are seeing pictures of the devastation in Corozal, and we're also seeing picture of you giving a hug to an older gentleman and there's an older lady there as well. That's your mom and dad?

SANTIAGO: That's my uncle and my aunt.


SANTIAGO: And, again, they are OK. And the rest of my family lives on that very street. So when I arrived, they were excited to see that I was OK as well. But they were more comforting me, I think, because the desperation, again, to not know.

I mean, I have not talked to them. I didn't know, do they have food, do they have diesel, do they have water? To hear them say we're OK, you know, again, I know we need a lot more relief on this island, but the sense of relief I got just hearing those words, that's a lot. That's a lot. That's what I needed and that's what a whole lot of other Puerto Ricans are looking for right now.

TAPPER: What have your aunt and uncle and other family members in Corozal, what have they seen in terms of relief efforts? Have they received any of the meals or the water or the diesel that FEMA and Puerto Rico is supposed to be bringing them? SANTIAGO: You know, I was actually able -- driving in Corozal, I saw

people on the sides of the road already, and they were going to the mountainside to get spring water, water coming from the mountains that they can use to cook, to bathe. I saw women cleaning their hair. I saw women washing clothes, old school, like on the washing board, because that's what they need to do right now.

But when I asked people, is there help? While there is some understand that this takes a while, that there is -- that this is a logistical nightmare, no one seemed to know where the help was. They couldn't say that, oh, we saw the mayor or we saw the governor's office. Now, I will say, I was told that FEMA has been there, but for damage assessment only.

So they basically said, look, we filled out some paperwork, we told FEMA what our needs were. We did the damage assessment but we haven't heard back from them since. So we are now, what is it, nine days outside of Hurricane Maria and the relief still has not arrived. They have no power. They have no communication. They have no water.

I mean, the basics, the basics, to live day-to-day, Jake.

TAPPER: Leyla, how are they drinking? How are they eating? And also tell us, what business are they in that got destroyed?

SANTIAGO: So, I -- you know, there are a few of them. But there are a few businesses that were destroyed. You know, my uncle has a chip company.

[16:20:02] We manufacture chips. That was destroyed. My other uncle has a car repair shop, that was completely destroyed.

But, again, like, you know, we're OK. That stuff can be replaced. And my family turning to each other now, you know, we sent somebody down to get water, and that supplies the rest of my family. But again, that is relief I felt.

That town up in the mountains is in desperate need of more relief. I went to the shelters, Jake, the hospital is down. There is no hospital in Corozal right now.

So, we have more than 100 people in the school, living in those classrooms, in need of medical help. And we're not talking about medical help, I'm talking about people, cancer patients, people with cancer that can't get the chemotherapy they need. People with HIV. People with diabetes. Children with asthma.

I spoke to one woman who had Parkinson's disease who was telling me she hasn't had medicine in days, her own medicine and sobbing. She told me, I don't know about the rest of my family, you know? That same concern that I had, you know, how is my family, how is family doing?

And that is the shelter. They don't have a generator. The generator went down six days ago. So, these patients in need of medical help don't have water. The refrigerator, that's gone too. They don't have food in there. They are relying on the goodwill of people bringing them food from other places.

But that shelter in that small little town up in the mountains in the interior of Puerto Rico has no generator, no power, and people that need medical attention right now, again, let me run through that list in case you didn't catch it -- HIV, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, children catching viruses because the cleanliness is now an issue as well. I mean, it's a nightmare -- it's a nightmare to see.

TAPPER: Leyla Santiago, I'm happy that your family members survived the storm. We're going to stay aggressively reporting this. You, chief, among our excellent reporters in Puerto Rico covering this and making sure that the people in Puerto Rico, the American citizens in Puerto Rico, get the help they need. Thank you so much for your reporting today.

SANTIAGO: You bet.

TAPPER: After mysterious sonic attack, the U.S. State Department ordering some diplomats and their families to leave the American embassy in Cuba. Now, there is a warning for any American traveling there. That story is next.


[16:26:49] TAPPER: We're back with our world lead.

The State Department today announced that it is pulling more than half of its diplomatic staff from U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, after that series of mysterious sonic attacks that have injured 21 Americans. State Department is urging Americans not to travel to the communist nation because they could be exposed to similar attacks and the U.S. has also stopped issuing visas in Cuba.

A senior U.S. official telling CNN there may have been as many as 50 of these attacks with symptoms ranging from dizziness to concussion to even permanent hearing loss.

Joining me now to discuss this and much more is retired General James Clapper, former director of national intelligence under President Obama.

General, thanks so much for being here as always.


TAPPER: What do you make of these sonic attacks?

CLAPPER: Well, I don't know what to make of them. I mean, the obvious suspect here is some element of the Cuban intelligence or security services, though the Cubans as I understand it had denied that.

I think restricting or reducing our diplomatic presence is exactly the right thing to do for the reason Secretary Tillerson mentioned first and foremost safety of our people, because it appears this has continued. I think the other message, implicit message of course is to the Cubans that if they are interested in sustaining this relationship, then it's in their best interests to help find what the cause of this is and stop it.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the North Korean crisis. We learned this week that August 2017 was the biggest month of trade between China and North Korea since last December.

Does that suggest to you that the Chinese don't take this threat seriously enough?

CLAPPER: I think the Chinese do. My own engagement with them is they don't particularly care for Kim Jong-un. They don't care for his behavior. They don't like the underground tests. They don't like the missile tests and they certainly don't like the THAAD deployment.

But what they don't like more is the thought of a violent implosion in North Korea. So, I think they'll put the screws to -- the Chinese, they'll put the screws to the North Koreans to a certain extent. But what they don't want to do, it's a strategic imperative. What they don't want to do is lose their buffer -- their buffer state.

And the thought of having a reunified peninsula under the control of Seoul, and they are on the Yellow River buttress by the United States, that is a strategic imperative that they avoid. So --

TAPPER: Is that worse than a nuclear North Korea?

CLAPPER: Well, no, they don't want that. But I say what they don't want more, or like less --


CLAPPER: -- is the thought of North Korea imploding, particularly violently. And that has all kinds of implications for them. So, you are going to get, continue to get I think this mixed message.

I know if the Chinese would say they're going to close down all the North Korean businesses operating in China. Well, it'd be interesting to see if that actually happens. North Koreans are very resourceful, though. If they lose a business, they'll establish another one.

So, the Chinese will have to prosecute this to actually live off to that commitment.

TAPPER: I want to turn to Russia's interference in the U.S. election, which, of course, took place while you were director of national intelligence. CNN has learned there was a Twitter and Facebook account with the name blacktivist that's been linked to the Kremlin recently. It appeared very real.