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Tillerson: U.S. In Direct Talks With North Korea; U.S. Pulls More Staff Out Of Cuba; College Football Players Take The Field Amid NFL Protests; Trump Attacks San Juan Mayor After She Begs For Help. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired September 30, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:20]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone, and welcome. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. We begin with a shocking string of verbal attacks from the president in the form of tweets going after Puerto Rican leaders. Yes, Puerto Rico, where more than three million Americans are on the brink of a humanitarian crisis.

In a series of tweets from the president's private golf club this morning, the president saying, quote, "The mayor of San Juan who was very complimentary only a few days ago has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.

Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. Ten thousand federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job."

Right now, in Puerto Rico, nearly 1.5 million people still have no access to clean drinking water. Some are being forced to fill up jugs from creeks and streams. More than three million people still have no electricity and are waiting in line for hours just to get fuel.

These are people that the most powerful man in the world is attacking. The president says this is an example of the mayor being nasty to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: I will do what I never thought I was going to do. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and are you killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We have team coverage on all of this from Puerto Rico to the White House. Let's begin with CNN's Boris Sanchez in San Juan. So, Boris, no electricity, internet is scarce, cell phone scarce use also from a number of people's experience there. How aware and how responsive have people been to the president's comments? BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Word is certainly spreading about the president's tweets here in Puerto Rico, Fred, and the response is not a kind one. Several people telling me things I cannot repeat to you on television.

One telling me, the community is coming together, we are doing this ourselves. As what with several elderly women who told me that the president is ill informed. He needs to come here as quickly as possible to see the damage for himself before he can say things like that about the people of Puerto Rico.

She told me it is his obligation as the president to care for Americans, and we are Americans here in Puerto Rico. One man actually told me earlier that if it weren't for help from his neighbors, he wouldn't have been able to get out of his house because a tree went into his home.

So, he had to borrow a machete and a chainsaw to even get outside of his own home. The response to the president's tweets has been swift. One woman telling me she heard about them on the radio.

Other folks are actually discussing it right here outside the hotel because there's a wi-fi spot here. It's one of the few places that has wi-fi. So, they are certainly top of mind here in Puerto Rico. They're not being received well -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And so when the president says they want everything done for them, you've been there for five days. Are people demonstrating in any way that they are simply waiting as opposed to trying to be as proactive as they can?

SANCHEZ: There's no question that the people of Puerto Rico are coming together, Fred. They are suffering, and in times of need, neighbor is helping neighbor. Just two days ago, I spoke with one woman, a young mother of two very small daughters.

She was telling me that she was simple getting by with the help from friends because she was not able to get water or food for her daughters. She told me that she had a breakdown when one of her daughters asked her for cold water.

She had been standing in a line for ice for the fifth day in a row for hours, spending hours on end waiting for ice that never came. Others have told me including one man in the neighborhood that he had to take two families into his home after the roofs of their houses were blown off.

He was sharing the few precious resources that he had left with strangers. The community is coming together here, Fred. It's now a question of distributing aid and putting goods back on store shelves, giving Puerto Ricans access to the things that they need most.

WHITFIELD: Yes. People coming together. At the same time, people do want assistance because it is a humanitarian crisis. All right. Boris Sanchez, thank you so much. So, despite the president's verbal tweeted attacks, President Trump says he and the first lady still plan to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. For now, though, the president remains at his private golf club in New Jersey.

Close to that is where we find CNN's Ryan Nobles in Branchburg. So, Ryan, the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of this trip, it's going to be awkward. It will be very complicated for the president. Nonetheless here, still scheduled to go, right?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. President Trump scheduled to visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. He may also make a stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands. You're right, awkward might be a good word to describe the reception he may encounter there.

I was in Texas and in Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Harvey and the president was really well received in both of those places. I was in Louisiana when he visited with National Guard troops there.

And there was a large contingent of people, more than a thousand that came out to catch a glimpse of the president and welcomed him and his presence there. The situation in Puerto Rico could be much different.

And it could be in part because of the response that the president has to not only the leaders of Puerto Rico but to the individual people who are dealing with this tragedy. Let's just go back over these tweets this morning and exactly what the president said not just about the mayor of San Juan but about her people, as well.

He said, quote, "Such poor leadership by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help." He goes on to say "they," these are American citizens he's talking about, "they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. Ten thousand federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job."

So, when the president gets to Puerto Rico, perhaps he'll get a chance to see exactly what Boris and Brynn and Anderson and our other correspondents are seeing on a day-to-day basis about these Americans citizens in Puerto Rico doing everything they can just to stay alive, fighting for food, shelter, electricity, and just clean drinking water.

This seems to be something that these federal workers on the ground are doing everything they to help, but the bureaucracy is standing in the way. That's something that the president will be principally responsible for.

We should point out, Fred, he has a series of phone calls scheduled for later this afternoon. He's going to talk to leaders in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as the administrator of FEMA where he's going to get an idea of exactly what needs to be done by the federal government to help out those people in need -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So, then one has to wonders will one of those phone calls involve calling the mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, who he has singled out in his tweets? You'll have to keep us posted if you hear of the list of leaders that the president will be talking to today.

All right, the people who care the least about presidential tweeting and name-calling today are the people of Puerto Rico, Americans struggling to survive in these hellish conditions left by the hurricanes.

What they want instead is their needs to be met. The desperation for food and fuel and water is very great, and so is the demand for medicine. Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is hearing directly from the doctors on the ground that this is one of the biggest impediments right now to treating people. They are pleading for assistance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ASTRID MORALES, LOZIA SHELTER VOLUNTEER: We're tied up here because we don't have I.V. antibiotics to give the patients, and we have no place to get them.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I kept thinking to myself how difficult could this be. If these lifesaving supplies are on the island of Puerto Rico, why aren't they getting to the people who need it? What's standing in the way of that happening? And can I make it happen myself?

First place I'm going to try are these DMAT tents, the disaster management assistance team, HHS. This is the federal government. We'll see what they have to offer. I was with the doctors yesterday who were volunteering. This is what they were asking for.

OK. So, we've been waiting about 45 minutes now outside the HHS tent. We know that they have medications. What we heard is that they got to run it up two lines of command, two chains of command, and then they get back to us. Again, it's been 45 minutes. How you doing? We're going to try somewhere else. We're trying to get some medications. We went to some of the shelters --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can get some here.

GUPTA: Is there medication here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we have the medications.

GUPTA: OK, thank you. Because the hospitals have been slow to start back up, these are all volunteer doctors over here who basically have come trying to gather supplies and take it out to the people who need it. They're trying their best. It's a slow process.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me see the list.

GUPTA: OK, if we can get a few doses, we'll take it over there. Zithro

[12:10:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have only some antibiotics and tablets. You need it also?

GUPTA: Yes, that would be great. Perfect. OK, Doctor, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The other one I will give you.

GUPTA: Appreciate it. Thank you. It's all about getting the supplies and getting them to the people who need it. These come from an organization called Direct Relief. You see they're set up underneath the parking structure with all the medications. We got them. Now we're going to take them.

What Dr. Morales asked was that we get these medications and see if we could bring it to this clinic, this hospital. This is one of the places that's up and running. Without medications, they haven't been able to take care of patients. Dr. Rodriguez? I was told to bring you this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.

GUPTA: Let me tell you what we have. This is -- all sorts of antibiotics primarily.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.

GUPTA: Dr. Morales said that you were needing a lot of this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

GUPTA: Zithro? You can go through it and there's also pediatrics. I hope this helps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. A lot. Thank you.

GUPTA: You're doing great work here. Keep doing what you're doing. Like a little baby. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Luisa, Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. Up next, the political fallout from a natural disaster. How the president's latest verbal attacks on Puerto Rico tweeted out are playing out on the national stage. Stay with us.

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[12:15:47]

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back. President Trump this morning singling out the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and calling her leadership poor. This is the same mayor who is living in an emergency shelter, literally begging for help as people on that island and she says they are dying.

I want to get CNN political commentators, Maria Cardona and Alice Stewart, in here for their take on the president's latest tweets. Maria, your reaction, just a reminder this is some of what the president has been tweeting this morning from his golf course in New Jersey saying, "Such poor leadership ability by the mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help.

They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. Ten thousand federal workers now on island doing a fantastic job," Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: My blood is boiling, Fredricka. I grew up in Puerto Rico. My brother lives in Puerto Rico. They are facing devastating challenges. For this president to go out and insult one of the local leaders who is doing her damndest to keep her people alive, who is wading waist-deep in black floodwater, to try to save the 3.5 million American citizens who live in Puerto Rico, it is just shameful. It's disgraceful.

So, until this president gets his butt off of the golfing range and gets down to Puerto Rico and is able will to also get his body in waist deep in that black floodwater and roll up his sleeves and be able to help these people that he is the president of, he needs to shut the "f" up, put down his Twitter, and figure out what it means to be president for once in his miserable term.

WHITFIELD: So, Alice, why would the president do that particularly on the eve of getting ready to go to Puerto Rico and see for himself? I mean, does this become potentially tantamount to President Bush saying you're doing a heck of a job, Brownie. This president saying, you know, workers are doing a fantastic job, at the same time people are dying, people are doing without. Might this be a bane to the Trump presidency similar to how Katrina was the bane and a stain for the Bush presidency?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's pray that it's not. First if I can say, my thoughts and prayers go out to Maria's family and to her and loved ones and everyone in Puerto Rico and everyone in all of these hurricanes' wake. The devastation is gut- wrenching and heartbreaking.

We can't do enough and can't do it fast enough. So, I pray that they get relief very soon. As to why the president is being critical of the mayor, it makes no sense and why he's pointed out their financial situation, it makes no sense.

Because what we're seeing and hearing amidst the devastation, our federal government is working overtime, 24/7 to get the resources needed. I know while it's never going to be enough and fast enough, we have 10,000 federal officials on the ground, thousands of FEMA official officials.

We have the Coast Guard down there working to restore power as well as communications. We have dozens of federal agents working night and day to try and clear way debris, provide food, water, restore power, get the infrastructure back up and running.

And while so much of it gets lost in the dialogue, I do know, I have seen the numbers, I've seen the people, talked to people who are going there to work, to try and get these people back to some sense of normalcy.

And the difficulty is we've heard from Senator Marco Rubio who's been on the ground. He says the problem is this was such a devastating disaster, we have to start from the very beginning, rebuilding the infrastructure in addition to getting the people the help they need.

We know a lot of the people in Puerto Rico that ordinarily would be helping one another, they're victims, too. So, we need to reach out and help. As I said, we can't do enough fast enough. I believe that our federal officials, FEMA specifically, is doing everything they can to stabilize lives and help restore some sense of normalcy.

[12:20:05] WHITFIELD: Maria, people have great needs there. It is clear. Our own reporters on the ground there, and as we mentioned among members of Congress, you know, Marco Rubio seeing for himself.

We've heard from Representative Gutierrez who made it very clear and tearfully said this is impactful. But the president is about to embark on a visit on Tuesday, and the first lady will be alongside the president.

What might that reception be? You know, customarily the mayor of a city like San Juan, even of course the governor, would have face time with the president who is visiting similar to how we saw in Houston. How might this be different?

CARDONA: Well, he certainly isn't doing everything that he can to have the local officials in Puerto Rico want to open up their hearts to him and welcome him with open arms. I'm sure they will. I'm sure they will feign that they are happy that he is there because they don't want to bite the hand that is supposedly -- whose job is to feed them.

So, I'm sure that they will act like leaders and welcome him and talk to him about the devastating needs that Puerto Rico has. What I'm hoping is that this president will put his ego aside because that is what he is focused on, that is the only thing he cares about right now.

The more that he tweets and insults folks in Puerto Rico, who are doing everything they can to save citizens' lives, the more that he underscores how unfit he is to be president of the United States.

You know, one of his tweets said that Puerto Rico is only -- you know, looking for help and they're not helping themselves. First of all, would he say that about Texas --

WHITFIELD: They want everything to be done for them, it should be a community effort.

CARDONA: Exactly. That they want everything to be done for them. Two things, first of all, would he say that to Texas or Florida or to any of the other 50 states?

WHITFIELD: So that -- CARDONA: He would never say that about a state, OK. Having said

that, Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory with 3.5 million American citizens. Hopefully the president knows that, that these are citizens of the United States.

And secondly, our own reporting, Fredricka, is proving the president wrong. Sanjay Gupta's piece just now focused on how FEMA and HHS could not get him the medicine in 45 minutes quick enough that he -- he was trying to get to the people, and he went to --

WHITFIELD: It may take you hours to get to that point first.

CARDONA: Yes, but Fredricka, how is it that our reporters as amazing as they are and other major outlets have been able to visit the people that have devastating needs who tell them you're the only people that we have seen. We have not seen these supposed 10,000 people that are on the ground.

I'm sure they're there, but guess what -- they are tied up in red tape, bureaucracy. This president sold himself as a CEO, who is the only one who knew how to solve problems. To remember the sound bites, that he was the only one who could fix this.

Well, we need that kind of leadership now. He was talking a good game back then. He now needs to put his money where his mouth is and prove that he can be president of the United States because up until now he has done nothing, anything except that.

WHITFIELD: So, Alice, how do you see this handling and language coming from the president having residual effects unlike, say, the fallout from the failure of his top agenda items of health care, the -- we should say the resignation of his HHS secretary for misusing airplanes, private, public funding for private airplanes unlike the fallout from the use of SOBs just last week in Alabama. How do you see all of this potentially hampering any progress this president can make from this point forward in his presidency?

STEWART: It makes it very difficult. Look, there are a lot of unforced errors that we see with this administration. There are things as president that you plan for by campaigning to repeal and replace Obamacare and execute that like planning for building a wall and getting Mexico to pay for it. You plan for that and execute it.

And a lot of those things have not happened. They are also things as president that you cannot plan for like the series of hurricanes that we've had. As president, you have to step up to the plate and be ready to handle all of them.

I do think to this point as we've seen, and I completely understand Maria's frustration and all of those in Puerto Rico, there is a lot that needs to be done. What we're hearing the last 48 hours while this has been going on for a week now, the last 48 hours they have new people in charge of working to restore things back to some semblance of normalcy in Puerto Rico.

They're adding more people. This is one of those things. Unfortunately, it's baptism by fire when it comes to how to respond to something of this magnitude.

[12:25:08] And I do believe the administration's put being the right people in the right places to get the help needed. As I said, people of Puerto Rico themselves are victims, and we as Americans need to help our neighbors and our fellow Americans that are down there and do everything we can.

Granted, it has been slow getting there. I think we are full speed ahead in getting the help necessary to the people.

WHITFIELD: This isn't over yet, Maria. I wonder, you know, there have been other hiccups along the way that people have been willing to explain away or forget. Is this something that will not be forgotten? That perhaps the president, you know, will -- his presidency will be forever marked by?

CARDONA: I agree. I actually think it's going to be worse than what it was for Bush in Katrina for this president. Look, this was not a surprise. A hurricane is not like an earthquake. We saw this one coming. And yes, Irma and Harvey came beforehand, but this still should have and could have been planned for.

Fredricka, as you know very well, the president took seven days to waive the Jones Act, which is an arcane 100-year-old act that did not let foreign vessels come to Puerto Rico for aid that was so needed in those first few days.

He still has not declared the whole island as a disaster zone. How does that make sense? After Haiti, Fredricka, Haiti, a non-U.S. territory or -- it's a foreign country, there was a general, a U.S. general on the ground two days after that earthquake, which could not have been planned for, and there were 25,000 troops on the ground in Haiti that first week.

So, I am saying if you compare this to that and compare it to the fact that the president was tweeting about the NFL six days after Maria had devastated Puerto Rico, you know what the president's priorities are right there, and they certainly were not saving the lives of the 3.5 million American citizens who are now gasping for air, gasping for food and gasping for their lives.

WHITFIELD: And then Alice, this has become personal. The president almost makes it sound like he's mad at the mayor, Mayor Cruz, who helped bring attention to the devastation there. He's made it possible with his tweets, and there goes that word again, nasty. He's using the word nasty in reference to the Puerto Ricans leaders, namely the mayor, similarly to how he used it with his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

CARDONA: This mayor happens to be a Latina woman. I wonder if that has anything to do with it.

STEWART: That's uncalled for. There's no need for that. There's no need for name-calling. If anyone is mad here clearly, it's the mayor of Puerto Rico and the governor who feels as though not enough is being done fast enough. But I will say this, when the president gets on the grounds on Tuesday, it is amazing that the type of attention, the increased demand for resources and personnel that will be as a result of that trip.

And I do think in a situation like that, a crisis situation, you'll see many times with various administrations, you're tired, hungry, frustrated, you want to help your people, everyone's help was including the elected officials.

Things can't get done fast enough. I understand her frustration, there's no need to return with any name-calling. I think with FEMA and the new general that has been placed in charge of overseeing the response, I think they're doing a tremendous job.

I think once the president sees firsthand how devastating it is, we'll have more resources on the ground there. Obviously, it can't happen soon enough.

WHITFIELD: Yes. It's devastation, it's desperation without water, food, you know, clean water. I mean -- how do you expect people to be?

CARDONA: And disgraceful and disrespectful responses from the president of the United States, who should be leading this effort, not making it worse.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now. Maria Cardona, Alice Stewart, thanks so much, Ladies. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, a direct line to Kim Jong-un? For the first time ever, the Trump administration admits the U.S. is in communication with the North Korean government over its missile and nuclear tests. We'll take you overseas for the latest, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:34:11] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWSROOM ANCHOR: All right. Welcome back. We're following breaking news on North Korea and its nuclear threats. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the most immediate need is to calm the situation down and for the North to stop firing off missiles. Tillerson also said the U.S. has direct channels to Pyongyang and is talking directly with North Korean officials.

Tillerson, who is now heading back home, made the remarks following a meeting with China's President. Let's go live to CNN's Matt Rivers in Beijing. So Matt, are these back-channel communications similar to what has been used in Obama and previous administrations?

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Fred, we're not sure exactly. And then we do know that there has been direct negotiations or direct communications between Pyongyang and Washington before over things like negotiating the release of prisoners that are held by North Korea. You remember it was just a few months ago that those kind of negotiations happened to secure the release of Otto Warmbier, who ended up dying after being released from North Korean custody.

[12:35:11] As for these latest lines of communication, we're not exactly sure. The Secretary of State in meeting with about 12 journalists or so of which we were a part of it at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Beijing. He didn't get into those kind of details.

It was off camera. So let me use his exact words. When responding to a question about whether Pyongyang was ready to talk, he said, "We are probing, so stay tuned. "We asked," the North Koreans, "would you like to talk? We have lines of communications to Pyongyang. We're not in a dark situation or a blackout. We have a couple of channels to Pyongyang. We can talk to them. We do talk to them directly through our own channels."

And the reason why that's significant is not the fact that they're talking. That's happened in the past. What is significant is what they're talking about. This is the first time at least publicly that the Trump administration has admitted that they're talking back and forth about the missile program.

Now the Secretary of State did say this is very much in the beginning stages, that this is just the first steps to trying to start a diplomatic solution. But compared to the really fiery rhetoric we've heard from both sides, this is I would say a welcome development for most people, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Matt Rivers, thank you very much, in Beijing.

All right, the U.S. State Department is pulling all nonessential personnel and families of employees out of Cuba after a string of mysterious attacks against U.S. diplomats. CNN has learned that 21 U.S. diplomats and their families became ill after what's being called apparent sonic attacks.

The American embassy will continue to operate with a 60 percent reduction in staff. Let's get the latest now with CNN's Patrick Oppmann live for us from Havana. Patrick?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN HAVANA-BASED CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Fred, it wasn't that long ago that we were talking about how U.S.-Cuban relations were on the mend. The two countries, cold war enemies, had restored diplomatic relations, reopen embassies. President Obama came to visit as it tens of thousands of American visitors aboard U.S. cruise ships and airplanes.

But just in the last few weeks, U.S.-Cuban relations have hit a new low. Just two years after the re-establishment of full diplomatic ties, the U.S. embassy in Havana has seen better days. Hurricane Irma pattered much of Cuba and the Havana's seafront boulevard where the embassy is located.

U.S. diplomats are still picking up from the storm and now are facing another calamity. Diplomats' families and nonessential personnel are being ordered to return to the U.S. after at least 21 members of the embassy staff were targeted by what U.S. officials say could have been sonic attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have it under evaluation. It's a very serious issue with respect to the harm that certain individuals have suffered. We've brought some of those people home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OPPMANN: U.S. officials believe that starting last November, devices that emit sonic waves could have targeted U.S. diplomats while they're in their homes or staying in hotels. Who is behind the attacks and the motive is unclear. Cuban officials deny responsibility and say they are investigating the incidents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA, CUBAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Cuba has never perpetrated not will it ever perpetrate actions of this sort, nor has Cuba allowed or will it ever allow its territory to be used by third parties for that purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OPPMANN: U.S. officials say they believe the Cubans know more than they are saying and what they call rogue elements of the island's formidable intelligence services could be involved.

Not long after the U.S. complained to the Cuban government about the attacks, Raul Castro himself personally promised American diplomats that Cuba would investigate the incidents. The FBI was able to come to Havana, and security increased at U.S. diplomats' homes. But U.S. officials say still the attacks continued.

U.S. officials say as a result of the attacks, they will stop issuing visas to Cubans effective immediately and issue a travel warning to Americans thinking of visiting Cuba. Despite the harassment, both current and former U.S. diplomats say now is the wrong time to lessen the U.S. presence on the communist-run island.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICKI HUDDLESTON, FORMER CHIEF U.S. DIPLOMATIC MISSION IN HAVANA: It is the worst possible thing that could happen to both countries. And what worries me more than anything is that hard-liners on the Cuban side and the U.S. side might be behind pushing this idea.

OPPMANN: U.S. officials say their first priority has to be to keep U.S. personnel and their families safe. But they concede that American diplomats leaving Cuba could be just what the people behind these mystery attacks were hoping to accomplish.

And Fred, many of those diplomats who have been ordered home actually fought to stay here. They said the mission despite this campaign of harassment was just too important. They did not want to go home. They now are packing up. They are selling off some of the possessions. They are trying to essentially bring to a close several years of living in Cuba.

[12:40:07] And later next week, they are expected to get on a plane and go back to Cuba leaving a greatly reduced U.S. embassy. It's only going to be for emergency situations. No more visas and it will be doing a lot less than it has in the past, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow. So packing up and leaving and selling things, leading one to believe that they don't feel that they'll be ever to come back. That there's some real permanence in this vacating as a result of this medical crisis. All right, Patrick Oppmann. Thanks so much.

All right, it was just week -- one week ago, rather, when President Trump issued this offensive language.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He's fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, today in that very state where Trump made those comments, a big college football game will get underway. So how will the NCAA respond following a week of emotion and debate, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:45:04] WHITFIELD: According to a new CNN poll, Americans are sharply divided over whether NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem are doing the right thing. It was just last week when President Trump attacked the NFL protests using language we warn is offensive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say, get that son of a bitch off the field right now? Out. He's fired. Fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Today, college football players are taking the field in the very state where President Trump made those comments. CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live for us in Auburn, Alabama, where the big game kicks off later on today. Kaylee?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, as college football teams across the country like Auburn and Mississippi State take the field, it's important to remember that they won't be on the field while the National Anthem is played. In college, you've got the school bands playing the National Anthem. And the teams then typically run out shortly thereafter.

In talking to members of both of the staffs, they tell me, therefore, hasn't been a point of discussion among their teams. They've remained focus on football. But as this debate has transcended sports, it's not hard to find fans who have an opinion on the dialogue that we've heard throughout the week.

I want to bring in Auburn fan and member of active U.S. military duty, Sergeant Jordan Travis. Sergeant, how do you characterize your response to the debate that President Trump's comments have created?

JORDAN TRAVIS, SERGEANT & AUBURN FANS: I've been in the military for 10 years now, and I've been on three deployments. And I have deployed for the exact reason for people's right, for freedom of speech, and I may not necessarily agree with the way the NFL players and pro-players and pro-athletes are doing that demonstration, but that's the right. I can only give you my opinion and my opinion is I have fault and I have tried and bled for the exact reason for people to protest and do as they wish.

HARTUNG: If we take a step back and think to a year ago when this protest movement began with Colin Kaepernick. The focus was on in standing up against racial inequality, against police brutality. Do you feel that in all of these, that message has been lost?

TRAVIS: I agree with you 100 percent actually. Last year, it was basically just Colin Kaepernick that was making his stand, or taking a knee, and it's been lost this year. And until this past weekend I believe it was less than 10 NFL players that have did some type of demonstration. So I think it's been totally lost in my opinion.

HARTUNG: OK. Jordan, good luck to your Auburn Tigers today in this game. We wish you the best. Thank you so much.

TRAVIS: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

HARTUNG: Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right, Kaylee Hartung, thank you so much to both of you. All right, we will be right back.

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[12:52:17] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. President Trump launched a verbal attack on the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, via tweet today. In that series of tweets, the President accused Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz of, quoting now, poor leadership. And the President suggested the island is not doing enough to help itself. The President lashed back after the mayor begged for help and criticized the federal response to the storm.

All right, joining me on the phone, Julia Keleher. She is the spokeswoman for the governor of Puerto Rico. So, Julia, thank you so much for being with us. The governor said just not long ago maybe inside two hours ago that he has spoken with the President, and I'm quoting him now, I don't feel that message was sent in general. I do reiterate that the only way for this to work for us is to have collaboration. And let me stress this, I am committed to collaborating with everyone. This is the point where we can't look at small differences. We can't establish differences based on politics. And so I wonder, Julia, you know, is this governor just trying to be very careful knowing that the President of the United States will be there on Tuesday and that federal assistance, more assistance is still really need desperately in Puerto Rico.

JULIA KELEHER, SPOKESWOMAN FOR GOVERNOR OF PUERTO RICO (via telephone): I think that the fact that assistance is needed given the devastation that was created by the hurricane is a true statement. I mean, the amount of destruction and the amount of recovery that that island will have to undertake is enormous. And it is going to require many, many people all with the same shared focus to be able to help people across the island access basic resources that they need and build their lives back.

And we're talking about constructing homes and making sure that families and children and the, you know, the entirety of the community, private industry, the government workers, that everyone is able to get on their feet again. And it's going to take everybody pulling in the same direction.

WHITFIELD: So the needs are indeed great. And this morning the governor was asked, you know, the question of his response based on the various tweets that came from the President of the United States. And we do have that sound bite now from Governor Rosello. And he was asked, you know, about the President saying there was such poor leadership, ability by the mayor of San Juan specifically.

The President tweeting they want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. This was a Governor Ricardo Rosello earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: I've spoken to the President. I don't feel that that message was sent in general. I do reiterate that the only way for this to work is for us to have collaboration. And let me stress this, I am committed to collaborating with everybody.

[12:55:06] This is a point where we can't look at small differences. We can't establish, you know, differences based on politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: He put it very diplomatically talking about differences. But, you know, there are sentiments from the President, is that salt to the wound?

KELEHER (via telephone): I think that the governor is right and now isn't the time to be engaging in political attacks and trying to figure out, you know, what's the right way to talk about the relief effort. We need a shared focus, we need a common goal, which is helping the people of Puerto Rico put their lives back together.

And the enormity of the disaster requires that everyone is focused on the same thing. And that is human lives. That is bringing the quality of life back to Puerto Ricans. And we are grateful. We are grateful for the federal and state collaboration.

I think that, you know, in a crisis you can never get everything you want done as fast as you want to get it gone. It's not possible because the needs are so great. And I, to say again, we're very thankful that there's more than just us here trying to solve this problem.

WHITFIELD: And quickly, what do you want the President to see firsthand when he comes on his scheduled Tuesday visit?

KELEHER (via telephone): I don't know that they've confirmed all of the details of what the visit will entail. I think that there's, you know, there are various aspects that are worth seeing. Some are the families and the reconstruction of the infrastructure that we're trying to take care of. I think seeing this command center and understanding how many people are actually here with sleeves rolled up, you know, day and night, 24/7, trying to make sure that the aid is getting out.

And I think, you know, seeing some communities and seeing -- you know, people getting the relief showing up. And it's true that, you know, the schools and the shelters, i can speak for education because that's the area i work in, in the coming week, we're going to open up schools as centers for the community where we can facilitate access to additional resources.

WHITFIELD: OK. Julia Keleher, spokesperson for Governor Ricardo Rosello in Puerto Rico, thank you very much.

All right, we've got so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom. Stay with us.

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