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Hurricane Florence Barrels Toward Carolinas; Hatteras Island Orders Mandatory Evacuations as Cities Prepare; White House Whittles Down List for Anonymous Op-Ed Author; Trump Calls New Bob Woodward Book a "Joke"; Maria Butina ; Trump to Provide Written Answers in Zervos Lawsuit; Trump Falsely Claims GDP Higher Than Unemployment Rate 1st time in Century. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for being with me today. I'm Poppy Harlow, in New York. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

Let me pass it over to my colleague, Kate Bolduan.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan.

We begin this hour with Hurricane Florence, a massive storm that has just strengthened. Now a category 3, which makes this a major hurricane, one that appears to be barreling toward the Carolinas. It could be the strongest hurricane to hit that area in more than 20 years.

Just moments ago, we learned more about it. We also learned a mandatory evacuation about to get under way on North Carolina's Hatteras Island. Right now, the National Hurricane Center is releasing its latest updates.

CNN's Chad Myers is tracking all of this for us from the Weather Center.

Chad, the question obviously a lot of folks want to know is when could Florence hit the U.S.?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Probably the first effect would be some time noon on Thursday. Maybe a little earlier. Outer bands kind of coming in with lashing 75-mile-per-hour winds. But the problem is not really that we're 115 right now. It's the problem of what's going on from here. The water is getting warmer, Erica. It's now 85 degrees under the storm. And it's forecast to be 145. And right behind here, it's a 150-mile-per-hour storm. Even if it loses some strength on the way into land, it's going to have this massive bubble of water called a storm surge. The same type of surge that we see in every landfalling major hurricane, like Katrina, like Hugo, like all of the big storms that push water onshore. It could be 15 or 20 feet high as it comes onshore. Then the storm is going to stop. And it's going to rain a little bit like Harvey. Hopefully, not a lot like Harvey but it's forecast to come onshore, stop, and put down somewhere in the ballpark of 20 to 30 inches of rain somewhere in between West Virginia, Virginia, and down into the Carolinas, which is very topographic, not flat like Houston. This is going to run off, be flash flooding, major, major problems with this storm. It's time to prepare. This looks like a true buzz saw right now. And this means right now this is going through rapid intensification.

If you're doing anything, anywhere along the coastal areas and you don't belong there, don't live there, just leave now so you don't clog the roads for the locals that are trying to leave as the week progresses. This will be an evacuation-type storm where people will need to get away from that water, especially if it's going to go that deep that quickly, Erica. This is going to be a big one we haven't seen in this area in decades.

HILL: All right, Chad Myers with the latest for us. Thank you.

MYERS: Thanks.

HILL: While Hurricane Florence is still days away from landfall, as Chad pointed out, those warnings, those preparations already under way.

CNN's Kaylee Hartung is live in Wilmington, North Carolina.

You have been speaking with folks not just on the beach yesterday. Today you're at some of the stores. Are people really starting to heed the warnings and get prepared?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORREPONDENT: They are, Erica. We're seeing shelves clear, from Savannah, Georgia, up the Carolina coast, into Virginia. This Home Improvement store behind me selling out of the generators that they restocked this morning. Getting more on the floor as soon as they can. Water, bread, and milk, those types of hurricane necessities, emptying out in grocery stores across the area. But people here recognize this storm, as Chad mentioned, isn't just a threat to the coast. You also have to be concerned with areas inland. We talked to one Lowe's home improvement store an hour and a half inland from where we are here in Wilmington, North Carolina, a store in Lumberton, North Carolina, that sold more than 200 generators in the past day. So many people here preparing for a storm that this area really hasn't seen in about 20 years.

You mentioned those evacuations. Hatteras Island now under mandatory evacuation starting at noon today. Hatteras Island in the area familiar called the Outer Banks, that entire county of Dare County will be under mandatory evacuation starting 7:00 a.m. tomorrow.

People here are taking this serious, so are officials. We're aware of the states of emergency that were declared before even the weekend. People asking, why were those declarations made so early? For this reason. So allocations could be made, resources and assets put in place well before the storm hits.

HILL: Kaylee Hartung with the latest for us. Kaylee, thank you.

At the Trump White House, the list of suspects shrinking. The roll call of denials growing. In the latest twist here, a sitting vice president goes to extraordinary lengths to say he will prove his loyalty to the commander-in-chief. Add Mike Pence to the lengthy list of Trump officials to deny writing that scathing op-ed for the "New York Times."

But Pence going a step further. He says he never discussed removing President Trump as unfit for office and is even offering now to take a polygraph.


[11:05:05] CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Should all top officials take a lie detector test, and would you agree to take one?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would agree to take it in a heartbeat and would submit to any review of the administration.

UNIDENTIFIED CORRESPONDENT: One of the claims made in the op-ed is that there had been discussion of invoking the 25th Amendment, to even remove the president from office. Have you ever been part of a conversation about that?

PENCE: No, never. And why would we be?


HILL: All this as the embattled White House is bracing for tomorrow's release of Bob Woodward's book and its damning account of a president dangerously impulsive and uninformed.

The president not wasting any time, firing back this morning, quote, "The Woodward book is a joke," he tweeted. "Just another assault against me and a barrage of assaults using now disproven, unnamed and anonymous sources. Many have already come forward to say the quotes by them, like the book, are fiction. Dems can't stand losing. I'll write the real book."

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Abby, let's begin with this "New York Times" op-ed. A source telling CNN White House aides have actually whittled down the list of suspects. What more do we know about their efforts to determine who the author is?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, White House aides are being pushed to identify this person by the president himself, who has talked publicly and privately about his anger at this person. He's raised some national security concerns that he might find himself in meetings with a person who would write an op-ed like this.

But what we haven't gotten a sense of is who they think this might be, where they might have come from within the administration. What is their profile? We haven't heard anything about that.

And meanwhile, there are, as you just mentioned, a slew of officials talking about the fact that they weren't behind it and denouncing the unnamed administration official who did write the op-ed. Listen to Kellyanne Conway yesterday on "State of the Union."


KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: If this person really thinks that he or she is being patriotic and not pathetic, which is the way I view it, they should come forward.

I think the motivation was to sow discord and create chaos.


PHILLIP: Kellyanne also this morning spoke to reporters briefly and we asked her, how is the search going? She says she doesn't know anything about it because she's not involved in it.

Meanwhile, we are wondering now, what is President Trump going to do when it comes to his claim that he might ask Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, to investigate this person. Kellyanne also said yesterday that she didn't know of any laws that this person might have broken, but she left the question open.

We'll see today whether or not the president moves forward with that and whether that has actually been conveyed to anyone else in this government.

HILL: All right, Abby, appreciate it. Thank you.

Let's continue the discussion. Joining me now, Josh Dawsey, CNN political analyst and "Washington Post" White House reporter, and CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston.

Good to have both of you with us.

All of this is unfolding with the "New York Times" op-ed and the parlor game still going there as we're waiting for Bob Woodward's book to drop tomorrow. He was on the "Today" show this morning, and Savannah Guthrie asked him point blank, you have John Kelly and Jim Mattis coming out and saying the things you said I said in the book, I didn't say. They're refuting his claims. She said, are they lies? His answer, they're not telling the truth and he felt they had to make political statements to protect their jobs.

Josh, who do we believe?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there was certainly a lot of pressure on senior officials last week to go back and push back on Bob Woodward's book and the early accounts that came out. Mr. Woodward said he interviewed more than 100 people for this book. Yesterday, he talked about his meticulous reporting history as a journalist in Washington. But you also have senior officials who are saying their comments were misattributed.

The book, I think what's important to say is a mosaic of what it paints, a portrait of his presidency that in some ways is aligned with what we have been reporting here at "The Post" or books, at the "New York Times," "Wall Street Journal," other places have reported. And lot of the anecdotes in the book are things I had heard separately and I think my colleagues have heard, too, and we know to be true. I don't know every detail in the book, but I know a lot of the reporting aligns with what I've heard inside the White House.

# Which tells us all a lot.

Bob Woodward was also asked, if in working on the book, he feels he may have spoken to the author of the op-ed. Take a listen to that exchange.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, FOX NEWS HOST: I want to ask you if you have any suspects, but I wonder when you read that op-ed --


BOB WOODWARD, JOUNRALIST & AUTHOR: I don't have any suspects.

GUTHRIE: Did you think this might be someone I also have talked to?

WOODWARD: No, I didn't, because the people I talked to I insisted be very specific about the incidents.


HILL: Mark, does that answer in any way narrow the list of possible authors?


[11:09:51] MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I mean, look, a good question by Savannah Guthrie as we're trying to figure out who the person is. And I should note, we will find out who the person is. There are no more Mark Felts, no more Deep Throats in this culture we live in, in this information age where everything moves so quickly. But, again, it was Bob Woodward who protected the identity of Mark Felt for all those years as his source for Watergate. No surprise he wouldn't even address the question so much when asked right then.

But I want to go to something I trust as well. The overarching narrative about chaos in the White House is something that we have been reporting on since day one. So we shouldn't be surprised that conversations that have come up in this book, controversial subjects that have come up, the 25th Amendment have come up. We shouldn't be surprised at all that these conversations have happened in the White House.

HILL: And you know, just to pick up on that point, what's fascinating here is this White House media blitz that they put out, certainly over the weekend, to try to keep the focus on the letter while sort of complaining a little bit about the focus on the letter, it hasn't really focused on the content of the letter.

Take a listen to some of what Kellyanne Conway had to say just yesterday.


CONWAY: I think the motivation was to sow discord and create chaos.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE UNION: You think the person broke the law?

CONWAY: I don't know. I have no idea.


HILL: We don't know if anything illegal happened here, but the president wants an investigation, but we don't know why. Clearly, this was about sowing discord and chaos in the White House because I guess there wasn't any before that.

Again, Josh, what's not addressed here is the content of this letter.

DAWSEY: That's correct. And one of the challenges the White House has had in sussing out who wrote the letter is there are a number of officials who privately agree with the contents of the letter. We did reporting last week where they were trying to figure out early on who it could be, and everyone had five, 10 guesses which tells you a lot of people share the insights put in the letter.

I was on Air Force One with the president on Friday. He came to the back of the plane and was talking about the letter and saying how shameful it was and how he wants Jeff Sessions to investigate. But we haven't, from a lot of officials, heard as much about the contents of the letter and the claims it makes of the president, that he's incompetent and amoral, and more about how atrocious it was for the person to pen such a letter, which is an interesting divide.

HILL: You know, Mark, something I wanted to bring up that you touched on talking about Bob Woodward and Deep Throat. One of the other things that was interesting, he was asked this morning, by Savannah, have you ever put out a book with information that you know to be true and then the person who is quoted in the beak says, oh, I never said that. He said, oh, yes, that does kind of happen. And that eventually he said, you know, and I'm paraphrasing here, eventually, the truth comes out. As you were saying, Mark, eventually we'll know who wrote this op-ed. You know, none of us has a crystal ball, but what's fascinating is that eventually, that timeframe of that is much different in 2018 and how quickly that can come to light.

PRESTON: Erica, I'm surprised we haven't found out yet.

HILL: Yes.

PRESTON: I'm surprised the name hasn't come out yet. What I do think is interesting and I do think our viewers should really hone in on this, when you have somebody come out, such as General Mattis or anybody, and say look, I did not write the op-ed or I never said those things, take into context that he's a secretary of defense for a president right now that a lot of people have questions about his stewardship of the country. Could you imagine if Jim Mattis came out and said, you know what, I did say that? We would be in absolute turmoil. So when Bob Woodward says that's a political statement, they have jobs. It's more than they need a paycheck. There's much more to it than that. There's the country at stake. So I do think that's what Woodward is getting to.

DAWSEY: And the op-ed denials are interesting to me because you have folks -- if you wrote an anonymous op-ed like this and would you then immediately say, oh, actually, I did do it, when asked by the press? If you were willing to write such an op-ed and place it, it's hard to imagine now I received a press question so I'm going to fess up to it.


HILL: I don't need to be anonymous anymore. Sure, it was me.


DAWSEY: Right, it was me. So it's hard to know, you know -- how if any of the denials are disingenuous because you're not going to just say, oh, yes, I did it, thank you very much.

HILL: Oh, and at some point, perhaps we'll look back on this and laugh at the fact it took us now six days to figure this out.

Mark Preston, Josh Dawsey, always appreciate it. Thank you.

PRESTON: Thanks.

DAWSEY: Thank you.

[11:14:26] HILL: Coming up, an awkward mistake from the U.S. government. Prosecutor say they were wrong to accuse a Russian national of offering sex for political access. Is her case, though, really the one the president is thinking about?

Plus, President Trump says the economy is so good, but one of his latest tweets about it is flat-out wrong. The facts ahead.


HILL: Accused Russian spy, Maria Butina, heads back to court this afternoon for a status hearing. This comes days after prosecutors acknowledge they misunderstood text messages used as the basis of a claim that Butina had offered to trade sex for access. It's a stunning admission that threatened to undercut the government's cloak- and-dagger portrayal of this 29-year-old Russian accused of working to infiltrate American political circles.

Joining me, CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, and white-collar criminal defense attorney, Caroline Polisi.

Caroline, when you look at this, that headline grabs you. We got it wrong, not about sex. Is there more to it, though, than the salacious headline? [11:19:45] CAROLINE POLISI, WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:

First, they have done her a grave injustice. And I think unfortunately in my line of work, which is white collar criminal defense, it happens more often than you think, Erica, that the government gets things wrong. I think it highlights the bigger difficulty that prosecutors are having in the Russia investigation at large. Remember, this isn't part of the Mueller probe. This is in the D.C. federal court system, but it does have to do with sort of Russia at large. And prosecuting these types of sort of spy cases are very ambiguous. They owned up, fessed up to the fact they made a mistake when they read these text messages. It was clearly a joke. But you know, everything is supposed to be coded when you're talking about spy language. So it's very difficult to sort of get to the heart of a case like this. I think it's a pretty flimsy case against her.

HILL: It does hurt it a little bit.


HILL: Which is fascinating.

I have to get to this, too. We also learned the president is going to provide written answers in the defamation suit brought against him by former "The Apprentice" contestant, Summer Zervos. Paul, when it comes to the discovery phrase, the questions aren't limited to just what is a part of this defamation suit, correct?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's correct. And in state court in New York, unlike federal court, where you have limitations on the questions that can be asked, you really can ask almost anything that's somewhat relevant to the litigation. There's a lot relevant potentially to the Stormy Daniels litigation.

But you know, I really think the bigger issue here is that he has -- the president is now withdrawing, reportedly, the proviso that she has to remain silent, the confidentiality agreement, the NDA. If that disappears, I'm wondering how much of the Stormy Daniels case will be left in the end.

HILL: That's for the Stormy Daniels case?


HILL: Right.

But if we focus in on Summer Zervos and we look at the defamation and the written responses, yes, it could bring up more. The other question, too, though is if these are written responses, you're not following up on anything, right?

CALLAN: You're not, but you can ask for a deposition in New York.


CALLAN: Which I think it's hard to say that a deposition of a president would definitely be granted, but this is New York. There's a lot of hostility against President Trump and they have ordered depositions in the past for him. That's the big danger for the president in the Zervos case as opposed to Stormy Daniels, which may be getting better for him.

HILL: Yes, we'll see if that does get better.

It's fascinating, too, to think of what could we learn, and would this set a precedent, too, in the fact he has agreed to provide these written answers because this isn't the only case?

POLISI: Absolutely. Not necessarily in the context of written answers but, as Paul was saying, the possibility of a deposition. Remember, Summer Zervos had argued -- this is really the sleeper case of the Trump presidency, in my opinion. I think it could have farther reaching implications than the Stormy Daniels case because it could get to a deposition, Erica. Remember, Clinton v. Jones, 1997, Supreme Court case. Unanimous decision that a sitting president is not immune from civil litigation of this nature. Mark Kasowitz, who is Summer Zervos' attorney, tried to make a distinction because this is in state court. The judge said, uh-uh, it's the same. A sitting president is not above the law. The implications have to do with the Mueller investigation at large. All of these different things are coming together. You know, this is what got Bill Clinton impeached.

HILL: This case, from the beginning, too, has been pointed at as, it does have more meat. That's why it was allowed to go through, and the merits are perhaps different than some of the other ones.

CALLAN: Exactly. But Caroline makes a great point. When you look back at the Clinton impeachment, that all turned on a statement that president Clinton made in a civil deposition, the Paula Jones deposition, where he lied. That eventually wound up before a criminal grand jury, and of course, in impeachment proceedings. There are analogous situations in the Zervos case.

HILL: So much still to come.

Appreciate it. Thank you.


[11:23:43] HILL: Coming up, President Trump says this has not happened in 100 years. Spoiler alert, it actually happened as recently as 2006. So why is the president muddying the waters around his good economic headlines? That's next.


HILL: The economy is booming. President Trump is right to be proud of the success. Yet, while the president is clearly starting to focus on that message, he can't seem to get his facts straight. Tweeting this morning, "The GDP rate is higher than the unemployment rate for the first time in over 100 years."

Numbers from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and the Bureau of Economic Analysis show GDP growth has been higher than unemployment seven times in the last 20 years, let alone a century.

Here to break it down, CNN senior economic analyst, Stephen Moore, and CNN global economic analyst, Rana Foroohar.

Rana, the president does have a lot to tout. And a lot to talk about when it comes to the economy. And yet it seems he can't get out of his own way.

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN GLOBAL ECONOMIC ANALYST: He can't get out of his own way. And the factual inaccuracies undermine his message. To be fair, he has done some things that have put the economy on turbo charge. The tax cut being the main one of them. Unfortunately, the president often takes credit for things that are not completely his. You know, the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates low is, in my opinion, the reason that we have the kind of growth we do this far on from a recovery. So it's a nuanced story but the president doesn't really do nuance.


[11:29:55] HILL: No, he does not do nuance.

In addition to these strong numbers there are good headlines. Today, in the "Washington Post" -- I think we can put that up -- talking about the strong growth for blue-collar jobs we have seen. I mean, under Trump, the jobs have reached blue collar workers.