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Hurricane Florence Targets East Coast; White House Press Briefing. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:02]

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would have to go back and check and look at that. I didn't see the that. I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: ... the price tag of the Russia investigation? Because, if so, that's highly inflated.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I would have to check, Jeff. I'm not sure of that reference.

(CROSSTALK)

ZELENY: ... make a decision if he will testify yet or not?

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's a question I would refer you to outside counsel.

David?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) going to Pennsylvania tomorrow. What does he plan to say? And what does he hope to accomplish with this year's 9/11 address?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the focus will be on remembering that horrific day and remembering the lives that were lost, and certainly honoring the individuals who were not only lost that day, but also put their lives on the line to help in that process.

He will be there, and the vice president will be here in Washington, D.C. at the Pentagon.

David?

QUESTION: Sarah, thank you very much.

I'm assuming you have read Bob Woodward's book. I know a lot of us have. Can we expect -- other than repeating denials from General Mattis, General Kelly, John Dowd, can we expect the White House to give a list of all the things in the book that are wrong and that qualify Woodward to be a liar?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that would be a complete and utter waste of our time, so no.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Well, hold on a second, because then that goes to this Quinnipiac poll that came out today that says that 55 percent of Americans believe that the op-ed writer in "The Times" is right. And the president is getting a 60 percent negative rating on the honest and truthful, that 60 percent of Americans think he's a dishonest person.

So does the president think he can actually win a credibility battle with Bob Woodward, who's an August member of the press corps, helped take Richard Nixon down, and is a legend? How can he win that credibility battle?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, I think I would rather take the actual, on-record account from people who are here, who have been working in this building, who have interacted with the president day in, day out, like General Mattis, like General Kelly, like myself, not disgruntled former employees that refuse to put their name on things when they come out to attack the president.

I think that those are far more credible sources and certainly far more reliable voices within this administration and that can accurately tell what's taking place in the building behind me.

QUESTION: Is the president still a credible voice?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Absolutely.

John.

QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah.

You have said a lot, the president has said a lot about the publication of this op-ed. You have called it, the president has called it a betrayal. You have called it an act of disloyalty.

But the president, as has been mentioned quite a few times, even here in this briefing, has called on the Department of Justice to investigate the publication of this op-ed.

There is no violation of the criminal code that goes along with the publication of this op-ed. So I'm a little curious as to what it is that the president believes may have been violated in the law as it relates to the publication of this op-ed piece.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, we would consider someone who is actively trying to undermine the executive branch of our government inappropriate, and something certainly to cause concern, and they should look at it.

QUESTION: What's the criminal violation there? HUCKABEE SANDERS: Once again, we're just saying that this gives a

great level of concern and they should look into it.

QUESTION: That's not a violation of the law. Just having concern is not a violation of law.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not an attorney. It's the Department of Justice to make that determination, and we're asking them to look into it and make that determination. And they certainly are fully capable of doing that.

But someone actively trying to undermine the duly elected the president and the entire executive branch of president, that seems quite problematic to me and something that they should take a look at.

John.

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

Just to try to specify this a bit, is the White House treating the anonymous op-ed writer as a full-fledged breach of security matter? And is the FBI investigating both staff and their means of communications, cell phones and computers and the like?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware of that level. That wouldn't be something I would be a part of. But, certainly, as I just told your colleague, we think that there is a concern here and it should be looked into.

David.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: One other question.

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry.

Go ahead, John.

QUESTION: Did the -- obviously, the whole world watched when Jair Bolsonaro, the front-running Brazilian presidential candidate, was stabbed last week. Has the president called or sent any statement to his family at all?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not aware that the president has, but I do believe members of the administration have reached out. And I will work to get the specifics of who that was.

David?

QUESTION: Sarah, what does the president make of all of this talk of the 25th Amendment and some of what he hears on media outlets regarding the word crazy talk?

There's a lot of -- it seems like there's a lot of talk about that on many of the mainstream media outlets.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think we would say that it's about as ridiculous as most of Bob Woodward's book.

The fact that that's actually being honestly discussed is ridiculous. And, frankly, it's insulting to the nearly 62 million people that came out and overwhelmingly supported this president, voted for him, supported his agenda, and are watching and cheering on as he successfully implements that agenda every single day.

[15:05:03]

Sagar (ph)?

QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.

Can you give us a sense of what documents the president is considering for declassification some time in the next two weeks? And when exactly can we expect them?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: When we have specifics on that, we will let you know.

QUESTION: Can you give us a sense of what the documents are, though?

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I can't get into that right now, but when we have an announcement on it, I will certainly let you know.

Steven (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, I want to ask you about the Mideast peace process.

Today, the State Department announced it is going to close the Palestinian mission here in Washington. And the Palestinian ambassador to the U.S. accuses this country of murdering the peace process and undermining its role in the peace process.

The State Department says that it's not retreating from our efforts to achieve a lasting and comprehensive peace? Which is it, and how is the United States still an honest broker in this process?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, we have been very up-front throughout the process in the fact that we want to see peace, we want to have those conversations, we want to help broker that deal. And we're going to continue pushing forward.

Beyond that, I don't have anything specific on it today.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) close the office. The Palestinians are saying that the U.S. can no longer be in on its (OFF-MIKE) this is another example, they say, of the fact that the U.S. is too aligned with Israel. Is that not the case?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, we have a great deal of support with our friend and ally in Israel.

But, again, we are as committed today as we have ever been to the peace process.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thank you.

On Friday, the president talked about a new deal, a trade deal with India. What kind of (OFF-MIKE) trade (OFF-MIKE) is he talking about? What kind of (OFF-MIKE) with India?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I know that a number of administration officials just recently came back from India.

They expressed their willingness to negotiate new and better trade deals. And those conversations are at the beginning stages, and we will certainly keep you posted as we get further in the process.

Hallie?

QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.

One on the (OFF-MIKE) but I want to follow up on Steven's question on the peace process here. And just you say the door continues to be open and that you're still working on it. But is it realistic for the president to believe he can actually achieve peace in the Middle East in his first term in office, as he's promised to do, something his son-in-law is working on as well, when the administration has taken steps that Palestinians -- the Palestinians themselves have said do not help?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, certainly, we are very much committed to the process and we're still hopeful we can get there.

QUESTION: Let me ask about the ICC.

John Bolton today said that the administration would sanction the International Criminal Court, which is a move that seems to be a reversion to sort of Bush era policies. Is it fair to say that this administration is now shifting to a more hard-line stance towards the ICC? And if in fact it is so feckless, then why is the U.S. so concerned?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, the president is committed to defending our national sovereignty and all of our security interests, which would include using any means necessary to protect our citizens, those of our allies of unjust prosecution by the ICC.

Their announcement that they would consider opening an investigation into, among other parties, U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan is a threat to American sovereignty. And if they proceed with that, then the United States would consider those options that Ambassador Bolton laid out today.

QUESTION: So why the concern? If the ICC is in fact dead to you, as John Bolton said today, then what is the concern that the U.S. has, in fact, they do not...

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Because they told us they were on the verge of making that decision, and we're letting them know our position ahead of them making that decision.

I will take one last question.

David?

QUESTION: Sarah, the editor of "The Global Times," which is Beijing's premiere foreign policy outlet, wrote on Twitter today that the president blames China on North Korea quite a bit, but now that there seems to be some improvement in North Korea's stance, does China deserve some credit?

And he suggested that they do. What do you think about that? (OFF- MIKE) China is acting better?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that the president deserves the credit in this process. He's been the lead voice and the one that put the initial pressure on North Korea. Certainly, the president has very publicly expressed his gratitude towards President Xi for the role that they played.

He would have liked to have seen them continue to step up and do more. Frankly, we would still like to see them step up and do more. But the credit in this process at this point and where we are, I would say, belongs to President Trump. And we're going to continue to hopefully work with President Xi and his team and his administration to continue to making progress.

QUESTION: Given that you're scheduling a second meeting, it sounded like (OFF-MIKE) with Kim Jong-un, does the president believe that it's really he has to negotiate almost personally with Kim, given that, once the two leaders have left, things seem to go poorly, and then they have to reschedule another meeting?

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know that it's -- I don't know that it's gone poorly, considering steps have been taken by the North Koreans to show signs of good faith.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) progress.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Right. But other steps have been taken, so I wouldn't say that it's gone poorly.

But, at the end of the day, ultimately, it's always going to be best when you can have the two leaders sit down, particularly from the North Korean side. As we know, most of the decisions are going to have to be run through Kim Jong-un. Certainly, he is going to want to talk to his counterpart in President Trump.

[15:10:00]

We think it's important, and we're glad that we're making progress.

Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's get right to it.

Let me bring in our CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston, and CNN political analyst Margaret Talev, who is White House correspondent for Bloomberg News.

And, Margaret, you're normally sitting in those seats. So, I'm going to start with you.

So just more on the news of the day. We have been covering, right, this anonymous senior administration source who penned that "New York Times" opinion piece, and lumping that in, too, with the news of the big Bob Woodward tell-all book that's officially coming out tomorrow.

And listening to Sarah Sanders, right, she reiterated what we heard from the president, the word gutless, that it was gutless of this person and cowardly, but also pathetic that the media would be covering it as emphatically as we have.

I would counter, and I want to hear your 2 cents on the fact that, A, you do have the vice president of the United States coming out on national TV and saying, well, I would take a lie-detector test. So that's newsworthy, A.

And, B, the fact that you have the president calling on the A.G. to investigate.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think that's right.

And it's the president's own public response both to the book and to the anonymous letter that have fueled so much of the continuing controversy over it.

But I think what you saw with this White House briefing was a real effort by the White House, a fairly skillful effort at that, to try to get the narrative back on track about the things that some people in the White House think they should be talking about, the economy, of course. You have Hassett, the economic adviser, out there.

He's sort of maybe the right anecdote for the drama, mild-mannered, apologetic about getting some wrong statistics out, actually thanking journalists for correcting the White House, saying they want to get the right information out.

And then this effort by the White House to draw focus to the potential for a second meeting with Kim on North Korea. But as you saw from the questions right out of the gate, still a lot of questions about what the White House is prepared to do, and some mixed messages from the White House. No lie-detector tests. That's maybe sort of an important marker to lay down.

But they're not ruling out the president's continued interest in somehow going after, legally, either Bob Woodward or "The New York Times" or both, so...

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

I think jogging back to your point for a second and seeing, you know, Kevin Hassett on the economy in a refreshing moment at that podium, right, saying, we -- that was a mistake, right, the Trump tweet adding a zero to the number 100.

But on this notion, Mark, that this White House, if they're talking about the president's calling on the attorney general to investigate, right, and then they're saying, listen, if this person was involved in national security discussions, it is absolutely merited.

But I think it is extraordinary that they are still saying staying on this since, for all intents and purposes that we know of, no crime has been committed.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, they have really mishandled this in so many ways, Brooke.

You wonder why President Trump would want to go directly to the Department of Justice, to bring the FBI into this, instead of trying to deal with this internally, working with, you know, the levers of government that do exist when it comes to hiring of folks for the West Wing.

I don't understand why he didn't go to the Office of Personnel and Management and say, listen, we obviously have a situation here, let's figure out who this person is that doesn't want to be on their team.

The White House is correct in saying, listen, if you don't want to be on the team, then perhaps you should leave, except, except, except, except there are many people that I have talked to in the administration who have said that they're staying there for the very reason of just making sure the train doesn't go off the tracks.

So, there does seem to be a lot of validity -- and Margaret can probably tell you the same -- to what we saw in that op-ed. The conversations that we have had, the conversations that we cannot necessarily always talk about on TV, there was a lot of concern here in Washington about how Donald Trump was reacting and, quite frankly, his actions.

BALDWIN: Let me ask the two of you to stand by.

TALEV: But...

BALDWIN: I have got Jeff -- hang on.

I have got Jeff Zeleny up in front of the camera. He's our senior White House correspondent who asked the question on the lie detectors. And Kaitlan Collins is in front of the White House, too.

So Jeff, on the Woodward book, it seems their only defense is to attack his credibility, right? The president keeps calling him a liar.

ZELENY: Well, Brooke, that certainly is the strategy of the president. He called it a joke. He called the book a scam. He simply is going after the methods used in the book, rather than the substance of the book entirely.

But one thing I think is striking, we have not yet heard from the president on what he thinks about some of the people he's not received denials from, Gary Cohn first and foremost, you know, the former chief economic adviser, who's, you know, a subject of the opening chapters of the book, talking about that dramatic scene of taking, you know, a document off the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

We haven't yet heard from the president what he thinks of that. So, I think there's no question that this is a classic Trump strategy of going after the messenger and trying to gloss over a bit of the message, if you will.

But it is one of the reasons I asked Sarah Sanders about the lie- detector test specifically. So, here, if you stop and thinking about it and just pause and reflect how abnormal this is for the vice president of the United States to say in an interview with Chris Wallace on FOX over the weekend that he would sit for a lie-detector test.

[15:15:08]

So I asked Sarah Sanders about that, and she quickly tried to move off of that, said there are not going to be lie detectors.

So what they're trying to do is say, look, we're focusing on the matter at hand here. They're trying to get the president, Brooke, to focus on substance, like the economy, like other matters.

But he privately, we're told, is still seething and consumed by all of this, from the Woodward book at the beginning of last week to the op- ed at the end of the book. And, certainly, all this is going to start over again when the book is actually released tomorrow.

And's even more details in the book we have not yet reported on, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Listening to you, Jeff, and Kaitlan -- Kaitlan, over to you, because the president is tweeting on one hand the White House is a smooth-running machine, yet paranoia with a capital P.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke.

There's not a lot of people inside the White House that would agree that it's a smooth-running machine, even those who are the most optimistic inside the West Wing. But, Brooke, this is the first briefing we have gotten in 19 days. And there were three really big things that stood out. But following up on what Jeff said about the lie-detector test, Sarah Sanders essentially ruled them out right there.

But we know that President Trump privately is talking to allies about this suggestion, what they think about it. And when he was in an interview last week and he was asked about this proposal, he didn't rule out the idea of giving out lie detectors to those staffers to find out who it is that wrote this op-ed.

And his own vice president is volunteering to take one. So clearly he doesn't think it's that ludicrous of an idea if he's offering to do so.

Secondly, Sarah Sanders did not say that the president is not considering bringing a lawsuit against Bob Woodward for writing this book. When she was asked about that, she said she would keep us updated and then launched into these series of attacks on Bob Woodward for the way he reported this book and didn't ask certain people, according to her, about conversations that he reported on in this book.

But then, thirdly, Brooke, they could not name what crime it is the person who wrote this op-ed has committed and that should be looked into by the Justice Department. Now, they couched it by Sarah Sanders saying, she's not an attorney, it's for the Department of Justice to decide.

But there is no denying that the president made it pretty clear what he thinks his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, should be doing and that they should be looking into who this is. Now, they could not cite any crime for this. Of course, several reporters in that room brought up that this would be protected likely under the First Amendment.

But, clearly, we're seeing the White House here very unaware of who it is that wrote this op-ed. And they're trying to find out a way, any kind of way to mount a defense against what this person who still works in the administration said in "The New York Times."

BALDWIN: But, clearly, Sarah Sanders kept trying to get everyone focusing on the progress with North Korea, right, this letter that came in from Kim Jong-un, and, of course, the economy, right?

They bring in the guest, Jeff. You thought maybe it would be somebody from FEMA. And we, know, of course, this White House has been in touch with FEMA and governors, et cetera, ahead of this Category 4 storm.

But it was this moment I just want to play.

Mark and Margaret, I want to come back to you two on this. And we mentioned this a second ago.

But, for everyone, in case you missed it, it's a moment you don't see very often in that White House Press Briefing Room, a Trump adviser admitting the president got it wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN HASSETT, CHAIRMAN, COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS: The history of thought of how errors happen is not something that, you know, I can engage in, because, like, from the initial fact to what the president said, I don't know the whole chain of command.

But what is true is that it's the highest in 10 years. And, at some point, somebody probably conveyed it to him adding a zero to that, and they shouldn't have done that. And I can say that at least we numbers geeks here at the White House are grateful for -- when the press finds mistakes that we make, we don't like making mistakes, but we're grateful when they're pointed out, because we want to correct them.

And you might have noticed that I gave Sarah a bad number a few weeks ago. It was 100 percent my fault, and I apologized immediately, and we created it. And you would have to talk to the president about where the number came from, but the correct number is 10 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Margaret, we're grateful to you for correcting us, we're sorry, we got it wrong. Are pigs flying somewhere?

TALEV: Well, as Americans know, that's the way most White Houses act outwardly, in public settings when there is an error.

BALDWIN: Yes.

TALEV: And what it does is, it builds credibility and confidence and good faith.

BALDWIN: It does.

TALEV: So, as I said, in the middle of a controversy, maybe Kevin Hassett is the right guy to bring out every single time.

But I do think that, again, there is this push and pull, with many people inside the White House feeling that the economy, the economic numbers are what the president should be running on and the momentum that he should be taking into those midterm elections.

And this ongoing kind of tug-of-war about the president feeling incredibly frustrated about the disclosures in this book, about the allegations by anonymous, is continuing to pull them off-course, at a time exactly when he's supposed to be ramping up these midterm appearances in some tough congressional races.

[15:20:08]

And so I think this is what they're going to have to thread the needle with in these briefings going forward is sort of an attempt to course- correct the president's instincts to return to the controversy, instead of, you know, like looking away from the tree, right?

BALDWIN: Right. Right.

Mark, close us out.

PRESTON: You know, very quickly, he did a great job of deflecting, distracting, and he also put the blame on the error for the president on an unnamed person and took all the pressure back off the president.

I would say that he did the president very well today, Kevin did.

BALDWIN: All right, Mark and Margaret, thank you two so much.

They mentioned this hurricane. Obviously, this White House keeping a close, close eye on this, in touch with the governors up and down the East Coast, just in South Carolina now issuing mandatory evacuations for the state's entire coast, as Hurricane Florence becomes a Category 4. We will take you there.

Also ahead, the woman accused of being a Russian spy appears in court after prosecutors admit they got it wrong that she offered sex for access to Republicans. Hear what just happened.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

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[15:25:35]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Prepare now while you can. That is the warning, that Florence is dangerous Category 4 hurricane. The suspected strike zone is anywhere from Virginia to South Carolina.

Moments ago, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered mandatory evacuations of the state's entire coastline.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live in Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

And, Martin, they're saying this could actually be the strongest hurricane to hit the Carolinas in more than 20 years.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the governor was very blunt, Brooke, in talking about how people need to prepare, and they need to do it now.

He's saying that North Carolina is readying for what they expect to be a very hard hit from this storm. Already, 200 members of the National Guard have been called up. They're pre-placing all the heavy earth- moving equipment they will need to get the streets and roadways reopened again.

On top of that, the high-water rescue vehicles have been brought in. And then you have got the helicopters that will go into the neighborhoods and start pulling people out of the water.

They are expecting that flooding is going to be every bit as dangerous, even if not more so, than the problems you are going to have with the high winds with the potential of a Category 4.

If there is any good news, Brooke, the fact that there is time, time for states, to prepare to call up the National Guard, time for communities to prepare to begin the local evacuations, and time for store owners to start doing things like this.

I want you to meet somebody over here.

Hello, Neal.

This is Neal Royal, Brooke, and he is the manager of King's Beachwear here.

And you have spent the better part of the day already boarding up.

NEAL ROYAL, MANAGER, KING'S BEACHWEAR: Yes, just trying to get ready. We don't know what's going to happen here.

I mean, we have had serious weather on and off for the past couple of years, and never had an actual hurricane hit directly in this area. It's been a long time since we have actually seen one. But...

SAVIDGE: How worried are you?

ROYAL: I -- I really don't know. A lot of people are already starting to leave, and they're coming and asking me, what are we going to do? What are we going to do?

I also have apartments upstairs where no one knows what's going to happen as far as, will the building hold up? And it's withstood the test of time through many other hurricanes in the past, but we don't know what's going to happen this time.

SAVIDGE: People are truly worried. They're scared.

ROYAL: Yes, they are. They are. It's like it's almost full-blown panic. Most of the businesses, restaurants are closing up. This will probably be their last day. Everyone's leaving town.

SAVIDGE: All right. We wish you the best of luck, Neal. Thank you.

If there's any bright spot, and it's a very small one, it is the fact that for most of these vacation places, last weekend was the end of the season for them. But now they're fearful that this storm could bring a lot of damage and certainly flooding here -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Thursday night, maybe into Friday morning. We will keep close tabs on it, as I know they are.

Martin Savidge, thank you so much, to you and your crew in Carolina Beach.

Moments ago, a judge placing a gag order on the case against an accused Russian spy with ties to the NRA and Republican insider -- why the judge reprimanded Maria Butina's lawyers and why prosecutors are walking back one of the accusations they made against her. Plus, Serena Williams calling out a double standard in sports after

she was fined over an argument with an umpire. We will discuss how sexism may have played a role in the penalties.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)