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Strzok Attorney: Trump Peddling "Conspiracy Theories"; FEMA Prepares for Hurricane Florence; North Carolina Braces for Hurricane Florence; Election Error in Georgia May Have Cost Representative His Seat; Trump Speaks in Shanksville, PA, on 9/11 Anniversary. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:05] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: We haven't heard the last from former FBI agent and top Trump target, Peter Strzok. He's now pushing back against allegations from a top House Republican that he conspired to leak damaging information about President Trump. An attorney for Strzok says, though, it's all being intentionally taken out of context. So what is the context? And what is going on here?

CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is on Capitol Hill with all the details.

Manu, what is going on here?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This started last night when Congressman Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, he released a letter about new text messages he received from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page that he said suggests a, quote, "coordinated effort" on the part of the FBI to undercut President Trump's new administration.

This came in light of two text messages in particular that he cited from April 2017, one in which Strzok talks about talking to Page about a, quote, "media leak strategy" with DOJ. Then also tells Page about an article coming out involving her, quote, "namesake." That appears, according to Meadows, appears to seem to be Carter Page, the former Trump foreign policy adviser, who was the subject of a "Washington Post" article soon after that, that said the FBI used that dossier to monitor Trump adviser, Carter Page. He said they have a FISA warrant to monitor Carter Page.

Now, this got the president riled up. He tweeted this morning about this. But it turns out, according to the attorney for Peter Strzok, he was not discussing that article at all. In fact, Peter Strzok's attorney released a statement saying the term "media leak strategy" in Mr. Strzok's texts "refers to a department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media. The president and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American people."

And a source close to Lisa Page tells our colleague, Laura Jarrett, that this was not part of any coordinated leak strategy. They were briefing senior administration officials about the new strategy to stop leaks within the administration.

So we'll see what the Republicans do next -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's like the worst example of why things can get misconstrued in a text message. This isn't between like you and me on a regular day, let alone, between -- OK, anyway.

Thank you, Manu. Really appreciate it. I have a feeling this is not the end of it.

RAJU: Thanks, Kate.

[11:34:31] BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, as Hurricane Florence churns toward the east coast, threatening millions of people, new updates are coming in on when exactly it will hit and how much damage it could cause. That is next.


BOLDUAN: Right now, Hurricane Florence is churning closer and closer to the Carolina coast. The storm is on a menacing path right now, packing a punch of sustained 130-mile-per-hour winds, on track to be the strongest storm to make landfall anywhere on the east coast since Hurricane Andrew back in 1992. More than a million people are being told to evacuate. Many of the mandatory orders are going into effect at the top of the hour.

To be clear, the concern now, as you're looking, as we're hearing from the National Hurricane Center, isn't just the coastline and the storm making landfall. It's the storm is slowing down. So heavy rains and massive flooding are now also a very big threat to the region.

What is the federal government doing to prepare this time around?

Rene Marsh is in Washington. She's got that angle of it for us.

Rene, what are you hearing from officials ahead of the storm?

[11:40:09] RENE MARSH, CNNA AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: They're echoing that there are just more than a million people who are under the gun here with this mandatory evacuation. FEMA held a briefing this morning, and I can tell you, Kate, the agency's warning is stern and clear: If you're under a mandatory evacuation, pack up and leave your home now. The agency says this is a dangerous storm with the potential to kill.

Now, the agency is expecting, aside from the highlight that you're seeing there on the screen, they're also expecting significant inland flooding in other areas. There are several storms brewing, but the agency, FEMA, says they're most focused right now on Florence because it's the biggest threat from a life-saving standpoint.

Right now, FEMA says it's focusing on positioning commodities, like water and cots and tarps, so that it can get to those areas once the storm passes. They also say their FEMA staff is already communicating with states to make sure that they have an accurate read on what the needs will be so that they can respond appropriately.

Here is more from FEMA earlier this morning at their first briefing. Take a listen.


JEFF BYARD, ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR, OFFICE OF RESPONSE & RECOVERY, FEMA: So this is not going to be a storm that we recover from in days. It will take us a good amount of time to do the full recovery. However, we are focused on those critical missions that we have to perform immediately following the storm, opening the roads, performing life-saving missions in support of our state and local partners.


MARSH: OK, you remember FEMA was criticized last year over its response on it how it handled the three hurricanes, including Maria in Puerto Rico. The government watchdog agency, the GAO, said the agency was overwhelmed, stretched thin, they had staffing shortages. This morning, I asked the agency what it has done this time around to make sure that is not the case again. FEMA telling us that they have improved the way that they deploy staff, and they have also improved their coordination.

So we'll wait and see how this all pans out. But again, they say they are confident that their response will be adequate.

BOLDUAN: All right, Rene, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

Let's go back to North Carolina, though, to one of the towns projected to be in the direct path of the storm.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Carolina Beach.

Martin, what are you hearing from folks there?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, beautiful day, you can see, but the ominous sight really, other than two surfers in the water, nobody on the beach, which that tells you right there, this is a community that is very much worried about what is lurking right over the horizon here.

Mixed opinions. Some people say they're going to wait and see a little bit more, hoping the storm could turn somewhat more to the north. However, there are others who are simply saying, no, they're packing up, leaving.

And there's a mandatory evacuation order in effect for this particular area of North Carolina. And the reason being the storm flooding is expected to be at least 13 feet. That would mean it would come over the barrier here and it would wash all into the community itself. That's going to take sand, that's going to take water, and that's going to knock out power. That is the real danger they're facing here right now -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That is brutal. Martin, thank you so much. It is so deceiving how beautiful it is

right before it starts heading in. Really appreciate it.

Coming up next for us, imagine going to vote, on your ballot, though, none of the names you expected. Next, the election error that may have cost a Georgia legislator his seat.


[11:48:04] BOLDUAN: Does the state of Georgia have a major election problem on its hands right now? Imagine going to the voting booth and being given a ballot with names you have never seen before. People who don't even represent your district. That may have been what happened in Georgia in a race that was decided by just 67 votes.

CNN's senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, has details.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On May 22nd, the only two people running for state representative district 28 in northeast Georgia, squared off in a tight Republican primary that would decide who would hold the office. State Representative Dan Gasaway lost in a squeaker.

STATE. REP. DAN GASAWAY, (R), GEORGIA: At the end of the day, I lost by 67 votes.

GRIFFIN: Remember that number, 67 votes. Gasaway congratulated his opponent and thought it was all over until the next day when his wife came home from her teaching job.

GASAWAY: She said, Dan, my colleague came in and said she had gone to vote for you last night, and your name was not on her ballot. And she's in my district.

GRIFFIN: His name wasn't on her ballot? How could his supporters vote for him if they couldn't even find him on the ballot?

Turns out it wasn't just one voter. Gasaway broke out maps, overlapped voting rolls, and found for each one of these dots, voters were assigned to the wrong district.

(on camera): Let's get real specific. Your district is district 28.

GASAWAY: That's correct.

GRIFFIN: These people were voting for district 10.

GASAWAY: That's right. I realized then we had a serious problem. I don't know how it happened, but it did.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): How many votes were affected? It's now up to 70, more than the number Gasaway lost by, meaning the wrong person may have won the election. He is suing.

(on camera): This election shouldn't really stand.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): The county sent out a news release conceding that errors were made: "And we owe the voters of Habersham County the assurance that their right to vote is not being compromised."

The secretary of state's office, which officially certified the election, has now opened an investigation.

Habersham County has called for a new election. It's up to a judge to decide.

Jake Evans is Gasaway's attorney.

[11:50:15] (on camera): The secretary of state's office runs the elections in this state. I would think the secretary of state's office and perhaps the secretary of state would be just jumping at the bit trying to rectify the situation. You have an election that was wrong.

JAKE EVANS, ATTORNEY TO DAN GASAWAY: That's a valid question and I wish I knew the answer to that question. And I would direct that to the attorney general's office or the secretary of state's office.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): The top election official in Georgia is Secretary of State Brian Kemp. He is running for governor and his office is distancing himself from the mess in Habersham County.

"Properly districting voters is a county responsibility," Kemp's office told us, reiterating Kemp's claim that Georgia's election systems remain clear.

But the botched Georgia primary is just one in a series of problems challenging voter confidence in the state. Last month, CNN reported a massive security breech that exposed the records of millions of Georgia voters for more than six months. A lawsuit is challenging the potential security of Georgia's all-electronic voting system. That same lawsuit details case after case of voters allegedly assigned to the wrong precincts.

Gasaway says he has found 1200 voters who were assigned to the wrong voting districts.

GASAWAY: Through this, I've learned that there are some serious problems that need to be fixed.

GRIFFIN: For now, he wants a new election. A fair one this time.

(on camera): There's no Democrat in this race. It was just two Republicans who ran in this botched primary for that seat. If a judge decides that there should be a new election, the rematch of those two Republicans could take place in the general election this November. That ruling could come any day now. Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


BOLDUAN: Drew, thank you so much.

Coming up for us, 17 years ago, at this hour, Americans were in shock. The twin towers and the Pentagon had already been hit. Flight 93 had just crashed into an empty field in Pennsylvania. Coming up next, we will go to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where President Trump spoke in honor of the lives lost there just last hour as we continue to honor all the lives lost on this day.


[11:57:11] BOLDUAN: Today, the country stops to remember the lives lost and forever changed by the September 11th terror attacks. And 17 years ago, nearly 3,000 people died when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners to attack the U.S. This morning, ceremonies were held in at the memorial in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

At the 9/11 Memorial in New York, family members, as they always do, read the names of the victim who were killed at the World Trade Center.

At the Pentagon, Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mattis attended a ceremony at the Pentagon memorial honoring the 184 people killed there.

In Shanksville, Pennsylvania, President Trump and the first lady took part in the ceremony of the flight 93 memorial honoring the passengers who boarded that fateful flight before it crashed into an open field.

That is where CNN White House reporter, Sarah Westwood, is standing by.

Sarah, what was the president's message today?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Kate, we heard a somber message from the president paying tribute to the people who died here and talking about how their sacrifices symbolize America's resolve in the face of evil. He spoke directly after an emotional reading of the names of the victims, the 40 passengers and crew member who died here by their families.

At points, he spoke directly to the families of the victims who were seated closest to the stage behind me, and to Americans all over the country who lost loved ones on 9/11. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We close our arms to help you shoulder your pain and to carry your great, great sorrow. Your tears are not shed alone, for they are shared grief with an entire nation.


WESTWOOD: In addition to the loss and bravery that Trump discussed here in the speech, he mentioned the terrorism threats that still face the country, and he praised the members of the military who defended America against the threats since 9/11.

This was a rare moment of solemnity and attempted unity from the president who started the day with other things on his mind, if his Twitter feed is any indication. But he ended his time here in Shanksville by talking about how the country came together in the aftermath of 9/11 before he and first lady, Melania Trump, toured the viewing area of the United 93 crash site and he is headed back to Washington just moments ago -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: This is a new memorial still in progress, Sarah, right?

WESTWOOD: That's right. It has been years in the making. It starts and fits. They have been putting together the pieces of this memorial. The Tower of Voices is the latest addition. It's a 93- foot-high tower with one windchime for each of the 40 victims -- Kate?

[12:00:06] BOLDUAN: Sarah, thank you so much. And thank you so much for being there.

Thank you all for being with me this hour.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.