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President Trump Marks September 11 Anniversary; Hurricane Florence Targets East Coast. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump says we're totally prepared for the hurricane. Where have we heard that before?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: President Trump addressing this monster storm, what could be one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the East Coast, as he then brags at the response in Puerto Rico to Hurricane Maria was a -- quote -- "unsung success" -- that about a disaster with a death toll of nearly 3,000.

Also today, President Trump playing uniter and divider, with a solemn tribute to mark the attacks of 9/11, while also launching a new attack on the FBI.

Plus, new questions after an off-duty cop shoots and kills a black man in his own apartment. The officer claims it was a tragic mistake, but a new witness might disagree.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: To our viewers here and around the world, whether Berlin, New Hampshire or Berlin, Germany, welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with breaking news in the national lead.

Moments ago, President Trump spoke from the Oval Office after receiving a briefing from top officials about Hurricane Florence. It's a powerful Category 4 hurricane that, if it maintains its strength, it will be the strongest storm to make an East Coast landfall in 26 years.

President Trump is assuring the U.S. is prepared for the hurricane.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared. We're ready. We're as ready as anybody has ever been.


TAPPER: Observers were shocked when President Trump also touted his administration's recovery efforts during the last hurricane season, where the latest government death toll in Puerto Rico is approximately 2,975.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

And, Jeff, the president was specifically asked what lessons the government had learned from the last hurricane season. He replied that the response to Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Is he not aware that the death toll in Puerto Rico has been updated to almost 3,000 innocent victims?


Certainly, you would think he would have to be aware, but has never publicly acknowledged that, really for the last year or so, ever since Hurricane Maria struck on September 20th of 2017. There certainly has been a sense from this White House that everything that they were doing was done well.

The president, of course, we will remember, was visiting Puerto Rico at the time. He gave himself an A-plus. He has continued to say that again and again. You will remember the government of Puerto Rico only until a few weeks ago was just saying that some 60 or so actual fatalities were reported. Then the government increased it to over 1,000.

Then that study from George Washington University said about 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico. But the president didn't acknowledge any of that. He said this instead:


TRUMP: Well, I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. Puerto Rico was actually our toughest one of all because it's an island. So you just -- you can't truck things onto it. Everything is by boat.

And I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success.


ZELENY: So, certainly, the conditions in Puerto Rico much different than the conditions in the Carolinas, specifically because it's an island, of course.

But by not acknowledging any failure, any lessons learned, Jake, it makes you wonder what the government will say as we begin yet another deeply impactful hurricane heading toward the Carolinas -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, we're going to talk about the president's comments about Puerto Rico in a second.

But let's turn to the pressing matter right now of the storm, Hurricane Florence setting up a potentially catastrophic scenario, no matter where it makes landfall. President Trump just said that the current projections indicate the

storm could be the worst in 25 to 30 years.



TAPPER: More than one million people in the Carolinas and Virginia are under evacuation orders right now.

Let's go to CNN's Nick Valencia. He's live for us in Conway, South Carolina.

And, Nick, the mayor there is personally beseeching people, begging people on the coast to leave. Are they listening?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're getting mixed signals, Jake.

The congressman who represents this district says many people have already left. But from those who we have spoken to, a lot of people are planning on riding this out.

We're 20 miles inland from Myrtle Beach here in Conway, where the National Guard and Highway Patrol have reversed these lanes, trying to get as many residents out before this devastating hurricane makes landfall.


VALENCIA (voice-over): A wild, close-up view of the eye of Hurricane Florence, the monster storm bearing down on the Carolinas, expected to be one of the strongest to slam into the East Coast in decades.

JEFF BYARD, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: This storm is not a glancing blow. This storm is going to be a direct hit onto our coast.

VALENCIA: Officials are pleading with everyone along the coast not to underestimate the hurricane strength.

RICHARD HENNING, NOAA: Everything that you have been hearing about this storm in terms of its severity is all true.

VALENCIA: A hurricane hunter pilot speaking to CNN from high inside Florence echoes how serious it is.

HENNING: There is nothing to prevent this storm from continuing to intensify.

VALENCIA: Nearly 1.5 million people in Virginia and the Carolinas are under a mandatory evacuation. Already, South Carolina police reversing interstate traffic to make it easier for people to get out of harm's way.

GOV. HENRY MCMASTER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: All we know is, it's coming. It's even stronger than Hurricane Hugo. Once it gets on the ground, the velocity will be more, but it will be crawling across the ground, which means more and more rain.

VALENCIA: Some are waiting it out, taking the risk of a last-minute evacuation, especially in areas like Myrtle Beach, where there is no major highway access.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will make an evaluation tomorrow afternoon. If that thing is still coming at us at 120 miles per hour, I may change my mind.

VALENCIA: For those staying and stocking up, long delays. At this Home Depot in Wilmington, North Carolina, a 90-minute wait for plywood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like we've got a good plan. We have plenty of the supplies that we feel like we will need. And should something come up that, again, we will -- if we had to, we would...



VALENCIA: From Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Norfolk, Virginia, hundreds of miles of coastline, Jake, are being impacted.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you so much.

Let's talk about the president's comments with the panel here.

Obviously, when it comes to this pending storm, we're all hoping for the best and hoping the Trump administration does everything it can do.

But the president saying that Puerto Rico was an unsung success, when the latest official government death toll from the government of Puerto Rico -- and let's remember these are American citizens -- that's a U.S. territory -- is 2,975 dead. That is an unsung success.

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No, it's an unsung inaccuracy. To go from 64 to make that kind of leap in the thousands, not to mention the number of people and families who had to relocate completely off the island, not to mention the fact that their economy is now on life support, and electricity is not all the way functioning, it's far from a success.

And the fact that Donald Trump today would spend more time singing his own praises, rather than really leaning into a conversation with people in leadership there to figure out how they can really overcome and really have a success story for this particular storm, I think is very telling.

TAPPER: Do you think, Amanda, that there are -- President Trump doesn't have the people around him who tell him, hey, by the way, don't say that about Puerto Rico, it's not a success, and they just upgraded the death toll to 2,975, that's not a success, it's embarrassing? AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Perhaps, but I also

think there's probably people in the White House that have given up on trying to message the president.

I mean, look at his performance when he actually went to Puerto Rico. He is throwing out paper towels like he's Santa Claus giving out goodies.

And I think this is part of the warped approach that he has towards disasters. He views it as an opportunity to hand out money and goodies for which people should be grateful to him. And he doesn't understand the devastation and the fears.

And, honestly, if he thinks Puerto Rico is a success, I'm a little nervous. That makes me more nervous about Florence coming in.


JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was really struck -- and Angela touched on this a little bit -- but the inaccuracy, obviously, is very jarring, but also his tone.

I mean, he came across as almost gleeful and excited about the hurricane and how big it was and how tremendously wet it's going to be and all these absurd things that came out of his mouth.

I worked in the White House for eight years. Many people have. In these moments is when the president should be calm, he should be sober, he should be conveying to people to be calm, to follow instructions. It's really a public service moment. It's not about touting your own accomplishments, and certainly not about taking the tone he took.

TAPPER: Let me play the sound that you're talking about specifically when President Trump was talking about the hurricane.


TRUMP: They haven't seen anything like what's coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever. It's tremendously big and tremendously wet. Tremendous amounts of water. It could very well be very similar to Texas, in the sense that it's tremendous amounts of water.

Texas was the one that had, I would say, to the point, brought probably more water than we have ever seen in a storm or a hurricane. And it went out for seconds and thirds.


TAPPER: That's what you were talking about, Jen.

PSAKI: Exactly.

And, you know, it is you just saw his tone there. But he talks as if this is an accomplishment for him, like, I created this big, crazy hurricane. Of course, that's not his intention. (CROSSTALK)

RYE: Not this one.


PSAKI: We could talk about climate change, too.

But that tone is concerning. He may know he's changing the conversation, but, ultimately, he likes the role of being in charge. But he is not doing a service to the people in these places that will be impacted.

TAPPER: Josh, do you agree that there's a tonal issue here?

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, certainly a public service moment, I agree with you on that.

You know, and I agree, there is no success when you're losing 3,000 Americans, period, end of sentence. No need to deliberate on that.

I think probably what he's referring to, and what I think some of the administration believe that they're judged harshly on with respect to the Puerto Rico response, is that, in large part, the death toll there and the aftermath and some of the things that the people are still experiencing down in Puerto Rico...


HOLMES: ... are due in large part because of the lack of infrastructure in Puerto Rico.

And you could have the best response in the world, I mean, literally, the best response possible, and you still probably would not have impacted the loss of human life.

Now, could you have gotten power up and running? We can all argue that. I'm not a FEMA response major. I don't know the answer to that. But I don't think that you can blame President Trump for what's happened in Puerto Rico.

Now, what they can do is do this right. And I would be focused on that like a laser if I were all of them.

TAPPER: Do you want to just...

CARPENTER: Yes, I just -- it blows my mind that anyone can claim success on any level when thousands of people died. The end.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.

We have got a lot more to talk about.

President Trump marking 17 years since the September 11 attacks. He spoke in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It is, of course, what he did first thing in the morning that raised eyebrows. And the top Republican in the Senate called the midterms a knife

fight. Does that sound confident?

Stay with us.


[16:17:11] TAPPER: Today, President Trump paid tribute to the victims and heroes lost on September 11th, 2001, as he spoke at the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. But President Trump began this most solemn day in American history by sending quite a different message on law enforcement to his nearly 55 million Twitter followers, focused on his own concerns about the Russia probe instead of the nation's pain, he seized on a new line of attack against the FBI and Justice Department, featured on his favorite TV channel.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more from the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We remember the moment when America fought back.

ZELENY,(voice-over): President Trump paying tribute today to the heroes of the 9/11 terror attacks. And that dark day, 17 years ago, forever etched in American history.

TRUMP: This field is now a monument to American defiance. This memorial is now a message to the world. America will never, ever submit to tyranny.

ZELENY: The president and first lady marking the day in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where passengers brought down United Flight 93, whose hijackers were targeting the nation's capital. But on the most solemn of days, the president's mind seemed to be elsewhere, pumping his fist in the air as he arrived to greet supporters. After starting the morning, insisting, again on Twitter, there was no collusion between President Trump and Russia. Absolutely zero.

As Bob Woodward's blistering book about White House dysfunction was officially released, two former top aides to the president adding new denials to the chorus from other officials. Gary Cohn, Trump's former chief economic adviser, who is portrayed snatching a letter from the president's desk in the Oval Office to protect the country saying today: This book does not accurately portray my experience at the White House. But Cohn not saying what he claims the book got wrong.

And Rob Porter, the former staff secretary who left the West Wing after a scandal of his own, saying in a statement: The suggestion that materials were stolen from the president's desk to prevent his signature misunderstands how the White House document review process works.

Woodward said he's not surprised or bothered by the string of denials.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR": One key person who is in office called me and said, everyone knows what you've said here is true. It's 1,000 percent correct. And then this person has said some public things that contradict that.

ZELENY: When asked about Porter and Cohn's denials in the Oval Office today, the president said this.

TRUMP: I really appreciate their statement. Their statement was excellent. And they both said that beautiful, which shows that the book is just a piece of fiction.


[16:20:02] ZELENY: But for a piece of supposed fiction, Jake, the president certainly still intent and focused on all of this. Some aides even say consumed by this book.

We should point out, these denials come about a week after other denials and certainly the said denials do not answer specific portrayals in the book, which can also say some of the instances in the book were reported by us and other news organizations at the time. So, to release these statements of denials, what Bob Woodward has said is something he has seen over the years. People say something privately to him and acknowledge in advance, will have to deny it later -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sources have a way of denying that they're sources.

ZELENY: They do.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

So, Amanda, let me start with you. Donald Trump Jr. today slammed critics of the president, s Specific critic of the president, tweeting, quote, injecting politics today is disgraceful.

But, of course, we have seen President Trump be political today and inject politics today, starting with his very first tweet about Peter Strzok and the FBI.

CARPENTER: I mean, I guess I still resent the fact that I have to pay attention to what Donald Trump's children say on Twitter, all of the time. I mean, seriously. Why is this still happening? It's a sad fact of his presidency that he doesn't inspire real leadership and he continues to rely on his children to conduct official work and be surrogates in the media. And that's just gross.

TAPPER: Let's just take a look at some of the few tweets that the president did send about 9/11.

The first one is a retweet of his White House aide, Dan Scavino, it's a photograph of the president himself, signing a proclamation in the Oval Office about 9/11. Next, it was praise of then New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is his attorney and represents him on cable TV. By about 8:30 a.m., the president tweeted a photo of himself and the White House staff. If you look closely, you can see Omarosa, this is a picture from a year ago.

Finally, at around 9:00 a.m., President Trump tweeted, 17 years since September 11th. That's it? That's all it said. Seventeen years since September 11th.

There's a certain consoler-in-chief that politicians, especially presidents are called upon to do. He -- I thought he did a fairly nice job in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, but left to his own devices, I don't know, he doesn't really seem to get what people are looking for.

HOLMES: Yes, he does other things, obviously, better than he does the consoler-in-chief role. What Donald Trump Jr. was talking about was taking on Joe Scarborough for an op-ed that basically said what Donald Trump is doing to this country is worse than terrorism.

To have that hit on 9/11 -- I don't care if you're a Republican or Democrat or what have you. I don't care if you share every single view that he espoused in that op-ed, it's totally inappropriate. And you know, whether you love Donald Trump Jr., you hate Donald Trump Jr., you hate this administration, I would hope we can all agree, that is sort of an inappropriate time to start invoking terrorism.


TAPPER: Go ahead.

RYE: The thing that's really interesting to me is we hold everyone to a higher standard than we do the commander-in-chief. So 9/11, Donald Trump, is an inappropriate as he is -- not any given Sunday, any given day, right?

Like, he started with fast tweeting about Russia collusion. He is fist-pumping going to Shanksville, and he's thumbs upping reporters getting ready to tour a memorial site. Like he's uber inappropriate --

TAPPER: You're saying that Josh is holding Joe Scarborough to a higher standard than the president?

RYE: What's it sounds like.


HOLMES: Listen, all I'm saying is it was the wrong time for Joe Scarborough to publish an op-ed on 9/11.

RYE: It's just for you, it's everyone. It's like, oh, he behaved himself. He was quiet in this meeting. And it's like, kudos -- are you all kidding me?

PSAKI: It's not even about the commander-in-chief and what's appropriate. It's like he's missing a human screw. How do people react on a day like 9/11?

(CROSSTALK) PSAKI: We talked about the people -- that's true. But when left to his own devices, which is the important point here. I looked back at what President Clinton, President Obama, President Bush said on Twitter today. They were all very similar. They were all about the lives lost. Their families left behind, the brave men and women who served. This is not rocket science.

RYE: Maybe there's -- maybe there's something he can do. How about copy and paste? Maybe copy and paste Barack Obama's tweet or George W. Bush's like -- anybody.

CARPENTER: Only Melania plagiarizes.

RYE: But then he can give credit, maybe he feels it.


RYE: Anything better than this in 9/11.

PSAKI: Exactly.

TAPPER: But -- you say he does something -- things better than others. And the consoling is not one of the things he does best.

RYE: What does he do?

TAPPER: Don't you think he should be working a little bit harder? Somebody -- when you wake up tomorrow, remember, it's 9/11. Don't tweet anything about anything other than --

HOLMES: Yes, of course. Look, my preference would be that he spent absolutely nothing else other than remembering the people that were lost on 9/11.


HOLMES: That we do something for the firefighters. That we do something for the policemen. We do something for everybody lost. Yes, that would be my preference.

TAPPER: Right.

HOLMES: I think after a year-and-a-half, I am well-acquainted with the fact that's not going to happen.

TAPPER: It's just not going to happen.

All right. Everyone, stick around.

He helped organize the famous Trump Tower meeting that is critical in Robert Mueller's investigation. How does Donald Trump Jr. feel about the possibility of prison time?

[16:25:02] Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: We're back with our politics lead.

Donald Trump Jr. today echoing his father in hopes of undermining special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation. The president's eldest son saying in a ne he's not worried about being charged but he also argues the special counsel will do anything to, quote, get his father, the president.

Let's get right to CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.

And, Jessica, Donald Trump Jr. following his father's foot steps, following the lead and bashing the very prosecutors who are investigating him.