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Millions of Bottles of Undistributed Drinking Water Left in Puerto Rican Airport; Vladimir Putin Says Suspects in Poisoning of Ex- Spy Not Criminals; New CNN Poll: More Approve Of Mueller Than Of Trump; Puerto Ricans Watching Nearby Tropical Storm Isaac. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 12, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tom Foreman, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

[17:00:15] Follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Super soaker. A new forecast is just in for Hurricane Florence, which will bring devastating winds and storm surges to the Carolina coast, where it's expected to linger, dropping up to 40 inches of rain in parts of the southeast.

Power at risk. Six nuclear plants are in the path of the hurricane, and with downed power lines and major flooding already a certainty, millions are expected to lose electricity, some for weeks.

Sanctioning interference. President Trump signs an executive order to punish foreigners for interfering in U.S. elections. While that will allow new sanctions on Russia or others, Democrats and Republicans alike now say it doesn't go nearly far enough.

And poisoning suspects. Russia's president Putin shrugs off British accusations that two nerve agent poisoning suspects belong to Russian military intelligence. Putin says they're just innocent civilians. So what's his game?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. The latest forecast is just in for Hurricane Florence, which is expected to deliver a catastrophic blow to the Carolina coast. The punishment is expected to go on for days, with the storm likely to pause while it pounds the coast with walls of water up to 18 feet high before moving inland, dumping more than 3 feet of rain in some areas. Officials war this storm will be deadly and devastating and time is quickly running out for the nearly 2 million people under evacuation orders.

Six nuclear plants lie in the storm's projected path, and up to 3 million customers are expected to lose power in the Carolinas alone. I'll speak with the director of the National Weather Center, Louis Uccellini, and our correspondents and specialists are all standing by with full coverage.

Let's get the new forecast just out from our meteorologist, Jennifer Gray. She's at the CNN weather center.

Jennifer, this advisory just in. Update our viewers on the very latest.

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The advisory just came out about ten minutes ago, Wolf. And still a major Category 3 storm. This storm is very, very powerful, packing winds of 120 miles per hour, with gusts of 150, moving to the northwest at 16 miles per hour. Still moving very quickly, but is expected to slow, in fact, come to a screeching halt by the time it makes it to the coast, anywhere between northeastern South Carolina and the central coast of North Carolina, as a Category 3 major storm.

And this storm is going to slow so much, you will be able to walk faster than this storm is moving. That means a lot of rain is going to dump not only across interior sections of North Carolina, but all through South Carolina as it's still lingering on Saturday, and then potentially still hanging around by Sunday across eastern portions of Georgia, even moving into Tennessee.

So the storm is not going anywhere quickly. It's going to sit here all weekend long. We will probably still be talking to you about this on Monday. We are going to see anywhere from 20 to 30 inches of rain. This area has actually expanded around Wilmington, now includes Myrtle Beach, as well.

And then look how far inland the flooding rains go. This pink area, 10 to 20 inches of rain, and then we could see that rain 10 -- 6 to 10 inches even in Charlotte.

So if you've escaped the coast and evacuated inland, be careful where you go. Because we could see major flooding in these areas well, well inland of the coast.

Look at the storm surge: 9 to 13 feet. This is going to hang around for 24 hours, possibly, as this water continues to push inland. Nine to 13 feet is a lot of water. It's going to fill the entire first story of your house. This water is going to push up the rivers, overfilling their banks, and so we could see major flooding, because of that, as well.

Not only that, it's going to last several high tide cycles, which makes it even worse.

This storm is not even powerful, it's big. We have hurricane-force winds that extend 125 miles across, 300 miles across for the tropical- storm-force winds, and we are going to see that storm, Wolf, linger along the coast.

So watches and warnings are up. We could feel the effects of this storm as early as tomorrow morning, with tropical-storm-force winds along the North Carolina coast.

BLITZER: This is really life-threatening indeed. All right, Jennifer, thanks for that update.

Along the Carolina coast, it's the last best chance to get out before this monster storm moves in. Not everyone, though, is heeding the orders to leave.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's in Swan Quarter, North Carolina, for us. So Brian, what's the latest where you are?

[17:05:10] BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these ferries actually represented the last best chance for hundreds of people to get off of North Carolina's isolated barrier islands. But tonight, these ferries have stopped. They are moored down to ride out the storm, and the people on those islands and up and down this coastline are now just bracing.


TODD (voice-over): Some are hunkering down and boarding up, while most are gassing up and leaving town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need to get out of here to be safe.

TODD: Up and down the Carolina coast, these are the final hours to evacuate ahead of what authorities say will be a major hurricane with heavy flooding.

JEFF BYARD, FEMA ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR: This is going to be, you know, a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.

TODD: More than a million and a half people are under evacuation orders, many of them moving inland on highways that have been reversed to double the flow.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: If you're on the coast, there is still time to get out safely. No possession is worth your life.

TODD: Evacuation shelters opening further inland. In North Carolina, over 4,000 have checked in so far. President Trump issuing a warning and saying FEMA is preparing to help.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're fully prepared. Food, medical, everything you can imagine, we are ready.

TODD: Some residents say they will stay put and ride it out.

THOMAS LAFLUER, HORRY COUNTY RESIDENT: I filled my bathtub. I have containers filled with water.

TODD: But authorities are warning, at the height of the storm, don't assume you could be rescued.

BYARD: This is a dangerous storm. We ask that you heed the -- heed the warnings. Today is the day.

TODD: Beaches already deserted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a mandatory evacuation.

TODD: Coastal streets emptying out. Boats gone from marinas. Even the turtles at the South Carolina Aquarium are being transferred.

For Ocracoke, an exposed barrier island on North Carolina's Outer Banks, the only evacuation route has already closed. The ferry has made its last run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I packed up everything as well as I could and got it all prepped up and boarded the windows, got my boat with me. Got my dog with me. So not what I wanted to do, but what I had to do.

TODD (on camera): What's your big concern for people who are staying? Some people are staying, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. High water. Crashed-in walls and ceilings and roofs and, you know, no water, no power.

TODD (voice-over): At least 2,000 people have left, but local officials say at least 100 are staying on Ocracoke Island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are people that have a very independent streak, and they love these barrier islands; and they're going to stay no matter what we tell them.


TODD: Now, some of the people who did not evacuate North Carolina's barrier islands have told us one of the big reasons they're staying is because they are worried that it would be too difficult to get back on their island and tend to their home if it's damaged. But tonight those people are being warned during the height of the storm, do not call emergency services. They cannot get to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd on the scene for us.

I want to quickly go to CNN's Nick Valencia. He's in Conway, South Carolina. That's near Myrtle Beach. Nick, are people there heeding these warnings and evacuating?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're standing in the middle of Highway 501, which is the main thoroughfare out of Myrtle Beach, about 20 miles inland, and it's starting to look like a ghost town.

Local officials tell us that's because people are listening to the warnings. Those dire warnings being issued by the local governor, saying people will not be around to help you out if you decide to stay.

This traffic is light right now, but we've been here since the early morning hours, at times seeing very, very heavy traffic. That's because people, they say, were listening to get out ahead of this storm.

We saw people bring their pets, small dogs, even horses, carrying them out of this storm ahead of that landfall, as well as adults carrying their elderly parents. A big concern for those that are deciding to stay -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick, what are some of the hazards for those who don't evacuate, don't heed this order?

VALENCIA: It goes without saying, you're not only putting the first responders' lives in jeopardy, you're also putting your own life. You were talking about downed power lines, downed trees. There's heavy wind gusts, as well.

The EPA right now is monitoring nine superfund sites along the coastal Carolinas, along the East Coast, as well, making sure that hazardous material does not spread. It's something that can be very nasty that comes along with the floodwaters that come with these hurricanes.

Unfortunately, our crew knows all too well. It was last year during Harvey that we were exposed to a strand of E. Coli, as well as Lyme Disease. You're not only putting, as I mentioned, your life at risk, but also those first responders if you decide to stay -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. They should leave while they still have a little bit of time left. Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

Let's turn now to the director of the National Weather Service, Louis Uccellini. Louis, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: So what's the biggest threat from this monster storm right now?

UCCELLINI: There are three threats. We have the surge associated with the storm as it moves towards the coast, especially. Very heavy rains. As you saw, we're now predicting over 40 inches of rain to occur in parts of southeast North Carolina. And, of course, the winds.

You put them all together, and you have some devastating impact that's going to affect a large number of people for a long period of time.

[17:10:05] BLITZER: The East Coast doesn't often see a hurricane of this enormity, this magnitude. Give us some perspective on what this one is like compared to previous.

UCCELLINI: Well, I was just going to emphasize that, as we see, these storms have their unique characteristics. This is a big storm. It's a slow-moving storm. It's going to be moving along the coast for at least 24 hours. So it's going to prolong the impacts that we've just described.

And you know, it's the combination of factors. We're going to have the very heavy rainfall in the Carolinas, and we're going to have a strong surge. The water has no place to go. The rivers themselves are going to be filling up with the water coming in from the ocean in terms of the surge. So we're looking at some very devastating flood potential over large

areas of southeast North Carolina and even portions of South Carolina now. Looks like they're going to get into some very heavy rainfall, as well.

BLITZER: Because it's going to be making that left turn into South Carolina, as well. Originally, they thought maybe they'd escape this, but they're clearly not going to escape it. When people hear it's a Category 4 now as it's moving toward the coast but it will downgraded to a Category 3, they say, "Well, maybe it's not that dangerous any more." To which you say?

UCCELLINI: Category 3 storm is still a major hurricane. And the winds will do devastating damage in and of itself. It's the -- it's the history of the storm that has its track towards the coast that's going to make the surge along the coast very dangerous, as well. So you can't let your guard down. This is going to be a very dangerous storm for an extended period of time over the Carolinas.

BLITZER: Because -- and it could go on, because it's so slow-moving for days and days and days. And heavy flooding could continue.

UCCELLINI: We will be talking about this storm through the weekend. That's how slowly it's going to be moving along the coast and then enter in towards the Appalachians. The slow movement is just going to enhance the potential for devastating floods inland that people have to be aware of.

BLITZER: So when I say it's life-threatening, you agree.


BLITZER: How worried should folks in the Carolinas be right now?

UCCELLINI: I think that people have to listen to their local and state officials in terms of evacuation orders and response to the floods as they develop. This is -- this is going to be a very dangerous storm for an extended period of time.

And the local officials are on top of it. We're working with them very closely. State and federal officials, as well. Listen to their instructions, and be safe. Be as safe as you can.

BLITZER: Thanks for all the important work you're doing. Louis Uccellini is the director of NOAA's National Weather Service. Thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: We'll stay in very close touch with you.

Up next, we'll have much more on this powerful storm bearing down on the Carolinas right now. It could bring catastrophic flooding to millions and millions of Americans.

And President Trump issues dire warnings about Hurricane Florence, while repeating his claim that the federal response to last year's storm in Puerto Rico was a success, despite a death toll of nearly 3,000.


[17:17:34] BLITZER: Our breaking news. The new forecast is just out for Hurricane Florence, on track to hit the Carolinas with powerful storm surges and up to 40 inches of rain. Officials warn, it's the last chance to evacuate ahead of what could be a catastrophic storm. President Trump is adding his voice to those warnings.

Let's go live to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. So what is the president saying?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this evening the president is mincing no words, saying Hurricane Florence looks bigger than anticipated. This comes as the president is still saying there are no lessons to be learned from the government's response to that deadly hurricane a year ago in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria.

But the president knows, and the White House certainly knows that they will be judged by the response to this storm. So the president had these ominous words to say today. He said, don't play games with this. It's a big one.


ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump issuing dire warnings tonight about the powerful force of Hurricane Florence, as it roars toward the Carolinas. The president calling the storm even bigger than anticipated, and extremely dangerous, as his administration braces for the first major hurricane of the season. He even sent a Rose Garden video to his followers on Twitter, sending the alarm about the impending threat.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't play games with it. It's a big one.

ZELENY: But those words of caution still overshadowed tonight by his continued bragging about the government's response to Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people.

TRUMP: I think the Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.

ZELENY: That description hardly meets the deadly reality of the storm. Yet he doubled down on Twitter, saying, "We got A-pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico. Even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent mayor of San Juan."

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz recoiling at his remarks, saying the president is adding insult to injury.

MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (via phone): I'm sorry, sir. Shame on you. You did not do a good job in Puerto Rico. If he thinks that 3,000 people dying on his watch is a good news story or is an unsung success, nobody is going to be singing his praises. Because this was a despicable act of neglect on the part of his administration.

ZELENY: All this as Democratic senator, Jeff Merkley, saying nearly $10 million in FEMA funding, less than 1 percent of its budget, was given to Immigration and Customs Enforcement in June, to spend on detaining or deporting undocumented immigrants.

[17:20:05] SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: I'm simply saying, we'll have $10 million less than it would have. And $10 million is significant. It just goes to the judgment of the administration at the very time hurricane season is starting.

ZELENY: But FEMA chief Brock Long pushing back, saying that money didn't come from the disaster relief fund and won't slow recovery efforts.

BROCK LONG, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: It does not come out of the disaster relief fund. It funds everything behind me, that funds everything in the field. So it's a nonissue for us at this moment.

ZELENY: Meanwhile, the president signed an executive order today to punish foreign entities for interfering in U.S. elections. The White House hopes the order will help dispel the notion Trump's been soft in his response to election meddling.

A Republican senator, Marco Rubio, and Democratic senator, Chris Van Hollen, said the United States can and must do more.

TRUMP: No collusion, no nothing!

ZELENY: While the president has spent months trying to discredit the special counsel's investigation, a new CNN poll tonight shows Robert Mueller's approval rating now stands at 50 percent. Trump's approval for his handling of the Russian investigation is at 30 percent.

And asked whether Trump should be impeached or removed, 47 percent saying yes, 48 percent no.


ZELENY: Now, that number right there is up from June, when only 42 percent of people thought the president should be removed from office. Wolf, the change in that is based entirely in political independents who have changed their view by some 10 percentage points since the last time we asked that question at the beginning of the summer.

Now, all of that is being put on hold, at least here at the White House for now. I'm told it's all hands on deck. The president is speaking with local officials, governors of each state affected. He cancelled two campaign rallies of his own tomorrow in Missouri and Friday in Mississippi, so he's staying here at the White House to monitor all of this. Again, Wolf, this president and the White House knows, it will be

judged by the response to this larger than expected, perhaps deadly Hurricane Florence.

BLITZER: Yes, they will. All right. Jeff, thank you. Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. Let me get right to Hurricane Florence. As you know, it's bearing down on the East Coast. The president meanwhile is doubling down on his claim that his handling of last year's devastating storms in Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. His words. What's your reaction to that?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Well, the president, of course, is a master of deception, and those irresponsible remarks illustrate the clear difference between the Trump administration and Washington Republicans and House Democrats.

Donald Trump is fighting for himself in this particular instance, rewriting history, because the response of his administration to Hurricane Maria was clearly a disaster. House Democrats, on the other hand, we're fighting for the people, lower health care costs, increased pay, cleaning up corruption, to make sure that Washington works for the American people. For instance, in response to natural disasters like Hurricane Florence.

BLITZER: Do you believe the Trump administration is prepared for Florence?

JEFFRIES: Well, we certainly hope so. But in order to prepare, you have to learn from mistakes in the past. And in order to learn from mistakes in the past, you have to be willing to acknowledge them.

And the Trump administration failed to adequately prepare to the storm that devastated Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands; failed to appropriately respond in the immediate aftermath; and continues to fail to respond in terms of the recovery to help Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands rebuild themselves.

And so I'm certainly hopeful that in this particular instance -- and we as House Democrats, and all of us as Americans here in the Congress, do stand ready to assist the people of North Carolina and South Carolina, and Virginia and the other Americans who will be impacted. Hopefully, the Trump administration will engage in some self-reflection so they can get it right this time.

BLITZER: While I have you, Congressman, let's turn to some other important news right now. The president signed an executive order today intended to punish foreign entities for election interference. Was that enough?

JEFFRIES: It certainly is not enough, because Donald Trump, one, has still singularly failed to acknowledge that Russia attacked our democracy. It was an act of war by a hostile foreign power, perhaps done as part of a conspiracy with members of the Trump campaign to sell out our democracy and artificially put someone into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Unless you fail [SIC] to acknowledge that basic fact, then it's hard for many of us to have any view that this executive order is, in any way, authentically designed to address the problem of foreign interference.

BLITZER: What do you want the administration to do?

JEFFRIES: Well, Congress needs to act, because that's the only way to guarantee that, to the extent individuals or hostile foreign powers interfere with our election moving forward, including in the midterms that are coming up in November, that there will be decisive action that is taken, because the law will require it.

[17:25:06] When you sign an executive order, as the president did today, it was really just a phony document. He'll have the ability and the discretion to decide whether to impose sanctions or not. And based on his track record, particularly as it relates to Russia's interference with our election, nobody should hold their breath.

BLITZER: All this comes as a brand-new CNN poll shows that more Americans trust Robert Mueller's handling of the Russia probe, a lot more, than the president's handling of the Russia probe. Take a look at the numbers. You can see them right there. "Do you approve of President Trump's handling?" Only 30 percent say yes. Disapprove, 58 percent. Fifty percent approve of Mueller; 38 percent disapprove.

Are the president's constant attacks on Robert Mueller falling flat?

JEFFRIES: They're falling flat, and they're backfiring, as they should. Bob Mueller is a war hero; he's an American patriot. He sacrificed himself during the war in Vietnam, came back home, has dedicated his life to public service. And certainly, there's reason to believe that he's going to continue to conduct himself in terms of this investigation and allow the facts and the law to arrive at a conclusion.

Meanwhile, the president, again, trying to distract the American people and undermine the investigation. The only person that reasonably believes that this is a witch hunt is Donald Trump and his co-conspirators, unfortunately, here on Capitol Hill on the other side of the aisle.

BLITZER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, President Trump sticks by his claim that the federal response to last year's deadly storm in Puerto Rico was a great success. The new images of a stockpile of leftover bottled water now raising new questions about all of that.

And former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, faces a second trial. Will he strike a plea deal to avoid it?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


[17:31:37] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, an exclusive newly released CNN poll shows support for Special Counsel Robert Mueller is on the rise despite the efforts of President Trump and his legal team to label the entire Russia probe a witch hunt. Let's bring in some insight from our experts and David Chalian. Walk us through these new numbers on the Russia probe.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, let's take a look at the side by side comparison overall of how Trump is handling the Russia investigation versus Mueller's being approved by the American people. And look at that number right there. Mueller approval at an all-time high in CNN polling, 50 percent, it's been ticking up over the last couple of months.

Trump's approval rating on the handling of this issue is 30 percent, that's six points below his overall approval. That 20-point gap is everything right now. And poses a danger sign for Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, who have said, this is not going to be fought out in any courtroom. This is going to be fought in the court of public opinion.

Well, if it is going to be a Mueller report versus a Giuliani report, there's a 20-point disparity right now in Trump versus Mueller. But what is so interesting, Wolf, underneath these numbers is the move of independent voters. Democrats and Republicans have remained pretty consistent on Bob Mueller.

Independents have moved six points to his favor in just the last month. This is coming from -- this is sort of the backlash, if you will, to the base strategy that Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump have been employing here, going on Fox News, talking about this, appealing to the base. You see independents fleeing from the president in everything in our poll, including in the Russia investigation.

BLITZER: Very significant. And Gloria Borger, the president nonstop in recent weeks and months going after Mueller, but his arguments seem to be falling flat.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, his arguments are following flat. Number one, maybe people are getting sick of it. But number two, you've seen convictions, you know. You've seen the Paul Manafort getting convicted. You've seen his former attorney, v, cut a deal with prosecutors. And plead guilty. So, you know, and you've seen 22 Russians, is it, indicted.

BLITZER: Well, take a look on the screen. You can see all those Trump associates who are --

BORGER: Exactly, exactly.

BLITZER: -- legal jeopardy.

BORGER: Exactly. So the American public is looking at this. And they're saying, wait a minute. Wait a minute. There's something here if Mueller is getting all of these convictions. And they're taking a look at it and saying, well, wait a minute. Also, by the way, and I believe it's our poll, that more than 70 percent of voters believe that the president ought to actually speak to Mueller. And testify before Mueller in one form or another.

And, you know, his attorneys, of course, do not want him to speak verbally to Mueller. They would like him to get a take-home test and be able to do it in writing. So I think that you put all of this together, and as David was saying, independent voters in particular take a look at this and they're kind of changing their mind scratching their heads.

BLITZER: Because Robert Mueller, Laura, has had some major victories. We can put that up those images up on the screen one more time. And you can see Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, they've all either pled guilty or been convicted.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes. I think he's certainly had the wind at his back. But he also has a lot to lose. Of course, the second trial of Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman, is coming up, assuming he doesn't take a plea. And if for whatever reason that trial goes forward, Mueller has a lot on the line there, if they don't win that in front of a D.C. jury.

[17:35:04] Now, we don't know how that will turn out. But I also think it could be the fact that, you know, despite all of the attacks on him and his team, the angry Democrats, we never see him hit back. We never see his team take the bait. They are silent. They speak only through their court filings. And you have to wonder whether the public is finding that appealing.

BLITZER: Yes. It's very significant. And the public confidence in Mueller, Jeffrey Toobin, is clearly increasing. Does that constrain the president's various options right now?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, his options have been constrained for a long time. And what can he really do? What options can he develop? He's got -- he can fire Mueller. I mean he can fire enough people in the Justice Department until he gets to someone who will fire Mueller. That's one thing that even the Republican base certainly in Congress has said he shouldn't do. And that option appears to be off the table.

The other option is, what does he do about this interview request? Does he say he is simply not going to testify and then run the risk of a subpoena? Well, he could fight a subpoena in court, and that could take months. And it certainly would be accompanied by a lot of public relations fighting, as well. But, you know, it's really an all or nothing option with the president. He can, you know, go to war with Mueller, at least try to, you know, fire him. He can refuse to talk to him. But other than that, he really just doesn't have many options. Mueller is an independent actor. And it obviously drives the president crazy that he can't control him.

BLITZER: And he's moving, you know, Mueller is moving along and isn't slowing down at all is he, David?

CHALIAN: It doesn't seem to be at all. I mean I think that we were even surprised I think that we saw some activity, you know, after the calendar turned to September. We may see a pause now as we enter the heat of election season. But Mueller has not given any sign that he is slowing down in any way whatsoever.

BORGER: And the other thing is, don't forget, the president is so angry at his own attorney general, because he believes the Attorney General Sessions, should not have recused himself in all of this. He isn't stopping Mueller. Rod Rosenstein isn't stopping Mueller. Mueller is pushing ahead.

And the president wants to control the, you know, the Department of Justice, which he's discovering, as Laura knows better than anyone that he really cannot do. And all of this, of course, has more momentum, as you're heading into the election. And, you know, this just isn't going to be over by November. I don't think.

BLITZER: You can see how angry the president is, how frustrated he is by all of this. Guys, everybody stand by. There's more news. A huge stockpile of bottled water at a Puerto Rican airport raising a very troubling new questions about President Trump's claim at the response to last year's deadly hurricane was, quote, an incredible unsung success.

And later, Vladimir Putin changes his story on the nerve agent poisonings of an ex Russian spy and others in Britain. But is it any more believable than his original complete denials of any Russian involvement?


[17:42:39] BLITZER: In addition to the enormous threat to the southeast posed by Hurricane Florence, forecasters now say a tropical storm named Isaac will be passing ominously close to Puerto Rico on Friday. Also tonight, there's more evidence contradicting President Trump's claim that his administration's response to last year's hurricanes is a tremendous success.

CNN'S Bill Weir is joining us. He's in Puerto Rico for us. He went to check out the reports of a huge stockpile of undistributed bottled water at a Puerto Rican airport. So Bill, first of all, what did you find out?

BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this all started actually yesterday, Wolf, when a member of the local law enforcement posted a picture on social media out of frustration, saying, can you believe this, another example of sort of the failed response. And we went. And it was not hard to find.

Some 20,000 pallets of bottled water by our back of the envelope math, that's about 38 million bottles of water, 10 for every resident of Puerto Rico or so, just sitting there, banking in the sun. Apparently, it's -- FEMA started delivering to that air strip back in the fall, October or November or so. They didn't start distributing it until May.

And then some residents complained of a foul odor and taste, unsure whether it came that way or got that way after sitting in the sun for months in the heat down there. But then that prompted more water testing. And it's just been sort of a perfect storm of logistical nightmares. And this is such a glaring example of how emergency management is so much about logistics.

And I couldn't help think back to all the folks I saw a month after the storm drinking rain water, drinking creek water. And all the very solid earnest national guardsmen at FEMA workers who brought that water down here, thinking they were going to save and help lives. But a lesson unlearned, regardless of the president's A-plus grade yesterday.

BLITZER: So I just want to be precise. You said 38 million bottles of water just sitting there, when they could have been distributed, that water, and helped people?

WEIR: Exactly, exactly. There's -- we were doing the math, according to how many bottles in a pallet. So there were two statements put out, one by FEMA that says, look, it's just our job to get the resources to the island, to the state. And it's up to the locals to distribute it.

[17:45:02] The Puerto Rican government put out a statement that said basically, they sent us too much, too late. That we have an extra 20,000 pallets of water that we will be returning.

That's not the case. I mean, we know people who have -- we saw -- met a woman on Vieques yesterday who every day has to go down into town and carry up this cistern in the back of her truck to feed her animals, herself and her baby. So there is still plenty of need. But that disconnect is still so vivid a year after.

BLITZER: It's shocking to hear it.

All right, Bill Weir, on the scene for us in Puerto Rico. Thank you very much.

Coming up, Vladimir Putin weighs in on the accusations from British authorities who say they have now identified two Russians behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy and others.

Are Putin's latest denials any more believable than his original ones?


[17:50:36] BLITZER: Today Russian president Vladimir Putin dismissed the accusations of British authorities who say they've identified two suspects in the nerve agent poisonings of a former Russian spy, his daughter and two others.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance. He's live in Moscow for us.

So what is Putin saying, Matthew?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's now saying that the two prime suspects in that Skripal poisoning took place in Salisbury, England have now been identified. He says he knows who they are. He says that they are civilians, rejecting the suggestion of this allegation made by the British investigators that they're members of the GRU, Russian military intelligence.

He also says they're not criminals, but the incredible thing about it and the big departure is that he acknowledged their existence at all.


CHANCE (voice-over): Up until now the Russians had categorically denied any knowledge of the suspects in the Skripal poisoning. The images circulated by British investigators were meaningless Russian officials insisted as were the names on their passports. But speaking at an economic forum in Vlodostok, the Russian president said the two men have now been identified as innocent civilians.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): We, of course, looked at what kind of people they are and we know who they are. We found them. I hope they appear and speak about it themselves. This will be best for everyone. There is nothing unusual or criminal there, I assure you.

CHANCE: And as if on cue Russian state television was within hours broadcasting a telephone call with what it said was one of the suspects. The man, identified by the channel as Alexander Petrov, can be heard saying he has no comment at the moment but may speak to the media next week. The channel says he works for a pharmaceutical company in the Siberian city of Tomsk and has never made any secret visits to London.

The development is unlikely to satisfy British authorities investigating the poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who both spent weeks in hospital. Two suspects named as Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov were photographed entering Britain from Russia days before the Skripal poisoning in March this year. They were also caught on security cameras in Salisbury where the attack took place.

British investigators say traces of Novichok, the highly-toxic substance used in the attack, was found in the London hotel room where the two Russians stayed.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Based on a body of intelligence, the government has concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU.

The GRU is a highly-disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.

CHANCE: The allegation this was a state-sanctioned assassination mission using a chemical weapon has been vehemently denied by Russia and provoked diplomatic expulsions and sanctions. British officials say their attempts to get an explanation from Russia for the poisoning have always been met with obfuscation and lies. That, they say, does not appear to have changed.


CHANCE: Well, at the very least, Wolf, it's going to be interesting to see who this individual is that the Kremlin says is one of those suspects and to hear, of course, his version of events as to why this poisoning may have happened and where he was at the time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in Moscow. Very interesting. Thank you very much.

Coming up, dire warnings about the powerful hurricane bearing down on the Carolinas. There could be storm surges 13-feet high and up to three feet of rain. Officials say it is the last chance to get out right now before the storm moves in.



BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Unprecedented, the National Weather Service is now warning of historic flooding as Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas. We have a new forecast on the storm's power, the deluge of rain and the disaster that is expected to threaten lives and homes for days and days.

Widespread impact. This monster storm could inflict pain on more than 25 million people. Tonight, emergencies have been declared in five states as Florence gets closer and closer and the fear spreads.

Interference order. The president takes new action to punish foreigners who try to influence U.S. elections. Is it just a show to try to tamp down concern that he's soft on Russia --