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Hurricane Florence Pounds East Coast; Manafort Pleads Guilty, Will Cooperate With Justice Department. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 14, 2018 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news.

At least four people have now been killed by Hurricane Florence as it hits the Eastern United States. A mother and her baby died when a tree fell on their house in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Just 20 miles away in, Hampstead, another woman died after suffering cardiac distress. Trees and debris blocked first-responders from being able to reach her in time.

And further inland, another person was killed while plugging in a generator.

This now deadly and slow-moving disaster has been pounding the East Coast of the United States for more than a day now. In New Bern, North Carolina, water was waist-high, rescuers spending the day bringing more than 300 people to safety.

In other areas of the same state, some who chose to ride out the storm at home, well, they saw this from their windows? That's Leland, North Carolina, right near Wilmington, where winds likely will not drop below 50 miles per hour until tomorrow afternoon.

More than 600,000 customers in North and South Carolina currently do not have any power; 26,000 people in both states have been forced to move to shelters. And more than 7,000 soldiers and airmen with the National Guard are responding to calls.

Just moments ago, the White House announced that President Trump will be visiting areas affected by the storm some time next week.

We have teams positioned across the Carolinas to show you the conditions and the impact.

CNN's Miguel Marquez is in Carolina Beach, North Carolina, for us.

Miguel, tell us about conditions where you are.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in a word, miserable is how it's going right now here in Carolina Beach.

This is a storm, this is wind that just will not relent. I want to show you exactly what we're dealing with. This is the beach on Carolina Beach. Those waves are just unbelievably big. They have doubled in size since this morning.

We were out here this morning. And at this boardwalk, up to here was sand. This was beach. Now there's about two feet of sand that has gone all the way down, beach erosion all the way up and down Carolina Beach.

Their beach is just gone. This is what they are dealing with now. For the last 24 hours, we have been in this storm, and it just will not stop. We were in an area today that has flooded pretty badly. They had -- as the tide came in and as the rain was coming down and as the surge, that water was being pushed onshore, we had waist-high water here in Carolina Beach.

They expect, when that time comes back in tonight around midnight, that they will have that same surge that same issue. And then there will be a test of just how this town survives.

Spoke to the city manager a short time ago. He says that it may be Saturday or Sunday before they're able to open up the bridge, so that people can get in and out of this town. Across the county, there is now some 108,000 people who have no electricity. Certainly, here in Carolina Beach, the electricity is out.

Duke Energy only serves about 128,000 people in the county, so almost, what, 90 percent of the people in this county have no electricity. And at this point, it's not clear when it's going to get better. It looks like it will be well into tomorrow. And we have been in this weather for about 24 hours out, just an unrelenting storm -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Miguel, you said the water has been coming in. Are there concerns that it actually is going to come even -- come further in, even to the town?

MARQUEZ: That is the concern. It flooded into the town, an area that often floods here, about 200 yards.

What was concerning to officials here is that it is that in about a half-hour. And so tonight, when that -- when that tide comes in and the surge at the same time, they will be watching and waiting to see whether areas of town that often flood, if they flood even more, and if homes in this area began to take on water as well, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Miguel Marquez at Carolina Beach, North Carolina, please stay safe.

We have talked about all the high-water rescues in the New Bern area of North Carolina.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there right now.

Ed, tell us about the rescues that you have been seeing today. ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake.

Well, here in New Bern, North Carolina, through torrential downpours. We have seen scenes reminiscent of what Hurricane Harvey was like in Houston a year ago, where citizen volunteers, rescuers have poured into this city with their own boats to try to help people whose homes have quickly taken on water here since the storm has come ashore.

One of those people here is Michael Everett, who drove down from an hour-and-a-half away to put his boat in the water.


How many people have you pulled out today?

MICHAEL EVERETT, VOLUNTEER RESCUER: Probably between five and six. We have only been down here about an hour or two.


EVERETT: So, and you got some of them folks that are kind of, hey, we don't want to leave, old-timers and stuff like that. But what do you do for you?


Michael just came out of this neighborhood you see behind me.

And you were telling me that there's still a number of people back there who refused to come out.

EVERETT: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. You know how they are. You know how some people are. The old-timers, they kind of want to stick around and ride it out.

But I don't know if that is the smartest thing to do with not knowing how many more days this is going on.

LAVANDERA: And how deep has the water been in the places you have seen in this particular neighborhood?

EVERETT: We have kind of run into some spots probably between four and five to even and 10 foot deep back there.


Do you sense it coming up or coming down?

EVERETT: Well, stayed back there probably 15, 20 minutes. And matter of fact, rain got so bad, we got on a carport back there.

And we probably stayed under there for probably four or five, and within four or five minutes, it had probably rose an inch or two.

LAVANDERA: You live an hour-and-a-half away. You drove down here to do this. What made you it? EVERETT: Well, I have lived Hurricane Floyd, and got flooded and had four foot of water in the house. And I really feel for these type of people, because it is just a terrible situation.

LAVANDERA: Excellent. Excellent. Well, keep up the great work. Thanks for your time, Michael Everett, who you heard, Jake, came down an hour-and-a-half away to be a part of this.

The mayor here says that a little more than 300 people have been rescued from their homes so far today. And the mayor says that so far they still have perhaps another 40 or so that want to be rescued.

But as you heard Michael here say, Jake, there are some people who still refuse to leave their homes even as the floodwaters continue to rise -- Jake.

TAPPER: Remarkable story. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

CNN's Don Lemon is covering the storm for CNN in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Don, you guys are next -- you are next to get hit, according to the experts. What are the conditions like right now where you are?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Jake, this is as bad as it's been.

I mean, we're getting some really strong bands of wind that's coming through. I don't want to turn my back to you, but, if I do, you will know that, because that's the only way to stand up here.

But it's starting to get really bad here. Here's here's the problem, Jake, and you have covered this. You have covered hurricanes, and you know usually they come through, they don't last terribly long. It's not like a tornado that comes through and it just runs.

They don't last terribly long. But this one has been unrelenting. It's just sitting here and sitting here. And it's dumping rain on top of the folks here all across the Carolinas. And, as you know, the big problem has been flooding. It's been flooding.

And we have been talking about the flooding on the coast. But I think the real big problem, Jake, is going to be with the folks who are inland. It can run off here. I have been showing the storm drains here on the beach, where it runs right into the Atlantic.

But without those, when you're inland, you don't have that and the water cannot run off as easily. I'm just going to walk you out here and show you. We have been talking about the beaches. They have been closing the beaches and trying to get people off.

The beaches are pretty much desolate, but you still get the sand and you still get the wind that whips it up. But, again, the big problem is going to be flooding. There's that storm drain that I have been telling you about. And there are a number of them along the beach here. And, man, that thing is roaring, water coming in. It was just a little trickle, if anything, and it certainly wasn't

this big when we first got here. But here it is, and I will get as close to it is possible to show you here. But there are these storm drains all over the beach. The water is coming in from town.

What was once a crevice has now become a crevasse, something that's bigger. And it is going to get worse. The worse for me, where I am here in Myrtle Beach, probably 10:00, 11:00, midnight. Could be later if this storm continues to sit on top of this area and just spin around and whip up water, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Don, Myrtle Beach extended its curfew through tomorrow morning. It was supposed to end tonight. Is there a sense of the storm being worse than had been expected?

LEMON: Well, it is, yes, worse than expected because it's not moving. It's going anywhere from three to 10 miles an hour. It's just not moving. It just won't get out of here.

So they're telling people to stay in their homes. You saw the pictures. You heard what happened in New Bern, as it relates to the tree falling. You have seen the rescues when it's come to flooding.

But Myrtle Beach, they don't want that. And certainly when that storm starts to -- the storm starts to hit here even harder there's going to be more of a concern. They don't know how much flooding they're going to get, if any. They're other hoping that they don't, but they just don't know, because it's kind of unusual to have a storm just to sit here and do what this one is doing.

TAPPER: And, Don, this is obviously a huge tourist town. You're right on the coast. Did most people, as far as you can tell, heed the warnings and evacuate?

LEMON: Yes, most, Jake, but not all.

And let me show you. This is the Strand here. You're talking about a tourist sound. There is some 60 some miles of beach and hotel and shoreline here in Myrtle Beach. And then when you have North Myrtle Beach, they have got some -- they have got a long stretch of beach as well.


But, usually, now, this is -- in the Northeast, you have -- usually the season is from Memorial to Labor, and then people go back to work and they leave the beach towns. Not here.

I was talking to the former mayor last night. They said that their season can go all the way up until November, all the way up until Thanksgiving. So the people here are losing a lot of money. And that's their livelihoods. They depend on it.

They're losing money. Everything is closed. When we were just out front on Ocean Boulevard here, not a store open, not a soul to be seen. So they have got it. They're dealing with it physically and fiscally as well, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Don Lemon, stay safe, my friend.

Florence is right now battering the coastal city of Beaufort, North Carolina, where nearly 100-mile-per-hour winds and pounding ring have left thousands without power.

Joining me on the phone is the mayor of Beaufort, North Carolina. Everette Newton.

Mr. Mayor, thanks for joining us again. We talked yesterday at this time.

How is your city holding up?


Yes, we still have tropical storm winds. We have (INAUDIBLE) lots of trees. So, it's really treacherous being out on the roads. For those who did (INAUDIBLE) shelter in place. And for those who did evacuate, hold in place (INAUDIBLE) tell you that it's safe to be (INAUDIBLE).

I would also like to mention (INAUDIBLE)

TAPPER: Mr. Mayor, I'm sorry for interrupting. You're breaking up a little bit. I don't know if there's a better part of -- of wherever you are. Obviously, we want you to stay safe, but if there's a better part of to stand to get a better signal, if possible, and continue what you were saying.

NEWTON: OK, thank you.

So I just wanted to let you know, Jake, that Nevada Task Force 1 has showed up in Eastern Carteret County for search-and-rescue. So we greatly appreciate the support of the people of Nevada.

TAPPER: OK, great. That came through loud and clear. We appreciate it.

Your first-responders are out right now surveying the extent of the damage. Do you have the resources you need to handle the storm and its aftermath?

NEWTON: Well, I think right now it's really important that we just do an initial damage assessment here.

We do have power lines that are down. We do have some substantial flooding. We are evacuating people from Beaufort to Newport Middle School as well.

So, let us do the initial damage assessment. And then we will get the right people to come in and help us out, but I really appreciate that help.

TAPPER: You instituted a 24-hour curfew for those who didn't evacuate. Are the locals who stayed behind, are they heating that curfew?

NEWTON: For the most part, yes, they are heeding this. And it is very treacherous on our roads right now.

TAPPER: Storm surge and flooding obviously a major concern for you, particularly with the tide cycles. Can you give us a sense of how big a problem the storm surge and the tides have been and might be over the coming days?

NEWTON: The flooding covered our water (INAUDIBLE) roads -- really, the roads that are adjacent to the roads.

So, yes, it's really all over our community right now. There is just no place for the water to go. And we have got both high tide and we have got the flooding from the rain as well.

TAPPER: All right, Mr. Mayor, we're thinking about you and we're thinking about your fellow North and South Carolinians. If you need anything from us that you're not getting from the state or federal government, you let us know.

NEWTON: Thank you. No, we have had tremendous support.

TAPPER: OK, that's good to hear. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much.

We're following more breaking news.

President Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreeing to a plea deal, shockingly. And this includes cooperating with Robert Mueller. What does Mueller -- what does Manafort know?

Plus, Hurricane Florence now a deadly storm. At least four Americans have been killed. We're going to have more breaking news coverage on the storm ahead.


[16:17:36] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

We're going to continue to follow Hurricane Florence, now a deadly storm as it strikes the coasts of the Carolinas. But I want to take a moment here and turn to a major development in politics today in the special counsel's Russia investigation.

I plead guilty. These are words Paul Manafort's legal team once suggested the former campaign chairman would never utter. Well, at 12:11 this afternoon in Washington, D.C., the 69-year-old not only admitted his guilt, he is now cooperating with special counsel Mueller, giving information and agreeing to testify if need be. It's a stunning turn of events.

The White House, of course, is downplaying the significance of the president's former campaign chair entering into a plea agreement with the special counsel, saying, it, quote, had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated, end quote. It is worth noting that Manafort's guilty plea is the latest

conviction by Mueller's team, which includes President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn, deputy campaign chair Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among convictions and plea deals, among others.

I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, the big question, of course, is, does Manafort know anything about any possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians? What can you tell us about the cooperation Manafort is going to provide?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Jake, that is the huge question that really hangs over today's events. But let me tell you, the fact is, according to the court documents that were filed today, Paul Manafort has agreed to give the government anything and everything it wants. According to the document, it says that Paul Manafort has agreed to cooperate with the government on any and all matters as to which the government deems relevant.

And this includes doing interviews and briefings with the special counsel's prosecutors. That includes Paul Manafort sitting with the prosecutors without any lawyer present. That includes turning over documents to the special prosecutor and to the Justice Department for any cases they may have, as well as testifying in D.C. or anywhere else that prosecutors ask Paul Manafort to testify.

At the end of the day, Paul Manafort had resisted this very event that took place today in federal court, but it is everything that the prosecutors have been pushing for, this negotiation -- the prosecution and the Manafort team had been having these negotiations in the last few days, and this is exactly where the prosecution wanted them to end up.

[16:20:12] TAPPER: Evan, Manafort's lawyer tried to explain why Manafort took the guilty plea.

PEREZ: That's right, Kevin Downing spoke to reporters briefly right after the court hearing, and again, he talked about the importance of helping Paul Manafort's family. Here's what he had to say.


KEVIN DOWNING, PAUL MANAFORT'S ATTORNEY: He wanted to make sure that his family was able to remain safe and live a good life. He's accepted responsibility, and this is for conduct that dates back for many years, and everybody should remember that.


PEREZ: I hear you telegraphing there from Kevin Downing that this had nothing to do with the president's campaign. So I think what you're hearing there, Jake, is an effort to try to preserve the possibility of a pardon from President Trump should that come to pass.

TAPPER: All right. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with our experts.

Adolfo, the cooperation agreement includes interviews and briefings with the special counsel's office, turning over documents, testifying in other proceedings. You're looking at the members of Trump's inner circle who are cooperating in various investigations. Two men at the top of his campaign, there it is right there, two men at the top of his campaign, his former national security adviser, personal lawyer and fixer, the CFO of the Trump Organization.

Should President Trump be worried?

ADOLFO FRANCO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think so. I'll say why. Most of these -- in fact, not most, all of these we've seen today are really about the Cohen issues, the Manafort trial in Virginia. Nothing has had to do with, that I know of, with the president or the campaign. I mean, when I say the president, the presidential campaign.

So I think there is a whole lot of interest on the part of prosecutors about what Paul Manafort knows about Soviet -- former Soviet Union oligarchs who have been around Russia for a very long period of time. If you read the actual agreement in paragraphs six and seven, I think this is -- and I've seen a lot of these, are fairly border plate. Yes, widespread cooperation on a wide range of matters.

You mentioned in this piece in the beginning he pleaded guilty. He pleaded guilty today to not registering as a lobbyist, I'm not minimizing that, and he also pleaded guilty to witness tampering, talking to people and so forth. There is nothing today to suggest that either Virginia or the matters that we are -- that we know about had anything to do with the president or the president's campaign.

So I think those are important things. The last thing I will say is, he was facing a very tough financial situation had he moved forward with this trial in the District of Columbia. I think that was a major factor. I think his lawyer has said it in this consideration.

But I think frankly, and other I guess would disagree, I think there's a lot of supposition here, but it's a wealth of knowledge for the investigation that it might be useful to Mr. Mueller but not in any way implicate the president.

TAPPER: So, do you disagree?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I do. I can't be dismissive when he actually pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States of America. As well as I know you said so on and so forth, witness tampering. That's obstruction of justice. Both are not things to be dismissed lightly.

And, in fat, he also pled guilty on the bank charges that happened in Virginia and that he will not appeal the eight convictions happening in the EDVA or the remaining 10 that were a part of a hung jury. So, frankly, I can't be as dismissive. And, of course, the president should be nervous, not if he believes he

has myopia that he, the only thing that's a problem here, but the president of the United States should be concerned with the people you listed on the screen there just now, Jake, that there are connections to members of his campaign in nefarious behavior. Now, that is assault on democracy, and I would think as the president, he'd be concerned about that.

TAPPER: Sara, one of the other things that's interesting about this is in August, President Trump tweeted, quote, unlike Michael Cohen, he -- meaning Paul Manafort refused to break, make up stories in order to get a deal, such respect for a brave man.

So, the president was, in August, saying it's so great that Paul Manafort hasn't flipped, hasn't done what Michael Cohen did. Now he has.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, now he has, and I think that's why you saw Kevin Downing choose the words that he did, because it's no secret that Paul Manafort and his team are still hoping he can get a pardon. That's harder to do and the president was praising him for not flipping, and now, he has this cooperation agreement.

The one thing I would say is, you now, the best possible case scenario for President Trump is he now comes out of this after being the candidate who pledged to drain the swamp, after being the guy who bragged about hiring the best people, basically being surrounded by a bunch of crooks. If you look at his campaign chairman, if you look at the deputy to Paul Manafort, if you look at Mike Flynn, the national security adviser, if you look at his personal lawyer, all of these people have pleaded guilty. All of these people have had to deal with investigators because they basically tried to enrich themselves.

And this is a guy who said he was not going to be beholden to anyone who is going to drain the swamp in Washington.

[16:25:05] And that's the best case scenario for the president. So, he might not be personally implicated in a lot of this stuff, but it's hard to walk away, you know, without judging the kind of aftermath here.

TAPPER: I do want to remind people Paul Manafort has maintained throughout this whole time that he has nothing to flip on. He has no information that's negative about Donald Trump.

We should remind people he was at that infamous Trump Tower meeting with the woman who was billed as a Russian government lawyer with dirt on Hillary Clinton, but again, we know of no crime committed by the Trump campaign per se.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: What we need to know is what -- Howard Baker in the Watergate committee, he was the senator from Tennessee, what he asked. What did the president know and when did he know it? Mr. Manafort would not have gotten this deal if he did not have

information that Mueller does not yet have. And Mueller has everything. So he's got to have something. I have no idea if it implicates the president.

But he's got to know, for example, at the Trump Tower meeting which you attended, with Donald Trump Jr. who set up the meeting, after being told the Russian government wants to help your father by giving you dirt on Hillary Clinton, Trump Jr. says, if that's the case I love. So, they had the meeting.

According to congressional testimony from Trump Jr., before and after the meeting, there were calls placed by Trump Jr. to a blocked number. We know that Mr. Trump's apartment has a blocked number. Trump Jr. says I don't remember.

Manafort can tell us, did Trump know? Right around that meeting, Donald Trump on the campaign trail calls a press conference and said, I'm going to have a major speech about Hillary Clinton and how dirty she is, right after his son and campaign chairman and son-in-law were promised dirt on Hillary.

The circumstantial evidence before you have Manafort flipping is really powerful that Trump personally colluded to try to help the Russians steal election from the Hillary Clinton.

FRANCO: One of the disadvantages, Jake, of going first, everybody gets to comment on what you said. So, I get to comment on what they said quickly on this. First of all, Paul, I think that is all supposition on your part and I understand --

BEGALA: They're all facts.

FRANCO: Well, there are not facts in this regard. There are a lot of things about -- we just had a trial in Virginia that had absolutely nothing to do with President Trump and it had to do with Paul Manafort's business dealings, and I think American intelligence might also be very interested in pursuing some of these matters with Mr. Manafort. So, we don't know that.

Secondly, with all due respect in this country, yes, those are nice values and I shared them all, but guilt by association is not a crime. So, you have people -- no, I'm not talking about you, Paul, but when you have people involved in a campaign, and every administration has had problems with certain officials, I don't think that's an indictment on the president in the legal sense.

And, lastly, Mr. Manafort has never been part and appointee of the Trump administration or part of the administration. Obviously, these are long time political operatives that all these -- you're one of them, Paul -- that people have to hire for presidential campaigns. So I think people are really trying to find something here when we don't have nearly enough information.

And everything we've had to date that's been revealed in Virginia and with Cohen, and the president did attack to what he calls flippers after Mr. Cohen said a lot of nasty things purportedly about Mr. Trump. We haven't seen that from Paul Manafort.

TAPPER: Quickly, if you could.

COATES: Here's why your premises is false, because the actual mandate of Robert Mueller is not to attack the president or Donald Trump. It was to probe whether there was collusive activities between members of the Trump campaign and the foreign nation that being Russia. And they have to ask the question, and answer, which is part of what he did today by saying, why would another country who is Ukraine friendly believe they had a receptive ear in this campaign at this time, when I am broke, after squandering $60 million and now say, I'll work for free. Those are the things you have to look at, not just simply an attack on Donald Trump, it was the campaign that Mueller is probing.

FRANCO: Possibly, but that's not President Trump necessarily.

TAPPER: We will talk more about this. Everyone, thank you so much for right now.

Back to our other major breaking story, Hurricane Florence. In River Bend, North Carolina, crews all the way from New York City are helping to rescue residents from the rising flood waters brought by Florence. Officials have confirmed that this destructive storm has now turned deadly.

We're going to go live on the scene next. Stay with us.