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Special Coverage Of Tropical Storm Florence; U.S. Border Patrol Agent Is Now Being Accused Of Being A Serial Killer; Former Vice President Joe Biden Is Showing He Is Not Afraid To Take On President Trump; Catastrophic Flooding As Storm Crawls Across Carolinas; At Least 11 Killed As Massive Storm Hammers Carolinas; Manafort Pleads Guilty In Cooperation Deal With Special Counsel; Trump Brags Of "Tremendous Accolades" For Storm Prep; Mother Of MS-13 Victim Killed At Daughter's Memorial. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired September 15, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:14] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Ana Cabrera.
You are watching CNN's special coverage of tropical storm Florence, this epic storm on its way to delivering a third full day of disaster along the Carolina coast, forcing hundreds more people from their homes tonight. And those fleeing the flooding can now know that Florence is a killer. Eleven people have died in storm-related incidents.
As I speak, the situation could not be more urgent along the Lumber River in North Carolina. Emergency officials warn of catastrophic flooding with the water rising significantly in the last several hours. And in some locations, Florence could dump as much as 40 inches of rain.
Listen to the power of the storm. Florence is sure to take its time crawling at a speed. Most of us could out-walk, just two miles an hour. So far in its wake, Florence has knocked out the power for more than 700,000 people. It sent boats into downtown streets, decimated docks into kindling, and tore up this church like it was paper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY DIAS, EVACUATING HER HOME IN JACKSONVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA: I'm not going to lie, I cried this morning. I broke down and cried. At this point, I'm accepting it. It is what it is. We can't control it. We just pick up and deal. That's, you know, that's all we can really do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: CNN's Martin Savidge is joining us from Wilmington, North Carolina.
Martin, give us the latest.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the weather here in Wilmington has been off and on as far as rain and even some winds. And some of those rains have been heavy. Right now, we just got light rain falling.
I looked at the radar, Ana, before we came to air. Just five miles away from us there is a virtual river of rain in the air. And that is just dumping unknown amounts of water into the inland areas. And it's the inland flooding problem that is the one that is the most urgent this evening. And just a short while ago we were under a tornado warning, but that has since expired. So that's just some of the issue that we are facing here.
We also want to show you some of this new video that sent to CNN from our affiliate. That is WRAL. And it capture something else that is going on. But this has nothing to do with nature. It was looting that took place at a Family Dollar Store here in Wilmington, as one of a number of incidents being reported.
Police have already made a number of arrests this evening. And as a result of this, there is a citywide curfew that will run from 10:00 tonight until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow. Initially, they thought there wouldn't be a curfew, but as a result of this, there is.
In the meantime, the situation is quickly growing very dangerous for many people in low lying areas near the Lumber River in Lumberton, North Carolina.
We know that CNN's Polo Sandoval has been there all day long and he joins us now on the phone. The reason he is calling in is due to safety issues.
Polo, gives an update.
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): You know, Martin, what we have been seeing today so far as the situation in the Lumber River continues to worsen, is something disturbingly similar to what I witnessed about two years ago when hurricane Matthew made for an extremely dangerous situation in this same area, where many people lost their homes.
We are seeing, we have been witnessing the Lumber River continuing to rise, currently flowing at 17 1/2 feet and it is still going up. It expected to crash possibly tomorrow. Still has at least seven more feet to go, according to the current forecast. My colleagues and I spent today driving through the streets of Lumberton today. And we reached a point when we just couldn't press forward anymore because of the danger. I can tell you, having covered these kinds of situations before, it's been a while. In fact, I can't remember the last time I saw water, floodwaters that rise so quickly in neighborhoods and in businesses.
Some of the footage we are showing you is some of the footage that we shot from our vehicle with some of the equipment that we have in this, our specially fitted vehicle to be able to drive in these conditions, but eventually it did get simply too dangerous so we turned back. And that's what authorities are recommending the people do is simply stay indoors.
There is something that authorities have been noticing lately and that is people who have assumed that the worst is over because there's no more high winds, so many of them are deciding to perhaps leave shelters. Authorities saying that it is not a good idea. There are several rescues that have already happened here in Lumberton, hundreds in fact according to authorities. And it will continue into the night as the Lumber River continues to rise, Martin.
SAVIDGE: Polo, is the power on in the area where you are?
SANDOVAL: It really depends on where you are. Where we are, we do still have power at the moment. We are monitoring the situation right now from our hotel where we are lucky enough to have power, to running water.
I can tell you, two years ago that was not the situation. The floodwater made it all the way to some of the utility facilities there, including the water plant that provides the water for all the residents of Lumberton. Many people had to make do without water for 30 days. That's why we have seen people try to get ahead of it for the last several days, not only city workers grading concrete barriers around the water plant, but also neighbors coming together, strangers, people who didn't even know each other, coming together to fill sandbags and block off parts of the city that they believe where really where the water made its way into the houses and caused so much devastation two years ago.
And I should note, Martin, many of the people who were affected by this two years ago were those who are struggling economically as it is. Whatever they had, they lost. And now, they face a real possibility of losing it again.
[20:05:56] SAVIDGE: Yes.
Polo Sandoval telling us about the circumstance in Lumberton tonight along the Lumber River. Thank you very much for that.
Sixty miles to the north of where I'm standing is Jacksonville, North Carolina. And Ed Lavandera has been there. It is also home to the Marine Corps camp Lejeune and it's where the new river comes inland, one of the rivers officials say might not fully crest for another few days.
So as we say, CNN's Ed Lavandera has been in that community. The water continues to close in. Ed, how are people coping tonight?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Marty.
Well, it's a third night of steady downpour. The sounds of frogs croaking in this neighborhood that we have been, so close attention. That's about all you hear as people are huddled in their homes on this third night of steady rain, anticipating what exactly is going to happen to this river.
The neighborhood we are in, Marty, early this morning, about 7:00 in the morning, residents came outside and noticed that the banks of that new river that you are talking about was spilling into this neighborhood. It came about, encroached about 300 or 400 yards into this neighborhood, putting underwater, into three or four feet of water, into several dozen homes around here. Many people scrambled to move to higher ground.
This is a neighborhood that many people didn't expect that they would have to evacuate. It's stayed dry in previous tropical storms and major hurricanes. Many of these people didn't think they had anything to worry about. But here they find themselves watching very closely what this river is going to do.
In this general area, throughout the area, some more than 30 people had to be rescued. We saw how coast guard helicopters were flying overhead throughout most of the day. And now, once again, they're left with that eerie feeling of trying to monitor these water levels and river levels here in the darkness. And that is what they are very concerned about what exactly it is that they are going to wake up to tomorrow, Marty.
SAVIDGE: You know, Ed, how long do they think this water is going to rise in that area? Or do they know?
LAVANDERA: I think you mentioned, I should have referred to that, you he mentioned how it's not expected to crest for several days. I have spoken with several residents here today. You know, everyone is monitoring weather radars and those weather forecasts. And they see that the rainfall continued to expected to fall north of here and upriver from here. So they really don't think - even if it were to stop raining here overnight, they don't really feel like they are out of the woods just yet. They feel that possibly, and obviously, we need to counts that, possibly, the worst is yet to come in terms of how much higher this water goes.
SAVIDGE: All right.
And we can see clearly you're in the dark, and we know what a scary feeling it is for many people in your home when you can hear but you cannot see what's coming your way.
Ed Lavandera, thank you very much.
We should point out that just even as we were talking to Ed, our weather alert systems here locally in Wilmington just went off with another tornado warning. So it's a very active night weather-wise here on many different fronts.
Meanwhile, there continues to be ongoing and widespread damage that had been done in Carolina beach in North Carolina. It was a combination of rain and surf.
And CNN's Miguel Marquez is there. He has been showing it to us. And we are checking in with him tonight.
Miguel, we are just wondering, has it improved? And if so, what have you been able to see?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Marty, I'm going to give you a shocker. It is rainy and windy in Carolina beach. It is not stopping.
The rain has been come down, sometimes hard. A little bit softer right now. But the wind has just been howling as well. All of this debris behind us is pretty much typical of what you are seeing in many areas here. This is a roof that flew off of another business about 60 yards away or so, took out a hotel. Took out several trees as well. And this is the sort of stuff they are going to have to put back together in this town. Many, many walls, roofs, trees are down, and lots and lots of electrical lines.
But it's this water, this rain. None of this can happen until they can get through this wind and this rain. And guess what, there is more on the way. It is like a conveyor belt of water from the ocean onto land recent. And Carolina beach is right in the center of it -- Marty.
[20:10:21] SAVIDGE: All right, Miguel Marquez is telling us about the latest there. That he has been hammered with wind and rain for days, it seems now. And of course that's one of the outer banks or outer barrier islands there.
We are just getting a new weather forecast, at least an update on Florence. And let's get right now to CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar in the weather center with the latest on the storm -- Allison.
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Thank you, Martin.
I think the hope was that we would finally start to see this thing begin to make some forward speed pickup, but it's not. It's still only moving at two miles an hour. That's why we still have the issue of those training storms.
But this is why I want you to focus your attention right here. This band right here, just to the east and south of Wilmington. This line has really begun to fire up with the convection or thunderstorms in the area.
In fact, take a look at this lightning that is here. We have seen hundreds of lightning strikes over just the last couple of hours really begin to fill in. Tornado warning right now just to the north and east of Wilmington. You can barely see that barely. See that little pink box right there. A tornado watch is in effect for much of this area until 11:00 eastern time tonight. So it's not out of the question to continue to get off and on tornado warnings over the next several hours.
But the big concern going forward, especially in the long term, is just going to be the water. So much rain has already fallen, 30 1/2 inches in Swansboro, nearly two feet for Emerald Isle and Morehead city. And more rain is still coming down for a lot of these communities.
Widespread amounts of six to 12 inches is still expected in a lot of portions of North Carolina. But now you are starting to see that spread elsewhere, even into portions of Virginia. The concern going forward is going to be for not only the cities that have already seen rain but the ones that have yet to really get some of their heavier rain. Places like Lynchburg, stretching towards Charlotte. And then the mountain communities of North Carolina, Asheville, Hickory. Those locations also expected to get a lot of rain in a short period of time. And that could in turn trigger some landslides.
But the other concern is the rivers. This is the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville. It is currently at 26 feet. It's expected to jump nearly 40 feet, up to 62 1/2 feet, by the time that crests later into the week, say Monday or Tuesday. But again, Martin, the concern this isn't the only river. You have almost 20 river gauges that are expected to reach major flood stage in the next several days.
SAVIDGE: Yes. This is going to be a real serious problem for many, many communities. It's not even the rivers that maybe people know. There are a lot of waterways they never thought of that could turn into raging monsters in a matter of hours.
Allison Chinchar, thank you for that.
And we will continue to monitor both the weather, the rain, and everything else here in North Carolina and South Carolina as we head into another what's going to be a very dark and frightening night for many, many residents - Ana.
CABRERA: Martin, are sending our best to everyone in the Carolinas, hoping everyone stays safe. Thank you.
If you want to help those impacted by hurricane Florence, there are ways to donate, give blood, and get in touch with charities that are responding. Just visit wCNN.com/impact for more ways to help.
We are also following breaking news out of Texas. A U.S. border patrol agent taken into custody for the alleged murder of four people and the abduction of a fifth. We will have a live report on that next.
Also, take a look at these images. These are pictures from today, a deadly shark attack off the coast of Cape Cod. A man killed despite beach goers' desperate attempts to save him.
[20:18:03] CABRERA: We are following breaking news in Texas where a U.S. border patrol agent is now being accused of being a serial killer. Authorities say Juan David Ortiz murdered four people and kidnapped a fifth person in just the last two weeks. Ortiz has been a border patrol agent for the last ten years. The bodies were found throughout Webb County near the U.S./Mexico border. Officials describe Ortiz as quote "hunting for his victims."
CNN's Boris Sanchez is following this story for us.
And Boris, the district attorney now says he feels comfortable describing Ortiz as a serial killer.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana.
In just the past two weeks, four bodies were discovered in Webb County, Texas. Three of them were females. One of them a male. All of them believed to be prostitutes, at least according to authorities. They say that in attempting to grab a fifth victim who fled, Ortiz was described as a certain type of person by this person who fled. She ended up going to the authorities, giving them a description of him. Authorities later found him and he was apprehended. As you noted, officials say he is a serial killer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISIDRO R. ALANIZ, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, WEST COUNTY, TEXAS: We do consider this to be a serial killer. It meets the qualifications or definition of being a serial killer. In this case we have four people that have been murdered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: CNN reached out to customs and border patrol. As you noted, Ana, he was a veteran of that service for ten years. The put out a statement offering condolences to the victims and asking that due process be followed in order for those families to get the justice they are seeking - Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Boris Sanchez in Washington for us, thank you.
We also have breaking news off the coast of Cape Cod where a swimmer has died in a shark attack. Video just in to CNN shows beachgoers there carrying the man down the beach. We are told people performed CPR but sadly were unable to save him.
We also have video of two sharks swimming near the attack site just a short time ago. Authorities have not said what kind of shark was involved in this attack but one shark expert we spoke to this evening says he believes these are indeed great white sharks seen here in the video. Shark sightings have been on the rise in this area as the seal population rises. And you see that officials have even put up these warning signs. Today's fatality is the first deadly shark attack in Massachusetts in more than 80 years.
Coming up, to run or not to run? Former vice President Joe Biden headlines a major D.C. dinner as questions swirl about his ambitions for 2020.
[20:25:15] CABRERA: Will he or won't he? The answer is not exactly clear yet. But former vice President Joe Biden is showing he is not afraid to take on President Trump.
Biden just wrapped up a speech at a human rights campaign dinner in Washington. And he took a few jobs at the President.
CNN political reporter Arlette Saenz is also there.
Arlette, can you answer our question. Will he or won't he run in 202? Any hints tonight?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Ana, no. We did not get any answers about 2020 tonight. But that vice president Joe Biden did show that he is willing to take on President Trump. He specifically was calling him out and other Republicans out for fostering intolerance and trying to roll back some of the progress that the LGBT community has made over the years. Take a listen now to what he has to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Instead of using the full might of the executive branch to secure justice, dignity, and safety for all, the President uses the White House as a literal bully pulpit. Callously, callously exerting his power over those who have little or none.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAENZ: So vice President Joe Biden there was criticizing President Trump, saying that he engages in bullying.
Now, one thing when it comes to 2020, while the VP wasn't saying anything about that himself, people here in the crowd were talking about it. There were a few moments when the vice President was speaking and they were shouting "2020" or "run, Joe, run," and all that Biden had to say about it was a polite thank you.
CABRERA: He know it (INAUDIBLE).
Arlette, I do know he has several trip plans in the upcoming weeks to help candidates for the Midterms. What do we know about his strategy there?
SAENZ: Well, he is planning to be one of the most active democratic surrogates out of the campaign trail between now and November 6th. His team is mapping out a schedule that will take him to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and Wisconsin. We already know of one trip that is on the vote. That's out to California and Nevada in the first week of October. He will be out there doing some fundraisers and some public events. And likely a stop with the Democratic Senate candidate out in Nevada, Jackie Rosen. Democrats see that as a real pickup opportunity to try to pick up a seat as she is running against Republican senator Dean Heller.
The vice President plans to really be blanketing the country over the next seven weeks. But two places that we won't be seeing him are Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the critical first Presidential nominating contests. His team doesn't want to invite speculation about his Presidential ambitions. They are hoping to keep the focus in the coming weeks just on the congressional candidates. And they are worried that going to Iowa or New Hampshire would turn the attention over to the vice President.
CABRERA: Arlette Saenz, thank you for the report. And welcome to the CNN family, by the way. SAENZ: Thank you.
CABRERA: We are continuing to follow breaking news. Tropical storm Florence, where catastrophic flooding has left entire communities under water. We have teams all over North and South Carolina. Another live report, next.
[20:30:53] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: The power of Florence continues to rage through the Carolinas and it's leading destruction in its path.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, the wind was so strong, it tore a gas station awning right off. You see the metal posts there bent by the sheer force of the wind. I want to send it back out to Martin Savidge, live in Wilmington, North Carolina for us. Martin, take it away.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just keep getting these warnings, whether it's about tornados and, of course, it does surprise here, flashflood warnings for this particular area. Rain coming down again. Some have described this as what was a category one hurricane has actually now turning into a category five rain and flooding event.
We want to show you just that Florence is really now starting to impact on many parts of this state. And you can sort of look at the track that it's taking here. It's going to cut across and go into South Carolina. And we want to check in with some of our correspondents that are down in that area.
And one of those who is down there and just note the speed of this storm, I got to point it out to you. It's two miles an hour. You literally could outwalk the speed at which the storm is going. And so that's part of the problem here. 5,700 people in shelters and 11 deaths have been reported.
But in South Carolina, Scott McLean is standing by there. And we want to get the latest on where he is and exactly what the conditions are, and especially the concern for flooding there, Scott.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Martin. Well, as tropical storm Florence continues to crawl ever so slowly across North and South Carolina, it continues to bring wind. It continues to bring rain. There has not been a whole lot of major damage here in Myrtle Beach.
But I want to show you some of what we have seen. If you look here, this seems to be a roofing membrane, roofing material that came right off of one of these buildings from the wind. It's not clear exactly which one. But right now, it's taking up four or five parking spots here in downtown Myrtle Beach.
And as we turn onto Ocean Boulevard here, I can tell you, this area has gotten 7.5 inches of rain already. They're expected to get another four plus inches before this is all said and done. The wind is in the low 30 miles per hour range sustained. It's gusting up to 39 miles per hour, so strong winds but certainly nothing like what we would have seen overnight.
[20:35:16] Take a look over here on the left. This is a pizza restaurant that had its canvas awning absolutely ripped apart, even the metal support structure underneath was completely destroyed. But we have seen signs down, we have seen palm trees ripped out. But nothing super major beyond that.
Now, as we drive down Ocean Boulevard, you'll notice one thing that's striking, a big difference from parts of yesterday, that's that the power is on. At its peak yesterday or at least near the high yesterday, there were some 87,000 people in Horry County alone, that's where Myrtle Beach is located, without power. That number is now down to just 26,000 customers across the entire state of South Carolina.
Now, Myrtle Beach hasn't seen much in the way of flooding. But if you go south of here, Garden City beach did see some. And it was related to that storm surge. The peak of that surge was around high tide, around 1:30 today. And that's when water managed to get into some homes near the water. I spoke to one man who is returning from being evacuated. And I asked him about what he found, which was a little bit of water in his front room. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN: So when you first heard of Florence, what was your initial thought?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, not again.
MCLEAN: And so far -- what's your reaction so far?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very pleased with what we got. I came down to see my brand-new furnishings soaking wet and I have to replace them again. A couple of months ago, I was putting in a new heat pump. I figured it was going to be floating in there. So I'm very pleased with how that turns out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLEAN: So, Martin, as of 9:00 a.m. tomorrow, the evacuation order for all counties in South Carolina will be lifted. Officials are asking people to take alternate routes to get back to their locations to avoid traffic congestion. But as you know, the big story here in South Carolina is going to be flooding over the next couple of days in places like Conway, about 15 miles inland from where we are.
The river there is expected -- expecting potentially record setting flooding. But that might not come until Wednesday, Thursday, or even beyond, Martin.
SAVIDGE: Scott McLean for us down there in South Carolina. Thanks very much. Good to see the lights on, good to see that the damage is light where he is. We want to go to North Myrtle Beach now and check in with Nick Watt across that area.
There were concerns, Nick, tonight about the tide that was rising and coming in and how you would fare. So any indication now?
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Martin, there is one more high tide, which will be shortly after midnight. My guess is if North Myrtle survives that high tide, that it will have survived this storm and hurricane in pretty good shape.
As Scott just mentioned, the evacuation order for the county, which includes North Myrtle Beach is going to be lifted at 9:00 tomorrow morning, which would suggest to me that the local officials share my optimism that North Myrtle Beach is going to be OK.
And As Scott said, the story is really in South Carolina going to move inland, maybe 60, 70 miles in land where the Pee Dee River is expected to -- might rise by about 40 feet over the next few days. And that is actually as a result mainly of the water that's been falling in record amounts over North Carolina. The Pee Dee River rises up in North Carolina, so some of those trillions of gallons that have been falling over North Carolina and South Carolina will go into those rivers and start flowing.
Right now, the actual storm is moving west, so away from us. So that's part of the reason that we've been more optimistic here, even though we've got wind and rain and the heavy onshore wind right now. I think North Myrtle Beach, I hope, will be OK tonight. Then the story moves inland. Martin.
SAVIDGE: We'll hope right along with you, Nick, thanks very much. And you're right, the inland flooding is the main concern, Ana, that everyone is facing tonight, primarily in North Carolina. It's not going to be just a single day event. It is one that the authorities are going to be watching.
There's thousands of civilians and volunteers that have come into help and there are thousands of professionals that are also standing by. We already know hundreds of rescues have been made. We'll just have to watch and see how it develops, Ana.
CABRERA: And it's not an overstatement to say the worst could be yet to come for a lot of people in those states. Martin Savidge, thank you for being there. Thanks to all our colleagues who are out in the elements tonight.
It is a question rippling through Washington. What does Paul Manafort know? Trump's former campaign chairman strikes a plea deal with the special counsel. So, what could his cooperation mean for the president?
[20:40:28] CABRERA: "I plead guilty." Words Paul Manafort's legal team once suggested the former Trump campaign chairman would never utter.
That all changed Friday when the 69-year-old, not only admitted his guilt but agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Prosecutors say that includes interviews, briefings to special counsel investigators, testimony in other proceedings, and turning over more documents.
Let's bring in our CNN political commentators, Republican strategist and former communications director for Ted Cruz, Alice Stewart. And Joe Lockhart, former Clinton White House press secretary.
[20:45:02] So, Alice, less than a month ago, the president said Manafort was such a brave man, he tweeted, "I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family, justice, in quotes, "took a 12- year-old tax case among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to break, make up stories in order to get a deal." That tweet didn't age so well. Do you think the president regrets making that statement?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think he regrets anything that he says. That's just by his nature.
But look, it's funny what life in prison will do. It will make anyone break. No one wants to do that if you can certainly avoid it. And look, even this afternoon, the president is still tweeting that this is a Russian witch-hunt and that Mueller is highly conflicted.
But the reality is the White House will say what they have been saying is that Manafort's plea has nothing to do with the White House or the Trump administration or the Trump campaign, which is actually factually correct.
His plea has to do with things that happened prior to the election. The plea is not about the Trump administration or the Trump campaign. However, the cooperation very well could be. He has information about the Trump Tower meeting. He has information about the Democrat e- mails that were dropped.
So while factually correct that this plea is not connected, this opens a whole new door that has not been opened before.
CABRERA: Let me bring up the statement we got from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders after Manafort's guilty plea and the knowledge we have now about his cooperation agreement. She says, "This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign. It is totally unrelated."
As Alice points out, Joe, that statement is true at this point. As a former press secretary yourself, how difficult is it to navigate these waters at this point in the game?
JOE LOCKHART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think she would have been better off say nothing there, because that statement undermines her credibility, while what he pleaded guilty to, as Alice said, has to do with his own thing.
The cooperation has everything to do with the Trump campaign. He's at the center. The reason it's so important for Mueller here is, he now has someone who was in the room for the Trump Tower meeting. He now has the key player in the changing of the Republican platform to be more pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian.
He now has someone who was running the campaign when the president was out saying, hack he e-mails, like get them to me. And they clearly, somebody in the orbit had information. Maybe it was only Roger Stone. Maybe it was Donald Trump.
CABRERA: Or maybe it was coincidence.
LOCKHART: Maybe it was coincidence. But the reality is, Paul Manafort knows. And of all the other people in the Trump Tower meeting, he now is working for the government. Jared Kushner is not working for the government. Don Junior is not working. Paul Manafort does know. It doesn't mean that he'll tell him that Donald Trump personally colluded. We don't know that. But for Mueller, he needed somebody who was in the room the whole time he now has it.
CABRERA: Guys, let me turn to the task at hand which is Hurricane Florence and the response. I want to ask you about President Trump's comments on Hurricane Florence, Alice. Because even before the storm hit, he was talking up the handling of it. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tremendous people working on the hurricane. First responders, law enforcement and FEMA. And they're all ready. And we're getting tremendous accolades from politicians and the people. We are ready. But this is going to be one of the biggest ones to ever hit our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Alice, was that the right tone?
STEWART: I think it's the right tone as always to be cautiously optimistic. I don't think he should have used that language, but then again, this is just the way he is. I do say that he did do a good job in terms of encouraging people to evacuate when necessary and pushing that message.
But to get ahead of your skis before the storm even hits, I think, is another area where he shouldn't have gone, but he did do a good job of re-enforcing the message that FEMA was putting out with regard to people evacuating. And I think that that's the best message that he should have gone with all along.
And now at this point, unfortunately, we have fatalities that we're dealing with, and he has issued condolences and offered prayers with regard to that. But more than anything, the best thing from a communication standpoint with his huge platform is to re-enforce the message that our emergency officials are putting out in order to help people get the message as quickly as they can.
CABRERA: You mentioned the president's tweet today about the fatalities in Hurricane Florence. We have on the record at least 11 fatalities, but this is what the president just put out within the last hour. "Five deaths have been recorded thus far with regard to Hurricane Florence. Deepest sympathies and warmth go out to the families and friends of the victims. May God be with them."
[20:50:14] That number is not accurate to the best of our knowledge. In fact, we have the list according to the local and state officials, Joe, of who has been killed connected to this storm. And we show some of those there.
I'm only bringing this up and pointing out the discrepancy here because of what happened after Hurricane Maria and the other tweets the president has been putting out and statements he's made about the death toll there and here he's not accurate again.
LOCKHART: Yes. Again, this particular case could be sloppy staff work. It could be -- the president has a bad habit of having someone tell him something and tweeting about it without verifying it. And that's just a bad habit.
I agree with Alice to a point that re-enforcing the idea that you should get out was important. But he was sending mixed messages the whole time on a number of levels. For every text about getting out, he was sending a text saying, not a lot of people died in Puerto Rico. It's all been -- it's a hoax. It's a democratic -- so if I'm sitting in North Carolina, I'm like, well, what am I supposed to believe that Democrats are just blowing this thing up? Or I really should get out?
And I think it really was one of them more vile things that he did as a bunch -- two or three states of people to a wrestling with losing their homes, potentially losing their lives. He was fighting back and saying, not so many people died in Puerto Rico. And it's just -- you know, it's just beyond the pale.
He has a very bad habit of making everything about himself. If you saw in the sound and the video you just showed, he had to put in there, we're getting accolades. Politicians, all over.
CABRERA: And that was before the storm even hit.
LOCKHART: And if you're going through this, the last thing you want to hear from the leader of the country is how well he's doing. You want to know how much work he's doing for you. And he's just incapable of doing that. He's incapable of not making everything a referendum on him. And drawing all of the attention to himself. And it's not the kind of leadership I think people are looking for.
CABRERA: Joe and Alice, got to leave it there. Thank you both for being with us and offering your perspective.
She was the grieving mother who became a national voice against gang violence. I got a chance to spend some time with Evelyn Rodriguez earlier this summer at the memorial for her daughter who was brutally killed by MS-13.
Yesterday, Evelyn was killed in front of this very same memorial, two years to the day that her daughter was murdered. We'll share her story next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:55:15] CABRERA: Evelyn Rodriguez fought to make her community safer, but on Friday, she was killed two years to the day after her daughter was murdered by MS-13 gang members. Evelyn was even killed in the same spot her daughter's body was found.
Evelyn brought me to that location earlier this summer when we first met. This was the memorial on the side of a local street in honor of her daughter Kayla Cuevas and Kayla's best friend, Nisa Mickens. Investigators say Kayla and Nisa were brutally murdered by baseball bats and a machete in 2016.
Yesterday, police say there was an argument between Evelyn and the driver of an SUV about the placement of her daughter's memorial. During the dispute, the driver tried to leave the scene. The vehicle struck and killed Evelyn right in front of that memorial.
When I spoke with Evelyn while investigating the presence of MS-13 on Long Island, we talked about her determination to prevent other families from sharing her same grief. It was the mission President Trump honored, inviting Evelyn to his state of the union address in January.
And just this past May, she sat beside President Trump during a roundtable on gang violence.
Last night, President Trump expressed his condolences, tweeting, "My thoughts and prayers are with Evelyn Rodriguez this evening along with her family and friends."
Evelyn spoke to me about her mission to honor her daughter's memory. I asked her what she remembered most about her daughter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EVELYN RODRIGUEZ, MOTHER OF MS-13 VICTIM KILLED AT DAUGHTER'S MEMORIAL: Her smile, her laughter. She was so loving. Always, "mom, I always got your back, right? Yes, you do." So, through this ordeal and me fighting to make sure that, you know, the community is safe and the safety of the kids in school. I know she's proud of me for fighting and making sure that her friends are safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Evelyn Rodriguez will be missed.
That does it for me. I'm Ana Cabrera. Up next, it's back-to-back episodes of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown." And please stay with CNN and cc.com for the very latest, as we continue to track what is now tropical storm Florence. The rain picking up and the flooding expected to get worse. CNN.com is there with you all throughout the night.