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Cohen Interviews with Mueller Team; Hackers Targeted Senators; CNN Special on Puerto Rico; Carolina Residents Brace for Flooding. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 21, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:33:16] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

ABC News is reporting that President Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, has spoken with Bob Mueller's team several times for several hours over the past months. The report also saying that the special counsel focused primarily on the president's dealings with Russia and whether Trump and his associates discussed the possibility of a pardon for Cohen. That, of course, would be relevant to an obstruction of justice.

CNN crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, is with us now in Washington with more details.

Significant to say the least.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Absolutely significant. And really why would Michael Cohen be doing this? And I think that's the big question.

And probably the answer is, yes, as much as he has said that he's doing it for the good of the country and to protect his family. The bigger thing here is, I think, it's likely that he's hoping to have -- get some leniency from the judge when he eventually gets sentenced for his plea in New York. That sentencing is supposed to take place in December. There's no cooperation agreement. The government has promised him nothing. His lawyer, last night, after all these stories published, admitted, basically, came out and said, yes, Michael Cohen is cooperating here, has met with the special counsel, and here's what his lawyer said that Michael Cohen -- good for Michael Cohen in providing critical information to the Mueller investigation without a cooperation agreement. No one should question his dishonesty, veracity or loyalty to his family and country over the president, essentially.

SCIUTTO: That -- now, in ABC's reporting, the topics he was asked about included both obstruction of justice issues, the idea of a pardon, et cetera, but also still the question of collusion.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, that -- well, that's -- obviously, and we know that that's still ongoing, right? The special counsel's still looking at any potential Russian collusion. The president has said he's welcome. He wants to answer questions about collusion. He doesn't want to answer questions about obstruction.

[09:35:05] But we also know, from what these stories say, that Michael Cohen is also playing a factor in that part of the investigation. If it's true that, as ABC is reporting, that the special counsel is asking Michael Cohen questions about whether anyone promised him a pardon, that's important to the obstruction investigation.


PROKUPECZ: So, in the end, what's going to happen, we'll see. You know, it is -- it could be that this -- his information is fruitful, is helpful to the special counsel, to other parts of this investigation and then down the line he could get a letter from the U.S. attorney in New York or from the special counsel that gets sent to the judge to say, you know, this guy's been cooperating, he's been helping us in this investigation. We're hoping you can show some leniency in his jail sentence.

SCIUTTO: Right. The president has to be concerned.

PROKUPECZ: Oh, I would be, certainly, yes.

SCIUTTO: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

Just weeks before the midterm elections, new questions this morning about the security of the U.S. election system. Google saying that foreign hackers tried to break into the personal e-mails of senators and their staffers.


[09:40:39] SCIUTTO: With just weeks to go until the midterm elections, a stark reminder this morning that the U.S. elections system is still vulnerable to cyberattacks. Google confirming that the personal gmail accounts of several senators and staffers, from both parties we should note, have been targeted by foreign government hackers.

Alex Marquardt is in Washington. He's been following this story.

How serious?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a very important note because a vast majority of the serious attacks that we've seen until now have been against Democratic infrastructure, most notably the DNC and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election. This was an attempt against both Democrats and Republicans and -- in the Senate. They are senators and their staffers.

And this came to light with Senator Ron Wyden (ph) of Oregon announced yesterday that there had been this attempted breach. He didn't provide too many details. Did not say who the foreign actor was who might have been behind this.

Of course, we assume that it could have been Russia, but there are plenty of other actors that might have been involved, China, Iran, North Korea. We reached out to Google. They did confirm that it was their platform that this foreign actor had gone after, their platform gmail, the personal accounts of these senators and their staffers. Google saying in a statement, this does not necessarily mean that the account has been compromised and that there was a widespread attack, Rather, the notice reflects our assessment that a government-backed attacker has likely attempted to access the user's account or computer.

So Google not saying there that anyone was successfully, but there -- that there was an attempt.

And we should note, Jim, that Wyden also said in his letter to Senate leadership that he was disturbed that the Senate sergeant in arms, which is currently in controlled of security of Senate e-mail, does not also take care of the personal devices and personal e-mails -- e- mail accounts of senators and their staffers.

SCIUTTO: Because those are just big targets. We saw that with John Podesta in the 2016 campaign.

Just to be clear, are these phishing attacks where they send you that kind of e-mail, click on an attachment, try to get --

MARQUARDT: Phishing and malware Google said.

SCIUTTO: Gotcha.

Alex Marquardt, thanks very much.

Coming up next, one year after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, just devastated the island, we speak with two CNN correspondents who covered the response to the storm extensively over months. Their take on the recovery efforts in the year since then.


[09:47:17] SCIUTTO: It has been one year since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, but the wounds still far from healed. CNN takes a deeper look at rebuilding efforts on the island, how the government agencies handled the crisis, as well as the ongoing human toll. It's all part of a CNN special report, "Storm of Controversy: What Really Happened in Puerto Rico."

Here's a preview.


LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As soon as I got off the chopper, a gentleman came towards me and he said, hey, who are you? And I said, I'm CNN.


I'm asking him if this is enough.


BILL WEIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My colleague, Leyla Santiago, has been providing relentless, award-winning coverage since day one.

SANTIAGO: And he was so angry. I mean he was mad.

WEIR: Because you weren't FEMA?

SANTIAGO: Because I didn't have any help with me. I had questions. And so he was angry. He walked away. And within seconds, a woman came out of nowhere and just hugged me. She had no idea who I was, but I was the first outsider she had seen in days.


SCIUTTO: These poor people.

We're joined now by CNN's Bill Weir, Leyla Santiago. They've covered Hurricane Maria extensively. They're part of tonight's CNN's special report.

Leyla, listen, it's powerful stuff and you were on the ground earlier and more extensively than really anyone. As you met with the people of Puerto Rico on this most recent trip, how were they doing a year later?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think a lot of people feel forgotten. And I've got to be honest, you know, yesterday was the one year mark. And even as you look on FaceBook and Twitter, it was a big day. I mean people are sort of still feeling anxious over the fact that we're still in the hurricane season and what could be coming.

I myself took some time today scrolling over old photos on my phone and sort of reliving the day that changed everything, the day that changed the island, the day that changed our families, the day that changed everything.

And so, one year later, so many people feel forgotten. I mean it took 11 months for the power authority to say mission complete and still today there are communities on generators. Still today there are, according to the governor's office, at least 45,000 homes with tarps on them. Yes, I think everyone feels that progress has been made, but I think even more people feel that there is a long way to go here. And that needs to be acknowledged.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It bears repeating. Some Americans amazingly still aren't aware this is part of America. This is part of America in the year 2018.

Bill, as you traveled the island, Leyla mentioned there power only got up, the grid, just about a month ago. Where do other recovery efforts stand? Are homes being rebuilt? Roads? Are kids back in school? Hospitals? What did you see?

[09:50:11] WEIR: You know, Jim, it's a slow motion, slow rolling disaster that we're just now beginning to see the full implications of. Three hundred schools have closed. A lot of that had to do with the debt crisis before, but there's been this exodus. Hundreds of thousands moving to Florida, Pennsylvania, New York as well. They don't know when they're going to go back.

But plenty of people who stayed, they're in this strange limbo because they want their fellow Americans to know that they're alive and well. Most of the hotels are back and they'd love to have you down and see how far they've come and how hard they're fighting.

But at the same time, as she mentioned, the infrastructure is what you would see in the most primitive parts of the developing world. Some of roads in Twado (ph), in the center of the -- are so -- still so dangerous. People are sleeping in wet beds under leaky rooves a year later. And so these are (INAUDIBLE). These are tough people, used to austerity, they're used to blackouts, they're used to an island that's been sort of neglected for a half century. But it's really taken a human toll that's harder to see in terms of PTSD, suicide attempts are up, and the kids, the Maria generation will be haunted by this for a long time.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Those wounds, they last.

Leyla, you're aware that President Trump has repeatedly questioned the death toll. What is the official death toll for the hurricane in the aftermath of the hurricane, 2,975 people. I had the opportunity with Poppy yesterday to speak to the governor of Puerto Rico. He said that he treats that as the official death toll. 2,975.

Did you ask people about this? Do they have a reaction to that when their president questions that toll?

SANTIAGO: Well, listen, one of the things I noticed pretty quickly just in the -- the last week that we were there, everyone mentioned -- just about everyone -- that they knew somebody or they knew somebody who knew somebody who lost someone because of Hurricane Maria. So the death being in the thousands is very real of them. Everybody knows of a case of someone who died, not only during the hurricane, but maybe somebody who died months later because of the condition, because of not having power, because of not having dialysis centers, because of not having hospitals. I mean the conditions that followed. The response that didn't make up for that. So, of course, there are questions to be asked of every single level of government. That includes federal, the president, central government, you know, the government of Puerto Rico and every single one of those municipalities.

But what we see, or what I've noticed anyway in the difference, is that when I comes to municipalities, when it comes to even the governor of Puerto Pico, there is some acknowledgement of, we could do better. We can change things. We could make a difference. That's why that death toll was so important, to understand how you can prevent this from happening in the future. But we're really not seeing that from the president of the United States. He calls this an unsung success.

WEIR: And, Jim, let me point out, Leyla will be too humble to say so. It wasn't until Leyla and her team sued the Puerto Rican Department of Health for data to see exactly what was happening, uncovered waterborne illnesses they should have known about. So tonight I'm proud to present her incredible reporting that really blew up some answers, so important for people to absorb now.

SCIUTTO: Listen, you might to say that this is required watching. These are our fellow Americans going through this.

Leyla Santiago, Bill Weir, thanks very much for this, for your work.

Be sure to watch the CNN special report titled "Storm of Controversy: What Really Happened in Puerto Rico." It airs tonight at 10:00 Eastern Time only on CNN. And we'll be right back.


[09:58:28] SCIUTTO: Happening right now, Carolina residents continuing to brace for more flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Half of the counties in South Carolina could still be impacted by flood waters all these days later.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins me now live from Conway, South Carolina.

Tell us what you're seeing there.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this has been described by residents here as a slow motion disaster. This water is just slowly creeping into the neighborhoods and surrounding areas here.

We're standing in front of the Waccamaw River, which is increasing. In fact, it's two feet higher than it was at this point yesterday. And the community here, they're just exhausted. They're tired. This would be the second major flood in 10 days. Of course, that flash flooding from Hurricane Florence the first time around. It's also the fourth major flood in the last five years. And the local emergency management team here tells me that it's just getting progressively worse.

But they are doing the most they can to prepare. The National Guard is here. Federal resources have arrived. There's giant sandbags here as well as pumps to get out that water that eventually is going to come in.

They are particularly concerned about a coal ash pond, which is just a few hundred yards away from where we're standing. They've brought in an inflatable dam, the local electric company here, to try to prevent any contaminants from getting into the river water or into the sewage system.

And as I mention right now, Jim, it is just really a wait and see game. They know the water is coming, but this river here, the Waccamaw, is not officially expected to crest until Monday.


SCIUTTO: And that coal ash can be dangerous.

Nick Valencia, thanks very much.

[10:00:02] I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington. Poppy is on assignment today. The restraint is over. President Trump on a tear this morning defending Brett Kavanaugh and now going after his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, saying last hour his