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Trump's Own DOJ Contradicts Secy Ross On Census Proposal; Trump Embraces The Media Spotlight, Steps Up News Conferences, Interviews And Rallies; At Least 13 Killed, 7 States Dealing with Storm Aftermath. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 12, 2018 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The catastrophic situation caused by Hurricane Michael is getting worse now. The death toll is at 13 and keeps going up. There were five deaths in the commonwealth of Virginia alone, where floodwaters took over entire neighborhoods. More than 1 million people across seven states do not currently have power.

[16:30:03] Then there are scenes like this one in Mexico beach, Florida, where the hurricane made landfall. It's one of several towns along the Florida Panhandle that has been decimated. Homes flattened in a matter of minutes by the category 4 storm.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Mexico Beach.

Brian, a lot of evacuees are returning to the area and coming back and finding there is nothing there.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And this is what that looks like. And when they're coming back to neighborhoods like this, this is what's left of an entire neighborhood here in Mexico Beach.

Completely flattened. Huge objects just tossed around. These large pieces of fencing here. This washing machine just jettisoned and you had furniture from some houses landing in other houses.

Now, rescue teams, as we speak, Jake, are sifting through rubble like this, to try to find survivors. For those who did survive and are just now coming back to their homes, well, today has just been excruciating.


TODD: Laurie June comes upon what was once her house and screams in agony.


TODD: She and her husband Randy lived in a two-story how soon tomorrow, which was completely flattened when hurricane Michael rolled through. Its contents thrown across a canal. She says she's looking for her fire box, which has her marriage license and other critical documents. She can't seem to find it, and the frustration and fear just seem to pour out. L. JUNE: We're renters, so we don't have renter's insurance. We

can't replace this. This is it. This is our life.

TODD: Laurie and Randy have lived in Mexico Beach for just over a year. They survived Hurricane Harvey in Houston and then moved here.

RANDY JUNE, SURVIVED HURRICANE MICHAEL: We're going to rebuild somehow. I just don't know how yet. If we don't get help, we'll damn sure be living under a bridge somewhere.

TODD: Mayor Al Cathey's family founded the city in 1949. Now, he's trying to help residents pick up the pieces.

(on camera): Can you describe what the biggest dangers are to the town right now? Are there people in need of rescue, first and foremost?

MAYOR AL CATHEY, MEXICO BEACH, FLORIDA: That's been handled. The FEMA boots on the ground people have walked the city yesterday.

TODD (voice-over): While Coast Guard crews rescued survivors from the air, CNN is learning search and rescue teams are using specialized equipment and dogs to look under the rubble for anyone who may be trapped.

Florida Governor Rick Scott toured the devastation, saying the state is offering all the assistance it can.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: We're getting food, water. We're working on shelter. We're working on communications.

TODD: This large, two-story house got uprooted from its foundation and was swept across a street.

From everything we've seen in this town, there doesn't seem to be one place that's habitable.

Dan and Julie Krupp rode out the storm and want to make sure their children know they're safe. Dan even wore a hat with his name on it for our interview.

Like so many people here, what he went through during the storm and his decision to stay is just catching up to him emotionally.

DAN KRUPP, SURVIVED HURRICANE MICHAEL: You know, there were three hours of terror. It was terror. You didn't know if the hurricane was going to turn around and slam you from the other side. And you've got your wife and you're afraid you made a mistake and you're going to kill her.


TODD: I asked Governor Rick Scott where people like Dan and Julie Krupp, people like the -- Randy and his wife were going to be able to stay here in Mexico Beach, because there really is no place for them to stay. People are living out in the street. Governor Scott said they are setting up shelters.

And I asked him where the nearest shelter is. He said that's in Panama City, which is about 20 miles away from here. And I said, can you get any sheltering here? And he said, you cannot put any shelters here, Jake. It's just not stable enough.

So they're going to try to get people evacuated to Panama City, which is about 20 miles away. Not an easy task. No communication here, very hard logistically to get in and out.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

North of Florida in Georgia, hundreds of thousands are still without power, because of the storm. But there is also a huge political controversy. And that's our politics lead today.

With 25 days until the election, the Republican running for governor is being accused of voter suppression by his Democratic opponent. Brian Kemp is not only the Republican gubernatorial nominee, he's Georgia's secretary of state, and now civil rights groups are suing him, claiming that Kemp's office put more than 53,000 voter registrations on hold. An analysis by the "Associated Press" shows nearly 70 percent of those voter registrations are those belonging to African-Americans.

This is all because of the exact match law, which is used here. And that means any type or even a missing hyphen between the voter's ID and registration can be flagged. Civil rights group say that practice is discriminatory.


KRISTEN CLARKE, PRESIDENT, LAWYERS' COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: The reality is that minority voters are often the ones with unusual names that are sometimes harder for state officials to capture accurately in the state's database. And they are being penalized for that.


TAPPER: Brian Kemp's campaign calls the claims bogus.

[16:35:02] He says Georgia has increased voter rolls. Stacey Abrams wants him to resign as secretary of state ahead of the election next month.

Let's talk about this.

Symone, Brian Kemp doesn't dispute the racial makeup of these voters' registrations in question. He blames it on an organization called the New Georgia Project, which is a voting group founded by his opponent, Democrat, Stacey Abrams, who registered mostly black voters. He says they submitted inadequate forms.

SYMONE SANDERS, FORMER NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, BERNIE 2016: So, that's not true. There is a little history here. One, Brian Kemp is currently the secretary of state. And he was sued by the New Georgia Project in 2013 and 2014 for this very thing.

This exact match law was first a policy of none other than Brian Kemp's that the secretary of state's office did under the table without telling anyone. The only reason anyone found out, lately, in 2016, was because 50,000 voters that the New Georgia Project registered to vote were not on the rolls.

So they reached a compromise with the secretary of state's office. And while the compromise was reached, the secretary of state's office went behind their back, went to the legislature, and the legislature passed a bill over the very policy that he had previously been sued over.

So, Brian Kemp knows exactly what he's doing. He doesn't have the best interests of Georgia voters in mind. And I absolutely think he should resign.

TAPPER: Brian Kemp argues this is bogus, being used by Abrams to gin up outrage to get voters to the polls.

It is always weird, though, when a secretary of state is running for higher office, and you might remember Chris Kobach running for governor. And he had supervisory role there in looking at the recount between him and his Republican opponent.

Do you think there is any merit to the charge he should step down from this?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Or maybe delegate the supervision to a career deputy or something like that. To be fair, the law was passed by the Georgia legislature. That's not exactly going under the table. That's like a public act.

And you can vote. I mean, they should be told this, 53,000 show their drivers --

TAPPER: Their ID, right, yes.

KRISTOL: They can vote. It's a provisional ballot. And this happens all the time, provisional ballots get counted often. If it is just a ridiculous hyphen missing, the ballot will be counted. I don't know that the law is necessary or wise, but if I were a Democrat in Georgia, I would be telling those 53,000 people, you need to go and vote.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's what the ACLU of Georgia is telling people there, blasting, hey, guys, please go out and vote because media coverage doesn't note this, does discourage people from going out. And the ACLU has even asked the secretary of state if it will be professional or regular, and the secretary of state's office says they will be regular ballots.


SANDERS: They will, in fact, be provisional ballots.

HAM: Get out there, people.

TAPPER: Yes, but the important thing is the secretary of state's --

HAM: I don't want to be a part of discouraging them. So --

TAPPER: Brian Kemp's office is saying, you can vote even if you're on this list, even if it's been held up, it will be a provisional ballot.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's assuming you can prove something, right? If it's not an exact match, you would have to provide something else.

KRISTOL: No. You'd be on exact match, you vote and they --


POWERS: What's the point of the law? That doesn't even make sense. Why would you have an exact match law if you weren't asking people to match exactly?

SANDERS: Well, she's right. They are asking people to match exactly and when what you have doesn't match at the polls, they will not allow you to vote. They will give you a provisional ballot.

So, I want to be clear --

KRISTOL: They will get the provisional ballot.

SANDERS: But the provision ballot is not a regular ballot and not counted the same way.

I just want to be clear, pointing out voter suppression is not discouraging people to vote. It's holding the system accountable. And Brian Kemp is not being honest here.

TAPPER: I want to move to one other thing, a couple of other midterm stories. We're 25 days away from the midterms.

Senator Ted Cruz's challenger, Democrat Beto O'Rourke, a congressman, announced his campaign raised $38 million in the last three months. More than triple what Cruz raised at the same time, more than Jeb Bush raised for his campaign during the entire presidential campaign. That's a lot of money in a red state.

HAM: Yes, maybe an expensive L.

TAPPER: You think he's going to lose no matter what?

HAM: No. I don't he's going to lose no matter what. I think there has been hope at various parts of the cycle, due in part to the fact people are enthusiastic about him. It remains Texas, and I do think polling has shown in various red states that the Kavanaugh fight galvanized people on the other side, as well. And because Democrats were already extremely enthusiastic, that coming closer to parity did matter in those polls.

TAPPER: The latest Pew poll has Cruz up nine points over O'Rourke.

POWERS: Yes. I mean, I think pre-Kavanaugh, it was a very uphill climb for Beto, and I think he's fantastic, and I think he's a fantastic candidate. But his problem is he has a very enthusiastic support among white liberals. And when you -- when he gets out more with non-college educated white people, he doesn't do as well. And not doing well with the Hispanic community. That's probably his biggest problem.

KRISTOL: Slightly different, I talked to a Democratic pollster this morning. These polls are really hard in the midterm.

[16:40:01] What is the model for turnout? It's not going to be the same as 2014 to 2010 which were Republican years.

It's not going to be a presidential turnout. Can Beto O'Rourke generate a presidential type turnout among minorities, among younger voters? That's what he would need to expand the electorate.

I guess I was in Texas for one day, so these anecdotes are worth, Jake, worth what you're paying for them, Jake. But it is kind of amazing. It feels Obama-like, I was at that University of Texas campus, to see the activity going on around Beto. So, I don't rule out an upset.

HAM: Well, I would just say, Democrats in red states, starting with Alabama, have shown that they are turning enthusiasm into very competent, get out the vote efforts. So that is part of the calculus, as well. It's not just enthusiasm.

TAPPER: Although Kirsten points out, the latest poll had Ted Cruz getting 40 percent of the Latino vote in Texas. O'Rourke needs more than 60 percent of the Latino vote if he's going to win.

SANDERS: If he's going to win. I think it's important to note what Bill said. The -- there is no model for what we're going to see come November 6th. And so I think if he runs a good ground game, which he has been running and it's not just Beto. There are other elections down ballot that are galvanizing folks. Texas has poised us in their first Latina congresswoman to Congress this fall if folks get out the vote on November 6.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

A member of President Trump's cabinet has been caught possibly changing his story. Did he lie to congress? Stay with us.


[16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Congressional Democrats are charging that a Trump cabinet official may have lied to Congress. This all centers on a push to ask respondents on the upcoming 2020 census whether or not they are U.S. citizens. The Justice Department yesterday in a court filing said that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon talked to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross about adding that question. But that contradicts what Wilbur Ross told Congress back in March. Let's bring in CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Manu how is Secretary Ross explaining this contradiction?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this contradiction came about Jake as the Justice Department issued that new filing in this court case fighting efforts to depose Wilbur Ross as part of an effort to scuttle this citizenship question that the Trump administration wants to put on the 2020 census. And according to this filing, Wilbur Ross had a discussion with then-White House Adviser Steve Bannon who had urged him to call the Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach about adding the citizenship question.

Now, this contradicts what he told in repeated appearances before the House earlier this year when he was unsure whether the House was -- the White House was involved in this and also suggested the Justice Department initiated this question, to begin with.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has the President or anyone in the White House discussed with you or anyone on your team about adding this citizenship question?

WILBUR ROSS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF COMMERCE: I'm not aware of any such. We have had a request as everyone is aware from the Department of Justice to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.


RAJU: Now, Jake, today Democrats jumping all over this including the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. Elijah Cummings accusing Ross of misleading Congress saying based on this new evidence. It is now clear that both the Justice Department and the White House were part of Secretary Ross' secret campaign to orchestrate the addition of a citizenship question to the census. But now the Justice Department's trying to block depositions from the very same Trump administration officials who engage in these actions and then mislead Congress.

Now, the Commerce Department is not saying that he misled Congress. In fact, they're saying that it does not change the secretary story. It says the only adds to the Secretary story but we're getting noticed was silence, Jake, from Republicans on Capitol Hill. The Speaker's office referred questions to the House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy. He is not his office, has not responded to our questions and neither has John Culberson office. He's a Texas Republican who's a chairman of that committee that heard that testimony from what we just heard from Wilbur Ross. No comment and no response from their office either, Jake.

TAPPER: Manu, beyond the fact that lying to Congress is a crime, explain why this question matters adding the citizenship question would be a big deal in a lot of people's views and there's a lot of pushback.

RAJU: Yes, there is, particularly from critics who are concerned that this is part of an effort to undercount immigrant populations particularly undocumented immigrants who would be concerned about saying what they're -- whether the united states citizens or not. And that could have significant ramifications if it's of the populations or undercounted in efforts to redistricting on House lines. And of course, Jake that happens every ten years and in the census is a huge ramifications about those House districts race.

TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much. From mornings with his favorite T.V. show to lunch with Kanye West, why President Trump has kicked the reality-show presidency into high gear. That's next.


[16:50:00] TAPPER: President Trump seems to be taking full advantage of the skills he perfected, if that's the right word as a reality T.V. host using a barrage of rallies and new conferences and interviews to dominate and push his brand and his agenda and his content. There's no coherence really but he floods the media airwaves. It's a media blitz we haven't seen since his days on the 2016 campaign trail. But is it working now? CNN's Nick Watt takes a closer look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you going to fire Bob Mueller?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Remember all those times he's walked on by these past 18 months or so? Well, in recent days, Trump has been answering those pesky shouted questions.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it will be very interesting. I assume most of you will be there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Feel free to come in or call.

WATT: This week, he feels free. Trump has been on the phone a whopping 67 minutes with his friends at Fox.

TRUMP: We've done more in less than two years than any president in the history of our country.

WATT: Remember that between February last year and June this year, there was not a single solo press conference. Then, late last month, a free-wheeling affair he relished.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN ANCHOR: This is let Trump be Trump in action.

WATT: And when he's not suddenly talking again with reporters, those rallies roll on.

TRUMP: I'm not on the ticket but I am on the ticket.

WATT: But --

STELTER: Trump is holding so many rallies right now and they're no longer being televised live. Fox has grown tired of them. So I wonder if President Trump is going to try to create new kind of T.V. moments.

WATT: This week?

KID ROCK, SINGER: Oh-oh, I got the mic.

WATT: Kid Rock plays to the base. Kanye came, as well.

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: When I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman.

WATT: A rapper from a demo Trump struggles to court wearing a MAGA hat with a much malign and masterfully milked media snapping it up doing it live. In June, Trump hired Roger Ailes, as well number two at Fox News Bill Shine as his new comms chief. Is this all Shine's idea?

[16:55:05] STELTER: I think at the end of day, these sorts of tactics are all Trump. Right now, he's using the media in order to promote his accomplishments, heading into the midterm elections.

WATT: And this was a good week to go big. Bruised Brett Kavanaugh confirmed to the Supreme Court, NAFTA renegotiated, the unemployment rate as low as it's been since 69. Maybe Kanye got it right.

WEST: Trump is on his hero's journey right now and he might not have expected to have a crazy mother (BLEEP) like Kanye West run up and support.


WATT: Now, next up we expect to see the President on 60 minutes Sunday night. That's the first interview he's given the newsmagazine since taking office. Is it working? Well, Jake, right now we are talking about Kanye West and not Robert Mueller so maybe it is. In the longer term, we all know that President Trump unfettered, unchained, can go either way. Jake?

TAPPER: I think that's fair to say. Nick Watt, thanks so much, I appreciate it. Let's talk about the strategy right now if this, in fact, is a strategy, is it?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Honestly I feel like he's always on some sort of media blitz so I guess you could say maybe he's doing a little more of this. But it feels like he's always dominating the media or is that my imagination.

TAPPER: Well, I think more so than normal though, he's doing back to back to back to back interviews and --

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, it could be a little bit post-Kavanaugh let's put something else out there. It could be ramping up into the election and he knows that's coming very clearly. And one thing you should get out of a Trump presidency that I think is good is a lot of Trump and a lot of access. And I think so when he puts himself in front of reporters, A-OK with me. And about the Kanye thing, can I just say that I like people who

surprised me, I like you people who surprised me on politics even when they disagree with me, and look I don't like the sort of condescending notion that someone's mental illness struggles keep them from having honestly formed political opinions. You don't think they're perfectly formed, fine. You don't think they're perfectly informed, fine. Most celebrities aren't, most peoples aren't. And I just kind of feel like people have come down hard on the guy.

And oh, by the way, people can disagree -- people who are very famous and whose art you like can disagree with you politically and you can just deal.

TAPPER: 100 percent.

HAM: You can do it all the time.

TAPPER: You know, what's interesting though, Simone, is that Fox's stopped carrying Trump's rallies live which is shocking and obviously the only reason they would do that is because it's a business decision, it certainly wouldn't be an editorial decision. And the business decision is where our ratings are not as good just showing those rallies. People actually prefer to see our primetime host etcetera. So somebody told CNN that he had to do two interviews with Fox to make up for the rally. In other words, because they didn't carry the rally, he did a late-night interview with Fox and then a morning Fox and Friends interview.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, that's the -- you know, that's what happens when -- that's the White House's Network. So I guess that's what state-run television could possibly look like, I don't know. Look, I think what Donald Trump is doing is yes, I think he's feeling a little bit embolden coming off of Kavanaugh but I also think he's trying to distract. And I think the White House's strategy is the throw Kid Rock, throw up Kanye West, bring the cameras in and just let it rock, let it ride, and then we're not talking about all these other things and we're not going to talk as much about the census.

We're not talking about what as much maybe about what's happening in Florida and maybe what the White House is and it's not going to do about it and what kind of help they're going to band together with the Senate Congress. We're not talking about the Mueller investigation. We're not talking about a list of things we could be speaking about because Kanye is in the Oval Office today. So I think their strategy is to throw as much out there as possible to muck up the waters because they know that the media will run with it.

TAPPER: Do you agree with that, that it's a strategy just put as much out there as possible?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR AT LARGE, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, if it's a strategy, it's one-person strategy. I mean, I think a normal Republican you know, operatives thinking about the election which is what, less than four weeks away would say, hey, could be talking economy some here. It is a pretty good -- you know, we can all argue at why it's this way and whatever but it's a pretty good story 3.7 percent unemployment.

Maybe I would be doing a lot of events not with Kanye West. I know Mary Katherine loves them and all that, but with you know, newly employed workers who have gotten bonuses this year, I mean there are sort of conventional political things want to do to tell a story that might be a good news story for the incumbent party.

TAPPER: Yes, but the truth is actually sometimes they do those things we don't cover them. I mean, we don't cover them for any White House when they do those stage-managed you know, here is -- here I am with Worker X --

POWERS: I just -- I just feel like I often feel like we're talking about something about Donald Trump that's kind of silly when we could be talking about serious, more serious things, but we have to talk about them because he's the president.

TAPPER: Join me Sunday for "STATE OF THE UNION." My guesat we'll be Senators Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders along with the Democratic candidate for the Governor of Georgia Stacey Abrams at Sunday morning at 9:00 here on CNN. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. Our coverage on CNN the cable news network continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, rising death toll.