Return to Transcripts main page


Puerto Rico Braces for Direct Hit from Dorian; New Poll Has Top Democratic Candidates Beat Trump in Head-to-Head Matchups; Washington Post Reports Trump Wants Border Wall Built By Election Day; VA Hospital Under Scrutiny After 11 Suspicious Deaths; British Prime Minister Petitions Queen Elizabeth to Suspend U.K. Parliament. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh. The two planned to hike Mount Whitney on Veterans Day, the tallest mountain in California at more than 14,500 feet.

BERMAN: And they'll make it. They're lifting each other to the top there. That is wonderful.

CAMEROTA: They're so much better than the rest of us.

BERMAN: All right. Puerto Rico bracing for direct hit from Dorian. "NEWSROOM" begins right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy Harlow is off today.

Tropical Storm Dorian is intensifying this hour and now just hours away from hitting Puerto Rico. And according to the latest tracking it is just days away from hitting Florida or Georgia as a possible category 2 hurricane right in time, we should note, for Labor Day weekend.

Today as it hits Puerto Rico it could bring hurricane strength winds, flash flooding and the most rain the island has seen in a single day since Hurricane Maria two years ago. And you remember how devastating that was for the island. The island still recovering from the storm that killed nearly 3,000 people. Many in the path of Dorian are still living with tarps over their homes as a result of Maria.

CNN correspondent Polo Sandoval is live in Ponce, Puerto Rico, right in the path of the storms.

Polo, President Trump is weighing in, saying the storm is on its way to hit Puerto Rico as usual. Taking political pot shots ahead of the storm?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly isn't surprising especially when you look back at that ongoing feud between San Juan's mayor and the commander-in-chief that started when Maria swept through this island two years ago causing some massive devastations. So we'll get to that in just few moments, but just in few seconds I want to just give you a lay of the land.

We're in Ponce, Puerto Rico, it's on the southern edge of the island where folks are preparing. Those look quite picturesque right now, Jim, but when you look at the forecast you can imagine things are going to change very soon, quite drastically. So what we're seeing preparations on the ground, people getting those generators because the infrastructure is still recovering from what happened in Maria, so the power grid, that seems to be the main concern.

But back to your earlier point, Jim, what we are seeing is also that ongoing dispute between President Trump and San Juan's mayor. Earlier this morning the president taking to Twitter in a tweet not only praising the response from the Federal Emergency Management Administration but also taking a direct jab at San Juan's mayor, calling her incompetent.

We heard from the mayor yesterday when she appeared on "AC 360." Here's how she basically responded to these ongoing jabs that are coming from the White House.


MAYOR CARMEN YULIN CRUZ, SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: This behavior, his lack of understanding and it is ludicrous. 3,000 Puerto Ricans did not open their eyes this morning because this racist man did not have it within him to do his job. So, get out of the way, President Trump, and let the people that can do the job get the job done.


SANDOVAL: And just to be clear here, this is what we heard from the mayor yesterday. President Trump's tweet coming today but as you can imagine that this is something that will likely to continue. But the focus here on the ground really does seem to be the people in Puerto Rico, Jim.

As we mentioned a little while ago, they are clearly still haunted by what happened two years ago. So, it doesn't have to be a hurricane for people to lose sleep at night here. And that's what we've been seeing on the ground. There is a real concern that torrential rain and even tropical storm winds could potentially debilitate the power grid here that took such a hit. And then of course there is that concern in Florida as well.

Once Dorian finishes with Puerto Rico, you see that forecast, it's setting its sights on Florida so there are preparations there happening at this hour as well.

SCIUTTO: And that's right. The U.S. president attacking the mayor of the city in the path of an oncoming storm.

Polo Sandoval, on the ground there, thanks very much.

For more on the power of this storm and where it is headed let's bring in meteorologist Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center.

So it's got Puerto Rico in its sights and then behind it, Florida or Georgia?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. And even up into the Carolinas, it's not out of the question. That's five days away. So the air five days out is significant. It's states-wide. And so what we're seeing now, Jim, we know the storm is getting stronger. The colors are getting brighter on the satellite. We can even see the storm now on the radar. That's never a good thing when you can see the storm on the radar. That means it's close enough to land. That radar will pick it up. But it is moving over very close to St. Croix.

It will go over Vieques, and then over the eastern half of Puerto Rico over the next probably 12 hours. And then it sets its sights on some very warm water north of the Turks and Caicos into the Bahamas. That's the rub. It's that warm water, 89 to 90 degrees, that's going to cause this storm to get even stronger. Now we don't know if it's going to stay strong. Things can change and things did change.

The models were horrible yesterday. No model had this thing over here near St. Croix. Certainly over here near Ponce but not over to the east by 100 miles or so.

[09:05:03] So we'll keep watching it. We now see the eye itself on the radar, and it's tough to call it an eye but the hurricane hunter, they've been in it now for the past hour. They found a flight level wind at 10,000 feet of 82 miles per hour. Now that doesn't translate to the surface at 82. That's somewhere around 60, 65, maybe 70. But overnight the best thing we could do was about 60 on the ground, so we know it's getting deeper and stronger and faster with the wind and the rainfall will be six to 10 inches and that will be for Puerto Rico.

After that, where does it go? It goes to the U.S. Many different models, many different scenarios. Cat 2 is the official forecast. It could be more than that, it could be significantly less than that. It could turn into a Matthew and miss the USA altogether, but for now we know it will get stronger over that very warm water -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, we know you'll be watching it closely. Chad Myers, thanks very much.

MYERS: You bet.

SCIUTTO: Also this morning a new just released Quinnipiac University poll shows that the top five 2020 Democratic candidates when going head-to-head with President Trump all come out on top by large margins as you can see there. Joe Biden polling the best with a 54 percent to 38 percent lead over the president. That's 16 percentage points.

Joining me now is CNN's Ryan Nobles.

You look at Biden's numbers here and another headline is in terms of his lead over the rest of the Democratic contenders maintaining a large lead in that Monmouth poll earlier this week that showed a dead heat among the three at the top appears to be an outlier.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: At this point it really does, Jim. And when you look at these numbers from Quinnipiac, they're basically unmoved since the last time that they took this survey.

Let's take a look at them right now. Joe Biden in a strong lead right now among the Democratic field with 32 percent. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in second -- basically tied for second there, 19 percent to 15 percent for Sanders. Kamala Harris at 7 percent, Pete Buttigieg at 5 percent, and Beto O'Rourke coming in at 1 percent.

And when you compare that to some of these surveys that have been taken over the past months, this pretty much shows that the Democratic field is locked in pretty much a standard operating procedure here. You see the CNN poll from not too long ago at 29 percent.

That Monmouth poll that you talked about from earlier in the week did show that Biden had dropped significantly, down to 19 percent, and it actually showed that Sanders and Warren were at 20 percent. The margin of error, though, on that Monmouth poll was at 5.7 percent, while the Quinnipiac poll and the CNN poll are more in the range of 3 percent. So it really does seem as though there isn't a ton of movement in this Democratic primary right now.

One other thing that we should point out, Jim, is that there is big news with this poll related to the debate coming up not too long from now. And we see here that Tom Steyer, of course the billionaire who got into the race late has been flooding both television and digital platforms with ads hoping to boost his poll numbers to get in and qualify for that DNC debate. He's not going to be able to do it with this poll.

Jim, we don't anticipate any other polls coming out today. He needs at least one more poll by midnight tonight to get into the debate. That is significant. Because if Steyer is out, that means only one night of debates with 10 candidates on stage -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, half the number that were in those earlier debates. Other headline from this poll is the dip in voters' confidence and how Trump is handling the economy, which has been the one positive, above- water figure for this president to this point.

NOBLES: Yes, that's right, Jim. There really isn't a lot of positive news to come out of this poll for President Trump. You pointed out those head-to-head numbers which show all the Democrat leading President Trump, but this number about the economy has to be the one that perhaps makes the White House the most nervous because generally when voters are asked about the handling of the economy they have a positive view of President Trump's work.

Not so much the case with this poll, 46 percent say they approve while 49 percent say they disapprove. And his overall approval rating in this poll only at 38 percent, Jim. So he still enjoys a very high approval rating with Republicans across the board. But when you take a look at this poll, this is not necessarily the place an incumbent president wants to be heading into a general election campaign.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Not at all. Ryan Nobles, thanks for breaking the numbers down for us. Let's discuss now with Sabrina Siddiqui, she's White House

correspondent for the "Guardian" newspaper, and Anita Kumar, she's White House correspondent and associate editor for Politico.

So, Anita, lots of headlines from this poll. First let's look at the enormous leads that every leading Democratic candidate has over Trump in a head-to-head matchup -- we'll put those numbers back up on the screen. Biden up by 16 percentage points, Sanders by 14, Warren by 12, Harris by 11, Buttigieg by 9 percentage points. Those are sobering numbers for the president and his campaign.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT AND ASSOCIATE EDITOR, POLITICO: Right, I mean, definitely not good news for President Trump on that particular issue. Actually pretty good news for Elizabeth Warren. I mean, she's been rising in the polls overall, and she -- you know, a lot of people still consider her sort of this progressive candidate who can't really compete when it comes to Joe Biden saying he's the one to take on President Trump.

[09:10:08] But this actually shows that people would prefer her over President Trump anyway. So I think that's good news for her. Bad news for the president. And, you know, this is similar, though, to what we've seen in other polls, that President Trump is doing -- you know, not doing as well as these top Democratic candidates and that has to be alarming to the campaign.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina, another headline from this poll is Joe Biden's clear lead over the rest of the Democratic field. Back in the numbers range that a CNN poll had shown just a couple of weeks ago and it puts the Monmouth poll that made a lot of headlines the other day as an outlier, does it not? I mean, there, he's got a 13-percentage point lead over Sanders -- over Warren, rather, 17 percent over Sanders.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. I think if you look across most polling Joe Biden has continued to hold a commanding lead over the field, and there has been some surprise in the durability of Joe Biden because now that we are two debates down, there's been a lot of attention on some of his so-called gaffes, it does reinforce that this is about more than name recognition at this stage. There is an element of his own popularity as well as perhaps nostalgia for the Obama administration.

Joe Biden also does well on this notion of electability. Now, a lot can change of course between now and when Democratic voters go to the Iowa caucuses and to the polls in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. But I do think that because his message is so much centered around the notion that he's uniquely capable of defeating Trump, it appears to be that that's resonating.

At the same time, it's important to remember that we don't always know what electability really means. The voters in 2016 thought that Donald Trump was fundamentally unelectable and that proved out not to be true.

SCIUTTO: True, true. Other issue, on the economy, this is number that might be concerning to the president as well. Because his approval rating on handling the economy was the one number, Anita, that stayed above water for this president, consistently above 50 percent, but now we see 46 percent more Americans disapproving of his handling of the economy, which you might say is also an economic indicator, is it not? People feeling that things might be slowing down.

KUMAR: Yes, I think the two numbers that are the most alarming for the president and his team are the number you just showed and also the number that shows slightly -- you know, it's gone down a little bit how much people even think the economy is doing. They still think the economy is doing well, but they don't think it's doing as well the last time this poll came out. So those are two alarming things for the president.

As he's, you know, ratcheting up this trade war with China and he is kind of just throwing different things out there about what to do about it, you know, he's blaming all sorts of people including the media about, you know, you're -- you know, you're just saying -- you're exaggerating that the economy is doing badly or there's some signs that it's doing badly.

But clearly this is the thing they've worried about. For 2 1/2 years the president's team has told him that he could -- if he sticks to message, which is tough for him, talk about the economy, this is something that could really get him into re-election. And that's for the first time we're really seeing that there's a crack in there, that that might not be the way to go.

You know, in 2018 for the midterms they told him stick to message and he didn't really and he lost some support. So there's great worry from the president's team that this is going to last and it's going to go down.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina, frequently when there are polls that come out that the president doesn't like, of course he cites the polls he likes all the time, calls this credible. When they're ones that show negative indicators for him, he calls them fake news polls. But you've covered this White House for sometimes. Is there concern in the White House about where these polls are today? Do they have their own internal poll that tells a different story?

SIDDIQUI: I think there's certainly anxiety within and the president himself has shown signs of concern especially about the economy which is why he's now flirting with the idea of tax cuts for which he would need approval through Congress and other measures to try and boost the economy. You saw him take that action to delay the implementation of some of those tariffs against China that would have raised costs around the holiday season for U.S. consumers.

So there's clearly a reactive component to the last few weeks that indicate that there's some very real concern over the economy because that is the one area where voters have somewhat approved of his job performance and it's been integral to the re-election message that his campaign has put out.

If you think about it, one thing we do know about Trump based on the 2018 midterms is he has a base but he doesn't have a coalition. A lot of the independents who were crucial to his victory in 2016 they swung back toward Democrats in 2018. Suburban women who may have held their nose and supported then candidate Trump in 2016.

[09:15:00] Knows and support the then candidate Trump in 2016. They voted for Democrats in overwhelming numbers in 2018, and that was integral for Democrats to take back the house. So, the president needs to try and corral support from those independents, from those suburban voters if he's going to succeed in 2020, and that's why the economy is so important --


SIDDIQUI: To his message and there's very little wiggle room for him there.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina Siddiqui, Anita Kumar, thanks to both of you.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: President Trump wants his wall built now. And a new report from "The Washington Post" says that he's encouraging aides, listen to this, to break the law to get it done. That's no small thing, we're going to discuss that more.

Plus, the family behind opioid drug-maker Purdue Pharma could walk away from the pharmaceutical giant if it can settle the thousands of lawsuits. Accusing the company of feeding the nation's deadly opioid crisis. And a Veterans Medical Center in West Virginia under investigation now after nearly a dozen people died there.

Now, the VA is looking into, quote, "potential wrong-doing in those deaths."


[09:20:00] SCIUTTO: There's a stunning new report this morning in "The Washington Post" which if true claims that President Trump is willing to do whatever it takes even if that means breaking the law. Listen to that, breaking the law to ensure that his border wall is built or portions of it before the 2020 election.

According to "The Washington Post", President Trump has said that he is willing to pardon officials of any potential wrong-doing if they break any laws to get the wall built quickly, waving off worries of imminent domain laws by saying simply, quote, "take the land."

Trump has also reportedly told aides to fast-track billions of dollars in construction contracts and ignore environmental rules. CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is outside the White House this morning. Not a denial from the White House of this story, just saying that the president was joking. Is that credible, Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question, Mark Short; the Vice President's Chief of Staff was out here on the driveway just a little while ago, and I asked him flatly about that "Washington Post" report, and is the president offering pardons to people here at the White House in order to get the wall built even if they break the law?

Now, this was just a one word denial, a flat no from him. I also pointed out -- now, there have been reports of the president doing stuff like this before on migration issues including an alleged offer of a pardon to Kevin McAleenan at one point and answered again, no. So, that you can call certainly a denial from the White House as far as whether the president is joking, anybody's guess.

What we do know also, not just from that reporting, but from what's already on the record as you mentioned, there's the issue of imminent domain which is essentially seizing private property and making it public. In this case, it would be for putting up the president's border barrier.

The problem with that is that can take some time, and it can also involve the court. So, what this report may be alluding to is the fact that if the administration gets in a jam on time, they may end up having to essentially go around a court, and that's something somebody might have to get a pardon for.

Also, you know, just as I have to point out, given everything that's going on in the House of Representatives, the Judiciary Committee, it's just not a good look for a president of the United States to order somebody to do something even if they're breaking the law and then offer them a pardon, so I'm sure there'll be more questions about this, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's illegal, Joe Johns, thanks very much. Let's discuss this more with CNN legal analyst Elie Honiq. Elie, you know, I shake my head here, but the president encouraging aides to break the law to get a political promise done on a political time line. This of course, "The Washington Post" reporting. Is that obstruction of justice? If you say you're going to pardon someone --


SCIUTTO: In advance?

HONIG: It could be, Jim, I share the same reaction, my jaw hit the floor when I see this. In a word, this is lawless. This is lawless for the president of the United States to say go ahead and break the law and I'll take care of you later. Now, the pardon power is very broad, no question about it.

But there's a very important limitation which is it's only backwards looking. You can only pardon somebody for something they've done from this moment looking back. You cannot -- our constitution does not permit the president to pardon someone prospectively, and saying because -- for this precise reason because you don't want people out there with essentially, you know, carte blanche to commit crimes --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HONIG: At will. That is lawlessness. SCIUTTO: Talk about the laws that he is suggesting aides break to get

this wall built --

HONIG: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Because it's a whole list of them, is it not?

HONIG: There's a lot of different laws at play. First of all, if you have a court order that aides would defy, that could be criminal contempt. That can -- people can go to jail for that. I've sent people to jail for that. There's also the issue of imminent domains which Joe just raised. So, the constitution says the federal government does have a right to seize private power, but as Joe said, that gets caught up in the courts because the key second part of that is, if they pay just compensation, you can't just take --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HONIG: Somebody's property --

SCIUTTO: Let me put this way, if you're building a new highway, tearing down homes, you've got to pay those people a market rate in effect.

HONIG: Exactly, you have to pay a fair market value and that takes time to litigate. And if the president says just go ahead and do it without that and defy a court, a court is going to say hold on, we have to deal with this, and if the president says defy a court, that could be contempt of court as well.

So, yes, there's absolutely real crimes at play here. We have potential crimes, and for the president to say, go ahead, I'll take care of you later, as an incredible abdication of duty.

SCIUTTO: You're not only a lawyer, you teach a class on law. Are you aware of another example in recent history of a president so blatantly ignoring the law?

HONIG: No, Jim, this is the presidency when all the crazy law school hypotheticals come to life, things you've never even contemplated, and we're exploring the outer boundaries of things like the pardon power.

[09:25:00] No one has ever contemplated using the pardon power in this way before. So, we've never -- there's no case on this, it just comes down to ultimately what is the constitution's intent and meaning? But people will be studying this in colleges and law schools decades from now.

SCIUTTO: Right --

HONIG: A sort of -- like I said the hypotheticals come to life.

SCIUTTO: Right, well, Elie Honig, good to have you --

HONIG: Thank you -- SCIUTTO: For speaking to us there. Listen up, folks, it's an

important story, I know there's a lot of news out there, but this one is pretty important. Shock and outrage across the United Kingdom this morning as newly elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now asked the queen to suspend parliament.

This coming just weeks ahead of the October deadline for Brexit, that is Britain's exit from the European Union. Some are calling the move unconstitutional because and this is key, suspending parliament would shorten the time members of parliament have to debate and discuss possible blockage of a Brexit without any deal with the EU.

CNN's Nic Robertson is following the latest from London. Nic, this is a pretty remarkable step. Is it going to happen for sure? Can something stand in the way of the British Prime Minister doing this?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think what his request is from the queen, I think we can expect that to be a done deal. Buckingham Palace is not going to answer, that's not what they do in these situations. So, I think what we're hearing from Boris Johnson is, it is going to go ahead.

It amounts to a loss of a few days of debating time in parliament because much of the time between now and the end of October is taken up with party conferences. That said, those few days as in percentage terms are big and significant. And that's why there's so much criticism.

What Boris Johnson is trying to do here is stop him being undermined by parliament. What happened yesterday, the opposition parties got together and said, essentially there would either be a vote of no confidence or a --

SCIUTTO: Nic Robertson there in London, looks like we have an issue with the signal. When we're able to correct that problem, we'll get right back to that. The owners of a company accused of fueling the national opioid epidemic, they may give up their family business. This is a significant step, that's coming right up.