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Tropical Storm Dorian Expected to Hit Puerto Rico Directly; British Prime Minister to Ask Queen to Suspend Parliament; Mattis: 'I Did as Well as I Could for as Long as I Could'. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 07:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: -- in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY, and we do begin with big breaking weather news for you.

[07:00:06] Puerto Rico is now bracing for a direct hit from Tropical Storm Dorian. The National Hurricane Center says Dorian's track has significantly changed overnight. Dorian is now expected to strike changed overnight. Dorian is now expected to strike the eastern side of the island of Puerto Rico and Vieques.

Then the storm is forecast to strengthen into a Category 2 or stronger hurricane, making landfall on Florida's East Coast this weekend.

BERMAN: All right. The updated forecast track puts millions of Americans -- look at that map there -- from Miami all the way up to Savannah, Georgia, in the path of a potentially major hurricane.

What makes Dorian such a wild card is higher uncertainty about how intense it will be and where it's going to go. We're going to speak live with the director of the National Hurricane Center in just moments.

We want to begin, though, with CNN meteorologist Chad Myers with the new forecast path.

Chad, I know you've been up all night, looking at this, and it's changed; and it's dangerous.

CHAD MYERS, CNN AMS METEOROLOGIST: It has changed. And you know, we talk about the models, the American model and the European model and how one does better than the other. But they both have been junk. I'm not kidding.

Not their own fault. There's something going on in the atmosphere that they don't see that those models don't know about. And it's like, for me, that's my tool, so I have to be able to use my tool to tell you what's going to happen. Whether it's right or wrong, I feel like I'm pounding in a nail with a pipe wrench, though. The tools today in the last couple days have been terrible.

But here is what we've been seeing. Yesterday at this time, we were over St. Lucia, and the forecast was something like that. No. Nowhere near that. But look at what has happened to the storm. What could possibly

forecast this? Then this? Then this? And then back? There was a time yesterday, somewhere around 8 a.m. in the morning, where the hurricane hunter aircraft couldn't even find the center, because it wasn't where they expected it to be. They were 15 or so miles away from it, trying to find it.

So where does it go from here? Right over St. Croix. Right over Vieques, right over the eastern part of San Juan, with winds probably in the 60- to 70-mile-per-hour range. You can deal with that. Not if your house has a blue tarp, but you know, we can put those back on.

Here's the real rub, though, and the models, again, just widely scattered, again at 120 hours. This is a 100-mile-per-hour storm somewhere between south Florida and some models now, Charleston, making a big right-hand turn.

So what was apparently, yesterday, a very nice, tight little pattern now has just widened again at the very end. Because the models are saying, "Wait a minute. How did that just happen?"

There is the storm. Sixty miles per hour, 70 mile-per-hour gusts. Got a little bit stronger overnight. The hurricane hunter aircraft is right about there. So it is almost there to give us a new pressure, a new wind speed, and what's going on with the center.

Right here is the center of the storm. You hate it when you can see the center of a storm on radar. That means it's getting close to land. And there it is. That right there, that would be St. Croix. And that's the next island to feel some wind.

I've been watching a web cam from St. Croix. So far so good, but the winds are about to pick up.

CAMEROTA: OK, Chad. Bring us the update as soon as you have a new one. Thank you very much.

Puerto Ricans still recovering, of course, from Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago. The island's fragile power grid will now face a critical test with the first major storm to hit there since Maria.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is live in Ponce with more for us -- Polo.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, it does look quite picturesque here right now in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but I can tell you that things will certainly change later today.

Many of the residents here in Puerto Rico are waking up to this news that the storm has, essentially, shifted tracks. And now, of course, the concern is that they could feel a more direct effect by Dorian, particularly in the next coming hours.

And that is extremely worrying for many who are still recovering from Maria. There are still blue tarps on some homes. And then when you hear some of those stories from two years ago, many people were in the dark for many months. And as you correctly point out, this will be the first real test after

some of those repairs, after millions of dollars were put into that system, to get people back online. The result now is that state of emergency that's in place across the island here, with hundreds of shelters opening their doors for anybody who's living in any places that are identified as vulnerable.

And it's not just the power grid, but also the risk that comes from heavy rain. Also, potential mudslides in some of those mountainous areas. And that's where non-essential government employees here on the island, they've been told to stay home. Children, too, John and Alisyn. There is no school on the island today.

BERMAN: All right. Polo Sandoval for us in Puerto Rico. Polo, thank you very much. As you said, going to get worse there over the next several hours.

Joining me now from Miami is Ken Graham, the director of the National Hurricane Center.

Ken, thank you so much for being with us. The guidance shifted overnight and created a whole range of new concerns and new dangers. Please explain.

[07:05:07] KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: I'll tell you, when they're -- when they're weak like they were yesterday, and you're trying to find a center, the center was jumping around on us.

I mean, you got the aircraft out there where the center was supposed to be, found different places. When they're weak, when they're generating, the center bounces around.

And what happens is when you find a new center, that could have big impacts on that track of where it goes down the road. And that's what happened overnight. You know, it's a different center, and the whole track shifted to the east. That means a little more warm water and a little bit more time over water to get further north and more time to strengthen.

BERMAN: All right. Talk to us about that. In a few hours, over Puerto Rico. How much over Puerto Rico remains to be seen. But then the open water, and the new news overnight, Florida. All of it, from Miami up to Jacksonville. Maybe even into Savannah, Georgia, could get hit by a Category 2 hurricane. And you have some concerns it could be even stronger, why?

GRAHAM: You know, there's always so much uncertainty when you're out in the further time frames in the forecast. I mean, it's -- you know, we actually, if you look over history, the track we're doing better over time with improvements in the models with the track than intensity. Intensity is still very tough. It's the ocean parameters. It's the atmosphere parameters. It's the parameters of the storm itself. Intensity is tough.

So the new forecast takes it a little further east. Less interaction over some of the mountains, and that means more time over water. And with time, yes, we are forecasting a hurricane. And there's plenty of time for it to strengthen.

So we've got to watch for updates on the forecast. We call it anchoring, not forecasting. Going into a holiday weekend, we have to be careful not to just look at the forecast now. Let's watch for those updates, because it does change with time.

BERMAN: It stays out over that warm water for an extended period of time with less interaction with land. Talk to me about the Florida coast. Where are you seeing now the potential impact and when might that be?

GRAHAM: Yes, I think it's important to pay attention to the cone of error here. Because look how large it is by the time you get into the extended forecast. So more things could change.

I mean, the ridge that we're looking at here, the big high pressure that's going to steer this thing back to the west. Stronger, weaker, you know, remains to be seen. We're going to watch. Anywhere in this area, the Florida coast, even up to the Georgia coast and the South Carolina coast, we have to pay attention real close.

Two-thirds of the time we expect the center to be somewhere in that cone. So let's pay attention to it over the next few days and watch for those changes.

BERMAN: All right. Let's talk about the next few hours. Impact on Puerto Rico. The eastern side of the island, which is part of the island that was so directly affected by Hurricane Maria two years ago.

GRAHAM: Yes. You know, you start getting tropical-storm-force winds and rainfall, and by the way, I was trying to get this graphic. This is brand-new. We actually got the brand-new rainfall graphic for Puerto Rico, based on that new track forecast, and it literally came in about five minutes ago.

So look how this shifted, see? Whenever these tracks shift, so do the impacts. And we're talking about some of the rainfall on the western part of the island. And now that has shifted to the eastern part. So anywhere from, you know, some place that's getting maybe 2 to 3 inches of rain, but some places could max out much higher than that.

BERMAN: And that eight inches, yellow is 8 inches of rain. And there's a double threat in Puerto Rico. You have the storm surge and the water coming in, and then the rain and flooding coming down from the mountains. Isn't that correct?

GRAHAM: That's right. Whenever you have the mountains and you start getting, you know, what's called lifting. You know, the air goes up on those mountains, and when it does that, that rain becomes really heavy, and it drops even more. So it can enhance some of that rainfall amount.

But look, you know, about eight inches per the computer model here. So it could be some, you know, large areas of rainfall. That means -- that means flooding, and you could get some landslides, too. So we've just really got to pay attention. So we're talking about Florida, but immediately, you know, the conversation really has to be about Puerto Rico, as well.

BERMAN: All right. That's in the next several hours, impact expected. Ken, I know you have a lot to do. Your work cut out for you. This has been a tough hurricane to predict, because it is small. But it's still very, very dangerous. Thanks so much for being with us.

GRAHAM: You bet.

CAMEROTA: OK, John. Now to some breaking news in the U.K.

Boris Johnson, the new British prime minister, is asking the queen to suspend Parliament ahead of the October Brexit deadline. This move is getting blasted by critics as, quote, "outrageous," and "an offense against democracy."

CNN's Nic Robertson is live outside of Parliament for us to explain what all of this means -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Alisyn, good morning.

It's been called unprecedented, certainly without recent historic precedence, that's for sure. What is clear, what seems to be being interpreted by this, is that Boris Johnson is cutting down the opportunity for the opponents of his potentially hard no-deal Brexit, leaving the European Union without a deal. He's cutting down the possibility that he can be thwarted and cut off from achieving that.

How -- how is he doing that by, essentially, requesting the queen suspend Parliament? He is doing that, because he is giving Parliament less time to debate ways to stop him.

Just yesterday, many of the opposition parties here got together to consider should there be a vote of no confidence in the government when it goes back in session next week? Or should they decide to find -- try to find a legal way to block him? They seemed to -- they seemed to go towards finding a legal way to block Boris Johnson.

So this morning, Boris Johnson is really cutting the legs from under the opposition there by -- by cutting down the amount of time that they will have to find a way to stop him.

He, of course, is saying this is not the case. That it needs new discussion, that he needs this -- that the -- that he needs to refocus the activities of Parliament. And he says that there will be plenty of time to discuss Brexit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: There will be ample time on both sides of that crucial October the 17th summit. Ample time. In Parliament for M.P.s to debate the E.U., to debate Brexit, and all the other issues. Ample time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTSON: The pushback on this has been huge from within his own party. It's being called unprecedented, undemocratic, a constitutional outrage, an offense against democracy. And that is just from within his own party. Critics, that is, of his hardline, no-deal Brexit.

From the opposition party, they're calling it a British coup, a coup against Parliament. There is a huge amount of outrage. The fault lines over Boris Johnson's plan for a no-deal Brexit are getting bigger. The anger is deepening and growing stronger. The battle lines are very much being drawn here.

And Boris Johnson very clear on a war footing on this, that he will achieve it, come hell or high water. Do or die were his words for no- deal Brexit.

BERMAN: I have to say, the dismay and the outrage we've heard over the last several minutes coming from the U.K. over this, I can't remember a time like this before. Nic Robertson, stay on. Please keep us posted on the developments.

BERMAN: A new report here in the United States overnight on just how far the president is willing to go to try to build his border wall, essentially ordering government workers to break the law if they have to. Details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:18:55] CAMEROTA: Tropical Storm Dorian is bearing down on Puerto Rico at this hour on a similar track to what Hurricane Maria looked like nearly two years ago.

So yesterday President Trump approved a disaster declaration. But before that, President Trump seemed to want to revive his political feud with the island, inaccurately stating the amount of money that was allocated for Maria relief.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, we have Bill Kristol, a Republican strategist and director of Defending Democracy Together; and Seung Min Kim, White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and CNN political analyst; and David Gregory, CNN political analyst.

The way he started that tweet, David, was with these words. As the hurricane was being announced, "Wow, yet another big storm. Will it ever end?" I guess he's tired of dealing with hurricanes --

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

CAMEROTA: -- towards -- I mean, imagine how Puerto Rico feels.

GREGORY: Yes, exactly. That note of exasperation that, you know, we have to spend more money, you know, helping Puerto Rico? That's -- that's definitely how that tweet sounded.

Let's hope there's an ounce, at least, of some shared sense of suffering the president feels with -- with our friends in Puerto Rico. And, you know, that's -- that's what has to be tested. The fact that he rather gratuitously mentioned how much money has already been sent there --

CAMEROTA: And falsely.

GREGORY: Yes.

CAMEROTA: And falsely stated. He doubled it. He more than doubled the amount of money --

GREGORY: Yes.

CAMEROTA: -- allocated for whatever reason he's trying -- I don't know what point that is trying to make.

GREGORY: Right. Exactly. You know, who knows? You know, the free association of the morning. It didn't sound a lot like "We're standing by your side."

BERMAN: It didn't sound anything like "We're standing by your side." And that's a choice. And again, that's not what we've heard from -- you know, Bill Kristol, I will ask you. You've worked inside a White House before. How would George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush have dealt with a hurricane heading toward Puerto Rico? Would they have said "When will it ever end?"

BILL KRISTOL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, they would have thought they were president of the United States, and they would have made sure that the different parts of the government were well- organized as much as they could.

Obviously, President George W. Bush paid a price when -- when people thought, I think somewhat correctly, that FEMA was not well-prepared for -- for Katrina in New Orleans.

So most presidents take governing seriously. Most presidents take natural disasters seriously. They don't try to make political points out of it. They hope they'll get some credit if they handled it well.

But in this case, President Bu -- President Bush -- President Trump -- that's a Freudian slip -- President Trump is using it -- you know, he doesn't like Puerto Rico or Puerto Ricans. And it's a little bit of an attempt, I think, to you know, play to his base which probably thinks that people in Puerto Rico are freeloading off the rest of us and so forth.

It's interesting. Someone pointed this out on Twitter last night. It was very revealing. In a Trump/Pence email, there's a -- which attacks AOC and the usual suspects. There's some line, something like this, that you know, we need to -- this is -- we have to make sure this is our country, not theirs. Or something. That is such a deep strain, I think, in Trump's rhetoric. And I think it's very damaging and very dangerous. And it means he doesn't act as president of all the people of the United States.

CAMEROTA: Hey, guys. We've just been handed this -- this op-ed from former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. And in it, he says a lot of stuff that he disagrees with with President Trump in the way -- the direction of this administration.

I'm just reading it for the first time, and I'm going to read a portion that stood out to us. Here's what former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has to say this morning: "Using every skill I have learned during my decades as a Marine, I did as well as I could for as long as I could. When my concrete solutions and strategic advice, especially keeping faith with our allies, no longer resonated, it was time for me to resign."

You know, people have wanted to know the back story, Bill, about why Jim Mattis left. And we have, in fact, been told recently by other Republicans that soon sort of more establishment Republicans would start speaking out; and it sounds like this morning, Jim Mattis is doing that.

[07:20:01] KRISTOL: You know, I met with Jim Mattis about three weeks after he resigned as secretary of defense. It was in a little office they gave him in Crystal City in Arlington to sort of wrap up his affairs as Sec Def, as secretary of defense. And we talked about an hour. It was off the record. And I'm not going to, obviously, violate that at all, but except to say that I think a lot of the reporting focused on Syria and particular disagreements Jim Mattis had with the president. I think the impression I got from Secretary Mattis, and I think this is -- I gather this is the impression one gets from this piece in "The Wall Street Journal" is that he had much more fundamental doubts about this president's fitness to govern, really.

He thought he had done a lot of good in helping steer policy in the right direction, prevent an awful lot of things from happening that shouldn't have happened, prevent illegalities from happening at the whim of the president. Also, he thought some of the policies were going in the right direction; some others not so much.

But the degree to which I think someone like Secretary Mattis is looking ahead and saying, "OK, we have Donald Trump, presumably, for these four years," but I think he feels an obligation to weigh in.

Our country, man, we all face a big decision over the next few months in the Republican primary and in the Democratic primary and then in the general election. And I think Jim Mattis is telling us what he thinks about the possibility of another four years for Donald Trump.

BERMAN: And I think this is put in Mattis language as strong as it gets for him. Not a Democrat or Republican. I think he is a nonpartisan actor here. And I think the language he chooses is very careful. He wouldn't come out and directly criticize, but you can read between the lines.

I want to read another paragraph here. I don't know how much of this we have built on a graphic. He said, "Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither. Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy. At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering." And this is a key part. "A polemicist's role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed," he says.

A polemicist's role is not sufficient for a leader. Seung Min, it seems to me, in Mattis speak, that's a criticism of the president of the United States.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, knowing Jim Mattis, that was probably the farthest he's going to go to criticize the president.

And a lot of what is being said in that op-ed right there is confirming so many of the concerns that you have heard from Republicans, whether it's these establishment foreign policy Republicans or Republicans on Capitol Hill, about the president's -- about President Trump's erratic foreign policy tendencies.

I mean, I can't -- I can't tell you how many times I have talked to Republican senators over the course of the Trump administration, particularly when -- when the president would do controversial things on the world stage. And they would say, "We sleep better at night knowing Jim Mattis is there in that spot."

And recall when Jim Mattis did resign, when he -- when he issued that resignation letter. Mitch McConnell said he was, quote, particularly distressed about Jim Mattis leaving, about why he left, and that it was with these very sharp strategic differences with the Trump administration and with -- or with President Trump over foreign policy.

And I think a lot of what Jim Mattis is saying there, particularly the need to retain our alliances throughout the world, that is something that Republicans, particularly on Capitol Hill, had been urging the president to consider. And yet, this -- President Trump is not a president who -- who has often heeded that -- heeded that counsel.

CAMEROTA: And I mean, David, though his rhetoric is understated, in keeping with Jim Mattis's personality and career, the idea that he is going public in "The Wall Street Journal" with his concerns, which must be so serious or grave that he felt he wanted to go public. Because he's not a public person.

GREGORY: Right.

CAMEROTA: What's the significance of this, this morning?

GREGORY: Well, let's -- let's be clear. I believe this is a book excerpt, for one thing. So I mean, he -- this is not an op-ed. He's writing a book about his experience, which --

CAMEROTA: Thank you. You're right. "Call Sign Chaos."

CAMEROTA: Yes. Which will be -- which will be of great interest. And I think, look, Jim Mattis has a storied career, is an amazing patriot. And is such a cerebral figure, as a student of history, as a bibliophile. I mean, he's a very interesting person in our military and in our national life.

And I think that there's no question how much reassurance he provided people as someone who could use his reputation and use his skill and his judgment to actually have influence over this president, who lacked experience in these areas. And I think that was reassuring to people, and that started to break down.

So the inside story of how that happened, why it happened, and what the results are, I think are absolutely timed to the re-election. And his judgment is going to be listened to. And it's going to have an impact.

This is a president who positions himself as an absolute champion of the military. Well, here you're going to have Jim Mattis, who is going to, you know, give you the inside view of what really happened. And it's going to get a lot of traction.

BERMAN: You know, Bill, I have to ask you --

[07:25:04] KRISTOL: If I could just add, this --

BERMAN: Go ahead, Bill.

KRISTOL: This -- Yes. This is a warning. This isn't simply a -- you know, an interesting story. I'm sure it is a very interesting story of what happened. And an account in more depth than we probably have had from others and confirms what an awful lot of reporting already has suggested about how the administration worked over the two years that Secretary Mattis was there.

But it's a warning. It's a warning going ahead. And I do think this is timed for 2020.

BERMAN: Is it enough for you, though, Bill? Because you've been working behind the scenes with Joe Walsh and Anthony Scaramucci. And you want these figures to come forward with these full-throated statements. And this is important, but it's carefully worded. Would you prefer less carefully worded?

KRISTOL: I think everyone should make statements according to their own, you know, conscience. Honestly, look, he was secretary of defense. He feel some loyalty, some obligation not to repeat things that were said in private.

When I talked to him, I sort of said something like, "Will you be telling us your judgment overall of the administration? And again, not just on these particular issues, even something as important as alliances. But your overall judgment of this president?"

And he said, "Look, I'm -- of course, I'm not going to discuss private conversations. I'm not going to reveal confidences."

But I think he's been thinking hard, I mean, honestly, as a citizen, as a patriot. Not -- not merely as a Marine. Not that anything is -- not that --

BERMAN: There's no "merely" as a Marine.

KRISTOL: That's not a good phrase. That was a terrible phrase. I retract that phrase, you know. But the -- you know, as a citizen, as a patriot, thinking about what his obligation is.

CAMEROTA: You know, Seung Min, we've gotten, I think, so accustomed to saying, "Well, nothing moves the needle. Well, nothing moves the needle." You know, it's sort of become an automatic refrain.

But the feeling before Jim Mattis came out with this, at least from Anthony Scaramucci and the like that have been on the show, is that at some point, establishment Republicans, older school Republicans, do really listen to somebody like Jim Mattis; and that for them, it does somehow move the needle. I mean, I guess unknowable at this point, but is this a different category?

KIM: Well, if anyone can move a needle, it's probably someone like Jim Mattis. But again, we're going to be in a -- we're already in a very contentious, heated election season.

I mean, Republicans -- I mean, this is the calculation that Republicans took in 2016 when they, a lot of them, were clearly not pleased with having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. But they said it doesn't matter. I mean, it's better than having a Democrat in the White House.

And I think I would love to hear -- unfortunately, Congress is still out. I would love to hear what Republican lawmakers have to say about Jim Mattis's writing in his -- in his book excerpt. But it's really -- I mean, at this point, it's unclear what is actually going to have a substantive political calculation change at this point.

BERMAN: David, hang on one second here. Because we want to bring up one more story before our break here.

Which is this. Which is "The Washington Post," Seung Min's paper, reports overnight that President Trump is, essentially, telling his staff, "Break the law if you have to, to build the border wall that I want before the election."

This is a direct quote from the article: "When aides have suggested that some of his orders are illegal or unworkable, Trump has suggested he would pardon the officials if they would just go ahead, aides said. He's waved off worries about contracting procedures and the use of eminent domain, saying, 'Take the land,' according to officials present in the meetings. 'Don't worry, I'll pardon you,' he has told officials in meetings about the wall."

"Break the law. I'll pardon you. Build the wall." Seung Min and then David here, that's a pretty extraordinary offer.

KIM: It's a really extraordinary statement that he said in private. And the White House officials who told us have tried to downplay that comment.

But this shows, I mean, he has -- he has pushed the legal boundaries in so many ways to try to fulfill that one singular campaign promise that he had in the run-up to the 2016 election, which is to build that border wall. Of course, he promised Mexico would pay for it. Mexico has not paid for it.

But he is clearly feeling under a lot of pressure for his campaign promise that he's not fulfilled, even though he has misled and said that the wall is being built. You know, he has promised repeatedly that hundreds of miles are being built, that will be built. We know that it's only 60 miles that have actually been refinished at this point.

He has issued emergency declarations that are -- that are subject to court challenges. He has talked -- obviously, talked about moving around money designated for other important government functions to build this wall.

And let's not forget that we are heading into September, where there will be a major government funding fight, probably over that wall. I mean, if you recall the shutdown that we went through earlier this -- earlier this year over the border wall. And clearly, at this point, we should be not ruling another one at this point.

CAMEROTA: David, your thoughts?

GREGORY: You know, by any means necessary, he wants to fulfill this campaign promise. And I think it's a typical nondenial denial by this White House that says, "Oh, no, he was really just joking about that."

I mean, this is someone who's taken his -- the idea of executive authority to a level that, again, is -- runs afoul of what it means to actually be the president.

The president thinks he's got popular will to do this. He wants to ram it through. He wants to define it the way he wants to define it, so he can go to his supporters and say that we got this done.

Immigration is -- is the centerpiece of how he believes he'll be re- elected. I think he worries less about the Jim Mattises of the world coming out and saying.

END