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Tropical Storm Dorian Approaches Puerto Rico; Tropical Storm Dorian May Become Hurricane and Approach U.S. Gulf Coast; New Poll has Biden Leading Other Democratic Presidential Candidates; New Poll has President Trump Under Water on Economy; Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis Speaks Out in WSJ Essay. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired August 28, 2019 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: With the brand new update. What does it tell us, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is not, Alisyn, telling us it's 60 miles from Saint Croix headed to, like you said, to also the eastern side there of Puerto Rico. Yesterday we talked about the western side of Puerto Rico. This thing has wobbled back and forth in the overnight hours and now is farther to the east and farther to the north. Still the same weed speed, 60 miles per hour, still the same pressure, but the hurricane hunters are in there right now looking at the storm really in the middle of this thing at this point.

There's your landfall here somewhere after 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Still has time to gain more strength. The problem is it has a lot of time to gain strength as it makes its way towards the U.S. Being this Labor Day weekend, rethink your plans if you are about to travel into an evacuation zone or a potential evacuation zone. Keep that in mind, keep watching this. You still have a couple of days before you leave on your Friday journey. But you don't want to be there on Saturday and the police tell you you've got to get out.

There's the storm right there, Saint Croix, there's the center of circulation. I won't call it an eye yet, but it's getting very close. As soon as the center of circulation gets completely closed, that's when we know this storm is going to start to breathe by itself and being to get stronger quickly. There's the latest hurricane hunter aircraft. They just found a 62 mile per hour gust. They're going to see six to 10 inches of rainfall across parts of Puerto Rico, especially the eastern half, and then it moves towards the U.S. There are models that will miss the U.S., but there are also models, as you mentioned, guys, that take it well above a category two on its way towards the U.S. east coast. We'll keep you advised. This is still five days away, a long time for those things to change their mind.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Five days away for Florida, Georgia, maybe South Carolina, but just hours away from Puerto Rico. Chad Myers, thank you very much. And clearly so dangerous and shifting, Puerto Rico still recovering from Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago. We're talking about the fragile power grid there, so many houses still with the blue tarps on top of them, and this storm will pass over part of the island that has been slowest to recover. CNN's Polo Sandoval live in Ponce with much more. Polo, what are you

seeing?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I spoke to a man from Puerto Rico who's staying at this particular hotel in Ponce with his family who says, look, it doesn't have to be a hurricane for people to lose sleep around here, especially when you see the latest projection models that show now a more direct impact on the island here. It's an impact where the infrastructure is still to this day continuing to recover, particularly the power grid. And that really is the bulk of the concerns. That's why we've seen many people here purchasing generators, et cetera, because even after the storm may be long gone, those after effects are likely. And so that's why officials are still warning people to continue to prepare as, of course, the weather right now is still cooperating, but in a few hours all of that could change.

And it's just the power grid but also the risk for mudslides, and also for torrential downpours that is extremely concerning. FEMA having learned from what happened during Maria here, they have prepositioned not only a large amount of resources but also personnel. Up to 500 FEMA folks are already on the island here on standby preparing to respond. And of course, you're talking about hundreds of shelters, over 350 shelters that are now prepared to open up their doors and begin to receive some of these folks not only before, during, but after the storm. Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Polo Sandoval, thank you very much for the update.

Joining us now is Ken Graham. He's the director of the National Hurricane Center. Ken, what do we need to know at this hour?

KEN GRAHAM, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: I'll tell you, Alisyn, big changes overnight. We were talking yesterday about these compact storms, how things could change quickly, and the hurricane hunters were finding a center and then a new cluster of thunderstorms would move the center, so a lot of jumps. So the big change overnight is a lot of the focus shifted a little bit to the east, and that means less influence of the mountains. Puerto Rico, heavy rainfall, up to 10 inches of rain, so big impacts for Puerto Rico. But look, an eastward shift means more water, more warm-water. So the change overnight is a little east and a little stronger.

CAMEROTA: Ken, why is this one such a wild card? Why are those centers jumping around more?

GRAHAM: I'll tell you, these compact storms are tough. We've seen it so many times over the years where when they're that small, even another thunderstorm could start to rotate and become the new center. Until they really form, it's really tough to forecast. And that's what's happened here. Look at the size. It's compact, but at the same time it still has a lot of impact. So moving around just a little bit can shift that track big time when it comes to the end of the forecast.

CAMEROTA: Chad Myers just told us something alarming which is that it could hit Florida or Georgia or even South Carolina as a category two or, as he said, well above. What does that mean?

GRAHAM: There's so many different factors when it comes to these kinds of forecasts. Probably the biggest word I used yesterday was uncertainty.

[08:05:00] Look at this cone. The cone is really important in this case because two thirds of the time, Alisyn, we can see the center of the storm anywhere inside this cone. And that means from the South Carolina coast all the way down to south Florida, any of those areas could still be impacted, because it all depends on the strength of this ridge. If it's stronger, it could bend this back to the west a little earlier. There's so many different factors to go into this. So everybody in this area, we just need to be ready to have those plans ready to go.

CAMEROTA: But beyond the cone, I'm concerned about the strength of it. Are you saying it could be well above a category two, or is it too early to tell?

GRAHAM: Yesterday was interesting, because when you have a track further to the west and get interactions, we're looking at the lower intensity, but look at the water. So really what we have now is we're forecasting category two. However, if you have another shift back over looking towards the east, what happens is you have more of that warm water, more time to get stronger. So, yes, absolutely. And we tell people it's important forecasting a cat two, but there's nothing wrong planning for one up just in case.

CAMEROTA: Ken, is there any hurricane in recent memory that this reminds you of so far?

GRAHAM: The big thing, Alisyn, I always tell people, 25 years of doing this stuff, every one of them is so incredibly different. And that's why we tell everybody please listen to the impacts, please listen to the changes. We can't focus just on the forecast now because it can really change going into this holiday weekend. So every one of them are different. Really focus, not necessarily just on the track. Listen to the impacts as we start ramping this up for Puerto Rico today, and also into the weekend for Florida or maybe up to Georgia and South Carolina.

CAMEROTA: Of course for the people in Puerto Rico they have, horrible deja vu from Maria which they're still recovering from. And that one, correct me if I'm wrong, also hit the east coast, and that's what devastated the east coast. Now that the model shows Dorian hitting the east coast of Puerto Rico, does that make it more dangerous somehow?

GRAHAM: Yes, the whole island really covered in precipitation. We got the new plot this morning looking at that track chance. Once you change that track, you've got to change all the impacts as well. So yesterday we were talking about the heavy rain on the west end of the island, and now look. It's the east end. Up to maybe even 10 inches of rain in some areas.

So absolutely. So you take the gusty winds plus all that rain, and you get flooding in the mountains as well. So you push that moisture up on the mountains, it becomes heavy. You get increased amounts of rainfall, so rain, mudslides, flash flooding, a lot of impacts on top of the tropical force winds.

CAMEROTA: So Ken, last question. What do you want people in Florida and Georgia and South Carolina and Puerto Rico who are watching right now, what do you want them to know and do at this hour?

GRAHAM: One thing is keep paying attention to the forecast because this storm is still compact. It could still change. We have quite a variety of solutions when it comes to the models. Just be ready. Going to the holiday weekend, from South Carolina down to Florida, have your plans ready, be ready to go. Please pay attention to updates in the forecast, because it could change also over the next couple of days.

CAMEROTA: OK, Ken, thank you very much for being on standby for us all morning, and please keep us posted whenever that model changes. Thank you.

We do have breaking news right now. A new national poll has just been released ahead of today's qualifying deadline for the September debate. So who is in and who is out? CNN politics senior writer and analyst Harry Enten has been breaking down the numbers. This is the moment you've been waiting for.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER AND ANALYST: The moment I've been waiting for. I've been hiding by a computer. I think the big question was whether or not Tom Steyer, who needed two percent or more in one more qualifying poll would get it from this Quinnipiac University poll. The answer is no, he did not. He was at zero percent in this poll.

The other big story, of course, was that Monmouth University poll earlier this week suggested Biden was falling. We thought it was an outlier at the time. It was, in fact. This Quinnipiac University has him leading the field with 32 percent, well ahead of Elizabeth Warren, who is only at 19 percent, Bernie Sanders back at 15 percent.

BERMAN: I'll say, I just dug through some of the numbers in this poll. These are some really tough numbers for the president of the United States on the economy.

ENTEN: Yes, he's under water on the economy. His economic approval rating is under water in this poll, which is quite something given that that has normally been his best number, and he's usually been above 50 percent on that. But not just on the economy. If you look at the matchups against the top four candidates, Warren, Sanders, Biden, Harris, he's trailing by double digits to all of them in the horse races.

CAMEROTA: Do we have that graphic? I think that's interesting to see the head to head matchups with President Trump. If not, you're saying double digits?

ENTEN: Down double digits. BERMAN: He didn't crack 40.

ENTEN: He didn't crack 40 against any of them. Biden holds the largest lead, but it's just a little bit larger than, say, the lead that Sanders has at this point. Biden is up by around 15 points, the same with Sanders. You have the numbers.

BERMAN: I have a number which I think explains all of this in terms of the president. For the first time Quinnipiac says, since President Trump was elected, more voters say that the national economy is getting worse than getting better.

ENTEN: Yes, and that to me is very troubling news. And given the economic news that we've received over the last few months, we stood over there at the magic wall a few weeks ago in which I pointed out job growth is very much tied in to how presidents do in the reelection march, and Trump has generally been trailing behind that despite the fact that we've had pretty good job growth.

[08:10:05] So me now that Americans, voters are seeing that the economy perhaps in the future isn't as good as they thought it might have been, that's very troubling news, because that is the one way that Trump can win this election, because he can't win it on character because voters consistently vote him down on character.

CAMEROTA: The reason this poll, this Quinnipiac poll out just now is so significant is because it does sort of set the tone I guess for the rest of the campaign because it locks in the debate on September 12th, right, and then after that I think, according to you, it gets harder for the candidates who don't make this debate stage.

ENTEN: Look, if you don't make this debate stage, your fundraising may very well dry up, and fundraising and money is basically the gasoline that pumps up that automobile for a campaign. And the fact that we're going to at this point, we believe, only have 10. Today is the last day you could get that qualifying poll, and we have 10 candidates. There will be one stage with 10 candidates. The rest of the candidates, unfortunately for them, looks like they're not going to make it.

BERMAN: There's only six candidates above one percent also.

ENTEN: This is really a race right now between Warren, Biden, Sanders, and Harris at this point, really.

BERMAN: Harry Enten, fascinating stuff, thank you.

ENTEN: I love it, man.

CAMEROTA: Thanks for being on standby.

ENTEN: Thank you.

BERMAN: Breaking this morning, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaking out really for the first time about his time in the Trump administration, very carefully chosen words. And as far as Jim Mattis goes, it's much farther than he's ever gone before. That's next.

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[08:15:32] CAMEROTA: All right. New this morning, former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaking out in his own way about his experience in the Trump administration. He's issuing a historic warning about the dangers of our divided society.

He has written an excerpt for a book -- well, he's written a book and this excerpt just appeared in "The Wall Street Journal" this morning.

Here is one of them: Using every skill I had 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 to resign.

Joining us now is CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. We also have CNN political analysts with us, David Gregory and Sarah Isgur.

Barbara, thank you for being with us early because, you know, this is significant. People wanted to know the back story. They wanted to know why Jim Mattis was resigning as the secretary of defense, and now he's explaining it. Your thoughts?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is explaining it, but I think he goes even a step further that is really going to catch everyone's attention.

And let me just read one more sentence from what he wrote. He said we're dividing into hostile tribes, cheering against each other. So, this is Jim Mattis really calling out what is happening in the society right now under the Trump administration. He doesn't name President Trump directly, but he's clearly referring to what he sees going on, a divided society.

He says this is a threat. This is not new as a concern to the top U.S. military. Mattis talking about it now because he's retired, and he can talk about it. You can't criticize a president when you're serving.

But look at it this way, we have seen troops, active duty troops appearing with red "Make America Great" hats again. That is political statement by the troops that they're not supposed to make. We saw President Trump gave a speech at the Pentagon where he suddenly veered into criticizing the Democrats, again, politicizing the military.

This is one of the biggest concerns we continue to hear about what is happening right now. If the military is becoming politicized as many believe it is, fundamentally, it's relationship to American society changes under President Trump.

It's going to be a very interesting day here at the Pentagon. At 1:30 this afternoon, General Joe Dunford, one of Mattis' old friends, also a marine, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, comes out for the first press conference he's given in a year. This is likely I would predict to be a topic of the questions. BERMAN: You know, Barbara says that James Mattis doesn't name the

president but he almost does. It seems like he's making direct references to President Donald Trump.

Let me read one more sentence here. He says a polemist's role is not sufficient for a leader. It seems to me, he has to be talking about Donald Trump there. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble looms.

Sarah Isgur, you worked inside the Trump administration, but before that, you worked for Republicans like Mitt Romney and others for whom James Mattis is, you know, if there's an above Mount Rushmore for credibility and respect --

CAMEROTA: It's Mount Mattis.

BERMAN: -- James Mattis is there. So, what impact does this have?

SARAH ISGUR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And to anyone who's watching who hasn't read this, it's also just beautifully written. You realize why he has that respect both from people in and outside the military.

What comes through is this sense of duty as well that it wasn't that he joined the administration because he agreed with it or wanted to or had just always wanted to be secretary of defense, he joined because of a sense of duty. And you see that military civilian divide as well where a lot of civilians don't understand what it's like to spend your career in the military. Highly recommended just as a beautiful piece of reading material from a political standpoint.

I do think it makes a difference for those in the military reading from the former secretary of defense that there are problems at the top that he sees massive, systematic issues with the way our foreign policy is being run right now, whether that will be met with cheers or boos from the ranks, we'll see.

CAMEROTA: And, David, what do you think is the significance of someone who was this involved, who was the defense secretary, who was highly regarded coming out and saying these things?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, Jim Mattis is an eloquent statesman. And so, this is tough piece, but it's elegantly written as Sarah says.

[08:20:04] And while I think the criticism is pointed, it stops at a point. He's not revealing conversations that were private. He's not naming the president.

What he's saying is, look, I had a sense of duty, I was there. I believe in certain principles of leadership as the secretary of defense and for our country generally. And when I wasn't being listened to and when my influence waned and when the president went in different directions on key areas that involved, including our allies strategically and how we project American power abroad, I had to go, and at the same time lamenting tribalism in American politics, that is certainly about President Trump, but it's not just about Trump.

And he's not the first military leader to point out that whether it's areas of our national debt or our politics, start to rank higher as national security threats because as he says in the piece, he's less concerned about our external adversaries than how divided we are as a country.

So, it's a powerful statement. We have to see what kind of impact it has.

What's clear to me, President Trump or anybody else is not going to dismiss Mattis as somebody who's a partisan or who shouldn't be believed. So, people will take this serious.

BERMAN: Never say never.

David, Barbara, we have to let you go, but I just want to give you the last word here on James Mattis. Is this enough? If he disagrees with the president as much as he's hinting at, is it the type of thing he should make clear when he was in the Pentagon or maybe name names now?

STARR: You know, this has been a long-standing issue. If you are on active duty, you are not permitted to criticize the commander-in- chief.

But he was the civilian secretary in defense. What we do know about him is he was very reluctant to say anything that the president or the White House at the time might perceive at criticism because he thought he would be sidelined and in the end he was. So, perhaps that's the most telling lesson of all. How do you speak up when you don't agree with the commander in chief?

CAMEROTA: Barbara, thank you very much for all of your reporting and insight into this.

STARR: Sure.

CAMEROTA: So, the other -- the big story we're following is that people are in harms way because of tropical storm Dorian which is expected to grow and strengthen into a hurricane, maybe even a category 2 hurricane or above.

What is the president saying about this morning, John?

BERMAN: All right. So, again, as millions prepare to be affected by a hurricane, the president seems to be going after them. He writes: We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads as usual to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it and give them a big thank you -- not like last time. That includes from the incompetent mayor of San Juan.

You know, Sarah, again, there's a choice here. There's a hurricane that is going to hit Puerto Rico in just hours. Why send this message to people who are about to be victims of a national disaster?

ISGUR: Well, the president also has another problem looming which is as he's discussing cutting money from FEMA to put towards immigration enforcement and border security, you also have a hurricane heading towards a swing state as that map shows, it's a serious issue, a safety issue for these people and I don't want to minimize that. But politically speaking, if a hurricane hits Florida and the president has just cut money from FEMA for hurricane relief, for instance, that could be a major election issue as you saw with President Bush back with Katrina.

CAMEROTA: But it's the tone, David, heading to Puerto Rico again as usual, coupled with the tweet of yesterday, wow, yet another big storm, will it ever end? What are we hearing in that tone in terms of preparation, compassion?

GREGORY: Well, it's not new. It's un-presidential obviously to say the very least. The fact he takes political pot shots in the course of what his duty is which is to make sure the federal government is standing by to help and assist Puerto Rico which is beleaguered by storms. So it is incredible the Puerto Ricans would face this kind of threat again. Everybody understands that.

But now, it's a matter for the local and federal authorities to be there and to standby. I mean, the only way to react to this is to condemn it for what it is, but also to realize that for president Trump, there's always an opportunity to take a shot and to energize his own supporters who say, oh, you know, Puerto Rico could be in trouble again and these are folks who criticize the government rather than saying thank you. It's how he operates.

BERMAN: One other story getting a lot of attention this morning. "The Washington Post" reporting, Sarah, at the president is laser focused on building the border wall he campaigned on, so laser-focused he's telling aides, break the law if you have to get it done. This is direct quote.

When aides suggested some of his orders are illegal or unworkable, Trump suggested he would pardon the officials if they would just go ahead, aides said.

[08:25:01] He waved off worries about contracting procedures and use of imminent domain saying, take the land, according to officials present at the meetings, don't worry, I'll pardon you.

He's told officials in meetings about the wall.

Pretty extraordinary for the president of the United States telling people who work for the government of the United States, break the law in the United States if you have to.

ISGUR: Well, the White House has responded that he was joking, but I think it goes to underline just how important he knows this is to his re-election. When you talk to Trump voters, oftentimes the number one issue, the number one promise from 2016 was build the wall. It was more than a chant. They really believed that was something he was going to accomplish.

If heading into 2020, he's not built the wall to an extent they feel fulfilled that promise, you could see his approval numbers drop among his own supporters, something we haven't really seen yet even if his approval numbers top out at 40 percent nationwide among Republicans and among 2016 Trump voters, they remain quite high.

But he knows how important it is to get that promise done, and he's running out of time.

GREGORY: I think that's such an important point particularly because if you see any dip in enthusiasm among his core supporters and you look at the poll from Quinnipiac that you were just talking about in a previous segment, as worries about the economy increase, let's remember those Midwestern voters, voters who voted for President Obama and then voted for Donald Trump.

These are people who experienced a lot of pain in this changing economy. They thought Trump was an answer for that. They were willing to move. They could definitely move again.

BERMAN: I think that's a great point. Both of you right there. As the economic numbers go down and we're seeing it in the Pew poll this morning. You can expect attacks on immigration, building a wall, maybe even Puerto Rico, you can expect them go up. That's new. We haven't seen that in a long time. Trump's handling of the economy, under water.

CAMEROTA: Sarah, David, thank you both very much.

All right. Now to this, more than a dozen of Jeffrey Epstein's accusers have finally had their say in court, but it was not the way they'd hoped. Gloria Allred was there. She explains what happened in this unprecedented day in court yesterday.

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