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CNN NEWSROOM

Hurricane Dorian Gains Strength, Could Slam Florida as Cat 3 or Stronger Hurricane; Interview with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry; Trump Considering Blocking Military Aid to Ukraine; Defense Secretary Esper Concerned About Recent North Korean Missile Tests; Stocks Set to Rise Ahead of New Tariffs in Effect Sunday. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 29, 2019 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] BERMAN: That entire team for sticking together when it really counts.

All right, this morning Hurricane Dorian is gaining strength, headed straight to Florida. Our coverage of the storm picks up right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy Harlow is off today. We are following the breaking news this morning.

Hurricane Dorian growing in intensity as it churns towards Florida. It is now projected to hit the U.S. mainland as a category 3 hurricane over the Labor Day weekend. 26 counties in Florida now under a state of emergency. Lines at the gas pumps getting longer and supplies such as bottled water becoming harder to find.

Overnight Dorian hitting the British and U.S. Virgin Islands as a category 1 hurricane. Look at those images there. Heavy wind and rain knocking down trees and power lines. But for Puerto Rico, a sigh of relief. Dorian just missing the island as it still recovers from Hurricane Maria.

Let's get to Chad Myers who's in the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, do we have any more data, information as to where it's going to hit on the mainland?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, not really. I mean, we're going to see now updates every six hours, Jim. For a while we were getting them every three hours because there were watches and warnings in effect. But now at least for the next few days probably the updates will only come every six hours. Somewhere in the ballpark, we call it 0z, 6z, 12z and the like. But somewhere in the ballpark here our next one is going to be at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Eighty-five miles per hour, that's the storm right now. What changed overnight is landfall wind speed at 125 now. Hurricane Hunter about to make the core punch. There's the center of the eye, there's the plane, came down and it's going to turn left and go right through the middle. That's not a plane I want to be on today.

So here's the deal. It's going to move this far in 24 hours, this far another 24 hours, and this far another 24 hours. So we're 72 hours from being right there. And then it tries to stop. Don't they always? There's another 24 hours and there's the next 24 hours. But can it stop in time before making landfall? Yes, actually it can. Will it? I don't know yet. That's still 120 hours away.

That would be the best possible scenario because if this stops over land, all of a sudden we have a different flood, wind, all the big three together in the same storm right over Florida. So Dorian's back here, all the other storms that came from this area, Gene, Francis, Irma, Hugo, that's not a list I'd like to take a look at again. Hey, that's just an ugly list. The water is warm, the wind is good, this wind shear is low.

This could get big and in a very big hurry, Jim. Models taking it somewhere closer to the space coast in plus or minus 150 miles and we don't know whether it's plus or minus at this point. Models are changing their opinion. We'll have a new run of the model coming up here not that long. So we'll know what's going to be going on.

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll stay on top of it and of course give viewers that info as it comes.

Chad Myers, thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Nick Valencia is live in Daytona Beach, Florida. Residents preparing there. What are they doing to get ready for this?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, so far it's a normal day here in Daytona Beach. You see the beach umbrellas set out behind me, but this weekend officials are warning it's going to be anything but normal. Typically it would be one of the busiest weekends for Florida's beaches and instead residents here bracing for the possibility of what could be a major category 3 hurricane.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA (voice-over): A rush to prepare for the worst in Florida. Under a state of emergency as Hurricane Dorian takes aim at the mainland U.S. after sparing Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands of significant damage. All across the state gridlock at the pump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just getting prepared before the storm comes.

VALENCIA: Residents stocking up, stripping grocery store shelves nearly bare, with bottled water harder and harder to find. They're purchasing plywood to board up windows and filling up thousands of sandbags, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Better safe than sorry.

VALENCIA: Officials in coastal states urging people to be prepared.

MAYOR LENNY CURRY (R), JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA: The impacts are unpredictable and what will it be? Will it be the wind, will it be the flooding, will it be downed power lines and just be prepared and be ready.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: In their preparedness to be ready, we're not exactly sure where this storm is going to go, but you need to start preparing now if you're in the coastal communities for sure.

VALENCIA: The Caribbean islands feeling Dorian's strength with wind gusts as high as 85 miles per hour. Tree branches and debris scattered across the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. Heavy rains filling the streets with water, ripping off some of the blue tarps still covering buildings in the time since Hurricane Maria hit two years ago.

DARYL JASCHEN, DIRECTOR, USVI TERRITORIAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: The damage assessment right now is primarily to our islands of St. Thomas and St. John. And the good news is, we have our crews still remaining here from Irma and Maria that are doing restoration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[09:05:03] VALENCIA: Officials here warning residents especially those along the east coast of Florida that they need to be ready. Dorian, when it does make landfall, Jim, it'll be the fifth major hurricane to make an impact on the state in the last four years -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: It's been hard hit. Nick Valencia there.

Joining me now from Jacksonville, Florida, Mayor Lenny Curry.

Mayor, we appreciate you taking time this morning. We know you got a lot on your plate in these coming days. You look at those storm tracks. It does look like there's a decent chance it cuts across Florida, it comes to where you are. What are you doing to prepare?

CURRY: Yes, well, good morning. We are telling people to be ready. If you're watching from Jacksonville, I encourage you to have purchased water, batteries, gas. But don't over purchase. We want to make sure that everybody has access to what they need.

One of the most important things people can do right now is download our app, it's called JaxReady and they can put their address and that will tell them their evacuation zone. We're probably a day away from having to make evacuation decisions but you want to know that zone now.

SCIUTTO: OK, so that's -- it's also -- you know, information is important preparation no question. Are you getting the aid that you need to just line up the resources you may need if it does come through and hit Jacksonville?

CURRY: Yes, I spoke actually with the governor yesterday. I'll see him again today. We have a great working relationship with the state and the federal government. We also are fiscally sound. We've got the reserves that we need to handle any kind of a storm on the front end as we await reimbursement should we get into a situation where we need dollars back from FEMA. The most important thing, though, is people be ready, know your

evacuation zone, know it now, be informed, watch the news, stay tuned. There's still a lot of uncertainty. It looked like it moved a little bit south last night, but that could change and we have to be ready for impacts.

SCIUTTO: Yes, these things are unpredictable we know. We're going to do our best to share all the information we have as it gets closer. You know what hurricanes can do. Your community has lived through them before and I know you're a Republican and I don't want to get too much into politics here, but were you surprised to see the president lashing out at Puerto Rico as it was bracing for the storm as well?

CURRY: Look, my focus is making sure that I protect the people of Jacksonville, and I know that I have the support of the governor and of the president as we work to make sure that in the middle of what could be a crisis and a serious storm that we're doing everything to prepare our people. That's what I remain focused on right now. We've been through, in the last three years, last four years, this will be the third storm we deal with should we get impacts here.

My message to people is, you know, if we get into an evacuation situation, you don't know if it's going to be the flooding, the wind, the downed power lines but you do know it's going to be one of those or if not all serious impacts, so if we ask you to evacuate, if you're in a zone, please take it seriously and leave, know your zone now and make sure that you have your hurricane kit ready.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Those are the --

CURRY: Go to JaxReady.com or download the JaxReady app. It'll give you what you need.

SCIUTTO: Right. Listen to those warnings when they come because you guys don't issue those warnings lightly. We know.

Mayor Lenny Curry, we'll stay in touch. We wish you the best of luck in these coming days.

CURRY: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: New this morning to CNN, sources telling CNN that President Trump is seriously considering a plan to block $250 million in military aid to Ukraine. It is a move that would likely spark bipartisan backlash from Congress. This aid intended to help Ukraine defend itself from Russian invasions, both the annexation of Crimea but also invasion of eastern Ukraine.

One person who might approve, of course, of a move like this, Russian President Vladimir Putin. It's very much in Russia's interest.

CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is outside the White House.

Joe, how does the White House answer criticism? We've often heard the president say no one's been tougher on Russia than Trump. This would be an explicit case of being soft on Russia.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. And it's pretty clear that in the event they were actually going to go ahead and block this $250 million in funding to Ukraine, it would ingratiate President Trump to Vladimir Putin. It would also kick off a huge storm on Capitol Hill among those members of Congress from both parties frankly who are concerned about the protection of Ukraine. This is money for arms, intel, all things defense and security for Ukraine. So the question, of course, is whether they're going to do that and they have some time to determine for sure whether they're going to do it.

But there's also a back story here going on, Jim. And you really have to acknowledge that the National Security adviser, John Bolton, recently visited Ukraine. And among the issues apparently on his plate, according to the public record, is he expressed some concerns about a deal to sell a major manufacturer in Ukraine of aircraft and helicopter engines to at least in part to China, to a Chinese company.

[09:10:14] Great concern there expressed by him. And there's been some reporting on that for some time. That sale has been held up in the Ukrainian courts. The question now, of course, to the administration, to the National Security Council, is whether that deal is at least part of why the administration says it is looking at whether this $250 million to Ukraine is in the best interest of the United States.

I have asked the National Security Council, their spokespersons, about that and no one at all has gotten back to me. I've also asked Mick Mulvaney, the president's chief of staff, and no answer from the administration so far if that deal is part of this equation -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, it also comes just a few days after the president invited Russia back into the G7 against the wishes of U.S. allies.

Joe Johns, thanks very much.

We want to talk about this potential move by President Trump to stop military aid to Ukraine with the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. That is next.

Plus, changes for some U.S. service members whose children are born overseas. Listen to this, the Trump administration says citizenship will no longer be automatic for those kids. Why?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The happy memories that we had is just --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: St. Louis families demand an end to gun violence after at least a dozen children are killed by guns in just the last four months.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:15:00] JIM SCIUTTO, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: As we just reported, sources tell CNN that President Trump is considering blocking military aid to Ukraine. This comes right after a G7 Summit in which the president down-played Russia's move into Ukraine, also raised the idea of welcoming Putin back into the group. A group he was excelled from explicitly for the illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Joining me now to discuss this, CNN national security analyst James Clapper. He is of course the former director of national intelligence. General Clapper, thanks for joining us this morning.

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Thanks, Jim, for having me.

SCIUTTO: So, you're aware the U.S. considering blocking this $250 million in military assistance. This is key aid to Ukraine which is fighting in effect on two fronts, eastern Ukraine as well as the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Would blocking this aid be a gift to Russia?

CLAPPER: Oh, absolutely, it would be. But I have to say, Jim, it's not unreasonable to -- for this administration or any administration to review the efficacy of assistance provided to foreign governments. But I think it's particularly sensitive with the Ukraine for obvious reasons.

For this administration in light of, you know, the president's deference to Russia and Putin. And if -- you know, I've listened to Joe Johns reporting and the issue he brought up with potential engine sales to China, well, that certainly has to be factored in.

But I will say that we have -- the United States has a strong, moral and ethical -- I believe ethical commitment to help the Ukrainians defend themselves against the Russian incursion in eastern Ukraine, and of course, in light of the seizure of Crimea.

And of course, this is -- it's hard not to juxtapose this with the push by President Trump to bring Russia back into the G7. So, I hope this is resolved in the favor of Ukraine because, you know, this is something -- the provision of this aid has been going on since the last administration in 2014. And I think to cut them off now would be a really serious thing.

SCIUTTO: Adam Schiff, of course, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee raised the possibility of another connection here. You have Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer who has worked for the president, supports the president, and has gone to Ukraine to try to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

And Adam Schiff raising the possibility that withholding this aid is a pressure tactic to get Ukrainians to play ball, in effect. If that were true, how acceptable would that be for a U.S. president to connect Russia policy to 2020 electioneering in effect?

CLAPPER: Well, it's certainly I think disturbing if this is the case. But it's not inconsistent with the transactional philosophy or strategy of this administration. And one would hope that political considerations like that would be kept separate from the obligation the United States has to help Ukraine.

SCIUTTO: Another topic if I can, you served many decades in the military, in the Intelligence community, that included overseas assignments, there was a new citizenship policy brought by the Trump administration that would make it more difficult for U.S. service members but also diplomats deployed or posted abroad to get automatic citizenship for their children born abroad.

As you know, it's long time been the policy that if you're overseas for an assignment like that, your children automatically are citizens. What's your reaction to that, and what kind of message would that send to Americans who are doing service abroad for their country?

CLAPPER: Well, this could -- this is I think a serious breach of trust and faith in the government. And as I understand it, the particular rule in question here applies to a thoroughly small number of people.

[09:20:00] But the fact is that people are going to be reading into the messaging into this that given the single-minded determination to reduce immigration and reduce population of foreign-born people, that this could be broadened. And I couldn't help but kind of point out my own situation where my two children just by virtue of the vigorous of the assignment system where my wife and I had been overseas at the time, they were born and their citizenship were jeopardized.

I mean this would be -- this has huge morale impacts obviously, not just on those directly affected, but just the broader force. Because those kind of things have impact -- morale impacts on everyone. So, this would be a -- if it comes to pass and is broaden, I think is a serious breach of faith.

SCIUTTO: Understood, and of course, for folks who are already making the sacrifice for their country. Final question if I can, the Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he is concerned about the spate of recent North Korean short-range ballistic missile tests.

Of course, as you know, the president has down-played these. I wonder has Trump -- has the administration effectively given Kim Carte Blanche to test missiles that we should note have within their range, U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, but also several U.S. military bases in the region?

CLAPPER: Well, absolutely. I mean, the administration is -- the president is currently giving Kim Jong-un a pass on missile systems that he doesn't consider personally threatening to the continent of the United States. But they certainly are threatening to the Republic of Korea and Japan, and not to mention our people both military and civilian that are resident in -- or stationed or resident in the Republic of Korea.

And so -- and also of course, these missile tests are in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions which we have in the past pushed and supported. So, for Kim Jong-un's standpoint, well, this is a good thing for him because he's just -- he's being allowed to push the envelope even more.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and he learns from each test. General Clapper, good to have you on the program this morning.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead, as recession fears grow, President Trump appears to be scrambling for a win, any win, but at what cost? And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, stocks should start the day in positive territory, investors took note of the comments made by China's Ministry of Commerce saying China is willing to resolve the trade war with a calm attitude.

The two sides are set to resume trade talks next month, those were delayed from July, a new round of tariffs between the U.S. and China are set to take effect on Sunday. Meanwhile, investors also of course will be watching the bond market.

[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: As fears of a recession shake U.S. markets, a new poll shows that President Trump is slipping on his one key issue, the economy. Sources say the president has become increasingly rattled and is desperately searching for a win in the run-up to the 2020 election. I'm joined now by Molly Ball; she's national political correspondent for "Time", and Patricia Murphy; columnist for "The Daily Beast" and for "Roll Call", thanks to both of you guys.

Molly, if I could start with you, we had some new numbers today, GDP numbers revised downwards for the second quarter from 2.1 percent to 2 percent, crucially down from 3 percent growth in the first quarter. So, you have a lot of data points here showing a slow down. What is the level of concern in the Trump White House now?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: It's very high, I mean, I think they've always appreciated that more so than most presidents, he really needs this calling card, and it is a political problem for him if he loses the talking point that say what you will about, you know, the president's behavior and you can't argue with these results he's got a strong economy.

That's always been the pitch. He's always been personally unpopular since before the day he was elected. But a lot of voters have said that what ought to matter is what's in your pocketbook and traditionally, presidential candidates have made that pitch.

But I think it's even more important for Trump because it's a way for -- to divert people from the aspect of his behavior that they don't like. So, if he loses the economy as a calling card, that takes away the rationalization from a lot of voters, Republican voters in particular you hear this from all the time, and a lot of independent voters as well.

So, I think there's a real fear of what it could do to him politically. You know, the only time we've seen his approval rating really shift, it's been remarkably stable throughout his presidency, but it was during that government shutdown in January that even some of his strong supporters began to peel off because of the potential hit to peoples pocketbooks.

SCIUTTO: Patricia Murphy, there doesn't appear to be an end in sight for the trade war with China. You do have talks that had been delayed from July that look like they're going to happen in September, but fundamental disagreements.

[09:30:00]