Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Hurricane Dorian Gains Strength, Takes Aim At Florida; DOJ Inspector General Releases Report On Comey Memos; Sources Say Trump Considers Blocking Military Aid To Ukraine; Trump Rattled, Scrambles For Wins Ahead Of Election. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 29, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:00:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: 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, growing in size and churning towards, Hurricane Dorian heads towards Florida, expected to become a powerful Category 3 hurricane when it makes landfall over the Labor Day weekend. 26 counties in Florida now under a state of emergency in advance, massive lines at gas stations, stores being cleaned out of bottled water and other supplies.

Overnight, a close call, a very close one for Puerto Rico, Dorian just missing the island. Very good news for its residents still recovering these two years later from Hurricane Maria. The British and U.S. Virgin Islands not so lucky, as those pictures show. They are seeing heavy wind and rain, the storm rolling in as a Category 1 there.

Let's Chad Myers. He is in the CNN Weather Center following the storm trackers. What's it telling you right now both about direction, but also about gaining strength?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: 89 miles per hour now from a hurricane hunter just in the past 15 minutes. That's the C-130 aircraft, four propellers flying through the storm right now. They don't use jets because the jet could flame out if the wind goes the wrong way through the jet. So that's why they use propellers, which still scares the heck on me even.

Anyway, 89 miles per hour there, it core-punched right through it, it's going to do it again here in about 15 minutes. We'll get a new update from the Hurricane Center at 11:00 A.M.

Now because there are no watches and warnings in effect anywhere, they're only updating us every six hours, not every three hours, like they were.

But here is the story. After midnight, Saturday night into Sunday morning, this now number is 125 miles per hour, headed toward somewhere in the southern half of Florida. But then all of a sudden it starts to slow down. Here, this is every 24 hours. 24, 24, 24, 24, and now watch the next 24, not so far at all. So it begins to slow down, begins to turn to the right, if -- Jim, if we can get this turned to the right soon enough, we may have just a fish storm, a miss, a swing and a miss. That would be amazing.

If it gets on land and it starts to turn and slows down, that's when we have a flood event on top of our storm surge event, on top of our wind damage event, so all the storms here, Dorian, Francis, Jean, Irma, Hugo kind of all coming from the same area.

This is the problem. It's very warm out there. The water is extremely warm, 89 to 90 degrees. Not a lot of sheer out there, which means it would tear it apart. And so the storm is likely going to continue to be strong for its entire lifetime before it tries to make landfall somewhere.

Models still slightly confused but we'll watch.

SCIUTTO: Well, we know you'll be watching it. We'll be watching it too. We'll bring everybody updates as we get them. Chad Myers, thank you.

CNN's Nick Valencia joins me now live from Daytona Beach, Florida. As residents prepare for Dorian, and the weather looks good there, it often looks good on the frontend of these storms, so that's not telling about what could happen in the next coming -- in the coming few days. So what do they do in there to prepare?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you got that right, and it's a beautiful day here in Daytona Beach and it is normal at this point. But Hurricane Dorian is threatening to disrupt that normal sea. We have the holiday weekend coming up, Jim. It's going to be a busy holiday weekend. Typically, it would be one of the busiest weekends for Florida beaches.

But now, residents here and tourists alike are preparing for a major -- what could be a major Category 3 hurricane. You know, these residents in these states are accustomed to severe weather, accustomed to tropical storms, hurricanes. You talk to anyone here, they'll list off a laundry list of the storms that they've been through.

So officials always worry about residents and tourists heeding these warnings, but it appears at least this time around there is a rush to preparedness. We're already seeing long gas lines. It was last night that the local affiliates were highlighting the fact that some stores had gone without water. There's no more water at some of these stores. Of course, that will be replenished in the coming hours and the days ahead.

But you're already seeing that rush for preparedness. Emergency officials here at the state level are having conference calls on a daily basis. We're even seeing the Kennedy Space Center take precautions. They moved their crawler to a launch pad in about an hour. When another update comes out about Hurricane Dorian, they'll make a decision of whether or not they'll move that platform into a vehicle assembly building. If anything happens to that crawler, that could set our space program back years.

So everyone here is taking these warnings very, very seriously. Of course, there are some residents though, Jim, and this is what officials really worry about, those residents who have been through storms before and are going to wait until the last minute. But they're warning though. Don't pay attention to the track right now. Everywhere along the east coast of this state is vulnerable to be hit by Hurricane Dorian. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia in Florida, in the path of the storm.

[10:05:00]

This is just in to CNN in the last few moments. The Justice Department's inspector general has released its report on former FBI Director James Comey and his handling of memos that he took during meetings with President Trump in 2017. The inspector general was investigating whether Comey improperly shared classified information after he sent some of those memos to a friend who later shared those memos with the media, this in the days following Comey's firing by President Trump.

Joining me now is CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray. I know you're just looking through the report now, but what do we know about the outlines of the report?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Jim. I mean, as you know, this has been a long-awaited report examining the former FBI director's conduct in sharing these memos with one of his colleagues, who then shared them with a reporter.

Now, we're looking through it. It is an 83-page report. But we do know that earlier this year, the inspector general did refer James Comey for potential prosecution over his handling of this. The Justice Department ultimately declined to bring a case.

So we do expect that there could be some things in here that are critical of James Comey and the way that he handled this information. But again, it is 83 pages. We just got it. We are digging through it now and we will be back to you as soon as we have more.

SCIUTTO: We will bring you those updates as soon as we have them. Sara, thanks very much.

Right now, other news we're following this morning, sources tell CNN that President Trump is heavily considering a plan that would block hundreds of millions of dollars in crucial military aid to Ukraine. While the move would likely spark bipartisan backlash here in the states, there is one person who would approve, Russian President Vladimir Putin. That aid is intended to help Ukraine fight invading forces from Russia in that country.

CNN White House Reporter Jeremy Diamond joins me now. Jeremy, what justification is the administration giving for suspending or blocking this aid? JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jim, it is important to note that while we do know that the president is seriously considering this action, blocking $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, it's not clear at this point whether the president is actually going to follow through with it.

But one source is telling us that the White House has begun to notify relevant agencies and congressional committees about this possible action, but that source did stress that the president has not yet made a final decision on that.

We have asked the White House for comment on this matter, provide some kind of an explanation for why the president is looking to block this aid to Ukraine, and so far they have not responded to our requests for comment.

But it is important to note that, obviously, support for Ukraine is obviously often viewed as a sort of barometer for how strongly the United States is pushing back on Russia, particularly as it relates to the conflict there. As you mentioned, those invading forces that are either Russian-backed or simply Russian.

And, obviously, this administration has had questions surrounding it throughout the president's presidency as to his intentions with regards to Russia. This comes just after the president suggested readmitting Russia into the G8, which is now the G7, following Russia's annexation of Crimea and its invasion of parts of Ukraine.

So, obviously, a lot of questions about the president's intentions here and it is already prompting pretty firm backlash, particularly from some Democrats. But I do expect, Jim, that we will see a fairly bipartisan backlash from this.

This $250 million in aid was previously approved by Congress and now it's a question of whether the Trump administration is going to move forward and actually provide that aid to Ukraine. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with the Toluse Olorunnipa, he is White House Reporter for The Washington Post, Lisa Lerer, she's National Political Reporter for The New York Times.

Lisa, there is one consistency in President Trump's foreign policy, and that is friendly statements and positions on Russia, G7 admission against allies' wishes, removing this aid, which the president has often cited as the prime example of no one being tougher on Russia than Trump, of course, not a lot of evidence of that. What is the explanation for these repeated statements and positions that seem to support Russia's statements and positions?

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, of course, that depends who you ask. And we certainly hear on the campaign trail and the Democratic primary, a lot of criticism from Democrats that the president is far too friendly with Russia and that he has some kind of nefarious link to Russia. And when you look at the election in 2016 and the Russian meddling, which the president, of course, has not come out and condemned particularly strongly or in a way that many people on both sides of the aisle feel like he should, these questions are swirling around.

And I think it's sort of an open question whether they become damaging to him as he moves into his re-election campaign.

SCIUTTO: Fair question.

Toluse, what about Congress here? Oftentimes, well, you have Democrats, of course, criticizing the move. From Republicans, they are almost across the board reluctant to do so publicly, but you will sometimes see a private push.

[10:10:01]

Lindsey Graham, who has been something of a hawk in Russia, will make a phone call, et cetera. Do you expect to see a bipartisan pushback against this? There's tremendous support for Ukraine's position against Russia among both parties.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that's right, Jim. There has been a difference between the actions and the words of Congress. I would expect a bipartisan condemnation of Russia from these members of Congress in words and statements saying they disagree with any efforts to maybe help Russia by removing some of the aid that the U.S. has traditionally given to Ukraine.

But when it comes to actions, we have seen a shift from the early months of this presidency when Congress was willing to push forward bipartisan sanctions on Russia, take actions that were not in step with the White House to punish Russia for election meddling.

But I would be surprised now if there was any bipartisan legislation or action or sanctions just in part because things have become so polarized and Republicans have been so unwilling to stand up to the president, even when they disagree with him privately to publicly put their name on a vote that would put them on a different side of the president on an issue like this.

So maybe expect some tough words, but not much action from Congress.

SCIUTTO: Even when the president undercuts a close ally.

Lisa, the economy, certainly, a focus of this administration, it has been President Trump's number one selling point, the success of his presidency. You're beginning to get data that shows something of a slowdown. We're not talking recession at this point, we're far from that. But economic data revised downward for the second quarter to 2 percent. The market is certainly nervous about trade talks with China and the economic effects of that trade war being felt. What is the level of concern in the Trump White House that this would damage his chances of re-election?

LERER: I think there's a fair amount of concern and we're even seeing some of that concern come out publicly from the president himself at his rallies and his events.

There's a certain irony here. For most, this administration, Republicans, particularly during the midterms, were desperate for the president, please, they would say, talk about the economy. They felt it was a really strong selling point and he would hold his events and rallies and talk about all sorts of other things and the economy would sort of float by in passing. Now that the economy is perhaps getting worse, you do see the president talking about it a bit more.

And I think the concern here is really in these suburban swing districts. Among these voters, maybe more conservative voters who don't like the president's tone or style but were with him because of the things he delivered, the Supreme Court and most importantly for them, the economy. So if he starts losing that selling point, that could potentially hurt him in these sort of critical swing areas.

SCIUTTO: Toluse, final thought before we go. What's the president's answer going to be if the economy slows down?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, the president has already figured out a scapegoat. He's talked about Jay Powell, the Fed chairman, his own choice for Fed chairman. He's been saying that he is an enemy. He said that he can't back down from this trade war, even though there may be some short-term pain.

He just said in an interview on Fox News that he should be judged by the endgame of China trade war. So he's basically telling farmers and other people affected by the trade war to buckle down and hope for the best in the long-term, saying that even if there's some short-term pain in the economy, that over the long-term that people will ultimately benefit.

That's his argument. It will remain to be seen whether or not voters in the last 16 months before he faces re-election sign on to that argument or whether they ditch him and potentially look at another option in November of 2020.

SCIUTTO: Yes, voters tend to vote with their pocketbooks. Toluse Olorunnipa, Lisa Lerer, thanks very much.

We are following the breaking news this morning. The Department of Justice just released its inspector general report on former FBI Director James Comey's memos on President Trump, conversations he had with the president. CNN digging into that report as we speak. Stay with us. We're going to have details in moments.

Plus, lackluster fundraising coupled with a poor showing in the polls, Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand drops out of the race for debate. I'm going to speak to another Democratic candidate still in the race. She is Tulsi Gabbard, a congresswoman, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. The breaking news this morning, the Justice Department's inspector general has just released its report on former FBI Director James Comey and his handling of memos that he took during private meetings with President Trump in 2017.

The inspector general was investigating whether Comey improperly shared classified information after he sent some of the memos to a friend who later shared those memos with the media. This in the days following Comey's firing by President Trump.

Joining me now is CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray. On that key question, Sara, the I.G. found that Comey nor his attorneys released any of that classified information, is that correct?

MURRAY: They did. So, I mean, this is a mixed report and, obviously, James Comey has taken to Twitter to attach himself to the most favorable part of this report. And that is a line that says, we found no evidence that Comey released or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos to members of the media.

[10:20:01]

So, basically, the classified portions of these memos were not the portions that were handed over to reporters from The New York Times.

But the report itself is still very damming for the FBI director. It goes on to say that James Comey violated FBI policies in the way he handled, retained and disseminated these memos. It says that Comey set a dangerous example for other members of the FBI.

And it points out that he even had these conversations with President Trump about how important it is to keep investigatory details secret, to not share information with the press. And then, essentially, he says he was a hypocrite for turning around and doing the same thing himself.

It also includes a couple of select quotes from interviews they did with Comey's advisers, where Comey's advisers are telling the I.G. that they were stunned, they were shocked, it was disappointment to see that this is how Comey had acted.

Now, again, this is the I.G. report. They sent this information over to the Department of Justice and it was up to the Department of Justice to decide whether to prosecute Comey. Ultimately, they decided they were not going to bring any charges and part of that was they didn't feel that they could prove that Comey actually had intended to violate the law here.

And so, again, a damming document for Comey's conduct but ultimately not something he's going to face prosecution for.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray, thanks very much.

Let's speak now to CNN Legal Analyst and former deputy assistant general Elliot Williams. You, of course, served in the Justice Department. As you look at this document here -- so the key allegation was whether he shared classified information in the memos they clear him of that and, of course, some time ago decided they're not going to pursue criminal prosecution. They do say he set a dangerous example in an attempt to, quote, achieve a personally desired outcome. How significant is that? Also, how significant is clearing him on having shared classified information?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. But let's, Jim, talk for a moment about how we got here in the first place. What we -- and we can't forget that you had an FBI director, frankly, and a White House counsel, who, every time they were in the president of the United States chose to memorialize every single word they had with the president because they were so concerned about the president's conduct. So that's the backdrop here and that's what got us here now.

Certainly, it may have been the exercise of poor judgment to release those matters in contravention of DOJ policy, but we can't lose sight of frankly what the president's conduct was and why it was so alarming to Senior DOJ officials for such a long period of time. And I think is easy in the Rorschach test of assessing Jim Comey's conduct. It's easy for that to get kind of lost here.

Now, certainly, we've spent a lot of time over the last two years talking about norms of government that have been violated and upended, and it seems like, to some extent, the rules don't apply anymore if we're following what the attorney general and the president of the United States, how they've behaved in this process.

And so to answer your question, it's significant in that, yes, it's a slap on the wrist for the former FBI director, but we can't lose sight of the conduct of the president of the United States that was just so alarming to the Justice Department.

SCIUTTO: And we should note that his accounts of the conversations with the president were part of the Mueller report and were presented as evidence of possible obstruction of justice by the president, as noted by Mueller.

We're also joined now by CNN National Security Analyst Shawn Turner. He is former director of communication for the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Shawn, good to have you on. It's a long report. We have the basic headlines from it, cleared on the sharing classified information. And I believe what was under consideration was the lowest level of classified confidential information, but also accused of having set a dangerous example by making an attempt to achieve a personally desired outcome. Tell us your reaction to this report.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. Well, I think that if we go back to the beginning here, it was fairly clear that there was not a strong case here for prosecuting Jim Comey based on leaking classified information. Look, these were extemporaneous memos that were largely an account of his perceptions, his thoughts with regard to his meetings with the president. So I think that from that perspective, there was never really a case here.

Now, I think that your other guest makes a good point here. I mean, look, in the intelligence community and the national security space, there's an understanding that there is a confidence and that confidence actually does extend beyond the classification categories that we have for official information. And so when the report talks about setting a precedent that is one of concern, I think that there is some -- certainly some weight to that argument.

Now, I take issue with the idea that the -- that Jim Comey was concerned with sort of a personal outcome. I think that Jim Comey -- and this is someone who I've had a lot of

respect for and have worked with for years, I think that with regard to his desired outcome that what he was really looking for is a way to make sure that these extremely extraordinary times with regard to these interactions he was having with the Commander-in-Chief were somehow preserved and that he was at least making a record of what had happened for future generations, for the media, for the American people to be able to deal with.

[10:25:04]

SCIUTTO: Right. And we know that he's not the only senior official who has taken that step during meetings with this president.

Elliot Williams, what happens from here now? Because this essentially ends the focus, at least on Comey here, but you do have a continuing investigation of Andrew McCabe and others under the Justice Department run by Bill Barr.

WILLIAMS: Of course. And so you will still see an inspector general report, and, frankly, it's a non-partisan inspector general report laying out the official view of the conduct of individuals here. Jim Comey will not be prosecuted and that's exactly what Shawn was talking about here. They could not establish that he had sort of criminally intended to violate the laws governing classification.

But, again, to be -- so, anyway, sorry, I lost my train of thought for a second because I'm still reading this. What we know is that laws governing classification to be taken

seriously and so on, but, again, we shouldn't get caught up in this question of Comey's conduct being --

SCIUTTO: Criminal. They did make a decision a short time ago and we knew that going into it.

All right, Shawn Turner, Elliot Williams, thanks to both of you, as always.

After she failed to make the next debate, another Democrat has now pulled out of the presidential race. We're going to speak to a candidate who is staying in even though she is also missing that debate. She is Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard on why she's continuing to fight and why she thinks the process, in her view, flawed.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:30:00]