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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With West Palm Beach, Florida, Mayor Keith James; Florida Braces For Hurricane Dorian; Florida Gov: Fuel Shortages at Gas Stations Ahead of Dorian; Trump's Gatekeeper Steps Down After Talking with Press About the President's Family. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired August 30, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: And that does it for me now.

Stay with me throughout the weekend. I will be holding down the fort here at CNN, as we continue our coverage of Hurricane Dorian. Thank you for being here.

"THE LEAD" starts now.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: It could be the strongest hurricane to hit Florida's east coast in almost three decades.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Hurricane Dorian poised to hit Florida as a Category 4 -- why officials fear it could keep getting stronger, as some gas stations are already tapped out.

And with this major storm on the way, the Trump administration team is being led by acting, rather than permanent officials, including at FEMA, that as the president's gate keeper exits the White House.

Plus, it started as a joke, but now thousands of people are expected to turn up at the secretive Area 51 in search of aliens.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Dana Bash, in for Jake Tapper.

Breaking news in the national lead: Dorian just upgraded, now a major Category 3 hurricane, and it will get even stronger. Dorian could grow into a Cat 4 storm before it slams Florida's East Coast.

The governor telling everyone to get ready now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): The intensity of the storm, I think there is a pretty high degree of certainty that this is going to be a major hurricane. You do have time before it reaches to prepare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: With this powerful storm on the way, gas has become a major issue. Some stations are already out. Food and water are hit and miss at some Florida stores. Evacuation orders are starting to trickle in, as another problem emerges.

Dorian's forecast shows it's slowing down, which could mean it could linger for days.

CNN has teams up and down the Florida coast ahead of Dorian.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

BASH: I want to get straight to Florida to CNN's Rosa Flores, who is in West Palm Beach.

And, Rosa, the governor says fuel shortages have become a problem. You're seeing that firsthand. Is there a plan that you have heard about to get more gas to these stations?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, that is the plan.

Let me show you around, because I'm at a gas station that does have fuel. And you can see that the line curls around this light. From talking to people here, they say that they have been driving around trying to find gas stations that actually have gas.

This is one of the few in the area that actually does. But if you take a look here, some of the pumps do have gas, others do not. The owner of this gas station said that his family owns four gas stations. Only this one has gas at the moment.

Now, here is the thing. Because there is a state of emergency for all 67 counties, that waves the rules. That allows the fuel -- the flow of fuel to come into the state. That, of course, is because Governor Ron DeSantis issued that declaration.

Now, here is the other thing, Dana. We have learned from the governor's office that Florida Highway Patrolmen will be escorting refueling trucks to strategic and critical areas in Florida, again, because there are already reported shortages.

[16:05:03]

And Dorian hasn't even made landfall, but, again, a lot of people here waiting in line, looking for fuel stations that actually have fuel to make sure that they can be prepared for a potential evacuation.

BASH: And, Rosa, real quick, have you encountered or heard about any reports of price-gouging?

FLORES: Yes, indeed.

The attorney general of the state of Florida telling CNN just moments ago that they have received at least 1,000 calls of price-gouging, most of those for fuel and water. In fact, the owner of this gas station telling us that he was one of those individuals who reported price-gouging of water. So we're going to continue monitoring and seeing if those numbers will

increase. But according to the attorney general's office, it is against state law to price-gouge, because there is that evacuation -- excuse me -- that state of emergency in the state of Florida -- Dana.

BASH: Rosa, thank you so much for that report.

Now CNN's Leyla Santiago is in North Miami, where supplies are flying off the shelves.

And, Leyla, what is going on? Is it a mad rush or do people feel like they have the weekend now to stock up?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We actually have seen a little bit of both, some moments where they are really peaking in folks coming in and then a little bit like now, where you are seeing a calm down.

We are in the section right now where this was made last night because of the hurricane, a section for supplies. You have got batteries, you have got a power bank to charge your phone. Of course, you need candles. They also have extension cords, presumably for generators that could be used should power come out.

And then take a look over here, where you can see this is a popular item, the lanterns. This layer is just about gone. They have got some more down here. And I could see these folks are looking at the price, getting ready -- $15, she mentioned, to have that lantern and be ready for Hurricane Dorian.

Go right ahead, ma'am.

So one of the things that folks are also looking for, water. We were here when a truckload came in. It lasted maybe about an hour before they ran out. And folks are making sure that they have those basic supplies to get through -- government officials are recommending at least seven days, should power be out, should resources be limited after Dorian -- Dana.

BASH: Sounds like people are heeding that. An hour, that is all that a whole truckload of water lasted. That is pretty incredible.

Thank you, Leyla, for that report.

I want to get now to CNN's Dianne Gallagher, who is in Central Florida at the Orlando Airport.

Dianne, this is one of the busiest airports in the country. From what you are seeing, are they prepared?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dana, I would say that they are extremely prepared right now.

And the truth is, is that the effect of Dorian hasn't quite hit this airport just yet. You can take a look and see there have been expectations that you're going to have delayed, canceled flights. That hasn't kicked in just yet. What you're seeing over here is all the lines of people who are

starting to try and fly out, though. We have talked to people who have cut their vacations short, people who were trying to get back. They didn't want to risk the fact that the hurricane came in early.

And so here at the airport, I sat in on a meeting actually just beyond those doors there where they sat with airlines, they talked with NOAA, they talked with the FAA, and other members of government officials about how they can determine how long they can keep this airport open, when they can let these people actually to begin flying out if the storm starts coming.

And so here's the thing. If you have a visit to Disney, if you have a visit to Universal, right now, you can still come, but that may change in the coming days -- Dana.

BASH: Yes, I would think so.

Dianne, thank you so much. We will get back to you certainly as more information comes out of the airport there.

And up next, we're going to talk to a mayor whose city is right in the hurricane's path.

Plus, the critical Trump administration post not permanently filled, which could spell trouble during the aftermath.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:13:23]

BASH: We're back with the breaking news, Florida bracing for a direct hit from Hurricane Dorian.

Keith James joins me now on the phone. He is mayor of West Palm Beach, Florida, a city that right now is in Dorian's center path.

Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for joining me.

KEITH JAMES, MAYOR OF WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA: Thank you.

BASH: The storm is gaining strength. What at this point is your most urgent concern?

JAMES: Well, our most urgent concern, our most immediate concern obviously is the health and welfare of all of our residents.

And we are doing everything to get the word out to them to be prepared. The storm itself will bring plenty of rain, so we have got concerns about flooding. There will be wind. And so we're concerned about wind damage, et cetera.

So the more -- the better people are prepared ahead of time, the better our chances of getting through this relatively unscathed.

BASH: So, we understand that you're joining us right now from West Palm's emergency operations center.

Do you anticipate ordering mandatory evacuations?

JAMES: We don't know. That is a possibility.

And that is really going to be a call by Palm Beach County, because those evacuations will extend beyond the borders of West Palm Beach. And so we are going to take our lead, obviously, from the county itself.

I don't know what the thinking is over there at the county, but we will certainly abide by whatever their instructions are.

BASH: OK.

So, obviously, if an evacuation happens, people have to be able to leave. And we have been reporting that gas stations are reporting themselves that there are fuel shortages.

So, how are you and other officials there addressing that, so, if people have to leave, that they can?

[16:15:00]

JAMES: Well, we have heard the complaints about fuel shortages as well, and we are using whatever influence we might have to try to get fuel in. Obviously, the governor has a little bit bigger pulpit to stand upon, bully pulpit, but we -- I know he's aware of the situation. The port is only an hour away from where we sit here in West Palm Beach, so we're hoping that the combined efforts of the governor and us as mayors can influence getting some fuel here immediately.

BASH: And the governor did say today that he wants the Florida Highway Patrol to escort fuel trucks to these areas where there are gas shortages. Are your teams there in your city helping with that?

JAMES: Well, we haven't been approached. That would be the Florida Highway Patrol. We're certainly ready, willing and able however the governor may need our assistance and we understand that is a priority and we want to be available to assist any way we can with that effort.

BASH: What's the communication level between you -- not just county officials but state officials like the governor? Are you in communication?

JAMES: Yes. We are in communication. We're even -- we have communication at the federal level. I have to say that the level of cooperation and collaboration among the different levels of government has been out standing and we anticipate it will continue to be that way.

BASH: Who are hearing from at the federal level?

JAMES: We've heard from representatives at the White House actually. I had a conversation last night, we have -- so they have my cell phone number, I have their cell phone number and we know that we can get attention at that level immediately if necessary.

BASH: One last question about the population in your city. It is -- West Palm has a very high retirement population. Are you making special arrangements for the elderly, those in retirement or assisted living or even nursing homes?

JAMES: Let me correct one thing. The average age -- the median age of West Palm Beach is actually 39 years old.

BASH: OK.

JAMES: Let me correct that misperception. We're not just a city of retirees anymore. So, we're not --

BASH: We're not trying to mess up your tourism.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: I understand. I've been there. But the fact is that there are people who will need special assistance.

JAMES: And that is a very fair question. And we have sent out -- yesterday, we sent out teams of firefighters and police, we've identified all of the nursing homes, all of the assisted living facilities in our city. We sent them out on yesterday to check on them and make sure they have generator capability, that they have sufficient levels of food and water and so we're being pro-active in this effort and we're not going to be caught in a bind as may have been the case on some other communities two years ago.

BASH: Exactly. And that's precisely as you know why I ask the question.

Keith James, thank you so much for your time. We'll let you get back to your work for preparation there.

JAMES: Thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

JAMES: Thank you. All right. Bye-bye.

BASH: And President Trump is planning to spend the weekend monitoring the storm. But he'll be doing it without two permanent chiefs in key positions overseeing this kind of issue. Now any moment, President Trump will head to Camp David. We're going to talk more about that after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:22:48] BASH: President Trump is about to head to Camp David where he will spend the weekend monitoring the path of Hurricane Dorian. Advising the president on the storm will be the head of FEMA who serves only in an acting capacity and it is his first hurricane in the job.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, this all comes as one of the president's closest confidants is forced out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Hurricane Dorian heads for Florida, President Trump is headed for Camp David.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This storm looks like it could be a very, very big one indeed.

COLLINS: That's where he'll monitor the Labor Day storm but he'll do so without a permanent FEMA administrator or a confirmed homeland security secretary by his side.

New CNN reporting revealing that three months into hurricane season, Trump's pick to head the disaster response agency, Jeff Byard, is still waiting to be confirmed by the senate.

Acting administrator Pete Gaynor has been running FEMA in his place. And while he has a decade of experience in emergency management, Dorian will be his first hurricane in charge of the agency.

PETE GAYNOR, ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: They are probably short a few thousand employees when it comes to reserve.

COLLINS: Gaynor recently told lawmakers the agency's full time force is fully staffed. But those temporary employees who helped during disasters like this one are under-staffed.

GAYNOR: It has been a struggle.

COLLINS: Another official by the president's side during a natural disaster is the homeland security secretary. But in the Trump White House, that position is also acting.

TRUMP: But I said I like acting. It gives me more flexibility.

COLLINS: Trump may prefer that term in front of his adviser's titles, but experts warn it could be damaging in the long-term, arguing that permanent staff provide administrations with stability.

Today, Trump declared a state of emergency in Florida.

TRUMP: But it really began to form and form big, and now, it's looking like it could be an absolute monster.

COLLINS: The president has multiple properties in the state, including his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, which is rejected to be directly in the path of Dorian.

All of this coming amid other turbulence in the West Wing. After one of Trump's most trusted aides, Madeleine Westerhout, was forced out after she revealed, quote, intimate details about the White House during an off the record dinner with reporters. Her abrupt departure coming while she was on a summer vacation stunned her colleagues who described her as a loyal aide with a lot of power. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Yes, Dana, those aides certainly were surprised to learn the news that Madeleine Westerhout was going to be pushed out of her role. She was seen as someone who had major power. She was essentially a gatekeeper to the president, a president who came to trust this aide even after it was reported that she had been in tears after he won on election night. But in the end, it was something she said that got her pushed out of this job.

BASH: Kaitlan, thank you so much for that reporting.

And we're with our panel which is a perfect split. We've got reporters on one side and former White House officials on another. So we could really break down what happened.

Bill Kristol, I'll start with you as somebody who worked in the White House and has -- you know, understands, frankly, the game that there are off the record conversations that happen. What is your take on this?

BILL KRISTOL, CONSERVATIVE WRITER: So, there are off the record conversations and when you are at a summer White House or Bedminster or a long weekend, you're not with your family, the White House staff is there, you go out to dinner, it is all off the record and people do that. I think the executive assistant to the president, maybe she's a little too close to do that. I mean, communications director, Kellyanne Conway, will do that, the chief of staff.

Having said that, somebody is out to get her. Think of it, think of it, she had a conversation with a bunch of reporters. The reporters didn't tell Donald Trump what she said presumably, and as far as we know, it remains off the record. Someone else found out in the White House that she had this conversation. Maybe there was something else that got out that Trump was unhappy about and they decided to go after her and blame her.

So, it does show a certain amount of back stabbing in the Trump White House which is I suppose not a huge headline. But for me also, the fact that they just fired her and sort of denied her access to the White House that day, you know, there are people that didn't work out while in the White House and you find them a job at an agency, and they have a few months to look and they work in some lower profile place for a while. There are ways to ease people out of the White House. They wanted to make an example.

BASH: There aren't many soft landings in the Trump White House.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, here's the other thing, though. I mean, obviously, proximity is power, and I can remember going -- like in Martha's Vineyard, going out to dinner with reporters, and the person who was the president's aide saying, you know what, I'm not going to come because you have a few drinks and you're eating and you know what? Off the record has definitely slid a bit during this administration, and you can't say anything that is so juicy, from what I understand in the reporting, she said something that somebody then talked to somebody else about and -- you have to be so careful.

BASH: Well, off the record should be -- I mean, not to be Pollyanna, but off the record shouldn't slide. Off the record is off the record, because we have off the record conversations to get better understandings and context of the people we cover and the issues that we cover.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, and I -- look, I think Bill is right. Someone was out to get her. Whatever happened there, somebody used that morsel to then feed into this.

I do think -- I think this sort of stuff, until we know exactly what was said and we may never know but it is hard to judge, well, was it justified, was it not justified? The one thing I would say is, I do think Donald Trump is someone who demands total fealty, total loyalty, right?

But he doesn't -- it's not a two-way street with his aides. You must be loyal to him as possible, but he has no requirement to be loyal to you. I was sort of struck the same way Bill was. She was walking people up into Trump tower and she's been with him since the beginning, since he got elected president. You would think maybe you would bring her in and have a conversation, much less like you come here and all of a sudden your White House pass doesn't work anymore.

BASH: Seung Min, you covered the White House, you know her. You obviously know the dynamics. What are your thoughts?

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's difficult to underestimate her influence for an aide who is not a prominent aide and who was not yet reached the age of 30. She carried with her a great sense of power. She's right outside of the president's office.

I actually did a story earlier this year that talked about the president's tendencies to call up senators at any given moment, and for the senators to call back -- call Trump at any time. And one of the fascinating things that I picked up with my conversations with Republican senators is that they are told by the president to just call Madeleine.

So I've heard voicemails saying the president has called you. You can call back at any time. And she was really that access point, that gateway for so many -- so many directly to the president.

CILLIZZA: It speaks I think so much to his loyalty thing, right?

BASH: Yes.

CILLIZZA: I mean, it is -- people have compared it to organized crime. If you go against him, that's it. I mean, I recently compared it to today in a piece I wrote to "Succession", the HBO show, which is -- if you haven't seen it, you should. Outside of his immediate family, if you cross him there is -- in his mind, there is no coming back. No matter to Seung Min's point, no matter how close you are.

KRISTOL: But they typically often do try to keep these people sort of loyal. I mean, so --

CILLIZZA: So they don't tell the story.

KRISTOL: Keith Schiller, who's the body man all those years, he's on a $15,000 a month contract with the RNC. Other people --

CILLIZZA: They move into the campaign.

KRISTOL: Other people have been treated well. They got speaking gigs.

[16:30:00]