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Dorian Strengthens, Could Hit Florida As Category 4 Hurricane; Judge Rejects Democrats' Attempt To Fast-Track Release Of Trump's Taxes; Interview with Rep. Steve Cohen, D-TN; Officials Say Pentagon Urged White House To Lift Hold On Military Aid To Ukraine. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired August 30, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy Harlow is off today.

The breaking news this morning, the people of Florida bracing for what could be the most powerful hurricane to hit its east coast in nearly three decades. Hurricane Dorian currently on a direct track for the state and is expected to become a Category 4 storm by the time it makes landfall late Monday or early Tuesday. That means more than 130 mile per hour winds.

Many gas stations across Florida have already run out of fuel. The Governor Ron DeSantis says the state is pulling out all the stops to try to bring in more fuel going forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Floridians need to be prepared.

This is potentially a multiday event where it will churn slowly across the state.

Fuel is an issue. There's gas stations that have run out of fuel.

We're also going to be, starting today, implementing Florida Highway escorts for fuel trucks so we can facilitate re-fuelling in critical parts of the state.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: They're also looking at evacuations possibly. There have been some school closures, a lot of steps being taken. We have correspondents all over Florida as we cover every angle as the storm approaches.

First, let's get right to Chad Myers. He's in the CNN Weather Center. He's got a 30,000 foot view. What are you seeing on the latest storm- tracking here and particularly as it strengthens? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're starting to see the eye again. That hasn't been visible all night along even on the infrared satellite. That means the storm is beginning to get deeper in intensity and also the wind speeds will again pick up. The pressure goes down before the wind speeds pick up. But we have seen the pressures go down.

One thing overnight now too, the models have completely agreed to where this is going, south of the space coast, likely very, very close and north to West Palm Beach. Now, that is plus or minus 50 to 70 miles. But still our window, our cone now is getting smaller because our storm is getting bigger.

Now, that's not saying that West Palm is ground zero. It's not. That's just where the models are right now and they may change their mind overnight tonight.

But something happened yesterday evening. The NASA guys, the middle (ph) guys, went out there with their airplane, a big jet 40,000 feet in the sky, and they dropped these from the sky. They drop them all the way down to the ocean surface.

What is this, it's a weather balloon in reverse. You don't put helium or gas in this and send it up. You put a parachute on it and you send it down. So now, the models have, really, weather balloon data. And so they did such a much better job in the overnight hours that now they agree.

Now, they will agree to disagree tonight, I'm sure. But what we know is that the hurricane watches have been posted for the Bahamas. Here is the American model and the European model. And for this part, right here, this is 72 hours. You can't get two people to agree for 72 hours, let alone two models that have so many different variables. They agree that somewhere north of Miami, south of Fort Pierce, will be the most likely place for that.

Now, that's 72. In 48 hours, it will change. In 24 hours it will change again. But at least for now we have a very good idea that it's probably not going to be Jacksonville and it probably won't be The Keys. But the rain is going to be tremendous, the winds are going to be 140 and the storm surge is going to be 12 feet. All those things centered on some spot in South Florida.

We're not telling anybody to evacuate yet because we don't know if it's going to be Fort Lauderdale or West Palm or For Pierce. We just can't tell you. It's just too far away. Too many other variables, Jim, to know about.

But 20 inches of rain over a lot of the state, that's going to cause flooding. The wind will take roofs off, blow windows out of high- rises, certainly, and 12 feet of water some place in some towns, that will flood entire villages right along the Coast of Florida. We know that's happening, we just particularly don't know where just yet.

SCIUTTO: It's looking daunting. Chad Myers, thanks very much. You know, every time we've spoken this week, your view of this has gotten more serious, so it's certainly something to watch in the coming days.

Let's get to CNN's Rosa Flores. She is in West Palm Beach, Florida. That, of course, one of the towns that Chad was just mentioning there as a possible place for the storm to hit landfall. So how seriously are folks there taking this?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, people are heeding the warning.

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I'm here at Home Depot and we've been here for several hours, and I can tell you it has been slow and steady, people coming in getting the plywood and the supplies that they need to protect their property, their homes, their businesses, to secure construction sites, and then swiftly leaving so that they can go ahead and board up their property.

Governor Ron DeSantis declaring a state of emergency for all 67 counties in Florida, he has also requested a pre-landfall disaster declaration from Washington. Now what that does is it eases up, it frees up some federal resources as well, which is critical.

The officials here are asking people to have seven days worth of water, food and medicine on hand. That has led to those items flying off the shelves across the state. Long gas lines, we're also seeing that from our affiliates across the state.

Governor Ron DeSantis, of course, mentioning that the state of emergency helps ease some of those worries, because that allows more gas to flow into the state. He's also mentioning that he's getting aides and calls from other governors from other states, Jim, very important, of course, as people prepare for Dorian to landfall.

Of course, people don't know exactly where that is and that's the worry. The one word that I keep on hearing from people here is the uncertainty of this hurricane. Jim?

SCIUTTO: No question. It makes it hard to listen to those warnings. It's understandable. Rosa Flores, thanks very much.

Let's go now to CNN's Nick Valencia. He's in Daytona Beach, Florida. Another community preparing to be right in the path of the storm still a few days away. And, again, I know our folks at home might say, oh, it looks sunny there. That's often the case in the advance of a storm. But what steps are people taking right now as this is about three days away?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, come take a walk with me, Jim. I think this visual here says it all. I mean, look at this beach. This is supposed to be a holiday weekend, Labor Day weekend, one of the busiest weekends for the State of Florida in terms of tourism. There's very little people on the beach. And you have this beach rental company and the beach umbrellas are out but no one is sitting in those chairs.

If you want to come back with me here, we're hearing a lot about hotel reservations, especially on the east coast of Florida being canceled. And depending on which Floridian you ask, it depends on the answer that you're going to get. Longtime Floridians, of course, are kind of sitting this out, waiting to see how this track progresses.

But it was earlier that I spoke with a newly-arrived Florida resident. She's never been through a hurricane before and she told me just how nervous she is.

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KATHY FORCH, RECENTLY MOVED TO DAYTONA BEACH FLORIDA: I'm a little concerned, getting more and more concerned about what category and what's going to happen, because I've never seen a hurricane.

We're getting ready to fill the house with lots of water, fill the bathtub up with water, I don't know, and get the money out of the bank account in case the electricity doesn't work, basically, doing -- taking pictures off the wall and getting the stuff out of the back yard. We just put up one of those pagodas, you know, the big -- now, we've got to get that down in some way today.

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VALENCIA: Kathy is definitely anxious. But driving around this community, Jim, you don't see that many boarded-up homes or businesses just yet. I think people are going to wait to see how this track progresses. But we are seeing people filling up sandbags, long lines at gas stations, definitely at the stores getting supplies ahead of the storm. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, thanks very much. Good to have you on the ground there.

Joining me now is Assistant Fire Chief Pete Gomez. He is the Emergency Manager for the City of Miami. Mr. Gomez, thank you for taking the time. I know you've got a lot on your plate as you make preparations here. And, you know, as you look at the storm tracks right now, it looks like it hits just to the north of Miami, a heavily populated area, lots of buildings, lots of hotels, you name it. How seriously are residents and authorities taking the approach?

PETE GOMEZ, ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF AND EMERGENCY MANAGER, CITY OF MIAMI: well, I'll tell you, I gauge all the activity that's taken place by your reporting and all the little -- the supermarkets and the Lowe's and the Home Depots, so I think everybody is taking it very seriously.

And as far as officials, I can guarantee you that all the officials are taking it seriously because we've lived through too many of these not to have our guards up. So I think everybody in the region is going to be taking this response very serious.

SCIUTTO: I know one of the challenges for you as the storm gets closer, once it's clear where this is going to hit, there may be some evacuation orders. The governor brought that up today. A challenge for you is that some folks just don't listen to those orders. How do you handle that? GOMEZ: Yes. Unfortunately, you're always going to see that, Jim. I've responded to many natural disasters as a member of one of the urban search and rescue teams, one of the national systems. We always hear that story. I didn't think this hurricane was going to be that bad because I lived through hurricane such and such, and they do have that apathy.

So we try to get the message to these folks and let them know, look, this is serious, mother nature does not play around, and we've seen the damage that it's caused by all of this.

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And, you know, down here, we have the extra added insult of having so many high-rises. So the winds not only at the surface level are higher, but the top end of these high-rises have an incredible amount of wind that's going to affect them and the sheer number of people that we got in these high-rises.

So it is a daunting task. I think we're up to it. You know, we have our plans in place. And hopefully when it comes, people do heed the warning to evacuate when it's needed because, at some point, we're going to stop responding and we won't be able to get to the people's needs.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Now, we're not at the evacuation order stage yet, because, one, we don't know exactly how strong it will be when the storm gets there, and also -- but exactly where it hits. So as we wait for that decision, what kind of steps do you want residents of the Miami area and elsewhere on the coast to take now so that they are prepared?

GOMEZ: You know, the message we've always been sending out is people should have their plans and start activating those plans. So they have medical needs. Make sure you have all your medicines in case you're going to be locked out of the pharmacy and you won't have your medicines with you.

If you have medical conditions and you need to go to an evacuation center, make sure you understand where your evacuation center is that can provide the medical assistance that's needed. If you have pets that you make sure that your pets are taken care of, that you have enough fuel in your vehicle, that you take out money in cash because a lot of times, ATMs won't be working. So let your family members know if you are going to evacuate, where you're going to evacuate. If you're not going to evacuate, let people know so that we make sure that you're checked on once the event happens.

So what we ask is people to please take it serious and follow all their processes so that when this event happens, they're either safe or they're able to survive this event.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's good. It's valuable advice. Pete Gomez, we wish you the best of luck as this comes forward. We know it's going to be a challenge for you and your community. And I was taking notes there. Listen to those things. Make sure you have the medication you need, make sure you know where your evacuation center is, make sure you have cash in case you need it, but also enough fuel in your car. Some early steps to take as this storm approaches.

The acting Head of FEMA has a message for the people of Florida as well. His message, don't waste time. This morning, he said that the clock is ticking. He urged people to get ready now for Dorian, which by all accounts will make landfall sometime early next week.

CNN's Rene Marsh joins me now from Washington. So this is going to be a major weather event. Is FEMA ready for the response?

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: They say that they are, Jim. And, of course, all eyes are going to be on the acting FEMA director as he leads the agency through all of this. I mean, as you know, he took over after Brock Long resigned in February.

But federal officials say they are bracing for a big storm that warrants a big response with a multibillion dollar price tag. And the warning was very clear. He wants people to pay attention. Take a listen to the acting FEMA director this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE GAYNOR, ACTING FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: This is going to be a long duration, major storm. Again, I think wherever it makes landfall, it has a potential to go up the 95 corridor, Florida into Georgia, rain, flooding, debris. It's going to be a large-impact storm. Don't dismiss, just because you don't live on the coast, just because you don't live in West Palm, you have to believe that it's going to impact you. And again, the clock is ticking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARSH: So on storm cost, Jim, if this is a Category 4. FEMA says that it's going to be in the billions of dollars. The damage will be both to the coasts and the inland. And FEMA says that the storm will wreak havoc on infrastructure, power and roads.

And, of course, one additional concern is, as you know, Florida has a large senior population, so they aren't very mobile and they could be vulnerable to those power outages and the heat even in the days following the storm. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And that's why they've got to make preparations early because it's not always easy to move last-minute. Rene Marsh, thanks very much. We know you're going to stay on the story throughout the weekend.

We continue to follow the breaking news.

A new advisory is coming at the top of this hour as Hurricane Dorian takes aim at Florida. We're going to be on it. We'll share it with you once we have it. Plus, caucus chaos. A big move by the DNC could put Iowa's first in the nation status into question. We're going to tell you why.

And the brother of Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles has been charged in a triple murder. New details on this alarming story, coming up.

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SCIUTTO: In a minor setback for House Democrats, a federal judge says they will have to wait for a judgment on whether or not the IRS can be forced to release the president's tax returns. The ruling does not stop the lawsuit, we should note, but the Democrats leading the House Ways and Means committee were trying to fast track their release. It is one of several ongoing court cases Democrats are pursuing to try to get the president's financial documents, while the White House fights their release at every turn.

Joining me now, Congressman Steve Cohen, he's a Democrat of Tennessee, he's a member of the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.

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REP. STEVE COHEN (D-TN): Nice to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So let's start with the court decision. Now, what is the most likely timeline for the release of these returns? For folks at home, they've probably been following every moment of this, but is it going to happen? Will it happen before the election?

COHEN: I think it will happen. I mean, The Trump administration wants to put it off as much as possible, because, obviously, there's something in there that the president is embarrassed about or will cause him great political shame.

He first claimed that he was under audit and he couldn't release it because he was under audit. Well, there's no reason being under audit, whether he was or wasn't, is a reason you cannot disclose your tax returns. And every president for 50, 60, 70 years has released their tax returns.

Now, he's just fighting it in the law, and the law is clear that the committee has a right to see those upon request. Eventually, the courts will show us those tax returns. It's possible we'll see them through the Deutsche Bank action that's in New York State where Deutsche Bank has its tax returns. And it's possible that the New York State authorities who have passed a statute to release his state tax returns, we'll get them and Mr. Neal will accept them.

But, eventually, the people will know and whatever it is will be known by the American public, as it should be.

SCIUTTO: When you speak to your constituents back in Tennessee, do you sense any exhaustion from them at all with the whole range of investigations? Do you sense them turning to say, hey, let's look to November 2020, let's forget all this other stuff?

COHEN: A few people tell me that. Most people tell me don't let up. Don't stop. They want him gone.

Now, my district is predominantly Democratic, African-American district. That is a demographic that is very much against Trump and feels his racism in a very personal way. But my district in it -- but it's not just my African-Americans constituents. It's my Caucasian constituents as well, my Hispanic constituents. They encourage me to continue to go after Trump. They find him to be one of the most miserable .people ever to live, that Keith Olbermann should comeback and declare him the worst person in the universe.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Well, let me ask about a decision, a policy decision made by this administration. That is the president blocking military assistance to Ukraine, essential, because Ukraine has been invaded by Russia. And it's not clear what the justification is for this. But particularly following the president backing Russia's position on the G7 during the summit against the wishes of his allies, do you have an explanation for this? And why this consistent effort by this president to make moves that seem to be to Russia's benefit?

COHEN: You don't know for a hundred percent, but you have to connect the dots and it's pretty obvious that the Russians and Trump have had relations in the past, whether it's political with the 2016 election, which I believe it is, or whether it's financial through his loans, which I believe one of the sons said they have plenty of money from Russia. There's a connection with his commerce secretary, who was a co-chair of a bank in Cypress that the other co-chair was a friend of Putin's and a Russian, and it's a bank known for laundering money. There's just too many dots to connect to not see that this man is under the influence of Russia.

And the Ukrainians are democracy that has split off from the Soviet Union. They have had the Russians attack them. Russia shot down an airplane, which they denied and denied and denied. But the United Nations and every report that's been made on that says they did. It's clear they did and they killed hundreds of people, innocent people. The Russians deny it and then they took Crimea too.

So, yes, we should be supporting the Ukrainians, we should continue sanctions on the Russians and they should not be in the G7 or the G8 because they violated the norms of the group. They are not a friendly country. They are a despotic, autocratic nation that is just still interested in having an empire like the soviet Union. And as long as they do, Ukraine and the Baltic nations, and the Balkan nations, for that matter, are not safe.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And it's good you mentioned the MH17 shoot-down, 298 people killed, many of them children killed with a Russian missile.

Let me ask you a final question. You have a primary challenger in the Democratic primary in your district. He announced he was running earlier this month. He applauds your focus on the president, but he says the following. He says that more needs to be done for the economy and jobs in your district. It gets back to a question I asked you earlier in the interview. Is there a risk, a political risk for you in focusing too much on the president and not giving constituents the change that they're demanding?

COHEN: No. I think we would like to have more jobs and that's an important issue in Memphis and other places.

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But it's not the job of the congressman. The governor and the mayor have the power to give works, training programs, to give road programs, to give tax incentives. That's who the folks are that can get industry to move to your city. There are 435 congressmen and there's not one that can influence an industry to come to their city. So I'm not concerned about that.

And regardless of that, I'm going to do what I think is right and that's why the people like me, because I speak my mind, I speak truth to power and I represent the feelings of the average Memphian.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Steve Cohen, thanks so much for taking the time.

COHEN: You're welcome, Jim. Be good.

SCIUTTO: A new report says the DNC will reject Iowa's new virtual caucus plan. What does that mean for the state and all the candidates who have spent countless hours campaigning there? We're going to discuss. That's coming right up.

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