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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dorian's Danger; Widespread Gas Shortages in Florida as Storm Draws Closer; Storm Surge; Trump Warns of Monster Storm Before Heading to Camp David to Monitor Hurricane Response; Trump's Personal Assistant Fired After Giving Reporters Intimate Details About First Family. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired August 30, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now. Breaking news.
Dorian's danger. Hurricane Dorian is growing stronger as it moves toward Florida. Already an extremely dangerous Category 3 storm, it is expected to slam the shore as a Category 4 with winds over 130 miles an hour. We have the brand new forecast just out.
Out of gas. An emergency has been declared for the entire state of Florida with residents urged to stockpile food, water and gas. But shelves are bare in many areas already. After many days of lines, many gas stations are out of gas.
Storm surge. Forecasters predict life-threatening storm surges and days of heavy rain will bring dangerous flooding even cities right in the center of the state are expected to be battered by hurricane-force winds.
And pushed out. The personal assistant to President Trump, a loyalist from day one and gatekeeper to the Oval Office is forced to resign after it was revealed that she talked about the president's family with reporters. What could she have said to turn the president against her?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: Breaking news. The latest forecast is just in showing Hurricane Dorian as a major Category 3 storm. Expected to gain even more strength as it churns toward Florida where it is expected to hit overnight Monday as a likely Category 4. Parts of the Bahamas are already under a hurricane warning for what forecasters call an extremely dangerous storm and all of Florida is under a state of emergency. With FEMA saying the entire state is at risk.
There will be life-threatening storm surges, days of heavy rain and even inland cities like Orlando could see hurricane-force winds. Residents have urged to stockpile of weeks' worth of food and supplies. But in many places there are empty shelves already and Florida's governor acknowledging statewide gas shortages. Our correspondents, analysts and guests will have full coverage of the breaking stories and our crews are deployed around Florida as Dorian churns toward Florida growing and more menacing by the hour. Let's first go straight to CNN's Martin Savidge. He's in Sebastian, Florida, for us right now. Martin, what is the latest?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the critical to-do list is short. It is filled up. It is load up and board up. The next step is, get out. But that is proving more difficult than many expected.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Tonight all of Florida is under the state of emergency and the clock is ticking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Biggest concern about this storm is the uncertainty of where it is going and the intensity of which it is coming in.
SAVIDGE: Hurricane Dorian now expected to barrel head first into the sunshine state early Tuesday morning is gaining intensity and could now unload heavy rains, powerful winds and a strong storm surge on more than 20 million people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm a little concerned that it's getting more and more concerned about what category and what is going to happen because I've never seen a hurricane.
SAVIDGE: Florida's governor said he's contemplating ordering evacuations. But hasn't yet.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): At the state level, you know we've been monitoring some of the decisions or contemplations about evacuations. It is something that we obviously believe, you know, for certain people it's going to be necessary and in certain communities they're going to need to do that.
SAVIDGE: But getting out could prove difficult. While there are long lines at gas stations, there is little gas. The state says at times as many as half of the fuel pumps in Miami have run dry.
DESANTIS: Starting today implementing Florida highway patrol escorts for fuel trucks so we can facilitate refueling in critical parts of the state.
SAVIDGE: Those who aren't gassing up are preparing to hunker down.
DEBORAH THOMAS, WEST PALM BEACH RESIDENT: I live in a mobile home so I stand to be homeless but that is not really what is worried me. I have animals. I could replace my home but I can't my animals.
SAVIDGE: In Miami, they're stockpiling food and water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you? SAVIDGE: Though at some stores that is also in short supply. Florida Power and Light says electricity could be out for days. The company is bringing in 16,000 workers, positioning them at 24 sites across the state.
DESANTIS: The damage that could be required will require extended repair work and at extreme cases it may require FPL to rebuild parts of the system here in Florida.
[17:05:06] SAVIDGE: And tonight, Florida's governor is warning those caring for the elderly to have a plan and a generator in place. 12 people died in 2017 after a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, lost power in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
DESANTIS: These folks have got to - have got to step up and protect these folks.
SAVIDGE: More than a dozen universities preparing to shut down along with theme parks and other attractions. In a place that thrives on tourism, what should have been a busy Labor Day weekend is now a bust as the sunshine state braces for days of rain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're hoping that everything comes out OK. But I'm kind of freaking out.
SAVIDGE: And here they go right now. These are Indian River County Sheriff's Department deputies that are helping out where help is needed, in this case helping to put up hurricane shutters. Notice these are the clear ones. That is important because once a home is boarded up it essentially becomes a dark cave. So these residents, it means they plan to ride it out, a Cat 4 storm on the way. If you don't get the windows and doors sealed there is a good chance you'll lose your home. Wolf?
BLITZER: Not much time left indeed. Martin Savidge on the scene for us. Thank you.
Let's go to our meteorologist Tom Sater. He's at the CNN Weather Center for us. So, Tom, there is a new forecast just out. What does it show?
TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well we have got a little change in the track now. I mean, obviously what we're going to see, Wolf, in the next couple of days here, is what was a small size storm is going to visually look a lot larger and that is normal. We're seeing thunderstorms really develop around the center in the eye so this engine is firing now on all cylinders.
When you look at color of white on the infrared it is now circular around that core. That means this thing is really churning. These tropical systems, their only job in life is to take warm air and take it to the north so anything in its way is going to block it from moving northward. Our watches in the Bahamas and in many cases are now warnings and I suspect by tomorrow morning we'll probably have hurricane watches on the coast of Florida. High pressure to the north has been blocking the systems. Remember, they want the path of least resistance to the north. And therefore we've been expecting this landfall in Florida. But remember yesterday things started to change.
One of the models, the European model wanted to put on the brakes. When it does that that gives the surrounding environment time to change. What could weaken? Could that high pressure weaken and allow this to move north. This was earlier.
All right, we have the European model on the West Coast of Florida after it wants to move northward. In fact, it wanted to go out into the gulf and this is the European.
Now, two days ago, Wolf, they were all to the north and then they dropped all the way down to the south. And now things are changing.
Let me explain the difference between the two.
The U.S. model has a 2:00 p.m. Tuesday landfall near Cape Canaveral, Melbourne. The European, this is at 2:00 p.m. Tuesday, all right? Same time period but still off shore. This stall movement may allow the environment to move in a different direction and if we're looking for some ray of hope, we may have one.
Here is the new track. It still takes it in as a landfall Category 4. Doesn't take it across the peninsula in toward the gulf, but unfortunately this is a bad one, I'll get to the good news, this drags it up every populated community and city inland on that east coast of Florida and continues to have it, 2:00 p.m. Wednesday as a Category 2. This would be disastrous. There is no doubt about it. Because it is constant rain, it is constant surge and constant wind. That is devastation. But there -- here is the ray of hope now.
The European model wants to, because of that pause, because of that holding off shore, gives us a little bit of steering current. This model, the European takes it pretty much to the coast. The last run was just off the coast.
So the National Hurricane Center is saying, we've seen so many changes in this, sure it could be inland, it could be right on the coast but it could still be off the coast. That is much like Matthew was, although Matthew did cause a lot of problems in the Carolinas and its record rainfall.
So when we look at the differences instead of getting two feet of rainfall, we were seeing maybe about nine inches in Orlando. So that shift a little bit more toward the east, that delay could give us some hope.
Now this is still not the best case scenario. This is still bad news but we're going to hope for everything we can. When you look at the amounts of rainfall when we talk about this rain, there it is, Melbourne around Cape Canaveral nine inches, Orlando 3.9. We can handle that. Sure we're going to have some winds but our hope is the trend now coming back off the coast. That would be the best case scenario if we have any scenario at all. And that is just the game we've been playing, Wolf. It is a scenario game.
[17:10:01] One thing is for sure, it's been changing every day. It's been changing every model run and will continue. But the closer we get to this. And that window starts to shut. We're going to have a much better idea. I know this is playing games with the people. Who boards up? Who's going to evacuate? We just don't know.
We've got the day tomorrow. We've got Sunday, although if you are going to be starting to put up some boards, you know whe winds could get a little rough and so that is a concern.
Wave heights with the storm system right now are looking at easily maybe 10 feet high. That is not the storm surge that is underneath that center that storm as it approaches Cape Canaveral.
So again, the change in the last couple of models really have been a little bit more of a turn to the north, a little while ago, the European model had it offshore which is good news but the track - and I agree, I concur, putting those models together is more right on the coast and inland. That is not good news. So, things are changing and that is the one thing to take away from this, things can still change and they will.
BLITZER: For everybody watching, it is better to be safe rather than sorry to take the precautions that the authorities are recommending.
BLITZER: Tom, thank you very much. We'll get back to you.
Joining us now, the FEMA associate administrator, Jeffrey Byard, president's nominee to head the agency. Jeffrey, thank you so much for joining us.
JEFFREY BYARD, FEMA ASSOCIATE ADMINISTRATOR: Yes, sir. Thank you for having us.
BLITZER: So give us the latest on everything FEMA is now doing just ahead of this storm.
BYARD: What we're doing is coordinating with state. We've got resources within the state of Florida. We're also beginning to move critical resources such as search and rescue, disaster medical assistance teams, those teams and personnel that can support the state in life-saving efforts. We're moving resources down to the southern part of the state because as you just saw with your meteorologist, you know this is -- this storm could hit anywhere from South Florida up to Jacksonville. So we want to be able to move in along with the state behind the storm and provide aid to the American citizens as quick as possible.
And, Wolf, I'll also say we want to thank you for what you do and the team. You're part of the team when it comes to these storms and getting the message of preparedness out and making sure the citizens of Florida are aware of the dangers of this and possibly going into Georgia and into the Carolinas. This is going to be a long duration for FEMA, our state partners and definitely our locals.
BLITZER: It is critically important that we report what's going on. You guys are doing life-saving work as all of us know. Is there a plan to relieve what are clearly some serious gasoline shortages right now? We're seeing that develop in various parts of Florida.
BYARD: Right. And you know we're very familiar with the fuel infrastructure, architecture if you will within Florida and how fuel come news the ports primarily in the peninsula and then through pipelines and trucks in the northern part of the state. We are all working with the governor. We're also working with the private sector to you know make sure that we get gas stations fuel but it is a challenge. You know you've got a large population. It is obviously fueling both cars and generators and critical you know things that they need and that is going to be a challenge. It always is in Florida. You know when you look at evacuations in the storm of this magnitude. However, we will be enablers and not prohibitors to the private sector in every way possible.
BLITZER: What really worries me as someone who has covered a lot of these hurricanes over the years is those gasoline shortages could clearly hamper potential evacuation plans. And that is a very, very serious concern, right?
BYARD: Yes, sir, it always is. I know working with the governor and his team we have -- they're working on plans to make sure that critical deliveries or working with the private sector to get critical deliveries into certain areas. You know with some changes in the track, it may be a benefit for those in the very southern part of Florida, which is very densely populated as you well know, Wolf.
So that may aid to us, any help we could get we'll take across the board. But you know we're monitoring the fuel shortages, the fuel outages and we're working with our critical partners to see what, if anything, you know FEMA can do, the government can do and again what we don't want to do is prohibit anything with the private sector. We really want to be an enabler to what they do.
BLITZER: What is the most important thing that people in Florida need to do to prepare right now?
BYARD: You know Wolf, first and foremost, make sure they know the risk and hazards that are around their communities. Make sure that they are listening to the local -- their local officials. They know it best. You know we sometimes and a lot of times FEMA is on the TV and that is good. But it is really the local elected officials -- those local emergency managers that know their community. That is why we support state efforts. We don't necessarily lead them.
And then you know your family. Have a plan. Have a kit. Download the FEMA app. Go to ready.gov, all these things that you can do to get information. It is very important to make sure you are checking on your neighbors. That is what we do as Americans. [17:15:01] If you have elderly or you know population in your community that needs assistance, assist them. Be part of the team. And our citizens are the biggest part of our team that we have and they do a wonderful job in situations like this.
BLITZER: We know there are a lot of elderly people down in that part of Florida as well.
BLITZER: Jeff Byard, thank you to you and everything that the men and women of FEMA are doing for the people down in Florida right now. Appreciate it very much.
BYARD: Yes, sir. Thank you very much.
BLITZER: Joining us now, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez.
Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. You just heard the associate administrator of FEMA say his agency is prepared for the storm. Are local officials getting all the help they need right now from the federal government?
MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: We're getting all the help we need from the federal government and our state government. I think we've had extraordinary cooperation from our state government on this go-around and I'm very grateful to the governor and his team. But Miami-Dade County, we've gone through these in the past. We're pretty good at what we do down here. We have a couple of urban search and rescue teams based down here just for this reason.
And so, you know, our preparations are underway. Our residents have been gassing up for some days now which is good. That means there is not going to be a crunch at the final hour and so even though we do have some gas shortages, we'll be able to take care of that. Our supply comes from Port Everglades just up the road.
BLITZER: What should residents in Miami-Dade, including very large city of Miami and Miami Beach, what should they be doing right now?
GIMENEZ: Well everybody -- we tell everybody at the beginning of hurricane season, you need to have three days of food. They need to have three days of water, of medicine, et cetera. But most of all, if you're in an evacuation zone and we have a large evacuation zone depending on the storm that you need to have a plan. So it is not -- if we call for an evacuation, you should have already figured out are we going to stay with a friend or a family or what it is that you are going to evacuate to. We don't expect you to evacuate Miami-Dade County. We expect you to evacuate basically Miami-Dade. We'll evacuate in place away from the coastline more toward the center of the county.
And so those are the things that we also ask them to do. We ask them also to make sure that their generators are checked. Check their generators all the time to make sure they work. Gasoline combustibles for the generators, and also - we also follow up with our elderly to make sure the laws are followed so that there is no repeat episode of what happened up in Broward County in Hollywood with that elderly facility. We've had new laws and we're following up on that.
We're happy to say that every elderly facility that we have in Miami- Dade is compliant with state law at this time. And so we're prepared. We're going to be looking at this storm. We're hoping for the best. Hope that European model is the right model and that it steers away and goes up the coast and basically leaves Florida alone. But in the case that it doesn't, Miami-Dade County will be prepared.
BLITZER: Are you worried, mayor that the gasoline shortages are going to get worse over the next 24, 48 hours?
GIMENEZ: I'm sure they -- that as more and more people gas up, we're going to have shortages. But again, we have plans in place to replace those gas stations and our mantra to gasoline stations is to top off your tanks and even if the storm approaches we want you to top off your tanks. So we have laws in place that money dates that a certain number of them must have generators so that after the storm people can access and have gasoline.
A large number of our food stores also have generators so that we could get back to business as usual as quickly as possible once the storm passes. And also we have great building codes down here. And, again, Miami-Dade County is no stranger to hurricanes. We've had a lot of experience. Every single hurricane teaches us something a little bit different. We're always better prepared for this hurricane than we were for the last. And I'm confident that Miami-Dade County and the people of Miami-Dade County can ride out whatever Dorian gives it. Hopefully it doesn't give up much, hopefully it doesn't give the state of Florida anything and moves out of the way in Atlantic and we could say good-bye to Dorian.
BLITZER: We could hope for that, but got to prepare though as I say for the worst. Mayor Carlos Gimenez, thank you for joining us. Good luck to everyone down in Miami-Dade. Good luck to everyone in Florida right now. Thank you.
GIMENEZ: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, there is more breaking news. With an emergency declared for then entire state, Florida residents are scrambling to stock up on food and water but many shelves are already are empty and many gas stations have no gas.
BLITZER: Breaking news. Hurricane Dorian is already an extremely dangerous storm. Gaining strength as it heads toward Florida. Residents are scrambling to stockpile food, water and supplies. There are already widespread gas shortages.
Brian Todd is in Palm Springs, Florida for us. Brian, what are you learning where you are. [17:25:00] BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fuel shortage in Florida getting to be very serious at this hour and this is the place that really exemplifies it. This is a Wawa Station at the corner of Foresthill Boulevard and Congress Avenue in Palm Springs. They have got a system going where they have a direct traffic here and staffers have been here all day to directing traffic to wind their way around the building and then merge with another line to come in there because there is another line of cars going out so that street right there, now our photojournalist Ty Nguyen and I are going to take you back here to this line that has been snaking around the corner and down the block pretty much all day long and they are expecting another rush here because people of course are just getting off of work.
Now what are Florida officials doing to mitigate this? Governor Ron DeSantis says, look, we've got fuel here in Florida but we just -- we have a problem getting it from the ports to the gas stations because of such heavy demand and what they're going to do is they're going to wave truck and service fees for the tanker trucks coming here. They're going to haves escorts by state police to get them here faster. And other measures like that.
But this is kind of the result you see, the lines sneaking around the corner here. And the general manager of this Wawa, his name is Larry Peck, he told us a short time ago, you know, on the average day, Wolf, he's got about 1700 people buying gas at this station. Today he believes it is actually more than tripled today and yesterday and he is frantically trying to prevent his station from running out of gas.
They did run out of regular unleaded fuel at about midday but they had tanker trucks come into the rescue and give them some regular unleaded fuel but this is a situation that they are running into here. They are running out -- the type of fuel that everybody wants to use and a lot of people are coming here because they think they may have to evacuate, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, we're going to get back to you soon. Brian Todd on the scene for us down there.
Florida residents, they have been urged to stockpile a week's worth of food, water and supplies.
Let's go to Leyla Santiago. She's joining us from a busy Costco in North Miami. What is the situation, Leyla, there?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So I'm actually standing where earlier today there was a line for water. But check it out, Wolf, signs here saying they are currently out of water here. They even have a gentleman -- this is my friend guy who has his sign that said we are currently out of water to let folks know. They've actually in the last three days sold more than 25,000 -- go ahead, 25,000 packs of water here. And the foot traffic has gone up by 60 percent. So you see people are still here loading up on those nonperishable goods.
The food this gentleman has sparkling water down here as well, getting ready for Hurricane Dorian. But you see that none of these carts have water because they are out. Now the manager tells me that he does have a truck that is on its way. They expect they will be able to turn that out for tomorrow.
But earlier when we were here, they were distributing water or selling water and that lasted for about an hour. Most of it was gone within the hour. A lot of folks here telling me, when I say are you ready, they often say we remember Hurricane Irma which was just two years ago, so they are doing everything they can to make sure they are even more prepared than they were then. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Leyla, thank you. Leyla Santiago in North Miami.
President Trump will be monitoring his administration's response to the hurricane from Camp David. The storm is hitting just after one of the president's top assistants is forced to quit because she shared some intimate details, as they are being described, about the first family with reporters.
[17:30:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump, who canceled an overseas trip because of the hurricane, will be monitoring his administration's response efforts from Camp David. It's happening amid more White House turmoil and the abrupt departure of one of his closest assistants.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown. Pamela, tell us more.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Trump is expected to depart the White House any minute now. As you mentioned, he canceled that trip to Poland to go to Camp David in order to monitor what he is calling a monster storm. So these developments happening amid turmoil here at the White House with the President's personal assistant being forced to resign.
BROWN (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump heading to Camp David to monitor Hurricane Dorian developments. With him will be several department heads who are serving in an interim status, like Acting FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor and Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan, that has some worried their experience may hinder operations, arguing more permanent leadership gives agencies stability.
Meantime, Trump took to Twitter to give a personal video update on the strengthening storm.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's looking like it could be an absolute monster. We're ready. We have the best people in the world ready. It does seem almost certain that it's hitting dead center, and that's not good. This time, it's heading in one direction.
BROWN (voice-over): But Trump doesn't say the storm is forecast to hit Florida's east coast where he has at least nine properties, adding the storm will be bigger or at least as big as Andrew. All of this as the President's personal assistant, Madeleine
Westerhout, who has been with Trump since the start of his administration, is out at the White House. Forced to resign after sharing intimate details about the President's family during an off the record dinner with reporters, multiple people tell CNN.
[17:35:04] A White House official says Westerhout was like a daughter to Trump. Her ouster marks yet another in a string of high-level departures from the administration. It also underlines the President's battle against the extensive leaks out of the White House.
CROWD: Build that wall. Build that wall.
TRUMP: Oh, it's happening.
CROWD: Build that wall. Build that wall.
TRUMP: It's not build that wall anymore, it's continue building that wall.
BROWN (voice-over): Also tonight, the Trump administration is preparing to shift up to $3.6 billion from military construction funds in order to build sections of the wall along the U.S./Mexico border.
The move relies on the President's February emergency declaration which has faced multiple legal challenges. In July, however, the Supreme Court cleared the way for the administration to use $2.5 billion in counterdrug funding from the Department of Defense to construct parts of the wall.
BROWN: And again, President Trump expected to depart the White House any moment now, Wolf. We will have to wait and see if he takes questions from reporters.
BLITZER: I suspect he will. All right, Pamela, thank you very much.
We have a lot to discuss. Our political experts are here. We will have that conversation right after this.
[17:40:47] BLITZER: The breaking news, Hurricane Dorian is gaining strength right now. It's now a major Category 3 storm with sustained winds nearly 115 miles an hour. The newly updated forecast shows it to -- shows it on track to hit Florida. President Trump, along with the acting heads of some key government agencies, will monitor the administration's response from Camp David this weekend. Let's bring in our experts to discuss.
Phil Mattingly, he is monitoring the response with a bunch of acting officials, acting leaders, as opposed to Senate-confirmed official leaders. Is that a problem?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, it starts with the -- with the President, right? The President has said he likes the flexibility of acting officials, and that's why you see acting officials across the administration. Obviously, the Senate sometimes takes its time confirming these officials as well if there's no major White House push behind them. Sometimes, they languish to some degree.
The concern here is that they don't have the clout to be able to get what they need when they need it in a situation like this and that there's instability inside the agency. Obviously, FEMA has been dealing with a lot of things just in the wake of the last big hurricane season, and they want to make sure that they're on target, on track, to be able to do that.
I would note that you actually interviewed the nominated FEMA director earlier, Jeff Byard. He's inside the agency but --
BLITZER: He's the nominee. He has a big --
MATTINGLY: Yes, he's the nominee but he hasn't been confirmed yet. He's there so they hope that there's some stability in that, but the concern is that they don't have the clout they need to get what they want when they need it.
BLITZER: He says, you know, as Phil points out, he -- the President, he likes having these, quote, acting officials in charge of various agencies, but is that the message the public wants to hear especially during a hurricane crisis?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, in a time of crisis, what the American public wants and expects is stability, and that's increasingly difficult when you have a number of these officials who have been serving in an acting capacity, more of temporary roles.
It's not entirely clear who is calling the shots. And as Phil pointed out, the President likes that flexibility because it allows him to exert control over some of these departments and agencies, but it does call into question whether or not career officials are the ones who are able to exert influence over the decision-making process.
And there is also the question of the -- the vetting process because the Senate is there to go through their backgrounds and make sure that they are capable of serving in these positions of utmost importance. And also, you know, this president, in particular, is someone who has prized loyal over experience. We don't really know if these individuals are, in fact, equipped for the job at hand.
BLITZER: Do you think, Ron Brownstein, the President is bothered by this perception that there's a -- there's a revolving door going around in?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, and for the reason that everybody has said. I think he prizes the flexibility of having acting officials that he has enormous leverage over. I will say to you, Wolf, that regardless of whether the officials are acting or Senate confirmed, there are two words you're not going to hear from anyone in the administration this weekend. And that's climate change.
You know, we know the data is unmistakable that the Atlantic Ocean is warmer than it used to be. And the evidence is pretty clear, not that warmer ocean water means more hurricanes but it does mean more intense hurricanes. Just as higher ocean levels mean more intense storm surge. And this is kind of the new normal that we are facing as the climate is changing around us, what the President has called a hoax and what the administration has worked systematically to dismantle any efforts to respond to.
BLITZER: He makes, Phil, a very important point. As this hurricane moves across the Atlantic and if the waters are really very warm, it gains strength, potentially becoming a Category 4 with winds higher than 130 miles per hour.
MATTINGLY: Yes, and I think one of the concerns is basically the shape and kind of form of the storms as they continue to come up. And you hear on Capitol Hill regularly -- and frankly, it's not just Democrats, you hear from Republicans as well -- related to climate change, making sure that there is actually -- actually action being taken. And obviously, the administration is a different place for that -- or is in a different place on that issue, specifically.
But I think more, as it -- as it relates to this specific storm, people, to kind of Sabrina's point, they just want to know people are in the right place, and they are willing to do what is need -- what needs to be done in this -- in the worst-case scenario that that -- that this hits. And I think that's the uncertainty you see coming in right now, whether it's the administration's policy or whether it's where they're officials are right now.
I think you're seeing the administration say all the right things. You've been talking to local government officials. They say they're in contact with the White House. They feel like they're prepared.
Obviously, the proof will be in the pudding on that one. The hope in this, you know, from some people I've been talking to on Capitol Hill, is that lessons were learned from past hurricanes, whether it's this administration or before that, and that they are prepared no matter what happens in the days ahead.
[17:45:05] BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by. Everybody -- because we -- there's a lot more we need to discuss. We're monitoring Hurricane Dorian. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: We're back with your political experts.
And, Sabrina, let's talk a little bit about this mysterious departure of the President's assistant -- personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, who, all of a sudden, was removed.
[17:50:06] She was effectively fired for supposedly saying, in an off the record meeting with journalists, some not so nice things about the President's family. It's a pretty serious development right now. We're awaiting -- the President is getting ready to leave the White House to head off to Camp David to monitor the hurricane, but he probably will stop and answer reporters' questions.
SIDDIQUI: Absolutely, and this all happened very abruptly. And what's important about Westerhout, in particular, is that she was known as the gatekeeper to the President. This is someone who knew who the President met with, who he had a phone call with, what -- the timing of those conversations, and really had a very intimate portrait of, ultimately, what kind of people had access to the President.
He has, at times, even said to reporters that she's the secret when it comes to being able to get an audience with him in the Oval Office or over the phone, and so the question is whether or not she's going to, having departed the White House, share any of those details. We have seen certain aides who have left the White House, especially under controversial circumstances, write tell-all books or leak details of the President's internal schedule deliberations to the media. Of course, we don't know if that's what's going to happen, but she had a very important role inside the West Wing.
BLITZER: Well, Ron, you know, let me play that clip. This is from almost exactly a year ago. I'll read you the -- what the President told --
BLITZER: -- journalist Bob Woodward about Madeleine Westerhout during a phone conversation. The President, well, if you would call Madeleine Westerhout in my office -- did you speak to Madeleine? Bob Woodward, no, I didn't, but I. Trump, Madeleine is the key. She is the secret.
That's what he -- because the President was complaining about Bob Woodward's book. He said, why didn't you come talk to me?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right.
BLITZER: And Bob Woodward said, I spoke to all your other aides, but I didn't speak to Madeleine.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Well, look, this is, to me, just a reminder that anyone in the orbit of Donald Trump whose last name is not also Trump may eventually fall out of orbit and probably will fall out of orbit. I mean, the turnover in this administration has been unprecedented, and I think that is just the basic as Michael Cohen, I think, demonstrated.
You know, kind of the story of his life and career is that this is -- this is a president -- this is a person who views loyalty largely as a one-way street and that, eventually, everybody runs afoul of that. And the cast of characters is forever rotating unless your last name is Trump.
BLITZER: You know, Madeleine Westerhout, Phil, 28 years old. You knew her before she went to work for the President at the White House when she worked at the Republican National Committee. MATTINGLY: Yes. And I think, look, when you look at the idea of the
gatekeeper of the President -- and, Wolf, you've covered administrations having any interaction whatsoever with reporters, it's almost asinine. You've never seen it before. And I think, to some degree, Madeleine had pre-existing relationships with a lot of reporters because of her role over at the RNC. And I think everybody who dealt with her over there found her to be very nice, very polite, all these things.
I think the interesting element here is President Trump always has someone like this, Ms. Rhona Graff, when I was in the Trump Organization. Madeleine had clearly taken that role. And it's an extremely important role inside of the Trump orbit that is not necessarily normal in what we see in a normal administration in terms of how the hierarchy works.
I think the -- it's unfortunate for two reasons. One, that an off the record discussion became public. Obviously, as journalists, when we're told it's off the record, you're not supposed to use it, you're not supposed to repeat it. And I don't know how it became public, but that's, obviously, not great from our side of things too.
But it's also problematic when an aide is speaking about personal details of the White House, in particular the family. That's something that we don't generally get into. It's something that aides shouldn't necessarily be talking about.
I would never discourage aides from talking to us in any way, shape, or form, but I think the unfortunate element here is somebody who is so trusted and, by all accounts, was extremely loyal to the President ends up losing their job because they decided to tell a reporter something that was more personal than they should disclose in any way, shape, or form in that way.
BLITZER: Not the first close aide to the President who's been removed.
SIDDIQUI: There has been a great deal of turnover in this administration. One thing that's interesting about Madeleine, she did come from the RNC and more of that establishment wing. In a recent book, "American Carnage," by the journalist Tim Alberta, there are some report that she was crying on election night because she didn't actually want Trump to win. But over the course of time, she is someone who emerged as a loyalist. What the circumstances were, I'm sure we'll find more details about that with time.
BLITZER: I'm sure we will. All right, guys, stick around. There's more news we're following including the breaking news. The new forecast is now in for Hurricane Dorian, already an extremely dangerous Category 3 storm and expected to strengthen before hitting Florida. Officials are warning that the entire state will be impacted.
[17:54:34] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. State of emergency. Dorian is now a major hurricane threatening catastrophic damage as it gets stronger and closer to Florida tonight. We're tracking the storm and urgent disaster preparations around the state.
Running out. Huge lines are forming at Florida gas stations tonight, and fuel supplies are dwindling fast. Will millions of residents be ready if they get the order to evacuate?
[17:59:54] Gatekeeper gone. The President's once-loyal personal assistant who controlled access to the Oval Office has been abruptly pushed out. We're told she lost her job and her boss' trust by revealing so-called intimate information to reporters.