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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Relentlessly Defends Claim Dorian Threatened Alabama; CNN Reporter Spends 24 Hours On Ravaged Abaco Islands; James Mattis Breaks Silence After Leaving Trump Admin; Powerful Winds, Heavy Rain Battering South Carolina Coast. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 5, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I mean, she's making the point --

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, she's making the point that, yes, people do want to talk about Joe Biden's gaffes and he makes quite a few of them in any number of ways or whatever, sort of mixing up this story about a military veteran.

And, yes, she is making the comparison that when it comes to Donald Trump, here he is making up a fake hurricane, a fake trajectory of a hurricane and focusing, I think, on his own ego, right, making this about himself.

Yesterday, as you said, the folks in the Bahamas devastated, right? 20 people died so far. People were killed. I'm sure though, unfortunately, probably more people who died. Folks in the Carolinas, where my family is from, you've got connections there too, Jeff. Yes, we're concerned about those folks there.

But the president here really trying to, I think in the service of his own ego, kind of go back in time and make himself correct when everything shows that he was inaccurate.

TAPPER: And just a reminder, it's all going to get much worse.

Nothing left but still alive, CNN talks to one woman who rode out Dorian with her family in one of the hardest hit areas at the Bahamas. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRIE ROBERTS, HURRICANE DORIAN SURVIVOR: It's not just us. Everybody is everything. We're not any worse than anybody else. Everybody is hurting and we thank God for life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:35:00]

TAPPER: In our "WORLD LEAD" today, new and shocking images from the Abaco Islands, one of the hardest hit areas of the Bahamas. One of our CNN reporters traveled there to document the destruction and then she could not make it back. Paula Newton and her crew had to take shelter on one of the islands there and spend the night in a home with others, including storm survivors. Paula joins me now live from Nassau in the Bahamas.

And, Paula, you spent 24 hours on an island with no power, no water, the people there were storm survivors, were terrified. We're glad you're back and you're okay. Tell us about it.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have to tell you, Jake, we were so overwhelmed. Jerry Simonson and I, the cameraman with me, by everything that we saw, but most of all, Jake, we were overwhelmed by the trauma these people are feeling and everything they have gone through and have yet to go through. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON: It is so much worse than they had feared. The Abaco Islands forever scarred now by mass destruction. Home after home, entire rooftops blown away. Debris scattered in unrecognizable heaps. Boats tossed like confetti. The images belie the obvious question, how could anyone survive this?

BILLY AUBURY, SURVIVED HURRICANE DORIAN ON ABACO ISLANDS: Okay, okay, okay, okay. You're okay. You're okay. It will be okay, okay? We're going to be okay.

NEWTON: We arrive by helicopter in Man-O-War in Abaco with Billy Aubury, embracing his wife, Chana, after days of not knowing if she was dead or alive. Chana hunkered down with friends inside their seaside home until the roof blew off and they all scrambled to find anything still standing.

So, Nancy, this is what kept you guys alive, this little bathroom.

NANCY AUBURY, SURVIVED HURRICANE DORIAN ON ABACO ISLANDS: This little room. This is where we came in and hunkered down and Chana was on the ground crying. And we were just trying to --

CHANA AUBURY, SURVIVED HURRICANE DORIAN ON ABACO ISLANDS: I was hysterical.

NEWTON: What did it sound like in here at the time?

NANCY AUBURY: It was loud. Well, there was a lot of crashing. I remember all the crashing and banging and whirling.

CHANA AUBURY: And stuff we thought it was coming through this wall.

NEWTON: So many in the Abaco Islands lived through hours that resembled a horror movie, exposed to winds that topped 215 miles an hour, like tornadoes touching down every minute.

ROBERTS: Words can't describe it. I don't wish it on nobody. Nobody, words can't describe it. They could never categorize this, never. It was like an atomic bomb went off. NEWTON: Residents here tell me their little island paradise is unrecognizable even to them. They're resourceful and self-reliant, they say, but they could have never imagined a storm as powerful as Dorian.

You know, there's no better way to describe to you the force of Hurricane Dorian, to be right here where people rode out the storm in their living rooms, in their dining rooms. I mean, look at this, the roof blew off the house here. The entire kitchen came down.

Their refrigerator ended up here on the ground. Their living room and dining room furniture is strewn all over. People describe these things being tossed around the island like projectiles. They all cowered, hovered in their bathrooms and closets, anything they could find to take shelter.

There are now the beginnings of recovery, but only the basics, medical attention, private helicopters to take out those who are sick, the elderly, young families.

JEREMY SWETING, ISLAND COUNCILOR: I'm sure it will never be the same again. But, I mean, the people are strong here. We're going to try to do our best to rebuild the best way we can. But we know it will never be the same.

NEWTON: This was a storm of biblical proportions, Abaconians tell me. And, yes, they worry, it will take a miracle to recover from it all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And, Jake, think about everything that we just heard, everything that we just saw. You can repeat that thousands of times over.

[16:40:00]

I spoke to a man from another island in Abaco who told me that there was a storm surge. He had gone under. His son reached out to hold him up. He really wanted to let go, he couldn't take anymore, but he said, no, I'm not going to let my son see me die this way. And he got himself out of there. Sorry, Jake.

TAPPER: So tough. Paula, you were not supposed to spend the night on the Abaco Islands. What happened?

NEWTON: So we were at a staging area here in Nassau and there are flights everywhere. They just couldn't get us back. With the way the air conditions -- the airline traffic, the helicopter traffic, obviously, there was a problem.

It's so difficult, Jake. On the island I was on, they cleared the baseball fields so that we could land, so that we could get ourselves in, Billy in, and get to that kind of reunion and get some supplies in. So we had to stay there.

You know, these people in Man-O-War, they had been through so much, and yet they didn't blink an eye. We said, we'll sleep on the beach. We'll sleep on the grass, we don't care. No, they took us in.

And a special thank you to Marsha and Angel Cruz (ph). I know they have relatives in Florida. Thank you so much. And what we saw there is what people are grappling with right now.

Of course, Jake, they're thankful. They're thankful for being alive. But when you see the way they are living. I mean, they took all the food out of their refrigerator, the crew has cooked it.

That's all they really have. They have some more provisions in the grocery store. But they're wondering what comes next. Their kids are supposed to start school. And it's things like that that this island is beginning to grapple with.

And, Jake, there's more. This island, things are fairly under control. People are starting to worry about things like disease. Here, the death reports and, say, that will inevitably go up. And they are starting to worry about unrecovered bodies, things like cholera, so much to worry them at this place.

And as they told us on the island, Jake, they worry that they won't be able to return, at least not in the fashion that they were there now, living there full-time.

TAPPER: Paula Newton in Nassau in the Bahamas, thank you so much for that powerful report. We appreciate it.

He was president Trump's first Secretary of Defense and now he's breaking his silence for the first time since leaving the Trump administration. Former Secretary and retired General James Mattis joins me live, next.

[16:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And who's going to pay for the wall?

AMERICAN CROWD: Mexico.

TRUMP: 100 percent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: But it's Mexico, it's you and your tax dollars and specifically your tax dollars that your elected representatives had allocated to the U.S. military. $3.6 billion are being taken from military construction projects to pay for the border wall that the President cannot get Congress to fund.

Nearly $400 million of that diverted from projects in Puerto Rico, still suffering from past hurricanes Maria and Irma. Another $17 million from Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida after President Trump promised back in May he would help service members repair previous hurricane damage there, $13 million no longer going to a daycare at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and goes on and on. In total, 127 military-related projects on hold for now so the wall can be built.

I want to bring in retired general and former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. He's out with his brand-new book "Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead."

I want to get to your book in a second, Mr. Secretary, but first, does it bother you to see U.S. service members deprived of these various projects including childcare facilities ones approved by Congress in what is essentially an end-run around the logical and established appropriations process?

GEN. JAMES MATTIS (RET.), FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well it's a concern certainly. And I think what we see right now is the inability of the executive branch and legislative branch to come to an agreement on what is the problem. And so no matter what solution is proffered, they don't agree on it because it's not the problem the other one sees.

And one of the things I learned in leading is the first thing you better do is agree on what problem you're trying to solve or you're probably going to have a bit of chaos to come out of the process.

TAPPER: So let's turn to your book. In the book, you write, if you haven't read hundreds of books you are functionally illiterate. You're a well-known bookworm. You have I think more than 7,000 books in your library. You go on to say and your book, any commander who claims he is "too busy to read" is going to fill body bags with his troops as he learns the hard way.

So as I don't need to tell you, this is a town, Washington D.C., full of politicians who do not read books, who do not read at all. So what would your message be to a politician who says, I don't have time to read. Every time I read half a page I get a phone call, that there's some emergency. What would you say to that politician?

MATTIS: You've got to carve out time to take care of your own personal development. You have written about the outpost. You know how much effort training, reading, train -- rehearsing goes into these young lads 19, 25 years old that we put out there on the front lines. And you would expect no less from their leaders that they read and they study.

It's not that they don't make mistakes then, but if you're not doing that at the policy and strategic level, then you are shortchanging the nation and your shortchanging those that you send in harm's way.

TAPPER: One of the messages from your book and also that you've talked a lot about this week is how tribal politics and just American society has become. How people don't even talk to each other anymore. How Democrats and Republicans can't even work together anymore.

There are politicians out there who their goal is to not to bring people together. Their goal often seems to be to divide people whether it's based on race or whatever. What do you think of them?

[16:50:12]

MATTIS: There's no team anywhere -- CNN couldn't run like that, the military couldn't run like that, a business couldn't run like that. It would be dysfunctional. It would fail. And our system was set up with three co-equal branches of government. And just to make it a little more difficult, we made a bicameral legislature, and they all have to work together in order to make this work.

What we're doing right now is we constantly are dividing. Now, I understand, when you have an election, it can be brutal, it can be pretty hard. I'm smart, you're dumb. I know what's right, you're all wrong. You divide and you try to get yourself elected.

OK, that's democracy. But when the elections over, you don't continue to divide. Then you have to govern. So one, elections takes division and governing takes unity. And we're not doing the governing part. We're simply going election, election, election, divided, divided, divided. Democracy cannot work like that.

TAPPER: I know that you're reluctant to criticize the current president but a lot of people point out that his campaign seems in a lot of ways aimed at dividing the country especially on issues related to race.

MATTIS: Well, this -- the problems of division in this country go back decades right now. Clearly, they go back -- they didn't start with one party or one person. And if we're going to correct this problem which is what we should be focused on, the majority of American have to roll up their sleeves and they have to work together.

You can't expect one person to ride in and correct this. We're going to have to work on it together. We're going to have to find common ground or make common ground. But the democracy of the people, for the people, by the people, you're not going to have that work if you're not willing to compromise.

TAPPER: You include your resignation letter to President Trump in the book.

MATTIS: I did.

TAPPER: And in the letter, you note that you think Russia wants to shape a world based on authoritarianism at the expense of the United States and U.S. interests and allies. Do you think Russia should be permitted back into the G7?

MATTIS: Well, that's more in the economic vein and I won't comment on that. But we're going to have to deal with the Putin that is, not the Putin we wanted. I remember in the 1990s when Russian Marines and U.S. Marines trained together in North Carolina for peacekeeping operations. Those days are long past now.

We're going to have to recognize they've mucked around in our elections, that they've invaded two countries and seized territory, and we're going to have to deal with this. And the only way to deal with it is with allies.

TAPPER: You compared your military duty and I think you've also talked about your duty as Secretary of Defense as riding for the brand as is referred to in the West, meaning, I work for Yellowstone ranch and I ride for the brand.

You write "In the U.S. military, we ride for the brand. If a civilian leader tells me to fight rustlers, that's what I do. If he tells me to round up wild horses, I do that. What is the -- your least favorite thing that you did riding for the brand as Secretary of Defense?

MATTIS: Well, the books not about Secretary of Defense, Jake.

TAPPER: I know.

MATTIS: And what I don't want to do is put myself from the defense establishment any more into that political discussion. For example, Secretary Carter, my predecessor under President Obama, he would not do it. He studiously avoided going into political issues. And there's a 200 plus year tradition here, 200 plus years where we keep the military out of political assessments.

Probably the most difficult thing I did during those years was the write letters to Gold Star Parents

TAPPER: As Secretary of Defense.

MATTIS: As Secretary of Defense. I've done it also is a general, I've done it as a colonel, I've done it as a lieutenant colonel. I know the gravity of this. I probably can only sense the degree of tragedy to that family. You have to live through it in order to understand it.

But the toughest thing -- as a matter of fact, I carry -- I put on my desk for whenever I signed those deployment orders a question that I would ask myself. I had to hand wrote the question out and scotch taped it to my desk where twice a week or more often I would -- I would be signing them.

And the question I asked myself each time, will this commitment contribute sufficiently to the well-being of the American people to justify putting our troops in a position to die? Not in harm's way, not to be injured, to die. And I hope that every time I answered that question "yes" and sent the troops overseas, that I was doing so with an understanding what the Gold Star Families have been through.

TAPPER: Secretary Mattis, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it. Congratulations again on the book.

MATTIS: Thank you, Jake. In moments, the latest Dorian forecast from the National Hurricane Center. Stay with us.

[16:55:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Hurricane Dorian is closing in on the Carolinas and already flooding the East Coast of the U.S. Let's get right to CNN's Athena Jones. She's in Charleston, South Carolina.

Athena, how is the situation there?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jake. Well, historic downtown Charleston may have escaped the worst predictions when it comes to flooding, but there's still a lot of debris, a lot of downed power lines, downed tree branches. Charleston Police are warning folks to go ahead and still stay home.

They just recently sent out a tweet of a truck with a branch -- a tree that had fallen on it. Luckily that person wasn't badly injured. But they're saying look, people still have to come out, clear debris, repair these downed power lines, repair these traffic lights. And so they want folks to still stay tight. But as I said, those storm predictions -- those storm surge predictions so far have not panned out.

TAPPER: All right, Athena Jones, stay safe. Thank you. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.