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Recovery Efforts Continue in Bahamas; Hurricane Dorian Slams Carolinas; New Statement Tries To Defend Trump's Alabama Storm Blunder; Top Trump Mideast Peace Envoy Stepping Down. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 5, 2019 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hurricane Dorian's powerful eye just off the Carolinas, whipping and soaking cities up and down the shore. Will it make a direct hit tonight?

Rising waters. Officials in Charleston are warning residents to stay off flooded streets and out of harm's way, the danger from Dorian extending farther north, as new evacuations are ordered in Virginia.

Horror movie, that's how a hurricane survivor is describing the storm's relentless assault on the Bahamas. I will talk with an official of the island nation, as we get stunning new images and emotional accounts of the devastation.

And not that sharpie. The president is tweeting once again tonight, defending his use of a clearly marked-up weather map to press his claim that Alabama was in Dorian's path, when it was not.

Tonight, the White House is refusing to say if Mr. Trump drew that bizarre black circle himself.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the hurricane emergency in the Carolinas, as disaster relief is beginning in the Bahamas.

A new forecast out tonight shows Dorian's eye passing just 45 miles off of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It's hammering the coast with its 105 mile-an-hour winds, unleashing destructive tornadoes as well. The streets of Charleston are flooded, with up to 15 inches of rain forecast for the Carolinas and a storm surge up to seven feet high.

In the Bahamas tonight, more than 100 people have been rescued on islands decimated by Dorian. But thousands are in dire straits right now, without homes or safe living conditions, in urgent need of shelter, food and water.

Our correspondents, experts and other guests are all standing by as we cover this breaking story.

First, let's go CNN's Martin Savidge in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for us,.

Martin, Dorian is just miles away from Myrtle Beach.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the conditions here continue to deteriorate in Myrtle Beach. It was tornadoes that was the threat this morning. But now it's just the sheer raw force of Dorian herself, now just off the coast and passing, a curfew going into effect at around 7:00 p.m., so about an hour from now.

It'll go until 7:00 a.m. in many areas in this county. This is a storm that will make it one very difficult night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Tonight, Hurricane Dorian hammering the Carolina coast with the dangerous possibility of landfall in the coming hours.

Nearly a quarter of a million homes and businesses across Georgia, South and North Carolina have already lost power, Dorian's winds lashing Charleston, South Carolina, all day, flooding low-lying streets and dragging down more than 100 trees.

Forecasters say more than a foot of rain could fall in some parts of the state.

Art Perry rode out the storm at his home in nearby James Island.

ART PERRY, SOUTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: This is the third one we have had three years, so you don't really get used to it. You just kind of learn to adapt to it. Once you're in it, you're in it. So we just went ahead and took the stance it was risk-reward. We knew what we was getting into.

SAVIDGE: In the Myrtle Beach area, reports of spinoff tornadoes also causing havoc.

ADAM ROUSE, SOUTH CAROLINA RESIDENT: We just heard the loud rumbling noise. Kind of sounds like a train in a sense, and just went to the window to see what was going on. There was a lot of wind. The trees were about sideways.

SAVIDGE: Adam Rouse and his family were awakened at 4:00 in the morning by strong winds. His house wasn't damaged, but the experience made him think about evacuating his family.

The mayor of Myrtle Beach had this advice for residents hunkering down in their homes.

BRENDA BETHUNE, MAYOR OF MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA: Put safety first. If you can stay at home, please stay inside. This is not the time to try to get a great photo-op. It's just too dangerous.

SAVIDGE: Tornadoes also struck in North Carolina, this one touching down in Emerald Isle, damaging several homes.

GOV. ROY COOPER (D-NC): Hurricane Dorian's power has arrived in North Carolina, with wind, rain and tornadoes lashing our state.

SAVIDGE: Dorian continues to move north, next taking aim at North Carolina, where its governor is warning residents not to take any chances.

COOPER: We are feeling the storm's force, but it has only started. We have a long night ahead of us. Everyone needs to stay in a safe place and off the roads until the storm passes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I think we lost our signal, our connection with Martin Savidge. We will get back to him.

But you can see the awful situation that's developing right now.

And speaking of awful, a disaster in the Bahamas. Tonight, hurricane survivors are sharing horror stories about what they endured as Dorian tore into their homes and their lives.

[18:05:09]

CNN's Paula Newton is in Nassau right now, after spending time at one of the most obliterated areas.

Paula, you have seen the devastation for yourself and you have spoken to survivors.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf.

And just imagine what the U.S. is going through now with Hurricane Dorian. The people I spoke to, they went through Category 5, Wolf. They told me that Hurricane Dorian was a storm that broke all the rules when it came to this.

They never thought that they would see a storm that strong. They say they're still terrorized, traumatized by everything they saw, cannot believe they survived it, and obviously mourning those who didn't.

Wolf, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWTON (voice-over): 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? We arrived by helicopter in Man-O-War and Abaco, with Billy Aubrey (ph) embracing his wife, Shawna (ph), after days of not knowing if she was dead or alive.

Shawna hunkered down with friends in their seaside home until the roof blew off, and they all scrambled to find anything that was still standing. (on camera): So, Nancy, this is what kept you guys alive, this little bathroom?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This little room kept us alive. This is it.

We came in and hunkered down. And Shawna was on the ground crying, and we were just trying to...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was hysterical.

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was loud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, there was a lot of crashing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Crashing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember all the crashing and banging and whirling.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And stuff, we thought was coming through this wall.

NEWTON (voice-over): So many in 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.

SHERRIE ROBERTS, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Words can't describe it. I don't wish it on nobody. Nobody. Words can't describe it.

Just -- 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.

(on camera): 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, in closets, anything they could find to take shelter.

(voice-over): 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 SWEETING, ISLAND COUNCILLOR: I'm sure it'll never be the same again. But, I mean, the people are strong here, and we're going to try to do our best to rebuild the best way we can. But we know it'll 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)

NEWTON: Yes, quite a task.

Wolf, they want to recover. They want to be resilient. And yet, when you're looking at infrastructure, that's been damaged to A to Z. They have absolutely nothing. They're wondering where to begin.

Wolf, we're at the staging area here in Nassau, where a lot of aid is going out. The island we were on had not seen any government aid yet. When we say resourceful people, they called their contacts to try and get some private helicopters out. They got some sick and wounded out of the island.

Everyone else, though, is now waiting for what comes next. And what they're really worried about are the health conditions. They have food and water for now, but they're wondering what comes next, especially when it comes to disease.

God forbid, if a lot of these the bodies, unfortunately, that they tell me that they are seeing in places that haven't been recovered yet, and they're starting to worry about things like cholera.

A monumental task, as I say, for the government here. And those residents told me they want to see the government help. They want to see a global effort. The United States is certainly here. The U.S. Coast Guard, we saw flying around. There are U.S. ships just off the coast, everybody trying to forward-deploy all of that aid and trying to help these people get back on their feet.

[18:10:10]

BLITZER: Really heartbreaking. Amazing reporting from you and your team, Paula Newton, on the ground there. Thank you very much for that report.

Joining us now, the Bahamas general consul here in Washington, Theo Neilly.

And Mr. Neilly, thanks very much for coming in.

THEO NEILLY, BAHAMIAN CONSUL GENERAL TO WASHINGTON: Thank you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And our deepest, deepest condolences to you and to all the people in the Bahamas.

The death toll, the official death toll still 20, but, as you just heard from Paula, that number could go up dramatically.

NEILLY: Likely, unfortunately and sadly, those numbers probably will go up.

The last count we heard was 23. The minister of health in the Bahamas, Duane Sands, indicated the number had now reached 23.

BLITZER: Twenty-three, that's the official death...

NEILLY: That's the official, according to the minister of health.

BLITZER: What about the people who are still unaccounted for or missing?

NEILLY: And so that's why the search-and-rescue team is in place, and they're still going through and going door to door, house to house, and making sure.

Before we can give any numbers, we have got to be sure and be sensitive to the families, before we release any other numbers until we're guaranteed.

BLITZER: As far as you know, are people still trapped in their homes right now?

NEILLY: I'm not sure at this point.

But we do know the prime minister went to Grand Bahama yesterday and did an evaluation. And we're still doing assessments on the ground. But we certainly do know that people are in need, and we are getting the aid to them as quick as we can.

BLITZER: Who's helping you with, the Bahamas, right now in dealing with this?

NEILLY: Actually, we're quite happy, been pleased with the international support.

And we give -- we're thankful of the United States and the United Kingdom is already in there and supporting us and have teams on the ground and helping us. The United States has a team in helping with search-and-rescue as well.

BLITZER: Because Paula Newton -- and you just heard her very dramatic account -- and she spent 24 hours, because she couldn't get out of there.

But she says she hasn't seen any official government rescue operations under way. She's seen a lot of individuals volunteering, doing the best to help their neighbors, their friends, but she hasn't seen the government people on the ground.

NEILLY: Well, certainly, we know that the U.S. Coast Guard has been helping the government. And they have started search-and-rescue in Abaco since two days ago. So they certainly are on the ground and working. What you have to

realize, in Grand Bahama Island, unfortunately, the hurricane was stationary pretty much, moving as much as -- when it was moving fast, at one mile per hour, so there for 40 hours.

And it took a while for us to get in there. We couldn't get in until the storm passed. And so that -- we know the damage are very significant and actually even worse than we probably predict, because the storm and the hurricane was there so long.

BLITZER: It just sat there for a long time.

NEILLY: And it just sat there.

BLITZER: Wasn't even moving, as you correctly point out.

And we have seen the pictures, the destruction, the airport, all the homes. What are the most urgent needs right now?

NEILLY: So the urgent needs, other than search-and-rescue, we need food, nonperishable food supplies. Obviously, people need water. They need tents to sleep in.

I'm getting messages where people obviously only have the clothes on their back because they have lost everything. We haven't seen a hurricane like this before. As our prime minister indicated and pointed out, it's the worst our country has ever seen, and to imagine having that hurricane there for 40 hours.

So it's a worst -- even if it was moving quickly, it would be the worst we have seen. But having it stationary made it even worse.

BLITZER: We always learn lessons from these disasters.

Was it a mistake not to evacuate those people in advance?

NEILLY: Well, we did have evacuation plans in place, and there were evacuations for certain islands.

Some persons chose not to evacuate. So that's something we have got to look to in the future.

BLITZER: No mandatory evacuations?

NEILLY: Mandatory evacuations were in place for some of the keys and the Abacos. And persons were told to evacuate. Unfortunately, some didn't.

And one thing we need to point out, Wolf, is that these are two of the major islands in the Bahamas, the first and second -- the second and third populated islands of the country. So, obviously, that's putting a damper on our economy.

And we're seeking all the international help we can get.

BLITZER: I know your prime minister, Hubert Minnis, spoke with the president, President Trump, last night.

Is he satisfied, the prime minister, with U.S. support right now, with U.S. assistance?

NEILLY: We're very pleased with the outcome of all international assistance, and particularly the United States.

We have a relationship that goes back so many years, based on proximity. We're right next to the United States, just 50 miles off the coast. And we're working very closely.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you're going to need billions and billions of dollars.

NEILLY: We're going to need lots and lots.

BLITZER: Where's that money going to come from?

NEILLY: We have had support from the United Kingdom, from the U.N.

We have also had Prime Minister Trudeau in Canada lend assistance and support to us as well. Even smaller island nations that we wouldn't predict might lend assistance, for example, Dominica and Barbados and St. Lucia, and so we're getting assistance from all these small island countries, and the larger ones as well.

And we want to remind people that we're still open for tourism. These are two islands affected. Paradise Island, Nassau is not affected. The Exuma is not affected. Eleuthera is not affected.

So there are many areas in the Bahamas to still vacation.

BLITZER: I know tourism is such an important part of your economy right now.

NEILLY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: But the airports there are open? People can get in?

NEILLY: The airports on all those other islands are open, so people can get in there. Still plan your vacations. Call the hotels before you go. And that's the message we're telling people.

But as you stated, we're a tourism economy. So now, more than ever, come on down and do your tourism in the rest of the country. And we have got so many islands that you can choose from. If you want to help and volunteer, these are the two islands we need you to help and volunteer.

[18:15:10]

BLITZER: I'm sure a lot of people will want to go and volunteer and help.

NEILLY: I hope so. BLITZER: Theo Neilly, the consul general in the Bahamas here in Washington, thanks so much. Good luck to you.

Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to all the people in the Bahamas, a beautiful, a beautiful place. I have been there several times.

NEILLY: Absolutely. And we're going to be beautiful.

BLITZER: Hopefully, you will recover completely.

NEILLY: We will. Thank you so much.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

NEILLY: Thank you.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

BLITZER: Just ahead: Myrtle Beach declares an emergency, as Dorian is thrashing the Carolinas. We're going to check with a city official on the damage and the danger right now.

And is a Trump adviser acting as a fall guy for the president, who remains obsessed with Alabama and whether it was threatened by Dorian?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:22:04]

BLITZER: We're following all the breaking news on Hurricane Dorian and its assault on the Carolina coast, the storm causing serious and dangerous flooding in Charleston.

CNN's Brian Todd is there for us.

So, Brian, what's the situation the ground tonight as Dorian moves further up the coast?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm going to show you three different views down two different streets to show you the kind of adversity that Charlestonians are still dealing with, as a vehicle comes toward us here.

This street has been flooded pretty much all day. It was flooded a little bit worse during the peak tides at 1:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. But it's still been threatening homes and buildings all day long.

Now I'm going to kind of come over here and show you what's going on. While I tell you that, I just got an update from the mayor's office. They had to close 137 roads in Charleston. That's the updated number. They're still kind of going around and assessing.

Now, down here, you got a cherry-picker who, for the past several hours, has been trying to remove parts of that large tree that fell on a series of power lines down there. He's going to be at it, I'm sure, for several more hours, because that was a very, very large tree.

And this street was flooded as well earlier. Then you pivot over here. And this was -- I showed you this last hour, the magnolia tree down here, that fell and took down -- almost took down two power poles.

They are now leaning dangerously toward homes that are on kind of that side of the street. But the magnolia tree is still down over power lines.

Wolf, we were told also by the mayor's office they did have to do two water rescues -- two rescues today, one from a home where a tree fell on it. The other was a water rescue from a vehicle. Those people turned out to be OK, no life-threatening injuries.

But, Wolf, one thing, I just heard that New England is getting a tropical storm warning from this storm for Saturday. And when you think about that, the power, the duration, the destruction, and the path of this story, really like no other hurricane we have seen in recent years.

And we have seen a lot of terrible hurricanes in recent years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We certainly have.

Brian Todd, reporting for us -- Brian, thank you.

Let's get an update now on the just declared emergency in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The city manager, John Pedersen, is on the phone with us.

Mr. Pedersen, thank you for joining us.

What are the conditions like right now?

JOHN PEDERSEN, MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA, CITY MANAGER: It's raining pretty hard, and the winds are definitely gusty.

This morning started off really rocky. We had a lot of hard rain, and the winds picked up a lot more than we thought they would. We had some tornado activity in the morning.

But since then, it's calmed down considerably, and we are in fairly good shape right now.

BLITZER: So what are the biggest risks that you see right now, and potentially any risks to life?

PEDERSEN: I don't believe we have any risks to life.

We do have some risk to -- obviously to the beach itself. So far, we're checking it. We're cautiously optimistic that we have not had a lot of beach erosion. We have had some minor structural damage and a little bit of roadway flooding.

[18:25:05]

But I don't believe we have anything that I would put in the life- threatening category.

BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging to hear that, of course.

Parts of your county were put under a mandatory evacuation order. What percentage of the people do you believe actually complied with that order?

PEDERSEN: In the city of Myrtle Beach itself, the area that was affected was only about the easternmost quarter-mile, right along the oceanfront itself.

And, certainly, almost every -- all of our tourists that were in the high-rise hotels that we have in that stretch heeded the evacuation order. Most of them were -- of course, were required to do so by the hotels.

And I think a good portion, maybe as many as half of the residents in that area. We have relatively few residents that are actually there. That's primarily our tourist area.

BLITZER: Well, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Thanks so much, Mr. Pedersen, for that update. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Myrtle Beach.

PEDERSEN: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right, the breaking news continues next.

A top adviser to President Trump has just put out a statement offering a new defense for the president's false warning to Alabama about hurricane Dorian.

Stay with us. We will be right back.

[18:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: We have breaking news this hour, Hurricane Dorian now battering the Carolinas. And tonight, new efforts to defend President Trump's incorrect warning about the danger Dorian posed to Alabama. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta has the very latest for us.

Jim, a top Trump adviser is now coming to the president's defense.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. White House officials are digging in their heels over President Trump's use of an altered map to justify his false statements that Hurricane Dorian was posing a threat to the State of Alabama.

The White House just put out a carefully worded statement saying the president's comments were based on briefings he received from officials, but aides still won't say whether it was Mr. Trump who changed the map in what's become a game of cones for the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Leaving on what may become an indelible mark on the Trump presidency, it was hardly a master stroke. Now, the White House is dragging its feet, admitting who altered the weather map held up by the president in the Oval Office, falsely showing Alabama in the path of the Hurricane Dorian. Aides refused to say whether it was doctored by the president.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: That was the original chart, and you see it was going to hit not only Florida but Georgia, it could have -- it was going toward the gulf. That was what was originally projected.

COSTA: The president is defying he has been right all along, Alabama was going to be hit or grazed and then Hurricane Dorian took a different path up along the east coast. That followed this tweet from Mr. Trump, this was the original projected path in the early stages. As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida, also hitting Georgia and Alabama.

But hold on. Zoom in on that spaghetti lined map. It's from august 28th, roughly four days before the tweet that got the president in trouble in the first place, when he said on Sunday, in addition to Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama will most likely be hit.

TRUMP: It may get a little piece of a great place, called Alabama. And Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more that --

ACOSTA: But that's not true. Contrast what the president said Sunday with this map provided by NOAA, which shows at that moment the storm was nowhere near Alabama.

TRUMP: I know Alabama was in the original forecast. They thought it would get it as a piece of it.

ACOSTA: Sources tell CNN the map was altered just before the president presented it to the public. White House aides know who did it, a problem for the president's team, as Mr. Trump has already said, he doesn't know what happened.

REPORTER: The map that you showed us today, it looked like it was drawn on with a sharpie.

TRUMP: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

ACOSTA: And there's one more problem. As the Fox News meteorologist noted, it's violation of federal law to falsify a National Weather Service forecast.

Democrats are pouncing. MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-SOUTH BEND, IN): I feel sorry for the president. I don't know if he felt it necessary to pull out a sharpie and change the map. I don't know if it's one of his aides believe they had to do that in order to protect his ego. No matter how you cut it, this is an unbelievably sad state of affairs for our country.

ACOSTA: The Alabama blunder comes as the president is diverting funds from storm-ravaged parts of Florida to pay for his border wall, including money designated for rebuilding parts of Tyndall Air Force Base, which was hit by Hurricane Michael. Mr. Trump had pledged he was coming to Tyndall's rescue.

TRUMP: I have just come from a stop at Tyndall Air Force Base where I saw the devastating effects of that Category 5 hurricane, Category 5. I never heard about Category 5s before.

So we're rebuilding the whole place and we're doing the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, just in the last hour, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Rear Admiral Peter Brown released a statement on the altered map. Here is a portion of it. We can put it up on screen. It says, while speaking to the president Sunday, September 1st, the president addressed Hurricane Dorian and its potential impact on multiple states, including Alabama. The president's comments were based on that morning's Hurricane Dorian briefing, which included the possibility of tropical storm-force winds in Southeastern Alabama.

But, Wolf, we should point out, [18:35:00] information coming from NOAA, the maps coming from NOAA, the atmospheric agency show that during that same timeframe, there was only a 5 to 10 percent chance of tropical storm-force winds in that same corner of Southeastern Alabama, Wolf. And getting all of that to the side, putting that off to the side it should also be noted that statement doesn't say who drew on the map. The White House appears to be drawing a line around that information tonight, Wolf.

BLITZER: And shortly after the president made that statement about Alabama, the government's own National Weather Service issued a correction saying Alabama faces no threat, whatsoever.

ACOSTA: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us, thank you.

There's a lot we need to discuss. Our experts and our analysts are here. We will have a serious conversation about this when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: We are following Hurricane Dorian. It's lashing out at the Carolinas right now as it churns up the eastern seaboard. And a little while ago, President Trump's Homeland Security Adviser over at the White House put out a statement offering a new defense for the president's false warning about the storm threat to Alabama.

And, Bianna, the country is still facing some serious problems as this hurricane moves up the Atlantic Coast, but the president is still tweeting over and over and over again about the outdated forecast involving a threat, which never really existed, to Alabama.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He sort of politicized the National Weather Service, Wolf. And this would be comical if this wasn't reality that's playing out. You know, when this first tweet came out, his first initial tweet mentioning Alabama in the path of the storm over the weekend, people chuckled and then they moved on. No one would be talking about this if he were not so persistent, having dug his heels in.

It is not very difficult to just say, you know what, I made an initial error. Let's focus now on the actual path of the storm, not to mention all of those people facing the destruction that we've seen play out through the Bahamas. If he had been talking about relief that needs to be given and relief that the U.S. is providing to the Bahamas and people in the path of the storm, that would be something that would be helpful as opposed to constantly talking about something that no one really cares about.

But it's emblematic of this administration, of this president who just can't admit when he is wrong. It sounds trivial, but think about what would happen if we face a military action that needs to be taken in Iran or missile launch from North Korea. We have to be able to trust this president.

And at a time when we are facing a hurricane that is hitting U.S. soil, he is now diverting resources to cover his own tracks. Imagine all of the work that has to be done to come up with these maps that he's now highlighting. You see the look on the face of Kevin McAleenan, his acting Homeland Security Agency and the head, and you see him sitting there with a sharpie, it's embarrassing and it's unnecessary.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey, this is a sharpie. I don't know if you've ever seen one of these.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But it wasn't you. It wasn't you.

BLITZER: It wasn't me, but I use a sharpie once in a while. But what do you of the mystery of who actually used the sharpie to distort that official government map?

TOOBIN: I do not have the answer. But I have one answer. I watched recently, there's a new documentary, it's coming out shortly, about Roy Cohn, who sit he corrupt, unethical, lying lawyer, who was a mentor to Donald Trump. And it really explains a lot of what's going on even today. Because Roy Cohn, who was an aide to Joseph McCarthy, he believed in you fight about everything, no matter how trivial, you never let a charge go unanswered, and you lie if necessary to respond to it, and that's what's going on here.

Of course, this is a completely ridiculous controversy which would be forgotten, but for the president's insistence on fighting with the news media. But remember, he was also fighting with the actress, Debra Messing, over the weekend as this hurricane was bearing down.

BLITZER: Including today, another tweet.

TOOBIN: Well, it's just -- it seems like madness, but this is who he is. And he got elected once and he may get elected again.

BLITZER: And then they put out this official statement one of the president's Homeland Security advisers, clearly, the White House is looking for someone to blame.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, certainly. It looks like it. I mean, this is government resources taking the time again and the energy to find someone to go out there and defend the president from this.

I mean, Trump, we've known that he is really sensitive to what people say about him on T.V. He is looking at the headlines. And we've had five days now of people calling him out and looking for him to just issue an apology and move on. Not only that, he was totally roasted last night on late night television, people are laughing at this whole line, and was he the one who drew it. So, you know, he clearly -- they spent the time to go out and march someone out there and make this statement.

And it creates a real optics problem for the White House because, you know, I'm not going to get it -- say what the president is thinking right now, but it makes it look like he cares more about defending himself and his reputation than he does about people who are actually dying right now and who need help. He could have made this a one day story.

TOOBIN: Maybe because that's true, maybe because he does care more about his reputation than these people.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, Wolf, I agree with Rachael and Jeffrey.

[18:45:02]

Look, this was a missed opportunity for the president to talk about both the impending danger and peril for people along the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia and maybe even Virginia, and also to talk about as you say people who are in real distress in the Bahamas, a neighboring country, right off our shores.

I actually think in this case, Wolf, that the president and White House think they have a grain of genuine grievance going back several days about this Alabama thing. But once you get past sharpie-gate, once you get past all of these tweets, they've completely squandered any opportunity for people to take them seriously. And over a broad stretch of time, they've squandered in the

opportunity for people to give them the benefit of the doubt, Wolf, because we have been through a situation where "The Washington Post" colleagues uncovered 12,000 false and misleading statements by the president. We have been through the president lying about what he knew about Stormy Daniels. We've been through the president lying about crowd sizes. And so, at this point, who would give him the benefit of the doubt in this --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You know, it's interesting because our Jake Tapper, Jeffrey, just now reporting that the Fox News senior White House correspondent John Roberts just finished his 3:00 p.m. live shot Thursday when the president beckoned him to come into the Oval Office. According to Jake, the president had one argument to make, according to an internal Fox email Roberts sent about the meeting provided to CNN.

He stressed to me that forecasts for Dorian last week had Alabama in the warning cone, Roberts wrote. He insisted it is unfair to say Alabama was never threatened by the storm.

Clearly, the president is very sensitive to the suggestion that he misspoke.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You think? I mean, you think he has gone on this for days and days over this completely trivial misstatement, it seems like it. Or -- I mean, if they simply said it was an earlier forecast, there are a million ways to deal with this that it would be completely forgotten at this point.

But this is the Roy Cohn training. You fight back constantly on every issue and you know, I think it is worth pausing to remember that there are a lot of people who like that he does this, the fact that we're viewing it as this terrible gaffe, and embarrassing. And, you know, the fact he is sticking it to the media, calling it fake news, a lot of people like that. And so, that is worth remembering here too.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around. There's more news we're following. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:52:08]

BLITZER: A key architect of the Trump administration's still secret Mideast plan is stepping down. Jason Greenblatt worked alongside the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is joining us live from Jerusalem right now.

Oren, what, this comes less than two weeks before the Israeli election.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jason Greenblatt's peace plan has been a big deal. But before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even begins to deal with that, he has to win the upcoming election. And for that, he is employing a strategy we have seen him used many times before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Boris Johnson may be Britain's new prime minister. But he is part of an act we have seen before from Benjamin Netanyahu. Right before the elections here, the Israeli prime minister looking again to highlight his foreign policy skills. And as Mr. Security, he kept the conversation on his favorite topic.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Challenges, we have the challenge of Iran's aggression and terrorism, that I'd like to talk to you about how we can work together to counter these things for the benefit of peace.

LIEBERMANN: His diplomatic schedule has been busy, hosting the leaders of Ethiopia and Honduras in Jerusalem and a trip to meet Vladimir Putin in the works.

It's the same strategy he employed before the elections in April, one that turns the attention away from the corruption investigations he faces. The 69-year-old faces charges of bribery and breach of trust pending an upcoming preliminary hearing. He has insisted he is innocent, and a victory with a religious Republican right wing coalition he seeks in the elections would allow him to legislate immunity from prosecution.

Netanyahu who served as Israel's foreign minister until February sees foreign policy as one of his strengths and his personal relationship with some of the world's controversial leaders a bonus. He hosted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Jerusalem, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who visited the western wall. He met with President Donald Trump in Washington where Trump officially recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was a long time in the making. It should have taken place many decades ago.

LIEBERMANN: And he met Putin in Moscow, inviting him to come visit Jerusalem. Netanyahu's main rival, his former chief of staff, Benny Gantz, slammed his last-minute travels as politically motivated

BENNY GANTZ, BLUE AND WHITE PARTY (through translator): Benjamin Netanyahu travels running from place to place are throwing dust in the eyes of the people.

LIEBERMANN: Instead, Gantz said Netanyahu should be visiting Israeli's heartland where he will be. Gantz insists he can handle world leaders with the same finesse as the man he was once serve. Gantz was once Israel's military attache to the U.S. but has little other diplomatic experience to prove it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LIEBERMANN: A week and a half until the elections, Wolf, and we will keep you posted on the latest developments until election night.

[18:55:00]

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann in Jerusalem, thanks very much. Much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, as the Bahamas struggle to recover from severe storm damage, we are seeing some emotional reunions. This 10-year-old boy named Alex rode out the storms with relatives in Abaco in a house whose roof collapsed. Everyone survived but he became separated from his family and the chaos that followed the hurricane.

Alex was flown to Nassau where our crew captured his tearful reunion with relatives today. So happy he got out and he is back with the family.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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