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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Recovery Efforts Continue in Bahamas; Hurricane Dorian Batters East Coast; Research Shows Warming Ocean Increasing Intensity of Storms; Pence and Aides Try to Explain Stay at Trump's Ireland Resort. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired September 04, 2019 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me here today.

We're going to continue our live special coverage of this hurricane and so much more.

"THE LEAD" starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hundreds of thousands of Americans on edge after seeing what Hurricane Dorian did to the Bahamas.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Quote: "Almost 48 hours with nonstop carnage" -- unquote -- that's how one survivor is describing the destruction Dorian inflicted on the Bahamas, as the storm today takes a dangerous turn, steering closer to the East Coast of the United States.

A bunch of blarney? The vice president's confusing attempted explanation for going so far out of his way, so he could stay at President Trump's hotel and resort in Ireland.

And breaking news, we now know why the West Texas mass shooter failed his gun background check. And with Washington missing from the gun debate -- or the Senate, at least -- Walmart is stepping in. Could a company with a complicated history with guns actually be blazing a trail?

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We start with the breaking news: Hurricane Dorian's destruction in the Bahamas and what that might mean as the storm makes its way up the East Coast of the United States.

New images in today's show the catastrophe in the Bahamas, what were family homes and quaint resort towns pulverized, pummeled. The U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have joined the Bahamian rescue mission, searching by air and by land for any signs of life.

The death toll now stands at seven, but officials expect that number to rise. As Dorian moves north, Florida beaches are getting pelted by outer bands. Dorian could then slam the Carolinas. Port cities such as Charleston, South Carolina, are bracing for near record storm surge.

Let's start with what Dorian has done.

CNN's Patrick Oppmann just got a look at the utter destruction of a key airport in the Bahamas.


PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are on the runway at the Freeport Airport. It has been inaccessible for days. There was a river between the rest of the city and this airport.

It was completely underwater. It looked like the waves were crashing -- waves were crashing against this airport. Look how destroyed it is right now. Just about every side eight feet to 10 feet up has been leveled, ripped in, torn in. Look at it now. I don't recognize it.

There is not a wall standing. You think about the need this island has right now for a functioning airport to get injured people out, to get supplies in, and this airport right now is completely destroyed.

I have never seen anything like it in my life. This is complete and utter devastation like I have never seen.

Jose is going to put the camera over here. Look at this. That's a wheel. This is the underside of a plane. This is what's left of the wing. You think of the force required to throw a plane from the runway into a terminal.

If anybody was here, I don't know how they would have survived. I have seen a lot of damage on this island. This is the absolute most devastated area I have seen so far. It will be impossible for anybody who was injured or just wants to get off the island to leave from here.

Aid will not be able to come in to this part of the airport, into this airport at all, because it's just a debris field now.

So, if help is going to come, it's going to have to come through some other way, boats, another airfield. But this is really the only air -- this is the only airfield for this island. And it is in utter ruins.


TAPPER: That's Patrick Oppmann at the Freeport Airport, which is in Grand Bahama in the Bahamas.



TAPPER: She was talking about Charleston there.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd, who made his way to Charleston, South Carolina.

And, Brian, as you heard Jennifer Gray just say, that's the low country, a low-lying city at sea level. And that's the big problem as Dorian approaches.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, Jake.

We're going to show you an illustration of that, this city very vulnerable because of how low it is to sea level. This is a road right next to the Ashley River, but right also next to downtown.

Just a short time ago, we got a short burst of rain, the outer edges of the storm and a little bit of high tide, and this whole area was washed over with water. This isn't technically flooding. This is just standing water. But look how vulnerable this low-lying area is.

We're going to avoid the cars here and show you, though. Over here is the Ashley River. Just look at where that river comes up, where the marshes hit. And the marshes pretty much come right to the road here. That is what makes this area so vulnerable.

They say that the storm is really going to be feeling -- we're going to be feeling the effects here in the next 24 to 36 hours. They have had 360,000-plus people evacuate from the coastal areas of South Carolina, Jake.

Almost half of them have evacuated from the Charleston area. And you talk to local officials that we have been talking to all day, who say that what really speaks to the mind-set of people here is that experience with Hurricane Hugo 30 years ago this month.

Hurricane Hugo came up the Charleston Harbor as a Cat 4. It hit just a little bit north of Charleston. And it was utter devastation for weeks, they said, National Guard troops on the streets for weeks, power outages for weeks.

One city official told me a short time ago he was here during that period. He left. And when he came back, he said: "I didn't talk to one person who didn't regret staying through that storm."

So Hurricane Hugo speaks to the mind-set of these people and why they want to leave Charleston. It's a little bit unlike the people in Florida, who many of them you talk to say, I can ride this out.

In South Carolina, in this area in Charleston, they have had so many experiences with bad hurricanes, also in recent years. This is going to be basically the third punishing hurricane to hit this place in three years, Jake, and they're wondering how much more they can take here.

TAPPER: All right, Brian Todd, in Charleston, South Carolina, thanks so much.

I want to go back to the Bahamas, specifically to CNN's Patrick Oppmann, who's live for us in Freeport.

And, Patrick, it's hard to get a signal right now out from there, so crossing our fingers here.

Tell us more about the destruction you saw today.

OPPMANN: Well, first, we tried to go out to the area where we were.

You may remember yesterday where they were doing the boat rescues, the jet skis and the boats. And, amazingly enough, the water there has all receded. We saw boats that were thrown up on people's lawns.

There are still rescues going on, on the far east end of this island. It's still underwater. It's absolutely impossible for us to get there either by boat or car.

We saw Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead. And we saw lots and lots of people coming in this area, where there are hundreds of homes, to survey the damage, to see if their neighbors, family or just their friends are in those homes, essentially seeing who's still alive, Jake.

A lot of people, when they came and saw their homes that were completely gutted -- and every home year was underwater -- people had tears in their eyes. What can you say?

Then, we had heard that the airport was even worse than previously had been advertised. And we went out to the airport and saw -- I know you played some of that material -- just total destruction, I mean, whole planes, Cessna and Pipers, thrown around like little toys.

There was a wing with wheels still connected that had somehow gone into one of the terminals at the airport. The international terminal, we couldn't get into because we're told it's too dangerous to go in. It's still standing, but like the entire airport, it was underwater for several days.


So we are starting to get a better picture, if not a complete picture, of the destruction here. And it's worse than we had thought.

TAPPER: All right, Patrick Oppmann with the great reporting, stay safe, my friend. Appreciate it.

As the storm is barreling down on the United States, President Trump used an altered map of Hurricane Dorian's path while in the Oval Office today to show that Alabama might have been hit, as he had said and been mocked online for saying.

CNN's White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins, joins me now.

Kaitlan, people are -- actually have now died from the storm, and President Trump is still focused on proving that his tweet was correct? Is that...

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and, remember, the president is in charge of overseeing the federal response to a storm like this. So that's why it's incredibly important what a president says in a time like this.

And this all goes back to this briefing today in the Oval Office, this hurricane briefing the president was receiving, where he pulled out this dated map, a map that he received during a briefing last week that showed the projection of the storm of Hurricane Dorian.

And it had this little thing called the cone of uncertainty on it. That's where the potential of this storm could go. But the experts aren't exactly sure, because, of course, like this one did, it turned.

But, of course, today, it had a little addition to it, this black sharpie line that had been drawn on top of that projection cone, showing that Alabama could potentially be in the path of Hurricane Dorian, even though experts had said that was not the case.

This comes after President Trump tweeted on Saturday that Alabama could be impacted by the storm, could be hit by the storm, something he insisted later on at the FEMA headquarters, even though the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama, came out in a tweet and said Alabama was not going to be impacted in any way by Hurricane Dorian.

Still, since those tweets came out, since the president was criticized for saying that they could be impacted, when they were likely not to be, according to the experts, the president has insisted, yes, Alabama was in the projected path of this storm, as he did today with this doctored map, which, of course, there are questions now about who it is that altered it.

The president said today he doesn't know. We know he's famous for using sharpies to write letters to people. DHS is saying they did not provide the president with this altered map. And NOAA, which handles a lot of this, said they don't know. And they're referring us back to the White House on this.


I mean, people are dead from this storm, and others might also be killed, and he's focused on proving something that he said that was apparently wrong is actually right. I mean, that's bizarre.

All right, thank you so much. Kaitlan Collins, stick around. We're going to keep you on the show today.

Hurricane Dorian leaving behind a path of destruction, but the monster storm may not be the best example of the climate crisis our planet is facing. We will explain why next.

Then, President Trump has reportedly encouraged members of his administration to stay at his properties, but now Vice President Mike Pence's visit to one of those properties is causing some problems for his boss.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

In our world lead, utter devastation from Hurricane Dorian stretching for miles across the Bahamas as Americans brace for the storm to strike the U.S. Dorian is a historically harsh storm, the strongest to ever hit the Bahamas, as far as we know, one of the slowest moving hurricane on record, second strongest winds in the Atlantic basin ever.

While scientists cannot definitively say that the climate crisis is making these hurricanes stronger, there is evidence that warming ocean temperatures are contributing to their intensity. It's all part of our "Earth Matters" series.

And joining me is Gabriel Vecchi. He's a climate scientist from Princeton University.

Professor Vecchi, thanks so much for joining us.

I know you can't draw a specific link between Hurricane Dorian and the climate crisis. But what, if any, links can be drawn between our changing climate, global warming, and the amount in severity of the storms and weather events that we're seeing?

GABRIEL VECCHI, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: So, what we're seeing and what we think we should be seeing due to global warming is an increased probability of storms becoming severely intense, like Dorian has, and doing so in a very rapid way, a process that we call rapid intensification in the field.

So, what we -- the way to think about it isn't whether global warming caused or did not cause Dorian. That's a question that is impossible to answer, but rather, thinking about the odds of Dorian and how earth's changed by global warming.

An analogy that I find useful in this is imagine a baseball player that early in their career hit a lot of home runs, later takes some performance enhancing drugs and hits even more home runs. We know that the extra home runs were enhanced by the steroids, but we don't know which particular home runs were the ones that were enhanced.

So, what we can talk about is that the odds of home runs were changed. That is the odds of extreme hurricanes are changed, but we cannot specifically say this hurricane or that hurricane was made more intense.

TAPPER: Interesting.

And when it comes to severe weather, we should point out that hurricanes are not the most glaring example of how climate change is contributing to extreme weather. There are other, much more stark extreme weather examples.

VECCHI: Exactly. Things like extreme rainfall events, heat waves or even the more gradual sea level rise and how it makes coastal communities more vulnerable to certain weather hazards by bringing the ocean closer to people.


TAPPER: Tonight CNN is going to host an unprecedented town hall on the climate crisis with 10 of the Democratic presidential candidates. Each one is going to put out their own plans to try to fight this emergency.

What specifically do you think our viewers should be looking for in terms of the proposals themselves? Carbon reduction, eliminating fossil fuels all together, reaching out to the markets? What do you think?

VECCHI: Well, I'm not -- I know what I'll be looking for. I'll be looking for plans that recognize the reality of the climate change as us scientists understand it and also to try to find creative solutions that recognize the multiple reality or the multiple factors that one needs to consider, economic, political, et cetera, and come up with realistic solutions to slow the rate of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere emissions and also that include adaptation measures, ways for us to deal with the climate change that we are going to have to live with.

TAPPER: All right. Professor Gabriel Vecchi from Princeton, thank you so much. Appreciate your insights.

VECCHI: You're welcome.

TAPPER: And don't forget, we're just minutes away from the unprecedented CNN town hall on the climate crisis with 10 of the Democratic presidential candidates. The live event kicks at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

As President Trump gets briefed on Hurricane Dorian, we have new reporting on what might really be bothering him. It does not involve Democrats this time.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead now and the ever changing explanations by Vice President Mike Pence and his aides about why he stayed at President Trump's golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, which was more than 180 miles away from Dublin where the vice president's meetings were taking place. This controversy is just the latest example of the Trump

administration spending millions of your tax dollars at Trump's properties. Again, that's the president putting your money into his own pocket as CNN Pamela's Brown reports.



MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you for the warm welcome.

BROWN: -- and heads for London, Vice President Mike Pence still playing cleanup on aisle Ireland.

Today, Pence's office offering a third explanation for booking the VP's entire entourage, including the Secret Service, at President Trump's Irish golf resort in Doonbeg, 180 miles from his official meetings in Dublin.

First, the vice president's chief of staff said Trump himself suggested Pence stay there. Marc Short saying, I don't think it was a request like a command. I think it was a suggestion.

Then, Pence dodged the question, saying it had to do with his family ties to the area and the resort's ability to accommodate the large group.

REPORTER: They say you're enriching the president. What's your response to that criticism?

PENCE: It's wonderful to be back in Ireland for many reasons. Ireland is so important to the United States of America as a trading partner. The opportunity to stay at Trump National in Doonbeg to accommodate the unique footprint that comes with our security detail and other personnel made it logical.

BROWN: CNN has learned President Trump was irked he was blamed for the controversy, so after the White House denied the president had any involvement, Pence's office released this explanation overnight. At no time did the president direct our office to stay at his Doonbeg resort and any reporting to the contrary is false.

Even though Trump has suggested in the past cabinet officials and advisers stay at his property while traveling, and he himself has spent 289 days of his presidency at Trump properties.


BROWN: And here at the White House today, President Trump was emphatic again that he had no involvement with Vice President Pence staying at his property. He said he didn't even suggest it, so directly contradicting what the vice president's chief of staff said. And he also advertised his property essentially, Jake. He said the only involvement I have is that I own it. It's a great place, beautiful and wonderful -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

And, Kaitlan, you have some new reporting on how this all played out and the frankly bizarre series of explanations.

COLLINS: People knew this wasn't a good idea. The president has made these suggestions, recommendations, whatever you would like to call them before that cabinet officials, advisers should stay at one of his properties when there's somewhere there was one.

Typically, their aides have ignored it because they knew it would ignite a firestorm like the one we're seeing right now with Mike Pence and his aides. Of course, the president says he didn't even suggest it, even though Marc Short said that he did. And now, this is playing out where Short is now being essentially targeted, the president saying, no, I did not say what my vice president's chief of staff is saying that I said.

I'm told that the president was furious after he learned that Marc Short said that he had suggested it, essentially putting the credit for the president on why they picked that location to stay in this tiny town that we should note is less than 1,000 people. The president was so furious about it that that third statement that Pamela was talking about there came out about 3:30 in the morning in Ireland. Of course, not typically when most people are awake issuing statements after Short has already spoken and the vice president has already appeared on camera over it.

TAPPER: But, Laura, why would the president --