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Changing Stories over Pence's Stay at Trump Resort; Parliament to Vote on Bill to Stop No-Deal Brexit; Dorian Moves toward Carolinas; Mayor of Tybee Island, Georgia, Speaks about Dorian Preparation. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 04, 2019 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right, our breaking news this morning, Hurricane Dorian slowly spinning off the coast of Florida. Right now tropical storm force winds are -- and rain are slamming parts of north eastern Florida. Fortunately, so far, the eye of the storm remains to the east, but Dorian's projected path may not bode well for the Carolinas. The hurricane's eye could very well end up very near or possibly over the coast of both North and South Carolina as early as tomorrow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Here's one thing there is no question about, the Bahamas. Much of the island completely decimated. Look at those pictures there. Communities wiped, flooded, blown away from the map. There is no power, there's no running water. It's really hard to get aid in there. The death toll officially stands at seven, but as you look at that devastation there, officials warning that that number almost certainly will rise.

HARLOW: And our reporters are on the way to Grand Abaco. We'll bring you that as soon as we have it.

Meantime, taking a look at some other news this morning.

The vice president, Mike Pence, is set to meet with Iceland's president next hour, but it's his trip to Ireland this morning that's raising a number of questions. He met with Irish leaders in Dublin yesterday, but stayed at a resort more than 180 miles away from Dublin.

SCIUTTO: So, here's the key, it wasn't just any resort, it was President Trump's Doonbeg Resort and Hotel. It's a decision that is being slammed by Democrats, as well as ethics groups, many who have already questioned government spending at Trump properties, every time he goes on vacation he goes to one of his golf resorts. That's a lot of money flowing there.

CNN's Joe Johns is at the White House.

Joe, of course we saw the attorney general book a holiday party at a Trump owned hotel in D.C. Now you have the vice president go 180 miles out of his way to stay at a Trump owned facility.

How is the White House defending that?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it is definitely the latest story in the continuing saga of the use of Trump properties for official government business. Of course the question again and again and again is why. In this case, why would the vice president stay 180 miles away from Dublin, on the other side of Ireland, for two nights when he could have just stayed in Dublin?

And we've got shifting explanations, shifting stories from the office of the vice president. At first it was suggested that perhaps the president of the United States had told Pence he ought to stay there. Then we heard, no, the president didn't order it and perhaps did not even suggest it. Then we heard, well, maybe it was about security, because this is a property that had been secured before by the Secret Service. And then we heard that, well, it's all about Pence's ancestral home. His great grandmother lived there before moving here to the United States. So listen to the vice president's own explanations about why he decided to stay in Doonbeg, which, of course, is where the Trump national property is there.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I understand political attacks by Democrats, but if you have a chance to get to Doonbeg, you'll find it's a fairly small place. And 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.


JOHNS: So a lot of clarifying there. And the truth of the matter is, some of our folks here at the White House have learned that initially when going to Ireland it was the vice president's plan to emphasize his ancestral connection to Ireland, but it all sort of turned into an information confusion story.

Back to you.

SCIUTTO: Just quick point of fact, Joe, so this is U.S. taxpayer money that goes to a Trump owned property, right, to accommodate the vice president and his team?

JOHNS: Yes, that's our understanding that, in fact, the United States government was footing the bill and that he didn't get that trip for free.



Joe Johns at the White House, thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, new this morning, really significant development and a big victory for the protesters in Hong Kong, who have been protesting for, you know, 13, 14 weeks now, nonstop demonstrations. And Hong Kong's chief executive has announced this morning she will fully withdraw that extradition bill. It's what sparked all of these protests.

But it's just one of five major demands that the protesters in Hong Kong have. A pro-democratic lawmaker there tells CNN those protests will continue until those other demands are met. That's the image of Carrie Lam. One of their demands is that she resign, although she said she's not going to.

SCIUTTO: That's right. Still quite a step for the territory.

If you didn't think Brexit could get any more complicated, it just did. Today the U.K. parliament is set to vote on a bill telling Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he cannot have what's known as a no-deal Brexit. In other words, you can't leave the EU --

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Without negotiating some sort of deal, so it's not a precipitous drop off the edge.

HARLOW: They can't crash out.

So, if this passes, Johnson says he will call a snap election just weeks ahead of the Brexit deadline, which is at the end of October.

But remember when Theresa May called a snap election? Remember what happened there? Could that happen to him again?

This comes after several conservatives rebelled against Boris Johnson, helped take away control of parliament's agenda from him, pushing him to fire 21 of his own MPs.

Let's go to Bianca Nobilo. She joins us outside of parliament in London.

This thing gets messier by the hour, Bianca.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's very hard to keep track and we are truly in uncharted waters now. People have been saying that for quite some time. But given that the prime minister had his first proper vote in his role yesterday and he had an astonishing defeat that was aided in no small part by rebels from his own party, who he then summarily expelled, including even his own idol, Winston Churchill's grandson, Nicholas Soames. He had a defection when he was speaking in the chamber of the House of Commons where one of his own MPs, Dr. Philip Lee, moved across the aisle to go and sit with the opposition, reducing Boris Johnson's majority to zero.

Now, practically, he didn't really have a functioning majority anyway, but the symbolic value of that is just catastrophic for him. Now he's looking at an election as a potential way out of this mess. His focus today, though, is that very bill that you were discussing. This is the attempt of the so-called rebel alliance of our opposition parties in the United Kingdom to try and thwart Boris Johnson from going after a no-deal Brexit.

But here's what he had to say about it today in prime minister's (INAUDIBLE).


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Or this government will take this country out of the European Union on October 31st. There is only one thing that stands in our way. It is the surrender bill currently being proposed by the leader of the opposition. And can I invite her to confirm -- can I invite the leader of the opposition to confirm when he stands up shortly that if that surrender bill is passed he will allow the people of this country to have their view on what he's proposing to happen to hand over in their name with an election on October the 15th.


SCIUTTO: It's been interesting to watch these prime minister questions. I think Americans, who haven't watched it, should watch it. I mean it's remarkable back and forth inside the U.K. parliament.


SCIUTTO: What's interesting now is that it's not a two-party slit, right? I mean you basically have four parties that will be competing in this election, splitting the vote various ways. I mean is it clear at all who comes out stronger from a snap election? Because even given all the opposition to Boris Johnson, you don't have the opposition particularly united in any of the Brexit party that has a harder line position than Johnson.

NOBILO: Yes, you outline well there the confusion that an election would descend upon this country yet again.

Now, Boris Johnson will be haunted by the specter of that 2017 election that you mentioned where Theresa May called the election in the hope of increasing her majority. But actually she managed to slash a double digit poll lead and end up losing seats, having to go into a deal with the democratic unionist party here in the United Kingdom to prop up her government.

Now, Boris Johnson and Theresa May are very, very different figures when it comes to their politics and their charisma. Boris Johnson prides himself on being a very strong campaigner. He's good one-on- one. He loves giving speeches. And much like your own president, he thrives in campaign mode. But whether or not that will translate to the polls across the country and give him the kinds of resounding majority he needs, remain to be seen.

And you made a very important point at the beginning there where you spoke about the fact that unlike traditionally in Britain where we have a two party system, Brexit is not dividing this country along party lines. So even though for centuries we've had official opposition and then the government, now it's actually fractured across all these other parities and interest groups, making all of it even harder to predict.

SCIUTTO: It's -- you might say it's a political mess.

Bianca Nobilo, thanks very much.


HARLOW: To say the least.

NOBILO: Right.

SCIUTTO: We're going to still follow this story very closely.

Here at home, Charleston, South Carolina, bracing for Hurricane Dorian. We're going to take you there as they prepare for this storm, next.



HARLOW: All right, this just into CNN.

You've been -- we've all been wanting to know how the people on the Abaco Islands are doing. We've just learned that 20 patients in critical condition were evacuated from those islands in the Bahamas yesterday by the Royal Bahamas Defense Forces. That is according to the World Health Organization. Those patients were transported from Abaco to the Princess Margaret Hospital. That's in Nassau, that was not hit as hard by Dorian. We'll have a live update from the Bahamas for you in just a few minutes.

This morning, Charleston, South Carolina, is bracing for what Hurricane Dorian might bring.

SCIUTTO: These are pictures of downtown Charleston. You can see the steps that people are taking there, businesses boarding up -- boarding up their doors, their entrances, their windows in preparation.

CNN's Athena Jones, she is in Charleston this morning.

And, Athena, I know that folks there must be getting whiplash because they're not certain where this storm is going to hit. Now the latest track puts the Carolinas in the crosshairs.

Are they ready for it there?


Well, they believe they're ready. Look where I am. I'm in downtown -- historic downtown Charleston. It is almost completely vacant. It has been this way since we got here yesterday.

It's drizzling right now, but just earlier this hour we got a look at what this storm is going to bring in terms of wind and rain. But you can see the businesses here boarded up, sandbags and all across downtown it looks like this, vacant hotels shuttered.

There was one restaurant up this block that was open earlier. They're closing now so that people can go home and get out of the way. Authorities have said, look, if you're making preparations now, you need to hurry up and finish those preparations because conditions are going to steadily deteriorate. And they're telling everyone, of course, to get out of town. Already more than 245,000 people have evacuated this region, and that is, of course, because we're in a very extremely flood prone area. We're at a low area and Charleston's harbor has historically gotten huge storm surges. They're expecting to see possibly life-threatening storm surges from this storm, only second to Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

So emergency (INAUDIBLE) have been saying, look, hunker down, get out of town. If you haven't, hunker down. And they're saying -- they're warning everyone, as they often do in storms like this, that they're not going to be able to send out first responders if rescues are necessary during the dangerous conditions. So that's why they're urging everyone to get out and to get out fast.

Jim. Poppy.

HARLOW: That's really amazing to see. I mean I've been to Charleston a handful of times and it's usually packed downtown there, a big tourist, you know, city all year round. So that's amazing to see all those businesses boarded up.

Athena, thank you for being there for us.

We'll get back to the Carolinas in a little bit.

But for all of you who want to help, especially the Bahamas, I mean look at that. Those are the Abaco Islands, just devastated. If you want to help, we have a lot of ways listed online to help the victims of Hurricane Dorian. You can go to

SCIUTTO: Hurricane Dorian barreling its way up the East Coast now. Outer bands expected to hit Georgia later today. The mayor of Tybee Island joins us next on how his city is preparing.



HARLOW: All right, take a look at this. This is a live image from NASA Television at Hurricane Dorian. It's from the International Space Station. This storm is now carrying sustained winds of 110 miles per hour. Right now the trajectory is that it will skirt Georgia's coast a little bit later today, then move north up to the Carolinas.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now is the mayor of Tybee Island, Georgia, Jason Buelterman is -- as you're down there, mayor, and thanks so much for taking the time this morning, we know you've got a lot on your plate, tell us what you got to do in advance of this as it moves your way.

JASON BUELTERMAN, TYBEE ISLAND, GEORGIA: Well, the most critical thing is for people to leave Tybee. In fact, I just left about an hour ago and I'm in Savannah because, you know, the worst effects for the Georgia coast will be obviously right there on Tybee. The barrier islands, Tybee, St. Simons, et cetera. So we've been really urging people to leave.

We have a causeway that connects Tybee to the mainland that floods in extreme high tides. And we're expecting that the road will be covered with water around the time of high tide today, which is 1:00 p.m., that would be a -- you know, potentially a few hour before and a few hours after. So the window of opportunity to get off Tybee is rapidly closing.

SCIUTTO: I know -- I'm curious, actually, if you have a particular challenge there. I mean are residents reluctant to heed some of these warnings given how many times the hurricane track has changed?

BUELTERMAN: Yes, I think, you know, with the experience we've had, with -- especially with Irma in 2017, when a lot of people evacuated and that storm just kept drifting -- drifting, you know, to our west, there are some who are reluctant to leave. There are some during even Matthew when we looked like we were in the bull's eye of a category two or three that didn't leave.

So they're -- I think that most of the people left. The tourists left. The businesses are, for the most part, closed down. And we just continue to try to urge people to leave because we have the potential for three to five-foot storm surge, sustained tropical storm force winds of -- for 24 hours. And if you've ever been in a, you know, a 60, 70-mile-an-hour wind, that's not, you know, a safe situation to be in.


So we don't want people to wait until the last minute, wait until the tide goes down, and then try to leave and they're driving through 50 or 60-mile-an-hour winds with the potential for hurricane-force gusts. That's not safe.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I'm with you. I've been through them before. That is no small thing.

Listen, folks, listen to the warnings, these guys are looking out for you.

Mayor Jason Buelterman, thanks very much and we wish you the best of luck.

BUELTERMAN: Thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: All right, what we've heard so far in the Bahamas is seven people are dead, but obviously the expectation is that that death toll is going to climb there as we're getting a new look at just the total devastation left behind from Hurricane Dorian. We'll take you live to Freeport in the Bahamas, next.

SCIUTTO: Plus, the unprecedented Democratic presidential town hall event on the climate crisis. It airs tonight starting at 5:00 Eastern Time. All ten candidates will take the stage on one single night to address this critical issue. It matters, and it's only going to be on CNN.