Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Fiona Hits Puerto Rico; Ramon Luis Nieves is Interviewed about Puerto Rico; Georgia Election Office Breach; Asha Rangappa is Interviewed about Trump's Next Deadline; Stock Futures Down; Record Number of Migrants in NYC. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Right now, the first major hurricane of the season is gaining steam. Hurricane Fiona strengthening to a dangerous category three storm. Parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic already devastated with intense flooding. The hurricane now blamed for at least four deaths in the Caribbean. Hundreds of thousands of people have no power or running water. It is difficult.

The worst does appear far from over as we watch the track here with Turks and Caicos and Bermuda now in Fiona's path.

HARLOW: We are keeping a very close eye on that, of course.

Also this morning, new details on the 2020 election. Surveillance footage showing what happened inside a Georgia election office on the same day voting machines were compromised there. A Republican county official and associate seen working with an attorney for former President Trump spending hours inside of that restricted area.

But let's begin in Puerto Rico, where today marks actually five years since Hurricane Maria's catastrophic landfall on the island and now the same survivors of that crisis say the devastating flooding from this storm could be even worse.

Our Leyla Santiago is on the ground in San Juan with the latest.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Today, the majority of people in Puerto Rico are waking up without power and without water. Now, if you are in San Juan, where we are right now, I am having families here tell me that they are getting some power restored and water back, but that is a small portion of the island. If we go into the interior, if you go to the southern coast, really hit hard by Hurricane Fiona, they do not have power. They do not have water. And the big question is, when will this all come to an end so that crews can begin to really, really work at that. When you ask government officials if they have any sort of estimation

as to when power will be fully restored, they will tell you it could be a matter of days, but really there is no guarantee.

And I should mention, this marks, today, it is exactly five years to the day since Hurricane Maria, the hurricane that left many here without power for months, in some cases up to 11 months, nearly a year. And so there is much anxiety and fear in talking to people at shelters, in their homes, that they are fearing the worst, fearing what happened five years ago because of the images you're seeing, because of that flooding, that water, and the anxiety that is tied to the timing of all of this.

Emergency crews say they will be right back out today trying to get into the areas they haven't gotten into, but most people are just waiting for the rain to stop.

Back to you.

SCIUTTO: Leyla Santiago. And, of course, Leyla was there five years ago.

Here with us now to discuss is Ramon Luis Neves. He's a former member of the senate of Puerto Rico, also an attorney. And during his time in office was the chair of the energy committee, advocated for reform. So, a lot of experience in the aftermath of this kind of thing.

Ramon, it's good to have you on this morning. And I wonder, given what we've seen so far, of course you have the initial path of the storm and the damage. With Maria, we saw all the aftermath. I mean months, months, right, to recover. And do you fear a similar long recovery now?

RAMON LUIS NIEVES, FORMER MEMBER OF SENATE OF PUERTO RICO: We hope not because, obviously, Maria was -- you know, the timing was kind of ironic for us that we are now remembering the five years after Maria and now we're hit with Fiona. And we hope that the recovery doesn't last months as it happened in Maria.

I can tell you that, from my experience, with my personal experience, I've seen what has been happening. The people of Puerto Rico, in their homes and business, are better prepared now to face storms, probably better prepared than the government is.

But apart from that, we have received now a historical amount of flooding basically on the southern part of the island, the middle part of the island, and other parts of Puerto Rico that didn't get so much flooding before. And it's a challenge. And, obviously, the challenge of not having the power on for -- now for just a few days.


Power is now -- people are getting slowly connected. They are having their power back, but very slowly. So, we hope we don't have the experience of Maria where we were quite -- several months without power happening. SCIUTTO: Yes.

NIEVES: Maria was the longest blackout in American history, actually.


HARLOW: Senator Nieves, as Jim mentioned, I mean, you worked on reform after Maria. How can we get to a place where the island is not so vulnerable because we'll all remember it was a year before power was fully restored to everyone on the island after Maria.

Can you speak to the federal assistance at this point and also just the infrastructure? Have things substantially changed in the last five years to make sure that that's not the result again from this or the next hurricane?

NIEVES: Well, first of all, Puerto Rico -- Puerto Rico's recovery as to -- or (INAUDIBLE) the rebuilding of the power grid is now not a matter or a question of money, of federal assistance. The federal government has already appropriated more than $10 billion to rebuild and really reconstruct a grid - a new grid for Puerto Rico.

The problem is that, from those $10 billion, only $40 million have been really spent. And now we have seen no changes to the actual grid, to the operations of the grid.


NIEVES: There has been no significant rebuilding five years after Maria, which is -- it's a shame and it's a crime against the Puerto Rican people. And now -- a few years back, the problem was the conflicts with the Trump administration. And but now Trump is not there, you know. It's an issue of red tape, of lack of willingness to do what's required to start the rebuilding process. And experts say that rebuilding the grid will take no less than ten years.

SCIUTTO: Whose - Ramon, sorry to interrupt just because we don't have much time.


SCIUTTO: But whose failure is that? Is that the failure -- is that lack of will? Is that red tape? Is that federal red tape or is it on the island and the administration of Puerto Rico?

NIEVES: Well, I guess it's -- mostly the blame goes into the hands of the government of Puerto Rico, which has (INAUDIBLE) red tape. We have had three governors in the -- since Maria. And there --

SCIUTTO: We might have lost him there. And, goodness, you might expect that in the midst of the wake of a hurricane, but good to hear that point of view, Poppy, from Ramon there to see that a lot of these problems from Maria five years later still exist.

HARLOW: Exactly right. And red tape standing in the way of progress, but plenty of money. So, what do you do about it? Our thanks to the senator for that.

Also this, CNN has obtained new surveillance video from inside of the Coffee County Georgia elections office. And what it shows is Republican operatives spending hours inside of a restricted area there along with an attorney for former President Trump.

SCIUTTO: An attorney for former President Trump inside a restricted area with what appear to be votes. This all happened January 7, 2021, that's one day after the Capitol insurrection, the very day Coffee County says its voting machines were breached.

CNN's Drew Griffin, here he is with his story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The newly obtained surveillance video shows a Republican county official and a team of operatives working for Trump attorney Sidney Powell inside a restricted area of the local elections office in Coffee County, Georgia. Among those seen, Cathy Latham, a former GOP chairwoman of Coffee County, who is under criminal investigation for posing as a fake elector in 2020. Latham previously claimed she was not personally involved in the breach, but the video appears to undercut that claim, showing her inside as a team of Republican operatives work on computers near election equipment and proceed to access voting data.

Scott Hall, an Atlanta bail bondsman and Fulton County Republican poll watcher, is one of the people who spent hours inside of the restricted area. And in audio obtained by CNN, Hall later described what he did.


SCOTT HALL: I'm the guy that chartered the jet to go down to Coffee County to have them inspect all of those computers. And I've heard zero, OK? I went down there. We scanned every freaking ballot.


GRIFFIN: The Georgia secretary of state's office calls what happened in Coffee County criminal behavior and a state criminal investigation is underway. But election experts say the damage could be even bigger than the illegal accessing of voting equipment in Georgia and other parts of the country.


These operatives may be undermining the security of elections in the future.

JESSICA MARSDEN, COUNSEL, PROTECT DEMOCRACY: One of the key defenses to an attack on electronic voting machines is that in most cases to complete a successful attack you need physical access to the machines. And so these efforts to unlawfully gain access to the machines opens up a new sort of threat that we haven't seen in the past.


GRIFFIN: We did get an adamant response from Cathy Latham, the woman who was all over this video. According to an attorney, Ms. Latham acted -- did not act improperly or illegally.

Of course, Poppy and Jim, this is just one of many breaches across the country that are right now being investigated, all with connections back to this effort to try to keep Donald Trump in office after he lost the election.


HARLOW: Drew, the reporting you and your team have done on this has been remarkable and jaw-dropping and I'm sure there's more to come. So, thank you.

GRIFFIN: Plenty more to come, I'm afraid, Poppy.

HARLOW: I have no question about that. Drew, thanks very, very much to you and the team.

Also this, for the first time today, the Justice Department and Donald Trump's legal team will appear before the special master, that is the former federal judge assigned to review those classified documents seized at Mar-a-Lago, really to review all of the 11,000-plus documents. And the former president's lawyers appear to acknowledge there could be potential for criminal indictment in the future. We'll explain what in their filing indicates that question.

Also, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis defending his decision to send those migrants to Martha's Vineyard as a Texas sheriff launches an investigation into the move.

SCIUTTO: Also this morning, a major reversal in a murder case that was the focus of a hit podcast, as well as an HBO series. Adnan Syed is out of prison this morning for the first time in 23 years. We will explain why his conviction was vacated. New evidence as well. And if his legal battles are over.



HARLOW: Former President Trump's legal team has just under three hours from now before the next deadline in Florida. This time their deadline is to respond to the Department of Justice request to continue reviewing classified documents that were seized in that August raid of Mar-a-Lago. In this new filing last night, Trump's lawyers signaled they oppose having to disclose specific information regarding declassification.

Let's discuss this with former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa.

Asha, it's great to have you. Thanks very much for the time.

ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Thanks, Poppy. HARLOW: I think, just to that point, one of the really interesting

parts of all of this is the question of what was declassified, was there a blanket declassification, which the former president has claimed, but which his legal team has never argued in any of the legal filings that they've made throughout this case. And at this point they're saying once again in response to the Department of Justice they do not think they should have to immediately disclose certain, quote, declassification information. What does that tell you and how do you think that this plays out?

RANGAPPA: Well, Poppy, it tells me that his lawyers know what has happened to the attorneys who have come before them in other contexts, and that they're unwilling to make assertions in court for which they can be held professionally and even potentially criminally liable. They have come as close as they can in their previous filings to intimate that Trump has declassified these documents, but, of course, they've never provided any evidence, any affidavit, any documentation to substantiate this.

And what's going to be interesting, Poppy, is whether Trump's lawyers will again make this, you know, pseudo argument in their response to the appeal while at the same time refusing to elaborate on that claim or make a full supported argument to the special master. They've sort of painted themselves into a corner.

But I think I should also add that it's not entirely clear to me why this issue is even relevant. In the case of special master, because even if these documents were declassified, they still are government records and it's not clear to me why they would, in any event, be returned to Trump.

HARLOW: Right. It's an important point because it's 11,000 plus documents that Judge Dearie is now going to have to go through.

Asha, can I show everyone, you tweet a drawing, you're quite the artist. Let's pull up your -- it's hard to read on screen, but I just want you to quickly walk people through just sort of high level, why you did this and what, you know, what sort of question you were trying to answer here. Big picture for the role of the special master now that we have one.

RANGAPPA: Yes, I was trying to get a handle on the universe of documents and material that was seized by the FBI and really what portion of this Trump's lawyers are arguing ought to be returned to him. And so one portion is personal property, you know, documents that were seized that don't have evidentiary value, in other words, that don't prove that he actually had personal access to some of the other things that might have been found within them.

The other category are attorney/client privileged documents. I think there I should have -- I might update this chart to say that if there's anything that falls into the crime fraud exception that could also be evidence. But those are really the two categories that Trump actually has some right to have returned to him.

Then there's this teeny little part of this entire universe of government property, presidential records, classified documents that may be subject to executive privilege, which Trump may or may not actually have any right to assert.


That's not clear that he does. And that's the piece that the special master is apparently going to look through these 11,000 documents to find.

HARLOW: Asha, just briefly, the -- one thing I found interesting from the - from Judge Cannon's ruling on this a few days ago is that she indicates that Trump's attorneys will be able to view or have access to all the seized documents. Is that - is that normal? Is that unprecedented? What do you make of that?

RANGAPPA: I think it's unprecedented in this case because of a couple of reasons. First, we've -- there's never been a special master to go through to find things that are subject to executive privilege. You know, we have it for attorney/client privilege. That's what filter teams are for. But then there's the added component here of this highly classified material.

Poppy, some of the FBI agents who executed this search had to get additional clearances merely to go in and actually seize this -- seize this evidence, right?

HARLOW: Right.

RANGAPPA: And so, you know, this idea that it would just be willy- nilly, you know, and everybody can take a look at, you know, special access programs -

HARLOW: Right.

RANGAPPA: Which sort of makes them not so special access anymore seems very strange and I think really gets to, in the most generous interpretation, a lack of comprehension by Judge Cannon of the national security implications of the issues that have been presented before her.

HARLOW: You're right. It brings up a whole host of questions about sort of what precedent will be for questions of executive privilege and what attorneys can see, et cetera, going forward.

Asha, thanks a lot.

RANGAPPA: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead, a Texas sheriff warns Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that there could be legal consequences for his flying 50 migrants from Texas to Martha's Vineyard. The latest as those migrants receive some legal representation and why New York is now weighing legal options as that city face the pressure of helping thousands of migrants bused in from Texas. And we're, of course, moments away from the opening bell on Wall

Street and that is where we find CNN's Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange this morning.

What are we expecting to see?


Less than ten minutes to go before the opening bell. Stocks are in the red with the Dow expected to open almost 200 points lower. That's as the Fed kicks off its two-day meeting. Central bankers expected to make a big interest rate hike tomorrow.

And in a fresh look at the housing market, a surprise pop in new home construction in August, rebounding 12.2 percent. That's despite the average 30-year mortgage now sitting above 6.3 percent, the highest level since 2008.

Stay with CNN.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

U.S. officials have now encountered a record number of migrants along the southern border this fiscal year, which ends in just about a week. According to recent data, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents encountered more than 2 million migrants. Officials say an influx of migrants from countries including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba are driving those numbers higher.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We should note, they're taking advantage of what remains a legal process here in the U.S. All this happening as lawyers for a group of migrants recently flown to Martha's Vineyard by the governor of Florida say their clients were duped into traveling under, quote, false pretenses. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, he claims everything was done above board.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They all signed consent forms to go and then the vendor that is doing this for Florida provided them with a packet that had a map of Martha's Vineyard, it had the numbers for different services on Martha's Vineyard.

So, it was clearly voluntary and all the other nonsense you're hearing is just not true. And why wouldn't they want to go given where they were?


SCIUTTO: CNN's Gloria Pazmino joins us now from New York City, which is also facing the arrival of busloads of migrants. So, Gloria, I'm curious, what is Mayor Adams saying about his own

legal plans? Because, again, you know, there are the politics of this, there's the law. There's an existing law here which provides an avenue for cases to be heard by migrants such as these. So, what are the legal avenues here?

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Correct. And, Jim, and the mayor has said that he is weighing legal options against these other states. The city is in a difficult position here. New York City is one of the few places that is required to provide shelter to homeless people by law. And the shelter system here in New York City had already been under stress, even before these migrant arrivals were happening.

Just this past weekend a record number of people arriving here in New York. At least 1,000 people, nine buses. So, the mayor really under pressure here. He says his administration is looking at some options, including possibly using cruise ships as a way to house people while they are going through the system.