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Fiona Strengthens to Cat 3, May Get Even Stronger; Today, Deadline for Trump Team's Response to DOJ Request to Keep Reviewing Seized Docs; Texas Sheriff Launching Probe of Migrant Flights to Martha's Vineyard. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired September 20, 2022 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


Right now, Hurricane Fiona strengthening as it sets its sights on another batch of islands. But as the category 3 storm moves past Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the damage it has left is devastating. Look at those images. In Puerto Rico, at least two people are dead this morning after most of the power on the island is out. It could be days before it is restored.


EDWARD CORDOVELLI, RESIDENT: We're looking for gasoline, water, ice, all of the supplies necessary for getting through this. We were hoping it wouldn't be so big. But, well, it was bigger than we expected and you have to make do with what you have.


SCIUTTO: They've been through this before. Rescuers have saved more than a thousand people from the floodwaters. As much as 30 inches of rain fell on the island. That is like two-and-a-half feet. Rescue efforts are still ongoing as crews try to get to people in more hard to reach areas. All this comes five years, if you could believe it, to the day after Hurricane Maria made landfall on the U.S. island. Many people who lived through that catastrophe fear the fallout and the aftermath from Fiona could be worse.

Now, Turks and Caicos, possibly next in the storm's path, the first major hurricane of the year expected to become a category 4 by tomorrow.

HARLOW: Let's bring in our CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers. Chad, where is the -- well, we see where the storm is headed but what is it bringing? How bad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it just really went right over Grand Turk. Now, that is not Grace Bay and Providenciales, as you would know. That is the next kind of set of islands over. But we do know that there has already been damage on South Caicos and also East Caicos.

I've been watching some videos out of the some resorts along Grace Bay, and so far so good, they're really getting winds of 50 to 60. They can handle that, even the hurricane hunter in it right now finding wind speeds of about 103 to 115. I know that's not that big of a difference but maybe it means roof or no roof left.

So, we are going to see this continue to gather strength, 140-mile- per-hour storm by tomorrow and we're still going to see some rain showers across parts of Puerto Rico.

The problem with this storm is that it was moving at eight miles per hour. And that is how you got so much flooding. That is how you got 32 inches of rain in Ponce. That is the bottom 10 percent of how fast storms should be moving away. It just didn't want to move away. It just continues to want to rain.

A little bit of rain today, maybe an inch or two, but this has now moved away from Puerto Rico, even really moving away from the Dominican Republic. Not seeing a lot of rain on the south side of the D.R. But there is the storm right now, not seeing a really defined eye, and that is good. That means it is not gaining rapid intensification.

But here is what is going to go on. We are going to get a storm surge on the Caicos. We are going to get this to move on up toward the north, and maybe even toward Bermuda. You're in the cone, Bermuda, but not in the middle of it.

And here is what I don't like. The models are indicating a left turn into Atlantic Canada. Now, we know what happened with a different storm a few years ago that made a left turn. We don't like left turns.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Chad Myers, I think you're talking about Sandy there?

MYERS: I didn't want to mention it.

SCIUTTO: Yes, okay, fair enough, bad memories. Thanks so much. We'll be watching closely. We know you will.

All right, joining me now from Puerto Rico, Sergio Marxuach, he is the policy director for the Center for New Economy. It's an non-profit think tank. They recently completed an analysis of the state of Puerto Rico's electric grid. Full disclosure, Sergio and I, we went to college together. Sergio, it is good to talk to you this morning.

SERGIO MARXUACH, POLICY DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR A NEW ECONOMY: Jim, good to see you an thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: You've been deep on this issue of Puerto Rico's recovery from Maria but also just its broader economic recovery.

[10:05:01] I want to start by asking, how are people doing there right now? What is the situation today and does it compare to what we saw five years ago?

MARXUACH: Well, the first thing we have to remember is that the damage of this caused by any storm is not only a function of the strength of the storm but also how prepared you are, how vulnerable is the population. And, unfortunately, we were not in the strongest position to weather this storm.

Right now, we have like around 80 percent of the population without electricity, around 65 percent without water, 25 percent don't have cell phone service. Approximately 2,000 people are in shelters and we have got in over 30 inches of rain in some areas, as you reported. So, there is widespread flooding and a lot of damage to roads, bridges, commercial infrastructure and homes. So, we have our work cut out for us.

So, relative to Maria, though, the fact that we're having this conversation is proof or evidence that we have done some things right. Back then, for example, nobody had access to cell phone or internet. So, we did some things right. But we do have a lot of work in front of us.

SCIUTTO: You have said that the power grid in Puerto Rico, you've described it as functional but fragile. And I wonder, are we seeing that here, that the storm -- that the repairs done in the wake of Maria were not sufficient to prevent folks losing power again?

MARXUACH: Yes, definitely. What happened after Maria is that we finished the emergency repairs, which took about a year, by the way. They were finalized around August 2018. And then on the second stage of the process, which is when actually we start thinking about making the grid more resilient and strengthening it, we have a lot of ideas and we had a lot of discussions with FEMA but very little progress made due to very -- several different reasons. But the fact is that the grid has a lot of patches and that is what we're seeing right now. It hasn't been strengthened or made more resilient since Maria.

SCIUTTO: We had a former state senator on last hour who said that of the $10 billion or so given to Puerto Rico post-Maria, that only about $40 million of $10 billion has been spent so far. He blamed red tape and said that a lot of that burden falls on Puerto Rico. And I wonder if you agree of that. Why hasn't more of that aid been spent to help prevent these kinds of consequences?

MARXUACH: Yes, that is a number that has been spent on what FEMA calls permanent works, long-term projects to strengthen the grid. And I think there is a lot -- there is a lot of blame to go around. Part of it is on Puerto Rico. Part of it is on, you know, different (INAUDIBLE). And also there is a lack of agreement as to how to precisely rebuild the grid to make it more resilience. This is a big debate.

And this is happening not only in Puerto Rico but also everywhere, between renewables and natural gas. The fossil fuels lobby is strong everywhere. So, it is not a surprise that we're facing a lot of pressure just to rebuild (INAUDIBLE) as supposed to make the system more resilient while taking into account climate change.

SCIUTTO: What do folks need most right now? I'm sure that a lot of folks watching our air now are seeing people in need. What is most urgent?

MARXUACH: Well, most urgent is to get water, food and any medical treatment to people that are living in isolated communities. We need to work on the debris removal, open roads, make sure that it is safe to move around the island, finish any emergency rescue operations that need to be finished. As you saw from those visuals, there is a lot of flooding still in the island. We're expecting some more rain soon. So, those are top of mind right now to me in terms of what needs to be done immediately.

SCIUTTO: Sergio Marxuach, we appreciate the work you're doing in Puerto Rico. We wish you and we wish the people there the very best.

MARXUACH: Thank you, Jim. On behalf of us, thank you for having us and sharing our story.

SCIUTTO: Of course.

HARLOW: Well, a deadline is looming for former President Trump. His legal team has just under two hours from now to respond to the Department of Justice bid to halt the special master review of those classified documents, over 100 of them, of the 11,000 documents seized from Mar-a-Lago. In a few filing, Trump's lawyers opposed though having to disclose specific information about the documents that Trump says he declassified.

This all comes as the special master is sifting through all of these documents and holding his first hearing in New York at noon Eastern today.


So, there is a lot to talk about and unpack with Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel of the NSA. It's good to have you, Glenn. Thanks, very much. I should note, you worked under both the Obama and Trump administrations, is that correct?


HARLOW: All right. So, just looking at the facts here, you've got former Federal Judge Raymond Dearie who is going to hold this hearing today in New York at noon and at the same time the Trump team has two hours to respond with their latest filing, but they're pushing back. Last night, they pushed back on part of this saying, no, they should not have to immediately disclose certain declassification information. Remember, Trump said, well, I declassified all of this stuff, blanket declassification. I think that 17 or 18 folks in the Trump White House at the time have pushed back on that.

Why do you think it is that his legal team isn't making that legal argument that the former president himself is making?

GERSTELL: Well it is one thing for President Trump to say on his Truth Social website that I declassified everything and there is nothing to see here, it is quite another thing for the lawyers to have to make an assertion in court about that. And it is been fascinating to see that at various points along the way, when attorneys for Donald Trump could have made the argument about declassification, such as when the first set of documents was turned documents to the National Archives back in January, or, again, in response to the subpoena, there was no comment about the declassification. Is it just something the president has made up?

And now that Judge Dearie, who is a very respected judge who served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has said to Trump's attorneys, I want to hear what arguments you have that support that these documents were declassified. The attorneys have backpedaled. They said, please give us more time, we're not ready to make the comment yet. And besides, if we are going to make that assertion, we don't want to do it before the magistrate, who approved the search warrant, we want to do it again before Judge Cannon, which to me suggests that they're very aware that their argument is on thin ice, if on any ice at all.

HARLOW: Okay. So, what if Trump's legal team does not present that argument? What if they never make the legal argument in these filings that, yes, the former president, in some way, shape or form, declassified these documents? Would you say then that Judge Dearie or I guess it would be Cannon, would then say, all right, DOJ, you know, back to you, you can continue your criminal investigation because we have no legal argument here for declassification?

GERSTELL: Well, that is not going to be a decision for the special master to make. The special master simply putting documents into buckets, so to speak, for Judge Cannon to further rule. But based on what the unprecedented decision that Judge Cannon has made, both originally in appointing the special master and most importantly telling the government, pencils down, don't continue with this investigation, looking at these documents, stop the counterintelligence investigation, I doubt seriously that Judge Cannon will -- will take another opportunity to back off her order.

HARLOW: What I find most fascinating and potentially most consequential going forward in terms of what precedent is being set by the courts here is the question of executive privilege and how far it extends and to whom it extends. And this is in Cannon's order a few weeks ago, she pointed to U.S. versus Nixon, that 1974 case, the Supreme Court decision, but so did Department of Justice lawyers, except they see it totally differently. Can you explain how consequential a question it is?

GERSTELL: Sure. This is critically important, Poppy. So, the doctrine of executive privilege actually dates back to the time of George Washington, who refused to turn over to Congress some records about how the executive branch had negotiated a treaty. And that is the essence of the privilege. It says the executive branch doesn't have to turn over internal deliberations to another separate but equal part of the government, the judiciary or the Congress or to the public.

And that was the basis of the decision you cited, the U.S. versus Nixon, which was a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court saying to President Nixon, no, you don't have executive privilege in this area. And the one case that directly applies here is a later case involving Nixon, involving the GSA, in which there is a famous line in there, which is that the privilege is not personal to the president, it belongs to the republic, and that is a critical issue here. There is no basis for, in this case, Judge Cannon to say to the government, you're not allowed to see your own executive branch documents. That just makes no sense at all.

HARLOW: Glenn Gerstell, thank you so much for helping us understand this a little bit more ahead of this deadline today.


Good to have you. Jim?

GERSTELL: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So many big legal questions today.

Still to come this hour, a war of words, a Texas sheriff has announced an investigation into migrants flown to Martha's Vineyard, this as Florida's governor stands by his actions.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): My actions speak louder than my words.

We get things done in Florida.

SHERIFF JAVIER SALAZAR, BEXAR COUNTY TEXAS: Just from a human rights perspective, what was done to these folks is wrong.


SCIUTTO: What is the law? That's the question. We are looking into it all, including the fine print of the taxpayer money that Governor DeSantis and others used to fund these trips.

Plus, President Biden is preparing to address the U.N. General Assembly, rally international support on a number of key issues, including Ukraine. We'll be there.

And later, the man at the center of a popular true crime podcast has walked out of prison after more than 20 years. A look at what made the judge vacate Adnan Syed's conviction but why this case isn't over yet.



SCIUTTO: Overnight, a Texas sheriff has opened an investigation into how 48 Venezuelan migrants, legal, were flown from his state to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. He says they were taken there under false pretenses, exploited and hoodwinked, in his words.

HARLOW: And now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is defending the transport of those migrants after taking credit for the flights.

You let's go back to our CNN Correspondent Gloria Pazmino. She joins us with more.

This sheriff claims, that sheriff in Texas claims, who has opened this investigation, that this was done for a photo op. He's actually also alleging that local laws were potentially broken, even potentially federal laws. Can you explain that?

GLORIA PAZMINO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar talked about this yesterday, announcing this investigation. He said that people lured these migrants in San Antonio, eventually to Florida and then to Martha's Vineyard. That is how he believes some of these people ended up there. He said yesterday that he is opening up an investigation into exactly what went on here, investigating possible criminality attached to all of this.

He was also very critical of the people he believes were allegedly involved in all of this, saying he believes that they took advantage of these migrants who were here desperately looking for help and all of this will be considered as he opens up that investigation.

Listen to the sheriff describing what he believes went on here.


SALAZAR: I believe that they were preyed upon. Somebody came from out of state, preyed upon these people, lured them with promises of a better life, which is what they were absolutely looking for and hoodwinked into making this trip to Florida and then onwards to Martha's Vineyard, for what I believe to be nothing more than political posturing.


PAZMINO: Now, just for context here, we should mention that Sheriff Salazar is a Democrat and he was actually asked about that yesterday, about the political dynamics of all of this. He clarified that he's actually not on the ballot and he said that this was really just an issue of right and wrong, an issue that has put human beings in the middle and he accused other politicians of trying to score political points.

To that end, a spokesperson for Governor Ron DeSantis has now issued a response saying, quote, immigrants have been more than will to leave Bexar County after being abandoned, homeless and left to fend for themselves. Florida gave them an opportunity to seek greener pastures in a sanctuary jurisdiction that offered greater resources for them as we expected.

Of course, we know from the reporting that not everyone who went to Martha's Vineyard actually even knew where they were going. So, this idea that people were -- gave or knew what they were doing is, of course, going to be a part of the investigation going forward. Poppy and Jim?

HARLOW: Gloria, thank you very much, Gloria Pazmino, for explaining that to our viewers.

Let's talk about this with Alayna Treene, Congressional Reporter for Axios. Good morning. Good to have you.

Let's just take a moment to listen to Governor DeSantis and then a few facts on the other side.


DESANTIS: 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 of the other nonsense you're hearing is just not true. And why wouldn't they want to go given where they were?


HARLOW: So, Alayna, just a few facts that are being alleged by the attorneys for some of these migrants, including the fact that they say that their clients were misled by being told there would be cash, housing, work opportunities, travel assistance on the other side when they arrived there, also failing to mention that these benefits are things that are guaranteed to refugees that get refugee status outside of the U.S., not asylum seekers who come here seeking asylum before -- before a judge, and also the pamphlets saying that they were from the office of refugee and immigrants that listed that phone number, that office says they don't make these pamphlets. So, now the question is who is the telling the truth here.

ALAYNA TREENE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, AXIOS: No, I think you're exactly right, Poppy. And Axios as well spoke with many of the lawyers who were helping represent some of the migrants that were transferred to Martha's Vineyard. And they told us that a lot of these people were misled. Some of them thought they were going to Boston. Some thought they were going to New York City and were offered up to eight months of cash assistance and other things that they thought they would be getting and they didn't.


So, there is a lot of discrepancies between what Governor DeSantis is saying and what the representatives and these migrants are saying as well. And I think that investigation is going to try to figure that out.

And it is very problematic. I mean, I spoke with many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, many of who represent border districts, and they said the big problem with this, even worse than what we've seen, what they've seen, in their words, Governor Greg Abbott and Governor Ducey in Arizona, they said that the idea of not telling these people where they're going, not asking them if they wanted to go is really the difference between what Governor DeSantis did and some of the other governors have done.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, we know, at least some of them were saying they didn't know where they were going. And, by the way, we've all signed consent forms before, right, without reading them. I just have to imagine if there is a practical implication here as well, how many times have you clicked on, I agree, without knowing what the fine print says.

I don't want to ask you about the politics here. Do we have any indication -- listen, from a political -- there's a law, set aside for a moment. From a political standpoint, this is putting into the public eye an issue that Republicans see their advantage in the midterms and have been trying to keep in the public eye for sometime as the numbers have gone up. Is there any data to indicate at this point whether this is a winning issue for Republican lawmakers?

TREENE: I haven't seen any data yet. I'm sure there's a lot of pollsters who are working on this. But I think it's a very messy and dangerous road that Governor DeSantis went down. Because, you're right, at one point, I did speak with people like Senator Marco Rubio, Senator John Cornyn from Florida and Texas respectively, who defended the idea. Cornyn saying it was a terrific idea to thrust this issue back into the national spotlight. Rubio is saying it is not the burden of these different cities and states, it's the burden of the Biden administration and the federal government.

But also, I mean, if you look at Florida, in particular, I think, and my colleagues spoke with some people in Florida as well, a lot of Venezuelans and Cuban-Americans and those who are placed now in Florida really disgruntled and furious, really, with what Governor DeSantis did. And that is a key voting bloc that I know Republicans across the country have tried to court and could be dangerous for Governor DeSantis, particularly as many of these, if not all of these migrants who were sent to Martha's Vineyard, were Venezuelans.

SCIUTTO: Interesting point. We'll be looking. Alayna Treene, thanks so much.

TREENE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: The U.S. is now not ruling out sending tanks to Ukraine, that would be new, as forces continue to gain ground against Russia. What this could mean for the future of the war, that is coming up.