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Idalia Floods Florida, Georgia, Carolinas Before Moving Offshore; McConnell Freezes During News Conference in Home State; Giuliani Found Liable for Defaming 2 Georgia Election Workers. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired August 31, 2023 - 06:00   ET


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Poppy is off this week. Sara Sidner is out of the storm zone and already laughing, because it's Sara Sidner. That means we're going to have a fun and good day.


But let's get started with "Five Things to Know" for this Thursday, August 31.

North Carolina now getting pummeled by heavy rains from Idalia. The tropical storm is still packing a punch, with 60 mile-per-hour winds after leaving a path of devastation in Florida.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell freezes up in front of reporters, again. It's the second time this has happened this summer, raising questions about both his health and his political future.

MATTINGLY: And the New York attorney general says Donald Trump inflated his wealth by as much as $2.2 billion in a single year. And this is part of the civil fraud lawsuit against the former president, his adult sons, and the Trump Organization.

Also, a federal judge says Rudy Giuliani is liable for defaming two Georgia election workers in his effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election. This is the first major legal judgment against Trump's former attorney, and an unsparing one at that, after he failed to hand over crucial evidence in the case.

SIDNER: And Phil, I need you to pay attention to this one. Because it is kickoff time for college football. It's those Florida Gators.


SIDNER: We're not mentioning the other team here this morning. OK? Not today, my friend. Florida Gators vs. someone. Go Gators.

But this will be the last season from some storied rivalries as teams shift conferences to cash in.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now. MATTINGLY: Well, good morning, everyone. We are going to get to

college football, most certainly, in the hours ahead. But before we get to our storm coverage, where things stand now, and what is now Tropical Storm Idalia, I want to ask you. You were there yesterday throughout the course of the day, overnight, and into the morning, throughout the day. What was your sense of the preparation and the devastation?

SIDNER: Look, a lot of people in Florida, because they're used to having these storms come through, there are too many people who say, You know what? I'm going to stay home. I'm not going to -- This isn't going to be that bad. We've been through this before.

But because of where this storm went, they've not been through this before, because this is a larger storm than they've seen in 120- something years.

MATTINGLY: In the Big Band region.

SIDNER: In the Big Bend region. And so what my biggest concern was was that there would be people that thought we've been through this, and then they got stuck. And that did happen quite often.

MATTINGLY: We're still kind of seeing the aftereffects down in Florida, but this morning Idalia, now a tropical storm, cutting a destructive path across parts of the Southeast.

It's now moving slowly North along the Carolina coast. The storm is losing strength, but still bringing heavy rain, flash floods and tornado threats to the Carolinas.

Idalia slammed into Florida's Big Bend region as a Category 3 hurricane, the strongest storm to hit that region in at least 125 years. Then, it rolled over Georgia as a Category 1 storm, unleashing torrential rains and flooding.

SIDNER: Homes destroyed, entire communities flooded and many roads are still impassable this morning. A major cleanup is in store for Florida's West coast.

Many residents are visibly in shock after watching their livelihoods, their neighborhoods and their homes washed away.


DAWN PEREZ, PERRY, FLORIDA, RESIDENT: I'm trying not to get emotional, but you know, this is a beautiful town. The people are wonderful. And I hate seeing my people go through something like this.


SIDNER: It's really, really hard to watch that happen and to experience it.

We have team coverage with CNN's Carlos Suarez. He is live in Tampa, Florida. But first to Dianne Gallagher in North Carolina, where Idalia is moving off the coast, but still, you're seeing the effects of that. What's going on this morning?

DIANNA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Sara, we're starting to experience some more of those wind gusts this morning, intermittently. It rained throughout the night, a flash flood warning expiring this morning for the Southeastern part of North Carolina.

And you can kind of see the reeds here being pushed down by the wind. We're looking at sustained winds of more than 20 miles per hour at this point here in Wilmington where I am and other parts of Southeastern North Carolina. We're seeing gusts up to about 45 miles per hour as Tropical Storm Idalia moves its way out into the ocean away from land.


Now, look, we did have some flooding in the area, especially overnight. This rain coinciding along along with that storm surge and the king tide. Most of the flooding did happen in what officials tell me are trouble areas that tend to flood anyway. Here in downtown Wilmington there was some flooding, Carolina Beach.

Also in Southport, North Carolina. Much of that water has since receded.

But the concern this morning is continued rain that is expected to pick up some and these winds that are going to go throughout the morning into the early afternoon. We could continue to look at these high winds.

So in Wilmington, they have delayed all public transportation through the morning, canceled it. Schools are also either virtual or completely cancelled in the Southeastern region of North Carolina today.

And we're looking at offices and stuff, asking people just to stay home this morning. Officials do expect, Sara and Phil, the worst of it today to be in about an hour or so. And so, again, asking people to stay home, at least for the morning.

SIDNER: Well, we are sorry that we have stuck you out there with your team, but thank you so much for being there. We'll check in with you in the next hour when things are at their height. Dianne Gallagher, appreciate it.

MATTINGLY: Now to Carlos Suarez in Tampa, Florida. Carlos, what are you seeing there in the aftermath? We were watching Derek van Dam throughout the course of the day yesterday. Look at the storm surge, the flooding. Where are things now?

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil and Sara, good morning.

The cleanup effort is well underway here in Hillsborough County. The lone evacuation order out here was lifted yesterday, and the bridges that connect the Tampa Bay area out to Clearwater and St. Pete have reopened. Now to the North of us, it is a very different situation. Folks there

are still dealing with significant flooding. Up in Pasco County, thousands of homes have been damaged by all of that water. And at least 150 people had to be rescued from their homes.


SUAREZ (voice-over): Hurricane Idalia barreled through Florida Wednesday, making landfall near Keaton Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My house is down in Keaton. I don't know if it's there or not. But this right here, I don't know. I don't know if I'm going to have a house to go home to.

SUAREZ (voice-over): The eye of the storm ripped through Florida's Big Bend region, with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour, resulting in a once-in-a-century weather event.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was bad. It was heavy. Heavy, heavy winds. Worst I've ever been in.

SUAREZ (voice-over): The Category 3 storm left homes demolished and streets flooded.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We clearly have significant damage throughout the Big Bend region.

SUAREZ (voice-over): This family in Perry, Florida, watched as trees fell directly on their home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh. No! It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Up and down Florida's West coast, record-breaking storm surge occurred. In Citrus County, Crystal River left devastated by flood waters.

DOUG BABER, CITY MANAGER, CRYSTAL RIVER, FLORIDA: People are actually really going strong. And we are -- an entire city of Crystal River is in a flood zone. So we -- we have no choice but to move to higher ground.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Further South along the coast in Hudson Beach, crews rescued residents by boat as the flood waters came rushing into their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe this. I've never seen anything like it.

SUAREZ (voice-over): This family rescued but heartbroken to leave everything behind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just came in before we could get out, man. It's so quick. By the time we get in the truck, and it's up to the -- we weren't able to get the doors open. SUAREZ (voice-over): In Pasco County, around 150 residents were rescued from flooded neighborhoods. This home caught fire in the midst of the flood waters.

Michael Bobbitt from Cedar Key, Florida, says he stayed behind to weather the storm.

MICHAEL BOBBITT, RESIDENT, CEDAR KEY, FLORIDA: These are all little old-school Florida villas, and they were just picked up and carried into the Gulf. So that was heartbreaking to see.

SUAREZ (voice-over): One resident, on Anna Maria Island, posted this video of her swimming through flood waters at 4 in the morning.

ALEXIS DELEON, RESIDENT, ANNA MARIA ISLAND, FLORIDA: Golf carts, cars were flooded, the trailer homes. I mean, it was up to our knees, our waist. We were riding bikes through it. So it got pretty high.

SUAREZ (voice-over): Idalia then traveled North through Georgia into South Carolina, where the storm surge reached 9 feet in Charleston, according to the National Weather Service, leaving roadways treacherous.

This car in Goose Creek, South Carolina, flipped over in the middle of the road.


SUAREZ (on camera): And we spent the day yesterday out in Pinellas County, just to the West of where we are right now in Tampa Bay.

The attention there really shifted from all of the flooding. We were talking about anywhere between 3 to 5 feet of it. The folks that came out to take a look at that quickly realized that several sailboats had washed up ashore along the city of Gulfport there.

We're told that the storm surge caused one of the sailboats to break free, which took out two other sailboats. The owners of all those three sailboats now have to figure out exactly how they're going to get their boats back back out into the Tampa Bay area.


As for the power outages across the state of Florida, guys, we're looking at about 140,000 homes and businesses that are waking up in the dark -- guys.

MATTINGLY: The recovery effort underway, but a ton of work to come. Carlos Suarez, please keep us updated throughout the morning. Thank you.

SIDNER: All right. This morning, there are some new questions about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's health after he appeared to freeze again Wednesday while he was speaking to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, you're up for election in three short years. What are thoughts on it at this point?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I'm sorry. I had a hard time hearing you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's OK. What are your thoughts on running for reelection?

MCCONNELL: My thoughts on what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Running for reelection in 2026.

MCCONNELL: I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you hear the question, Senator? Running for reelection in 2026.

MCCONNELL: All right. I'm sorry, you all. We're going to need a minute. Senator.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to head outside, sir? Want to come with us?



MATTINGLY: It's unsettling to watch. Even more so because this incident is similar to one in the Capitol last month when McConnell also abruptly stopped speaking and needed help from the people around him.

Now his office says he will consult a physician as a, quote, "prudential measure."

CNN's Melanie Zanona joins us now.

Mel, I think the big question, one, in talking to Republican aides, Republican senators last night, there's obviously a lot of concern. The leader is still the leader within that conference and still deeply, deeply respected, but what does this mean for McConnell's future in the Senate?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is a great question, Phil. The first time that he had a freezing incident in front of reporters, his office put out a statement afterwards and said, "Leader McConnell will continue to serve as Republican leader through the rest of his term," which he has the rest of the -- this year and next year to be the Republican leader.

But it's a different question after that. No one knows whether he will run again, and it's also a question whether Republicans would support him in doing so.

At the time, we asked a bunch of Republicans whether they would support McConnell. They did not say if they would continue to serve him in a second term. So that is a big, lingering question. And as you mentioned, Phil, it wasn't just yesterday. There have been

multiple health scares involving Mitch McConnell. He had the other freezing incident earlier this year, and he also fell back in March. He tripped; he had a concussion. He broke some ribs. And he was out of the Senate for six weeks.

Now, in terms of this latest incident, his office did say he is fine. We're also told that he was calling up some of his allies, and he even attended a fundraising event for Congressman Jim Banks, who's running for Senate.

And I want to read you part of the statement from his office. They said, "Leader McConnell felt momentarily lightheaded and paused during his press conference today. While he feels fine, as a prudential measure, the leader will be consulting a physician prior to his next event."

But Phil, still no word on what the results of that visit was or whether it actually happened. And still no word on what the underlying cause is of these really alarming freezing moments that keep happening in front of cameras and in front of reporters. And so questions about his health and his political future only likely to continue.

SIDNER: You know, if you can take the politics out of it and look at him like your grandfather or father, and you see this happen, it's really, really disturbing.

But there is, of course, the politics of all of this. Does this make the push for term limits on the Hill even stronger at this point? Not just him, but also, you've got Dianne Feinstein, as well.

ZANONA: Yes, yes. You're exactly right. So I'm glad you pointed that out, because Mitch McConnell is not the only one doing this. We have seen a very ageing Senate. Dianne Feinstein, of course, she is in her 90s. She is the California Democratic senator. And she has struggled with her health, as well.

She was out earlier this year, which caused a lot of problems for Democrats.

But she has said that she would retire. So she is planning to retire at the end of her term. Versus Mitch McConnell. He hasn't said what he plans to do. I mean, in fact, ironically, the question that he froze at was a question about whether he would run for reelection again in 2026.

So it is a big question. I'm certain that we will probably see another push for term limits, but it's a sensitive issue. And a lot of Democrats and Republicans alike recognize that -- Sara and Phil.

SIDNER: Melanie Zanona, thank you so much for your reporting this early morning.

MATTINGLY: Well, Rudy Giuliani has just lost the defamation lawsuit from two Georgia election workers. How much the former Trump attorney who is already struggling financially could have to pay. SIDNER: And a Russian guerilla group is claiming responsibility for an

attack on Russian soil. What we know about this group. That information ahead.



MATTINGLY: So this is a story you need to pay attention to. This morning, more legal problems for Rudy Giuliani. A federal judge has found him liable for defaming two Georgia election workers.

Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Shaye Moss, sued Giuliani for repeating false claims that they helped commit election fraud. They say those claims put them through a, quote, "living nightmare."


RUBY FREEMAN, FORMER GEORGIA ELECTION WORKER: I've lost my name, and I've lost my reputation. I've lost my sense of security. All because a group of people starting with No. 45 and his ally Rudy Giuliani decided to scapegoat me and my daughter, Shaye. To push their own lies about how the presidential election was stolen.


MATTINGLY: The judge says she ruled in the workers' favor after Giuliani failed to provide discovery in the case. And we're going to keep banging this drum.

For all of the legal threads going on with the former president right now, you have to pay attention to this one. The human element is real.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joins us now. Katelyn, it was -- to read through the 57-page opinion from the judge, it was unsparing. Why?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR LAW AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Because words have consequences. That is the point that the judge is trying to make here.

Rudy Giuliani had said a lot of things about why he wasn't able to respond even to this lawsuit fully from these two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss.


And the judge said none of that matters. You didn't do what you needed to do. I'm finding against you. You're defaulting. You're forfeiting this lawsuit, Rudy Giuliani. You should have known better as a lawyer and former prosecutor.

And that there will be consequences that come from not even having this go to the point where they could test if he was intentionally making these statements.

So at this point in time, Rudy Giuliani not only threw up his hands in responding to the lawsuit, he also essentially admitted or conceded that he was making defamatory comments about these two women publicly.

And now that this loss has been found by the judge, that Giuliani is losing this lawsuit, there's going to be a trial on the damages. So will he have to make them whole? How much will that cost?

And also, how much will he be punished on top of that with additional fines for what he said after the 2020 election about these two women in Georgia, essentially calling them people who were trying to flip ballots as they were counting ballots, which was just not true.

This is what the lawyer for these two women said on CNN last night to Kaitlan Collins. This is Michael Gottlieb. He's been representing them in this case.


MICHAEL J. GOTTLIEB, ATTORNEY FOR SHAYE MOSS AND RUBY FREEMAN: But, you know, our expectation is that we'll be able to prove tens of millions of dollars in compensatory damages before you get to punitive damages. So we expect it to be a significant damages case that we'll present to the jury, and we're confident in our ability to document and demonstrate it.


GOTTLIEB: Yes, you heard me correctly.


POLANTZ: So Giuliani is not in a great place, heading into that trial with this opinion from the judge now against him. But there will be a trial on how much he ultimately will have to play. That will take place next year or at the beginning of the year, according to the judge.

SIDNER: Their lives are forever changed. We heard some of their testimony that Ruby was saying, "I'm afraid to leave my house." I mean, this is how scary. They were getting death threats.

So as you look at these details, it's so disturbing what can happen when the trolls pick up on what Rudy Giuliani said, and they go after these two innocent women.

All right. I do want to ask you about something else that has come up. The New York attorney general's office says that Donald Trump inflated his net worth. This is what they've been looking into. Inflated his net worth by as much as $2.2 billion.

What else did he -- is he saying?

SIDNER: Well, this is according to the New York A.G.'s office as they've done a bunch of evidence gathering and their own calculations as they're heading towards a trial.

They're accusing Donald Trump of civil fraud. And that trial is supposed to be in October. So what they're doing is they're dumping all of this information into

court filings that they're finding. And they're saying that they believe, by their calculations, that in one year, 2014, there was a $2.2 billion disparity of Donald Trump inflating his net worth. Two point two billion dollars more than what it was worth in that year on paper.

They also are saying that there are other calculations for other years where he was inflating of between 17 and 39 percent of what his actual worth was.

Now, this will go to trial, and Donald Trump has a lot of defenses here that they are raising. Things like no one was harmed. He personally had little little involvement in these numbers. But it is quite a startling number to see on paper from the New York A.G.'s office.

MATTINGLY: A startling number and very interesting deposition that was also released. We're going to dig in more on that later in the show.

Katelyn Polantz, great reporting, as always, my friend. Thank you.

SIDNER: All right. Now back to the Tropical Storm Idalia. It's moving off the coast of the United States, finally, but it has left a major mess, destruction behind in several states. We'll talk to someone who rode out the storm and now has a huge cleanup on his hands.


BOBBITT: These were all little old-school Florida villas. And they were just picked up and carried into the Gulf. So that was heartbreaking to see.





DENISE WILLIAMS, MADISON COUNTY RESIDENT: I'm like, you know, this trailer has been sitting here, just like '96. Ninety-six. And it hurt, because I raised my kids up in this trailer. I don't know.

But the good thing about it, I'm glad it wasn't nobody was in here when it happened.


SIDNER: There's no loss of life here. But boy, when you lose your home, it is really something devastating.

That was a Florida mom in Madison County -- which is about an hour away from Tallahassee, the capital -- who lost her home in Hurricane Idalia. Steinhatchee, which is further South and closer to Florida's West

coastline was one of the hardest hit places in the state. The Category 3 hurricane delivered punishing winds.

And you can see there a storm surge of 9 feet into parts of that area. Those winds and water flooded and ripped apart the marina that our next guest owns. All while he was inside hunkering down with his wife.

Joining us now is the owner of the Steinhatchee Marina at Dead Man's Bay, Captain Jody Griffis.

Thank you so much for joining us. There was a warning from authorities, sir, to please leave, get out. Do you regret staying, watching all this happen in front of your eyes?

CAPTAIN JODY GRIFFIS, OWNER, STEINHATCHEE MARINA: No, ma'am. I do not. We've -- we put our heart and soul in this place. And so it's a wonderful facility. It's built up to code requirements.

I did have an elevator shaft. That was my escape plan. It's 14 inches of solid poured concrete, so if it really got bad, you know, we'd already decided that was our backup plan. We should have been pretty safe in there. And we're up on the third floor of that -- during that storm.

So you know, we're about well over 30 feet. So storm surge wasn't really an issue. You know, if the building started coming apart, we'd have taken refuge in the elevator shaft. But it was a sight to behold. I cannot lie.

SIDNER: When you look at it from that perspective -- we're looking at some of the video that you took as this was happening. What does it look like this morning? How much damage is there? And how much cleanup, do you think? And how long do you think it's going to take you to try and put things back together again?

GRIFFIS: Well, this is -- you know, this whole area was hugely affected.