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Inside Politics

Idalia Intensifies As It Roars Towards Florida Gulf; Airport Close As Idalia Takes Aim At Florida; Meadows Claims Politics Part Of His "Capacity As Chief Of Staff"; Judge To Rule On Moving Meadows Case To Fed Court; Meadows: I Was "Playing Defense A Whole Lot"; New Ad Shows Trump's Mug Shot; Ramaswamy Fuels Feud With Haley, Mocks Her Maiden Name. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 29, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, sandbags, school closures and a race to get out of its way. Hurricane Idalia prompts millions to drop what they're doing and prepare for a life-threatening storm surge that's now just hours from the Florida coast.

Plus, just doing his job or aiding and abetting an alleged criminal scheme. Mark Meadows spends three plus hours on the stand, trying to show his actions were just normal chief of staff things and not part of a conspiracy to subvert the 2020 election. And a campaign clash over foreign policy turns uglier. Vivek Ramaswamy calls Nikki Haley a liar, and then calls her by name she chooses not to use. Some see it as a thinly veiled dog whistle.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first, Florida eyes a monster, a major hurricane swirling off its shores. Forecasters warn that hurricane Idalia could be a once in a lifetime storm that will gain strength as it barrels towards the panhandle. Already officials have ordered evacuations across much of the Gulf Coast.

They've told residents to expect widespread power outages for days and they warn storm surges as tall as two cars stacked on top of one another. And that of course that poses a life-or-death risk to anyone who stays behind.

Let's get straight to CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam who is in Clearwater, Florida. What are you seeing so far, Derek?

DEREK VAN DAM, CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Dana. It's the calm before the storm. And listen, what we've got behind us is a record warm ocean and that is not what we want to see, this time of year with a strengthening storm. It is going to feed off of that warm water and that means we are expecting a strengthening hurricane Idalia upon arrival right, Wednesday morning, that is what we're eyeing for the Big Bend.

Look at 85 mile per hour winds that is still a category one, but we are forecasting a powerful category three teetering on a category four, splitting hairs when you start talking about the potential destruction that storm of that magnitude can actually bring. But it is over the open waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and it is pushing up the storm surge as we speak.

There's the latest information from the National Hurricane Center, 125 miles per hour. That's just a tick short of a category for status. And you can see how it exits Florida and enters into southern Georgia and the Carolina as you need to be watching the storm very closely as well.

Wonderful resources here at CNN, we have the ability to show you from the air why this coastline is so susceptible. And you can see the approach of some of the first rain bands here into the greater Clearwater Beach area, Tampa Bay within the next hour, so we expect tropical storm force gusts.

But these numbers have been updated from the National Hurricane Center in terms of potential storm surge. Again, this is above normally dry ground as we zoom in to the great the Big Bend of Florida. This area has the potential to see up to 15-feet of storm surge.

We have all seen this story play out before we are reminded of what happened roughly a year ago in Fort Myers Beach with the storm surge and the catastrophe that unfolded there. But this is the worst-case scenario for a highly vulnerable coastline. And you can see why it is just so shallow in this part of the world. The intercoastal to the barrier islands, they're standing roughly five to 10 feet above sea level.

So, if you're talking 12-feet of inundation, the potential to have that water come up and over these areas is certainly a possibility where we're located and also in the Tampa Bay, four to seven feet that will still cause problems across the immediate coastline. And we're going to monitor that very closely as well. Dana?

BASH: Derek, we will be talking very frequently as this storm gets even closer to where you are. Thank you for putting that all-in perspective. Appreciate it. And already in Florida, a frenzy to fuel up and get out of the harm -- get out of harm's way, I should say. The warnings are coming from officials and newspapers across the state, game time and no screwing around. Those are the headlines from newspapers there. In last hour the governor said power outages could plague the state for days.



GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: When you look at where this storm is going to hit, there's a lot of heavily wooded areas. So, I think you're going to see a lot of these trees knocked down. You're going to see power, a lot of power lines knocked down. And it's just going to require a concerted effort.


BASH: CNN's Sara Sidner is covering it all for us. Sara, really blunt warnings coming from officials up and down the coast there.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And they've said it over and over. We spoken to the mayor of Clearwater, we spoken to the sheriff of St. Petersburg. We have talked to the head of the FAA. All of them speaking with one voice. If you are in a mandatory evacuation area, get out now, save your life, worry about your stuff later.

It looks like nothing is happening. There is a little bit more wind that we've noticed, come upon us from the seaside. But this is going to change and when it changes. If you are not already out of harm's way, you may not be able to get out of harm's way, especially because, yes, this is going to be a strong wind event.

But as you just heard Derek saying, this is really about the storm surge. That is where the danger to life is. That is where the danger for structures are. When that surge happens, it's not just as if it's a slow trickle, it is a rush and it is coming at you fast and furious. And it is just not something that you want to mess about with.

We heard from Governor DeSantis. He's just added 49 counties that are all under an emergency order at this point in time. And he did mention something that is particularly interesting, and particularly something to pay attention to. He says, you know, you'd have to go back to the 1880s or the 1800s, since the area that's going to be hit here has really seen a hurricane on a path like this one at this strength.

We are expecting it to be by the time it hits landfall, a category three that's packing a whole lot of winds, but mostly it's bringing up that water. And I just want to remind you of something because of the day that it is, it is August 29 today.

In 2005, August 29 is seared into a lot of our memories because that is when Hurricane Katrina made landfall. And that too, was a category three storm. And what was that all about? It was about the water. That's what was so deadly. That was the problem, and everyone needs to be aware of that if they are in a mandatory evacuation zone. Dana?

BASH: Such an important point. I was actually thinking about that this morning as I looked at the calendar, my memory that is seared into all of our memories back then and a very unfortunate one. Sara, thank you so much. We will be checking back with you throughout the day, even the hour if you see something changed there.

Right now, I want to show our viewers some live pictures of Key West. You can see winds are already whipping around as a dahlia lumbers towards the coast there. And in Cuba, already it's getting a brutal glimpse into what Florida might see in mere hours. People are wading through knee high water as evacuation buses idling in rapidly rising storm surge. You see those photos there, that video.

I want to go to Cuba. That's where CNN's Patrick Oppmann is. Patrick, what are you seeing?

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the skies are finally clearing here. And the long process of -- long arduous process of assessing damages is just beginning. And of course, when a dalek skirted (Ph) Western Cuba, it came as a much weaker storm that would have Floridians will face. It was a tropical storm and then it turned into a category one hurricane early this morning.

And while it would seem like Cuba missed the bullet. You know, there's images of people walking through flooded streets. Some of the rain that we felt all throughout the morning was just lashing people who were trying to go to work.

We didn't expect it would be quite this bad, Dana, but we hours this morning, where the rain absolutely pounded us, and that we saw how quickly the streets can flood, how the wind can just pick up out of nowhere. It actually knocked over some of our camera equipment, kind of out of the blue this morning.

So, the situations can change very, very quickly. And of course, Cuba got a much weaker storm than what Floridians are going to face because as Idalia travels into towards Florida, it is going through warmer waters and that is the fuel for hurricane. So, Floridians are going to face a much, much stronger storm than we faced here in Cuba.

BASH: Patrick, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it. And the storm is spelling travel mayhem. It is one of the busiest weekend's coming up of the entire year. It's Labor Day weekend. Let's talk about that with our own Pete Muntean. So, Pete, for those planning on traveling this week or looking ahead to this weekend. What should they know?


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: You know, if you have a trip to Disney World, or Universal or Tampa, you are no doubt glued to the airline app to see what the latest is about how this storm could impact things. And it could really have a nationwide impact. You know we're hearing from Southwest Airlines, which is especially well leveraged out of Tampa, and it could be disproportionately impacted by this storm.

The Tampa airport closed at 12:01am today. A preemptive strike really, because they're mostly concerned there about the storm surge. The airport is right on the bay. And they're also concerned about projectiles, the infrastructure trying to move airplanes out of the way. It's really causing a trickle-down effect to cancellations nationwide.

These are the latest numbers from flight aware about 491 cancellations. That's the latest from flight. We're checking it right now. 1083 delays nationwide. These numbers are going up by the moment. The FAA is monitoring this from its data center.

It's command center in Warrenton, Virginia, and it says it has had a teleconference earlier today. There was another one being planned for later on today. There is big concern here that this storm is going for some major hubs. St. Pete/Clearwater, it closes at 3pm this afternoon. So, we're only hours away from that.

What's interesting is that Orlando International Airport will remain open. Thankfully, at least right now, at least the airport is saying that it's inland and won't be too impacted that badly. But we're seeing airlines already tried to make it easier for passengers to change plans.

So many people anticipated to travel for this long Labor Day weekend. And we know that behaviors have changed. A lot of people really start traveling on Thursday just because of the fact that they can work from home. So, this could have a really big impact you, Dana?

BASH: OK. We'll keep in touch about that. Thank you so much for that reporting, Pete. And ahead, we will get more on where this hurricane is headed and when it's expected to make landfall. And also fascinating new testimony from former Trump Chief Mark Meadows. We're going to dig in on that next.




BASH: Now to Fulton County, Georgia and what Mark Meadows hopes a judge and eventually a jury will believe right now. It is still up in the air at this point whether Meadows will get his wish to move his case to federal court. But we learned a lot Monday about how the former White House chief of staff plans to defend against a sweeping indictment in Georgia.

He spent three plus hours on the witness stand and his attorney led him through a carefully orchestrated story of his last few months in office. The main takeaway that Meadows said politics was central in his federal role as Trump gatekeeper inside the White House.

CNN Sara Murray is live for us with more on that. Sara, what was the sort of broad takeaway from the argument, as we said, that Meadows and his lawyer wanted the judge to hear?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, Dana, first of all, it's a gamble to put a criminal defendant under oath even in something like this. But that's what they did with Meadows because they wanted to drive home this notion that everything he was doing, even if it may have seemed political was actually part of his work as White House chief of staff, and therefore it should be moved to federal court.

So, calls involving Rudy Giuliani, who was then Trump's personal attorney, that was all part of his official duties. The call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, where Trump asked Raffensperger to find the votes. They said that that was part of Mark Meadows' official duties.

He said that these voter fraud suspicions were a roadblock to the peaceful transfer of power and that he was trying to just land the plane on this whole peaceful transfer of power to incoming President Joe Biden, which of course, didn't go well considering January 6. His lawyer went so far, Meadows lawyer as to say essentially, everything was within the scope of Mark Meadows duties as White House Chief of Staff except if he, you know, went to Lafayette Square Park and shot someone, Dana?

BASH: Very specific illustration there. Appreciate that. Thank you so much, Sara. And here with me to share their insights, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, CNN's Kristen Holmes, and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu.

Andy, the whole sort of crux of what Mark Meadows said can be described in the following quote. "There is a role for the chief of staff to make sure those campaign goals and objectives are implemented at the federal level." Is that the role for the White House chief of staff or is the White House chief of staff supposed to be dealing with the federal government? And the president in his official capacity and not in the politics, which is what he argued in court yesterday?

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, FBI: I think there are two different perspectives here. One, Mark Meadows is quite reasonable. He would think everything the president told him to do that was his job, and he was acting within the scope of his job. But that's not necessarily the way a judge is going to interpret what he was doing under color of authority.

Technically, color of authority means the acts that you undertook that were authorized by the statutes or the constitution that gives you the authority you have. So, I think he is on very shaky ground in terms of whether or not this judge is going to go along with his incredibly broad interpretation of his duties, or whether he's going to draw lines around things like the Hatch Act.

No, you do these things as a federal high -- ranking federal official, and you did other things that were political, those two don't mix and therefore no removal.

BASH: So, Mark Meadows was Donald Trump's chief of staff. And Marc Short was Mike Pence's chief of staff. They were in very different positions, and especially are right now when it comes to what was going on with the post-election, desperation to try to stay in office and of course, up through January 6. But I want you to listen to what Marc Short said to Wolf Blitzer yesterday about his skepticism of Meadows argument.



MARC SHORT, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: If that was true, then why was he circumventing all of White House counsel's advice? Why wasn't Pat Cipollone involved? Why wasn't that team involved? Why wasn't DOJ involved? Instead, Mark recruited outside lawyers who he wanted to listen to.


BASH: That was Alex Marquardt, but it was well show. Go ahead.

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The problem with Meadows is almost exactly what his lawyer said about this shooting somewhere in Lafayette Park. That's what he's accused of doing is trying to shoot a bullet through the heart of American democracy. And most of his testimony yesterday was going to, what I would consider to be a factual innocence defense.

Just as Andy was saying, his argument is kind of look, I'm the chief of staff to the president, I got to handle everything. He tells me do something, I got to take care of it. That might have some jury appeal, meaning don't blame him. He shouldn't have gone down. Might have had some legal strategy appeal to maybe cut a deal ahead of time to say, I was just trying to serve the boss, I didn't realize it was illegal.

Where it doesn't work for him is to try to expand the job description to cover these accusations that were clearly outside a normal chief of staff's duty. I think he could line up a dozen of them in the last century, and none of them would say that this was part of their normal duties.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But they will say that when it comes to what's normal and what's not normal. When you talk about the Trump administration, most things are not normal. And so, if you're setting up as Mark Meadows did, if you look back on the January 6 committee, and these various testimonies that essentially put Mark Meadows at the center of all of this, really at the direction of Donald Trump.

And that's the question that I have when other people are listening to this. Maybe they don't know what a chief of staff's job is, talking about a jury specifically, do they see this as, OK, this was what the president was focused on. This is what the chief of staff does is he serves the president. So, wasn't he doing that in his capacity?

BASH: And is that relevant?

HOLMES: Right.

MCCABE: I think it is relevant in the way that Shan described, it's relevant to a jury who might be thinking, hey, you know what, this guy was just following orders. He didn't know. But that's not what the standard is he's facing right now. He's trying to convince a judge that he was within the legal scope of his authority as chief of staff. And even though it's a low bar, and most high-ranking federal officials are able to successfully invoke things like removal and dismissal on immunity grounds. I'm not so sure he's going to be successful.

BASH: And Shan one of the other things that Meadows said was, "one of my jobs was trying to be gatekeeper. That was a lot more challenging with President Trump. You play offense and defense. I found myself playing defense a whole lot." And that probably is one of the understatements of the year.

WU: Same exact point, those are all meant to say this was a tough job. That's all encompassing. It doesn't go to this legal question of whether one, he has enough of a colorable defense federally to be in federal court. And two, the real heart of his defense is the Supremacy Clause immunity, meaning I'm a federal official, I can't be charged.

In a lot of ways this was a dry run for that. This was really a hearing about his substantive defense. That's why he gets up on the stand to take that chance to convince people, the judge that really, factually, I'm innocent here, I'm just doing my job.

BASH: Meanwhile, we don't have to remind people that this is all happening against the backdrop of a campaign that Donald Trump is running again for president. One of his competitors, Chris Christie. His Super PAC, it's called tell it like it is, ran the first ad with the Trump mug shot. Let's watch.


HOLMES: I think the Trump people will love it. I think that they like the idea of running with the mug shot. I think that they're happy that Chris Christie will use that. I do think that there is a concern, larger concern when we come to general electability, when all of those things that Chris Christie says in that ad is absolutely true.

His own advisers have those concerns. People are going to be exhausted by the time they get to a general election if he is in fact the nominee. But in terms of putting that out there, they like having that out there. As you can see, that's what they did when they started selling their own merchandise with the mug shot almost immediately.

BASH: OK. Ahead, we're going to talk about two GOP rivals getting even more personal. They're waging a war of words on the 2024 campaign show. We're going to have details on that next. Plus, we are going to bring you the latest on hurricane Idalia, what you need to know.




BASH: Vivek Ramaswamy is adding fire to his feud with Nikki Haley. In a new self-proclaimed, fact checker page on his campaign website, Ramaswamy's camp responded to Haley's claim that the 38-year-old entrepreneur does not support Israel.

Here's what that factcheck says, wrong. Keep lying, Nimarata Randhawa. The desperation is showing. If that name doesn't sound familiar to you, we will explain. The former U.N. ambassador was born in Nimarata Nikki Randhawa. Nikki is her middle name, which she has gone by since she was a child. She married Michael Haley over two decades ago when she took her husband's surname.

The South Carolina Republican responded to the attack saying, I'm not going to get into the childish name calling. He of all people should know better than that, but I've given up on him knowing better than anything at this point. We saw the childish demeaning side of him on stage.