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Tropical Storm Conditions Hit Florida As Hurricane Dorian Moves Toward Carolinas; USC Admissions Officials Considered Family Potential To Donate; Former Defense Secretary Defends Reluctance To Criticize President Trump. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired September 04, 2019 - 07:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. I'm John Berman on Daytona Beach in Florida.

This is CNN's special live coverage of Hurricane Dorian, churning in the sea there about 90 miles from where I'm standing. But we periodically get those outer bands of the storm over our heads. And you can tell it pushing the sea -- pushing the water up into the seawall.

The tide is actually going out -- the tide is going out but every once in a while the surge pushes the water up past where my feet are, very close to the seawall up here. So the storm surge is something they are very concerned about here in Daytona, even as the storm doesn't make a direct hit.

We've been watching the path very, very closely. We're getting gusts of wind here.

And there is some news for the people further north from where I am, so let's go to Chad Myers in the Weather Center for the forecast -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, Jacksonville, right now, reporting a surge of 2.5 feet. Now, that's the bad news.

The good news is it's low tide right now. But in six hours, when the water goes up three feet because of normal tide, all of the sudden we're going to be 5 1/2 or six feet higher than where you are right now -- or where you should be right now.

The winds are picking up around parts of the center but the center is very wide. This is not the tight eyewall where a 130-mile-per-hour wind in the middle. This is a wide eyewall, almost 50 miles across with winds now that spread out -- tropical-storm-force winds 100 miles from the center in all directions.

There goes the wind into Jacksonville. The wind will be into Tybee, the wind will be into Charleston. And Charleston, you're going to get a surge. The track has it very close to Charleston and moving to the northeast from there.

Will land get in the way of this track? The hurricane doesn't know where land is, but the hurricane may not turn in time.

Charleston, five to eight feet of surge. That would take us right to the second surge just below Hugo, which was in 1989 -- two feet below that record surge, John.

So, water is coming. You are at low tide. Six hours from now, you won't be.

BERMAN: That's right, the surge is coming (audio gap) definitely higher than it should right now. It was up on the seawall a little bit earlier this morning. We're watching it very, very closely.

And one point on Charleston that Chad just made there, will it make landfall? We don't know. But even if it gets close there will be serious, serious problems, which is why 200,000 people have left the coastal areas in South Carolina.

So let's go to Athena Jones who is in Charleston right now -- in that city, I imagine, waiting expectantly.


The rain isn't here yet but it's coming, and folks have been preparing for it. Authorities now saying that those preparations need to be rushed to completion because conditions are steadily going to deteriorate today.


We're here in the city's historic district. You can see this boarded- up restaurant. There are several businesses boarded up -- sandbags.

This area has been almost completely vacant since we got here yesterday, and much of downtown looks like this. Hotels are shuttered, businesses boarded up.

And this is, of course, because we are in an extremely flood-prone area. You heard Chad Myers talking about it. They don't call this part of the state the low country for nothing. We're at sea level and right by the sea.

And historically, this is a town whose harbor has seen huge storm surges. They expect one nearly as high as Hurricane Hugo back in 1989.

This is why authorities are saying to get out of town. South Carolina's Emergency Management Division saying folks need to get out this morning so they can get away -- they can get far enough away from the impacts of the storm.

The mayor of Charleston, John Tecklenburg, saying "We want this town to look like a ghost town." So they're saying get out now. Authorities say they won't be able to send rescue teams to help people because they have to protect the safety of first responders as wind conditions worsen -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Athena Jones in Charleston where now, the forecast has the storm passing very close and perhaps, making landfall. We'll check in with you, Athena, throughout the morning.

I now want to go to Derrol Nail, who is at the Kennedy Space Center, a little bit south of where I am -- down the beach a little bit from where I am. Part of a team of people that have been riding out the storm inside the Space Center.

Derrol, if you can hear me, tell me what's been going on there.

DERROL NAIL, SPOKESPERSON, NASA KENNEDY SPACE CENTER (via Skype): Well, here at the Launch Control Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, we've been riding out the storm overnight.

The worst of it, John, coming between midnight and 4:00 a.m. when we had winds that went over 54 miles per hour out on the coast. And up a tower, 250 feet, over 75 miles per hour. The conditions were really whipping here.

And at the moment, we've got a rainband coming in right now. This is the window of the Launch Control Center at firing room one. This is where Apollo managers watched the moonshot rocket go up to the moon in the 60s and where Artemis managers will watch the first woman go to the moon.

You see this window -- you can probably see a lot of the rain coming in right now. This is instinct (ph) glass, by the way, because we're in a hurricane-hardened facility, cat five, so this can withstand. So this glass is super-strong stuff.

And you can see some of the rain coming down on the glass right. I see the feeder band moving in.

Our conditions are still windy, very rainy, so we're going to wait before we send our emergency response team to go out and start surveying our launch infrastructure here where we have a lot of high- value space flight hardware.

BERMAN: Yes, I can feel one of the rainbands coming over me right now, a little bit up the coast from where you are.

Twelve thousand acres at the Kennedy Space Center. Isn't that right? So, assessing the damage, if there is any, will take some time, yes?

NAIL: It absolutely will. We've got an initial response team that's going to go out once the winds have come down below 35 knots. We don't expect that to happen until around 2:00 this evening, Eastern Standard Time.

So when that does happen, our team will go out and do an initial assessment to clear the way for the next team, our Disaster Assessment Recovery Team. They will then come in and do a very thorough job of looking at the entirety of the space complex and the multi-user spaceport here to make sure that we don't have anything that would be unsafe for our workforce when they return, once we've decided a date and time for them to return.

BERMAN: And what's it (audio gap) air mattress and cots, I understand.

NAIL: Yes, absolutely. We've got the Air Force with us. We've got many members of our NASA crew here. They're on the old Army cots.

I, myself, am on an air mattress. I've got my can of beans around here somewhere. Actually, I don't see it. Somebody must have moved it.

But we brought in our own food and we've got enough food for three to four days. We're ready to be here for the long haul.

And so, it's a duty and an honor, really, to be here to make sure that we secure the assets of our space program, which are so important to our country, John.

BERMAN: Right.

All right, Derrol Nail, (audio gap) who stole our can of beans.

NAIL: (Laughing).

BERMAN: Thank you so much for being with us this morning. We really appreciate it.

I have to say, it's fascinating to hear what's been going on there and how you all protect yourself. Please stay safe over the next few hours. Thanks, Derrol.

Alisyn, even riding out a storm sounds cool at the Kennedy Space Center. They make everything sound cool over there. And really extraordinary measures they take to keep everyone safe.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Except for the missing can of beans. As you know, I get very testy when someone moves my can of beans --

BERMAN: The missing can of beans.

CAMEROTA: -- here on the set.

John, thank you.


BERMAN: That was a band -- that was a band -- yes.

CAMEROTA: Oh, OK, yes. You are --

BERMAN: Maybe that was the beans. CAMEROTA: The bands are hitting you now, John, and it's hard to see how can get any more soaked, but I know that that's about to happen. So we'll be back with you momentarily.

There's a little bit of other news to get to because there are new revelations in the college admissions cheating scandal. How students with wealthy parents -- well, guess what? They may have received special treatment, next.


CAMEROTA: The latest addition to the college admissions scandal appears to be another black eye for USC. Internal e-mails reveal how the school flagged children of possible donors for special consideration.

CNN's Brynn Gingras has been covering this for weeks. She is here with more. This is not a shocker.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's not a shocker, but it is interesting to see these e-mails and to see it sort of open wide, right -- or wide open. And it is another defense strategy that we're seeing here as we go through this process of people still saying they didn't do it or they weren't a part of it.


So let's go into it.

These court filings were made by the attorney of a parent charged in the college admissions scam. And essentially, hoped to prove, for them, that the admission systems -- in this case, at USC -- can be fueled by wealthy players long before this scam even started decades ago by mastermind Rick Singer. Remember, he's charged in this as well.

The filing also hopes to convince a judge to subpoena USC for more records, according to the "L.A. Times" who first reported all about this.

Now, the paperwork was also obtained by CNN and it includes e-mails between USC's college admissions personnel and parents of students wanting to get into the school. One e-mail included a spreadsheet with a section left open to explain money that's been donated to the school by a wealthy family or the potential for money to be donated.

In another case, an e-mail between USC's personnel read this about a potential student. Quote, "Our community service initiative is funded by the (redacted) foundation. This is the daughter." And the follow- up e-mail says that student got admitted.

The attorney who made the filing told the "L.A. Times," quote, "The records prove the existence of a university-wide program at USC where past donations, pledges of future donations, or expectation of future donations based on the university's belief in a parent's resources deeply affects the chances for a prospective student's admission." Now, a spokeswoman for USC -- who had the most people tied up, again, in the college scam -- says it's no secret that certain students could get flagged for special attention but that, alone, doesn't decide who gets admitted. And according to the "Times," called this whole entire filing a fishing expedition.

So again, this is just giving us a peek into how these guys are going to play these charges.

CAMEROTA: I think that's really important because I think we've all always suspected that this is how it works behind the scenes, but to see it in black and white --

GINGRAS: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: -- is obviously different.

Thank you very much.

All right, now to some breaking news from Hong Kong. A big victory for the protesters that have been taking to the streets there for months.

Hong Kong's chief executive announced a short time ago that she will fully withdraw that extradition bill that sparked 13 weeks of often- violent protests and triggered a political crisis in the territory.

A withdrawal is just one of the protesters' demands. They also want Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down. She refused to give ground on other demands, including an independent investigation of police conduct and more autonomy from the Chinese government.

All right. Well, former Defense Sec. James Mattis is speaking to CNN for the first time since he resigned from the Trump administration.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR, "AMANPOUR": What gives you nightmares? What keeps you up at night right now?


CAMEROTA: His answer, next.



CAMEROTA: Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis defends his reluctance to openly criticize President Trump during an expansive interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

And, Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international anchor, joins us now. This is a great wide-ranging interview with Mattis. You covered so much stuff with him.

AMANPOUR: I did -- and, of course, everybody wants to hear about him.

You remember when the president was first elected and then inaugurated, and everybody was watching who he would name to his cabinet? And when they picked Gen. Mattis, the whole world -- not just the United States, but the whole world said, oh my goodness. This is a tried and tested and true warrior, statesman, strategic planner, grown-up.

So when he retired and -- resigned, rather, from the administration, people were very concerned about what that would mean for the -- you know, the continuation of military policy and the rest under President Trump.

So I asked him about his resignation -- and remember, it was because the president wanted to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria.

CAMEROTA: Let's watch.


AMANPOUR: Let me go straight to the heart of the reason -- the public reason that you resigned. It was -- and you've published your resignation letter in your book.


AMANPOUR: It was over Syria.

MATTIS: Right.

AMANPOUR: And I know that you blamed President Obama for quote- unquote "losing Iraq."

MATTIS: Well --

AMANPOUR: Did you believe that President Trump was losing Syria and you didn't want to be any part of it?

MATTIS: I thought that we needed to maintain an influence in Syria. But I laid this out in the letter explaining why I believed I needed to leave the administration because I believe strongly in allies. I think that's our unique strength.

When this town was hit on 9/11 back in 2001, within 60 days I was fighting in Afghanistan. And joining me there were troops from Canada and the United Kingdom, Norway and Germany, Turkey and Jordan, New Zealand and Australia.

Now, none of their cities had been attacked. They were there because we were there -- because we had been attacked, our values had been attacked.

And I think that's what we have to look at.

AMANPOUR: Right now, as you know, the United States is involved in talks with the Taliban, who the United States coalition defeated back in 2001, and defeated al Qaeda as well and sent them packing. They have remained a very, very strong force --


AMANPOUR: -- and they seem to be calling the shots right now -- the Taliban -- and the United States is talking about the president withdrawing all U.S. troops.

What is your military analysis of whether all U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan, and do you believe that it will become, again, a terrorist hotbed?


MATTIS: You know, I prefer having parted from the administration over matters of policy -- a disagreement -- and I laid those out in the letter.

I think that what I now occupy are what I call the cheap seats. I'm not responsible, so I can sit on the outside. And frankly, it frustrates me sometimes to see people who speak so authoritatively when they don't know the backchannel things going on and when they have no responsibility for the outcome.

So the French call it a devoir de reserve, Christiane, where you have a duty to be quiet.

This president, the Secretary of State, the secretary of Defense, they have big responsibilities right now and I don't believe that I add anything to it by representing contrary views or something like this. There will come a time when it's right for me to talk about strategy and policy.

AMANPOUR: When might that happen?

MATTIS: I will know it when I see it.

AMANPOUR: But will it be before the next election?

MATTIS: I can't say that.

AMANPOUR: Well, you talk about a duty. You're a military man. Duty and honor are very important in your life and in your career.

Do you believe it's your duty to speak about what you know from the inside before the next election?

MATTIS: Well, duty and honor, absolutely are important and you don't surrender your oath to support and defend the Constitution when you leave active duty.

But that said, I don't think, right now -- for a person steeped in the military tradition in the Defense Department -- that I should be speaking up on things that are political assessment.

AMANPOUR: What gives you nightmares? What keeps you up at night right now? MATTIS: Right now, I think there's probably one issue on the international plane, and that is we need to get back to arms control discussions, talks about nuclear weapons, and that sort of thing.

But the one that is probably more present in my thinking anymore, because I'm now living here in the United States and traveling around the United States, is we need to get back to a fundamental friendliness with one another. A fundamental sense of respect. A reminder that the person we disagree with might actually be right once in a while.

And when we get done having a good raucous discussion and argument back and forth and get hard on these issues, we're not hard on each other.


AMANPOUR: And so, that is his really huge point -- the idea that we need allies, that we need to get away from this tribalization of politics.

And, you know, across the pond, where I come from in Britain, there's, as you know, unfolding right now a continuation of a massive political -- you know, real divisive debate over Brexit.

CAMEROTA: What's happening in the U.K.? It seems to be getting messier, not less complicated, by the day. What is happening today?

AMANPOUR: Well, basically, what's happening is that the prime minister now has no working majority in Parliament. He lost one of his MPs.

The MPs have overwhelmingly voted to stop a no-deal Brexit because they suspect that he was trying to suspend Parliament and do all the things that he's been doing over the last week in order to ram through a bill without enough debate.

So people were saying it's hijacking democracy, it's creating a constitutional crisis, which it has been doing -- and this is a really frightening thing.

The one big thing to know is that the prime minister says that he is making a huge amount of progress in negotiations with the E.U. But according to the critics, there's no evidence that any progress is being made on Brexit and the fear is that he will just crash out with a no-deal. And that's what is taking all the MPs to try to stop that.

CAMEROTA: We shall see as the clock keeps ticking.


CAMEROTA: Christiane, thanks so much for sharing that Mattis interview. Really great information --

AMANPOUR: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: -- there.

All right, a lot to update you on, on Hurricane Dorian. "NEW DAY" will be right back.