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CNN TONIGHT: Sarasota, FL Shuts Off Water To Barrier Islands, Closes Bridges Ahead Of Monster Hurricane; Jury Selection Begins In Oath Keepers Seditious Conspiracy Trial; McConnell Gives Big Boost To Bill In Response To January 6 Attack. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired September 27, 2022 - 21:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And he's helped caregivers, and people, facing terminal illnesses. And it's a powerful conversation. I hope you will listen. It is available, tomorrow, on "All There Is."

The news continues, right now. Let's hand it over to Laura Coates and CNN TONIGHT.


LAURA COATES, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you. I can't wait to listen to the next episode as well.

Everyone, I am Laura Coates. And this is CNN TONIGHT.

Hurricane Ian is charging toward Florida's West Coast. And look, it's already felt, on the tip of Florida, right now. I mean, the Keys are beginning to experience the effects, of this monster storm, with tropical storm winds, literally whipping through speeds of 40 miles, even 50 miles, an hour.

The center of Ian will pass west of the Florida Keys, later tonight, as it barrels toward the Gulf Coast. And it might strike hard, there, tomorrow. In fact, it's expected to do just that.

And not only is this life-threatening Category 3 hurricane, getting even stronger, packing winds of 120 miles an hour, it's also getting larger, in its size. Ian's wind field is expanding, which could potentially expose more of Florida, to destruction.

The storm's exact landfall, tomorrow, does remain uncertain, but it could be centered between Tampa and Fort Myers. Now, one of the greatest threats, is the storm surge. And it could reach up to even 12 feet, in some areas, which could bring, as you can imagine, pretty catastrophic flooding.

Floridians are being urged, by officials, not to underestimate this storm. I mean, nearly 2 million people, are already under mandatory evacuation orders, all across Florida, and more are at least urged to leave. Police in Tampa are now going door to door, warning people, they got to get out. 5,000 National Guard members are now even activated in Florida, and another 2,000 Guard troops are here, from other States, to help them out.

We're about to hear more, from the Mayor of Sarasota, one of the cities facing a possible direct hit, from Hurricane Ian. We're also going to take you live to Tampa, where CNN's Ryan Young is standing by.

But first, let's check in now, with Tom Sater, in the CNN Weather Center.

Tom, what is the latest now?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, the current location, Laura, in the 9 PM advisory, places the center, a 180 miles south-southwest of Punta Gorda.

Now, it's moving north-northeast at 10. It's been moving at 10 miles per hour, all day long. In fact, it was moving about 12, before it hit Western Cuba, which by the way, tremendous flooding. Power is out in Havana.

As we get in closer, though? And we're going to talk a little bit more, in detail, later Laura, in the broadcast. But just to give you some of the basics? Notice how the eye is collapsing here. In the 5 PM hour, we noticed that.

When this happens, it's undergoing some restructuring, reorganizing. In fact, you can see it better on radar. It's called an eyewall replacement cycle. And what that means is the heaviest convection, near the center, is spreading out. Once it spreads out, and it gets better-organized, it collapses again, and gets stronger. But not only does it get stronger, it pushes those winds outward.

As you mentioned, just moments ago, it is getting bigger. I mean, hurricane force winds, are about 80-mile-wide swath, tropical storm, 300, and that will grow in size. That's going to affect more citizens and residents of all of Florida.

Other problems we're having, right now, these feeder bands have been moving in, and producing numerous tornadoes, with damage. In Broward County, downed trees. Even north of Miami, we had some plane damage, as well. And again, we have one just north of Naples.

So, we've got a tornado watch that is, in effect, for a very large area. But what's significant about this? It's in effect, until 5 AM, in the morning. I mean, really, that is staggering. Now, these tornadoes are not like the ones, we see in the Southern Plains. They're not monsters. They're spin-ups, maybe EF1s or EF2s. But they're hard to detect, when they occur.

Flood watch, for the entire peninsula. But these bright green? Those are flooding areas on rivers. This is the Peace River. For the last two weeks, Laura, they have had more than double their average rainfall.

And, in many locations, river gauges, on the Peace River, are already at flood stage. That's the last thing you want, when you're going to have water get shoved up, in that Charlotte Harbor that runs into the Peace River. Actually, the Peace River runs into that. But it's got to back it up? We're going to have numerous problems, on Area Rivers.

Now, we've got our Category 4, might be a strong Category 3, at landfall, because of this restructuring. But again, don't pay attention to the number. It's going to affect someone.

But the biggest difference is notice the span in our track. It has been trending to the south, and to the east, in almost every track advisory we have received. Now, if there is going to be a movement again, it might be just slight, but it's going to be south, again. I think there's a low, low possibility of it moving back to the west.

But what that track change means, instead of a five-foot to 10-foot surge, in Tampa Bay, which yesterday had the forecast, the system Ian stalling, and for 36 hours, 48 hours, just tossing and shoving that surge, into the Bay, and every tributary, they're now looking at that center to the south.


So, as it circulates counterclockwise, in the Bay, they're going to see that water recede, and move out into the Gulf. However, two points to the south, it's worse.

And now, we're seeing, from Sarasota, down toward Bonita Springs, the increase in the surge. And that has big-time problems for areas of Venice. It's Port Charlotte. It's down to Coral Gables. And now, these inundation areas are getting much, much worse.

So unfortunately, when you see a shift, like this, it's a sigh of relief, for one community, but it's a vision of heartbreak, for another. And we'll get more into the detail, the dynamics--


SATER: --of what's happening, of course, in a little bit later.

COATES: Wow, Tom! I mean, a tornado in one area, hurricane, storm surge? It's unbelievable, to think about. You think about going inland, there seems to be no real place, to have refuge. Keep us posted.

SATER: Right, sure.

COATES: We'll keep checking back with you, again. Tom Sater, thank you so much.

And tonight, I also want to turn to Tampa, where the Mayor says, they face a devastating amount of water. And it's easy to see, why, after what Tom has just articulated, here, tonight.

Our own Ryan Young is there.

Ryan, I mean, you rode, along with officers, from the Tampa Police Department, today. They were going door to door, in a mandatory evacuation zone. And I'm wondering, were that residents complying there? And what is it like, on the ground, as you're seeing the concern, raise, the attention, on Florida?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's such a great question. There's so many people, who have moved here, from other places, especially during COVID. They've never been through a hurricane before. And now, they have this facing, right in their face. And you start talking about storm surge. It's words that people have never heard before.

As we saw those officers going, door to door, and they were talking to people? Some folks were saying, "Look, we planned to leave later on this afternoon." Others said, they had nowhere else to go. And they did not want to go to shelters. They did not want to leave their animals behind. And you could understand that.

One thing that Tom talked about, that a lot of people here have been saying over and over, the echo, is the fact that the ground here, is already saturated with water. So, they're concerned about any sort of storm surge, and the water rising, because on a heavy rain, you might see flooding, in certain parts of the Tampa area.

In fact, right behind me, is one of the trauma centers here, one of the hospitals. And if you look back that direction, Laura, you can see those barricades. That's actually an AquaFence. They've set that up, to stop the water, from being able to get into the hospital, because they deal with it so much, on this side of the island.

We've talked to people, who say they desperately want to get out of this situation, but at the same time, they don't want to leave home.

We talked to one man, who said "Look, you better listen, and you better listen fast because it's not worth gambling with your life."

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a very good gambler. And it's a bit of a gamble, if you don't take it seriously.


YOUNG: Yes. So, you can understand the sandbag operations, here, stopped at 2 o'clock.

Laura, we've been out there, for several days now, watching this. People getting in line, for two hours and three hours, to get sand, and leave with 10 bags, and that's all they get. Neighbors have also been sharing their sand, with each other, because they want to barricade their doors, not to let water in. And, as you know, already, from other situations, you don't want to be driving in water. And that's one of the big concerns. The Mayor, the Police Chief, the Fire Chief all made that very clear, today. Please don't drive in water, because obviously even three feet of water can take your car away.

COATES: It's pretty unbelievable, Ryan. I think about the lines. Please be safe, down there, and hearing what everyone's going through. And again, not everyone having a place to go, particularly not wanting to go to the shelters, in the area.

I want to go to Sarasota County, now, where more than 150,000 people? 150,000 people, think about that! They're under mandatory evacuation orders. Just two hours ago, water to the Barrier Islands, the City of Sarasota, was turned off, to protect the distribution system, and resources, as the area is bracing for what will be, they believe, widespread flooding.

Joining me now is the Mayor of Sarasota, Erik Arroyo.

Mayor, thank you, for joining us, this evening.

This wasn't supposed to happen to your city. But Florida was obviously already under a watch. You know, water in the city, it's been preemptively been shut off. But the bridges to the Barrier Islands, have also now been closed.

I'm wondering, Mayor, how are you feeling about all the preparations, thus far? Will it be enough?

MAYOR ERIK ARROYO, SARASOTA, FLORIDA: Our main priority, at the City of Sarasota, is the safety of our residents. We called the local state of emergency, and we activated what we'd like to call Emergency Operation Center. Meaning, we have all the staff necessary, for any type of disaster, on call.

We evacuated Zone A, which is the Barrier Islands, and people living on boats, and mobile homes. And we started closely monitoring, the situation, last week. We received the full briefings, three times a day.


Our Utilities department has made sure that our generators are up and running, and ready to go. Public Works began clearing out storm drains, last week. And we have fortified many of our city buildings. Our fuel farms are in operation, and ready to go. Florida Power & Light has been staged, here, in town, just since, yesterday, thousands of people.

We have - I mean, we're ready to redirect traffic. And most of the residents are heeding the warning that it's unsafe to be in the Barrier Islands.

To me, I love this city. I went to high school here. And it's truly just amazing. It's catastrophic, it's terrible, what has occurred, and the fact that we are in this position. But it is truly humbling, and amazing, seeing the amazing - the great community we have.


ARROYO: Because it doesn't matter, if you're Republican, or a Democrat. In these times, everybody, neighbors are coming over, and talking to other neighbors, and trying to take care of them. And we're all in this together, like there is that understanding here, which is pretty humbling.

COATES: And Florida is not alone. I mean, the whole nation is watching to see, what's going to happen, and hoping the best, for your community, and all across Florida, as well.

I do wonder, you said most people are heeding the warnings, to leave. We do know not everyone has the means to leave an area. Sometimes, you don't have any place to go. Maybe there's the financial means. Maybe there's the idea of pets at home, or maybe you have somebody, who is unable to be transported easily.

How concerned are you, about those, who've chosen, to ride out the storm? Has there been any thought given, to those, who will predictably stay, maybe justifiably, and need help?

ARROYO: There is no excuse, for that here, in Sarasota. We are a giving community. We have so many resources. We have a transportation hub that will literally pick you up, and take you, to one of our 12 shelters that we have, locally.

You can go on, you can look up all the shelters. You can look up a checklist of things you need, that you can get at the grocery store, to be prepared for this. We have a sandbag distribution is happening, all over the county.

And, on top of that, I mean, we - I mean, we are constantly reaching out, to residents. We are sending phone calls. We're sending the phone notifications. We are on social media. Of course, the news outlets, like yourself. And we have the resources. If anyone truly is vulnerable, and they need the help, we are here for them.

COATES: Really important, to get that message out, because we see time and time again, and we will cover hurricanes, and any natural disasters, and the forthcoming issues, we always want the message to come out, Mayor that there is help that there are resources, and people, to actually get that message and the word out.

Thank you so much for your time, this evening. We'll be thinking about you, as we continue to watch, what happens with Hurricane Ian. Thank you.

ARROYO: Thank you.

COATES: Our coverage, of Hurricane Ian, continues, in just a bit.

There's also a new big trial underway, in fact, the highest profile trial yet, in connection with the January 6th attack. The leader of the Oath Keepers, and others, are facing seditious conspiracy charges. Will we learn more, about the planning, for the Insurrection? Next.



COATES: Well, it's jury selection time, in one of the highest profile trials, yet, to come, from the January 6th Capitol attack. And it's underway, as well the day has gone on.

Oath Keepers leader, Stewart Rhodes, and four of his top lieutenants, are facing a number of charges, the most serious being seditious conspiracy, for allegedly planning, to stop Joe Biden, from becoming president, through violence.

It'll be the first time, in over a decade, the DOJ has prosecuted Americans, for sedition, a charge that previously was leveled, against Islamic terrorists, and Puerto Rican Nationalists.

Rhodes, and others, have pleaded, not guilty, to all of the charges. Now, according to their attorneys, they're going to put forth a well, a pretty unique, and rather novel agreement that, they were armed at the Capitol that day, because they believed that they were following, legal orders, from President Trump, himself.

Alyssa Farah Griffin, former Trump White House Communications, is here; along with Nick Akerman, former Assistant U.S. Attorney, for the SDNY, I'm going to shorten that for you; and also, Scott Jennings, former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush. They're all here, right now.

Look, I'm going to do a little bit of a voir dire, for you, for a second. Because, I've seen the voir dire form. And you're from Kentucky, the voir dire form. However you want to pronounce those words, voir dire, voir dire, whatever.


COATES: Either - either way--


COATES: Either way, we're talking about the questions, you want to ask a juror, to figure out can they be impartial?

And I just want to put up, for the screen, for a moment. Here are some of the questions that they were asked, already, trying to figure out how much they knew about something.

Let's put that screen out for everyone.

One of them is whether you'd voted in 2020. One was how exposed, you had been, to those videos, from January 6th. Did you tune into the January 6 news coverage, including the day, it actually happened? And also, have you been exposed to the hearings? Essentially trying to get at how much do you know.

What do you think, about this particular trial? I mean, this is a very big one. It's pretty important, to look at. Not a very well-tested area of the law.

AKERMAN: I think this is a slam-dunk for the government.

COATES: Really?

AKERMAN: Yes. They've got three cooperating witnesses, which is absolutely unusual, in any kind of a conspiracy case, to have that many cooperators.

And then, on top of it, they're all corroborated, by these text messages that were on Signal, or emails on Proton, all encrypted email messages, which only could come to light, because these cooperators provided them, to the government.

I mean, as a prosecutor, if I had one cooperator, and lots of corroboration? I got a good shot. Two? I've got a great shot. But three? Forget it!


They've got three people, who are going to be able to testify, here. And they're all corroborated, by contemporaneous messages that basically show that their intent was to overthrow the government, to stop the peaceful transfer of power, to bring arms, into the D.C. area, and essentially, try and stop the vote count, in the Congress. That--

COATES: Here's the one flaw, though. I mean, it's almost like dating sometimes, right? Who you are matched up, on paper, looks great, right? I mean, I'm married now. So, I don't know what you're talking about.


COATES: But the idea of being matched up on paper.

But then there's the monkey-wrench in the plans. And that is they don't have Trump, right? They don't have him to specifically say that "Yes, you were following my orders," which seems to be the continuous hurdle that we see, in the court of public opinion, and the actual hearings, to this date.

Do you think that's an issue?

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It may be. What I'm fascinated by, though, is this tact that these defendants are taking, where they're basically saying, "We actually thought we were following the lawful directions, of the former President."


FARAH GRIFFIN: Because they thought that he was going to use the Insurrection Act. Now, the Insurrection Act exists to halt insurrections. So, the kind of absurdity, and how far we are, through the looking glass that they were committing, an Insurrection, on U.S. Capitol soil, thinking that they would be able to hide behind that law?

It's I can't really predict, where this is going to go, legally. But I do think it speaks to just how co-opted some of these people were, by fringe conspiracy theories that just took hold, and inspired these people, to organize, to be there, and to go to the lengths that they did.

COATES: Is that enough, you think?

JENNINGS: I mean, I don't know. I mean, this is one of those things, about - we all saw it happen. There's no mystery, here.

COATES: It's one of the questions, at the voir dire!

JENNINGS: And so, we all saw it. We've all seen the videos. We've all seen the news that's unfolded since. There's not a ton of mystery, here. I am interested in what they have to say about their defense. It seems like a bank shot, to a layperson.

I also think there's a lot riding on this, for the DOJ. They've had some high-profile missteps, on things, over the last few years. They need a win, on this matter, I think, particularly.

COATES: Some would say, democracy needs a win.

AKERMAN: Well, yes. I mean, this is defense is--

COATES: On these issues, right?

AKERMAN: This defense is total nonsense.


AKERMAN: First of all, the Insurrection Act allows the President, to get the U.S. Armed Forces out there. That's what President Eisenhower did, in Little Rock, to desegregate the schools. You don't pick guys off the street, or people off the street, who have an opinion, to put them into the Armed Forces, under the Insurrection Act.

Secondly, if you look at the emails, and the text messages, there, I mean, they're all contrary to this defense. Right out of the box, November 3rd, Stewart Rhodes is talking about the fact that they have no choice, but to actually undertake a civil war.

And he goes on talking about a civil war. And he also says in another message, "We have no political or legal leg to stand on. But we've got to go out there and do what we're going to do."

COATES: That's a good receipt! AKERMAN: Well?

COATES: "We don't have anything. But, you know, let's try anyway," right?

AKERMAN: But you could see, with the cross-examination, here, would be devastating, on these - on him. I mean, he gets up on the stand, he's going to be just destroyed. There's no way, he can put forward that defense, with a straight face, nor can his lawyers.

COATES: I wonder, if the D.C. jury, which is where it actually is going to be, right, and the idea - that's why the voir dire to me is so impactful, because they're getting to the heart of the matter, essentially, of impartiality. And can you be impartial?

Normally, you have a high-profile case? You probably have heard about it. This is arguably the most high-profile case, globally, the idea of what happened, we all saw it with our eyes.

There will be the talking point, politically, that because of the jurisdiction that this in, that it'll be thought to be, as you talk about, a slam-dunk, or a bank shot, that this is politics all over again. Is that a winning argument?

FARAH GRIFFIN: No. Because, I mean, we know that more than 20 million people, have seen the January 6 hearings. We know the day of January 6, tens of millions of people tuned in.

Americans across the board have seen it. You're not going to find somebody, who's unaware of the facts that took place that day. So, I think that like the impartiality argument? You can still be an impartial juror, and recognize history, as it took place.

But also, I want to underscore this case shows why a former President, toying with invoking the Insurrection Act, is so dangerous.

By the way, I was once sitting, in the press secretary's office, when a staffer came in, with the draft of the Insurrection Act, in June of 2020, wanting to call it up. He was toying with it, for months. He talked about it. He put it, out there, on social media. And what does that do? It emboldens militias. It emboldens extremists. And that's part of what helped lead to January 6th.

AKERMAN: Yes. And let me just say, this voir dire that you're looking at? There's nothing special about that. I've done lots of jury trials, criminal trials.


AKERMAN: And that's pretty standard stuff. What they do is it's much longer than you probably showed. I mean, it's--

COATES: It's like 15 - no, it's 15 pages, at least.

AKERMAN: Yes, 15 pages.

COATES: At least.

AKERMAN: And each juror fills it out. Both sides look at it. It gives them an ability, to try and knock people out for cause. It gives them some idea, of where these people are coming from, before they're questioned. But this is very standard. There's nothing unusual about this voir dire questionnaire.


COATES: In fact, some people, who were already excused, said things like, in their written statements, "This was the most treasonous act, I've ever seen," which of course, gets you struck out, that level of honestly.

Although, as you're saying, there is no requirement that you be ignorant, to be impartial. You can know about the case, as long as you can be impartial.

Everyone, stick with us, right here. We'll be right back.

Ahead, a huge boost, to a bill, to prevent another January 6th attack. And Mitch McConnell's on board, the Senate's top Republican.

Plus, the January 6th hearing that was planned for tomorrow has now been postponed. Does that hurt or help the committee, and their credibility? I mean, are they running out of steam, or time? Next.


COATES: Well, there's been a major boost, tonight, for efforts, to avoid, a repeat of the legislative chaos, in Congress that happened on January 6th, barring (ph) Insurrection aside, of course.


Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, announcing that he will support legislation, making it harder, to overturn a certified presidential election.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I will proudly support the legislation, provided that nothing more than technical changes are made to its current form.

Congress' process for counting the presidential electors' votes was written 135 years ago. The chaos that came to a head on January 6th of last year certainly underscored the need for an update.


COATES: Well, McConnell's proud endorsement is really, well, it's noteworthy, to talk about. It also improves the bill's chances of passage, as you can imagine.

But it also puts him at odds, with the former President of the United States, Donald Trump, and Republicans, who were in the House, where you remember all but nine Republicans opposed a similar measure that passed just last week.

Our guests are back with me now, to discuss this.

Scott, you know, Senator McConnell very well. What does this signify to you that he is willing to proudly support it, if there's no technical or only technical changes be actually made?

JENNINGS: Yes. I think he thinks this is right over the target, in terms of the appropriate response, to January 6th. There was an initial movement, by Democrats, to totally overhaul federal election laws, and try to federalize the elections. They opposed that.

This is a bipartisan effort. It has 11 Republican sponsors, 11 Democrat sponsors. It's been crafted, in a bipartisan way, throughout a series of meetings, over a long period of time. This is how laws get made. So, this is the one that can pass, by the way.

The one that passed the House, I don't think can pass the Congress. So, when they come back, after the election, for the lame duck, I think it would behoove the House, to accept the Senate's bill.

This is the right thing to do. It will prevent another January 6th. And let's not forget it, it would also have prevented 2000, 2004, and 2016, when Democrats used it, to try to challenge Bush and Trump's elections, as well. So, this really does put us on a path, I think, to an upgrade that would take away, any ambiguity, about how to monkey with the process.

COATES: Let's be clear, what we're talking about here, right? This is about trying to change the way that it's certified, that ceremonial process that happens on January 6, which of course, Vice President Mike Pence said he wasn't going to toy with, and tinker with.

The Senate Bill, has this idea of is too close (ph) the threshold, of course, and then what it requires to actually raise an objection. The one-fifth is the big threshold thing right here, and about that list of electors.

So, and the point you're making here, of course, is in the House, a little bit different, and the threshold's different, and what the criteria is, to actually achieve it.

When you look at this, I mean, is this a sign that there is an acceptance, in the Republican Party, in particular that "Look, this wasn't about the election denial being accurate. This was about ways to use existing laws to undermine the fair and free transition?"

FARAH GRIFFIN: Well, I think this is the right tact. I think, previous efforts did not have the bipartisan support that they needed. This hits the right tone, eliminate any ambiguity.

We don't need to deal with this, again. We don't need bizarre interpretations of what the Vice President of the United States can do, or what electors can do. This makes it crystal-clear. I'm confident, it will pass, on the lame duck, and it's the right thing to do.

JENNINGS: The thing on this bill, if I may, too, is the real issue is, right now, one congressman, and one senator, can join forces, and throw this whole thing, into chaos.

COATES: And for any reason.


COATES: Like, there's not a lot of criteria as to what they need--

JENNINGS: Yes. Well from a stupid--

COATES: --to raise, as a problem.

JENNINGS: For a stupid reason. I mean, basically, yes.

COATES: Any and all.

JENNINGS: Yes. And so, this, in the Senate Bill, a fifth of the body, would be required, so you couldn't get one gadfly, finding one gadfly, and doing something.

To me, that means, if there was an issue, with the election, if something legitimate happened, you would have to go then get buy-in, from more than just a couple of crackpots. And I think that's the real critical matter here.

AKERMAN: But let me ask you this, politically, because it seems to me if this happened six months ago, or even a year ago, that this would have been a harder thing, for Mitch McConnell, to accept.

But now, you've got Donald Trump basically wounded, in the sense that he's got this amendment - situation, with the classified information, in the search warrant. He's got the New York Attorney General's complaint against him. He's got an investigation by the Department of Justice into him. He's got the Georgia investigation.

Don't you think that - I mean, Mitch McConnell sort of takes the pulse of the Senate, his caucus. And hasn't that pulse - I mean, doesn't this indicate something, in terms of Trump's influence, in the Senate, and maybe the Republican Party?

JENNINGS: It's an interesting question. I actually think it has more to do with getting the cake out of the oven, at the right time. They don't ever pull things out half-baked. That's a recipe for your bill getting defeated in the Senate.

The way he let this thing work was not unlike the way he let the infrastructure bill come together. He played in the background. You had bipartisan groups of negotiators. Both Schumer and McConnell support this. But they weren't front and center, necessarily hammering it out.

[21:35:00] So, they let their workhorses, work on it, in the background. And then, when it was ready, to come out of the oven, they pulled it out. And now, they've got plenty of buy-in, to pass the bill. So, I think, timing is everything, in passing bills, in the Senate. This came out at the right time.

The issues, you raise about Trump, I don't think, are unimportant. I just think it has more to do with when it was ready, as opposed to bringing it out, too early.


COATES: Speaking of Trump? And my mouth is watering. I now want cake.


COATES: Sorry about that.

Speaking of timing, though, and speaking of Trump, I mean, tomorrow was supposed to be the January 6th hearing, right, where, last one was July 21st. The timing now they have said is they don't want to have this, while Hurricane Ian, is there. The optics look bad, I'm sure, politically-speaking.

What do you think is behind the decision to delay it? I mean, they want the ultimate level of transparency, and coverage. Are they losing out, or missing out? Or are they running out of steam, in the eyes of the public, to do this?

FARAH GRIFFIN: No, I don't think so. But the committee has a certain role, which is very distinct, from the Department of Justice investigation.

It's a messaging role. It's educating and reminding the public, of what took place, and then uncovering more facts, for them, so that they can inform their opinion around it. I think that's what the committee needs to do.

So, it doesn't make sense to do it on a day, when everyone's going to be glued, to hurricane coverage, when people in Florida, and elsewhere, may be suffering. So, I think, from a messaging standpoint, and the goals of the committee, it makes sense to delay it.

AKERMAN: And I'd go one step further, and say, in some ways, they're probably just as happy, to have the delay, for a week or two. Because, there's other information they're going to have. They've got Ginni Thomas, coming in, for--

COATES: The wife of Justice Thomas of the Supreme Court.

AKERMAN: And Justice Thomas, right. And they're trying to put together that tape of Roger Stone that they got, from Denmark.

So, when you take all of that together, it's kind of like the last time they had that delay, that they were sort of like, "Wow, this is good for us, because we can get our act together, a lot better." And I think that's part of what's happening, although I really think it's driven by this hurricane, because you can't message this, in the middle of a hurricane, like this. No one's going to be paying attention.

COATES: Well, they got to, I guess, Ginni Thomas might be the frosting, in this cake analogy. There we go, everyone! Enjoy! Feast among yourselves!

Alyssa and Nick, thank you so much.

Scott, stick with us.

We'll get an update, on Hurricane Ian. And really, the flooding could rival the so-called storm of the century that happened almost three decades ago. Tom Sater is back, with the areas that could see the worst of the hurricane's fury, next.



COATES: Well, we're tracking Hurricane Ian, this hour, as Florida is bracing for what could be a once-in-a-century storm.

Right now, sustained tropical storm force winds, are being felt, in the Florida Keys, with Ian approaching the state, as a Category 3 hurricane. Now, over 2.5 million people, are being asked, or being told, to leave, and they're bracing for potentially life-threatening storm surge - storm surges here.

Let's check with Tom Sater, in the CNN Weather Center.

Tom, what is the latest that's happening right now?

SATER: Well, just to recap a little bit, the center of Ian is 180 miles south-southwest of Punta Gorda. It's moving at 10 miles per hour to the north-northeast.

It's been moving at 10 miles per hour all day long. And it wasn't much faster than that in Cuba, which by the way, heavy flooding there, and they're without power, in Havana.

Key West already experiencing some tropical storm force wind gusts, 63 miles per hour, 71. But notice, as we talked about, that eye is collapsing. It's reorganizing. It's an eyewall replacement cycle. And so, the eye will expand a little bit, get organized, and collapse, and get strong again. But each time it does that the winds expand.

When can you expect some tropical storm force winds? OK. So, in areas of purple is your greatest chance. At 8 PM, this evening, already Key West, bottom of the screen. But tomorrow, at 2 AM, in a matter of hours, from Sarasota, Lake Okeechobee. And by 8 AM, most of the central areas, in southwest, will have tropical storm force winds. If you have pool furniture outside, anywhere across this area, just toss it in your pool, tie down loose objects. Keep it from blowing around. Here's the eye. Here's our other problem. These are all tornado warnings. And we've seen significant damaged, uprooted trees, snapped trees, Pembroke Pines, we've had some aircraft overturned. And so, even there, just to the northeast of Fort Myers is another one.

So, this is going to continue to happen, when these feeder bands ride in. These tornadoes are smaller, EF1s, and EF2s, they spin up very quickly, it's hard to detect. But they're getting some observations and radar is catching them. Tornado Watch, until 5 AM. That'll be expanded throughout the day tomorrow.

The track has been changing. And every time it changes, every time that center wobbles, Laura, it's better news for some and it's worse news, for other. I guarantee you, every one of these communities, no one wants misery, for the next community. But they want the center of that storm, to be south of them. And hopefully, it'll continue to go, at least, for some. It's just unfortunate for others.

COATES: Tom, tell me about the life-threatening storm surge. I mean, what does that mean, and what areas are the most vulnerable?

SATER: It has changed significantly, Laura, in the last 24 hours. We were expecting the center, to be offshore, about 20 miles, 30 miles, up from Tampa Bay, sitting there for 36 hours, 48 hours, tossing that surge up into the Bay, and all the inlets.

Take a look at the model changes now. Every six hours, we get a track from the National Hurricane Center. This is 11 AM, Monday. Every six hours, we have had one. And it's all been trending, to the east, and to the south. 75-mile-shift. That means everything, when it used to be a five-foot to 10-foot surge expected in the Bay? Now it's four to six. Where it was four to seven? Now it's eight to 12, and that's from Sarasota down toward Bonita Springs.

But this is significant. If you're with us yesterday, this is Tampa Bay, and areas, this was all bright yellow and red. But now, we're not looking at much in the way of any flooding. In fact, the winds will be carrying the water, out of the Bay. But, to the south, where they swing back around? This is Charlotte Harbor. This is areas of Peace River, which is going to flood dramatically.

We have been waiting, for a steering current. We've got dry air coming down. And we've got Ian moving up. Together, they're going to form and converge. And that's going to create a lift.


And that's much more rain than we had yesterday, 10 inches, 20 inches, south of Tampa, to Lakeland, up toward Orlando. This alone, Laura, would be devastating, without the hurricane. So, this is life- threatening, as well. Big changes, not the best for everybody.

COATES: Tom Sater, thank you. Keep us informed, please.

SATER: Sure.

COATES: And everyone, stay with CNN, for continuing coverage, of Hurricane Ian.

Coming up, the controversial election strategy, on the political left, promoting far-right GOP candidates, in hopes and playing spoiler, this November. Is it working? And what does it say about today's Democratic Party? That's next.


COATES: All right, so Democrats made quite a hefty and well, risky, gamble, back in this year's primaries, spending millions, to boost far-right candidates, to the GOP nomination, with the hopes of easily defeating them, this coming November.

Well now, I mean, it appears to be paying off. In Maryland and Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates for governor, hold a double-digit lead, over their election-denying opponents. While, in Illinois, incumbent Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, also heavily-favored, to win.


Joining me now, Harry Enten, CNN's Senior Data Reporter; and Paul Begala, Democratic Strategist. And Scott Jennings is back with us as well.

Talking, I mean, about this gamble? I mean, Paul, you've been pretty critical, about this idea, of funding these sort of far-right extremist candidates, with the hopes of being able to win, later down the road. Why a problem to you?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first, it has worked, in the past. And I was for it, in the past. One of my heroes, Harry Reid, did that in 2010. He helped Sharron Angle, who he thought was pretty extreme. He got reelected, most comfortable reelection he ever had. So, I'm not personally against it.

I'm against it, now. This is not 2010 or 2012, when Democrats did it and succeeded. We have the President, our nation's leader, but my party's leader, saying that the MAGA extremists are semi-fascist. I think he's right. If that's true, then you can't undermine that argument, by backing some MAGA extremists, in some States. It breeds cynicism.

By the way, the MAGA extremists, and Mr. Trump, are doing the job for us. They're now even playing (ph) knuckleheads, without Democrats messing around, in this. I just think it's playing with fire, and I just I don't like it. I don't think that they need to do it.

COATES: Who's getting burned?

JENNINGS: Well, I agree with Paul. I think that it's cynical, it's hypocritical. I think it makes Biden look weak.

I mean, if he's the head of the Democratic Party, and he's telling us, on the one hand, how dangerous these folks are? On the other hand, his committees, of his party, are spending $50 million-plus on it? I mean, it makes him look weak, like they don't listen to him, like they don't take him seriously, or like he's just being another politician, in Washington, D.C. So, I think, it hurts him.

Some of these people are out of their races, at this point. I mean, tactically, it looks like it's going to pay off, in a few races. I don't know if it's going to pay off, everywhere.

But, I think, Biden's, if he runs for reelection, his core argument, he made it in the big red speech, the other night. "These people are dangerous, ultra MAGA, fascists, dividing the country, dangerous."

And yet, his party is spending money, on the very people that he says are literally destroying America? What does that make him - what does that make his argument look like in 2024?

COATES: Well I'll tell you what--

JENNINGS: Hollowed out?

COATES: I'll tell you what the DCCC Chairman, Sean Maloney, had to say, on NBC's "Meet The Press," to explain in part, why, the why they're doing it. Listen in.


REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): Absolutely not did we put party over country.

My job is to - is to win elections, for the Democrats. And I take that seriously. Because, the moral imperative, is keeping the gavel out of the hands of Kevin McCarthy, who would have overturned the results of the election.


COATES: I mean, this is happening not only obviously in the governor's races, and also in congressional races, as well. I mean, this is happening, in places, like New Hampshire, all around, in very key States that have a big deal in the 2024, and going forward. What are you hearing?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: Yes, I mean, New Hampshire, right? Don Bolduc, who, I don't know where exactly he stands on the 2020 election, at this point. He was an election-denier. Then, he claimed he wasn't. Now, I think, he's sort of kind of come back to it.

You look at the polling there. University of New Hampshire had a poll that came out. Maggie Hassan, the Democratic incumbent there, with a clear lead. It's not double-digits. But it's close there. It's an 8- point lead, as you see on that screen right there.

Chuck Morse, who was backed by Chris Sununu, the incumbent Republican governor of that state, would have vastly preferred, in fact, did endorse Chuck Morse. But now, Don Bolduc is the nominee. He's trailing in that race. And I guess the argument that would be made, if you're a Democrat is look, that's one additional seat that's not on the table. This is a tight race for control, not just of the House, but the Senate as well.

And, as Sean Patrick Maloney said, "Look, my job is to elect Democrats." That's the job that Democrats want. They want to ensure, they have a Chuck Schumer, as Majority Leader. They want, whoever would be the Speaker of the House, if it's not Nancy Pelosi. That's the job.

COATES: So, I mean, is this the idea here, the end justifies the means? And you talk about, you supported it before.


COATES: The arguments I often hear people say before this has been "Democrats, they don't play the right game. They've got the Republicans, who are more cohesive. They're playing dirty, they think, the Republicans are. And they talk about that. And why are the Democrats so concerned with the moral high ground?"


COATES: This is, do you think it's seeding (ph) that in an effective way?

BEGALA: Well, I just I think there's political problems with it more than moral problems. But the moral problem is some of them might win. Some of them probably will win. And that's playing with fire.

It's not the same as the very nice lady in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, who had to deny that she was a witch, when she ran in 2010. And Chris Coons, the Democrat, beat her, when Biden became Vice President.

COATES: Who among us hasn't had to deny that--

BEGALA: Right. Probably that was just an exception.

COATES: --every now and then?

BEGALA: She wasn't a threat to the Constitution, the way some of these extreme MAGA people are. And I love Sean. I had the office next to him in the White House. I love him.

But I think all of us are giving the Democrats too much credit for success here. The truth is, you try to monkey around the other side's primary, you're probably going to mess it up, or probably not have very much effect. Republicans are perfectly capable of picking crazy people, without my help!

JENNINGS: But you know what--

BEGALA: And they're doing it all across the country.

JENNINGS: I actually think it was determinative in New Hampshire. Because the last--


JENNINGS: Oh, yes. I think the last-minute investment that the Schumer super PAC made there? I mean, they spent like $5 million, to get Bolduc, over the line. Morse had some institutional support, in the state. I think he was tracking ahead. I really do think it was determinative.


ENTEN: Yes. It was a race that was decided by just a percentage point.


ENTEN: I just got to add though, when I hear witches, I think of Harry and Wizards, so.

COATES: You looked right into my eye, and said, "Witches." I don't know what to say. Maybe it was Anjelica Huston, throwback, in some point in time. The show was called, "The Witches," from Roald Dahl? All right.


COATES: Thank you.


COATES: I always had a blank stare, over here. But, either way, thinking about--

ENTEN: We're too young!

COATES: Oh, are we? Oh? Well, the witch might come out, now, on that comment! And we'll talk about that - next, about that.

Harry Enten, Paul Begala, Scott Jennings.

I promise you, it's not quite October. No witches will come out anytime soon.

We'll be right back, everyone.


COATES: Hey, thanks for watching.

"DON LEMON TONIGHT," starts right now.

Hey, Don Lemon?


We've got a big storm, bearing down on - down in Florida. It's going to be bad. COATES: It's unbelievable, to think about the storm surges, to think about how the area that's affecting? I mean, it's the first in what, a 100 years, Don?


COATES: It's scary!

LEMON: Yes. It's growing and growing and growing. And I'm supposed to go down. So, hopefully, I can get down, and get on a plane. And if so, I will see you there, tomorrow night. I'm going to get started, though, and get on this segment.

COATES: Please stay safe.

LEMON: Thank you very much, Laura. Have a good night. I'll see you soon.

So, this is "DON LEMON TONIGHT."