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Peter Strzok's Attorney Denies Media Leak Strategy to Harm Trump Administration; Russia and China Combine Forces in Show of Military Power. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Ryan, thank you so much. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage now continues on CNN after this.

[17:00:14] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Devastating event. The new forecast just in for Hurricane Florence bearing down on the East Coast, putting 20 million people in harm's way. Federal disaster officials warn the Category 4 storm will be a devastating event.

Unsung success. President Trump says the federal government is ready for the storm, but is he raising doubts about that by touting what he calls the "incredible unsung success" of last year's response in Puerto Rico, where nearly 3,000 people died?

Nondenial denials. With Bob Woodward's blockbuster book on the Trump White House now officially out, two of the president's former top aides issue carefully-worded denials about their cooperation with Woodward. Will the president buy their explanations?

And Putin's military show. Russia calls it the biggest military exercise since the Soviet Union collapsed. More than 300,000 troops putting on a show with some help from China. Is it meant to send a message to America?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: And the breaking news, the latest forecast just in from Hurricane Florence. The Category 4 monster threatening some 20 million people on the East Coast. A million and a half have already been ordered to evacuate. The storm predicted to be a direct hit and could be the strongest to make land on the East Coast in a quarter century.

The Carolinas will bear the brunt of the storm, surges up to 13 feet high and up to two feet of rain. Maryland, Virginia and D.C. also have declared states of emergency. President Trump says the federal government is, quote, "totally prepared," even as he boasts of "incredible success" in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was close to 3,000 people. I'll speak with Congressman Joaquin Castro. And our correspondents

and specialists standing by with full coverage.

Let's go straight to meteorologist Jennifer Gray. She is in the CNN Weather Center. The latest advisory just in. What have we learned, Jennifer, from this latest report?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Jim, the latest advisory just came out a few moments ago. The winds are stronger. The storm is more powerful. And it could strengthen even more within the next 24 hours.

This storm is a beast, packing winds of 140 miles per hour, gusts of 165. It's moving to the west-northwest at 17 miles per hour. This storm is a Category 4. Could strengthen a little bit more, like I said, with winds 155 miles per hour by tomorrow. And then making landfall as a possible Category 4 on early Friday.

Now the last advisory, this had it making land fall as a Category 3. Could make landfall as a Category 4. This is a major storm, and no matter where you are along the Carolina coast, you need to pay very, very close attention.

This is going to slow way down as it moves inland. This is going to dump a lot of rain. It could dump 20 to 30 inches of rain across interior sections of North Carolina, South Carolina, needs to be on the lookout for the inland flooding, as well.

Storm surge has also increased. Now 9 to 13 feet of storm surge expected anywhere from, say, Wilmington all the way up to Morehead City. This water is going to push straight inland. It's also going to fill these rivers, and it is going to overflow the banks, cause major flooding. Along with that, the rain in interior locations.

We always talk about getting away from the coast from these storms to evacuate. But you have to go far and wide to get away from the effects that this storm is going to bring. Not only that storm surge, but the inland flooding, because this is going to be a slow-mover. We'll still be talking about this by the end of the weekend into the beginning part of next week, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, Jennifer. You read this from the National Hurricane Center: life-threatening storm surge, it talks about there. And as you say, the threat extending inland. How long do we expect that threat to last? How long do we expect the storm to be sitting over those areas?

GRAY: This storm could be sitting here by the time we get into Sunday. It could still be sitting here by the time we get into Monday.

Now, some of the models are disagreeing a little bit on the timing. But this storm is expected to stall out and dump a lot of rain across these areas. An area that's already been extremely saturated this year. A lot of these areas have had some of the top five wettest years on record. And so to add even more rainfall to that, it is going to be devastating for these areas. [17:05:05] SCIUTTO: Goodness. Jennifer Gray, we'll certainly be

watching. We know you will, as well. Thanks very much.

As we said earlier, a million and a half people have already been ordered to evacuate coastal areas in the southeast. CNN's Martin Savidge is in the town of Carolina Beach, North Carolina.

Martin, what are you seeing there? Are people heeding those warnings?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is the moment where people are going to have to decide. It is board up and get out time. And that's essentially what they're doing.

All around this community, buildings are being boarded up. Windows are being covered. It's the same scene you've seen over and over, but this time they are taking it far more seriously.

All down this street in this community of Carolina Beach, they are basically turning their businesses into fortresses. The interesting thing is, though, many of these businesses are trying to stay open trying to at least take advantage of the last few hours. They've got about 24 to cut in for customers, to deliver food, maybe some booze. And to basically provide for the locals.

And that's the thing here. Most of the people who are still here are the locals. And a lot of them haven't made up their mind. They've got essentially 24 hours until 8 p.m. tomorrow night in this community to decide whether or not they're going to stay or whether they are going to go.

And here's the thing. The law enforcement has said, if you're going to stay after 8 p.m. tomorrow, you are absolutely on your own. You don't call 911. They'll be there, but they can't respond.

So this community, essentially, is in a point where they're going to try and make up their minds.

Let me show you John Ito (ph) here. John is one of those who is going to stay. Right, John?

JOHN ITO (PH), CAROLINA BEACH RESIDENT: I'm going to stay, yes.

SAVIDGE: You know how crazy that sounds, given how dangerous this storm is.

ITO (PH): Well, yes, but there's going to be a lot of other people staying here. We're a tight-knit community, and everybody is willing to help each other out. So --

SAVIDGE: All right. We're going to wish you the best of luck.

ITO (PH): Thank you.

SAVIDGE: We wish the same for everyone here in this community. Thank you, John.

So that's the way it is right now, Jim. Decision time.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And I'm not sure that's the example to follow. CNN's Martin Savidge, thanks very much.

As disaster officials issue dire warnings about the approaching storm, President Trump says the federal government is ready. But he certainly is sparking some doubts, some questions, by boasting about a previous response.

Let's turn to CNN White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. The president here claiming some credit for Hurricane Maria.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. The president today was bragging about his administration's response to Hurricane Maria, a storm that devastated Puerto Rico and killed roughly the same number of people as 9/11 did.

Now today those comments came as the president was saying that his administration is fully prepared for Hurricane Florence and that they are sparing no expense.



COLLINS (voice-over): Tonight, President Trump says the White House is prepared for Hurricane Florence, citing the way his administration handled Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico one year ago.

TRUMP: The safety of American people is my absolute highest priority. We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared.

COLLINS: In a briefing with the FEMA administrator, Brock Long, late today, the president called his management of that storm an unsung success.

TRUMP: I think in a certain way, the best job we did was Puerto Rico. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.

COLLINS: That, despite estimates that nearly 3,000 people died in the storm and millions were left without power for months.

The president's comments coming after a morning spent marking the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, paying tribute with these solemn words as he remembered the Americans who perished on board Flight 93 when it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

TRUMP: They boarded the plane as strangers, and they entered eternity linked forever as true heroes.

COLLINS: Trump started the day not with a tweet of remembrance, but with a message about the special counsel, quoting an ally saying there was no collusion. The president's son telling ABC in an interview that he's not worried about the outcome of the Mueller investigation. DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: I'm not, because I know what I

did, and I'm not worried about any of that. You know? That doesn't mean they won't try to create something.

COLLINS: Trump Jr. also speaking out about the anonymous op-ed in the "New York Times," saying he believes it was authored by a low-level staffer, while acknowledging that the president's inner circle is shrinking.

TRUMP JR.: I think there are people in there that he can trust. It's just -- it's a much smaller group than I would like it to be.

COLLINS: And on the day of the official release of Bob Woodward's book, two of the president's former top aides, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, and staff secretary Rob Porter, issuing carefully-worded denials after Trump told allies he believed they cooperated the most.

Cohn writing, "This book does not accurately portray my experience in the White House. I continue to support the president."

[17:10:00] Porter adding he thought it was selective and misleading.

But neither statement denied specific instances from the book, including one of the most explosive, that Cohn stole the draft of a letter terminating a critical trade agreement with South Korea off the president's desk to prevent him from signing it.

Woodward warning today that sources often try to save face with public denials.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "FEAR": One key person who's in office called me and said, "everyone knows what you've said here is true. It's 1,000 percent correct." And then this person has said some public things that contradict that.


COLLINS: Now, Jim, today President Trump was asked about those denials from Rob Porter and Gary Cohn. He said that he appreciated them. He felt they were excellent. And, in his opinion, proved that Bob Woodward's book was a work of fiction -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

We're joined now by Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. He's a member of both the Intelligence and Foreign Affairs Committees. Thanks very much, Congressman, for taking the time.

The state of Texas -- you represent the state of Texas -- has experience with hurricanes, no question. I'd like to ask you to respond, react to the president's characterization of his response, his administration's response to Hurricane Maria specifically in Puerto Rico as an incredible unsung success.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: You know, if the president thinks that his response and the federal government's response to Puerto Rico was an incredible success, then quite honestly, we're all in trouble. And especially the people in the Carolinas.

And it really is an insult to humanity when 3,000 people died. The government wouldn't admit anywhere close to that number. The response was slow. It was insufficient. And for him to boast about it now on the eve of a huge Category 4 hurricane hitting the Carolinas is just amazing.

SCIUTTO: So Harvey, of course, around this time last year, came into Texas with some horrible flooding, similar to this storm in some ways, kind of hanging over inland areas for some time. The president bragged about his response to Harvey today, as well.

Seeing as your district was affected by this, as well, how would you grade the administration's response to Harvey?

CASTRO: Again, my district was affected a little bit in San Antonio. But the Houston area, the coastal bend area of Corpus Christie was --

SCIUTTO: Bore the brunt.

CASTRO: -- over there was -- bore the brunt of it. Again, there could have been more resources committed earlier. And also part of the problem is what happens as the emergency is going on.

Certainly, the response in Texas and places like Florida was much better than it was in Puerto Rico. But the slowness of the federal government, of FEMA, and other departments in getting resources to people after the hurricane has happened and the devastation is done, that leaves a lot to be desired.

SCIUTTO: Is Congress providing oversight now, the administration's response to this incoming storm? Because by all accounts, Florence looks to be an exceptional storm, a devastating event, as the Hurricane Center is calling it. What is Congress doing to hold the administration to account?

CASTRO: Congress certainly has. Although I think that Congress could have done a better job over the last year.

The other thing is, you have two layers of bureaucracy, basically. The federal government that sends a lot of money to state governments, and then the money often is supposed to go from there. The Texas state government has also not done the best job of making sure the resources get to the folks that have been affected. And unfortunately, too often, that's the case.

SCIUTTO: I want to change gears now to ask you to react to Donald Trump Jr.'s interview this morning. Because a lot of comments, certainly the typical attacks on the Mueller investigation.

But specific to his own situation, he was asked, does he fear going to jail? He said he doesn't. He said that investigators, in his words, will "just try to create something." Based on the evidence that you've seen as a member of the Intelligence Committee, should Donald Trump Jr. Be concerned about his legal future? CASTRO: I think he should be concerned. If you ask me the question,

do I think that Donald Trump Jr. has got the level of liability where he could end up in jail, honestly, I have to tell you that I can't answer that question fully.

And the reason is, as you know, the House Intelligence Committee in their investigation, the Russia investigation, never issued a single subpoena for phone records, bank records, travel records, to verify anything that was told to us, including the testimony of Donald Trump Jr.

There are some areas where I believe he should be concerned. His answers regarding how that letter was drafted about the firing of James Comey, for example. Also, his discussion on setting up the Trump Tower meeting and whether his father knew about that. Certainly different real-estate deals and so forth. But I can't tell you conclusively, because I just don't think that we scratched the surface enough to find out.

SCIUTTO: I certainly don't want to get you into an area of classified information. But based on your experience of him as a witness, did you find him a credible, a believable witness?

CASTRO: I thought that when he did the interview he was poised. He certainly, you know, answered most of the questions that we put in front of him. Like other witnesses, I thought there were times where he was quite evasive.

[17:15:09] But, again, without going and actually verifying what was told to us, it's hard for me to give a final judgment on that.

BLITZER: Let me ask you about Robert Mueller's investigation. Because that, of course, the focus now. If Mueller had hard evidence of wrongdoing by Donald Trump Jr., why hasn't he been indicted yet? Or why hasn't he been cleared, alternatively?

CASTRO: Well, obviously, the Mueller investigation is still going on. I think that you're going to still see more indictments coming forward. I can't tell you exactly how close that gets to the president. But I don't think that it means, necessarily, that everybody is off the hook at this point.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Do you believe that Robert Mueller is still in danger of being fired by this president?

CASTRO: I think it's incumbent upon the Congress to actually pass a law that protects Robert Mueller from being fired. That makes sure that we protect the integrity of the investigation.

SCIUTTO: If the Democrats regain the House in November, will -- will legislation be introduced to protect Robert Mueller?

CASTRO: I'm almost certain. I would certainly support it. I'm almost certain that it will be.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Castro, thank you very much for taking the time. CASTRO: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, the breaking news. As a very dangerous storm approaches the East Coast, President Trump says the federal government is ready. But he's sparking some doubts by boasting about his response to Puerto Rico last year, calling it incredibly successful. Even though we'll remind you, some 3,000 people died.

And the new forecast is in for Hurricane Florence, with higher storm surges, stronger winds and more rain, making for what officials are calling a devastating event.


[17:20:42] SCIUTTO: This hour's breaking news. The newly-updated forecast shows that Hurricane Florence is on track for the Carolinas, where at least a million and a half people have been ordered to evacuate.

President Trump says the government is ready to help, but he's pointing to last year's response to Puerto Rico's hurricane as, quote, "an incredible unsung success."

Our analysts and experts are here now to weigh in on that interesting choice of words.

Gloria, if I could begin with you, just as a reminder, let's play the president's description of his administration's response to Hurricane Maria. Have a listen.


TRUMP: I think Puerto Rico was incredibly successful. I actually think it was one of the best jobs that's ever been done. Puerto Rico, I think, was tremendous. We've gotten a lot of receptivity, a lot of thanks for the job we've done in Puerto Rico. I think, in a certain way, the best job we did was Puerto Rico. I think that Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success.


SCIUTTO: Why does the president insist on making and repeated, as you heard there, that claim, when just the numbers belie it?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, his point, if you read all he said, is that 'Look, it was in such bad shape that we did everything we could possibly do, because there weren't enough hospitals. There wasn't a good enough electrical grid," et cetera, et cetera.

So, you know this is a president who never likes to blame himself or his administration for anything. So it was an unsung success, because he did everything he could, but it was Puerto Rico's fault. And, you know, that's just the way -- that's just the way he operates. I mean, you know, even, you know, George W. Bush eventually admitted that Katrina was a disaster for him. It took a while, but he did. SCIUTTO: Less likely -- less likely with this administration.

You know, it's interesting, Mark Preston. Because early on, the president cited -- he no longer cites the death toll of 2,975. He cited the initial death toll of 16 in those early days and hours as a way to favorably compare his response and Bush administration's response to Katrina.

So let's just show, remind people of the death tolls here. It's really just off the scale.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Staggering. Unbelievable. And the fact that we still haven't really grasped how many people have died in Puerto Rico yet as a nation. I mean, they are our citizens. I mean, they are part of the United States.

You know, to say that the Puerto Rican infrastructure was in shambles is absolutely correct. But it doesn't mean that you don't send in the cavalry to try to save everybody. Look at all the prep work that's being done right now before this hurricane is expected to hit. We didn't see the same thing in Puerto Rico.

SCIUTTO: Jackie, why such a sore point for the president? You know, because the president doubling, tripling, quadrupling his claims today. Why? Why? I mean, it's defensive, I suppose.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's exactly what Gloria said. He doesn't like to admit fault for anything, let alone a major disaster that cost thousands of lives. That's just not in his DNA.

And, you know, he also took a lot of incoming. He attacked the mayor of San Juan, who was extremely critical of him. And he received a lot of criticism from the ground, from people in Puerto Rico, and he wasn't willing to accept that criticism. So I can't say I'm surprised.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Joey, I mean, I wonder, you look at CNN's latest polling and the president rating lower than -- frankly, at historical lows on credibility, et cetera. Wouldn't he gain some credibility by granting -- you know, identifying the successes and granting the areas where improvement is required, particularly as the U.S. faces another storm? Right?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Not with what this president does, Jim. And to be clear, I don't even buy the fact that it's not an acceptance of responsibility. I believe it's more of what the president does. He spins, and he bobs, and he weaves, and he misrepresents, and he lies. And if you say it enough times, I guess it becomes the truth.

Understand that we're living in a generation now, I guess -- I mean, a time of alternative facts, right? Alternative facts a la, you know, Ms. Conway; alternative facts a la Rudy Giuliani, with his saying the truth is not the truth. The statements by the president, let's be clear, are delusional,

insensitive and outrageous. To your initial point, initially, he said, by his own measure, it was way better than Bush. There's only 16 deaths here. By his own standards.

[17:25:17] Then we come to find that there's almost 3,000 deaths that are here. And so what are you doing in saying that this was an incredible success?

Moreover, Jim, briefly, the point of the matter is we look at those horrific numbers is that the president just doesn't own up to the realities. Tell to the people -- right, look at the Government Accounting Office, what came out with a report, indicating all of the shortcomings as it relates to supplies; it relates to not having bilingual people who are available to communicate; as it relates to no generators and support; as it relates to everything. Tell to those people who live through it and are still living through it that it was an incredible success.

It's not. It's a lie. It's an alternative fact. It's a misrepresentation. It's just not the truth. And that's what we get out of this White House day in and day out, and it's grossly misfortunate.

SCIUTTO: Joey Jackson, to the panel, please, everybody stand by. There's a lot more to talk about, and I want to ask you about the latest nondenial denials from principle figures in Bob Woodward's scathing new book about this administration.

Plus, later, Russia and China working together to send an ominous signal about their combined military might.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: We're back now with our political and legal analysts.

[17:31:01] Over the course of the day, you've seen a number of Trump's former advisers release statements, some not so explicitly worded in terms of their denials. But I want to focus on Rob Porter. Because in the Woodward book, Porter is talked about as taking papers off the president's desk. Gary Cohn, as well. Things that they didn't want the president to make bad decisions.

So listen to Porter's statement here. He does call Woodward's book selective and often misleading. He goes on to say, "The suggestion that materials were stolen from the president's desk to prevent his signature misunderstands how the White House document review process works and has worked for at least the last eight administrations."

Mark, I wonder there. It sounds like he's trying to explain the idea of taking things off the desk as possibly part of a regular vetting process.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I don't think there's any question that this has happened in past administrations for various different reasons.

But it's not the actual act of it being taken away. It's the reason behind the decision to decide to take it away. And that is concern that the president has taken the country off the rails, whether it be economically with trade policy or whether that be potentially going to war with North Korea.

So as you note in there, he doesn't necessarily say it didn't happen. He just tries to go into the jargon of "Bob Woodward doesn't quite explain it how it happens."

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Bob Woodward knows how this works.

PRESTON: Of course.

BORGER: Come on. You know, this guy is a staff secretary. He is responsible for putting in the folders exactly what the president sees, takes home at night, reads, et cetera, et cetera. So it's not as if Bob Woodward has never covered a presidential administration. It's the act of deciding what the president reads that can be substantive.


BORGER: And in this particular case, Bob Woodward makes the case, from his sources, that it was very substantive, that they were protecting the country and the president from himself.

SCIUTTO: And in this case, he had a copy of the letter that was removed --

BORGER: right.

SCIUTTO: -- from the president's desk, which related to --

PRESTON: Facts don't matter, Jim. Will you please?

SCIUTTO: The trade agreement with South Korea.

Jackie, I wonder, you know, it's interesting. Let's read Gary Cohn's, for instance, his denial: "This book does not accurately portray my experience at the White House. I am proud of my service in the Trump administration, and I continue to support the president and his economic agenda."

I can -- so Bob Woodward says he's getting calls from people saying, "You're absolutely right. But listen, I've got to say this, you know, to save my job, in effect." I mean, that would hold for a for Mattis, who's currently the defense secretary. Why does that hold for former officials like a Gary Cohn or others? You know?


SCIUTTO: I mean, the denial -- he doesn't have a job in the Trump administration anymore. So, you know, he doesn't have the same incentive to deny it if it's not true, because he's not trying to keep his job.

KUCINICH: He did sign an NDA, because they all signed NDAs. And we haven't seen one of these enforced yet or even try to enforce. Omarosa, on some level.

I don't think Gary Cohn wants to be on the president's bad side. There is incentive to stay on his good side. And they all know it could turn on a dime. If the president believes you and you significantly backtracked enough, perhaps he'll forgive you. Perhaps he'll believe that, you know, Woodward's book is all garbage. But if he doesn't, there could be repercussions.

SCIUTTO: Does this eat into Woodward's credibility?


SCIUTTO: This full-on assault by the president on this book, just as he's done on "The New York Times" editorial?

BORGER: No. These are nondenial denials. I mean, we know from our own reporting that Cohn left because of the tariffs. He was opposed to the tariffs. So, yes, he supports the president's economic agenda, except maybe for one big thing. The tariffs. That's why he quit. He was upset about Charlottesville, we know that. This doesn't -- this statement doesn't say anything.

PRESTON: But yes -- and what's important, though, is that, yes, the credibility of Bob Woodward, the celebrated journalist, is going to fall in the minds of some people. But those are people who support Donald Trump anyway. And no matter what the facts they're presented, they are going to be hardened in their --

SCIUTTO: So that's what this is serving. It's serving that -- I mean, as we said in the CNN poll yesterday, 32 percent of the country find the president credible. Is that what this whole charade is about? It's just keeping that 32 percent.

[17:35:08] PRESTON: Everything -- everything funnels back to one person, President Trump, whether that was Sarah Huckabee Sanders or Sean Spicer at the podium, not necessarily speaking to the nation, speaking to one people behind them. All these statements are being put out to make the president happy.


SCIUTTO: Go ahead.

JACKSON: Just quickly on the issue. I mean, I just find it perplexing. Did we not listen to a tape where the president was speaking to Mr. Woodward himself, saying, "You're one of the good ones. You're one of the best ones. You're fabulous"? And now all of a sudden, he's trash? He's nothing?

I mean, it goes to what you asked me before about the credibility problems with this president and the White House. "If you support my agenda, you support what I do, you're a great guy, good man. Wonderful person. If you don't, it's hogwash."

And it's just crazy that even 32 percent of the people could buy into that.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Joey, you always remind us of the facts. Thank you for that. I appreciate it. Jackie.

KUCINICH: There's another thing that this is about. It's about control. Because it was something like 58 percent of people in that poll said that they think, you know, some of the staff are involved with taking things -- taking things of the president's and controlling things behind the scenes. That means the president is not in control. So a lot of these statements are to firm up the president's sense of self, because that's very important to him.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, other topic, Donald Trump Jr. saying that he is not worried about his legal exposure from the Russia probe. Have a listen to what he said this morning on ABC.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you scared that you could go to jail?

DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP'S SON: I'm not. Because I know what I did, and I'm not worried about any of that. You know? That doesn't mean they won't try to create something. I mean, we've seen that happen with everything. But, you know, again, I'm not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But some say that Mueller has been successful. He has an indictment of Manafort. He has a plea deal from Cohen. He has Papadopoulos sentenced. You know, he's got a litany of close associates of your father's under investigation.

TRUMP JR.: All for things that happened way before they were ever part of any campaign. So if they get Manafort on a 2006 tax charge, you know -- again, I understand that they are trying to get my father. And they'll do anything they can to get that.


SCIUTTO: We should note, not true there, because Papadopoulos happened as a campaign adviser. Michael Flynn lied as a member of the Trump administration. But on a legal issue, Joey Jackson, he says he's not worried. Should he be?

JACKSON: Why should he be? He's the son of the president of the United States. The guy who pardons people, not because of the Department of Justice says that, "Look, these are the worthy people. These are the issues. This is the process," but because, you know, "Sheriff Joe, I like you. You're a good guy, you know? You're with me on immigration. Take a pardon."

So as long as he is the son of the president of the United States, what is there to worry about?

And the fact of the matter is, on the merits, though, he should be worried as it relates to the -- as it relates to the meeting that happened at Trump Tower, as it relates to his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2007.

But so as long as, you know what, he's got the guy in the White House, he's otherwise good to go.

And briefly this, Jim. Look at the narrative about it's sort of -- it's the witch hunt. It's "they're out to get me." That's the whole political narrative that this is unfair. And that's done for the populace out there to just go to show, there's no merit to it. But you know what? There's a lot of merit. Look at the actual facts of the investigation.

SCIUTTO: Quite a coordinated campaign, no question, by the president attacking the investigation.

All right. Stand by. There's more to talk about. Coming up, President Trump promotes a conspiracy theory, being pushed by his congressional allies, suggesting that new texts show misconduct by former FBI officials.

And the new forecast is in for Hurricane Florence, growing stronger, predicted to bring storm surges of up to 13 feet and as much as two feet of rain to the southeast. Some 20 million people could be in harm's way.


[17:43:21] SCIUTTO: President Trump today is promoting an allegation being pushed by one of his close political allies. Republican Congressman Mark Meadows, without evidence, suggests that new texts indicate misconduct by former FBI officials.

CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, joins us now.

Manu, what do we -- do these new texts show? I suppose, what do they not show, as well?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Congressman Mark Meadows got these new texts, sent a letter to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, raising concerns this perhaps this could be a coordinated effort by Lisa Page and Peter Strzok to undermine the Trump presidency, because these texts that he received came in the early part of the new administration last year.

Now, one of these texts said that Peter Strzok to Lisa Page, says, "I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ."

And another text that Meadows cites talks about two articles that are about to come out about her namesake, and it appears to be a reference to Carter Page, the Trump former policy adviser. And there was a "Washington Post" story that came out soon after that suggested that Page himself was being monitored by the FBI.

Now, this all got President Trump riled up. He tweeted this morning, "New Strzok/Page texts reveal media leak strategy. So terrible, and nothing is being done at the DOJ or FBI, but the world is watching and they get it completely."

But it turns out, according to Peter Strzok's attorney, that is not the case at all about what these texts actually mean. Peter Strzok's attorney making it very clear that the term "media leak strategy" in Mr. Strzok's texts refers to a department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media.

And a source close to Lisa Page also tells our colleague Lauren Jarrett that this is all about an effort to stop leaks within the new Trump administration, to institute a new policy to crack down on leaks to the news media.

So the question, how do Republicans respond from here? No word yet about any pushback from the Republicans to these latest explanations from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Manu, I understand Republicans are pushing to declassify more documents in the Russia probe. What documents and on what justification?

RAJU: Yes, that's right. Two -- some key documents, one involving a Carter Page FISA application, the surveillance warrant application that occurred in 2016. There's already been a redacted version that has been released. But now a push for a fully unredacted version and also some notes that occur between a senior Justice official, Bruce Ohr, and senior and FBI officials that occurred. Those notes have been central to what the Republicans are pushing. We'll see what the president decides to do in a matter of days -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Coming up, Russia and China show off their combined military might. What message is Vladimir Putin trying to send?

Plus, the latest forecast shows Hurricane Florence strengthening as it aims for the East Coast.


[17:51:05] SCIUTTO: Tonight military forces from Russia and China are working together to send an unanimous warning about their combined military might.

CNN's Brian Todd is here. Tell us about these latest -- I mean, truly massive war games.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are massive, Jim. The Russians are calling this their biggest staging of war games since the fall of the Soviet Union, and this could not come at a more opportune time for Vladimir Putin. The Russian president is under fire at home, he's feeling the heat from the U.S. over election meddling and possibly more sanctions. Putin and his Chinese counterpart are eager to display their alliance tonight and send a clear signal to Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Soldiers rappel from helicopters, combat jets take flight, tanks roll through the eastern Russian countryside. This is Vostok 2018 which Russia calls its biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union, more than 300,000 troops, 36,000 vehicles, 1,000 aircraft, war ships cruising off shore.

The militaries from Russia, China and Mongolia in a high-tech, heavily-armored muscle flex, a massive, ambitious exercise staged by Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, who've come to Vladivostok to witness the event and send a signal to their joint rival.

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Instead of letting this image of Russian-Chinese, you know, endless rivalry prevail, this is the Russians and Chinese signaling, no, we're working together, stay out of our turf, America, Japan, South Korea, the West, right. We can handle things, we can defend ourselves.

TODD: Putin and Xi are enjoying this so much they staged an event to make pancakes together, sprinkle them with caviar and have a vodka toast. Asked today if he's worried about a future military alliance between Russia and China against the United States, Defense Secretary James Mattis said, quote, "I see little in the long term that aligns Russia and China." But experts do see ominous possibilities.

(On camera): For an American, what kind of a security concern would you take from this?

JEFFREY EDMONDS, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL: So both militaries are definitely benefitting from working together. They're learning how to share intelligence, they're learning how to operate together. They are basically understanding each other better militarily and that could definitely benefit either country, whether together or separately in any potential conflict with the United States.

TODD: This show of might also benefits Vladimir Putin at home. Putin's dealing with some of the loudest, most embittered protest against his rule that he's ever experienced. Millions of Russians upset with his plan to raise the minimum age when Russians can start collecting their pensions. Analysts say Putin knows Russians will likely view him more favorably if he emphasizes his presence at these war games.

ROJANSKY: For the Russian domestic audience, the idea that Putin reminds them of the stuff he's good at, defending us and our territory, you know, protecting the interests of Russian citizens and of businesses and Russians around the world, that's the stuff that he does well.


TODD: But analysts say it could be that same tough guy projection and that propping up of all of his tough guy friends which could eventually be Vladimir Putin's undoing. Russians are obviously hurting financially right now, and if more Russians get collectively fed up their voices claiming that Putin might be siphoning Russia's money to help his corrupt friends in the military security services those voices could get louder, bringing more Russians on to the streets, which experts say is what Vladimir Putin fears the most -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: This friendship between Russia and China, certainly the personal level has been growing in years. Worrisome implications for the U.S.?

TODD: That's right, Jim. You know Putin and Xi are said to be very close personal friends at the moment. Putin has clearly been, as they say, pivoting east in recent years, signing multi-billion dollar energy deals with China and other trade agreements. This is clearly developing now as an axis of power designed very clearly to challenge the United States. We'll see how the U.S. responds, especially in that Pacific region.

SCIUTTO: Brian Todd, thanks very much. And we'll continue to watch that.

[17:45:02] Coming up here tonight, breaking news, the new forecast in for Hurricane Florence growing stronger and predicted to bring storm surges as high as 13 feet and as much as two feet of rain to the southeast. A million and a half people already ordered to evacuate.


SCIUTTO: Happening now, breaking news. Monster storm, Hurricane Florence strengthening as it closes in on the East Coast, ready to strike with epic brute force. We have a new forecast of the danger that could impact more than 20 million Americans.

Best job ever. As a new disaster is about to unfold, President Trump makes really an astonishing claim. He says his administration's response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico was an incredible success despite months of suffering and thousands of deaths.