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Interview With Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly; Remembering 9/11; Hurricane Florence Targets East Coast; Trump Praises Administration's Puerto Rico Response. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 11, 2018 - 18:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: He says his administration's response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico was an incredible success, despite months of suffering and thousands of deaths.

Loathing fear. As Bob Woodward's book on the Trump White House is officially released, the president is applauding attempts to discredit the account of an administration in crisis. Tonight, two more officials are pushing back, but are they actually denying Woodward's facts?

And 17 years later, America pauses once again to remember the day when so much was lost and everything changed. We will bring you the official tributes and personal memories on this 9/11.

We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Jim Sciutto, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SCIUTTO: We are following the breaking news.

A very powerful hurricane growing even stronger, according to a new forecast out tonight, and 1.5 million people are under orders to escape the danger zone now. The head of FEMA is warning that Florence will be -- quote -- "devastating" to the Carolinas and possibly Virginia. The Category 4 storm could approach Category 5 before it hits land, unleashing life-threatening flooding and destruction.

Tonight, President Trump promising that his administration is ready for the worst, but consider this. He is also boasting that his response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico was -- quote -- "one of the best ever," even after nearly 3,000 people lost their lives.

This hour, I will speak with Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia. Our correspondents and analysts standing by as well.


SCIUTTO: Now let's go to the Carolinas, the bullseye for Hurricane Florence, as the storm gets closer and gets stronger.

CNN's Nick Valencia, he is in Conway, South Carolina.

Nick, what are you seeing there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, we're 20 miles inland from Myrtle Beach, where the National Guard and state police have reversed these highway lanes to try to get residents out as fast as possible.



JEFF BYARD, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: This storm is not a glancing blow. This storm is going to be a direct hit onto our coast.

VALENCIA (voice-over): Tonight, officials are pleading with everyone along the East Coast to heed the warnings and not underestimate Florence's strength. The hurricane, seen in this close-up satellite image, expected to be the most powerful to hit the coast in decades.

RICHARD HENNING, NOAA: Everything that you have been hearing about this storm in terms of its severity is all true.

VALENCIA: This hurricane hunter speaking to CNN from inside the storm has a firsthand look at just how serious it is.

HENNING: There is nothing to prevent this storm from continuing to intensify.

VALENCIA: More than one million people in Virginia and the Carolinas are under a mandatory evacuation. States of emergency have been declared there, as well as in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

South Carolina police are reversing the highway traffic to make it easier for people to get out of harm's way.

GOV. HENRY MCMASTER (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: All we know is, it's coming. It's even stronger than Hurricane Hugo. Once it gets on the ground, the velocity will be more, but it will be crawling across the ground, which means more and more rain.

VALENCIA: Some are waiting it out, taking the risk of a last-minute evacuation, especially in areas like Myrtle Beach, where there is no major highway access.

For those staying and stocking up, long delays at gas stations and home improvement stores, like at this Home Depot in Wilmington, North Carolina, where there's a 90-minute wait for plywood.


VALENCIA: And from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Norfolk, Virginia, hundreds of miles of coastline have been evacuated ahead of what is expected to be a devastating hurricane -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Listen to those warnings. We hear it from everyone. Nick Valencia, thanks very much. Tonight, President Trump is trying to reassure Americans in the path

of Hurricane Florence that he is looking out for his safety, but his boasting about the hurricane response in Puerto Rico could be sending a different message.

Let's go to CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, we heard from the president after he was briefed on this storm, and yet he kept talking about the response to Puerto Rico.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, and he raised a lot of eyebrows, because he was bragging about his administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and killed nearly 3,000 people, some unusual words.

But those comments came as the president was seeking to reassure the nation 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.

DONALD TRUMP SR.: 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.

DONALD TRUMP SR.: I think in a certainly 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.

DONALD TRUMP SR.: 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., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: 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.

DONALD TRUMP JR.: I think there are people in there he can trust. It is just -- it is a 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 executive 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 actively portray my experience in the White House. I continue to support the president."

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, "THE WASHINGTON POST": One key person who is in office called me and said: "Everyone knows what you have said here is true. It is 1000 percent correct."

And then this person has said some public things that contradict that.


COLLINS: Now, Jim, today, when President Trump was asked if he believes those denials from Rob Porter and Gary Cohn, he said that he appreciated them, he thought they were excellent, and thought that they proved that Bob Woodward's book was fiction, making it pretty clear why Cohn and Porter felt the need to issue those statements in the first place -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: That's the audience.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks very much.

Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia. He's a Democrat and he's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Congressman, thanks very much for taking the time.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA: Good to be with you, Jim. SCIUTTO: First, let me ask for your reaction to hearing the president

call the administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico as a -- quote -- "incredible unsung success."

And just to remind our viewers of the number of deaths from Maria in Puerto Rico, some 2,975. What is your reaction to those comments from the president?

CONNOLLY: Monstrous fiction that cost lives, because if the head of the government doesn't see anything wrong with the response, lives get lost, and to say nothing of the fact that that island was prostrate for the better part of a year, most of its power out for months and months and months, homes destroyed, roads washed away, people having trouble with access to health care and even basic necessities like food and water.

If he thinks that's an unparalleled success, God only knows what he would think a failure would be.

SCIUTTO: Your state, Virginia, your commonwealth, rather, is not in the direct path of the storm, but certainly looks to get a lot of rain, and that's dangerous. There's already been a lot of rain in this area. The governor just declared a state of emergency there.

Does it concern you, if the administration is claiming success where there wasn't success, that there are lessons that weren't learned from that that could be applied to the preparations for this storm?

CONNOLLY: Absolutely.

You know, emergency response is a hands-on business. It is not theoretical and it's not political. This is about responding to people in dire need, and lives are at stake. And, so, yes, if I have got a president who is claiming success in Puerto Rico, I tremble at how well we're organized to respond to this massive hurricane.

SCIUTTO: The president said today that the East Coast, in his words, should be in great shape for Hurricane Florence. What did he mean there?

CONNOLLY: Well, if he means by that the states are in pretty good shape, that's probably accurate. What we're all worried about is the federal capability of response.

SCIUTTO: If I can turn now to Donald Trump Jr., you're aware he gave a somewhat rare interview today, talking about, among other things, the Russia investigation. He said that he personally is not worried about going to jail from the Russia probe.

Do you believe he should be worried about that possibility?

CONNOLLY: I don't know if he should be worried about going to jail. That's beyond my pay grade.

But I do think he should be worried about legal jeopardy. He has put himself in grave peril. He lied about a meeting he set up. We now have the e-mails that he himself had to release that clearly show he was licking his chops at the prospect of dirt on Hillary from the Russian government.

And then his father drafted the letter trying to obfuscate the purpose of the meeting, claiming it was all about adoption, when, in fact, of course, it was all about political opposition from a foreign agent and a foreign government.

I think that puts him directly in legal peril, and he ought to hire the best lawyers he can.

SCIUTTO: Now, a lot of the information you cited there is public. We know that this is a line of inquiry for the special counsel, Robert Mueller. He, of course, has much greater resources to dig down, to plumb the depths on that.

Seeing as he has had the opportunity to do that, if there were legal recourse against Donald Trump Jr., why wouldn't the special counsel have acted already?

CONNOLLY: I can't fathom the timeline of Robert Mueller, but I will say this.

He's acted with great expedition, it seems to me, in terms of the number of indictments and the number of plea agreements and, of course, the Manafort trial, and we're about to have the second. So I think he has acted with great dispatch, but he is also thorough and comprehensive and methodical.

And that's how a legal prosecution ought to be when it is involving the highest levels of the U.S. government.

SCIUTTO: There's a new allegation coming from some of your Republican colleagues in Congress, repeated and shared by the president today on his Twitter feed, about a text between the former FBI official Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Their texts, of course, have been an enormous focus for Republicans in the last several months. This particular text came from April 2017 and it shows that Strzok wanted to talk about with Lisa Page a media leak strategy.


Now, Strzok's lawyer said, listen, this was about searching for leakers inside the government and to stop those leaks to the media.

Your Republican colleagues in the House are saying, in fact, this seems to say that they had some plot to leak information to the media. What is your reading of the text?

CONNOLLY: My Republican friends are looking at any opportunity they can find to try to distract all of us from the underlying Mueller investigation about Russian interference and the involvement of the Trump campaign in the same. It is very clear from the context of this, if you look at the entire

text, that they're talking about a draft Department of Justice strategy to stop leaks. They are not doing what Mr. Meadows and Mr. Jordan are claiming, and that's -- this is just an infamy.

At least stick to the facts and the truth if you are going to make a charge. To actually distort the opposite meaning intended, I think, does a disservice to the truth, and certainly doesn't make my friends on the other side of the aisle look like credible sources when they're commenting on this grave matter.

SCIUTTO: Perhaps in that vein, House Republicans are urging President Trump to declassify more documents from the Russia probe, specifically the FISA warrants related to, among others, Carter Page.

This is unprecedented. Well, it's happened before in this administration, but prior to that, these documents kept classified, intelligence officials say for some very good reasons here.

Why do you believe your Republican colleagues are pushing to release these particular documents, and is there a danger from doing that?

CONNOLLY: I think there is danger from doing that in terms of compromising sources and methods.

But I'm not afraid of the truth. And if you want to release FISA documents, and we can do it without compromising sources and methods, let's have at it. Let's see what is in these documents.

Last time they tried this, the documents actually proved the opposite of what they were asserting. I don't think we Democrats and I don't think the American people have anything to be afraid of with the truth. I wish I could say the same about my Republican friends, including, of course, the president of the United States.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Connolly, thanks very much for taking the time.

CONNOLLY: My great pleasure, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Just ahead, we are tracking the threat from Hurricane Florence and evacuations that are under way as we speak. Is the Trump administration prepared to handle a storm catastrophe on the East Coast?

The president's shocking new claim of success in Puerto Rico making some people very nervous.



SCIUTTO: A dire warning about Hurricane Florence from the Oval Office.

President Trump got a briefing on the monster storm from emergency officials and said that his administration is -- quote -- "absolutely, totally prepared to respond," but he didn't stop there.

Let's dig deeper with our correspondents and specialists.

Rachael Bade, the president was supposed to be talking about Hurricane Florence. He couldn't help but bring up Hurricane Maria. A slightly different experience, particularly if you were in Puerto Rico. Let's listen the how he described his success.


DONALD TRUMP SR.: 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 have gotten a lot of receptivity, a lot of thanks for the job we have 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: To remind folks, the number of people killed in Puerto Rico in -- from Hurricane Maria in the months that followed, 3,000, 2,975, more by a large margin than Hurricane Katrina and much more than other previous hurricanes in the area.

Why, Rachael Bade, do you think the president double, triple, quadruples down on this, bragging about success there?

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, back when the numbers came out, the number was 64 people killed.

And, obvious, that was increased over time as they learned about people suffering and dying during the power outages. I highly doubt that the president didn't know that those numbers were not updated.

But a lot of times, he just says things and he hopes that his, you know, Trump followers will just take his word for it, and a lot of times they do. But Connelly is right in your last segment. If the leader of the government is not saying that that is a failure and admitting that they need to do more, then his sort of attempt to give assurances to the East Coast right now that he is going to be there are just going to fall through, because that was not a success.

SCIUTTO: David, early on, the president cited that lower initial death toll figure as evidence of success, right, relative to Katrina and said, listen, I did much better than Bush during Katrina.

Now, of course, the facts get in the way of history.


I mean, his portrayal of events is simply not accurate. A more generous, more serious president might have said, look, we didn't get everything right in Puerto Rico, but that doesn't take away from the hard work that FEMA did or the Coast Guard or the Navy did. But, instead, he makes it all about him. It suggests that, in this

situation, on 9/11 and on a day when there's a hurricane bearing down on the East Coast, he is thinking not about the job at hand, but about the job that he and his administration didn't get right last time.


SCIUTTO: Sorry, Ron. Go ahead.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Jim, I was going to say, you know, there's something even more fundamental here.

I mean, leaving aside the question of the response, which obviously was nothing like what the president -- how the president characterized it, one of the reasons why we don't know more about what actually happened in Puerto Rico is because there was no oversight on it, in the same way there was no oversight -- there's been no oversight on anything else from Congress.


But I think, even more basically, why are we seeing hurricanes of this ferocity? I think every meteorologist will tell you that this hurricane is so ferocious because the water is so unusually warm now in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean.

Why is it so unusually warm in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean? Clearly, it seems to be influenced by the changing climate. And whatever response the president is talking about after the fact, the fact is that they are systematically dismantling all of the efforts of the federal government to deal with the underlying threat of climate change.

And this is kind of becoming the new normal, storms of this magnitude fuelled by these unusually warm ocean temperatures, and yet we are going the opposite direction entirely in federal policy in terms of trying to reduce that core risk.

SCIUTTO: And you can't even raise the topic of conversation practically.

The other thing, Rebecca Berg, that the president brought up during this Hurricane Florence briefing in the Oval Office was, of course, Bob Woodward's book. He called it a piece of fiction. He says that statements from some former advisers prove that it is a piece of fiction.

But I just want to remind people in audiotape that Bob Woodward released as the book or shortly before the book came out of a phone call with the president just a couple of months ago. Have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP SR.: It's really too bad because nobody told me about it. And I would have loved to have spoken to you. You know I'm very open to you. I think you have always been fair, but we will see what happens. (END AUDIO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: "You have always been fair." That's the president in August of this year describing Bob Woodward, who he now claims has written a piece of fiction, Rebecca Berg.


Well, the difference, of course, being, Jim, that Bob Woodward has now written something that is very negative regarding President Trump, something that doesn't cast him in the most positive light, and President Trump has a very thin skin. He doesn't take criticism well.

If someone writes something or says something negative about him, he takes it personally. That's why you have seen members of Congress, for example, walking on eggshells whenever they criticize the president. They always focus on criticizing him on policy, nothing personal, nothing having to do with his capacity as president, because they know just how sensitive he is to those criticisms.

And so, for Bob Woodward, who is a very well-respected, legendary journalist, to write this book that casts the president in a negative light, he takes it personally.


How do you read this sort of litany, Rachael, David, Ron, of people quoted in the Woodward book who are now releasing statements of sort of fealty to the president, but also denying the facts of this?

Bob Woodward has said today that he's gotten calls from people who say, listen, you're 1000 percent right, but I have to say this for the president's and for public consumption.

BADE: But this is nothing new in journalism.


BADE: The non-denial denial, where somebody sort of pushes back on it, but doesn't say it is false.

And, look, the president is extremely popular with his base. I wouldn't be surprised if these folks were getting hounded by people who are still loyal to the president: Why would you cooperate with this book?

But, again, this narrative falls right in line with what we have known for over a year, you know, two years. And so there's no surprise here, and, obviously, the truth will come out.

SWERDLICK: The non-denial denial is another way of saying essentially that, look, the president and his staff frequently push back on things, but they never specify what they think is false or what they say is fake news.

And that, I think, is telling about their response. SCIUTTO: Ron Brownstein.


BROWNSTEIN: You know, there's almost like a Bob Woodward moment every couple of years in an administration.

This is not unique to the Trump presidency, in that he has written a book like this about, I think, every president, except for Jimmy Carter, since Richard Nixon. And you see this every time. You see all of the people who have been persuasively quoted and documented coming out after, kind of like a Mao-era China ritual of self- abasement, saying, no, it wasn't me, it wasn't me.

But his -- like anybody else, he has been nicked a little over the years, but his basic stories have held up. And I think that the fact that his account so dovetails with what we have seen from other insiders, other books, the daily journalism, I think gives a lot of power to this.

And it is obviously having an effect in the polls, between this and the Michael Cohen indictment, with the president very clearly moving from the low 40s to mid -- high to mid 30s. That is a difference, and is a difference that matters for November.

SCIUTTO: It's interesting.

Look, for instance, at Rob Porter's non-denial denial, because Rob Porter in the Woodward book, a story of him taking documents away from the president, as Gary Cohn did as well.

And his answer is: "The suggestion that the 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."

He's not saying, we didn't take documents off his desk or anything. He is saying, well, listen, this is part of the way we do things in there and you don't really understand how it works.

Is that how you read that?

BADE: Yes, he wants this -- again, the non-denial denial.

BERG: And he -- I think he used the word selective to describe Bob Woodward's account.


BERG: And it's like, of course it is selective.

You're not going to write a minute-by-minute documentation of what is happening in this White House. You take the most interesting parts and write about those, the most dramatic parts.

HERE REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- account. And it's like, of course it's selective. You're not going to write a minute- by-minute documentation of what is happening in this White House. You take the most interesting parts and write about those, the most dramatic parts; and that's what they did.

[18:30:13] RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I bet they praised the president at some point and maybe those quotes didn't make the book and so they're a little upset.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well listen, we have a lot more to discuss. Please stand by.

Just ahead, we're keeping close watch on Hurricane Florence and the growing danger to the East Coast as the monster storm becomes even more powerful.

Plus, Donald Trump Jr. speaks out about the Mueller investigation, whether he is afraid that he could face jail time.


[18:35:13] SCIUTTO: We're back now with our correspondents and specialists. Donald Trump Jr. gave an interview this morning, speaking specifically in this one about his own potential vulnerability in the Russia investigation. Let's have a listen.


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

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: 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 Mueller has been successful. He has 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: Point of fact, not all long before they were part of the campaign. Papadopoulos while he was campaign, lying. Michael Flynn, while he was national security adviser and in the administration, lying.

But setting that aside for a moment, what's your reaction to watching Donald Trump Jr. there, sort of confidently, Rebecca Berg, saying, "Listen, I'm fine unless they try to create something," they try to make something up, in effect, on him?

BERG: Right. So a similar message from Donald Trump Jr. than what we've -- to what we've heard from his father, that this is all a political witch hunt, that this is politically motivated.

And of course, you know, he's projecting this confidence while this investigation is ongoing. But, you know, certainly, he's been open, potentially, to some legal problems, and he hasn't been interviewed yet by Robert Mueller. He could still be. But, you know, in the meantime, he's projecting this confidence.

SCIUTTO: So where is his potential vulnerability? It centers around the Trump Tower meeting and his descriptions of that, whether they were truthful?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think so. I agree with Rebecca that he looks confident there, but he's a little tighter than he was in that famous Hannity interview from way back when, when he was like, "Nothing to see here."

Look, it may not rise to the level of criminal liability, but he has to at some point have a better explanation or not have had an inconsistent explanation for that June 2016 e-mail where it was said, "Hey, look, we've got dirt on Clinton," and his response was something to the effect of, "If it's what you say it was, I love it."


SWERDLICK: There's also this idea about he was not initially forthcoming about the president dictating the initial response to him.

Whether Mueller is going to bring charges or whether he'll, at some point, need his father's pardon is another matter, but he does have, probably, something to worry about and to look in the rearview mirror.

SCIUTTO: The other topic, of course, the upcoming vote on president's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Ron Brownstein, you wrote an article; you wrote an op-ed about this and about that tension that we saw in the confirmation hearing and how that affects the Supreme Court's overall view in the American public.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think particularly the questioning of Brett Kavanaugh by Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, two Democrats who are African-American, really was a preview of the politics we could see surrounding the court in the next ten years or more.

You know, if Kavanaugh is confirmed, you could have a five-member Republican majority, with Clarence Thomas as the oldest member at 70, that could decide, could set the rules of American law, really, for the next 15 years or even slightly more. And over that period, the country will be diversifying enormously. While this court majority is sitting we will go to majority non-white in our under 18 population and even our under-35 population. And white Christians could be down to one-third of the country overall. And yet this majority, as Kavanaugh showed in his questioning from Booker and Harris, in particular, is very resistant to the idea of any kind of use of race to expand opportunity, to promote inclusion, affirmative action, voting rights.

All of those questions that were very pointedly raised in the questioning between them, I think, are going to become an increasing flash point over the coming years. In many ways, this court is kind of going to be like, potentially, a sea wall against the demands, the rising demands for greater inclusion from groups that are all growing in society but may find their requests and their pressure rebuffed by this five-member court, five-member majority on the court.

SCIUTTO: And beyond issues of race, Rachael Bade, I mean, if you look at Brett Kavanaugh's record and some of, presumably if he is confirmed on gun control, on women's reproductive rights, very much out of touch with the majority of Americans on those issues.

BADE: And yet conservatives love him.


BADE: And I think that's why you haven't seen the polls change before and after the hearing. I mean a lot of -- in a lot of ways this was sort of a half-baked -- baked series of hearings where both sides sort of came out saying, "You know, this is the right justice" or "This is the wrong justice."

[18:40:12] Conservatives were obviously loving his answers, and they see that he is going to change the court, and they've been waiting for a whole generation to do this.

And then, of course, progressives were furious that he wouldn't even stand up against President Donald Trump when he criticized a justice who happened to be Mexican and saying that he cannot decide a -- make the correct case, yes.

So, look, the polls haven't changed. He's going to get confirmed, but it was sort of what we expected on the Hill.

SCIUTTO: Have a look at our new CNN polling on this, on should the Senate vote to confirm, as we were just showing a moment ago. Look at that. I mean 37, 38. Really, all within the margin of error. It has not changed, really, one iota after those very contentious hearings there.

And at the end of the day, Rebecca and David, all you need is 51 votes in the current environment. It makes this something of a show, does it not, in terms of the final vote here?

BERG: It does, but it is a little bit astounding if you reflect on this a bit, Jim. But we're at a point where a Supreme Court nominee is getting only a bare minimum of votes to be confirmed, because it used to be not too long ago that these nominees would get a very large majority of support in the Senate. But this is really reflective of the partisan moment we are in, the

angst and bitterness around this whole process and around President Trump and his nominee. And of course, we're seeing this reflected on the campaign trail, as well. This has become a political issue.

SCIUTTO: And the court is supposed to be above that, but with those kind of vote totals, it doesn't appear they can escape it.

Thanks very much to all of you.

Just ahead, the new forecast out tonight for Hurricane Florence, one of the most powerful storms to take aim at the East Coast in decades.

And a Republican lawmaker says that he has uncovered new FBI texts that he claims are more evidence of an anti-Trump bias. We'll break down the texts and the facts.


[18:46:45] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Tonight, a House Republican is handing the president more ammunition for his attacks on the FBI. At issue, additional texts exchanged between former bureau officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

Let's bring in CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett.

So, Laura, what do these new texts show and I supposed what do they not show necessarily?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, I think at this point, we have seen a familiar pattern play out here time and again. Republican lawmakers find a cryptic text message between Page and Strzok. The president then harps on it, amplifies it on Twitter, we're off to the races.

So, again, this morning by 7:19, a somber day for most Americans on 9/11, the president is tweeting out media leak strategy or new Strzok/Page texts reveal media leak strategy. So terrible and nothing is being done at the FBI.

But the actual text message, if you look at it, here is what it says. And he's talking -- this is to Strzok to Page. He says, I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ.

Now, in context, his lawyer says this was actually not talking about leaks to the media that Page and Strzok would put out, but they were concerned about new policies and it was actually talking about preventing leaks and their department-wide initiatives in that.

But from a political standpoint, Jim, I think here the texts are the gifts that keep on giving for people that want to discredit the Mueller investigation because there's no debate these two were on the Mueller team, at least for a short period of time, and there's no doubt that their text messages were publicly trashing -- privately I should say, trashing the president time and again. And so, no matter what, people can now take these text messages out of context whenever they want to use the political football.

SCIUTTO: Right. I mean, classic strategy, right. You just need a little snippet there and you don't have to prove the broader charge. It's not the first time that Republicans have jumped on an exchange like this, but later then had the argument undermined.

JARRETT: Exactly. By my count, I have seen at least three different instances in which this has happened. Back in January, you might remember the secret society at the FBI text which turned out to be a gag gift about Putin-themed calendars. Then in February, we have the text about Obama wanting to know everything, which Republicans said was about the Clinton e-mail investigation. Strzok later testified it is about his being concerned about Russian meddling in the election. And then in June, we have the president propagating a Reddit conspiracy theory he had about the Russian conspiracy beginning in December 2015 when, of course, we know, all evidence shows it started in July of 2016.

So, we have seen this play before, and my guess is as long as Mueller is around, we'll see it again.

SCIUTTO: The facts getting in the way of a good story.

Laura Jarrett, thanks very much.

Just ahead, the latest on Hurricane Florence. More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate as the storm gains strength and closes in on the East Coast.

Plus, President Vladimir Putin flexing his military muscles. Details of Russia's biggest war games in decades.


[18:54:30] SCIUTTO: Hundreds of thousands of Russian troops are taking part in that country's largest military exercise since the fall of the Soviet Union.

CNN's senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is in Moscow with the details.

Matthew, an interesting detail is China also took part in these war games.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. I mean, it's the most interesting detail about it, I'd say, Jim, because it's highly unusual for anyone to be invited inside of Russia who's not a member of the former Soviet bloc to take part in military maneuvers like this.

[18:55:03] But China has, I think, 3,200 members of the people's liberation army maneuvering alongside their Russian military counterparts, and that's a significant show of friendship and strength by these two kind of Asian militaries, the Russian and the Chinese.

And, of course, it all talks to that much broader detente in relationship that's developing between Moscow and Beijing. It really started to accelerate after 2014 when the relationship between Russia and the West and the U.S. started to deteriorate dramatically after Russia annexed Crimea back then and provoked sanctions on it. It decided to pivot east to embrace its former adversary in China and it's been doing that with some gusto while these maneuvers were taking place, the Russian and Chinese leaders met for, I think, the 27th time in recent years in Vladivostok where there's a key economic forum under way and they spoke about how they are an essential part of maintaining stability in the region now and how they would confront isolationism and protectionism, an oblique reference to the problems that both are having with the United States in terms of trade wars and sanctions.

And it's really sort of started to transform the geopolitical landscape, this allegiance, this alliance between Moscow and Beijing. Remember, just a couple of years ago, they saw each other as adversaries, now they treat each other increasingly as close allies and that's worrying from a Western point of view.

SCIUTTO: Matthew, how did this come about, them working together on these exercises?

CHANCE: Well, they were invited to come. And again, it's all part of that very close relationship that Russia and China are both trying to build. The two leaders met in Vladivostok today. They did some fun stuff together. They made pancakes together.

It's a sign of this close personal bond, which is also a broader sign of the growing relationship between the two nations.

SCIUTTO: Matthew Chance there in Moscow, we're going to continue to watch and follow those exercises.

And finally, for us here tonight, we remember all that happened on this day 17 years ago, how our nation was attacked, how nearly 3,000 people lost their lives and how America endured and has endured and united against a terror that we had never experienced on our homeland before.

CNN's Tom Foreman looks at the ceremonies and the sorrow on this September 11th.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seventeen years ago, in the hours after the attacks, air travel coast to coast was suspended. The skies fell quiet for the better part of three days, and every year since, the silence has returned.

With bowed heads and broken hearts, the whole nation has watched survivors and their families wrestle with their grief, seeing the landscape of the tragedy transformed, even watched the presidency change hands, but the message has stayed the same.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This field is now a monument to American defiance. This memorial is now a message to the world. America will never, ever submit to tyranny.

FOREMAN: Those are not just words. Terrorists who planned that terrible day were hunted fiercely in Afghanistan, indeed, around the world, and their network was decimated. Thousands American troops lost their lives in the process, but a promise was made.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: No matter how long it takes, America will find you and we will bring you to justice.

FOREMAN: And it was kept.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: The United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al Qaeda and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.

FOREMAN: Since that dark day, so much has changed. Technology, demographics, our politics, our past times, 68 million new Americans have been born, some of who graduated high school just last spring, learning about the attacks as a piece of history. But for all those who lived through that awful day, who recall the lives lost --

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They were mothers and fathers and fathers to be, husband and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They were family.

FOREMAN: Those memories are unchanged, if only for a few silent moments each September.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


SCIUTTO: Each of those moments just unforgettable.

I'm Jim Sciutto.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.