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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dorian Batters Carolinas; Rescues Underway in the Bahamas; New Trump Tweets Defend Alabama Storm Blunder; Trump Adviser: I Showed Him Earlier Map That Included Alabama. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired September 5, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- storm surge predictions so far have not panned out.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Athena Jones, stay safe.
Thank you. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Happening now, breaking news: closing in. The new forecast is in and Hurricane Dorian is closing in on the Carolina coast, bringing winds of 105 miles an hour, heavy rains and even tornadoes. Officials warn of a long night ahead.
Flooding threat: a quarter million customers are without power in the Southeast and coastal cities are already flooding.
With up to 15 inches of rain and life-threatening storm surges expected, how bad will it get?
Destruction and suffering: shocking images reveal the catastrophic destruction in the Bahamas left behind by Hurricane Dorian. Thousands are homeless, lacking water, food, shelter as rescuers try to reach stranded survivors.
And cone of insanity: President Trump points to an altered weather map to make his claim that Dorian threatened Alabama.
Did he personally use a Sharpie marker to redraw the cone of uncertainty?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news: the new forecast is just in as Hurricane Dorian hammers the Carolinas with powerful winds and torrential downpours. Up to 15 inches could fall, while storm surges drive a wall of water ashore. Along with that life-threatening combination, the storm has spawned
tornadoes. There has been heavy flooding in Charleston. There are alerts along the coast into Virginia and even parts of New England facing tropical storm warnings.
Hundreds of thousands of people have left their homes and a quarter million homes and businesses are without power in the Southeast. And we're also getting a better look now at the catastrophic damage Dorian left behind in the Bahamas. The prime minister calls it generational devastation.
The death toll is at least 20 and expected to rise as stunned survivors face chaos. Urgent rescues and relief efforts are starting to gear up, hampered by the destruction of an international airport. Our correspondents, analysts and guests will have full coverage of the day's breaking news.
Let's begin with our own Brian Todd. He's in Charleston, South Carolina, for us right now.
Brian, what's the latest there?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here's an example of the precarious situation here on the streets of Charleston. Behind me, this police vehicle stranded in the floodwaters here. First responders having a tough time getting around tonight.
There are downed power lines and trees all over the city. They have had more than a hundred roads closed at various times. This city reeling from the third major hurricane to hit it in the past three years.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, South Carolina bearing Dorian's brunt. Downtown Charleston facing a triple threat, as rivers, heavy rain and high tides converge. Forecasters warned Dorian could dump up to 15 inches of rain on the city and a storm surge could send 4 to 7 feet of water ashore.
GOV. HENRY MCMASTER (R-SC): This is still a very dangerous storm. As you know, it's impossible to predict exactly where it's going to go and what's going to happen and where the tides are going to be.
TODD (voice-over): High winds are another huge concern. Downed power lines flailing in the street, causing violent and dangerous transformer explosions.
BRETT YEAROUT, RESTAURANT OWNER: I didn't know if it was going to shoot down the water and come to us.
TODD (voice-over): In the Charleston area alone, there are nearly 140,000 people without power. The mayor's office reports more than 160 trees down and more than a hundred road closures. This cell phone video from a woman monitoring the flooding from downtown...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the flooding is officially starting.
TODD (voice-over): -- where the water creeped up several feet in just 30 minutes. Roads outside the Medical University of South Carolina completely impassable. Over a million people in the Carolinas under evacuation orders. Officials warning residents if they haven't left by now to stay put.
ALIZE PROISY, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, MOREHEAD CITY, NC: At that point, like, if you're staying, you're going to need to stay inside and hunker down and you're not -- you can't be traveling around the streets. And it makes it really unsafe for fire and police to respond to anything.
TODD (voice-over): But many did leave. Over 440,000 people left the state, making use of the highway reversal.
CHRISTY HALL, SOUTH CAROLINA SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: We were able to move 89,000 vehicles on I-26 westbound.
TODD (voice-over): As Dorian moves up the coast, North Carolina is also bracing for the possibility of landfall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This won't be a brush-by. Whether it comes ashore or not, the eye of the storm will be close enough to cause extensive damage in North Carolina.
TODD (voice-over): The storm has also triggered several reported tornadoes. In Emerald Isle, motor homes flipped on their sides. Others completely destroyed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in it, when the tornado came over. Debris flying everywhere. Never seen anything like this in my entire life.
TODD: And as Dorian lingers nearby, the dangers will be present tonight and tomorrow and beyond.
And here's an example, Wolf. This large magnolia tree, just as we were transmitting live here a short time ago, took a fall. It got split open and fell on these power lines. Those power lines knocked over that pole there.
Police then went over to these houses to try to get people out because of the fire hazard. This is reason why local officials are saying, do not be too quick to come back to your houses. It's still dangerous.
BLITZER: Certainly is, all right, thank you, Brian. Brian Todd reporting.
Let's get a closer look at the catastrophic damage and the desperate conditions that Hurricane Dorian left in the Bahamas. Look at this video shot by a CNN drone, showing the devastation left on Man-O-War Cay, one of the islands of the northern Bahamas. CNN's Paula Newton spent 24 hours on the island and she's joining us now live.
Tell us, Paula, what you saw and heard.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, 24 hours there on Man-O-War. Think about everything you're seeing and everything you're hearing, people are saying that, having lived through it, that there is no way that they can even process what they've been through. They told us they remain traumatized and really unsure of where to go next. Wolf, take a listen about our 24 hours there on Man-O-War in the Abaco Islands.
NEWTON (voice-over): So much worse than they had feared. The Abaco islands forever scarred now by mass destruction. Home after home, entire rooftops blown away, debris scattered in unrecognizable heaps, boats tossed like confetti.
The images belie the obvious question, how could anyone survive this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's OK. It's OK, it's OK, it's OK. You're OK. You're OK. It will be OK, OK?
You're going to be OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know, I know.
NEWTON (voice-over): We arrive by helicopter in Man-O-War in Abaco with Billy Aubrey (ph), embracing his wife, Shauna (ph), after days of not knowing if she was dead or alive.
Shauna hunkered down with friends in their seaside home until the roof blew off and they all scrambled to find anything still standing.
NEWTON: So Nancy, this is what kept you guys alive?
This little bathroom?
NANCY, DORIAN SURVIVOR: This little room kept us alive. This is it. We came in and hunkered down and Shauna was on the ground, crying, and we were just trying to --
SHAUNA AUBREY, DORIAN SURVIVOR: I was hysterical.
NEWTON: What did it sound like in here at the time?
AUBREY: Oh, it was loud.
NANCY: Well, there was a lot of crashing.
NANCY: I remember all the crashing and banging and whirling.
AUBREY: And stuff we thought was coming through this wall.
NEWTON (voice-over): So many in the Abaco Islands lived through hours that resembled a horror movie, exposed to winds that topped 215 miles an hour, like tornadoes touching down every minute.
NEWTON: You know, Wolf, think about what that must have felt like. As I said, they are still traumatized by everything they went through and people ask, Wolf, why didn't you evacuate?
Well, these are people that have been through so many hurricanes, Wolf. And they've always been OK. And so they're resilient, they're self-reliant and they thought they would be OK. They never imagined a storm of this strength even possible, that would blow by them that way. And it lingered so long.
They told me, Wolf, as far as they were concerned, Hurricane Dorian is breaking all the rules and they don't know how to pick up, you know, where they left off in this community or if they can even continue to live in the Abaco Islands in certain areas.
And you know, you saw those incredible pictures. A thank you to Jerry Simonson. You know him, he's a veteran of CNN. We couldn't cover this without crew members like Jerry and not just for their skill but for their humanity, as well. And I have to thank those people on Man- O-War island as well for taking us in when we were stranded there.
And that's the extraordinary thing, that's going to get people through this, they continue, having lost so much and been through so much, just being so kindhearted. And hopefully that resilience and their nature will get them through this.
BLITZER: Yes, very important words.
Paula, based on what you saw, do you and the experts over there in the Bahamas expect the death toll to rise?
NEWTON: Absolutely, Wolf. And I can tell you anecdotally, Wolf, just speaking to people, that I could count the amount of people that are dead above and beyond what the government has already reported.
You've got to give the government a break, they're just trying to get all of this formalized. But that is also what's shaking these communities. They know who's already died. And in many cases, Wolf, some of the bodies haven't been recovered.
And they're starting to worry in places like Marsh Harbour about recovery, because if you don't recover those bodies, you start to get into trouble with cholera. I want to make it clear, we're at the staging area, here, Wolf, but there's so much to do out there.
Where we were, they cleared the baseball field just so that they could get helicopters in. They haven't seen any government aid.
[17:10:00] NEWTON: Everyone here is trying as hard as they can but it is going to take a global effort, including the United States. The U.S. Coast Guard has been up and down the coast already. It will take all of that and more to try to get these people back on their feet.
BLITZER: All right, thanks to your excellent reporting and thanks to your entire team. Thank you so much, Paula, for that. We'll get back to you.
Joining us on the phone, Melanie Roach, she's the director of public works for the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency, that's similar to FEMA here in the United States.
Melanie, thanks so much for joining us. Tell us about the devastation that you saw firsthand.
MELANIE ROACH, BAHAMAS NATIONAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: OK, I took a flyover of Abaco yesterday. And the southern part of Abaco seems to have fared very well. There seems to have been minimal damage in the southern part of Abaco.
But Marsh Harbour took a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane. We have very substantial building codes in the Bahamas. But I don't think anything could have prepared us for Hurricane Dorian and the tremendous wind and surge that the island was subjected to.
We have -- just about every building has suffered some sort of damage. The majority of buildings have suffered extensive damage. And there are quite a large number of buildings that have been totally destroyed.
With regard to the roads, they have seemed to have held up pretty well. We are in the process of clearing them of debris. There are still certain areas which are covered by water but we're able to get through those areas using large trucks or heavy construction equipment.
The port in Marsh Harbour, the seaport in Marsh Harbour has been cleared for the landing of sea vessels. And starting, I think, as early as this evening into tomorrow, a number of relief vessels will be pulling into Marsh Harbour with food and water.
With regard to the northern part of Abaco, Treasure Cay, going northward, we still have some difficulty in traversing the roads there because of downed trees and debris and also high water levels.
But we have established that the North Abaco port seems to have been spared any damage. And so we are working toward getting that port up and running, so that there will be an alternate location for boats to land, to bring in supplies.
We have been ably assisted by our many international partners, as your reporter mentioned, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. We have assistance from the British Navy. They have been ferrying the wounded from Abaco and Grand Bahama to New Providence for medical assistance. There's been, when they go back, they would take security personnel to
assist in managing the island. We've also been able to land assist (ph) several non-governmental organizations, who have been providing food assistance.
So we've been able to transport food from New Providence to Abaco for the assistance of the persons on the ground. And those efforts will continue as long as is necessary.
In Grand Bahama, we have established that the roads between Freeport and West End are passable. We had some contractors who are stationed in Grand Bahama, who are working with the Ministry of Public Works teams to try and clear the roads, to get to East Grand Bahama because that is, of course, where Hurricane Dorian would have made its first landfall on Grand Bahama.
So we need to get out there to make sure, to find out what the situation is there.
BLITZER: Melanie, let me get your assessment right now on the death toll. I think the official death toll currently stands at 20 people who were killed.
But based on what you personally saw, based on all the information you're getting, do you expect that official death toll to rise significantly?
ROACH: Mr. Blitzer, I really don't want to speculate on that. The police and the defense force are in those islands. And they are -- they're being joined by many search and rescue -- international search and rescue teams. And they are doing the house-to-house assessment.
ROACH: So until the government gets an official count, I really would not wish to speculate on the number of persons who have perished.
BLITZER: Fair enough. I ask the question, Melanie, because, as you know, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the initial death toll was relatively low for several days.
But for nearly a year after the hurricane, the official death toll was only 64 before it was eventually revised to nearly 3,000. And that is my fear. But I know you don't want to discuss that.
But I think there's a lot of concern right now that that death toll in the Bahamas could rise dramatically in the coming days and weeks.
How many rescue crews are on the ground as far as you know right now in Abaco?
ROACH: Well, it depends on what you're determining to be as rescue crews. We have a grassroots rescue operation, where locals have banded together and are using whatever means necessary -- jetskis, small motorboats, heavy equipment -- to conduct rescues. We have the defense force. We have the police force. And we are
assisted by many international organizations, who have experience in urban search and rescue. So there are, I would say, literally hundreds of persons on the ground doing search and rescue as we speak.
BLITZER: Melanie Roach, good luck to you. Good luck to all the people in the Bahamas. We will stay in very close touch with you. Thank you so much for joining us.
ROACH: And thank you so much and we want to thank the world for the outpouring of love and assistance that has been offered to us. And we are very grateful as a nation. And we look forward to your continued assistance in the future.
BLITZER: Whatever we can do to help, of course, we will try. Melanie Roach, the director of public works for the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency. Thank you once again.
Let's get some more on what's going on in the Bahamas. Joining us now, storm chaser Brandon Clement, who shot really extraordinary images of the devastation in the Bahamas. He's joining us live from Boca Raton in Florida.
Thanks so much, Brandon, for joining us. Thanks once again for all the good work that you're doing. Tell us about the destruction you personally saw.
BRANDON CLEMENT, STORM CHASER: Well, when I first flew over, I was one of the first ones over the island able to see some of the destruction. And I had a pretty good feeling going into it, it was going to be catastrophic.
I mean, you're looking a high-end cat 5 making a direct hit on an island. What did surprise me was the Bahamas have pretty good building codes, so I was expecting to see a lot of the better-built homes and stuff to be in pretty good shape. But it was not the case. Even your better-built homes had damage, either had pieces of roof missing, surge going through the bottom.
I've even seen some homes, 8- to 10-inch thick concrete reinforced with steel, just completely destroyed. Looked like it was ground up by a big jackhammer. The structures that were once there are completely gone.
The tourist center in Abaco is just -- it's gone. It's -- nothing left. You drive down the street or walk down the street and it's just unrecognizable. I did not know it was a tourist center. I hadn't been there before. I didn't know that's where all the restaurants and bars and nightlife went on, on the docks. It's just ground-up debris is all that's left.
Tell us about the recovery operations on the islands.
Were people, for example, getting the help they need when you were there? CLEMENT: Well, on the first day when I flew over, we actually flew in 60-knot winds. We took a private helicopter up with another company, Discovery Land Company was flying us with Helijet. They do helicopter charters and we went up in really rough conditions.
And they were bringing out personnel to secure things on the island, open up additional landing spaces for all their helicopters to land. They also have a lot of employees on the island and they wanted to start checking on their employees and doing welfare checks.
So they managed to get in about 24 hours before anybody else. But it was really rough flight conditions. But yesterday, when we set down and landed on the island, we were starting to run short on food, water, all resources. People are miserable, there's a lot of injured. Even just little injuries get to be big when you're in stressful conditions like that.
And the stress is really starting to mount up. People are running out of supplies and you're starting to get the feeling where everyone's looking at each other saying, all right, it's me or you. And it's starting to get to that point, a breaking point.
But fortunately, getting that airport open, getting that port open, those are huge things. That's how relief aid can come in. And the people have really rallied around each other and have been great down there.
CLEMENT: But you can tell, it's just getting to that breaking point where human nature kicks in. So getting relief aid in there is very, very critical, especially here in the next day or two.
And it's very critical that the world helps out, because this is going to be an international crisis. There's no way that the Bahamas can depend solely on themselves for this. It's just that bad across the northern parts of these islands.
BLITZER: It's horrible. A horrible situation, indeed. Brandon Clement, once again thanks for all the important work you're doing. We really appreciate it.
Up next, there's more breaking news. Hurricane Dorian batters the Carolinas, batters the streets of coastal cities, sending life- threatening storm surges ashore. And President Trump points to an altered map to justify his false claim that the storm threatened Alabama.
Did he personally use a marker to change the map?
BLITZER: Our breaking news: Hurricane Dorian is lashing the Carolinas with powerful winds and heavy rain.
BLITZER: Meanwhile, life-threatening storm surges are a major concern with coastal cities already seeing significant flooding. CNN's Martin Savidge is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for us.
Martin, a civil emergency has been declared there.
What's the latest?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The winds have really picked up, Wolf. There's no doubt about that. We know that Dorian is literally just about 50 miles that way.
And on top of that, this is the area where they were fearing that the storm surge could be the hardest hitting. We are benefiting from the fact that the tide is going out. It was a lot higher just a couple of hours ago.
You can also see how the wind is literally ripping the tops of the waves off. That's how strong it's blowing. Even so, the water continues to pound in here and the worry is that any debris that's in that water, on top of the force of the waves coming in, will act as a battering ram.
This is an area that has a 60-mile stretch of ocean beachfront here. So any kind of wave action like that is going to be devastating on the boardwalks, on the piers, on the public buildings that come right up against the water's edge. They're going to be watching that very carefully.
Everybody has been watching that red Jeep that's been in the water all day long. It's an indication of just what happens if you take things too lightly and drive too close to the water here. The other problem they've been having is tornadoes. We'll watch those all night long -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Martin, we'll stay in close touch with you, as well.
Coming up, President Trump creates a political storm by using a falsified map to back up his mistaken tweet warning the hurricane could hit Alabama.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The breaking news, Hurricane Dorian is creeping along the southeast coast, bringing life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds to the Carolinas. Here in Washington, President Trump sent another barrage of tweets late today, still trying to justify his incorrect warning that the storm could hit Alabama.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Jim, the President just won't admit he was wrong.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And White House officials are digging in their heels over President Trump's use of an altered map to justify his false statements that Hurricane Dorian was posing a threat to the state of Alabama. It was a reality-bending move that appears to jump the sharpie.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Leaving what may become an indelible mark on the Trump presidency, it was hardly a masterstroke. Now the White House is dragging its feet admitting just who altered the weather map held up by the President in the Oval Office, falsely showing Alabama in the path of Hurricane Dorian. Aides refused to say whether it was doctored by the President.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was the original chart, and you see it was going to hit not only Florida but Georgia. It could have -- it was going towards the gulf. That was what we -- what was originally projected.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The President is defiant he's been right all along -- Alabama was going to be hit or grazed and then Hurricane Dorian took a different path, up along the east coast.
That followed this tweet from Mr. Trump -- this was the originally projected path of the hurricane in its early stages. As you can see, almost all models predicted it to go through Florida, also hitting Georgia and Alabama.
But hold on. Zoom in on that spaghetti-lined map. It's from August 28th, roughly four days before the tweet that got the President in trouble in the first place, when he said, on Sunday, in addition to Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama will most likely be hit.
TRUMP: And it may get a little piece of a great place. It's called Alabama. And Alabama could even be in for at least some very strong winds and something more than that.
ACOSTA (voice-over): But that's not true. Contrast what the President said Sunday with this map provided by NOAA, which shows, at that moment, the storm was nowhere near Alabama.
TRUMP: I know that Alabama was in the original forecast. They thought it would get it as a piece of it.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Sources tell CNN, the map was altered just before the President presented it to the public. White House aides know who did it. A problem for the President's team as Mr. Trump has already said he doesn't know what happened. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, that map that you showed us today, it
looked like it's almost had, like, a sharpie --
TRUMP: I don't know. I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
TRUMP: I don't know.
ACOSTA (voice-over): And there's one more problem. As a Fox News meteorologist noted, it's a violation of federal law to falsify a National Weather Service forecast. Democrats are pouncing.
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel sorry for the President. I don't know if he felt it necessary to pull out a sharpie and change the map. I don't know if it was one of his aides, believed they had to do that in order to protect his ego. No matter how you cut it, this is an unbelievably sad state of affairs for our country.
ACOSTA (voice-over): The Alabama blunder comes as the President is diverting funds from storm-ravaged parts of Florida to pay for his border wall, including money designated for rebuilding parts of Tyndall Air Force Base, which was hit by Hurricane Michael. Mr. Trump had pledged he was coming to Tyndall's rescue.
TRUMP: I've just come from a stop at Tyndall Air Force Base where I saw the devastating effects of that Category 5 hurricane. Category 5.
TRUMP: Never heard about Category 5s before. So we're rebuilding the whole place.
TRUMP: And we're doing a job.
ACOSTA: Now, we should point out, just in the last several minutes, Wolf, a top Homeland Security adviser to the President has just put out a statement. The White House has just released this statement. It does not say in this statement who drew on the map, but this top Homeland Security official appears to be taking some responsibility for presenting the President with information that resulted in that erroneous tweet on Sunday.
But, Wolf, the bottom line in the statement coming out of the White House in just the last couple of minutes is that nobody really seems to be taking responsibility for the President putting out a tweet based on old information on Sunday. And, Wolf, we should point out, the fact that the President isn't admitting a mistake this evening should come as no surprise. That has been a recurring theme throughout the Trump presidency. As one Trump adviser put it to me earlier today, the President will
never acknowledge wrongdoing unless he is caught. Until then, the President will double down. And that's essentially what he's been doing throughout all of this, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, basically, just to be clear, the statement from the President's Homeland Security and Counterterrorism adviser, Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown, says that he was briefing the President, but he certainly wasn't necessarily drawing with a sharpie, that line.
ACOSTA: That's right, Wolf. And it goes on to try to explain why the President might have said this on Sunday. But again, Wolf -- and this -- we have to remind our viewers of this because it does feel a little bit like a dog chasing its tail.
When the President put out this tweet on Sunday, saying that Alabama was somehow potentially in harm's way or could be threatened by this hurricane, that was based on old information. And keep in mind, Wolf, the White House, according to what we were told over the weekend, was providing the President with hourly updates on what was happening with Hurricane Dorian.
And if that were the case, if the President were receiving hourly updates and listening to those hourly updates, he would have known that Alabama was not really in the path of that storm or even projected to be in harm's way at that point on Sunday when the President put out that tweet, Wolf.
BLITZER: Clearly, a very sensitive issue for the President, indeed. All right, Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
We've got our political experts here. They're in THE SITUATION ROOM, all of them. We've got a lot to discuss. We will, right after this quick break.
BLITZER: As Hurricane Dorian brings life-threatening flooding and damaging winds to the Carolinas, President Trump is sending tweets defending his mistaken tweet last Sunday, warning the storm could hit Alabama. Let's bring in our political experts to discuss.
And, Gloria Borger, you heard Jim Acosta bring all the latest developments. We're still talking about this because the President won't let it go.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The President won't let it go. As Jim was talking about, the Homeland Security adviser was saying the President is right because I briefed him, he said, on -- and showed him that Alabama could be affected as late as September 2nd. But does that mean that he was using an old map to brief the President of the United States? And look, this is a pattern we've seen time and time again with this
president. He cannot admit that he may have been referring to an old map. He can't admit that he may have made a mistake. And what you see, time and time again, is people having to bend over backward to rationalize or correct --
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes.
BORGER: -- what the President has done, without saying that the President made a mistake. It's not an easy job, but, you know, we saw it on day one with the pictures of the inauguration.
BORGER: And then it has continued from there.
BASH: Yes, he can't -- he obviously can't let it go. He claims that it's because we, the media, don't -- won't let it go. But we're not letting it go, first of all, because it was an unbelievable thing for the President of the United States to hold up a map -- never mind if it was right or wrong, but clearly, there was a sharpie on it -- to prove a point that he tried to make several days earlier, which turned out to be inaccurate.
Which wouldn't have been that big of a deal, it's a hurricane, it moves. That's what happens. And it was an unpredictable one, you know, on those standards. But the fact that, just in the last few minutes, he had his Homeland Security adviser, who is in charge of an active hurricane --
BASH: -- and making sure that people are safe, making sure that all of the things -- all of the levers of government working alongside, of course, the Department of Homeland Security.
This is his job, which is a pretty big job. And his having to take time out and put out a lengthy statement, which, frankly, doesn't say anything, but clearly is doing so at the behest of one person -- and that's the President trying to prove that he didn't do anything wrong -- is another "are you kidding me?" moment.
CILLIZZA: And I just think that is the essential point here, which is it's clear that he was wrong about the Alabama thing. You can put out as many statements as you want, you can show me maps from August 27th, but, OK, he's wrong about that.
Let's -- even if that wasn't the case, Alabama is not in the danger zone. Now, you -- it never was, candidly, but it is certainly not now, today, Thursday, at 5:47 p.m., right? There are states that, last time I checked, Donald Trump is also a president of, like North Carolina, South Carolina, parts of south -- eastern Virginia, that are in real danger. So your job as president is to deal with that, not re-re-relitigate something that you were wrong about in the first place. It's compounding an error and with real-world consequences.
BLITZER: And let's not forget, Abby, that shortly after the President, Sunday, scared the people of Alabama that they might be in big, big trouble because of this hurricane, the government's own National Weather Service put out a separate statement saying, Alabama, don't worry, you're not in any trouble.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's the main issue here. I mean, if this were an innocuous mistake about something that didn't really matter, then fine. But this was a mistake about something that actually does matter to people, whether or not they are in the path of a hurricane.
It's the President's responsibility to disseminate accurate information to the extent possible or don't disseminate any information at all. There are plenty of agencies in the federal government that have the responsibility to inform people about what's going on. He could have left it to them, but he didn't.
And what's also interesting about his fixation on Alabama is that, just in the last day or so, you know, he seems to be so obsessed with the idea that he was worried about the people of Alabama. He tweeted this afternoon that I was with you all along and the fake news media was not.
I mean, this is a president who always seems to be focused on the people who voted for him. That may be why he wanted to express to the people of Alabama that he was worried for them, even though they were not necessarily in the storm's path. But at some point, you've got to let that go because he's compounding problems for himself. The White House, at this point, is now keeping the story alive for five days, and it really makes no sense.
BASH: And can I tell you something that speaks to kind of where we are and how much chaos and the volume of chaos and these crazy stories that come out of the White House?
I talked to somebody before coming on in Trump world who said, actually, talking about the sharpie is not a bad thing compared to what we were talking about at the beginning of the week --
BASH: -- which is Mike Pence in Ireland and the notion that the President was personally benefiting financially off of a big taxpayer- funded --
BASH: -- event -- trip by his Vice President. That is something that they're actually worried about, maybe not this, which, if you kind of take a step back --
[17:50:05] BORGER: Stunning.
BASH: -- and let that sink in, is pretty remarkable.
BORGER: But -- and even on -- and it's remarkable and it's stunning. And even on a larger scale, the American public has to believe the President. I know we talk about this all the time, but in matters of whether it's a -- whether it's a hurricane or it's a matter of national security, you have to believe the President who is leading you and telling you that either you're in harm's way or, God forbid, something happened in the country but we are -- we're dealing with this.
And if you can't, if the President has to be corrected by the Alabama National Weather Service and the South Florida Water Management District, which is the chart that he used, then there is a problem here. No matter how many backflips people at the White House have to do or the Homeland Security person has to do, the American public has to believe the President of the United States.
BLITZER: I brought my --
CILLIZZA: I just --
BLITZER: I brought my sharpie.
CILLIZZA: Yes, I know.
BLITZER: It's not my sharpie.
BASH: But it doesn't have a name on it.
CILLIZZA: Yes, yes.
BLITZER: I'm going to draw a new line over here, OK.
CILLIZZA: I just --
BASH: Yes, OK.
BLITZER: But no one is admitting yet who actually distorted that map --
CILLIZZA: I mean --
BLITZER: -- by drawing that line around to include Alabama.
CILLIZZA: Right. I mean, someone did this, right? I mean, we have images of the map that doesn't include that, so someone did it, right? And he clearly wanted to show this off. He holds it up to reporters to prove, again, that he was right, even though he -- you know, narrator voice, he wasn't right. But to Gloria's point, I think it's -- we've seen this before. This
feels like the ridiculous as -- when we talk about Charlottesville and those sorts of things, but we've seen the lack -- Donald Trump does not view the presidency as a position of leadership in the country or the world from a moral perspective. This is why.
If you can't believe what the President of the United States says in matters of natural disaster, in other matters, it's a huge problem. He thinks about, how does this affect me? I want to be right. I will -- and Dana mentioned this, I will use the powers of the government.
This guy, who put out the statement, has better things to do right now than put out a four-paragraph statement that -- or three-paragraph statement that says nothing.
BORGER: It's sort of the President.
PHILLIP: I think Trumps aides --
CILLIZZA: Well, he should.
PHILLIP: But I also think that this falls on White House staff, too. It is important that the White House is disseminating accurate information. Why was the President's Homeland Security adviser briefing him on things that were not actually particularly accurate even at the time?
I mean, I think the National Weather Service was pretty clear when they tweeted out, in response to the President's tweet, that they did not want Alabamans to believe that they were in the path of this hurricane because they were not. And then to have that map sitting in the Oval Office that was days old, why?
BASH: Why was it there?
CILLIZZA: And to be --
PHILLIP: Like, why was it there in the first place?
CILLIZZA: And to be clear, the map that he tweeted --
PHILLIP: It is their responsibility to do that.
CILLIZZA: -- out before he put this -- before this statement was put out, the map he tweeted out this afternoon from which, I think, the statement is based, it says August 28th on the map. I mean, we --
CILLIZZA: Don't take our word for it, folks. Blow that up and look towards the bottom, it says August 28th. So why is the -- why is that happening if he is getting hourly updates?
BORGER: So you have a president who cannot admit that he may have made a mistake --
BORGER: -- or misread a map, but you do have a communications office. Which doesn't do briefings, but if they did do briefings, it would be very simple to go out there and say, you know, the President mistakenly referred to an old map.
PHILLIP: Well --
BORGER: Even if he refuses, personally, to apologize.
BORGER: Now, we know he won't let anybody do that.
BASH: I was going to say that's lights out --
BORGER: He won't let anybody do that.
CILLIZZA: That's the problem.
BORGER: But in another --
CILLIZZA: You have one day more -- one day more on the job.
BORGER: In another world, in another administration, if a president were to make a mistake and didn't want to come out there, you'd have the spokesman say the President misspoke. It's --
CILLIZZA: Because it's understandable. You look at the map, oh, I looked at it a little bit different.
CILLIZZA: I thought, I mean --
BORGER: It's complicated.
BORGER: It's complicated.
BORGER: And the path was changing so dramatically.
CILLIZZA: The storm's huge.
BORGER: But that could never happen.
BLITZER: Are there any advisers that the President has in the White House who tells him, from time to time, Mr. President, that might not be a good idea, for example, playing golf at a time when he's supposed to be leading the country in preparing for a hurricane disaster?
BASH: When I've asked these -- and, Abby, I'm going to defer to you after I give my answer. When I've asked the -- that question, the answer that I, inevitably, have gotten back for the last two years is you should see the things that he hasn't done because we prevented him from doing those things.
CILLIZZA: Right. That's right.
PHILLIP: Right. I think there is a limit to --
BASH: Which is --
BASH: -- kind of remarkable.
PHILLIP: How much White House advisers believe they can stop some of these things, especially --
BASH: But they have stopped things that are even worse than this, is what I was told.
PHILLIP: -- particularly where we are two and a half --
BORGER: Oh, my God.
PHILLIP: We are more than 2-1/2 half years into this presidency. He has been president for quite a long time. There was a time when he deferred to his advisers about some of these things.
PHILLIP: That time has long passed.
PHILLIP: And at this point, you know, the White House aides, their position is he's the President of the United States, who am I to tell him --
BLITZER: All right.
PHILLIP: -- that he can't do certain things?
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's a lot more we're covering, including the breaking news. Hurricane Dorian batters the Carolinas, bringing life-threatening storm surges and flooding coastal cities.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Slamming the coast. Hurricane Dorian's powerful eye is just off the Carolinas, whipping and soaking cities up and down the shore. Will it make a direct hit tonight?
Rising waters. Officials --