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Hardball with Chris Matthews, Transcript 9/8/17 Hurricane Irma to deliver devastate Florida

Guests: Daniella Levine Cava, Jeremy Konyndyk, Charlie Crist, Alice Hill, Jeri Muoio, David Gonzalez, Carol Leonnig, Geoff Bennett, Craig Pittman, Mary Ellen Klas

Show: HARDBALL Date: September 8, 2017

Guest: Daniella Levine Cava, Jeremy Konyndyk, Charlie Crist, Alice Hill, Jeri Muoio, David Gonzalez, Carol Leonnig, Geoff Bennett, Craig Pittman, Mary Ellen Klas

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bracing for Irma.


Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

We`re little less than 40 hours away from Hurricane Irma`s landfall. And she`s tightened her grip on south Florida, becoming, as "The Miami Herald" put it, a monster hurricane bearing down on Miami and a coast with seven million people.

There`s another story that we`re following here on HARDBALL tonight, and that`s the news that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, now wants to talk to some of the president`s current and former White House aides, like Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks and Sean Spicer. In other words, the FBI investigation is edging closer to the president himself.

But back to Hurricane Irma this weekend. Right now, current models show the devastating path of the hurricane hitting the south coast early Sunday morning, then sawing (ph) its way up west of central Florida, bringing with it coastal flooding, high winds, and of course, heavy rain. President Trump urged Floridians to take heed.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential. I ask everyone in the storm`s path to be vigilant and to heed all recommendations from government officials and law enforcement.


MATTHEWS: Florida`s governor, Rick Scott, pleaded with the citizens to get out of the way. Let`s watch.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: If you`re told to evacuate, leave. Get out quickly. The roads will fill up quickly, so you need to go. I`m a dad and I`m a grandfather. I love my family. I can`t imagine life without them. Do not put yourself or your family`s life at risk. If you`ve been ordered to evacuate and are still home, please go. Today is the day to do the right thing for your family and get inland to safety.


MATTHEWS: Well, more than 600,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders in Miami-Dade County alone. Those who rushed to get out clogged roads and turned major highways into parking lots, some spending hours in line at the airport.

Hurricane Irma, which is the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic, is projected now to hit as a Category 4 storm, something the state has not seen since Andrew. But this time, there are 6 million more people sitting directly in harm`s way.

Hurricane Irma has already left death and destruction in its wake. The hurricane pummelled a string of Caribbean islands, leaving at least 21 dead and thousands, of course, homeless. And those lucky enough to survive woke to apocalyptic scenes like this of demolished homes, schools, and businesses. Roughly 95 percent of the tiny islands of Barbuda and St. Maarten were completely devastated.

And as thousands of people picked through the littered debris of their lives, a new danger lay on the horizon, another Category 4 hurricane churning towards the Caribbean. That`s Hurricane Jose. That`s off there to the east.

In the meantime, Floridians on both the east and west coasts are bracing for what is expected to be the worst storm in decades. For the very latest, I`m joined by NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins, who`s in the MSNBC Weather Center. Bill, give us an update. Is anything new from last night? Is it still going to arrive Sunday morning? Is it as strong as we thought? What gives right now?

BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST: Chris, the big thing from when I talked to you last night is last night, we were still thinking worst-case scenario is possible for the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach area. We have shifted that worst-case scenario to the southwest portions of Florida, including the Naples area, Ft. Myers, the Marco Beach area. It`s still going to be bad in Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm, but this does not appear to be worst-case scenario anymore with that shift to the west.

You can see the menacing eye in our (INAUDIBLE) satellite image during the day today that is closing in on the northern coast of Cuba. And they`re going to get raked with it for about 12 hours themselves. And you can see a wider view.

This storm just blew up so wide. Not really the intensity, it didn`t get more intense, but in size, it`s huge. The cloud field goes from Jamaica, down here, all the way north into areas of the central and northern Bahamas. And soon those clouds will be arriving there in areas of especially south Florida tomorrow morning.

So the latest on this storm, 155-mile-per-hour winds. If you get in that eye, especially the northeast corner of the eye -- and it`s still moving west at 12. The further west it moves, the worse it is for Cuba. We`re going to wait and see if we start getting a little more turn to the north. The one saving grace possibility for Florida would be a weaker storm. We`re going to get hit no matter what, but we don`t want it to be a Category 5. Maybe a Category 3 would be, you know, 100 times better damage-wise.

It depends on how much it interacts down here with Cuba overnight tonight. This is at 2:00 PM Saturday afternoon right along the Cuban coastline. If that is onshore -- notice the cone of uncertainty for Cuba -- possibility over land. That would be a weaker storm. That would help us in south Florida.

But as of now, we`re going to think the core stays off the coast. It actually gets stronger over the warm waters in the Florida Straits. It comes up here, 145-mile-per-hour winds, maybe Category 5, almost over the top here from Everglade City, Alligator Alley, back over to Marco Island and the Naples area. And what that means for that region is they would get the worst storm surge. Eight to twelve feet is the prediction for this area of south Florida. That`s a devastating storm surge.

If your emergency manager is telling you to evacuate, get out. You don`t want to be stranded on your second floor watching waves and water going through the bottom floor of your house, and that is possible down here in this region. Miami, Boca Raton area all the way through Ft. Lauderdale, five to ten feet storm surge. That`s no joke, either. You`re on the dirty side of the storm, the strong storm, the winds coming off the ocean. So you`re still going to get nailed. It`s not like you`re getting out of this. You just may not go through the eye of the storm.

And Chris, let me end with this and just tell everyone what it would look like wind-wise to go through that eye. Here as we go through the timeline -- this is during the day tomorrow. Hurricane-force winds arrive during the afternoon in the Keys. And this is worst-case scenario, by the way, for all our friends from Key Largo to Marathon to Key West. This is going to be one of the worst storms they`ve ever had in their history.

And by the time we get to Sunday morning, there`s the eye. There`s the 130-mile-per-hour gusts. That arrives in Marco Island and Naples area as we go throughout Sunday afternoon and evening. This would be right in the center of the storm.

Notice it`s not like it`s a picnic over here in areas of Miami. We`re still going to have winds gusting to 100 miles per hour. That`s still a ton of damage, a lot of power outages. It just won`t be as extreme as what we could see on the southwest coast of Florida.

By the time we get to Sunday night, Ft. Myers, 111-mile-per-hour winds. It`ll weaken little bit. But we even think Tampa and Orlando could get 90- mile-per-hour gusts.

Chris, I was in Orlando when Charlie went through with 90-mile-per-hour gusts. The city was shut down for about a week, trees all over the place. So there`s no escaping this storm. What we`re trying to pinpoint now is who`s the one area that`s really going to get devastated the worst and may not even have homes to return home to.

MATTHEWS: Bill, explain how hitting landfall in Cuba might take some of the punch out of this.

KARINS: Yes, I`ll go back over here. Now, you`re going to have -- Cuba, especially eastern Cuba, actually has some pretty tall, big mountains. It looks like it avoided the big huge mountains. And that`s -- mountains are really good at tearing these things apart and weakening them. So it missed those.

So now we`re going to talk about mostly the north-central Cuban coastline. That cone of uncertainty shifted a little bit further south. Remember I said it`s tracking west right now. And the more west it goes, the further west it goes into Cuba -- I mean, I`m not happy that Cuba would get it worse than they were expecting, you know, just for our sake here in Florida. But for everyone that has their own property, of course they care about their own private stuff.

(INAUDIBLE) Florida, and if you hear overnight the storm made landfall over Florida and it`s still over Florida tomorrow morning, that would probably mean maybe instead of a Category 4 or 5, maybe we get lucky and we get down to maybe a Category 3 instead of a 5. So that`s one of the things to watch, Chris.

This forecast track -- I`m not going to spend a lot of time analyzing the models like we did last night because it seems pretty set in stone (INAUDIBLE) coming over the Keys into southwest Florida.

The key now is at what intensity. The Hurricane Center still says it could be a Category 5, which would be really -- Andrew was a 5. And if you go back 25 years, go Google the pictures of what Andrew did -- I mean, that`s what southwest Florida could look like.

MATTHEWS: I remember that. Bill Karins, you`re the best. Thanks so much, sir, tonight (ph).

NBC`s Kerry Sanders is covering the storm from Miami. Kerry, thank you for this. You know, I was thinking about those spots mentioned along -- that Bill mentioned along the Florida Keys. I`ve been there. Key West -- it`s all exposed. It`s right there over the -- it`s right there on the ocean to be hit directly, places like Little Palm Island, like Marathon. They`re all on these little islands that you can sort of jump from one to the other all the way up to Miami. But nothing protects them.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think if you need to understand if you`ve never been to the Keys, if you look this way and you see the Atlantic Ocean and you look this way and see the Gulf of Mexico, you understand how thin those Keys are. In some cases, you know, not even as wide as a football field. So yes, very narrow.

The National Hurricane center says that nobody should be in the Keys, that it could hit there as a Category 5. Nobody would survive on the Keys. The Keys are mostly empty. There are people, despite the fact that they are urgently told to leave, that police make repeated visits and say, You need to leave, that for whatever reason decide to stay.

As we just heard, you know, 1992, Hurricane Andrew -- I went through that. Let me give you kind of a comparison. If you were to look at Hurricane Andrew and look at Irma, Irma is more than twice the size of Andrew. And remember also, Andrew made a hard turn. It was unpredicted until the final hours when it came ashore.

And so for all those people earlier in the week who heard about the possibility of Irma maybe making a turn up the east coast and feeling relieved on the west coast, they`re now recognizing that that was false hope, that these predictions with all of the super-computers and some of the greatest scientific minds at the National Hurricane Center, this is still a very tough thing to predict.

And so now it appears that the west coast of Florida could see some of the worst storm, tidal flooding, the storm surge. And of course, we may even see that much further inland, as well. Here in the Miami area, we have huge evacuations and people showing up at shelters today. The county opened up 40 shelters. But in some cases, they just didn`t have enough room for all the people showing up, people coming from right here from South Beach, tourists from Brussels, tourists from Germany, some of them literally grabbing Ubers and telling the Uber driver in broken English, Take me to this address, and then standing in line.

Now, the folks who run the schools here, that handle the shelters, have asked the Red Cross to please send more people because there are so many people who`ve decided to essentially shelter in place, stay in south Florida.

The hope was that more people would move north, evacuate north. But with somewhere between a half million or so people deciding to stay here and somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 people going to the shelters, this is unprecedented. They are literally writing the book on how to handle it as this is happening.

Chris, the power companies have put already pre-staging more than 14,000 crews in certain spots so they can react once Irma passes through. Florida Power and Light handles south Florida over to southwest Florida. They believe between the 9 million customers, they`re calculating a record 4 million will lose power.

And of course, on the back end, no power in the heat and all the other associated problems, the effort will be to get this state at least back up and limping along -- Chris.

MATTHEWS: Another amazing report from NBC`s Kerry Sanders in Miami itself.

Let`s go up the coast to West Palm Beach, where we`re joined by the West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio. Let me ask you, Madam Mayor, about this whole thing about evacuation. I keep thinking when I cover this of being in a theater, a movie theater or a Broadway theater, and realizing there`s only a couple doors and wondering how everybody is going to get out. And you`ve only got route 75 and route 95.

Is there enough access -- is there enough exits for your community to get north?

MAYOR JERI MUOIO, WEST PALM BEACH: Yes, it appears that that`s happening. Hello, Chris. We -- people have been evacuating. We`re happy to see that they`re doing that. Route 95 was bumper to bumper, headed north very slowly, but people are moving out.

But we are telling them to evacuate in the county, to go to the county shelters, not to leave the county because it`s probably the best thing they can do at this point.

MATTHEWS: So what percentage of the people in West Palm are going to stay in place and face this?

MUOIO: Gee, it`s really hard to say. We know that there are people who are remaining in the evacuation areas. Many people have left, but of course, people are staying. So it`s really hard to say what the percentage is.

MATTHEWS: What about those highrises down there? Suppose you`re living in a condo and it has 10 floors or 15 floors. Is that a smart thing to do, just stay in place, or make a run for it?

MUOIO: Well, we -- a lot of the condos are in the evacuation area. We`ve asked them to leave. You know the old adage, Run from water and hide from wind. So we`re hoping that if they stay there, they have a place in their condo where they can go that`s protected and safe to hide from the wind.

MATTHEWS: OK. It`s great having you on, even on a bad night like this and a bad weekend coming, West Palm Beach mayor Jeri Muoio.

MUOIO: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, let`s turn now to our friend Al -- Al -- I was going to say Al Franken -- Al Roker, the great Al Roker, who`s in Miami Beach. You are the veteran, sir. You`re laughing because you`ve got a good heart, but you have a mental image now of everything you`ve covered. Where`s this fit?

AL ROKER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I got to tell you, Chris, this storm is -- I mean, OK, let`s take a look at Hurricane Andrew. Hurricane Andrew was about 400 miles across, give or take. This thing at its biggest was 650 miles across. Hurricane Andrew went east to west in four hours across Florida. This thing is going to come in wherever it comes in, and it`s probably going to run along the spine of Florida for about 24 hours-plus. It`s so large. I mean, it`s larger than the width of the state of Florida, not including the peninsula, so that we are going to see storm surge on both sides. There are storm surge warnings on both sides.

Right now -- and people could get hung up with the idea, Oh, it`s not a Category 5. Well, guess what? It`s a strong Category 4. It`s only two miles below what would be a Category 5.

And between where it is now, where it`s battering the Bahamas, it`ll skirt along Cuba and then make that turn to the north, there`s a swath of extremely warm weather anywhere from 86 to almost 90 degrees. And in fact, it looks like there will be strengthening.

It will make landfall sometime late Saturday night, probably closer to early Sunday morning, late Sunday morning as a Category 5 possibly in the Keys. So people shouldn`t focus on where it`s going to land. When you look at that path, look at the cone of uncertainty. Anybody within that cone is going to be affected by this hurricane, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Where`s our friend Al Roker going to spend the weekend? I`ve been thinking so hard. Where are you going to post yourself? Are you going to be like Captain Ahab holding onto the mast, or like Dan Rather of old or -- how are you going to keep yourself OK?

ROKER: No, no, no, no. No, this is -- this is not about -- this is not about proving anything or whatever. We are going to -- we`ll be on the beach tomorrow for the "TODAY" show and some special reports, and then we`re going to hightail it in town -- inland, away from this storm surge.

Because that`s the other thing, Chris. This storm surge is going to come in at high tide, probably. And it`s going to be anywhere from 10 to 12 feet. Let me give you an example. Sean Reese (ph), my producer -- Sean Reese -- Sean is about -- how tall are you, Sean?


ROKER: He`s 6 foot 7.

MATTHEWS: I know him well. I know that man.

ROKER: Double this guy. Double this guy, that is your storm surge. In fact, that`s what I`m going to do during the hurricane. I`m lashing myself to Sean.

MATTHEWS: He looks like St. Christopher to me. I think he`s perfect for this job.

ROKER: He is. He is.

MATTHEWS: Carry you across the river.

ROKER: That`s right.


MATTHEWS: ... good spirits.

ROKER: ... head north.

MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir. It`s great having you on. I hope you get through this weekend with another story to tell, maybe a better one than we think. Thank you so much, Al Roker, down in Miami Beach itself.

ROKER: You bet.

MATTHEWS: Coming up, we`re going to talk to the curator of the Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West. I`ve been there. It`s where Hemingway wrote some amazing literature like "Farewell to Arms" and the -- "Snows of Kilimanjaro." He did all that right in that house we`re going to go to. And that curator is going to stick it out. And it`s not much of a house except for the history. And by the way, even as the National Hurricane Center says if you`re in the Keys, it may not be survivable, that guy`s sticking.

Plus, 5.6 million people have been ordered to leave south Florida in advance of Hurricane Irma. What about those who can`t get out? Looks like the roads are a bit clearing up. You can actually make progress there. What about the sick, though, the elderly and the poor? We`ll also get to those in prison. That`s an interesting predicament for everyone.

Plus, some big political news tonight. Special counsel Robert Mueller wants to interview, as I said, current and former White House aides in the Russia investigation with some big bold-print names like Spicer and Priebus and Hicks. We`ll get to that tonight.

Our coverage continues after this here on HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. Hurricane Irma is barreling toward the Florida Keys, and the forecast is bad enough that the Keys National Weather Service tweeted, "This is as real as it gets. Nowhere in the Florida Keys will be safe. You still have time to evacuate."

Well, Ed Rappoport (ph) of the National Hurricane Center says if you`re hunkered down in the Keys, he`s not sure it`s a survivable situation. That`s pretty blunt.

But not everyone evacuated. The staff at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum in Key West are planning on riding out the storm on the iconic property where Hemingway wrote both "A Farewell to Arms" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro."

I`m joined right now by the home`s curator, David Gonzalez from the Hemingway Home itself. Dave, thank you. I`ve been to that wonderful place. I`ve been to the room up above the garage where Hemingway did some of the writing. I`ve been to look at the swimming pool. I`ve seen the cats. And you`re going to fight for it. You`re going to stay there.

DAVID GONZALEZ, CURATOR, HEMINGWAY HOME AND MUSEUM: We are. First of all, thank you, Chris. We invite you into our home every night. I think you`re a fine journalist. It`s with great pleasure I personally welcome you into our home tonight.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. Tell me about your decision to stick it out.

GONZALEZ: This property here is -- it`s a very singularly unique piece of property. We sit at one of the highest elevations of land in all the Florida Keys. The home is also constructed of 18-inch blocks of solid limestone. It`s been here since 1851, has suffered no damage in any hurricane since the date it was built.

MATTHEWS: What about the wind speed coming in the windows? Were you worried about that? That`s what we keep hearing about.

GONZALES: We have boarded up the house.

As you will see behind me, we have already boarded up the house. We also have generators, three of them, here on the property in the event we lose power. We`re prepared to go ahead and fire up those generators, keep our refrigeration system and some air-conditioning systems running.

We have 10 employees that have decided to stay here on the property that actually lived in low-lying areas in unsafe housing. They came to us. We have taken them in. And now they are safe.

MATTHEWS: You know, it`s giving me the image of like "Key Largo," one of those 1930s movies, where the whole movie takes place with this terrible storm going on outside.

Meanwhile, I think Lionel Barrymore and a few other people were getting involved inside in all kinds of intrigue.

Do you have sort of a romantic sense that makes you want to stay there?

GONZALES: Well, I do, Chris. I actually live here on the property in the guest quarters and also own the home next door that was any grandfather`s home.

That home, by the way, was built in 1933, and it still stands today, been through dozens of hurricanes here in Key West.

MATTHEWS: Well, it`s a beautiful home, a beautiful, iconic place that we all like to visit. I love going down to Key West. It`s a fascinating place. And that`s the pearl of the city right there, right behind you.

Dave Gonzales, it`s an honor to have you on. You`re with the Hemingway Home. And you`re sticking at Key West.

GONZALES: Thank you, Chris. Thank you. It`s an honor. It`s been an honor being on your show.


MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Up next: Hurricane Irma could lead to one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history. So, what are state and local officials doing to get those people out safely before the storm bears down Sunday morning, at the latest?

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and our coverage of Hurricane Irma.

All day long today, we have watched a steady stream of tourists trying to get out of Miami. Look at them there at the airport. Lines at the airport were long throughout the day, as you can see.

Let`s get an update from NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez at the Miami International Airport.

Gabe, you`re all alone there.


A quiet contrast from what we saw earlier today, all those chaotic scenes of tourists trying to get out, stranded travelers. Well, now it`s eerily quiet, the calm before the storm. This airport has really winded down operations.

Airlines throughout Florida have been winding down flights. The last one here out of Miami, an American Airlines flight, was supposed to leave just a half-hour ago.

And so what`s been happening throughout the day, Chris, is that authorities here have been loading on these stranded travelers on to buses and taking them to emergency shelters. Now, we have heard horror stories of people that were on cruise ships, that they had to be dumped off here in Miami and basically had no place to go. These are tourists that -- not from this area, may not have family in this area, and they did not expect to be in the path of a hurricane.

So, again, tens of thousands of cruise passengers were affected. And we spoke with several people that were separated from their luggage. Some of them had medicines inside, cancer medicines that they won`t be able to get to for at least several days.

And so authorities here now say that the best thing people can do is hunker down in these shelters. Now, they`re not going to close the airport entirely. For any stragglers that remain behind, they will take care of them, offer them cots to sleep in.

But authorities here at the airport are stressing that this is not a shelter. And nearly 700,000 people, though, are evacuating South Florida and heading north, as Irma bears down on the state.

MATTHEWS: Gabe, I`m just curious, believe sometimes people travel, it seems to me, with enormous amounts of luggage.

Were the people traveling that you saw until a few hours ago, were they like -- were they like refugees? Did they carry a whole lot of their stuff?

GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, they were actually -- many of them were tourists.

MATTHEWS: Oh, I see.

GUTIERREZ: Like, anyone checks their baggage. And they might be making a connection, trying to get to international destinations.

Well, we spoke with one guy was going to Argentina. He didn`t expect to be in this path. He had checked his luggage. He was connecting through Miami. And they wouldn`t give him his luggage. They say they`re going to lock it away for several days until after the storm passes. Well, this guy had some personal belongings in there, couldn`t get to them.

Another woman was trying to get to Colombia. A lot of international travelers here. She had that medicine that she couldn`t get to.

So, the question is, where are these people going to go? Some of them were wondering if they were going to the shelter. They can`t go to hotels, because that`s all booked.

It`s really a mess out here for those folks that really were not prepared for this. And those cruise ship passengers that we talked to, they said that they were given very little warning, that they were basically dumped off here in Miami and said, good luck and get to wherever you need to go.

MATTHEWS: This is some moment.

Anyway, NBC`s Gabe Gutierrez at Miami International Airport.

Well, as the storm moves closer to Florida, it`s up to state officials to execute the plan that they believe will ensure the safest conditions for as many people as possible.

And, as history shows, there are never easy solutions or decisions to make in the face of an oncoming storm, as the mayor of New Orleans in 2005 -- that`s Ray Nagin -- there he is -- was blamed for ordering an evacuation, but doing so less than 24 hours before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.

That effort was too little, too late, and left thousands, I believe 50,000, in harm`s way. Look at those school buses. They stayed there. They were never used to get people out.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner faced a similar dilemma with Hurricane Harvey last month. Despite criticism from some, he determined that millions would be worse off trying to escape the city than if they stayed put.

As "USA Today" reports, Irma could now create one of the largest mass evacuations in American history.

I`m joined now by Florida`s former governor, Congressman Charlie Crist, and Daniella Levine Cava is a commissioner in Dade County, Florida.

Thank you both for joining us.

Governor, thank you for joining us.

First, I will start with you.

REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D), FLORIDA: It`s a pleasure, Chris.

MATTHEWS: Sometimes, when I listen to this horrendous situation, I`m beginning to think, this is what countries who go through war have to prepare for. This is evacuations, refugee situations. Almost to use the word apocalyptic isn`t quite overdoing it.

CRIST: Right.

Well, it`s a very difficult situation. There`s no question about that. And a lot of times, it`s delicate to try and figure out what the right call is.

From my point of view, everyone has their own style, but I think what you want to do, you want to keep calm. You want to make sure that people are prepared. Make sure that they`re well-informed. And then when you make a call to have an evacuation, you make it with all the facts that you have at hand in order to be able to make a commonsense decision like that, and err on the side of caution and make sure that you`re protecting the people and it`s all about safety first.

I can`t stress that enough. You know, you would rather be criticized for evacuating a little too early than a little too late, as you just talked about with New Orleans. So, I think we have gotten it right here.

An awful lot of people have already evacuated and, in large measure, I think, Chris, because of what happened in Texas. We just witnessed what happened with Harvey, and so people are taking this very seriously. And thank God they are.

MATTHEWS: Commissioner Cava, thank you for joining us as well. Thank you. I haven`t met you before, but I would love to hear what you think, because I think of -- I love Miami. It`s got all the diversity in the world. It is a world city, if there ever was one.

I have been to the University of Miami, friends of mine down there. And when you travel by boat around Miami, and around the beach, you realize how close to sea level it is.


MATTHEWS: It`s only about -- we checked it out. It`s 4.9 feet above sea level. So, it really is exposed to any kind of surge.

Tell me about that and what you face.

LEVINE CAVA: Well, yes, we are ground zero for sea level rise, first of all.

And, obviously, when there`s an extreme weather event, and it`s coming to us, we are really in trouble. So, we have taken this extremely seriously from the very first moments it looked like it was heading this way. Our county mayor called in the troops, activated the plan.

We do have a playbook here. We have been through this before. We just celebrated last week the recovery 25 years later from Hurricane Andrew, which was a devastating storm. This is three times as big.

And we do have -- our houses have been built to a higher standard based on what happened with that storm. We have learned a lot about what we need to do to be prepared, and we activated.

So, now we`re activating even more. With the huge storm surge that`s predicted, we have called for evacuation of 600,000 people.

MATTHEWS: You know, Miami`s a real city. It`s not just a place to go in the wintertime. You know that better than anybody.


MATTHEWS: But I have got friends who are lawyers down there and people who work in those big buildings, just like any other major city.

Are those big buildings safe in a storm like this, where it`s going up to 175 miles an hour, or well over 100 miles an hour, perhaps?



MATTHEWS: Are they safe in those buildings?

LEVINE CAVA: You know, there -- many of the downtown buildings are being evacuated. They`re in the zone A or zone B, which are mandatory evacuation areas.

And, also, we have a problem. There`s still a lot of construction going on in downtown Miami. We have major cranes. Those cranes have not been dismantled in time for the storm. So, anybody that`s near a crane has been asked to evacuate as well.

So, we have zones, coastal zones. And next up, the inundation from storm surge, that is not only along the coast. It could be along the canals. It could be along the river, so, very exact maps that are telling us who needs to shelter immediately and evacuate.

MATTHEWS: Well, the old story is, the further south you go in Florida, the further north you get because of all the people who have moved down there from the north...


MATTHEWS: ... especially New York area and Philadelphia area and places like that.

And my question is, do you have so many people down there that you really don`t have enough exits? I have asked this before in this hour...


MATTHEWS: ... because I have looked at this clogged Route 95. And I wonder...


MATTHEWS: ... how many days` notice would you have to have to get people out of there reasonably, with -- given the traffic clogging that goes on, on 95?

LEVINE CAVA: Yes, and also the Keys, because there`s only one way out from Monroe County.


LEVINE CAVA: And that`s right through Miami-Dade.

So, you know, evacuation from the Keys was called a day earlier, before evacuations started in Miami-Dade. And a lot of people heeded the call right on time. And there was an orderly evacuation. It`s still going on.

People are still safe if they leave, but they need to pretty much now hunker down. So, starting Monday, people were evacuating, and then the mandatory evacuations were called in Miami-Dade on Wednesday and Thursday.

MATTHEWS: Well, U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist, it`s always great to have you on the program, even tonight, even though it`s a bad night for everybody, a scary situation.

CRIST: Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS: And, Commissioner Cava, thank you for joining us tonight for the first time, but I hope you`re all safe.


MATTHEWS: Up next: We have learned from past disasters that the days following a massive hurricane can be just as dangerous as the storm itself. How do officials deal with the aftermath of a storm of this magnitude?

And this is HARDBALL, where the action is.



GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: Remember, Hurricane Andrew was one of the worst storms in the history of Florida.

Irma is more devastating on its current path. We are being very aggressive in our preparation for this storm, and every Floridian should take this seriously and be aggressive to protect their family.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Governor Rick Scott of Florida invoking the lessons of Hurricane Andrew, as Irma threatens Florida.

The storm has already devastated smaller communities across the Caribbean. We know that, snapping utility poles, submerging cars -- we`re looking at the damage now -- and wiping out 95 percent of some of the islands in its path, 95 percent.

Now, in this country, that same storm is about to bear down on the Florida coast, with seven million people sitting in harm`s way. So how do officials in this country prepare and recover from a disaster of such a magnitude?

For this, we`re joined by Jeremy Konyndyk, former director of foreign disaster at USAID, and Alice Hill, former special assistant to President Obama.

Thank you both.

So, let me talk to you -- or ask you about what we`re seeing in terms of the evidence so far of the power of this hurricane, going from east to west across the Caribbean. JEREMY KONYNDYK, FORMER USAID OFFICIAL: So, in the areas it`s made landfall, it has been an absolute buzz saw. It has flattened several of island -- the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean.

It`s been fortunate onward from there it`s missed Haiti, it`s missed the Dominican Republic. And now it might shave the northern coast of Cuba before it goes on to Florida. Everywhere it`s touched, it`s been devastating.

MATTHEWS: Tell me about the island of Barbuda. I was not familiar with that. But now that island apparently is gone.

KONYNDYK: The reports are that up to 95 percent of the structures on that island are damaged or destroyed. People are evacuating now because it might be getting a second hit from Jose.

MATTHEWS: Alice, this situation, I don`t know. I sometimes think that these kinds of situations tend to bend us towards nonpartisanship.

Is there any different -- I mean, I mean that, which I`m usually very political, but I get the feeling that the ability of our resources is pretty much a constant under whoever is running the country.


And this, I do think, will inspire bipartisanship. It already has in terms of passing the aid bill this afternoon. So, it`s a hopeful thing.

MATTHEWS: Well, what do we do? I know we can`t prevent hurricanes. And we can`t really tell people where to live. It`s a free country. Right?

You can say all you want about the Ninth Ward in New Orleans. There`s a history there where people want to live and choose to. And it`s going to be a problem.


MATTHEWS: And Florida, it`s right near sea level, but low -- it`s only five feet above sea level down in Miami. And it`s always going to be pretty exposed to any surge.


The reality with disasters like this is you save the lives before the disaster with the policy, the building codes, the zoning codes, and then the early warning. And if you get some of those wrong, people will die, and there`s not much you can do about it in the event.

MATTHEWS: Alice, where people get paid back or get angry at -- angered at, like Ray Nagin down in New Orleans, where he said, I will get 90 percent of the people out.

Well, that sounds OK as a percentage, but it`s not like grading in school. A 90 isn`t winning -- 50,000 people were left behind. And I`m always struck by that picture of all those school buses, hundreds of school buses sitting down there in New Orleans not even turned on and then underwater, because nobody moved.

HILL: The good news is that we learned a lot from Katrina. So we now have experienced managers running FEMA.

We preposition supplies. We have new rules that all medical facilities have to have emergency plans. So there`s -- it`s an iterative process. We`re going learn there were mistakes made here, no question. But we are far better off than we were during Katrina.


Arthur Schlesinger said that politics is a learning profession. And I hope we learn it fast.

Jeremy Konyndyk, thank you, sir.

KONYNDYK: Thank you.

MATTHEWS: And thank you, Alice Hill.

We`re going to have more live reports tonight from on the ground in Florida, but, first, new reporting on the Russian investigation.

That`s coming up right now, word that special counsel Bob Mueller is going to interview people in Trump`s inner circle, including Hope Hicks. Wow. She knows everything. Former aide Sean Spicer, he doesn`t know as much.

Reince Priebus, there`s a very interesting guy to talk to because he`s smart politically and knows what he heard and knows what it means.

You`re watching HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

"The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that special counsel Robert Mueller has notified the White House that his investigators intend to speak to six current and former advisers to the president himself in connection with the Russian probe. They include Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Hope Hicks, and White House counsel Don McGahn, among others.

According to "The Post", quote, people familiar with the probe said the documents Mueller has requested strongly suggest the topics that he and his investigators would broach with the aides. Those topics include the warning signs that the former national security adviser might be compromised by the Russians, as well as the White House role in crafting a misleading statement to defend Donald Trump Jr. White House counsel Ty Cobb did not comment on this report but told NBC News the White House will continue to be as transparent and cooperative as possible in an effort to see this through to an appropriate resolution. In other words, blah, blah, blah.

I`m joined right now by Carol Leonnig who broke this story for "The Washington Post", and Geoff Bennett is White House reporter for NPR.

Carol, thank you for joining us. Give us -- the reporting here is interesting because it suggests that the investigation is moving forward.

CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, several weeks ago -- indeed, it is moving forward. Mueller is described, Bob Mueller, the special counsel, is described as a fairly methodical investigator and prosecutor, but he also kind of knows the pieces of the chess pieces that are out there and where he`s going to move them.

So, several weeks ago, he notified the White House with his team of the kinds of people at the White House he expected he would likely interview. And they`re sort of the who`s who of the White House. Some of them are no longer at the White House. But they are the who`s who, the names that you would associate with Donald Trump.

Hope Hicks, a long-time confidant in this campaign at least, somebody he trusts very, very implicitly. Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, the president`s White House counsel, Don McGahn, and, of course, somebody everyone knows, the former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

You know, Bob Woodward, who`s a very good investigative reporter, as you know, you`re colleague at "The Post" is very good at triangulating his interviews. You get somebody, you say, you know, we know a lot about that conversation you had in the hallway on Tuesday, blah, blah, blah, of whatever day it was. What`s your side of it?

And so, you put the person in a position where they have to start talking or else they`ll be talked about. Is this the kind of thing the prosecutor will do, trap people into explaining? Like, Reince Priebus heard everything.

LEONNIG: Well --

MATTHEWS: You hear stuff at the table in the White House mess. You`ll hear stuff through the walls. You`ll hear all kinds of stuff. But you find out what`s going on because you`re political.

How deep can he delve in just that kind of questioning?

LEONNIG: I think that surely he is going to be doing this in a very organized way. I mean, let`s not kid ourselves. He`s not interested in the gossip necessarily from the White House mess. He`s interested in how did the White House discuss beforehand and what did the president say about firing Jim Comey, the FBI director?

Right after the president asked allegedly the director to please drop the investigation involving his national security adviser. What, for example, did these aides that are around the president`s shoulder, what did they hear the president say when he was crafting a statement with his son on Air Force One about how to spin/describe the reason that his son, Donald Trump Jr., met with a Russian lawyer in the middle of the campaign?

You know, these overheard conversations are -- these people are also players. Remember that Reince Priebus, the former White House chief of staff, is a person that the president asked to leave the room when he met privately --


LEONNIG: -- with Jim Comey.

So, all of these people have a piece of the puzzle. It seems to me that Bob Mueller is interviewing on the outside of the circle, and he`s going to move closer in and in, until he hears everybody`s stories and see where there`s overlap and where there`s not.

Keep in mind, he`s also asked the White House for a ton of documents. So, his team`s going to be reviewing those documents and comparing them to what people actually tell him actually happened.

MATTHEWS: Thanks, Carol.

Let me ask you, Geoff, about this thing, because maybe not gossip. Maybe that wasn`t the right word. As Tip O`Neill, my old boss, said, the walls have ears.


MATTHEWS: People hear stuff down the hall, and it is pretty close to the what happened.

BENNETT: And the way these investigations work is that, you know, Mueller, who has compiled this team of at least 36 high-caliber attorneys, someone described them to me as legal killers, they start at the bottom of the food chain and they work their way up. So, there are at least six people we know they want to talk to. That number is going to multiply, as those people, through these conversations, but potentially implicate other people.

Carol mentioned the point about the president dictating that statement about Donald Trump Jr.`s Trump Tower meeting. It`s not a crime to mislead the public knowingly or otherwise, as the president did with that statement that we now know was false and misleading. He said the meeting was about adoptions, when it wasn`t.

The thing is, that could point to intent, and it could point to attempts to conceal information. And that is what the special counsel is looking for in this larger obstruction of justice --

MATTHEWS: Do you think the counsel knows what the president`s hiding, what the kernel is of his fear?

BENNETT: I don`t have any reporting on that, but I can tell you is the pace of this investigation suggests that might be the case.

MATTHEWS: Carol, last question to you, real quick, do you think based upon your reporting and those of your colleagues, do you think Bob Mueller knows what the kernel of fear is that Trump holds apparently because of all of his resistance to this investigation?

LEONNIG: I know Bob Mueller knows more than we do.

MATTHEWS: Well said. Thank you, Carol. Not for long thanks to people like you.

Carol Leonnig, thank you so much. Geoff Bennett -- actually, Carol has been one of the leaders in finding out what`s going on.

Up next, Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, but could Hurricane Irma be the big one? We keep hearing things like that. It is scary, especially for the people down there.

This is HARDBALL, where the action is.


MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.

"The Miami Herald" has called Irma the storm that everyone has long dreaded.

I`m joined right now my "Tampa Bay Times" environmental reporter, Craig Pittman, author of "Oh Florida: How America`s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country".

Well, maybe not, but we`ve spent time down there with the hanging chads and certainly the disputed election down there of 2000, but this is Mother Nature and I wonder if people think of it as Al Gore would say, Mother Nature`s talking to us. Is that how people read it? They see this as a cycle of trouble? Another cycle?

CRAIG PITTMAN, ENVIRONMENTAL REPORTER, TAMPA BAY TIMES: I think it`s more -- I think it`s more of a cycle. You know, we get these hurricanes every year. Just about. Florida gets hit by more than any other state and so, it`s just a part of life here. You know, when hurricane season starts in June through when it ends in November, people are trying to pay attention to that and track it and, you know, take the right steps.

The problem we have though is that we have so many new people who move in here all the time. We`ve got about 900 new people moving every week. So, a lot of those folks, this is the first time they`ve experienced this. So, for those folks, it`s a pretty traumatic event for them.

MATTHEWS: Do you feel this is a big one?

PITTMAN: I would call it a big one. The idea of the big one, you know, the big hurricane that comes in and sweeps this landscape clean and washes away all the Florida corruption and so forth, that`s more of a literary conceit.


PITTMAN: You know, we had the 1928 hurricane that inspired Zora Neale Hurston`s novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God". We had the 1935 hurricane that inspired Key Largo and, you know, there`s one in Johnny McDonald`s novel, "Condominium". That`s a literary thing.

But the fact is, every time Florida is being hit -

MATTHEWS: Which one killed the railroad? Which one killed the railroad?


PITTMAN: That was 1935.

MATTHEWS: That was a powerful message. They had this beautiful train ride. You could take to Key West, knocked out by a storm and never rebuilt. Just mankind stepped back and said, we can`t handle Mother Nature down in the Keys. We can`t build a railroad, which would have been fabulous to take.

PITTMAN: But then built a road on the railroad bed, and you can drive down there.


PITTMAN: But what I was going to say is, you know, Hurricane Andrew hit here 25 years ago. It was a category 5 hurricane. It was so strong, it blew the instruments off the National Hurricane Center and that didn`t stop people from coming here. People rebuilt. Now, we built with stronger building codes, but people rebuilt and the growth continued.


PITTMAN: You know, not much can stop the growth machine in Florida.

MATTHEWS: Craig, you are a character and you are with "The Tampa Bay Times". Thank you for coming on HARDBALL on a dreary, scary night.

PITTMAN: My pleasure.

MATTHEWS: Another challenge for state officials in Florida as Irma moves in is evacuating the state`s prison population. Hadn`t thought of that, had you?

I`m joined now by Mary Ellen Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for "The Miami Herald".

Thank you very much, Mary Ellen. And what about this, because, you know, prisoners, I`ve been reading about how they`re moving and probably, it`s a little bit of relief for people stuck in stir, now, they get to move somewhere else, even if it`s more crowded. What`s it like for people in hard time right now in Florida?

MARY ELLEN KLAS, TALLAHASSEE BUREAU CHIEF, THE MIAMI HERALD: Well, they started out with evacuating about seven work camps and community release centers and then they increased that and now, they have evacuated 31 centers. And they`re not sending these people out of the state. They`re sending them to other prisons, the ones that are more solidly built, the cinder block big institutions.

And so, those places are getting very crowded. And, you know, this is a prison population. We`ve had just a long a month ago, we had a lockdown in all Florida prisons because of the potential for a coordinated riot effort.


KLAS: So, things are getting tight, you know, all across the state.

MATTHEWS: Are some of these Cool Hand Luke kind of prisons, they`re work camps, chain gangs or things like that still active down there and still used as punishment?

KLAS: No. We don`t have the chain gangs, but we do have work, you know, a lot of work camps, boot camps. There`s a lot of community release and that`s the lower security inmates that are working those and now, they`re moving, they`re sending them back into the prisons with the higher security folks. So, they`re hoping that everyone keeps literally keeps their cool.

But this is, we still don`t know what the status a lot of Florida`s prisons are the facilities are, have had problems, even when there hasn`t been a storm. I think this is a little bit of a tinderbox and something to watch.

MATTHEWS: What`s the word lately? Is there, the piece I read this afternoon suggested there was a little bit of a morale pick up because people were stuck in place in cells with little recreation time were getting to move around at least. I would think getting on a bus at least would be a plus over most of your life. Really, I`m being serious.

KLAS: And they are actually working very hard and proving morale or helping morale. They`re giving people more phone time, so they can contact their relatives and let them where they`ve been moved to. They`re giving them more canteen access. They are doing things --

MATTHEWS: What`s canteen time? What`s canteen time? What`s that mean?

KLAS: Well, you know, giving them more opportunity to go and buy food. You know, they have to use their extra money.

MATTHEWS: OK. It`s amazing reporting.

Thank you, Mary Ellen Klas. Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami -- the great "Miami Herald". We`ll be right back after this.


MATTHEWS: We`re back and going to Jacob Soboroff who`s in Miami Beach, on the beach as Hurricane Irma moves closer to Florida.

Jacob, there you are in the dark.

JACOB SOBOROFF, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, I can tell you that in this area, Miami Beach, barrier islands outside of Miami, people have been preparing for a sea level rise, a gradual one due to climate change for quite some time. The politicians have put this as a priority issue, but nothing can prepare you for a five to ten maybe 15 foot sea level rise due to the waves and it`s quite possible going to hit this beach in just a matter of time.

I spent the day earlier driving around with the Miami Beach Fire and Rescue. They got about 91,000 people living within their jurisdiction. They said for the most part, everybody is out for now, but we did stumble upon a couple of senior citizens who decided to hunker down and stay at their location. One woman luckily was picked up by her son after waiting outside for quite a long time.

But there are people, Chris, out here that I can tell you that decided to just stay put. Whether or not that is a good decision, you`re going to have to wait and see. But the Fire Department says if you`re not out now, get out. There is no other option.

MATTHEWS: I think the phrase in real estate is ageing in place. I can understand stubborn behavior. I`m one of those.

Anyway, thank you, Jacob Soboroff, in Miami Beach.

That`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

Chris Hayes picks up coverage right now.


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