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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 9/8/17 Hurricane Irma Coverage

Guests: Michael Joseph, Randall Henderson, Jack Seiler

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 8, 2017

Guest: Michael Joseph, Randall Henderson, Jack Seiler

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. I`m happy that you`re down there, my friend. I`m very happy to have seen your coverage. I`m also happy to hear that you are getting to a smarter place very soon. Stay safe, my friend.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, ALL IN: Yes, we`re going inland. We`re going to inland.

MADDOW: Well done. All right. Thank you, my friend.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

One of the largest hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean is about to make landfall in the mainland of the United States. That story obviously clearly takes center stage for us tonight. We`re going to have intensive coverage in terms of what`s expected overnight, for Irma tonight, and into tomorrow morning. We`ve also got a remarkable story about what it left behind in the Caribbean with some footage that you have not seen anywhere else from some of the islands that took it hardest.

I will tell you, we`ve got a few other stories we`ve got on our radar, as well tonight. There were some interesting developments today from the special counsel`s office in his investigation into the Trump-Russia scandal. The special counsel is apparently about to start interviews with somewhere between a half dozen and a dozen White House personnel and former White House personnel, including former White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, former White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, and the current communications director, Hope Hicks.

We`re going to have more on that news ahead, including what we now know to be the special counsel`s interest in some behavior by the Trump White House early on in the administration which we didn`t know before now that the special counsel was investigating. So, some of those -- some of those dots have been connected in terms of that special counsel investigation. That story is ahead tonight.

All right. If you are a Ford truck person -- I`m a Ford truck person -- you may be familiar with the term King Ranch. All full size American pickups come in lots of different trim levels now. Some of them are very luxurious given that these are trucks.

But for a long time now, even before the current luxury truck trend took hold across all the different truck makers, for a long time now, one of the top of the line luxury models you could get in a Ford pick-up was called the King Ranch edition. It has unusually colored seats. It has big King Ranch logos all over it.

But the King Ranch is not just a butch sounding name for a leather seats package in a truck. King Ranch is a real thing. It`s the biggest ranch in Texas. King Ranch in Texas is gigantic. It`s about 1,300 square miles.

And the King Ranch holds a special place in the history of American hurricanes. This is a chart that was published today by using data from the National Hurricane Center and other sources. Although it just looks like a bunch of zeros there, this is, if you know how to look at this, this is basically the history of hurricanes in the United States.

The X-axis there, that`s just a timeline. It starts at 1850 on the left- hand side and it proceeds decade by decade all the way until now. The Y- axis, the numbers that go up and down on the left side of the chart, that is sustained wind speed in these various storms. And so, clearly, what`s scary right now about looking at this chart today is that way up there at the top of the chart, our current hurricane is also very close to the top of the chart in terms of wind speed.

Irma is the storm that`s been cutting through the Caribbean. It`s bearing down now on Florida, but you can see there, we have almost never had a hurricane with sustained wind speeds this high in the whole history of hurricanes in the United States.

That said, there is one. There is one hurricane on this list which is above Irma in terms of its wind speed. And you can see it right there on the graph. It`s labeled Allen, 1980. Hurricane Allen.

No hurricane that has hit the United States has ever had a higher sustained wind speed than Hurricane Allen did in 1980. Allen had 190 mile an hour winds. As it carved its way through the Caribbean, Hurricane Allen did a ton of damage to Haiti and killed several hundred people in Haiti as that storm made its way across the Caribbean toward the United States.

But it then took its turn up through the Gulf of Mexico and forecasters believed at the time that Allen was going to make a direct hit on Corpus Christi, Texas. Corpus Christi is a pretty good size city. It now has about 330,000 people. In 1980, at the time, it had about 230,000 people. Still, a very, you know, good sized city.

And they saw this hurricane with 190-mile-an-hour winds making a bead for Corpus Christi in 1980. And that really felt like it might be the end of the world, right? Nobody had ever seen the effects of a storm with winds that massive on a densely populated area.

Now, what happened with Hurricane Allen in 1980 is that it did ultimately cause damage in Corpus Christi and flooding in floor. They got hit with a nine-foot storm surge from Hurricane Allen, which is a lot, particularly for a town that`s less than seven feet above sea level.

But Hurricane Allen, despite those 190-mile-an-hour winds, unprecedented winds, winds that have still never been matched by any other American storm, Hurricane Allen did not end up being one of the all-time deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. And that is simply and only because Hurricane Allen moved. It had been due to directly hit Corpus Christi, again with the highest sustained winds of any storm in the U.S. ever, but then it unexpectedly took a slight left turn.

And so, what ended up taking the direct brunt from that gigantic storm was not Corpus Christi, it was the King Ranch, which is a lot of things, right? It`s historic, it`s huge, it`s interesting. It`s the name of a fancy Ford truck line to this day.

But the King Ranch is not built up and populated. It is open ranch land. And so, yes, Hurricane Allen was mega, even bigger than the monster storm Irma that we`ve got on our hands right now, even bigger than that. But its human impact did not match its strength as a weather phenomenon, not even close. And that is simply and blessedly because of the specifics of where it went, where it came ashore.

And with that history in mind, I have questions. How certain are we about where Hurricane Irma and its 185-mile-an-hour winds, how certain are we about where it`s going?

We all remember in some previous big storms, even very recent storms, there have been interesting differences between like European models and American models for predicting the storm track. Some forecasts ended up being more certain, more predictive than others, some ended up being more accurate, right? Is that interplay between the different forecasts at play at all for this giant storm? That`s a pressing question for me tonight. How good are the models predicting the track of Hurricane Irma and how much consensus is there among those models? That`s my first question.

Second question, is my first question stupid because of the size of the storm? I mean, the last category 5 storm was Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago. But now, you`ve probably seen these mockups that people have been doing. People have been physically comparing the size of Hurricane Andrew versus Hurricane Irma, showing how much bigger than Irma is than that giant storm 25 years ago.

Is Irma so big that it`s dumb for me to ask about the track? Is it -- is it so big that the subtleties about it tracking a few miles this way or a few dozen miles that way, are those not going to make a material difference for this giant a storm.

So, question one, how good are the predictions of where it`s going? Question two, is the sheer size of this storm so overwhelming that the subtle differences in the tracks don`t matter?

I have two more questions. Third, I know there are people who don`t understand this part but I do not. I don`t get the relationship between sea level and wave height and storm surge and tide and what the National Hurricane Center is now describing as water height above ground in its latest forecast discussions. I know they`re all about water and they`re all potential flooding and they`re all about coastal risk. Maybe the distinction ought to be seen of something that`s of interest to meteorologist.

But I sort of feel like we`re all reading meteorological material now and we sort of need to figure it out. We need to figure it out in terms of what the human impact is going to be here. Let me just give you an example of what I`m talking about. We`re all able to see the forecast from the National Hurricane Center, right? Some of the numbers that they`re giving us I find a little bit hard to fathom.

Let me quote to you from the National Hurricane Center from their forecast discussion from earlier this evening about Irma. This is just part of it. Quote: The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving in from the shoreline. The water is expected to reach the following heights above ground if the peak surge occurs at the time of the high tide.

And then one of the places that they list an amount for heights above groundwater, they give an example of southwest Florida from Captiva to Cape Sable. For reference, here`s that part of south Florida on the map. You see Captiva there at the Cape Sable down to the lower part of the map.

According to the National Hurricane Center tonight, they are warning that the water height above ground in that region of Florida will be 8 to 12 feet of water. I want to understand exactly what that means. When they say that will be the water height above ground in that area, if the storm surge and the high tide combine in the worse case scenario, what exactly does that mean in terms of how much flooding there is going to be, over how much inhabited land, how deep and persistent is that flooding going to be?

If the tide and the storm surge don`t align for that worst case scenario that`s being described by the Hurricane Center, should we still be scared by those numbers? Twelve feet of water above ground? How much range are we talking about? How important are these temporal things like the tide and the exact time of the storm surge? How important are those in terms of giving us a range of how much to be worried about in terms of flooding, just in terms of that very practical question for how far inland and how high up people are going to need to go to escape these flood waters?

So, again, I`ve got four questions in total. First one is how certain are we about where it`s going? The second one is, is the storm so big, it doesn`t matter that much where it`s going? The third is, what should non- meteorologist regular people look at to figure out where it`s going to flood and how deep?

But here`s my last question and this goes back to that scary chart where Hurricane Allen in 1980 is the only storm we`ve ever seen in this country with higher sustained wind speeds than the one that`s bearing down on us now. I have to say I find it personally unnerving to look at that chart, because I look at those little dots on that chart representing storms and I think of all the other hurricanes that we have been through as a country and all of the damage that has been done by these incredibly powerful storms.

If you just picture what we`ve been through, right, and then to see that this one is right at the top in terms of its sustained wind speed, just as a mathematical matter I find that scary. But as a practical matter, I want to understand how much additional risk extreme wind speeds like that really pose. I mean, in 2017 in the particular part of the country that`s about to get the brunt of the storm, what do we know about how vulnerable they are to winds that fast? What is likely to be knocked down by winds that fast? What can stay standing in wind speed like that?

I mean, we have seen what these 180-plus-mile-an-hour wind speeds have done in the Caribbean already and what they are continuing to do. We can see in these Caribbean islands what was left standing and what was not in places that have been hit so extremely hard, in places like St. Maarten and Barbuda, which we`re going to talk about later in the show.

But in the United States and the mainland U.S., in Florida, we`ve got different building codes than them, and we`ve got different topography and we`ve got different infrastructure over all. Have our building codes here in the U.S. mainland anticipated wind speeds this fast? I know -- they know they`re in hurricane territory, but 185-mile-an-hour territory? Do we know scientifically what`s going to be left standing, depending on what speed this thing hits at?

So, I`ve been watching all the footage, reading all the briefings about this hurricane just as you guys have to, just as everybody in the country has been. These are the questions that I find myself unable to figure out on my own. This is the stuff that`s been keeping me up as we`ve been getting closer to landfall.

The good news is that all of these questions, I believe, are answerable. I think we`re going to be able to get answers to basically all of them tonight, starting with NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins.

Bill, thank you very much for joining us. I really appreciate you being here.

BILL KARINS, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: I don`t know what you have planned the rest of the show but we may be here for a while.

MADDOW: Well, good. I hope you`re not busy. Can I just ask you to start on giving us the latest on what you think is important to watch right now?

KARINS: Yes, because there are important developments. Now, things are changing just in the last 15 minutes.

I`ve got to show this imagery here. This is the tight eye of Irma. This is the coastline of Cuba. These are known as the Cuban Keys here.

And watch how close this is now coming to a landfall in Cuba. The forecast is supposed to go parallel over these to the north. We are still going west.

The further west this goes has huge implications for Florida for two reasons. One, Cuba could weaken the storm more than anticipated. The second thing would be, if it continues to go further west, that means our forecast track would go further west, and because of the angle of orientation that this storm is going to approach, that could mean huge implications for Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and also Marco Island and Fort Myers.

We just got our new suite of models in. These are our hurricane computers. It specialized in forecasting these storms. We are within 36 hours of this landfall and high implications. They`re usually pretty accurate.

They just took a shift -- we were thinking -- the models were pretty much pointing at Marathon, Florida, right now. Now, look what happened. Now they`re pointing towards Key West. They may seem small, but another 10 to 20 mile shift to the west has huge implications.

Now, look at these models. Instead of bringing it up through the Everglades, one does, but all the other ones are clustered pretty well here, keeping it offshore with the eye coming possibly over the top of Marco Island and the Naples area and maybe straight into Ft. Myers. That would have huge storm surge implications, as we go up the coast, and also for areas like Tampa, Sarasota, that could mean the storm could be a little stronger if Cuba doesn`t weaken it, over water longer. That could mean more storm surge possible, further northwards up the coast, and maybe even stronger winds for areas like Central Florida.

So, that`s one of the huge developments that we are literally now just getting in and dealing with. The Hurricane Center`s update will be at 11:00 p.m. and we`ll see if they shift it further to the west. Again, the further west it goes, the weaker the winds it could possibly be for areas on the East Coast, including the big cities in south Florida.

We showed you Captiva, all the way where the worst storm surge would be. That`s the 12-feet range. That`s where we could see houses with water that could get destroyed and washed in the ocean. That`s where we`re expecting the worse of that.

But if that track goes further west, we could take some of these higher totals, all the way up here, into areas like Sarasota and Tampa, I mean, Tampa three days ago was like, Miami was worse case scenario, and now, all of a sudden, slowly, the worse case is inching closer and closer here towards the Tampa-Sarasota-Naples-Fort Myers area.

So, let me go to a couple other maps. This is the one that`s going to show us when wind damage is. The two things that are going to cause the most damage is going to be the storm surge. That`s the water coming on shore.

And then the winds, here we are 8:00 a.m. Saturday, by the time we get to Saturday afternoon, this is when we start getting the power outages and damage in the keys. Winds up to 80 miles per hour. Watch what happens in Marco Island, and as we go to Fort Myers. Eight a.m. Sunday, you`re still not too bad.

But look at the Keys, 127, 127. Even Miami is starting to get up there. Key Largo, 108. By the time we get to Sunday afternoon, this is the peak of the storm, this is when all of southern Florida and even Central Florida will lose power. This is when we will see the worse of the damage at the coast and also the highest storm surge on the East Coast.

Look at Miami, predict 102-mile-per-hour wind. I mean, you`re not even near the center. That`s how huge the storm is and there`s that landfall, possibly a second landfall somewhere near Ft. Myers, Marco Island. You know, we think these winds could be in excess of 100 miles per hour, numerous hours throughout this region.

And even our friends in Tampa and Orlando, yes, it should weaken if it`s over land, but still, 90 mile per hour winds is going to knock down trees and power all through the region. So, the biggest things I`ve noticed in the last 15 minutes, a little more shift to the west, still huge implications for storm surge for Ft. Myers, Tampa area, Sarasota.

It`s not set in stone how bad it`s going to be there yet. They could go right through the eye. This storm, with three days ago, we were saying up the east coast of Florida. Now, it could be right up the west coast.

MADDOW: Is there anything you can tell about -- I mean, we`ve been tracking the storm through the Caribbean for days now. It`s been so big and so strong for all of these days.

Is there anything about the way it`s behaved over the last few days that tells you which of the models are better at predicting where it`s going?

KARINS: Yes. You may heard, you know, we keep hearing the American model to the European model. You know, you were mentioning. The European model comes out twice a day. The American model comes out four times a day. They have spent more money on their model and they get more computing time, because they only do it twice a day. It is more accurate than ours.

And with this storm, it has been significantly more accurate with their track. The European model has been further west all along and that`s the trend that everything else has gone towards.

MADDOW: OK. So, when you were saying that there`s -- you were showing that map of the various models and you were saying there`s one of them that shows it heading towards the Everglades which, of course, would be better in terms of human impact here --

KARINS: Of course.

MADDOW: -- that`s -- is there any -- what is your view right now in terms of the consensus level of the models? Is that an outlier?

KARINS: The average air, when we get within 24 to 36 hours of these storms, the average forecast is about 24 miles. Typically, 24 miles is not that big of a deal, but because Florida is only 140 miles wide, it`s kind of a big deal.


KARINS: And it has significant impacts. I mean, there`s no way -- Florida is going to get hurricane winds. We`re going to have a lot of damage throughout the entire peninsula. We`re just trying to really figure out who`s going to have the worst storm surge.

I mean, people want to know, am I going to have water in my home?


KARINS: I mean, with that shift that just happened, I just called my mom. I just told her, they now have a storm surge in Ft. Myers where they live at six feet. And so, it`s things like that, you know, that shift and change that is hard for people. They`re looking at these models, and one of the questions you had was, should non-meteorologists be looking at this stuff because it can drive you crazy.


KARINS: It`s almost like an event for a meteorologist. It`s almost like a game that`s being played out. You don`t know what the ending is going to be, and we follow all the trends and what`s happening and continuously giving you updates, but for people that are making life decisions, it can be a little frustrating.

MADDOW: And the size -- the physical size of the storm, just the circumference of it, the physical -- the way that it dwarves Andrew, is that important in terms of how much attention we need to pay to those tracks? I mean, in a way, when you look at it, it looks like all of Florida is going to be engulfed by this no matter which way it tracks.

KARINS: It depends on what your focus is going to be on. If you want to know, is my house going to be destroyed, will I be able to come back to my house, will my house even still exist, that depends where the eye comes on shore.

Now, is it -- am I going to have roof damage and power out for two weeks but I can go back to my house? That`s the entire rest of the state of Florida.

MADDOW: OK. In terms of the -- am I going to have water in my house question --


MADDOW: There are all, I --

KARINS: Storm surge.

MADDOW: Storm surge. You know, sea level I`m aware of, although then we hear, you know, sea levels have been rising over time, I thought of that as a static measure, you know? And the high tide and damaging waves and the storm surge and water above ground, I mean, there`s all these terms that I realize -- I can tell because I`m an idiot about these things that each of these things is designed to help somebody dumb like me understand them, but because there`s so many competing terms, I don`t know really what to look at. And if I had to call and give somebody advice.

KARINS: You know what the worst thing is, is that most people don`t even know what elevation they live at. Like that`s the worst thing. You can`t even know what all these numbers mean. But if you don`t know your elevation is, it doesn`t mean anything.

MADDOW: Right.

KARINS: So, this map back here that was behind me, this was the storm surge map. Now, this map tells you how high the water is going to get compared to if the storm was not there. This does not take into account high tide or low tide. This just means that in southwest Florida, eight to 12 feet of water is going to be there at the time when the storm is at its closest.

Now, when we talk about the storm tide, that`s when we take this number, the 8 to 12 feet. So, as an example, let`s say the high tide in Naples is three higher than the low tide, then we would add the three feet to this on top of that. That`s where you get the storm tide.

Does that kind of make sense?

MADDOW: It does, although what should people look at in terms of deciding whether or not they`re at high enough ground to be safe?

KARINS: So, let`s say your elevation. Let`s say your elevation is at ten feet.


KARINS: And you know you have a potential for 8 to 12 feet of water coming to you. So, if you`re at 10 feet, eight to 12, you better not be in that building, because you have water, you know, right into your house. Now, if you were at, say, 15 feet and it`s a forecast for eight to 12, now you got a tougher decision, because you`re kind of playing a game.

You need to know what the high tide is, when high tide is, how much higher than normal that is. So, if it is a 12-foot storm surge, and high tide and three feet higher than that, now, all of a sudden, we`re going up to 15. And then you need to evacuate.

So, that`s kind of -- the emergency managers in all these counties have all these maps. And this is -- they have evacuation zones. They`re doing this math for you.


KARINS: So, you pay attention to your emergency manager. If they tell you, zone A, you evacuate, and you know you`re in zone A, get out.

MADDOW: Bill Karins, you are going to be up for a very long time. Thank you for helping us understand this. If and when we are getting it wrong or making a mountain out of a mole hill, please run out onto the set and correct us.

KARINS: I will. Thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you, sir. Nice to see you.

All right. NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins is the person who you should be listening to for the rest of this, OK? Anything that I say, check with him first.

All right. Much more to come tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: St. Maarten is half Dutch, half French. The island is 34 square miles, so small you could fit 35 St. Maartens inside our smallest state, inside Rhode Island.

St. Maarten has a super famous airport, the Princess Juliana International Airport. It is famous because it sits so close to the beach that when planes fly in and out, the wheels on the planes come down so low, they practically scrape the sand. It`s supposed to be wild to watch. People literally stake out the beach to watch the flights. They had to post a sign on the beach warning people not to get too close.

Look, jet blast of departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm.

So, this is what that famous airport used to look like in St. Maarten. Today, it looks like this. St. Maarten`s landmarks, including their world famous airport have taken a devastating blow. This is what it looks like inside the airport. Check-in desks flooded, debris all over the place.

Local officials in St. Maarten say huge swaths of the island have been leveled. About 80,000 people live on St. Maarten. Most of them have now seen their homes damaged or destroyed.

This is what the docks used to look like. Now, the docks look like this.

This is one of the hotels in St. Maarten in brighter times. It has replicas of famous paintings on the outer walls. This is that same hotel now. You can still see some of the paintings. Nothing else really looks the same.

St. Maarten is famous for its beautiful, pristine beaches. The beaches of St. Maarten now look like this.

Hurricane Irma is expected to make landfall in the mainland U.S. this weekend. But already, it has whipped through the Caribbean. It`s killed at least 17 people so far, including at least 5 from St. Maarten and other people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and in Barbuda.

Barbuda is next door to St. Maarten. It`s a bit little larger geographically but it has a lot fewer people, fewer than 2,000 people live there overall.

This is Barbuda before Irma hit. As you can see, just lovely. This is Barbuda today.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda says that Barbuda is barely habitable. The island`s only hospital and airport were destroyed. There`s no running water and there`s no phone service because the communications tower, which you see right there, just snapped in half by Irma.

This was the headline in Barbuda`s main newspaper today, destruction unreal, hundreds desperate to get out. And those hundreds of people still left on the island are desperate to get out not only because of what has just happened but also because of what may happen next.

Hard as it is to believe, another hurricane is heading toward Barbuda right now. Hurricane Jose is currently a category four storm, a very big storm and it appears to be heading right for Barbuda.

The Red Cross sent us this video from the ground in Barbuda today. The prime minister is telling people to get out now, to evacuate to Antigua, Barbuda`s sister island. Together, Barbuda and Antigua form a single country, but they`re about 40 miles apart. They believe right now that Antigua is safely out of Jose`s path even if Barbuda is not.

So, volunteers and relief workers have been on the ground today before Jose hits. They`ve been ferrying people off the island with helicopters and boats, trying to get as many people away and over to Antigua as they can. Jose is supposed to hit Barbuda tomorrow. They`re really seriously running out of time in what is already dire circumstances.

Joining us now from Antigua is Michael Joseph. He`s the president of the Red Cross in Barbuda and Antigua. He was in Barbuda yesterday with the team from the Red Cross.

Mr. Joseph, I really appreciate your time. I know this is an incredibly difficult time for you there. Thank you for being with us.


MADDOW: Can you tell us what you saw when you were on Barbuda? And can you tell us if Antigua is dealing with significant damage?

JOSEPH: I, first to start on Antigua, I must say that we are very fortunate that the hurricane shifted. Our fortunate turned into being unfortunate for the people because it placed them directly in the path which turned out to be even more damaging.

From our assessment yesterday when we went in, if you know about Barbuda and what you saw, it`s completely destroyed. To be honest with you, I would say 100 percent of Barbuda. Even the buildings that are left, there`s so many other factors. In the words of the Prime Minister, Barbuda, I wouldn`t say barely habitable. I would say just completely inhabitable.

MADDOW: What is the status of the evacuation? Has everybody been taken off the island? Obviously, there`s not just concerns about the conditions there now, but about what`s going to happen if Jose comes in tomorrow.

JOSEPH: Yes, after the mandatory evacuation all persons would have left Barbuda. Again, because there were serious concerns even as the Red Cross, we share humanitarian concerns where we felt that the people of Barbuda, if they remain, a number of fatalities would have increased significantly more than what we had before. So, all persons were evacuated from Barbuda ahead of hurricane Jose.

MADDOW: And in terms of your responsibilities as the president of the Red Cross in Barbuda and Antigua, what do you anticipate doing next? I mean, describing that island as not habitable, as being basically 100 percent destroyed, how do you approach the relief effort there? Obviously, you need to get people out of harm`s way, but what are your next steps, what do you plan to do next as an organization?

JOSEPH: Well, there are a few different things that we need to do. So we have now the people that are now in Antigua, so we have an entirely displaced community now. We`re going to have to work in terms of dealing with their needs locally as they arise and working with the minister of health and the national office of disaster services identifying what those needs are and then applying the right resources where necessary.

But then when we go back to Barbuda because, of course, dealing with the displaced community is only a short term goal. So, when we get to Barbuda, we`re looking more long term. We`re going to have to look at working with Barbudans to build proper infrastructure, proper houses, work with the minister of health in identifying health issues and bringing health programs.

Zika is still very much a concern for the minister of health and for Antiguan and Barbudan Red Cross. So, these are just some of the things, we`re going to have to rebuild houses, we`re going to help their livelihoods, we`re going to have to get fishermen back into the sea so we can get the Barbudan economy starts turning again. This is really how we`re going to get Barbuda back to the gem that she is.

MADDOW: Michael Joseph, president of the Red Cross in Barbuda and Antigua, just an incredible task ahead. It`s amazing there wasn`t more a loss of life. Thank you for being with us tonight. Good luck to you, sir. Please stay in touch.

JOSEPH: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We got much more ahead tonight, including big news from the special counsel`s office, Robert Mueller`s office today. Plus, more of what is ahead for Hurricane Irma. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Here`s a little non-storm news. In the midst of everything going on in the news right now and what is feared about this giant storm, a woman named Sally Yates roared back into the news today. This afternoon, "The Washington Post" and reported that the special counsel Robert Mueller has notified the White House that he and his team of prosecutors intend to interview multiple current and former White House officials in the coming weeks.

Now, the interviews haven`t happened yet, and we don`t have dates yet as to when exactly the interviews are going to happen. But according to "The Washington Post", that`s because investigators first intend to review all the documents they requested and that they expect to receive from the White House.

Now, the reason that`s an important and potentially juicy part of this news is because you can triangulate this a little bit. Based on what documents they`ve asked for and based on what people they`re asking to interview, you can start to figure out what behavior by the president and his administration has found itself into Robert Mueller`s crosshairs. And that`s why fired former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is back in the news.

You`ll remember that on January 26, which was not even a week after Trump`s inauguration, Sally Yates, the acting attorney general left the Justice Department and personally went up to the White House to give the White House a warning, an urgent warning on a national security matter.


SALLY YATES, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and additionally that we weren`t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done. Not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information. And that created a compromised situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians. We told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action.


MADDOW: They didn`t take action. I mean, the attorney general comes to the White House warning that the sitting national security adviser has been compromised by a hostile foreign government, that he could be being blackmailed, right? Such dramatic testimony from Sally Yates when we heard from her in Congress in May. It must have been an incredibly dramatic moment in the White House when she came to them with that totally unprecedented terrifying warning, and it remains a mystery as to why the White House did nothing in response to that warning.

They kept national security adviser Michael Flynn on for almost three further weeks, they really had no reaction this morning at all until it ended up in "The Washington Post" 18 days later. If "The Post" hadn`t broken the story, maybe Flynn would still be there, compromise, potential blackmail and all.

We still don`t know the full story of the undisclosed contacts that Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn had with the Russians during the campaign, during the transition, or once he was national security adviser in the White House. But today, "The Washington Post" reports that that inaction by the White House after they got that extraordinary warning from Sally Yates about Michael Flynn, that inaction by the White House is apparently part of what special counsel Bob Mueller is now looking into.

These are the names "The Washington Post" reported today in terms of who`s been told to expect a White House interview. We don`t know if this is the exhaustive list of people the special counsel plans to interview. "Politico" said it may be a dozen people. But at least we`ve got these names.

Now, Don McGahn, he`s the White House counsel, and James Burnham, that`s McGahn`s deputy. Those were reportedly the people who Sally Yates met with at the White House on January 26th when she went up to the White House to give them the Mike Flynn warning to which they didn`t respond. So, maybe that`s what Mueller wants to interview them about.

In terms of the other names on the list, we know that Sean Spicer sold the White House line that mike Flynn didn`t at all talk to the Russians about sanctions. Remember, Sean Spicer said that Mike Flynn contacted the Russian ambassador to offer his holiday greetings. No, of course, it wasn`t sanctions.

So, if the special counsel is starting to look at White House personnel who concocted misleading public statements intended to cover up real contacts with Russians, then Sean Spicer may indeed be in the hot seat. And because we now know misleading comments were concocted by the White House to disguise the true nature of the Trump Tower Russia meeting during the campaign, that may also explain why Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel are on the list of people the special counsel intends to interview.

Both Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, and Josh Raffel, who`s an aide to Jared Kushner, they were both reportedly on board Air Force One and they were both reportedly involved in the creation of the false statement that was released by the White House in the name of Donald Trump Jr. which tried to disguise the nature of that campaign meeting with all those Russians.

So, the White House has reportedly been told to hand over documents on the drafting of that false statement about the Russia-Trump Tower during the campaign, which was falsely explained by the White House, and they`ve been reportedly been told to hand over documents about the firing of James Comey, which was also apparently falsely explained by the White House, and they`ve reportedly been asked to hand over documents about Mike Flynn, which means maybe we will finally find out why the White House didn`t care, they didn`t react at all, they didn`t even seem surprised by the news that the Russians had compromised the most senior national security official in the new administration.

Incidentally, I should just mention that many of the false public statements about Mike Flynn and him leaving the White House, many of those false public statements were made by the vice president, Mike Pence. But so far, we do not see Mike Pence`s name on the list of people that Robert Mueller wants to interview at the White House. The president`s name isn`t on that list either, yet.

But watch this space.


MADDOW: Right at the top of the show, I talked with meteorologist Bill Karins and he broke down the very latest models on the path of hurricane. And somewhat startlingly, he told us that given what`s happened tonight with the storm, he`s now keeping a close eye on the potential impact on Ft. Myers, Florida, in the west coast of the Florida peninsula, a city of about 77,000 people.

Irma has been passing over Cuba now and it tracked a little west of where it had previously been expected. Apparently, the implications of that for Irma`s Florida track are such that, well, such that Bill Karins told us he just called his mom to let her know that on this new track or what appears to be this new track, her hometown of Ft. Myers may be looking at a storm surge there of six feet which is a very big deal.

Joining us now is the mayor of Fort Myers, Florida, Randall Henderson.

Mayor Henderson, I know this is an incredibly difficult time. Thanks for joining us.

MAYOR RANDALL HENDERSON, FORT MYERS, FLORIDA (via telephone): Good evening, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: So, we`re all watching these tracks of the storm both as it makes its way through the Caribbean and the meteorologists` expectations about where it`s going.

What are you expecting in terms of the impact on your city?

HENDERSON: Well, we are indeed bracing ourselves actually for a surge anywhere from six to 12 feet depending upon where Irma decides to veer more to the left or to the right. We`re deeply concerned about it and we are going to experience in addition to that hurricane force winds. So, we are definitely on a heightened sense of alert for sure and fully engaged in making sure our citizens are evacuated and if not from the city by going north at least into a nearby shelter.

MADDOW: And I know that Fort Myers is about 75,000, 80,000 people. What would you say has been the success rate in terms of trying to get people to move out of harm`s way and to get out of town?

HENDERSON: That`s correct. I was just talking to a senior staff member just a half-hour ago on that very question and we are estimating that about a third of that population has relocated, yes.

MADDOW: OK. So, two-thirds of the people in Fort Myers still in town?

HENDERSON: That`s correct.

MADDOW: That storm surge that you`re talking about, you say you`re operating under the assumption that you could get six to 12 feet of storm surge. Obviously, you don`t like to tempt fate, you don`t like to only focus on worst case scenarios, but I have to ask, if you are going to get a 12-foot storm surge, can you tell us something about what kind of damage that would mean in your city?

HENDERSON: I can and it`s not rosy. We know storm surges take lives and even more so than wind. And so, it is serious business and it depends upon where we feel the storm come in.

If we have a westerly exposure, for example, if the storm is pulling water from the west inward, that`s going to heighten our risk of storm surge. If it moves more from the east, then it`s going to push the surf out. So, that`s the continuous nature we find ourselves in. As we track this throughout tomorrow, I`ll be back in the command center in the morning and that will be one of our first things that we want to confirm is just where this path is going to take us, so we can hone in more on what the storm surge is going to be.

MADDOW: And when you and public safety officials in Fort Myers are making these decisions and making your own plans in terms of how you are going to handle this this weekend, are you confident that your command center that you`ve set up, that the other facilities you`re going to be operating out of in terms of public safety and decision-making as the mayor, that you`re going to be somewhere safe, that you`re going to be in facilities that are going to be able to withstand what`s coming?

HENDERSON: I am very confident in that. The question is appreciated. I was just going over that with my city manager again a half hour ago, making sure we were going to rendezvous together.

Our facilities, our emergency management facilities are extraordinarily robust. They can withstand a lot, and they`re designed just for that. So, I`m less concerned about myself. I`m more concerned for citizens and making sure that we have them in fortified facilities, arenas, schools, facilities that can withstand this, and we`ve made a lot of progress in getting them there. And we`ll continue that tomorrow and Sunday.

MADDOW: Randall Henderson, the mayor of Fort Myers, Florida, God bless you, sir. Good look. It`s going to be a very difficult weekend. Please keep us apprised and let us you know if you need help.

HENDERSON: Thank you for having us get this message to our citizens.

MADDOW: All right. Thank you, sir.

All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Last night, we spoke with the mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Jack Seiler, as that city of 180,000 people started its final preparations for the landfall of Hurricane Irma. Tonight as that storm gets closer and its course starts to become more clear, let`s check back in.

Mayor Seiler of Fort Lauderdale, thank you very much for your time tonight. I really appreciate you joining us.


MADDOW: Given what we`ve seen over the last 24 hours, are you continuing to worry the most about the storm surge, about water in the streets? Is the intense wind of this storm also something that you think has to be on the radar for Ft. Lauderdale?

SEILER: Well, I think, you know, Bill Karins nailed it earlier at the start of your show. I mean, when he explained is exactly what we`ve been talking about at the emergency operations center for hours. And I think he correctly nailed it really, saying this storm is so big, you know, it`s so immense, so intense, that we`re all going to feel something.

But from where we were last night, when I was talking to you to where we are tonight, we`re looking at a substantial reduction in the wind from the wind that they`re going to get on the west coast of Florida. But who knows what happens after, you know, tonight?

But you also, you know, you look at that storm surge, and God bless Mayor Henderson listening to him talk about that because that`s exactly the issue that scared us last night because we`re looking at a full moon, a seasonal high tide. The push, all those factors, the storm surge, and now the west coast of Florida is looking at that exact same thing.

So, we`re going to keep them in our thoughts and prayers and just try to figure out where this storm is going to go because this thing has been hanging around for four or five days. And when I saw your little part on Barbuda, you know, my heart goes out to the people in Barbuda. I mean, how do you destroy a whole island?


Mayor, as you look ahead to this weekend, you think about the kind of challenges you`re about to face, do you feel confident that public safety and government communication is set up in such a way that the systems are in place, that the lines of communication are open, that you`re at least going to be able to make the kinds of decisions you want to be able to make, that you know things are set up as best as they can be?

SEILER: Absolutely. We`ve had a very long time to be able to get this set up. We`ve had three or four days as we talked about last night, and we`re in place.

I`ve been at the emergency operations center every single night this week, been communicating with state, federal, local government officials. So, we feel very well-prepared. We`re still going to see a hurricane here in Fort Lauderdale, but the difference is I don`t think we`re going to have the extent of the storm surge that we talked about last night.

But I think we are ready. We are as well prepared as we can be. And we`re still going to have a heck of weekend here in Fort Lauderdale trying to make sure we can respond to the needs of our neighbors and try to minimize the impact of this storm that because of its size, whether it hits Fort Myers or Fort Lauderdale, every single corner of the state as Bill Karins said is going to feel some of this hurricane.

MADDOW: Jack Seiler, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, good luck to you, sir. Keep us apprised.

SEILER: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, sir.

All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: That does it for this hour of coverage tonight. But MSNBC`s coverage of Hurricane Irma is going to be live from here on out. Every hour live. We will be here with you for the duration of this thing.

Our coverage continues right now with Ali Velshi.

Good evening, Ali.



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