Multiple gas explosions in Massachusetts. TRANSCRIPT: 09/13/2018. The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Bill Soffa, Frank Figliuzzi

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: September 13, 2018 Guest: Bill Soffa, Frank Figliuzzi

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. I`m happy to have you here.

This is one of those nights when there are more major news stories going on simultaneously than it is possible to process all at once. And so, we just take them one at a time. You know of course this very large hurricane is bearing down on the Carolina coast tonight. We are expecting an overnight landfall by Hurricane Florence. Evacuation of the most dangerous areas should have already occurred because this is what the wind is like on shore already.

But there are fears that this is a life threatening event for a wide swath of the American coast, and even well inland in both North and South Carolina. We`ve got the very latest live forecast and track and the latest news on the impact thus far coming up in just a moment from meteorologist Bill Karins. He is going to be with us live in just a moment.

We`re also going to be taking a look at a beautiful city of 120,000 people that is on the coast and that appears to be right in the bulls-eye tonight. That city`s mayor will be with us too on what is already turning out to be a very tough night with very tough conditions with his city absolutely facing the heart of it.

I mentioned that conditions are going to be tough both on the coast and well inland. One of the things that helps us show that tonight is that some of the technology that there is now for showing the impact of flooding from storm surge, some of that technology has radically, radically improved, even just since the last round of hurricanes our country faced last year. So, we`re going show you some of that technology tonight in just a couple of minutes. To my mind, it is honestly mind blowing. You will never, ever think of this kind of storm surge flooding ever the same way again.

So, we`ve got that full coverage coming up, and that will be rolling through the overnight hours here on MSNBC tonight.

As we have been watching that huge story unfold, though, a lot of other major news stories have broken this afternoon and this evening, including dozens of homes exploding and bursting into flame in Massachusetts. This started late this afternoon, and it continues into tonight. These appear to be gas explosion. Massachusetts state police just after 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight put out an urgent warning on Twitter, not the kind of warning anybody ever wants to see from their state police. Quote, residents in the affected towns of Lawrence, North Andover and Andover who have gas service from Columbia gas should evacuate their homes immediately, if they have not already done so.

Massachusetts state police initially listed 39 homes to which firefighters had responded, homes either exploding or catching fire. The state police by 7:30 tonight, they`ve upped that number to 70 homes. They also announce that all electric power was shut down to the affected towns. They just shut down all electricity to these towns, not because the electricity itself was the problem, but they wanted to try to lessen the risk of further gas explosions by lessening electric power things that might cause sparks, I guess.

We are not sure what started this off. "The Boston Globe" says tonight that Columbia Gas had announced earlier today they were going to start, quote, upgrading natural gas lines in neighborhoods across the state. Those upgrades, those planned upgrades included this part of Massachusetts. That said, the company had said the work wouldn`t start until next week. So we`re not sure if that`s it. The company now says they`re investigating. Whatever has caused this, dozens of homes have burst into flames all over the towns of Andover, North Andover, and Lawrence, Massachusetts tonight.

In terms of getting your bearings, these are all towns that are more or less due north of Boston, close to the state line with New Hampshire. We will let you know more as we learn more. That story is still unfolding tonight, including now the chaos caused not just by these explosions and fires and dozens of buildings, but also by the sudden mandatory evacuation orders affecting tens of thousands of people on zero notice.

WBUR reported earlier this evening that all the off-ramps from Interstate 495 in that region were shut down, so you couldn`t get off the highway into those neighborhoods, but all the on-ramps from those neighborhoods were open to allow people to get the heck out of those communities by getting on to the highway. Again, this is a developing story we will let you know more as we learn more over the course of this evening.

And then, alongside those two big developing stories which will continue to develop through the night tonight and we expect into tomorrow, two major stories also broke in Washington, one that is a huge deal, but we definitely saw it coming. And one that we didn`t see coming at all.

The surprise one was this, public notice from senior U.S. senator, the senior U.S. senator from the state of California, Senator Dianne Feinstein. She released this statement today that says this, quote: I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or to press the matter further. I have honored that decision. I have, however, referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.

So this is the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in the Senate. The Judiciary Committee in the Senate had been due to vote today on the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. Under pressure from the Democrats on that committee, they put off that vote until next week, but then Senator Feinstein announced that she received, again, her phrase, some kind of information about the nominee that she has now referred to the FBI.

Now, I should tell you there is some anonymous source reporting out there tonight, including recently from NBC News about the supposed nature of this information about Brett Kavanaugh and why Senator Feinstein may have concluded that it was a matter for the FBI. But whatever the information that Feinstein has handed over to the FBI, we have not seen it. And "The Washington Post" is reporting that whatever the allegation is, the FBI has now notified the White House about it.

Now, the FBI, of course, they do background checks on all federal judicial nominees, including Supreme Court nominees. Whatever this new information is that has been referred to the FBI by Dianne Feinstein, the FBI says that they have contacted the White House about that information. They have added that new information they received from the senator to the background file, to the FBI background file that they prepared for the White House for Brett Kavanaugh`s nomination. So that`s what we know thus far.

Now, I`ll just be honest with you. Because the White House has the information, the FBI has told the FBI -- the FBI has told the White House whatever it is. Because the White House now has this information, and because this White House leaks so badly it makes a sieve look like a tight ship, the fact that the White House now has this information from the FBI presumably means we will have at least some version of what this was all about being discussed based on anonymous White House sources before the night is through.

I can`t say that because I have a crystal ball. I can say that because I`ve lived through this last year and a half of the Trump administration, and I know they can`t keep anything secret. So just with that experience in mind, I`ll tell you, we will be back to this story in a little while. It was an absolute curveball today.

But now, tonight, we are also covering this. ABC News reporting tonight that the president`s campaign chairman has reached a tentative plea deal to plead guilty in federal district court. Now, I have to say it is not likely to know this might be coming. After Paul Manafort was convicted on eight felony charges last month in district court -- federal district court in Virginia, "The Wall Street Journal" was first to report that Manafort was seeking to work out a plea deal with prosecutors to potentially avoid his second federal felony trial, this month in Washington, D.C. The journal reported at the time that Manafort had sought talks with prosecutors on that matter, but those talks had, quote, broken down.

That was the initial report from "The Wall Street Journal." Then last Friday night, late in the evening, Bloomberg news reported that Manafort was talking to prosecutors about a potential guilty plea. That was Friday night from Bloomberg. Then on Tuesday this week, "The Washington Post" matched that Bloomberg reporting. Manafort is trying to get a plea deal of prosecutors.

And that`s not surprising, right? At this point, it is not surprising that Paul Manafort would be looking for a lifeline to avoid the legal bills and the stress of mounting a defense in a second big multiple felony federal trial. He is already going to prison for years for the felonies that he was just convicted of. Maybe if he pleads guilty instead of fighting the next round of felony charges, maybe he can get some kind of break on his sentence? Certainly going to break on his legal bills.

I mean, again, to be honest, sorry to say this, but the exact length of time President Trump`s campaign chairman spends rotting in prison for his multiple felony convictions isn`t necessarily a matter of acute national concern, right? We know he is going to prison. Does it really matter if he gets his prison sentence shortened or lightened a little bit? I don`t know.

But it is a very big matter of national concern, a matter of acute national concern if the way the president`s campaign chairman is going to try to lessen his time in prison is not just by pleading guilty, but also by agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors in the special counsel`s office in any case they may be pursuing against the sitting president of the United States. And that prospect is why after all of that reporting over the last few weeks, this from ABC News yesterday was really the breakthrough report here. President`s campaign chair, yes, like everybody says, is seeking to plead guilty, seeking a deal in conjunction with a guilty plea.

But crucially, what ABC News added yesterday is this. Quote, Mueller`s office is seeking cooperation from Manafort for information related to President Donald Trump and the 2016 campaign. That was yesterday from ABC News. Now, tonight, they`ve reportedly got a deal first reported by ABC news. Thus far, nobody else has matched it, although a number of news outlets tonight have reported that talks are definitely under way.

If the president -- amid this other news, right? If the president`s campaign chairman is pleading guilty tomorrow morning in federal court to more felony charges, that is a big deal. But if he is pleading guilty and pledging to cooperate with federal prosecutors from the special counsel`s office into their investigations into the president, that is bigger than a big deal. And if that is what we`re going to wake up tomorrow, I have a few questions I need answered in order to prepare for that possibility.

Joining us now is Chuck Rosenberg. He is the former district attorney in the eastern district of Virginia, former FBI and Justice Department official.

Mr. Rosenberg, Chuck, thank you very much for being here tonight.

CHUCK ROSENBERG, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It`s a pleasure, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: I am cognizant of the fact that there are a lot of big and important news stories going on in the country tonight. We`re going to be covering everything at a sort of sprint over the course of this hour. I do feel like we need, though, to get our heads around the prospect there may be some big dramatic development related to the presidency tomorrow.

If Mr. Manafort has come to an agreement with prosecutors about pleading guilty, whether or not it includes a cooperation agreement, Chuck, is that something we would expect to hear about in open court tomorrow in this next hearing in his case that`s scheduled tomorrow morning for 11:00 a.m.?

ROSENBERG: Tomorrow makes a lot of sense to me, Rachel, because jury selection begins early next week. And I can tell you the court does not want to bring in a jury only to send them on their way because a case has been resolved. So, tomorrow makes a lot of sense. If there is going to be a plea, I would look at the court tomorrow.

MADDOW: And that might make sense if that`s the timing, especially if that`s the court`s incentive here. This last pretrial hearing before the jury selection starts, it had initially been scheduled for Wednesday morning. The judge then pushed it to tomorrow morning at 9:30. We got all those reports today that these talks were ongoing. The judge then pushed it a little more to later in the morning.

Is that the sort of thing you might expect to see in conjunction with ongoing plea talks?

ROSENBERG: Yes, that`s a good indicator. I mean, both parties would have told the court that hey, you know what? This hearing we wanted to hold, we may not need to do it. We may not need to waste the court`s time. We may be able to resolve this thing short of trial. So, let`s hold the hearing off for another day.

MADDOW: Chuck, if Mr. Manafort is going to cooperate with prosecutors, which of course would be a really significant development in this presidency, will that necessarily be memorialized in a way we the public can see? If they do a cooperation agreement, could that be an implicit agreement or a sealed agreement, or is it definitely something we would know about?

ROSENBERG: It`s almost definitely something we would know about. The idea in a plea agreement, a written contract between the parties is that all the provisions are laid out, spelled out in writing, in open court and the public gets to see it. There are inside deals. In fact, the plea agreement itself should say something like, Rachel, this is the entire agreement there are no side agreements. Everything we`ve agreed to is right in this particular document.

MADDOW: I want to ask you sort of a wild hair question, and you can tell me if this is nuts or inappropriate. There has been a lot of speculation, a lot of commentary on Mr. Manafort`s fight with prosecutors. Obviously, there is this stark fact that he is the only American thus charged who hasn`t agreed to plead guilty and/or cooperate with prosecutors. He is the only one out there fighting.

People have speculated that that might be that Mr. Manafort is worried for his own safety or for his family`s safety. If he is seen as a cooperator, that there may be forces either in this country or more likely beyond this country because of his history in the former Soviet Union where he could be in real personal danger if he is seen as somebody who helped U.S. law enforcement. If that is a factor here, and I have no idea if it is, if that is a factor for Mr. Manafort, are there assurances that U.S. law enforcement could give him to try to alleviate those kind of concerns?

ROSENBERG: Yes, it`s a little bit far-fetched, Rachel, but it`s not nuts. And even if this is what Mr. Manafort thinks could happen, this is what sort of guiding his decision making, however irrational it might be, sure. But remember, the U.S. Marshals Service runs a witness security program, WitSec. You see it in the movies all the time. It`s a real thing.

And if a witness has information that is helpful to the government, he or she, typically he, could apply to the witness security program through the Department of Justice through the U.S. Marshals. We can protect witnesses.

MADDOW: Chuck, one last question for you. Bob Woodward`s book "Fear" came out a couple of days ago in which he said there was a joint defense agreement between the president and the 37 witnesses involved in the Russia investigation. Then Rudy Giuliani yesterday, last night did an interview with "Politico" in which he confirmed yes, there is a joint defense agreement. The president is party to it. And Paul Manafort is party to it.

If that is all true and Manafort pleads guilty, does that mean he has to get out of that agreement?

ROSENBERG: That`s a great question. So for your viewers, a joint defense agreement really is an attorney-client privileged arrangement on steroids. Lots of attorneys and lots of clients all sharing information. And the general rule, Rachel, is that when somebody`s interests diverge from the group and cooperation would be the primary example of when it does, then that person has to withdraw.

If Mr. Manafort is not cooperating, he is just pleading guilty straight up, he is saying I`m guilty and I don`t want to go toe trial, that wouldn`t necessarily require that he withdraw. If, on the other hand, he is cooperating and he is providing information against others, that would require him to withdraw because his interests have diverged. I hope that makes sense.

MADDOW: Sure. And it makes me wonder if the fact that he`s been in a joint defense agreement with the president all this time essentially means that the president`s lawyers and Manafort`s lawyers have been working together all this time and maybe that undercuts the idea that Mr. Manafort would have anything to say that could be a surprise to the president`s defense.

ROSENBERG: Well, you know, also a great question. But it does happen that people who are in a joint defense agreement together come to a point in their lives, make a rational decision that they have to cut a deal for themselves. So people join these with the best of intentions, but they don`t always hang together.

And so, it`s entirely possible that Mr. Manafort would withdraw because he`s going to cooperate. But I think more likely he is not going to cooperate. I don`t expect to see that provision in his plea agreement in open court. And I imagine that he could remain in the joint defense agreement, although because the case against him is extensively resolved, I`m not sure what he would get out of it.

MADDOW: Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney in the eastern district of Virginia, senior FBI and Justice Department official, Chuck, thank you very much for being here and helping us through this. Much appreciated.

ROSENBERG: My pleasure.

MADDOW: All right. We`ve got a lot to get to on this very, very, very busy news night, including a live forecast on Hurricane Florence coming up next.

I`m also going to be talking to the mayor of one of the major cities that is directly in the path of this storm tonight.

Stay with us. Lots to get to.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: All eyes on the Carolina coast tonight. Hurricane Florence will make landfall either overnight tonight or early tomorrow morning. That means the blunt force of the storm is hitting over the next several hours while its leading edge passes over the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts.

After landfall, the storm is expected to bend south and inland, swallowing up most of South Carolina. Right now, Florence is a cat 2 storm with maximum winds of up to 100 miles an hour. In terms of its overall reach, you have to understand that it`s huge. Just the cloud cover of this hurricane already spans the entire length of both Carolinas and then some.

And thus far, it`s moving along its path really slowly, which means the storm is expected to dump a deluge of rain over the Carolinas as it very slowly churns its way inland. Because it`s expected to basically sit over the region through the weekend, some areas, as we mentioned last night, could get hit with 40 inches of rain by the time this storm has cleared out. National Hurricane Center says all that rain, the flooding and the storm surge that will come, it could be catastrophic. Right now, storm surge warning is in effect from the South Santee River in South Carolina up to Duck River in North Carolina, the northern part of the state.

The biggest storms surge we`re told to expect in southeast North Carolina. The water from the storm surge could rise as high as 11 feet in those areas. The worst, of course, will be at high tide, which will happen between 11:00 p.m. and midnight tonight.

If you`re having a hard time imaging what that`s like and how serious that is, I have to tell you, the Weather Channel deserves a shout out for having done something super, super helpful, the best I`ve ever seen about how to visualize, how to imagine what you are in for, if you are seeing these kinds of forecasts for the storm surge.

Just watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does that look like when you`re actually on the ground? Well, consider as this is happening, it`s being driven by the wind. So, of course, there is a tremendous amount of wind.

This is not still water. This is water that is moving. It`s got a lot of flow. It`s got a lot of power.

And by the time it gets to two to three feet high, that`s enough to float a vehicle. So, you`ve got no chance of escaping by vehicle at that point. We bring it up to six feet, and we`re looking for large areas where there is going to be storm surge flooding of six feet in eastern parts of North Carolina.

When it gets to that level, it is life-threatening. You`ve got no chance of being able to survive that if you`re out in that level of flooding. Your pets have no chance of being able to survive that.

And then we bring it up to nine feet high. Take look at this. This is unbelievable. The only way that you could get out of this situation would be if you could evacuate vertically, if you could get to a second level somewhere, you might, you might have a chance to be able to survive this level of storm surge flooding, and this is what we are expecting along some parts of the coastline with this tremendous storm.

So please, folks, if local officials tell you to get out, you have got to get out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: I`m convinced.

Today, the outer bands of the storm started rolling over the Carolina coast. This American flag was flying outside Cape Fear, North Carolina, this morning. By midday, it had been ripped to shreds by the wind.

The storm surge has already overtaken parts of north Topsail Beach, water gushing into people`s homes and down the streets. In Hatteras, North Carolina, this walkway to the beach was completely swallowed up by waves, as you can see. This was a coastline in Swansboro, North Carolina, shortly before sunset tonight, the waves just rolling right up to those homes.

Look at this. This was New Bern, North Carolina around 1:30 p.m. today. Less than four hours later, it looked like this. Water completely overtaking that area. You see big parts of that town are completely under water. This used to be a road. Storm chaser clocked the storm surge there to be around six feet.

This was Radio Island, North Carolina, a little over an hour ago, just getting absolutely pummeled.

Already tonight, there are more than 100,000 power outages across North Carolina. Duke Energy, the power provider there is warning there will likely be millions of people who lose power in that state in this storm before it`s all over, and they`re warning it may be weeks before they can bring power back. Over a million people were under mandatory evacuations ahead of this. But by now, most of those evacuations should already have taken place.

Governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, says more than 12,000 people are currently in shelters all across the state. He says they are still looking to open up more. These next few hours are critical for the areas in the direct path of this storm. It is the most intense phase of the hurricane as it gets closer to making landfall.

We got a live forecast straight ahead. We will be talking live also with the mayor of one of the biggest cities right in the storm`s path.

Do stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Communities along the Carolina coast already feeling the effects of Hurricane Florence tonight. For the best overview of what`s happening right now and what`s going to happen over the next crucial hours, we`re joined now live by NBC meteorologist Bill Karins.

Bill, thank you very much for being here tonight. I`m looking forward to you getting us up to speed.

BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good evening.

And speed is the whole key word. This is a drift, a jog, a walk. This is the long duration period of the storm where we have a slow-moving, strong hurricane inching towards the North Carolina coast. It`s going to take about 36 hours to finally get completely inland and for the destruction to stop, and then we still have to deal with the rainfall and the rivers right through the weekend, anyways.

So, currently, the storm is located due south of about Morehead City, Atlantic Beach, the Beaufort area of North Carolina. You can see the outer bands. We`ve already seen some significant wind gusts inland.

And the heavy rains already piled up, already one spot around Atlantic Beach around where my finger is located here, already reported a foot of rain, and we`ve just begun the storm. That`s why we said when all said and done, someone could get three, maybe four feet of rain.

And how about this buoy near the center of the storm? Just had a wind gust to 112 miles per hour. So, everyone has been saying oh, it was going to be a category four, then a three, now, it`s only a two. A hundred and twelve mile per hour wind will peel some roofs off if that makes it on to the coastline. So, we could get some significant wind damage, but that`s not the life-threatening part of this storm. Likely, it`s going to be the surge and the flooding portion.

So, the winds are picking up, and the power outages are starting to get more widespread. Last check, 100,000 people now without power in eastern North Carolina. And the majority of them are located here in Carteret County. And then that will spread towards Wilmington as the winds beginning to pick up, right now at 52.

So, here is the latest from the Hurricane Center. This is the slow drift. On average, we walk about three, four miles per hour. It`s at five miles per hour. So, it has 90 miles to go before it gets to the coast.

So, imagine heading out the door right now and going for a 90-mile walk. That`s how long it`s going to take for to it get to Wilmington. And that should happen some time tomorrow morning, maybe at sunrise, maybe little after, that maybe towards the noon hour. The hurricane center brings in at 2:00 p.m. over the top of Wilmington, so roughly about noon, maybe 10:00 a.m. is when we get the official landfall.

Notice it weakens by the time it starts interacting with the land. So that`s when we`ll start to have less effects from the wind. But the surge, there is two high tide cycles. One we`re heading towards now, and from a lot of the gauges I was checking on the coast, it`s not horrendous. We`re not seeing record surges right now, mostly because the winds are still blowing out of the northeast, pushing the water down the coast or off the coast.

But once the center comes inland a little closer to the coast tomorrow morning, the morning high tide is actually going to be the worst of the storm. That`s going to happen around 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. The wind will be out of the south, and it`s going to toss all the water, lock it up here along the beaches from Carolina Beach to Wrightsville Beach, Emerald Isle to Atlantic Beach to Cape Lookout. That`s when we could see the 7 to 11-foot storm surge. That`s when the most destruction will take place from the storm surge.

If you`ve been seeing any of the pictures from areas inland and the Pamlico sound like the New Bern area, if you Google that this morning, right now, their water level is up six feet because that wind and the east wind is piling the water up here in the Pamlico sound, and the New Bern area is located where the Trent River and the Neuse River meet. It`s a disaster taking place right now.

One local television station has water up to the doors. They had to evacuate the station and stop the coverage. That`s how bad it is in that region.

And then, finally, Rachel, once we get done with all the storm surge mess and the wind mess, the rain machine continues right through Saturday into Sunday, even into areas of western North Carolina. Someone`s going to get three feet of rain.

I was just checking one of the river gauges. We`re going see rivers in South Carolina not cresting until Tuesday of next week. So, there are like marathon hurricanes. I`ll call this one the ultra marathon because this story is going to last well into the middle of next week.

MADDOW: Bill, let me ask one clarifying question. Looking at the storm surge numbers, 7 feet, 9 feet, 11 feet, can you give us description how destructive that is? I mean, to -- what happens to buildings what happens to people left behind? What happens to rescuers?

KARINS: Sure. So, if you go to the beach and you go to -- say you make a sand castle, and kids love to do this, right? So they build the sand castle and wait for the high tide to come in and the high tide slowly destroys the sand castle. Wherever the high tide line is, these numbers are added on top of that.

That`s how we get with the storm surges. They take what the high tide is supposed to be, and that is how many feet above that normal high tide. So, if you`re going to beach, usually there is the dune line. The dunes are maybe six, seven feet high. And behind that they have the houses on the beaches.

And in North Carolina, the building codes are very strict. Same with South Carolina. So you have to have the house on the stilts, on the pilings and on top of that.

So, what you have to picture in this area of the 7 to 11 feet. You have the normal high tide and you add 11 feet to that. Well, that`s going to be over the top of the dunes. Now maybe some of those houses are at the 7 to 11 foot height.

But this doesn`t even take into account the wave action on top of that. It`s not like the ocean is going to be calm. We could see waves ranging between 5 to 10 feet on top of that. So, you get the wave height -- you get the water level increasing, then the wave action on top of that. And that`s when you start to get the destruction of the homes on the beaches.

And, you know, there is no rescuing people when we get to the peak of the storm at this. I mean, it`s getting to the point overnight right now that even if you call 911 in certain areas, the rescuers are going to tell you sorry, you have to wait until day break and when things calm down. It`s just -- we`re getting to that part the peak damage is from now until about sunset tomorrow.

MADDOW: Wow. NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins, busy man tonight. Bill, thank you very much.

Wilmington, North Carolina, is a port city. It`s along the Cape Fear River. It`s a city of 120,000 people. It`s a beautiful spot. And tonight, Wilmington is bracing as hurricane Florence barrels its way ashore.

As of this past hour, the storm is about 75 miles away. It`s expected to make landfall overnight. Right now, the storm`s outer bands are starting to hit Wilmington.

Joining us now is Bill Saffo, he is the mayor of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Mayor Saffo, thank you for making time to talk to us tonight. How are you doing and how is your city doing right now?

MAYOR BILL SAFFO, WILMINGTON, NORTH CAROLINA: Right now, we`re just bracing for this hurricane. It`s coming in. We`re starting to feel the bands right now. And it`s getting really windy.

We`re expecting a lot of rain with this system. Anywhere from 24 to 40 inches of rain that are going to fall. And with that, all of our low-lying areas, our barrier islands are going to see significant flooding.

A lot of residents in this area have heeded the advice of the emergency management folks and have vacated the area, but we`re in for a pretty good- sized storm, and it is moving very, very slow. This storm is going to be upon us for at least 48 hours.

MADDOW: Mr. Mayor, your city is about 120,000 people. It`s a beautiful part of the state, beautiful part of the country. I know there have been evacuation orders and recommendations. How many people would you say are left in your city planning to ride this out?

SAFFO: I believe, Rachel, there is about a third of the population has vacated the city, has gone west. Going up to the Raleigh-Durham area and waiting for this storm to subside before they come back. Our concern is with the amount of flooding we`re going to have, a lot of those folks are going to try to get back into the area as quickly as possible to check on their houses, to get back home.

And we`re going to have a lot of inland flooding with the storm. In fact, we saw it with Matthew about two years ago. And it`s going to take some time for these rivers and creeks to come down. And, in fact, the Cape Fear River is due to crest Tuesday at about 25 feet. So, we`re going to have a lot of water coming down the Cape Fear River right here, right here in downtown Wilmington.

So we`ve got a ways to go, and, you know, the citizens have heed the advice of the emergency management folks, have done a good job hunkering down, and now it`s just a matter of us riding this storm out and hopefully the damage will be minimal. But we`re expecting the worst.

MADDOW: Since the way that you`re describing it and what we`re just hearing from Bill Karins in terms of the speed of this thing, it feels like this isn`t the sort of disaster you can sort of brace through. You can`t just hold your breath until it`s done because it`s going to take so long. As you mentioned, 24 to 40 inches of rain. Cape Fear River not expected to crest until Tuesday.

Are you worried about your resources, your first responders, your disaster response, your rescuers being stretched thin because this is going to take so long to resolve?

SAFFO: Sure we are. That`s one of the things that we shared with the citizens in this community is that once this storm is under way, there is no way we`re going to be able to get our first responders out there to get to emergencies. We`re going to have to wait for the storm to subside before we get to you.

So, a lot of people heeded that advice and got out. People that couldn`t get out, we`ve got shelters that we`ve got folks in here in the community. And, you know, we`re doing the best we can, but we`re not going to be able to get out in this kind of weather to help anybody until this storm subsides.

We`re already starting to see the bands getting up to 50, 60 miles per hour down here already. And we haven`t even seen the eye of the storm yet. So, it`s going to be another 24 hours before that -- we get to the eye of the storm. So, we`re expecting some pretty significant damage, and I`m sure we will lose power and we will have a lot of downed tree.

MADDOW: Mayor Bill Saffo of Wilmington, North Carolina -- sir, thank you for your time tonight, sir. I know is a trying time. Stay safe. Good luck.

SAFFO: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Appreciate it.

SAFFO: All right. Lots to get to tonight. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: The president`s campaign chairman is reportedly tonight discussing a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Paul Manafort facing a second felony trial after being convicted last month on eight felony charges in federal court in Virginia.

Tonight, ABC News reports that on the eve of his appearance in federal district court in D.C. tomorrow, Manafort has reached a tentative plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller. Crucial detail, it remains unclear whether that deal includes a cooperation agreement. If Paul Manafort really is pleading guilty tomorrow, that is a big deal. If he is doing so in conjunction with a pledge to cooperate with the special counsel in the special counsel`s investigation of the president -- well, that would be a very, very, very, very big deal.

So, that news has been breaking over the course of the evening. And on top of that news tonight we also got another major legal curveball on a completely different matter, something we really did not see coming. It has to do with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. By now we have seen fairly relentless and multipronged pushback by Democrats in the Senate in response to Brett Kavanaugh`s nomination.

Democrats in the Senate have pointed to all kinds of issues with Kavanaugh as a nominee. They pointed to the opaque and weird partisan method that was invented for this nomination by Republicans. To make available only a fraction of the documents from Brett Kavanaugh`s time working in the White House. They`ve laid out the various ways in which Brett Kavanaugh appears to have misled the Senate under oath, more serious allegations of that kind than any other modern Supreme Court nominee has ever faced.

They`ve hammered him on his policy views on race and on abortion rights and whether a president can be investigated while in office, whether he may have promised the White House anything by way of his vote on issues like that if the president`s legal woes in fact end up rising to the Supreme Court.

But then today, we got something else. This morning, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein released a short by jarring statement.

Quote, I have received information from an individual concerning the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That individual strongly requested confidentiality, declined to come forward or the press the matter further. I have honored that decision. However, I have referred the matter to federal investigative authorities.

Hmm. We reached out the Senator Feinstein`s office tonight. They would not provide us any information beyond that statement. News outlets starting with Ryan Grim at "The Intercept", later "BuzzFeed" then "The New York Times," "Washington Post," now NBC News are all reporting that Senator Feinstein first became aware of whatever this information is thanks to a letter.

"The New York Times" tonight reporting that this letter was sent in July, first to the office of a California Democratic Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. Congresswoman Eshoo then relayed the letter to Senator Feinstein`s office. "The New York Times" reports that last night, Senator Feinstein told fellow Democrats on the Judiciary Committee about the existence of this letter and its contents, though she didn`t actually share the letter.

"The Times" reports that several of these Democratic senators that Feinstein spoke with advised her that she needed to take these claims to the FBI. And now she has done so. The FBI for its part says yes, they received this information and they say they have forwarded it to the White House to be part of judge Kavanaugh`s background file.

And that means that not only the White House but potentially other senators could view it. "The New York Times" reports that a copy of the letter was included in an upgraded background file sent to Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley. So, the White House today did not comment on the content of this letter. The White House spokesperson instead railed Trump administration style against Democrats for what she called an 11th hour attempt to delay Kavanaugh`s confirmation, which the White House very much appears to be still supporting, even though now they have this information about Kavanaugh that a senior U.S. senator thought was serious enough to refer to it the FBI.

Again, this is something that came out of left field. There are still a lot of questions as to what the letter contains, where it came from, and whether the information in it is actually credible. I should tell you that NBC News reports late tonight, they reported this right before we got on the air tonight that they`ve got a little bit about the content of this letter. Here is what NBC News just reporting. Quote: Two sources say the allegation in the letter was sexual in nature, but both sources said the letter writer was not specific in describing Kavanaugh`s alleged behavior.

One source tells NBC the conduct described in the letter could amount to an allegation of sexual assault or a lesser allegation, and added the individual making the allegation would have to be more specific with law enforcement officials for any investigation to be able to move forward. So, again, lots of questions about what is in this letter, where it came from, why it is emerging right now at this very end of the nominating process. Setting aside those questions, which we will presumably get answered at some point, what I want to know is tonight is what happens now? What does this mean as a factor in this otherwise quite volatile Supreme Court nomination? What is the protocol for handling something like this as a matter of law enforcement and in the Senate?

I actually have just the person to ask about that.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: I mean, everything else going on tonight. The president`s campaign chairman reportedly closing in on a plea deal that may include cooperating with the prosecutors against the president. Big hurricane coming ashore tonight in the Carolinas, evacuations and three good size towns north of Boston where dozens of homes caught fire after suspected gas explosions. And all of that going on, today and into tonight.

We also got this very strange story. "New York Times" headline, Diane Feinstein refers a Kavanaugh matter to federal investigators. "L.A. Times", Senator Feinstein asks FBI to review letter involving Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. "The Washington Post," Feinstein says she referred letter concerning Kavanaugh to federal investigators.

Senator Feinstein we now know got at least some unsettling letter of some kind, about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

We know the senator sent it to the FBI. What I would like to understand better is how weird is this and what happens now.

Joining us now to help us with that is Frank Figliuzzi. He`s the former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI. He`s now the chief operating officer for ETS Risk Management.

Mr. Figliuzzi, thanks very much for being with us tonight. Much appreciated.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: So, the FBI does background checks on judicial nominees. FBI says tonight when they got this information on Judge Kavanaugh from the senator, they handed that information over to the White House to include in his background file. From outside the FBI process, from outside sort of knowing what this works like in a normal context, can you just explain how that works? Does this mean they`re investigating the information?

FIGLIUZZI: Yes, I can. And Rachel, I`ve had occasion in my career to personally have to brief the White House on potentially derogatory information on a nominee and when you do that enough time, you tend to get referred to as the skunk at the garden party. But you have to remember that the White House is your client when it comes to investigating a nominee. This is not a traditional criminal investigation, but rather a background, that goes toward reputation, character, associations, and all of that and potentially derogatory needs to go to your client, which in this case is the White House.

But here`s the thing. The FBI has another hat to work, which is they are the premiere investigative agency of our government. So, if they see evidence of a crime in there or even evidence of potentially derogatory information, they have a duty to flesh it out and to fully vet this.

Now, this is an intriguing matter because Judge Kavanaugh has been vetted a few times in his career. He`s been a district court judge and the FBI has had to do his background. He`s been appellant court judge. He`s still a sitting judge and the FBI has done that background for that nomination process.

So, they`ll be going through their files, saying, have we ever seen such an allegation before? Do we know the complainant? Is he or she in our files? Have we ever seen anything like this before with Judge Kavanaugh?

And they may have to sit him down, and I`ve done this myself with other nominees, and say, we`ve got an allegation, we need to talk about this.

But it`s possible, Rachel, they`ve already asked and answered these questions in his prior vetting process.

MADDOW: And there`s no way -- I mean, we`re all trying to assess Dianne Feinstein`s decision make process here in order to understand if these are serious new concerns about Judge Kavanaugh. When you had a role in that process, when you say you had to be a skunk at the garden party talking about the White House because derogatory information had been dug up against a potential nominee, is this a sort of thing that would typically arrive from a senator`s office, that would typically arrive at this dramatic, sort of eve of the vote moment in a nominating process? Just the timing of it, and the senator`s decision also seems interesting.

FIGLIUZZI: Yes, the timing of course is problematic. It`s on the eve of a nomination vote, confirmation vote. And again when someone`s been vetted and investigated at least twice throughout his career, this unusual that would be brand new information. In fact, I would be surprised if this were legitimate and brand new. That sounds odd to me.

But I will say this, Senator Feinstein did the right thing. Hand this over to the agency fully responsible for fully vetting the judge`s background. Let them handle it.

Now, they`ve given to the White House. What I often did was say to White House because they`d ask me what do you need to do to close this out, resolve this, and I would suggest several steps and I would say, this is what we intend to do. They may not like that answer, but the FBI has a duty to flush this out tonight.

MADDOW: Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counter intelligence at the FBI, thanks for talking about this tonight. Very clarifying to have you here, sir. Much appreciated.

FIGLIUZZI: My pleasure.

MADDOW: All right. We will be -- what a day, right? Man.

We will be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Coming up on 10:00 p.m. here in the East, that`s important because a short time from now we`re expecting tonight`s high tide along the Carolina coast. Between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, high tide on top of gigantic storm surges, already piling up because of the storm. It could be a threatening combination. Within the last hour, there was a report of a 10 foot storm surge already in Cherry Branch, North Carolina.

This is footage of storm surge in New Bern, North Carolina. You can see how high the water is compared to those trees and street signs. So, the next few hours are going to be critical. Landfall should be overnight or early tomorrow.

Then this storm will just park itself over the Carolinas and just wreak havoc in terms of rain and flooding and storm surge. Upwards of 100,000 people in the storm surge have already lost power. And because there`s not enough crazy stuff going on, this alert came out just a short time ago, a tornado watch across the storm zone in North Carolina on top of the hurricane.

So we`re going to be watching all of this very closely. MSNBC is going to have continuing coverage of Hurricane Florence throughout the night. Brian Williams will begin our overnight coverage at midnight Eastern following "THE 11TH HOUR".

But that does it for us for now. We will see you again.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2018 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.