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Random Drawing To Pick Winner In Virginia House Race; Republican Drawn As Winner In Virginia House Race; New Book Claims Chaos, Dysfunction Rules White House; Trump Lawyers Threaten To Sue Publisher Of Tell-All Book. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 4, 2018 - 11:00   ET


ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: -- sue over explosive accounts of chaos and even possible crimes within the Trump inner circle. This morning that author reveals cringe worthy news stories from the Trump White House.

And hear that ticking sound? A so-called bomb cyclone is going off along the east coast. Rare snow in the south, with fierce winds, up to a foot of snow hammering the northeast.

And we're keeping a close eye on Wall Street and the big board. The Dow making history surging past 25,000. Today's milestone, 120 years in the making.

But first and happening right now, breaking news. It all comes down to this, a random drawing to decide who finally wins a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. Yes, in the year 2018, if you can believe it, a political election in the United States is about to be decided by what amounts to a coin toss.

Here's how this works. There will only be two names in the special blue and white ceramic bowl. You see I think in the middle there, perhaps, yes, just a little canister, ceramic bowl, Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican incumbent, David Yancey are the names in the bowl.

Of course, this all comes after the election came down to a dead tie, some 11,600 votes each. Now depending on who wins the balance of power in Virginia could change dramatically.

Let's bring in CNN's Ryan Nobles and "Washington Post" regional politics reporter, Fenit Nirappil. Ryan, let me start with you, walk us through what we expect to happen there right now.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is going to be a pretty dramatic few moments in Virginia, Ana. Essentially, what we are going to have here is two film canisters that are going to have the names of both candidates in them.

They'll be put in that ceramic bowl that you see on the table there in Virginia in the Patrick Henry Building, which is where the governor of Virginia's office is. It's right below where his office is.

Then the chairman of the Virginia Board of Elections, James Alcorn, will pull one of those canisters out of the bowl and then one of the vice chairs will also pull out a canister. James Alcorn will read the name that comes out of the bowl and that will be the winner of the race in House District 94 in Newport News, Virginia.

And then they'll also read the second name just to make sure that both of those canisters have the names of the candidate. And then that person will be officially certified and declared as the winner of that race.

And, of course, this comes with enormous consequences, Ana, because right now there's only a one seat margin after the 2017 elections in Virginia in the House of Delegates and it has the potential to either have the Republicans retain power for going on two decades in Virginia or make it a 50/50 tie, which will require them to share power. So, enormous consequences here as to whose name is drawn from that bowl.

CABRERA: No doubt about it. We are going to take this name drawing live as it happens. Spare our viewers all the speeches that lead up to it. Let's keep chatting, Ryan, talk about how we got to this moment.

NOBLES: It's been a pretty surreal experience for the candidates and people that live in Newport News and members of the House of Delegates. Essentially, it was a very close race, 10-vote lead for David Yancey, the Republican, who is the incumbent that allowed Shelly Simonds to ask for a recount.

And through that recount process, they went through each ballot meticulously and then the board there that did the recount, came out with the idea, established the fact that Simonds had won the election by just one vote. She was ready to take her place as a member of the House of Delegates.

But there was one more stage to go and that's where three panel circuit court judge, three different judges, had to review the results of the election and certify the ballot and that's when David Yancey's lawyers came forward with one ballot that should have been counted but wasn't.

It's called an over vote and that's because both Yancey's and Simonds' names were filled in but there was an "x" through Simonds' name. We also should point out that this ballot -- the person who voted that we don't know who that person is also voted for Republicans in every other race.

The lawyers for David Yancey and the Republican Party arguing that that meant that the vote should count and that would mean that would turn the race into a tie. Those judges agreed. And that's where we get now to this kind of unique aspect of Virginia law with which requires a lock draw to determine the winner.

The Simonds team believed that they came to the decision in error, this was too late in the game to ask this ballot to be reviewed. They actually asked the circuit court judges it to review and reconsider that decision. The circuit court judges said they weren't going to do that. That's how we ended up here today -- Ana. CABRERA: So much drama. Fenit, I know you've been following closely. If Democrat Shelly Simonds wins, Ryan, touch on the balance of power then becoming even. Talk more about how it kind of shakes things up?

FENIT NIRAPPIL, REGIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": So, even though all this election has turned into a tiebreaker today, it's probably not going to be over in a few minutes. Both candidates have indicated they are open to seeking a second recount if they lose in the tiebreaker and in this game of chance.

There is a legal question here over whether they can seek a second recount or not. There's going to be more drama in the days ahead because the General Assembly is set to reconvene on Wednesday and if Republicans are able to go on with a 50/49 majority and the winner in this race not set they can keep the speakership and set the rules and even if it turns into a 50/50 power split, Republicans could conceivably keep power over the next two years.

CABRERA: The bigger picture was also interesting about this is that we know the Virginia House of Delegates has been Republican controlled for almost two decades now. We saw what happened in the Virginia governor's race with the Democrat there winning by a bigger margin than expected. Is there a political sea change happening and this race a sign of that?

NIRAPPIL: So, election day in Virginia this year was a very good day for Democrats. The majority in the House of Delegates wasn't really seen as in play but Democrats ended up doing very well. What we seen happening in Virginia over the last decade they've been trending more Democratic and blue as you see the state becoming more diverse, as you see Northern Virginia and the suburbs leaning more and more Democratic.

So, what's been historically purple state has been going blue consistently in every statewide race with the exception of 2009 and now seeing that blue trending in Virginia also happening down ballot in the local legislative seats where Republicans have historically been doing better.

CABRERA: So, we're watching right now as they are reading some of the instructions live. You saw one of the members at that table hold up a couple of the names it looked like. They will be putting inside that bowl.

James Alcorn is the chairman who will draw the first canister from the bowl at the table while seated as soon as that drawing happens we'll take that live. Ryan, going back to you, we understand that the Republican David Yancey didn't show up for the drawing. He was not spotted in the room there in Virginia. I'm curious what you're hearing from the two candidates today?

NOBLES: Well, it's not really a surprise that David Yancey will not be there and it kind of is indicative of the way he and his team have handled this process, first the way Democrats and Shelly Simonds have approached this process. Simonds has been all over cable news. She has been decrying the system, accusing Yancey and his team of not playing by the rules where Yancey and his team have been much more methodical about it, doing all of their work with legal briefs and filings and at each stage of the game it seems in many respects that the Republicans have outmaneuvered the Democrats.

So, Simonds being in the room today shows that she is continuing to try and show voters that she feels that this decision has been made in error, whatever happens today, even if she is declared the winner, is not unfair.

A unique aspect of this, Ana, is that after that circuit court decided not to reconsider their decision, Shelly Simonds asked David Yancey if he would agree to abide by whatever the outcome of this lock draw is and not take that opportunity to ask for a recount, just take the 50/50 challenge and go with it.

This was after repeated attempts by the Simonds campaign to prevent the draw from happening and the Yancey campaign said we're not going to do that, we're going to keep our options on the table and Simonds agreed to do that as well.

There should be a point made that there's, you know, the possibility that really Democrats have strategically put themselves at a disadvantage because as described they have to organize the House in the next couple days.

And if there's another recount there's no way that the person who wins this lock draw can be seated in time and that means Republicans will hold on to that one seat majority even if all the members aren't seated and they'll be able to hold on to that speakership and pick the majorities and --

CABRERA: Ryan, looks like things are happening here. I'm going to interrupt and listen in.


[11:10:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madame Vice Chair, will you give the bowl a stir?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cook in the kitchen. OK. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I said I will draw one canister, Madame Vice Chair will draw a second canister. The winner will be in the first canister. Madame Vice Chair, if you will pull your canister. The bowl is empty. The winner of House District 94 is David Yancey.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the second name for the other candidate, Shelly Simonds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I therefore move pursuant to Virginia Code Section 24.2-674 that David Yancey is the newly elected delegate from House District 94. Is there a second?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion in the second all in favor say aye. The motion passes. Mr. Cortez, please distribute the certificate for signature.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Ma'am. We have legal counsel from the Attorney General's Office, provides us with a blue pen so we know we've all signed.

CABRERA: There you have it. The winner of this Virginia race is the Republican, the incumbent, David Yancey. We're seeing there the Democrat challenger there in the kind of the teal top there and Shelly Simonds who showed up, but Yancey didn't show up to the drawing. She displayed a bit of a poker face at the results and did not get drawn first. Ryan Nobles is back with us. Ryan, talk about where this goes from here now?

NOBLES: Well, the big question, Ana, whether or not Shelly Simonds and her team decides to ask for a recount. There's definitely some murky legal grounds as it comes to whether or not there's even that ability to ask for a recount.

Both Republicans and Democrats on both sides have said from the very beginning that they believe that option exists. But this is a perfect example, Ana, of how we are in truly unchartered territory when it comes to this section of the Virginia code.

Yes, there are laws on the books to deal with the situation, but it's never been tested before, and because we have the unique situation here where the recount declared a winner and then it went to a circuit court and the circuit court changed that outcome, that led to the lock draw.

That's where there are some legal experts in Virginia that are questioning whether or not a recount can even be asked for at this stage because the code essentially says that you can ask for that lock draw the second it is declared a tie by the recount panel.

And so, it's not necessarily certain whether or not that applies to this stage of the counting process, meaning after the circuit court judges have declared a different winner. So, I think there will be some legal wrangling and I think the question that Simonds team will have is whether or not it's worth it to go through this entire process again.

Because the recount is a pretty meticulous process and the chances of a different outcome and definitely an outcome that would happen in her favor are probably relatively small.

But Ana, with so much at stake, the difference between a, you know, a 51-49 House of Delegates with Republicans in control and a 50/50 legislature that would require power sharing, may mean that Democrats are going to encourage her to go forward and there certainly will be the financial resources necessary to make that happen.

There's still a lot that still needs to be decided here in Virginia and there are so much at stake. If we're going to talk about policy, Ana, not to go on and on about this, Medicaid expansion is one of the biggest and most divisive issues in Virginia right now.

It's been Republicans in the legislature that have stopped that from going forward. This drawing today could be one of the biggest decisions as to whether or not Medicaid expansion happens in a state like Virginia.

CABRERA: Like you said, though, could not be over yet possibly, as they test out that 300 plus year old law. Ryan Nobles and Fenit Nirappil, thank you both for helping us to go through this process together.

[11:15:10] Coming up, the president's epic battle with Steve Bannon. New details from an explosive new book on the inner workings of the White House.

Plus, the death toll from a crippling winter storm rising as again as this so-called bomb cyclone hits tens of millions of Americans. We'll have the details.

And we are keeping an eye on Wall Street where another strong jobs report is helping to lift the Dow over the 25,000 mark for the first time ever. Stay with us.


CABRERA: There is no secret that President Trump loves getting the last word and today, he is seeking the power of the courts to ensure it. His lawyers firing off a cease and desist letter to muzzle ally turned enemy Steve Bannon and to stop the distribution of an upcoming book.

That book "Fire and Fury" has set off a political firestorm with the early release of some excerpts. Journalist, Michael Wolff, spent nearly a year inside the Trump White House and this morning, he is sharing new details about the chaos, dysfunction, and anger that he says is tearing at the fabric of the White House.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. Kaitlan, fill us in.

[11:20:06] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Ana, this book has not even been published yet and excerpts are dominating the news cycle, more coming in each and every day, including one from this morning where Michael Wolff alleges that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump six months in to the administration were trying to save themselves from the president himself by blaming him for things like firing the FBI Director James Comey.

And at one part in that excerpt released today, Michael Wolff, quotes, Steve Bannon as saying, "The daughter will bring down the father." And as you know, when they were both here in the White House, Steve Bannon and Ivanka Trump were part of two very different factions.

Steve Bannon spearheading that nationalist wing in the White House and Ivanka Trump taking on the more global-minded sector with Jared Kushner. We've really seen the fallout continue to have been from this book especially with the president publicly unleashing on Bannon in a lengthy statement yesterday where he said that when he lost his job he not only lost that, he also lost his mind.

Now the president also sought to downplay the role that Steve Bannon played not only in the campaign, but here in the White House saying the two rarely met one on one. However, we're told by people in the west wing that Steve Bannon actually enjoyed walk-in privileges to the oval office, and often met with the president.

And we know that he ran his campaign, was the CEO essentially of it, was his chief strategist here and one of his top political allies here in the White House, but Ana, quite a stunning statement to see from the president on one of his top aides who just left the White House a few months ago.

CABRERA: Really is. Like a very public breakup and not a nice breakup, a nasty one. Kaitlan, the White House now also taking some new measures that seems to plug leaks. Tell us more about this.

COLLINS: Yes, that's right. The press secretary, Sarah Sanders, announced today that the White House is no longer going to allow staffers or guests in the west wing to use their personal cell phones.

Now we know from sources inside the White House that this is a decision John Kelly had suggested when he first entered the White House as a chief of staff several months ago, but it's just now deciding to be enforced nearly a year into the administration.

Now in her statement, Sarah Sanders, said this was about national security saying the security and integrity of the technology systems at the White House is a top priority for the Trump administration and therefore, starting next week the use of all personal devices will no longer be allowed in the west wing.

However, our sources inside the White House say that they believe this is less about security and more about stopping leaks to reporters from staffers working inside the White House. But we're told that this rule is going to apply to all White House staffers including top aides like Hope Hicks -- Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you for that reporting.

Now Trump world as you can imagine is working to discredit this upcoming book that describes the White House in chaos and its main players wallowing in dysfunction. A short time ago, we learned that lawyers for President Trump have now sent a cease-and-desist letter to the publisher demanding that "Fire and Fury" not be released next week as planned or distribute the book at all.

So, who is the author, Michael Wolff? Let's bring in Brian Stelter, CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES." Brian, the White House on the attack. What do you know about Wolff and the veracity of his reporting. BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Michael Wolff is a controversial journalist, a media columnist, reporter for many years covering Rupert Murdoch. He knew President Trump for many years because, of course, Trump was a creature of the media, reality show star.

So, Wolff wrote flattering profiles relatively cozy stories about Trump and Steve Bannon before inauguration day, perhaps a way to get access to the White House. If it was it certainly worked.

We know that Wolff had unprecedented access to the west wing for several months last year, hanging out there, having meetings with Steve Bannon and other figures. There are definitely some details in the book that are not true.

Already some factual mistakes have been found in the texts. But overall this book paints a very consistent picture of dysfunction, of a true White House in crisis. So maybe that's why the White House -- not the White House, but President Trump personally is trying to quash the book.

We received a letter from his personal attorney, Charles Harder, to Michael Wolff and the publisher, Henry Holt. It's remarkable to see these words about a president, here are the words, it says, "Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease-and-desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book or article or excepts."

It goes on to ask for an apology and retraction to Trump for anything in the book that lacks evidentiary support. This letter is a legal threat suggesting a lawsuit in the future. It is incredibly unlikely we would see a lawsuit, or the book being halted from publication.

I'm told by the publisher they're working on a response, but there is no way they will pull the book from the shelves next week. However, we see President Trump trying to stop it.

[11:25:09] And by doing so, he's just adding more fuel to the book called "Fire and Fury."

CABRERA: Brian Stelter, thank you. Let's bring in White House reporter for "The Washington Post" Josh Dawsey, CNN political director, David Chalian and Michael D'Antonio, a CNN contributor and a Trump biographer. David, what is the biggest takeaway from Wolff's reporting?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think it is the sort of 30,000-foot picture he paints. I don't think it will surprise anyone watching that the Trump White House is dysfunctional. If anybody has been paying attention to the news the last year that won't be a surprise.

What we're getting for the first time from Michael Wolff is not people on the periphery or the outside describing that dysfunctional operation inside the White House, it's people from the inside. And so he -- the overall portrait of the chaos, the dysfunction, the concern about the ability to do the job, that overall portrait I think is the big takeaway of the book more than the specifics, some of which as Brian was suggesting have been proven not to be true, some of which are true.

CABRERA: Michael, you've spent hours with the president before he was president. You've written about him. Is this portrayal of the president and the way he operates consistent with your personal experience?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the tone is probably close to correct, but what we have to take into consideration is that so much of this is, obviously, being communicated by Steve Bannon. So, we do have a president, accustomed to issuing orders, really operating by the seat of his pants.

This is not a person who studies anything deeply or seeks new talents or skills. He came to the office with what got him there and I don't think he's grown beyond it. The chaos is probably the product of management that's outstripped or failed to reach out to the potential that's required for the office.

On the other hand, I think Bannon sees himself in historic terms. He's a man demanding a populist revolution and the president hasn't delivered that, so he has a lot of motivation to undercut what he sees as Trump's failures to underscore them.

And so, we have these two competing images of what the White House is all about. The one thing we can say that's probably true is it's chaotic and dysfunctional place.

CABRERA: Josh, the statement from the president really was scathing saying Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. I know you have been covering this White House. Just how close were Bannon and the president? What can you tell us about their day-to-day relationship?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": He was running the campaign. You see Steve Bannon, he came into office, he was responsible for the travel ban, the first, you know, week, he put together a lot of the policy portfolios for the early days of the administration, big on immigration, dappled in foreign policy, on the National Security Council for a time.

It's hard to discount Steve Bannon as a bit player in this administration. He's the one that the president spent countless hours with in the oval office and outside the oval office.

That said, in the waning months of Bannon's tenure in the White House, the president distanced himself more from Bannon, he was in fewer meetings but the two have continued to speak.

Even Jared Kushner and Hope Hicks and others have said the president should cut ties with Steve Bannon, he's spoken to him several times since he left the White House. So, I think it's a little bit probably Bannon overstates his influence and connections to some degree, but it's also unfair to say that he had no influence or connections.

He was chief strategist to the president and announced in a co-equal role as a chief of staff. He ran the campaign and he dabbled in all sorts of policy measures in the early months.

CABRERA: Michael, do you think the president's response was more a reaction to Bannon's comments about his family, talking about Don Jr. and the meeting at Trump Tower being treasonous and unpatriotic or do you think that his fiery response to, again, these excerpts was because of the way the president himself is portrayed?

D'ANTONIO: Well, he does often flair with anger when his family is brought into certain matters. He's very protective of not their feelings but their image. He recognizes that they're adults and they're big people and they can handle the blows, but he doesn't like attacks on the image of the Trump family, on the integrity of his children.

So, he'll use that as a banner, you know, he'll say I'm defending my family, but at the end of the day, he's really concerned about his image himself and how he's being portrayed --