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CNN Predicts Dem Jon Tester Wins Montana Senate Race; Senate Races Too Close to Call in Arizona, Florida; Trump Shames Republicans Who Lost After Not Embracing Him; Attorney General Jeff Sessions Resigns. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired November 7, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:00] MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If you look right here, this is where the outstanding vote is, Jake, in Montana. There was just no way that Matt Rosendale, his Republican opponent, could make up that ground. Now, this is an interesting race when it comes to Donald Trump, it was a very personal race for Donald Trump because it was Jon Tester who went after Ronny Jackson, who was Donald Trump's V.A. secretary pick. Remember, he was the White House doctor, became the V.A. secretary pick, and Jon Tester released information that was very damaging to him. So when it comes to Donald Trump, he would have liked to see Jon Tester lose.
But as we move along, though, this was a very good night when it comes to Republicans in general. Right here, if you go here, look at this, Jake. this is just really an amazing bit of information here. You have Claire McCaskill, she loses. Specifically we're talking about a year of the woman right there. She loses. Up in North Dakota, Heidi Heitkamp loses, as well. And over in Indiana where Mike Pence is from, Joe Donnelly loses. Democrats thought he was going to pull this one out. Democrats can also take a little solace in knowing they picked back up this seat in Nevada. We've seen Dean Heller go down.
The big problem, Jake, as we talk about what's happening in Florida, we have no resolution right now. It looks like this is going to go to a recount. We have seen Bill Nelson, the incumbent Senator, demand one. Governor Rick Scott has laughed it off. We haven't seen what's happening here. I would expect to see quite a few lawyers from the national parties down in Florida as soon as possible -- Jake?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm just looking at that number, Mark, it has the incumbent Senator Nelson behind 0.4 percentage points? Is that about right? Because we all have the scars to show it from Florida recounts. If the margin of victory is 0.5 or below, there's an automatic statewide recount. Is that right?
PRESTON: That's right. That would get you to the recount because it is .4, Jake. We'll see what happens. But Rick Scott's people think, no matter what happens, there's not enough vote to make it up. But still, this is a fight that we will see that will go on certainly for the next few days, if not for the next few weeks.
TAPPER: Florida recounts, they happen, as we all know. We've all been there. DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I think the deadline is for the initially unofficial canvas, so that is the number. What the final number is from the secretary of state on Saturday will determine whether or not --
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But they have to go through absentee ballots.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No hanging chads this time.
TAPPER: And hanging -- and county by county, some of them will go over the vote again to make sure that they have the official count and they're going to be pressed on.
But let's talk about the landscape of the Senate. That's one pickup for Democrats in Nevada, and potentially four for Republicans, making the margin of victory -- so that's 54 votes theoretically?
BLITZER: Assuming the Mississippi Senate special Senate election --
TAPPER: Which it will.
So we still don't know what's going to happen in Arizona. Have we called Arizona? OK. So 54 as of now and it could be 55.
CHALIAN: Right, 54, assuming Rick Scott does emerge as the winner in Florida.
CHALIAN: Yes. Right now, they're at plus-two. Nevada went to the Democrats. North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri went to the Republicans. If Scott does emerge through this process, Republicans are at plus- three. If Arizona goes, plus-four, that's a big pick up.
I'll just say Donald Trump actually had some good news to share. And it is amazing to me that he would rather have this fight, relish this fight with the press, than actually continue to tout the good news of a nearly, truly well-padded Republican majority. Helps him on judicial confirmations, if he's going to have a cabinet shuffle, helps him on getting people confirmed into his administration. That seems like something to tout.
TAPPER: Amazing but not surprising.
BLITZER: And he has some governors that he helped as well.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A couple of surprises on governors. That was surprising. But they won, Republicans won close races. Florida, another big 2020 battleground, Ohio. Mike DeWine is not a Donald Trump partner, but he owes him a little bit. Be interesting to watch that relationship. Kim Reynolds held on in Iowa. Another state the president is watching. There are good reasons for Republicans to say, in what we thought was a blue year, we did some good things.
Let me be a little skunk in the garden about Indiana and Missouri. It's hard to be an incumbent Senator, the president deserves credit. His campaign helped without a doubt. Claire McCaskill and Joe Donnelly were almost accidental Senators in the sense that those have been trending red states and the Republicans nominated opponents against them.
TAPPER: Six years ago.
KING: Yes. Mitch McConnell thought he had those seats six years ago and the whole Tea Party things made his primaries delicious and wonderful and interesting and they won. So they get --
TAPPER: Or did I dream this? President Trump said a year ago nobody thought that Heidi Heitkamp --
TAPPER: Did he say that?
[14:34:58] BASH: As somebody who went to North Korea, Heidi Heitkamp was in the fight of her life, but evens he probably wouldn't agree with the president's statement. She knew she had an incredibly uphill battle.
BASH: He did convince -- to put a button on that -- he did convince Kevin Cramer, who is the Senator-elect, to run. He didn't want to run. Kevin Cramer told me, point blank, I didn't want to run and the president called me --
BASH: -- and said you have to do this.
BASH: He did get involved in that case. In other cases -
DAVID GREGORY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: There's also an opportunity there, the Kavanaugh effect, the contentious Kavanaugh hearings. It was a slumbering GOP electorate that got energized as a result of that. And the president went to campaign in the states where he was popular and where Kavanaugh was and where all of that shook out positively for Republicans. It was important because it allowed the president to unite all wings of the Republican Party, which he has not done otherwise.
TAPPER: From Never Trump to Always Trump, everybody came around.
GREGORY: Right. Because, again, if you care about -- if you care about life, if you care about other social issues, he's delivered on the Supreme Court. What's interesting is he specifically declined to go down that road that could have helped suburban Republicans by mentioning Kavanaugh, emphasizing Kavanaugh, emphasizing the economy.
KING: To follow up on that point, again, the president deserves credits, the Republicans made gains. Republicans picked up governor seats they thought they were going to lose. The Republicans should celebrate that. But the one national referendum was the House. All 435 are up. If you look at the results there, a president -- he doesn't like to remember this -- a president who lost the popular vote by a pretty good number actually shrunk his base yesterday.
We have no idea if that will carry over. Bill Clinton got his butt kicked in '94 and pretty easily won reelection. President Obama got shellacked, pretty easily won reelection. Anyone saying this tells you what will happened in 2020, forget about it. But the president lost Republicans. The president was not on the ballot.
Look at the Republican vote, they lost in the suburbs, their African- American numbers went down from the presidential election, Latino numbers went down from the presidential election, the Asian numbers went down from the presidential election, their white college-educated women numbers went down from the presidential election. A president who lost the popular vote saw his party's national base shrink last night, not grow. That's not good going into 2020.
KING: But that is not good going into 2020.
TAPPER: That's why he acted the way he did.
BLITZER: He also did something I don't think any of us have seen before. I could be wrong. I certainly haven't seen it. He shamed some fellow Republicans who were defeated in the elections publicly. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We saw the candidates that I supported achieve tremendous success last night. As an example of the 11 candidates we campaigned with during the last week, nine won last night. This vigorous campaigning stop, the blue wave that they talked about -- I don't know if there ever was such a thing but could have been. If we didn't do the campaigning, probably there could have been some who decided to let's stay away. Let's stay away. They did poorly. I'm not sure that I should be happy or sad, but I feel just fine about it. Carlos Curbelo, Mike Coffman -- too bad, Mike -- Mia Love. I saw Mia Love. She'd call me all the time to help her with a hostage situation. Being held hostage in Venezuela. But Mia Love gave me no love and she lost. Too bad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He mentions a couple more, Barbara Comstock of northern Virginia. She lost. Peter Rascomb (ph), a longtime Republican member. He lost. He publicly shames them and, as you said earlier, he was dancing on their graves.
TAPPER: It's ridiculous. And "I'm not sure if I should be happy or be sad."
TAPPER: And you lost the House, you should be sad.
BLITZER: But then he says, I feel just fine.
TAPPER: And too bad about Congressman Mike Coffman, who has been a Republican congressman from the suburbs of Denver. He's probably the only kind of Republican who could have that seat. You're not going to elect a Trump Republican in the suburbs of Denver. It's going to be either a moderate Republican or, what they have no, a Democrat.
And listen about, first, Mia Love, Congresswoman Nia Love, a Republican from Utah. They haven't called that race yet. I keep repeating it. She hasn't officially lost. She might ultimately end up winning that seat. So the idea that he's dancing on her grave when she's still alive is remarkable.
BLITZER: Is there a Ryan Costello tweet that he reacted about that.
TAPPER: And then
BLITZER: If you could get that?
[14:40:57] BLITZER: The Republican Congress.
TAPPER: The other thing that was so remarkable about this, Wolf, is the fact that he remembers about Mia Love. "She called me for help with a hostage in Venezuela." As if she, in doing that, in asking for the president of the United States to help save an American who was being held hostage abroad, that's her asking for a favor and, therefore, she should have shown loyalty to him, as if she wasn't just doing her constitutional duty of trying to save an American and asked the president, who is charged with protecting us all, to help her in that task, as if it somehow involved. It's just a bizarre way to look at the world.
BLITZER: I'll put it up on the screen. (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: I want David Chalian to read it in his own style.
CHALIAN: OK. This is a Republican Congressman retiring from Pennsylvania.
KING: Can I quickly jump in before you read? He retired. The president mocked those who retired today, too. A lot of them retired because they knew they couldn't win their districts because of these numbers. That's why they retired.
CHALIAN: He complained the chairman didn't want to lose their power.
CHALIAN: Here is what Ryan Costello tweeted, "To deal with harassment and filth spewed at GOP MOCs -- members of Congress, Republican members of Congress -- "in tough seats every day for two years because of the president of the United States, to bite your lip more times than you'd care to, to disagree and separate from the president on principle and civility in your campaign, to lose because of the president of the United States and have him piss on you, angers me to my core."
BLITZER: You did an excellent job.
KING: And you're quoting a member of Congress. So we'll excuse the language there.
BLITZER: You're a former drama student.
CHALIAN: Yes, that's right.
TAPPER: The number of Republicans who will say that aloud is greatly diminished. I don't know if Congressman Costello, with all due respect for him, if he was an incoming member of Congress and had run and won, I don't know if he'd say that. There certainly is a courage that these people get, Democrats or Republicans, when they're leaving office.
Second of all, people like Mike Coffman and Carlos Curbelo, which is how the name is pronounced, Mr. President, from Florida or people like Ryan Costello, et cetera, they're on their way out, whether it's retirements or they lost last night. They're on their way out. Again, the Republican conference in the House is smaller and Trumpier. The Republican conference in the Senate is bigger and Trumpier.
KING: And Flake and Corker are gone. So Ben Sass is calling Mitt Romney today and saying, are we buds or am I alone?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And if you're the godfather, everybody needs you, OK? And if you dare disobey, or you don't pay fealty, kiss the ring, invite me to your district because, of course, only I can save you, then I'm going to shame you. And it's just a form of political narcissism that we just don't see.
GREGORY: Also, the larger picture of the results -- the larger picture of the results is something that, unfortunately, reinforces his view of party, his view of Washington, his view of the world, which is --
BORGER: And himself.
GREGORY: And himself -- which is that there are very much two Americas in two different directions who are expressing themselves politically. And he is making a decision to speak to one, to reinforce one, and to take on everybody from the other sides. From the media, to Democrats, to members of his own party who would defy him. That is our reality.
CHALIAN: Which is why we should be so skeptical when we hear him say, "I should have a softer tone, that's my biggest regret." Or, yes, I'd be for unity. There's no track record to suggest he wants to conduct this in any other way but then to fully exploit that divide, not try to heal the breach, to repair the breach.
KING: And it worked in 2016 with his largely white coalition and he thinks it can work again in 2020. That's a bet. That's risky math, given that every moment every we've been sitting at this table, even the states he won, many of them, are becoming more divorce. Some will go his way. But many of them -- look at your commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Can the president win Pennsylvania again? It depends on who the Democrats nominate. He does have a booming economy, which could change everything in this calculation. If you're just looking at demographic, census, the math, every day, it gets more difficult for the president to redo what he did in 2016.
TAPPER: Last night, in Pennsylvania, a number of Democratic House pickups, Democratic Senator reelected, Democratic governor reelected.
[14:45:27] BLITZER: One of our correspondents, Lauren Fox, just interviewed the Democratic member of the House, who is expected to become the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He could potentially subpoena the president's tax returns. We're going to get some of that interview right after this.
[14:46:51] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Significant breaking news right now. The attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, he has now resigned. And the president of the United States has confirmed that. The president just tweeting. Jake, let me read the president's tweet: "We are pleased to announce that Matthew G. Whitaker, chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the Department of Justice, will become our new acting attorney general of the United States. He will serve our country well. We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service and wish him well. A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date."
Not a huge surprise. Jeff Sessions has been repeatedly humiliated for more than a year. He waited until the day after the midterm elections to announce it.
TAPPER: Yes. We should note that, according to CNN Justice Correspondent, Laura Jarrett, President Trump asked the Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. It's effectively a firing, even though, technically, Sessions willingly submitted his letter of resignation. And now he is going to be replaced as acting attorney general, by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker.
BLITZER: We have the actual letter from Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, to the president: "At your request, I am submitting my resignation." Those are the key words, "At your request, I am submitting my resignation." And then he goes on to say, "Since the day I was honored to be sworn in as attorney general of the United States, I came to walk at the Department of Justice every day determined to do my duty, serve my country. I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice."
TAPPER: So, first of all, we should change the chyron, "Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns. It should say, "President Trump fires Attorney General Jeff Sessions." He asked him to step submit his letter of resignation. So he has been fired. He's doing this one day after the election, doing this with a Senate that is more Republican, more supportive of him. He feels a lot of them owe him their jobs because he campaigned so strongly for them.
Let's remind people, remind viewers why President Trump is dissatisfied with Jeff Sessions, who, in every respect but one, did everything President Trump wanted him to do. When it came to immigration reform and being tough on the border, when it came to the policies that had separation of children from their parents when they came into the country illegally, when it came to the drug war, when it came to all sorts of things, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in lockstep with President Trump. The one thing that he did that angered President Trump, to no end, was he recused himself, as the Justice Department ethics lawyers advised him to do, recused himself from supervising the Mueller investigation into obstruction of justice and any possible conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign team and the Russian government in the 2016 election. That is why President Trump was dissatisfied with the attorney general. And that is why ultimately he fired him today.
BLITZER: And it was so awkward for the past year to hear the president, Laura, almost on a weekly, sometimes on a daily basis, publicly humiliate the --
[11:49:56] LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, and vilified him and called the investigation as it resulted a "complete and total witch hunt." The person that the president tweeted out that will replace him, the chief of staff, was once a political commentator for CNN. He wrote an op-ed last August, entitled, "Mueller's Investigation of Trump is Going Too Far." He said the president is absolutely correct in thinking that the red line of his finances would actually be, in fact, too far. He said this, "Any investigation into President Trump's finances or the finances of his family would require Mueller to return to Rod Rosenstein for additional authority under Mueller's appointment. If he were to continue to investigate the financial relationship with a broadened scope of his appointment, this would raise a serious concern that the special counsel was a mere witch hunt."
JARRETT: This man is now replacing Jeff Sessions.
BASH: This is where the make-up of the Senate and the margin that they now have, it is so quick that we have Exhibit A of why it matters so much. Because leading up to Election Day, you had Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, who will likely be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and have a lot of power --
KING: Not the next attorney general.
KING: Lindsey Graham, for all of his going into the Trump camp in recent months, has said, don't mess with Robert Mueller.
KING: Does Lindsey Graham have the spine to back it up? We'll see.
GREGORY: And the president said today he doesn't want to mess with Mueller because --
KING: He just did. He just did.
GREGORY: Well, wait a second. Wait a second. Rod Rosenstein still controls that investigation.
BASH: Let me finish my point, which is about this, which is that what he and other Republicans, some of whom are now leaving, have said is obviously Sessions is going to go but, Mr. President, you have to put somebody up who is going to come before us in a confirmation hearing and swear under oath they are going to let the Mueller investigation continue. It is an open question -- the point you were making -- whether or not they will have -- whether they will have the ability to enforce that even if they want to because the margin of Republicans will be so much bigger with Republicans Donald Trump helped get into office. He --
KING: But as acting attorney general today, can he tell Rod Rosenstein it goes through me now, not you? That's my question.
TAPPER: Let's go to Laura Jarrett, our Justice Department correspondent.
Laura, you have the later submitted from the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, making it very clear that he is not leaving because he wanted to leave. The very first sentence of his resignation is basically, I'm resigning because you told me to.
JARRETT: That's right, Jake. You don't have to read between the lines on this. It's clear the day finally came where Trump said enough is enough. We're told, despite the 90-minute press conference where Trump deflected on what would happen for the attorney general, he actually asked for his resignation before he even took the stage. In the first line, Sessions says, "At your request, I am submitting my resignation." He goes on to say, "Since the day I was honored to be sworn in as attorney general of the United States, I have come to work at the Justice Department every day determined to do my duty and to serve my country. I have done so to the best of my ability, working to support the fundamental legal processes that are the foundation of justice."
As you have said, Sessions was the champion of this president's agenda. He carried through on every single policy initiative, even the most controversial immigration policies that were highly critical. He supported him in lockstep. But his original sin was the fact that just very soon after he took charge here, he recused from all matters related to the Russia investigation. And clearly the president never forgave him for it.
The big question now is, what happens to the special counsel's investigation. We know that Sessions' chief of staff is now taking his boss's job, at least temporarily. He will serve as the acting attorney general. But given some of his very controversial writings about Mueller, writing for CNN.com, that Mueller went too far, I'm sure we will hear very, very soon that he is unfit, unfit to serve as the supervisor of the Mueller probe -- Jake?
TAPPER: You know what's going to be very interesting -- thank you, Laura Jarrett, for that.
What's going to be very interesting, John, is there's been a lot of talk in these first two years about how President Trump has had guardrails. There have been people put around him to keep his behavior in check, even if he voices opposition to various institutions. You have Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, you have John Kelly at the White House, you had Jeff Sessions at the Justice Department. But right now, President Trump is in the process -- and he already has been in the process, when you look at getting rid of H.R. McMaster, when you look at getting rid of Rex Tillerson at the State Department -- he is in the process of getting rid of the guardrails.
KING: And he has largely sidelined his chief of staff, John Kelly, who tried to get him to stay moderate. The question now is, number one -- my question is a process question. Matthew Whitaker is acting attorney general, one Jeff Sessions is out of the building, does he tell Rod Rosenstein, from now on, I'm in charge. Bob Mueller goes through me. That's one question. Number two, does Rod Rosenstein stay?
Number three, quickly, for the president -- Jeff Sessions sends a message here in his letter. The president repeatedly attacked the men and women of the Justice Department, the men and women of the FBI. Jeff Sessions says, "I'm particularly grateful to the fabulous men and women in law enforcement all over the country, whom I have served. Most importantly, during my time as attorney general, we have restored and upheld the rule of law."
That's a push back.
[14:55:25] BLITZER: Pamela Brown, our White House correspondent.
Pamela, the president was asked about changes upcoming. He declined to answer any questions at that hour and a half news conference. Now, all of a sudden, we learned he fired Jeff Sessions.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He was asked what he was going to do with his cabinet during the press conference, specifically about Jeff Sessions. He said he'll talk about that at a later time. He made it clear he didn't want to take any action before the midterms. But this was a long time coming, as one White House official just told me.
No one here at the White House seemed surprised by this action by the president, asking for the resignation of the attorney general. There's some surprise that he did it today. As you saw, the president came out today claiming victory in the wake of the midterms. If he really thought that, the question is, why would he want to overshadow that with asking for the resignation of his attorney general? That is what has happened. The letter has been submitted.
And now the attorney general's chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, will be in an acting attorney general role. There have been previous discussions between Whitaker and President Trump, according to our reporting, about him taking on this role. At the time, it was view skeptically because of Matt Whitaker's past writings and commentaries that he made, the thinking was that he would have to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. So that remains to be seen what will happen there.
Also, this beings up the question of what will happen to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who has been overseeing the Russia investigation because Jeff Sessions recused himself.
Also, Senate leadership has signaled they have no appetite to confirm an attorney general during the lame duck.
So there's certainly a lot of open questions in the wake of Jeff Sessions being asked to resign today. It is clear that this is what the president has wanted for some time. Our reporting is he's repeatedly groused about firing Jeff Sessions, but aides told him to wait because it would not be seen as a good thing before the midterms. As you've been pointing out, he's been mad about Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation from the very get-go, that Jeff Sessions didn't give him a heads up. So he wasted no time following the midterms and asking for his resignation.
TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thanks so much.
There are a lot of questions we have, of course.
I want to go to Evan Perez, also a Justice Department correspondent for us.
Evan, the first question I have is the obvious one, which is Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who President Trump has also been repeatedly attacking for the last year, he was in charge of it. If Sessions is gone, does that mean that the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, is now in charge of supervising the Russia investigation?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: That's not entirely clear right now, Jake. At this point, the department has not said exactly what happens now to the Russia investigation. Rod Rosenstein is still there, so for now, it appears he's still in charge of it. But, you know, the big question here will be, does someone, who is only an acting attorney general, does he have the capacity -- he's not been confirmed by the Senate, so does he have the capacity and the responsibilities that a regular attorney general would have in this capacity.
That's the question I think we're asking. Certainly, we're asking people at the Justice Department to clarify for us. Because, you know, one of the things that had been discussed internally at the Justice Department had been that if Sessions goes, that Rod Rosenstein would remain in charge of the investigation, and that whoever came in as an acting -- in the acting capacity would be in charge of the rest of the department. Essentially, Rod Rosenstein would still be in charge and nothing would change.
That was the plan, at least as it was discussed inside the department in the last few months. We don't know whether they stuck with that plan. I think that's one of the big questions we have that we want answered from the Department of Justice because we don't know exactly, what has been the arrangement. Certainly, President Trump tweeting that Matt Whitaker is now the acting, was also a bit of surprise. That's not usually the course that these things take -- Jake?
TAPPER: One of the things -- thank you so much, Evan Perez.
One of the things that has been the big question hovering over this presidency is, were he to take the step that he just took, and this is potentially the first step of one or two that ends with him firing Bob Mueller --
TAPPER: -- were he to fire Sessions, were he to fire Rosenstein or fire Mueller, or various permutations, or he gets Whitaker to fire Mueller or whatever, would Congress step in and hire Mueller --
TAPPER: -- to continue to do the investigation? Now the president has a Democratic arm of Congress who, without question, without question, would take that step.