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Source: Mueller's Team has Begun Writing Final Report; Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized after Fall; Kemp Announces He's Resigning as GA Secretary of State; Abrams Campaign: We don't Accept Kemp's Victory Declaration. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 8, 2018 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, CNN has learned that President Trump was going over answers with his lawyers to questions from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. At the same time he was preparing to remove Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get right to our justice correspondent Evan Perez who has a lot of new reporting on this. So, walk us through some of the key things you've learned here about the timing and how it all ties into where the Russia probe is.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, one of the things, what's happening in the last of couple weeks in between his campaign trips, the president was sitting, working with his lawyers, reviewing some of the answers to those questions that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has sent in to the Trump legal team. Now, the president is about to leave town to go to Paris for -- to go to France, rather, for World War I commemoration. So when he comes back, we expect that he's going to complete that task and then they're going to send in the answers to those written questions from the special counsel.

This is an extraordinary thing that none of us really thought was going to happen. We thought there was this push. We know that there was a push to have the president sit down with the special counsel and the investigators. Instead, what he's got is a sort of take-home test. And that's a really big victory for the Trump legal team to be able to basically help review these answers with his lawyers before they're submitted.

SCIUTTO: And of course, we should note, the president said multiple times in public, that folks that don't answer questions, you know maybe it's a sign they're guilty.

HARLOW: What are they hiding?

SCIUTTO: He's promised that he would, but he's not.

PEREZ: Right. SCIUTTO: You're hearing the Trump team was surprised to hear about recent requests from Mueller pertaining to longtime Trump associate, Roger Stone. I'm amazed that he would be surprised since there have been so many questions about Stone's knowledge in advance. What are you hearing?

PEREZ: Well, right. I think the surprise is that this, here we are, 18 months into this investigation, you would have thought that Mueller would have asked for this a long, long time ago. And given, Jim, you know this that you know there's been so much focus on Roger Stone and whether or not he's going to be indicted, whether or not there's any charges going to be brought in anything related to Roger Stone. That's been big, big question looming over this investigation.

Frankly, the big open question to answer whether or not there was collusion at all in the 2016 campaign. So because this request just came in, probably about three or four weeks ago, to the Trump team. I think a lot of people were caught by surprise because the idea that Mueller is now requesting for call logs and visitor logs for -- related to Roger Stone at Trump Tower suggests that maybe they don't have everything put together in this investigation that we thought maybe they did.

So look, there's a lot we don't know about what Mueller is doing and there's a lot of method going on behind the scenes. So it just keeps us scratching our heads here because of the strategy going on.

HARLOW: Evan, before you go, we have seen some reporting, and I wonder what you know about it, that Mueller has potentially started writing his report already. Is that the case?

PEREZ: Right. We're told by sources that to their knowledge, the Mueller team has begun writing their report. Look, all indications are this investigation is coming to a close, perhaps soon, perhaps maybe by the end of the year, early next year. So the fact that Mueller would have begun writing a final report I think is not a huge surprise.

What the big question is now, Poppy, is what happens to the report, right? This is now obviously going to be something that will be decided by Matt Whitaker, the new acting attorney general. He's the one who's going to control what happens to this report, whether any of it becomes public, whether any of it gets sent over to Congress. Those are the big questions now looming over this investigation.

[10:35:04] HARLOW: Can you imagine, though, a scenario where this report is not -- I mean, that he could actually block it from being turned over to Congress.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I can.

PEREZ: I mean, exactly. Jim just answered my question. I mean, to be honest, everything is on the table.

HARLOW: Wow. All right --

SCIUTTO: Well, we'll watch.

HARLOW: Thanks Evan.

SCIUTTO: Evan Perez thanks very much.

Joining us now, former acting attorney general, George Terwilliger, and CNN legal analyst Elie Honig.

So George, if I could start with you, you have been attorney general. Tell us your view of what's happened in the last 24 hours. The president fires Jeff Sessions. After for months and months criticizing Jeff Sessions' handling of the Russia investigation, and he puts someone in there who has criticized the Mueller investigation as well in public comments. What does it tell you?

GEORGE TERWILLIGER, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: It tells me that, you know, I think it's fairly obvious that the president wanted Jeff Sessions to be gone as A.G. despite the good work that he did there pursuing the president's agenda, and putting in somebody at least in an interim role who the president knows and has some personal comfort with. That's not unprecedented. President Kennedy hired his brother. Ronald Reagan hired William French Smith, a longtime trusted associate, and so forth.

I think some of the hysteria, frankly, about putting Matt Whitaker in that position is overblown. At the same time, I think almost all people recognize on a bipartisan basis, frankly, that having a prosecutor, whether it's Bob Mueller or anybody else, and Bob has a well-deserved excellent reputation, but having a prosecutor whose completely untethered to the Justice Department and acting without supervision is not a good thing either. And Congress really made that determination on a bipartisan basis when they ended the independent counsel statute.

HARLOW: Right. Right, which makes this different than the Ken Starr investigation, in an important way.

Elie honing, to you though, I mean to George's point about some of this, he sees as hysteria. Let me just tick through for viewers what the power that Whitaker now has as it pertains to the Mueller probe. He can decide whether or not you know the Mueller team can subpoena the president. He has to sign off on a grand jury indictments, he has direction over the scope, over the finances, the funding to carry this thing through, and he's talked on CNN last year about the potential for curtailing the resources, right, to get this done fully.

So where do we go from here? I mean what's your read? What will you be looking out for on those fronts?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Poppy. I disagree with the characterization of this as hysteria. I think there is legitimate concern. And I think that concern arises from really two questions. Why now and why this guy? Matthew Whitaker. Why now?

I think we all saw this coming. The president has been on a sort of campaign out there, attacking, degrading Jeff Sessions. We have all known that he was going to fire Jeff Sessions shortly after midterms but the reporting is that Sessions asked until next week -

HARLOW: Right.

HONIG: -- and the president's response apparently was no, you're gone today. They were still literally counting votes from the midterms. So, was there some fear that Mueller may have had some coming today, tomorrow, which would be kind of a logical time to unveil something after the quiet period? The second question I have is why this guy in particular? There's a known written established order of succession at D.O.J. who takes over if the A.G. is gone. The first answer, according to that chart logically, and according to the chart itself, is the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and then there's the associate attorney general. And you can look at that chart. Nowhere on the chart does it list the chief of staff to the attorney general of the United States.

Now, I'm not saying Matthew Whitaker has no qualifications. He was a U.S. attorney. He served a good term, but what really stands out about him, his prosecutorial record is solid, but I'll show you a couple dozen at least people, even with Republican credentials who have just as much if not more prosecutorial experience and accomplishment. But what stands out is what you said before, the fact that he's been out there very publicly attacking Mueller's investigation.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, George. We know that as part of the special counsel's investigation of possible obstruction of justice, the president's firing of James Comey. Is the president's firing of Jeff Sessions now, did he in fact provide evidence or at least evidence to be investigated for the special counsel again of possible obstruction of justice?

TERWILLIGER: No. And I don't think the original theory on obstruction of justice in the firing of Comey has gotten any traction, either factually or legally. And I think that's apparent from the observations of many legal commentators, observers, and perhaps at least as we see from the outside, from Mr. Mueller's own investigation.

[10:40:07] You know, I also think you have to take into account in looking at the appointment of Mr. Whitaker. I don't think it would have been appropriate for the president to put Rod in in an acting capacity here for a variety of reasons. I won't go into the details, but you know Rod has his own issues of potential conflict, at least.

SCIUTTO: What do you say about the president bypassing because there is a succession, as Elie made the point, solicitor general right on down the line. Why did the president bypass -


TERWILLIGER: Well, the solicitor general has a very different sort of job than being the acting attorney general. There's already an acting associate attorney general rather than a permanent appointee there. So I don't -- this doesn't strike me as out of the ordinary. And most importantly, the law provides for an appointment in this manner. A law passed by Congress. So it does not seem to me to be out of the mainstream of a way to proceed with putting somebody in to man the ship in the meantime.

SCIUTTO: Right. Well, the test will be how he handles the Russia investigation. We'll be watching. George and Elie Honig thanks very much.

HARLOW: So we have some other breaking news bringing this morning. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg hospitalized after a fall, fractured ribs. We'll get to more details outside of the high court right after this.


[10:46:13] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. We're following more breaking news this morning. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hospitalized. Ariane de Vogue is outside of the High Court with more. She's 85 years old. She has you know overcome two bouts of cancer. What's the latest?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Right. Well, as you said, we learned this morning that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in her office last night. She fell down. She went home, but in the middle of the night, she didn't feel well. She called the court police, not an ambulance, who took her to the hospital. She was admitted once she was at the hospital, and they said she had three fractured ribs on her left side, and she was kept there under observation. Maybe the Court Press Office said that was because of pain.

But it's worth noting. She's 85 years old. She is the liberal lioness on this court, as the senior most liberal member on a court that's expected to be 5-4. She will lead the dissents in many cases coming. So there is concern. She's the oldest member of this court, and you could see this morning, there was -- there was thought about her empty chair as she is now in the hospital recovering from these three fractured ribs.

HARLOW: And she's never missed, Ariane, right? She's never missed a day on the bench before.

DE VOGUE: Poppy, you know she is tough. She had these cancer treatments. She was on the bench the next day. She has had falls before with fractured ribs. She is a very tough person. And as she'll tell you at many of her speaking events, she has a personal trainer and she works out. So she's very proud of that and she's a tough woman.

HARLOW: Yes, she does.

SCIUTTO: The Cal Ripken of the Supreme Court, right? Just she's tough one. Ariane de Vogue thanks very much.

We have this morning even more breaking news. This on the Georgia governor's race still contested there. Republican Brian Kemp now says that he will step down as Secretary of State overseeing the race that he is in and is now contested. We're going to have more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:52:45] SCIUTTO: Breaking news in the still contested Georgia governor's race. Republican Brian Kemp says that he is now stepping down as Georgia's Secretary of State to begin his transition into the governor's office.

HARLOW: This after voters filed a lawsuit to force Kemp to recuse himself from that role, which part of that job is overseeing the election. CNN actually has not called the race. Democrat Stacey Abrams is not conceding. Let's go to our colleague Nick Valencia. He joins us with more.

So, you're in front of you know where they're going to hear, I guess, the first parts, arguments in this case. What do we know?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we want to start with some breaking news here. The hearing was scheduled for 9:45 a.m., and the lawsuit had to do with five Georgians filing it, late election night. They were seeking working with the nonprofit group called Protect Democracy, what they were seeking was for a federal judge to strip Brian Kemp's powers as the Secretary of State. In an unexpected announcement just before the hearing was supposed to get underway, the lawyers for the defense department of law announced that Brian Kemp would be stepping down as Secretary of State effective today at 11:59 a.m. In light of that unexpected announcement, the plaintiffs in this case said that their issue was resolved and a federal judge will move to entirely dismiss this case by tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Brian Kemp continues to march forward as the acting governor elect, announcing his victory last night. We should say he mentioned this in a press conference earlier with the current governor, Nathan Deal, saying on Tuesday, we earned a clean and convincing victory at the ballot box.

His Democratic rival in this race, Stacey Abrams, she's not conceding. And she says she will not do so until every vote is counted. What she's hoping for are tens of thousands of what she says are absentee ballots that will hopefully, she says, be in her favor enough to get Brian Kemp below that 50 percent threshold. Brian Kemp, though, his office and his campaign saying mathematically, that's just really out of the question. I'm sorry, Brian Kemp announcing that he is -


SCIUTTO: Another race just before -

VALENCIA: -- the current governor elect. Go ahead.

SCIUTTO: On another race just before we have to let you go, Georgia's 6th Congressional race, Atlanta suburbs, hotly contested. There was a big provisional election in there number of months ago. Now gone Democratic, is that right?

[10:55:00] VALENCIA: Yes, that is another shocking bit of news that we have this morning, another unexpected announcement from the Republican. In that race, Karen Handel announcing that she would be conceding to her Democratic rival Lucy McBath. And by our tabulation, that race was called by less than 3,000 votes. It's significant and only because the 6thth Congressional District was a very and has been a very conservative district and now is in the hands of the Democrats. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia thanks very much.

HARLOW: All right, we do have much more information on this horrific mass shooting in California overnight. Stay with us for all the breaking news and we'll see you back here tomorrow morning.