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Hero Officer Among Those Killed in Mass Shooting; Father of Shooting Victim Speaks About His Firstborn Son Killed; Ag Would Occur Recusal from Mueller Probe Appears Unlikely; Florida Governor and Senate Races Now Within Recount Margin. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 8, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thank you so much. Hi, everyone, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.

Another community in mourning, another list of victims and another day in the United States of America. Thousand Oaks, California. It was college night at a local bar. People were out and about, line dancing, listening to country music when a man holding a handgun walks in and starts shooting at random. By the time he stopped, 12 were dead, many more were injured. As horrific as it was, it could have been much worse. On the scene in minutes, Ventura County Officer Ron Helus confronted the gunman. A 29-year veteran of the force who was close to retirement died a hero.


SHERIFF GEOFF DEAN, VENTURA COUNTRY, CALIFORNIA: There's no doubt that they saved lives by going in there and engaging with the suspect. Who knows. We don't know any people -- I've heard anywhere from 150 to 200 people in there. So not by any means the loss of 13 lives is good but it could have been much, much worse.

It's lost a hero, it's lost a great human being. It's part of the loss again of the 11 other victims that are in there. It's all part of the suffering that we're all going to go through as family members and parents and brothers and sisters on this tragic, senseless loss of life.


BALDWIN: A procession for this fallen officer is happening right now as they move his body from the hospital to the medical examiner's office, an honorable tribute for a man who made the ultimate sacrifice. I want to bring analyst Josh Campbell, formerly with the FBI, live with us in Thousand Oaks. I want to begin with the victims and their lives. What are you learning?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: We're going to learn more about the shooter and obviously gather those facts and that information. Those are items we have to know about. We have to ensure these don't happen again, but we can't lose sight of the victims themselves. The deputy from Ventura County described as we speak they are giving notifications to the family members. It's understandably a very sad job those officers have to do. As you mentioned, there's also the sergeant here from Ventura County who lost his life. He's being mourned at this time as well. Truly heroic action taking place behind me, where you had officers arriving within minutes, making entry into this building, going to the sound of the guns and going to mitigate a threat while also saving and protecting lives. Tragically one of the officers lost his life in that action. He's being remembered today. As far as the investigation, that piece continues as well.

BALDWIN: On the investigation, J, what do we know about the gunman and the weapon he used?

CAMPBELL: So, we're learning it's a 28-year-old former veteran, United States Marine Corps who lived here in this area, a local -- again, some of the information we were getting earlier from the police officers indicated he had some kind of contact with law enforcement, off and on, very minor but one incident has been of interest. In April, law enforcement officers were at his house, he was described as being irate. There's a law here in California called 5150 where if law enforcement officers believe someone is suffering from some type of psychiatric episode, they can commit this person for up to 72 hours and longer. It didn't appear their contact with him at that point warranted confining him, but there might have been other areas of investigation. And obviously with the department of defense, we know he was with the Marine Corps and served time overseas, really trying to build out the picture of who this person was so they could get to the motive of what caused him to come here last night and commit such a tragedy.

BALDWIN: Sounds like according to a neighbor who spoke with his mother, she was worried about him but that he resisted any calls for help. Josh, stay on it for us. Thank you very much. Just a short time ago Jason Coffman, whose 22-year-old son was killed at the Borderline Bar & Grill last night broke down when he found out his son wasn't coming home.


[14:05:00] JASON COFFMAN, FATHER OF VICTIM, CODY: My first born son -- only him and I know how much I love him, how much I miss him. Oh, son, I love you so much. Oh, heavenly father, just please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you like us to know about Cody?

COFFMAN: Cody was the big brother that my kids need. I have a daughter coming on the 29th of this month that he was so excited to have his first sister, and now they'll never -- she'll never know. Oh, Cody, I love you, son. I just want to thank everybody that let me get out this morning just to put his face on the news that this is going to be an absolute heart wrenching time for me and my family. I just want to say thank you to every one of you, KTLA 5, FOX 11, everybody, I watch you and I love you guys and I just want to pray for everybody else that is going to be going through the same situation. There's many more to come, but for me this is a heart that I'll never get back. I'll never get back. My son was on his way to fulfilling his dream of serving the country, Yes. Yes. He just turned 22. He was talking to recruiters and doing his thing that he had to do to become part of the military, Yes.


COFFMAN: In the army.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was it that made him -- [inaudible].

COFFMAN: To me, his outgoing love for everybody. His outgoing love for his baseball team. He was a head umpire for the cameo pony baseball league. There were so many people that he touched.


BALDWIN: So raw. There are no words for this. We also learned that there were six off-duty officers from various agencies inside the bar at the time of the shooting. The sheriff saying that officers stood in front of her daughter during the gunfire just to try to protect her. One of those hero officers was Sergeant Ron Helus, the community that loved hmm, honoring him with a solemn procession. With me is Julie Novak, a colleague of Sergeant Helus. Our deepest condolences to you and your office. How are you holding up?

JULIE NOVAK, SERGEANT, VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT: Thank you. Not very well. It's really hard. It's -- Ron was an amazing guy. Great co-worker. He was a guy that always went everywhere and did everything and energized everybody. And we're all feeling this. I've known him for 24 years and so it's hard. I just heard that dad talk and it was heart wrenching. This whole community is feeling this. It's just unexplainable.

BALDWIN: We are all feeling it with you. I know you not only, you know, you lost Sergeant Helus. You were on the scene, you had to do your job. I want to ask you about that in a second. Sergeant Helus, can you tell me about what he did last night? Tell me about his last heroic act.

NOVAK: Sergeant Helus was just about a block and a half away from the call. He was talking to his wife, said I love you, got to go, got a call. He was the sergeant that always responded to calls. And he was always the guy that was first to the calls. There's kind of a joke with the patrol officers that if a sergeant beats you to a call that maybe you're not doing your job well. So, he gets to the call in less than two and a half minutes. A great partnership with our Highway Patrol brothers and sisters. They heard the call on the radio, they were second on scene. As for our protocol, we go into the gunfire, we don't wait, we want to protect lives.

[14:10:00] Ron took the lead, got some rounds off. We're not sure if they went to the suspect, if that was what killed him or if the suspect killed himself, but they were able to engage in some gun fire and it was his last heroic act round off. We're not sure if they went to the suspect, if that was what killed him or if the suspect killed himself, but they were able to engage in some gun fire and it was his last heroic act in doing what he needed to do and standing the ground and being brave. It was amazing. And that highway patrol officer that never worked before and here they are, partners trying to save each other. The two went in and rescued him and pulled him out. That's what we do, man. We're family. We save each other. I'm proud to be a part of that family.

BALDWIN: t's extraordinary what you do in law enforcement each and every day. It's also not lost on me, Sergeant Novak, that a lot of you are moms and dads as well. We were just talking to our reporter about now comes the time of family notification. You have to call up these families and say your son, your daughter isn't coming home. How do you do that?

NOVAK: One step at a time. And I have to say that this community has been amazing. The rallying point here at the reunification center, it's not just, you know, we're having to share this bad news but everyone's here supporting. There's government, there's volunteers, there's people just bringing food. And I don't think Thousand Oaks -- we're a safe community. We don't want to be defined by this moment. We don't want to be the city that had the shooting. We want to still be remembered as the safest city, the city that came together, the city that showed heroics, that showed people really care. And that's just the most important message I think we need to take from this.

BALDWIN: On heroics, I've read about all these accounts of strangers jumping over young college students, trying to shield them, not knowing them whatsoever. Can you share any stories like that with me?

NOVAK: Yes. Over and over again we heard there were patrons in the bar that were crashing out windows, that were throwing people outdoors. The six officers that were off duty were, like you said, standing in front of other people. It was overall such an amazing response and I think due to this community -- and, you know, there's a lot of people from colleges all over the place. They came together and they said we're going to make a difference. And I think a lot more people could have ended up dying tonight or last night and they didn't. I really feel like had it to do with those people being heroic inside there. And Ron Helus and the CHP officers and officers on scene and all the people who risk their lives every day.

BALDWIN: Sergeant Julie Novak, we are grateful for you and all around the countries, we are feeling you in our hearts. Thank you.

The other news we're covering today, special counsel Robert Mueller has begun writing his final report. Also, could we be looking at two recounts? Major developments today involving undecided races in Georgia and Florida. Candidates vowing to keep their fight alive. One campaign hiring a lawyer from the Bush/Gore Supreme Court showdown. All of the latest straight ahead you are watching CNN, I am Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: New fallout in the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. His replacement, acting A.G. Mathew Whitaker, is said to have no plans to recuse himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. And "The Washington Post" takes it a step further saying Whitaker would also reject any potential subpoena of President Trump. Democrats are now scrambling to protect this Mueller probe in fear that the President is now somehow trying to stonewall any of Mueller's findings. Whitaker has been highly critical of Mueller before being named session's chief of staff last year. He was a legal commentator here on CNN where he many, many times argued ways the President could limit this very investigation.


MATHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that Attorney General doesn't fire Bob Mueller but reduces his budget so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt.


BALDWIN: As for Bob Mueller, CNN has learned the special counsel has just started writing his final report. With more on that let's go to CNN White House correspondent Pamela Brown. What are you hearing from your sources on this investigation going forward?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, Whitaker has given no indication he would recuse himself from the Mueller investigation. As you pointed out, he has been very critical of the Mueller probe and has said publicly it has gone too far. While his past writings may present an ethical conflict of interest, it's not a legal conflict of interest.

[14:20:00] Just from a practical standpoint, Brooke, why would the President put someone in this role who would recuse himself when that was the main thing about Jeff Sessions, that Jeff Sessions recused himself without telling the President.

BALDWIN: What about the timing of this. Did the White House get word that Mueller is close to his conclusion or did he expedite his conclusion because of Sessions recused himself without telling the President. Did the White House get word that Mueller is close to his conclusion or did he expedite his conclusion because of potential roadblocks ahead?

BROWN: The President wasted no time in putting someone in the role who has publicly been critical of this Russia probe. All o Mueller had submitted the questions that he wanted the President to answer. He has been looking over those questions with his lawyer. As he's trying to answer these questions, he's also thinking about the replacement for the Attorney General, who could just change the course of everything. Of course, if Mueller wanted to interview the President and issued a subpoena as "The Washington Post" reported, those that know Whitaker do not think that he would actually allow that to go forward. So, again, this could change everything.

BALDWIN: You're also hearing that the Trump team was surprised by this records request from Mueller's team involving Roger Stone. Tell me about that.

BROWN: That's right, Brooke. Within the past month or so Mueller's team requested visitor log, call logs from Roger Stone, someone involved in the campaign. He's been at the center of a flurry of legal activity recently with Mueller's team. The reason it was surprising was for months Mueller's team has been looking at him, interviewing his associates and just recently they're looking for these logs. It appears they're trying to get at whether Roger Stone met with then-candidate President Trump, and we know one of the questions is about just that, whether Roger Stone ever discussed that with him, though Roger Stone has said publicly he never discussed it with the President.

BALDWIN: Pamela Brown, thank you very much. We have got some analysis ahead of us, Elie Honig is with me, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor and state prosecutor. Berit Berger is a former federal prosecutor in the eastern district of New York. The top line of all of this is that Whitaker says he's not going to be recusing himself and that he won't approve any subpoena of Trump regarding this investigation. Legally speaking does he have that kind of power?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST AND FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR AND STATE PROSECUTOR: He does. He has an awful lot of say and control from here on out. There's federal regulations on the book that define what actions that Mueller would take have to first go through the Attorney General and that includes any significant investigative step or prosecutorial step. That would include something like a subpoena to the President or anyone else. Are we going to execute a search warrant? Very importantly, are we going to charge somebody? Maybe it's Roger Stone, maybe Donald Trump Jr., could be anybody. All of that has to run through Whitaker. He's in a very influence position.

BALDWIN: So, he has the power but the Democrats just regained majority in the house. So, I have to imagine and we've already seen some bits of it Democrats and justice advocates fighting back. How can they fight any of this power?

BERIT BERGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR IN THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: That's a really important check on whatever authority he's going to be exercising. If he decided to take some sort of extreme action, if he decided he was going to fire the special counsel, if he decided he was going to reject all charges or all subpoenas, he may ultimately have to answer to the house when they started investigating this. Similarly, he has the decision that if any report is made whether or not this becomes public, how this is actually disseminated. The house would have the opportunity theoretically to subpoena documents, subpoena the report. The house will be a very important check on the power the acting Attorney General has.

BALDWIN: There's been a fascinating ad written by Kellyanne Conway's husband George. They don't see eye to eye on the Trump administration. He writes "it means that President Trump's installation of Mathew Whitaker as acting Attorney General of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional, it's illegal. And that means that anything Mr. Whitaker does or tries to do in that position is invalid." He writes, "constitutionally Matthew Whitaker is a nobody." Do you agree?

[14:25:00] HONIG: It's an interesting argument. Under the appointments clause of the Constitution, certain people are principal officers, report directly to the President. Certainly, the Attorney General is a principal officer.

BALDWIN: Who are senate confirmed.

HONIG: Yes. There are various people in the D.O.J. hierarchy who are senate confirmed, Rod Rosenstein, the solicitor general. Any one of those people could have been elevated. I think this sort of gets at the heart of one of the big questions here, which is why this guy? Why Whitaker? Of all the experienced people, he is nowhere to be seen if you look at the organization chart.

BALDWIN: Why do you think?

HONIG: I think because of things he said, he didn't think the investigation should go forward.

BALDWIN: He basically has 210 days to fulfill his duty of acting A.G. before Trump puts somebody in. If somebody isn't confirmed, that 210 days could get strong out and strung out which could be a strategy on behalf of the president.

BERGER: It could be a stalling technique, I mean if Whitaker is performing and doing things that the president likes and is acting in a way that the president is happy with, there's no reason he couldn't do that. It would be surprising because I am sure he has a short list of people in mind he'd love to put into the Attorney General spot. It could be a stalling technique.

BALDWIN: Last quick question. Mueller's a smart guy. Does he have contingency plans?

HONIG: He's got life boats that's got to include state attorneys general, potentially farming things out to U.S. attorneys and could have sealed indictments ready to go.

BALDWIN: Elie and Barrett, thank you very much. Could we see recounts in the state of Florida and Georgia? The candidates refusing to give up their fights. We have those details next.