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California Shooting; Florida Heading for Recounts?; Ruth Bader Ginsburg Hospitalized; Interview With Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 8, 2018 - 15:00   ET




SGT. JULIE NOVAK, COLLEAGUE OF SGT. RON HELUS: And he was the sergeant that always responded to calls. And he was always the guy that was first to the calls.

And it was kind a joke with the patrols officers that, if a sergeant beats you to a call, then maybe you aren't doing your job as well.

But Ron was just extraordinary. And so he gets to the call in less than two-and-a-half minutes. And a great partnership that we have with our California Highway Patrol brothers and sisters, they heard the call on the radio. They were actually second on scene with Sergeant Helus.

And, as per our protocol, we say we go into the gunfire, we don't wait, we want to protect lives. So, they made the decision. Ron decided to take the lead. He took the lead in with the secondary CHP officer, got some rounds off.

We're not sure if they went to the suspect, if was what killed him, or if the suspect killed himself. But they were able to engage in some gunfire, in his last heroic act, in doing what he needed to do, and standing the ground and being brave.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take you now to the scene, to CNN correspondent Nick Watt, who is live in Thousand Oaks.

And, Nick, really just first focusing on the victims and the survivors, tell me what you know.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, 11 people were killed in and outside of that club, first the security guard, and then the gunman moved inside and shot members of staff and bar patrons.

We spoke to a lot of people in the early hours of this morning, people who had been line dancing when the gunfire broke out. Many of them fled the club. Some people were throwing barstools through the windows to try and escape. Some got out through the kitchen, some out through the loading bay. They were wearing dancing clothes and they were outside wrapped in

blankets that were provided to them calling their friends frantically trying to find them. There are many small colleges around this area.

And this was college country music night. And, of course, you have mentioned that sheriff's sergeant who very heroically charged into that club to try and save lives and paid for it with his own.

Now, there were also six off-duty law enforcement officers who were inside the club at the time, and told we're by some parents around here that they stood in line and tried to protect some of the students. As I mentioned, many of them, when the shooting started, they dived under pool tables, they dived under tables, and then they panicked and just tried to get out to save their lives.

Now, the gunman has been identified. He is a 28-year-old local man. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served one tour in Iraq in 2010- 2011. He came in, as eyewitnesses say, dressed in black. And we know from authorities he was armed with a Glock .45 pistol handgun with an extended magazine.

So we don't know how many rounds he had in that, but he came in and killed 11 people. Now, as for the motive, well, we have heard from law enforcement that he had a couple of brushes with the law. I mean a couple of minor traffic issues. He was apparently the victim of a bar brawl back in 2015.

But, most importantly, most interestingly, earlier this year in April, deputies were called to his home after reports of a disturbance. He was described by the sheriff here as irate during that. And mental health specialists were brought to the scene to assess him, but they decided he was not a danger to himself for others. And he was not detained at that time.

And one of my colleagues, Scott Glover, has spoken to a neighbor. I mean, the sheriff mentioned that PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, was a consideration at that time. Now, one of my colleagues has spoken to a neighbor of the suspect who had been speaking to the suspect's mother, who shared her concerns about her son. Take a listen.


RICHARD BERGE, NEIGHBOR: She lived in fear.

QUESTION: She told you that?

BERGE: Yes, as she did in case something happened. Something had happened.

QUESTION: So, she worried about something worse happening?


QUESTION: She told you that?



WATT: Now, the authorities are still trying to find out a motive, if there was a coherent motive behind the shooting, but you know what?

In the end, does that really matter? The facts on the ground are 11 people killed in that club and that sheriff sergeant. They are dead and gone -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: To hear his own mother lived in fear, it is so sad all the way around. Nick, thank you in California for us.

And those who managed to escape, they are talking about their own feelings of fear and devastation.

That includes my next guest, John Hedge. He and his stepfather were talking inside the bar when he saw the security guard at the front door go down. And John is with me now.

John, thank you so much for taking a minute. And how are you holding up today?


JOHN HEDGE, SURVIVOR: It's been rough. I can't say I got a lot of sleep last night.

You know, you're just still kind of shaking the next day. And it's pretty -- it's pretty surreal still.

BALDWIN: I'm sure.

Can you just take me back and tell me what you first saw, what you first heard?


I mean, it's just -- it happened so quick. But I just remember sitting there. And just like any other night, you play some pool, and the Laker game was on. We were just having a good time.

And I was getting ready to leave. My step-dad and I, we were nearest to the front door, outside of the bouncer and the two people behind the front desk, like the cashiers, check your I.D.s. And you just hear these loud just pop, pop, pop, just this -- you just can't believe how loud it is. It sounds like fireworks or something.

And every -- you think it's a joke. And it takes a couple seconds to kick in. And then I see my step-dad on the ground. He's laying there and he's yelling at me, "John, John, get down. Hit the ground. Get some cover."

And you just do what you can to try to get out of eyesight and try to get some cover. Next thing you know, I look up and I see the gunman and he's at the front desk. And the security guard was already down. He had been shot. And the gunman was just unloading on the poor girls behind the front desk.

And you could -- you only imagine what is going on in their head. But that's kind of how it started.

BALDWIN: And what did you do next, you and your step-dad?

HEDGE: I went to go find cover. I went to go hide in the bathroom.

And next thing you know, I see my step-dad. He managed to get out through the front, the front door, which was right where the gunman was. I mean, the gunman had to have been within seven, eight feet of the front door.

I didn't think that we'd be able to get out. And next thing you know, he's going -- he's going around the front desk to go back there. And I just -- I managed to escape. And I ran over the security guard's body.

And those eight -- those seven, eight steps to the front door, they couldn't have taken any longer, you know. You just -- you're just trying to get out of there as quick as possible.

BALDWIN: Have you had a minute to take all of this in yourself?

HEDGE: No, not really.

I have been so caught up in the story and just trying to find out who would do something like this and why something like this would happen. And you just hear the stories. When I got out of the building, I heard, you know, doors and tables flying through the window and I saw people trying to get out.

And I went back in to go try to find my step-dad. I wasn't sure if he had gotten out. And I wasn't -- to be honest with you, looking back, I wasn't too sure whose body it was that I ran over to get to the door.

And I looked back and I see smoke grenades going off and I see smoke covering the room and more gunshots were firing as he was making his way to the dance floor. And then I hear my step-dad, "John, John, what are you doing? Run, run."

And that's when we finally got away.


HEDGE: But, I mean, it's not something you process.

BALDWIN: Are all -- so you were there with your step dad. Did you know anyone else there? Are all your friends accounted for?

HEDGE: The friends that I had that were there were all accounted for.

Some people that I wasn't able to get ahold of, I saw on TV later, so I knew that they were OK. And my good friend actually who works behind the bar, she wasn't in that night so, you know, luckily. She's there every Wednesday, and she called in sick.

And, yes, but everybody I knew got out.


Here's my last question. I was just talking to a sergeant. I'm sure you have heard the story of Sergeant Ron Helus, who happened to be around the corner, was on the phone with himself his wife, said, honey, I have to go, I love you. He heard reports of something going on at the bar.

Here he is running toward the violence, where everyone was trying to run away. And he was just shy of retiring, John. He died.

What would you like to say to his family?

HEDGE: They're the real heroes. I have just so much respect for law enforcement and first-responders.


You only imagine how many people would have died if it wasn't for, you know, him giving his life and his partners getting in there and stopping the gunman.

I just -- I -- you just can't say enough. And we're just all so thankful for them and what they do.

BALDWIN: I totally agree with you.

John Hedge, I am so glad you and your step-dad are OK and your friends are as well. Take a minute. Take a minute. It's going to take more than that to process all of this. Thank you so much for taking time to be me.

I'm glad you're all right.

Coming up next here -- thank you.

Coming up next: Special counsel Robert Mueller has begun writing his final report in the Russia investigation. That is when multiple sources are telling us here at CNN, just as President Trump has fired his attorney general, a position that oversees Mueller, with a man who was once critical of the special counsel's probe.

We will dig deeper into Matthew Whitaker's past and the calls for him to recuse himself.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Just 24 hours after President Trump fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, his replacement, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, reportedly has no plans to recuse himself from Robert Mueller's investigation.

And "The Washington Post" takes it one step further, reporting that Whitaker would also reject any potential subpoena of President Trump.

Now, some Democrats are demanding a recusal because Whitaker has been highly critical of Mueller. Before being named Sessions' chief of staff last year, Whitaker was a legal commentator for CNN, where he argued ways that the president could actually limit the special counsel's investigation.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, I can see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment, and that attorney general doesn't fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces the budget so low that his investigation grinds to an absolute -- almost a halt.


BALDWIN: For more on our reporting, let's go to CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett.

And, Laura, you tell me what you're hearing from your sources on Whitaker's approach to the Mueller investigation going forward.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, many requests -- questions remain, I should say, about how and if Whitaker will actually take steps to curtail the probe.

But what appears to be increasingly clear is that he doesn't have any intention to recuse himself from the investigation. And the White House certainly doesn't think that he needs to recuse himself from the investigation, as Sessions did because he was a campaign surrogate on the 2016 presidential campaign.

And if you think about it, it makes sense. Why would the president install someone to oversee the Russia probe who would then have to recuse from the Russia probe, as he railed against Sessions repeatedly, said it was a betrayal that he had to recuse?

But, as you mentioned, Democrats are not letting go of this issue. They are calling for emergency hearings and saying that the Justice Department needs to preserve any and all documents about this issue, Brooke.

BALDWIN: What about the timing of all of this? Did the White House get word that Mueller was close to a conclusion? Or is Mueller expediting his conclusion because of possible roadblocks he foresees?

JARRETT: So many good questions on all of those issues.

On the timing here, of course, we had all anticipated that at some point, Jeff Sessions' last day at the Justice Department would come. But I don't think any of us foresaw that it was going to come yesterday morning as president was taking the stage there for that press conference at the White House.

He even wanted to stay on longer to try to clean up at some logistical issues, get his -- get his matters together for the end of the week. But John Kelly was firm, saying he needed to go just that day, and there couldn't be any extension this whole process.

But we don't yet know what Mueller is doing behind the scenes to prepare for this. As we have been saying, he, like all of us, have been watching this slow-moving train wreck. Obviously, he's been paying attention to the tweets. He's been seeing what the president is doing.

So we don't yet know enough about what he's been doing behind the scenes to prepare for this eventuality -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Laura, thank you very much.

A number of Democrats are pretty upset about Whitaker's potential involvement here in the Mueller probe.

And one of those Democrats with me now. He's Congressman Steve Cohen, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee.

So, Congressman, welcome. Nice to have you back.

REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Thank you, Brooke. Nice to be with you.

BALDWIN: So, the headline at this moment on Whitaker is that he has no intention of recusing himself.

And like we have said, "The Washington Post" reports that folks close to him believe he won't approve any subpoena of Trump as part of this Mueller investigation. To that, Congressman Cohen, you say what?

COHEN: Whitaker is obviously a hatchet man hired to destroy and strangle the Mueller investigation. And he wasn't going to recuse himself.

Whether he should recuse himself or not is an opinion question, subjective question that possibly could go to the courts, and the courts could make a decision.

But the administration and the Justice Department will fight it with all they have and appeal it to the Supreme Court, and hope that Justice Kavanaugh is the fifth vote that they need on executive power and executive privilege to thwart any questions of his objectivity.

BALDWIN: So if you're calling him a hatchet man, you are the ranking member on House Judiciary, soon to be in the majority of the House. What are you going to do about it?

COHEN: No, I'm the ranking member on -- I'm the ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Constitution.

Mr. Nadler is the ranking member on Judiciary. BALDWIN: What do you plan to do about it, as a Democrat?

COHEN: Well, at the present time, we have written letters to Mr. Whitaker to preserve all records and correspondence. And we have written letters to Goodlatte asking for hearings.


Writing letters to Mr. Goodlatte asking for hearings, we might as well be writing to Santa Claus and asking him for a Lexus or a Tesla or whatever. It's just not going to happen.

And I don't think Mr. Whitaker will respond either. But we're doing what you should do and what you would expect reasonable elected officials and appointed officials to respond to.

Other than that, we can prepare for when we go into the majority on January 3. And there are legal avenues that can be pursued where members of Congress can take action to question his not taking a -- making a recusal, and also to question his appointment, whether or not it's a vacancy or not, whether it was a voluntary vacancy or whether he was fired, and whether or not he had to be approved by the Senate at some time, or whether it's a recess appointment.

I think the committee is looking at all those things. Beyond that, I'm going to go to the protests today in Memphis. There's one today and there's one on Saturday I hope to be able to go too, and let people know that we're listening, we hear them, and we share their concern that our democracy is under attack, and that this is an open and notorious and brutal assault on our democracy and on transparency and on justice.

BALDWIN: On -- forgive me. Of course, Jerry Nadler. I was just reading his statement yesterday. And he feels as forceful as you do, Congressman.

But we have heard from Senator Lindsey Graham. And I note that it was last year, it was last summer when he had warned that there would be -- quote -- "holy hell to pay" if Jeff Sessions was fired.

What's the hell from Republicans right now?

COHEN: Well, hell is having to be quiet when they see justice being trampled upon and injustice being encouraged.

I don't see anybody rising up to do anything. I mean, I think I heard Senator Collins say something. The Republicans are all -- well, there's a few of them, there's a handful that are pretty good on talk.

There was a in "Chorus Line," something about looks X and dance whatever. In this case, I think of the Republicans, they're talk 10 and votes and action one, if that.

And we have gotten very little out of them, whether it's -- whoever it's been. Somebody over there needs to stand up. And -- but I doubt they can find enough votes to go with the Democrats to do anything. We have got a bill a protect Mr. Mueller. I had that in -- brought it up on the floor of the House and brought a motion to bring it to the floor. And it got all -- about 183 Democrat votes. But the only Republican that would sign on, we only had one. And that was a shame.

BALDWIN: What can you do with that? You're about to having the majority.

COHEN: Well, if we could get a majority, we could force a vote on the floor. But you have got to get a majority to bring it out of committee and to the floor for a vote.

And we would probably get every Democrat we come back, but that's still 193. And you probably wouldn't get many Republicans. Now, there's a chance we could get -- who knows what Mia Love and Curbelo and Mike Coffman and the others who President Trump read off yesterday, like he was doing Rosh Hashanah Kol Nidre speech about who died in the previous year.

BALDWIN: When he was publicly shaming them, you mean? Yes. Yes.

COHEN: Yes. It was like when I'm temple and they read off the names of the dead, of blessed memory.

He was doing the best impression of a rabbi I have ever heard from a president. And if those people -- and there's still a lame-duck and he needs their votes on some bills.

And if I was -- if I were one of them, I would be like Ryan Costello, who showed his anger. And he sent a -- or not his anger, but his revulsion at it. And he sent out a tweet. Ryan Costello is a real good Republican who resigned -- or retired, rather than run for reelection because of the redistricting.

And he didn't like what Trump was doing. And Ryan's a great guy. And he's the kind of Republican you need. But he found it so abhorrent that he was singling out Republicans who got beat because of Trump, and him saying they lost because they didn't love him, and talking about them like, sayonara, I don't care about back to you because you didn't love me.

I mean, it was a strange show yesterday. It was a very bizarre show.


COHEN: And it's like, the president needs a vacation.


BALDWIN: Well, he's got a few more years.


COHEN: He needs to go to Club Med.

BALDWIN: Well, we will see what happens in 2020. COHEN: Or Club Meds.

BALDWIN: And maybe your party can send him off on a longer vacation, but that's going to be up to America. And we will see what happens in 2020.

In the meantime, Congressman Cohen, thank you so much for swinging by. It's nice to see you.

COHEN: You're welcome, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Club Med, "Chorus Line," how about that?

Coming up next here: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been hospitalized after a fall in her office. We will talk to Sanjay Gupta about she's doing now.

And just in, both the Florida Senate and governor's races are now within margin -- the margin for recounts. Stand by for big news there.



BALDWIN: We knew some of these midterm races would be close. But what is happening two days later in Florida is just stunning.

Newly counted vote totals are now within the margins of a recount, which is what Democrat Bill Nelson had been demanding in his Senate race. And gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is now hiring an attorney who litigated the 2000 Florida recount for President Bush.

So, let's go to Ryan Nobles. He is live for us in Tallahassee.

And, so, Ryan, let's -- talk me through the numbers, starting with the race for governor.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, it seems like, every time we check these numbers, this race gets just a little bit closer.

So, right now, the spread between Andrew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, the Democratic candidate, and Ron DeSantis, who's the front-runner right now, the Republican candidate, is just a little more than 38,000 votes.