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Michelle Obama Blasts Trump Over Birtherism; New Attorney General Says Judges Should Have Biblical View; Florida Senate Fight. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired November 9, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But Florida law enforcement officials just reported that, so far, they have received no allegation of criminal activity.
Ryan Nobles broke that news just a bit ago here. He is live in Tallahassee. Also with us, David Smiley. He's a political reporter for "The Miami Herald."
Guys, good to see both of you.
And, Ryan, to you first.
Tell me more about what Florida is saying they have or haven't received.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, last night, Brooke -- and you played the sound bite right there -- Governor Scott said that there was the possibility of rampant fraud in these two key counties, Palm Beach County and Broward County.
And he said that he was requesting the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into it. He essentially made the accusation that there could be criminal activity happening in either one of these counties. Well, the Department of Law Enforcement told us today that they actually reached out to the Department of State to ask them if there was anything that they should investigate.
And the Department of State said at this point they have received no reports of any criminal activity in either place. So that has been a key point of argument for Republicans all the way up to President Trump, that there's something illegal happening in these two counties.
And at this point, the body here in Florida that's responsible for looking into that says that they haven't even received a report of that. And it's important to keep in mind too Brooke, that they went to the Department of State to ask them if they found anything wrong.
And the secretary of state here, Ken Detzner, he's somebody who is appointed by Rick Scott. He is a Republican and he is saying he's found no evidence of criminal activity. So that is a key development in this conversation, as both these sides go back and forth about exactly what did and did not happen here on election night. BALDWIN: David, your paper says it best today. "The state that
brought you the 2000 presidential recount will try to outdo itself in 2018."
What do you make of Rick Scott's strategy of saying rampant fraud?
DAVID SMILEY, "THE MIAMI HERALD": Well, I think, politically, he's speaking to his base. He's rallying Republicans.
There is a crowd of maybe 100 people outside the Broward County elections headquarters right now, as their canvassing board counts the last few hundred ballots before they expectedly have their unofficial results.
There's no evidence, as far as we can see, that there is any fraud going on in Broward County. Certainly, it's been puzzling as to why it's taken Brenda Snipes, the election supervisor, so long to count early votes and absentee votes. She hasn't been able to say how many were outstanding over the last few days.
And there is evidence for the Marco Rubios of the world who talk about the incompetence of that office. They have had years and years of problems handling elections in Broward County, which is the Democratic bastion of Florida.
But in terms of proving fraud, there's no evidence so far.
SMILEY: There's just an echo chamber of people claiming fraud and claiming more fraud. And now it's stated as if it were fact, when no one has yet to raise one single shred of evidence to point to anything illegal happening in Broward County.
BALDWIN: David, what is Bill Nelson saying about this?
SMILEY: Well, Nelson's campaign has filed a lawsuit with the Florida Democratic Party in federal court in Tallahassee. They are challenging the state's process of upholding absentee ballots or reviewing them, and provisional ballots based on signatures.
So they are fighting their own legal battle. Nelson's campaign says that Rick Scott sounds like a candidate en route to losing. His attorney, Marc Elias, says that he's confident that Nelson, through what is almost assuredly going to be a recount -- the question I think is whether it will be a hand recount or a machinery recount.
Elias says that Nelson's going to prevail and Scott is flailing and worried about losing his lead.
BALDWIN: Looking at these ladies looking at these ballots, it is like 2000. It is flashback to 2000 all over again.
Ryan and David, thank you, gentlemen, so much.
Michael Smerconish, CNN's Michael Smerconish with me now. Michael, do you remember where you were in 2000?
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know what I remember?
I remember that are 5- or 6-year-old son, our eldest son, was coming home every day from a Montessori classroom, looking at me looking at CNN, and he would say to me, day after day, "Dad, are they still counting the ballots in Florida?"
By the way, today, he's 24 and getting a master's at Oxford. So go figure. Time flies.
BALDWIN: Well done, pops. Sounds like a pretty impressive kid. And I bet he's still asking, dad, what's going on in Florida today?
SMERCONISH: That's true. He is.
BALDWIN: We were just talking to Ryan about his news. The fact is that Rick Scott was out last night front of the governor's mansion crying rampant fraud.
And yet, according to Ryan's reporting, the state of Florida has received no allegation of criminal activity. How do you square that?
SMERCONISH: So what I see Rick Scott doing is taking a page out of the Bush campaign handbook from the year 2000 in recognizing that this is a very political process, at least when you're making the argument to the public.
And anybody who has forgotten that should go back and reread Jeff Toobin's book. You can't say fraud -- and I wish he hadn't said unethical liberals, because then all of a sudden it makes it so partisan, when I think we should all be asking for a fair count.
BALDWIN: Yes. Michael, stand by. I'm going to bring you back in just a second.
I want to get to another huge story that we're following this afternoon involving President Trump's hush money payment to porn star Stormy Daniels.
"The Wall Street Journal" is now reporting federal prosecutors have evidence showing President Trump may have played a central role in hush money payments both to porn star Stormy Daniels and to former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal, which means Donald Trump may have violated federal campaign finance laws, if there is proof.
So this is significant.
Let me bring in CNN reporter Erica Orden, covering New York law enforcement, and also with us, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.
And so, guys, first, Erica, to you.
You read this comprehensive piece in "The Wall Street Journal," nine pages, citing three dozen sources. At the end of the day, what it does is, it's this perfect chronology of connecting the dots and following the money.
ERICA ORDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
So we knew from Michael Cohen's statements in court made under oath, as well as from the 22-page indictment that was filed against Cohen, that Donald Trump, who was then a candidate for president, had been -- had directed and been involved in these two payments, one from -- one to Stormy Daniels and another from AMI, the parent company of "The National Enquirer," to Karen McDougal.
What this does is shed light on sort of the depth of Donald Trump's involvement. And one of the things that it also takes a closer look at is sort of the start of the agreement between the Donald Trump and David Pecker, the chief executive of AMI, to have AMI operate sort of in service of the Trump campaign and help suppress negative stories about Donald Trump during the campaign.
And that really started with this August 2015 meeting that "The Journal" talks about.
BALDWIN: So there is a huge difference, Paul Callan, between something like as it reads mighty shady and actually illegal.
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's very true.
But I think the reason we're talking about this is, this "Wall Street Journal" piece reads like a crime novel.
BALDWIN: It does.
CALLAN: I mean, it gives you all of the details, all of the sleazy deals going on. I mean, one of the things that I think really jumped out at me was David Pecker talking about or testifying before a grand jury admitting that there was this deal with Trump that they were would cover up his affairs, and they would make it look like the woman was being paid for -- this is McDougal -- for being on the cover of the magazine, and really even talking about the fact that we have to be good about how the cover-up works, because, if it doesn't, American Media would be in trouble.
So it's a great read, but...
BALDWIN: And how Pecker wasn't willing to go even farther and pay off a porn star, because that's where he draws the line.
CALLAN: That's exactly true.
But, in the end, getting back to your question...
CALLAN: ... is it enough? Is it criminal? And I think, once again, Trump people will say, well, you have to look back to the John Edwards case, because when he ran for president, he had a mistress, she was pregnant, his political supporters gave the money to buy a house and to put her -- pay for all of her expenses.
And Edwards was ultimately acquitted on one count and there was a hung jury on the other, and Justice decided not to retry the case, because the jury and I think a lot of prosecutors thought, when you have a dual-purpose expenditure, i.e., to get the mistress to keep quiet because you don't want a wife to know, and your family to know, and you business to know...
BALDWIN: Why couldn't Donald Trump say, I didn't want Melania to find out?
ORDEN: Well, that's what he's going to say. And he's also going to say, I didn't want customers of the Trump Organization to find out, it really didn't have to do with politics.
But, on the other hand, the Stormy Daniels' payoff is right in the midst of a controversial part of the campaign.
BALDWIN: Yes, it is.
Let me -- Michael Smerconish, you have been listening in to our conversation. What's your reaction to the fact the president could be involved in hush money like this? How significant is this, do you think?
SMERCONISH: Well, I think Paul Callan just nailed it.
I mean, seemingly, what you have here is a campaign contribution that was not disclosed and is in excess of the $20,700 limit. But he's right. I mean, the defense from the president will be, to the extent it ever should come to that, I was trying to protect my reputation. I was trying to protect my businesses. I was trying to protect my marriage.
For me, the most significant aspect of this "Journal" story is paragraph two. What can you do to help my campaign, the president allegedly said.
So there it is, at least according to the former head of this "National Enquirer" parent group, that it was all about the campaign.
But I think it's a very difficult case to prove against the president.
BALDWIN: If this does become a campaign violation issue, is that enough, Michael, for Senate Republicans to respond, to distance themselves, you think? SMERCONISH: Well, very interesting the way you phrased your question, right? You didn't say to me, is it enough for House Democrats to vote for impeachment? I think the answer is probably yes.
And you realize that. The question is, could you get two-thirds of the Senate based on this? And my short answer is no.
Michael, we will be watching you tomorrow morning 9:00 a.m. right here on CNN. Thank you very much.
And, Erica and Paul, thank you both very much as well.
Coming up next: President Trump now says, "I don't know Matt Whitaker."
Is the president now hedging on the man he tapped to be his acting attorney general? This is happening today amid a growing concern over Whitaker's past, including his view that judges should have a -- quote, unquote -- "biblical view" of justice.
Also, former first lady Michelle Obama is blasting President Trump in her new memoir, writing that there are things she will never be able to forgive him for. President Trump now responding in what is becoming a very public feud.
Also, driving through hell. Look at this video out a California. Three large wildfires are expanding rapidly, and CNN crews are capturing the stunning path of destruction left behind. We will have a live report for you. Do not miss this.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
BALDWIN: To a White House caught completely off-guard and a president now on the defense about his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker.
Whitaker has just become the official overseeing the Russia investigation, after President Trump fired Jeff Sessions two days ago. But it was not widely known among White House staff that before he had joined the Department of Justice in September of 2017, Whitaker repeatedly criticize the special counsel's investigation in interviews and on television. He even wrote an entire opinion piece about this for CNN.com.
Several senior officials believe Whitaker is in jeopardy of keeping his job if his past comments stay in the headlines. And a bad sign came today with the president's comments.
He said at least three times he doesn't know Whitaker, which is not exactly what he said a month ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions. He was very, very highly thought of and still is highly thought of.
But this only comes up because anybody that works for me, they do a number on them. But Matt Whitaker is a very smart man. He is a very respected man in the law enforcement community, very respected, at the top of the line.
And, actually, the choice was greeted with raves initially, and it still is in some circles.
I never talk about that, but I can tell you, Matt Whitaker is a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker. But I never talk about conversations that I had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Whitaker is under scrutiny not just for issues involving the president, but when the Iowa native ran for Senate in 2014, he said he would be concerned if a federal judge held a -- quote -- "secular world view."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice, which I think is very important, because we all know that our government...
QUESTION: Levitical or New Testament?
WHITAKER: I'm a New Testament -- and what I know is, as long as they have that world view, that they will be a good judge.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, Rekha Basu, a columnist for "The Des Moines Register."
And, Rekha I just reread your piece from 2014, when you had obviously covered his run for the Senate. And can you just talk a little bit more about his past beliefs or his current beliefs?
REKHA BASU, "THE DES MOINES REGISTER": Absolutely.
And before I do that, I just want to thank you, Brooke, for standing up for those African-American women journalists who Trump insulted yesterday. That was appalling. And I'm really glad you said something about that.
BALDWIN: Thank you. BASU: As -- sure -- as far as Whitaker goes, he's had some very deep- seated, long-held beliefs about Christianity being the basis of -- should -- that it shouldn't be the basis of law, and that it should also be the basis of appointments.
And so I want to go back to 2007, when he, as U.S. attorney, launched an investigation into a member of the Iowa State Senate, Matt McCoy, who is openly gay. He was the first openly gay member of the Senate. And this investigation that was engineered, orchestrated entirely by Whitaker took two years and $2,600. And it was a pure fishing expedition against him.
He was trying to find him on some -- on using his position as a state senator to threaten a company for not paying him. And, in fact, it turned out the jury took about less than two hours to acquit Senator McCoy and say that actually he was owed the money because of work he had done for them and there was no threat.
And he -- his chief witness who Whitaker put a wire on was someone who a notorious liar, a drug addict, a domestic abuser.
And this is -- and this is what -- you know, the kind of investigation that he conducted. So now fast-forward to 2014, and he's running for the U.S. Senate. And he's at a forum which is orchestrated by the Iowa Family Leader, which is another Christian conservative organization that, in 2010, went after justices of the Iowa Supreme Court who had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and were up for retention elections, and spent a lot of money on that.
So this is -- this establishes the setting where these candidates for Senate who are vying for the Republican nomination for Senate from Iowa are speaking. And Matt Whitaker says that he would only appoint judges -- as a senator, he would only appoint judges who had a biblical view of history.
And as your segment said, he was asked Old or New Testament, and he said New Testament. And then he went he went on to say something about that if someone had no religion, if someone thought this here on earth is all that we believe in, then he would be very distrustful of that person, which is completely in violation of the First Amendment.
BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.
And that was just a short four years ago. What about now, Rekha? What's his reputation now in Iowa, not just legally, but politically?
BASU: Well, I don't think -- he's not been around on the Iowa scene that much in the last few years. So I think most of his reputation has been national actually.
In Iowa, he's known for having been a star football player going back to the 1990s, when he played for Ankeny High School. He's in the High School Football Hall of Fame. He's considered one of the more -- the more conservative evangelical players on the political scene. He also, by the way, ran for a nomination the Iowa Supreme Court, but
didn't make it even to the finalists, and then complained that it was biased against people with a religious view.
So he has made the most headlines for being kind of -- oh, in another instance, he had agreed to be the emcee for an event. This is again while he was U.S. attorney here for the Southern District. He was going to emcee a Christian conservative event.
And at the last minute, just literally hours before that event, he was told by the Justice Department that he couldn't do that because it would be a conflict with his role.
So he is -- he has not been shy about putting his religion forward, even in the context of his role as U.S. attorney, which obviously leads to a lot of fears about how he would handle his job as U.S. attorney and acting attorney general.
BALDWIN: Sure. Sure.
And now here he is.
BALDWIN: And given everything, all the history that you know about him, just it's now all out there for everyone to see. Apparently, even the White House has been surprised at some of this, somehow, how critical he's been in just some of his beliefs.
This is the guy that the president has appointed as this acting A.G.
Rekha, thank you so much from Des Moines, reporting on all of this for us, as it all comes full circle today.
BASU: Thank you.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
Coming up next, we're going to take you to Florida, emergency hearing under way, as you know, two races too close to call here, potential recounts both for the Senate and the governor's race in Florida.
And also Senator Bill Nelson, who is obviously hoping to hang on to his Senate seat, he is about to speak.
We will be right back.
BALDWIN: We're seeing former first lady Michelle Obama like we have never seen her before, personal, candid and calling out President Trump.
In her revealing new memoir, she blames Trump for putting her family in danger by peddling his birther conspiracy.
She writes: "What if someone with an unstable mine loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendoes, was putting my family's safety at risk. And for this, I would never forgive him."
Well, President Trump today was quick to respond.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And I guess she wrote a book. She got paid a lot of money to write a book. And they always insist that you come up with controversial.
Well, I will give you a little controversy back: I will never forgive him for what he did to our United States military by not funding it properly. It was depleted. Everything was old and tired.
And I came in, and I had to fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let me bring in CNN White House reporter Kate Bennett and political commentator Angela Rye.
Ladies, good to see both of you.
And, Kate, that is not the only job on Trump, apparently, in this book. She added that her -- quote -- her body "buzzed with fury" after hearing that "Access Hollywood" tape where then private citizen Trump grabbed about -- bragged about grabbing women you know where.
So -- but we don't normally see first ladies talk about presidents like this, Kate.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is -- I mean, that's very true.
There's sort of this unspoken rule that you don't criticize a sitting president while you're currently president. Michelle Obama, of course, is not abiding by that.