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Motion Approved in Broward County to Begin Recount in Florida Races; 9 Dead, 35 Missing as Fires Spread on Both Ends of California; WSJ: Trump Personally Involved in Hush Money Payments; Trump Personally Involved in Hush Money Payments; Trump Downplays Ties to New A.G. Who Criticized Mueller Probe as George Conway Criticizes Appointment; Trump Blasts Michelle Obama After Saying She'll Never Forgive Trump for Birther Comments. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired November 10, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Ryan Nobles is live in Tallahassee.
What do you know, Ryan?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, it sure looks like we're headed to a recount in Florida in these big races between the governor, the Senate, and the agriculture commission, all statewide races in Florida. It's important to point out, even though Broward County said they're ready to move ahead with that automatic recount, we're still waiting on the secretary of state here to put out the official word that, based on these final vote tallies, that that's where we're headed. Based on all the votes we see, which is posted on the secretary of state's Web site, all of the counties have now reported all the votes that must be in by the noon deadline on this day. There's a batch of votes, military and overseas ballots, that have a 10-day deadline, which haven't been counted yet. But this important group of votes, the vast majority of the votes here in Florida have now been registered and are in the secretary of state's office.
According to those final readouts, it looks as though Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, has a lead of about .41 percent over Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee. That would be enough to trigger the automatic recount.
In the race for U.S. Senate, that's even tighter. The current Governor Rick Scott has a lead over Bill Nelson, the incumbent Senator, of only .14 percent. That, too, would be enough to trigger that automatic machine recount. If that does happen, and we're expecting it any minute from the secretary of state, we have a process of up until next Thursday when that machine recount has to take place. They'll then look at the numbers another time, and if the margins show a gap of less than a quarter of a percent, they'll begin a hand recount of just the undervotes and overvotes.
So this is just the beginning of what will likely be a very lengthy process, Fred. But as we await word from the secretary of state of Florida, it seems we are very likely headed to what could be an historic recount here in the Sunshine State -- Fred? WHITFIELD: Ryan Nobles, thank you. We'll check back with you a bit
later, from Tallahassee
Meantime, in Broward County, CNN's Jessica Dean is there, where the Canvassing Board has been meeting and made a decision to have a recount at least in that county.
But then what next? The secretary of state has to weigh in before it happened?
JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka. We're kind of in a holding pattern now. We have come outside. We were inside when the Canvassing Board was getting prepared to present their unofficial results to the secretary of state's office. They went all through the morning continuing to look at various votes and deciding if they were valid or invalid, going through that process.
This has attracted a lot of attention from people on both sides, supporters on both sides. We've seen protesters here throughout the morning and afternoon. They've moved them now to my right. You're hearing vocal protesters on both sides. People who are saying let every vote count. Other people who are very critical of Brenda Snipes, who is the election supervisor here. They keep chanting "lock her up." As we've been telling you, there's a high-energy, high- emotion here. A lot of eyes on Broward County, which historically has found itself in the spotlight for this type of thing. If you want to go back to the year 2000, it was right there in the middle of all that.
There was a press conference earlier. We want to let you listen to some of what was said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EUGENE PETTIS, ATTORNEY TO BOARD OF SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS: We're here. There have been allegations of fraud. Those are serious charges to recklessly off route there. There's no basis for it. To give a claim of fraud without any evidence I think is unacceptable. Should be unacceptable in our electoral process. The votes have all been counted. The votes have been transmitted to the state. As you may know, that was a deadline of noon today. They had that through the Canvassing Board. The preliminary certifications went up there in advance of 12 noon. That is what the law requires. That has been complied with. We've have complied with the judge's order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: So there's the official statement right now from the supervisor's office here.
Fredricka, we're going to keep an eye on this and we'll privilege you more information as we get it.
WHITFIELD: All right, thank you so much, Jessica. I appreciate it.
Let's talk more about this and what's at stake overall. Toluse Olorunnipa is with us, White House reporter for "Bloomberg
News," and Patrick Healy, a political editor for the "New York Times."
Good to see you both.
You hear the word recount and people start thinking about 2000 presidential race all over again, Florida, Florida, Florida.
So, Toluse, there's a lot at stake. We're talking about two very important and vital races, for the governor as well as the U.S. Senate with the incumbent, Bill Nelson. So now we've got a -- one county's Canvassing Board that gives a green light to a recount. But the secretary of state still has to weigh in here. People are on pins and needles, not just in Florida, but all the way to the White House. Why is the White House so incredibly invested in these races?
[13:05:10] TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, these are two races that are seen as referendums on President Trump. He went down to Florida several times. He endorsed the gubernatorial candidate early in the race, got him through that primary, and campaigned for him multiple times. Also, Governor Scott, President Trump spent a lot of time trying to boost his campaign, tweeting out his endorsement. This is a place where the president spends a lot of time, Mar-a-Lago. Looking forward to 2020, the president wants to make sure he has not only a Senator that's in place from the Republican Party in Florida, but also a governor who will be in charge of helping him try to secure Florida's 209 electoral votes. That's part of the reason why the president has gotten so involved. He started to spout various conspiracy theories about fraud and problems in Broward County without putting forward any evidence. But it's clear the president and the White House are very interested in what will happen in Florida and how those races will ultimately be called. Those two states, if they end up being called for Republicans, will be just a couple of bright spots in what was a pretty bad night for the president on election night, where we're seeing a growing number of Democrats that were able to flip seats. We're seeing a growing number of governors' races that actually flipped to Democrats. So the president is trying to hang on to Florida as one of the few bright spots on Tuesday night if the recounts end up with the Republicans remaining in the lead.
WHITFIELD: Patrick, when you talk about the recount and, you know, the gaps, in the U.S. Senate race and the governor's race, in one case, it's 14,000 votes that separates the two. In another, it's in the realm of 30,000, even with a recount. What messages are being sent by -- don't appear to be huge gaps when they break it down to people, 14,000 versus 30,000-something. What are the likelihoods that the recount will narrow the differences here and lead to whether it be recounts or perhaps even runoffs?
PATRICK HEALY, POLITICAL EDITOR, NEW YORK TIMES: Right, Fred. It's two issues going on here. One is the practical politics. One is the principle. Let's deal with the principle first. The principle is every vote should count. Every vote should be counted. Every vote matters. There should be a nonpartisan process in this country where votes are tabulated. And if there are questions about votes, you know, counties and states are set up to handle that, you know, in due order. It's not as if the election happens on a Tuesday night and, suddenly, you have to have a winner by 5:00 a.m. Wednesday. You know, problems occur and we're supposed to let a process play out. What we're seeing is principle coming up against the fact in Florida and in Georgia, you do have Republicans in charge of a process that they are also deeply invested in the outcome of. In the case of Georgia, former secretary of state, overseeing his own election. There's the principle issue.
The practical politics, Fred, and what you're getting at is, in Florida at least, the margin in the governor's race, between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, you know, is pretty -- is relatively large in recount territory. You may see a recount. But there's a reason why Andrew Gillum conceded to Ron DeSantis in the governor's race. It looked like the votes were going DeSantis' way. It's really unclear if a recount will change that. Now, in the Senate race, that vote is very narrow. We've seen cases before where a recount, where a look, you know, in a margin as close as Rick Scott and Bill Nelson, you know, can narrow. And if there are votes in Broward County and Palm Beach County, two Democratic counties, you know, that haven't been fully incorporated into the count, that could end up going Nelson's way. The key thing here is counting the votes and letting that vote count unfold. At least right now, it's a little bit more, you know, on the Senate side where they're --
And, Toluse, you had Gillum tweeting out, "Every vote counts." Just repeating exactly what Patrick Healy was saying. Then you have a counter message coming from the president in his tweet, while he's saying, "Thank you, you know, Marco Rubio, for helping to express the potential corruption going on with respect to election theft in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, the world is now watching closely."
Again, no evidence that there's corruption or even fraudulent practices, even though you even had Rick Scott who used those words at a press conference last night.
So what is the message being sent, you know, if all of the tallies or the votes are still being counted up until noon time today's deadline, how undermining is it, the message that every vote should count and be counted?
[13:10:20] OLORUNNIPA: Like Patrick said, that's a normal principle of our democracy, everybody gets a chance to vote and everyone who voted should have their vote counted. They voted according to the laws. It's not something that happens at a snap of a finger. It takes a while. There are mail-in ballots coming in from overseas. We're hearing messages from top political leaders about how there's fraud and how there's an attempt to steal an election. It's incredibly damaging to the faith Americans have in their democracy for these accusations to be made without any hard evidence.
WHITFIELD: Right, no evidence. OLORUNNIPA: Yes. It seems like, when you look at Florida, a number
of these leaders are saying we should certify the election as soon as possible and don't worry about all these extra votes. But when you look at Arizona, where the Democrat has taken the lead in the Senate race, it seems like a number of these Republican leaders want more time for more votes to be counted and there should be more of process there and every vote should count in that race. So we're seeing a little bit of a conflicting message there.
And I think it will be positive if everyone would take a step back, allow the process to play out. If there's any evidence of fraud, I'm sure law enforcement agencies that are involved will take a look at it. But I don't think we've seen any evidence of that, and definitely not enough evidence for there to be these conspiracy theories thrown about by the people in the highest levels of our politics.
WHITFIELD: Yes, thus far, none revealed.
All right, Toluse, Patrick, good to see you both. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Still to come, wildfires raging in both northern and southern California. One woman recorded her harrowing trip -- you see it right there -- trying to get out of the fire zone. A live report straight ahead.
[13:16:05] WHITFIELD: WHITFIELD: Right now, three major wildfires are scorching their way across California, claiming lives, property, and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes as fast as they can.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was crazy, people driving like maniacs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just can't believe it. It's like a war zone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could have mounted up and had everything I needed but I didn't have time. This is hard stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Wow. So far, at least nine people have died in northern California, 35 others are missing. And more than 6,700 buildings have been torched. That makes the Camp Fire one of the deadliests and most-destructive in state history. The town of Paradise hit the hardest. Officials say up to 90 percent of the homes there were destroyed.
Meantime, two other fires are wreaking havoc in the Los Angeles area. The town of Malibu, home to some of Hollywood's biggest celebrities, is almost totally evacuated.
We've got CNN correspondents standing by in these areas. They're seeing and experiencing the damage.
Let's begin with Dan Simon in northern California, in that town of Paradise.
So, Dan, what is the latest?
DAN SIMON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Fred. The level and scale of destruction is unlike anything we have ever seen in the state of California. When I first came into town, I was struck by how widespread the damage is. I took some photos and videos with my phone. I want to show you kind of what stuck out in my mind. The town's largest grocery store. Take a look.
Unfortunately, we don't have that video to show you, Fred.
But really what we have seen all throughout this community is truly breathtaking. I believe we do have that video now. Have a look.
SIMON (voice-over): The drive along the main thoroughfare is surreal. An endless stream of burned-out cars and smoldering ruins. The smoke is thick with the sun barely peeking through the haze. Some things catch your eye more than others.
Welcome to Paradise, the sign for this diner is a common stop for those documenting the destruction.
Fast-food restaurants, a church, seemingly nothing was spared.
(on camera): What are your observations as you go through the town?
JIM GILMORE, LOCAL CONTRACTOR: It's bizarre. Mind-boggling. It's hard to fathom right now. It's just numbing as you're driving through here. It's crazy how many places are burning, just the town 24 hours ago went into total mass destruction it feels like.
SIMON (voice-over): The town evacuated, it is hard to find any residents amid the ruins.
But we did find Jim Gilmore, a local contractor, whose house somehow survived.
(on camera): I'm going to ask you, how does the town rebound from something like this when most of the homes are lost?
GILMORE: The people up here are strong and they're resilient and they don't take no for an answer. They'll come back.
SIMON: Well, 80 percent to 90 percent of the homes have been destroyed. You're not going to have anybody living in the town of Paradise for a very long time. Most of the infrastructure is also destroyed. You can see some of the downed power lines right here. The good news, Fred, is the winds have died down. The containment
number is going up. It's about 20 percent. The bad news is the winds are supposed to come back tonight. So the threat here in northern California is going to persist.
Fred, we'll send it back to you.
WHITFIELD: Wow. All right, Dan, thank you very much. A powerful look at what people are up against.
Let's go south to Malibu. That's where we find Scott McLean.
Scott, describe the situation there. We see actively firefighters trying to put our frames behind you.
[13:19:54] SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka. So we're in Malibu, along one of the main roads, and we're close to Point Doom if people know that area. Just a couple blocks away, and firefighters are working on what looks to be a guest house. There's also a house in the front of the property that is completely destroyed. There's homes all along with road that are absolutely reduced to really a pile of ash and rubble.
Just take you over here, Fredricka, you can see the neighbor's house. There's a little bit of a flame down there. The gas has been left on in a lot of these homes. What we're seeing is that it seems like the gas has been left on in a lot of these homes. You're seeing this sort of pilot light, this sort of flame. It's not clear if they'll get those shut off. But it's a strong sight to see.
Then, in other places, you will see houses that are completely untouched in this area. It -
WHITFIELD: All right, well, we lost that signal there.
Understandably, this is very tough terrain. It's an incredible, colossal and dangerous and perilous battle there for the fire crews and even our crews there while these wildfires are out of control in both northern and southern California, which have both proven to be very damaging, and particularly in northern California, deadly.
Still ahead, the "Wall Street Journal" says then-Candidate Donald Trump was involved in nearly every step of paying hush money to two women he allegedly had affairs with, but the president says he had no idea of the payoffs. Who is telling the truth?
[13:25:54] WHITFIELD: WHITFIELD: A report in the "Wall Street Journal" suggests then-Candidate Donald Trump was personally involved in the payment of hush money to adult film star, Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy model, Karen McDougal, during the 2016 campaign.
Here now is CNN's M.J. Lee. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER (voice-over): New details implicating the president in two infamous hush payments. The "Wall Street Journal" reporting that during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump closely coordinated with American Media Inc Chairman David Pecker to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump. Federal prosecutors, according to "The Journal," had enough evidence to outline Trump's role, without naming him, in an 80-page draft indictment of Michael Cohen.
Trump reportedly asked Pecker to kill a story involving a Playboy model, Karen McDougal. She claims to have had a long-running affair with Trump.
KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYMATE MODEL: If he weren't married, I wouldn't have any regrets because he treated me very kind. He was very respectful. As I told you, it was a good relationship while it happened. Now, had I known at the time there were supposedly all these other women, no, I wouldn't have been in the relationship.
LEE: Trump was involved in or briefed on nearly every step of the agreements, according to "The Journal." He directed deals and phone calls and meetings with the self-described fixer, Michael Cohen, and others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: I'm obviously very loyal and very dedicated to Mr. Trump.
LEE: Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal counts in August, including two counts of campaign finance violations. Cohen told the court that it was at Trump's direction that he facilitated the secret payments.
Prosecutors said Cohen coordinated with one or more members of the campaign.
And there's this secret recording obtained by CNN in July.
(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)
COHEN: I need to open up a company for the transfer of all that info recording our friend, David. So that -- I'm going to do that right away. I've actually come up with --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:
COHEN: I've spoken to Alan Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up with funding.
COHEN: Yes. It's all the stuff.
COHEN: All the stuff. Because here, you never know if that company, you never know what he's going to --
TRUMP: If he gets hit by a --
COHEN: Correct. So I'm over that. And I spoke to Alan about it. When it comes time for the financing, which will be --
COHEN: Well --
COHEN: No, no, no, no, no.
(END AUDIO FEED)
LEE: Showing Cohen and Trump discussing a payment to McDougal.
CNN has reported that Trump was also personally involved in silencing Daniels, who also claims to have had a sexual encounter with Trump.
STORMY DANIELS, FORMER PORN STAR: My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and the facts of what happened. And I give my word that we will not rest until that happens.
LEE: The new details of Trump's intimate involvement clashing with previous denials from the president and the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the payments to Stormy Daniels? Why did
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why did Michael Cohen make it if there was no truth to the allegations?
TRUMP: You'll have to ask Michael Cohen.
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has denied these allegations. And I don't have anything else further to add on that front.
LEE (on camera): A source close to Cohen tells CNN that Cohen was just doing his job and protecting his client. Meanwhile, Stormy Daniel's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, reacted all of this is just further vindication that he and his client were right. All of this happening as Cohen is meeting with various investigators and awaits his sentencing in December.
M.J. Lee, CNN, New York.
WHITFIELD: Let's talk it over with CNN legal analyst, Ross Garber.
Good to see you, Ross.
We heard in the report that the U.S. prosecutors had accumulated evidence of Trump's role without naming him in the Cohen indictment. Cohen is facing sentencing in December. But apparently, Cohen has also talked to Bob Mueller team members. So who would be pursuing any kind of federal election violation that the president, then-candidate, may have been involved in?
ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes. So if there's a prosecution, it would be by the prosecution in the southern district of New York. Bob Mueller handed this aspect of the case off to the SDNY to handle. And these are the federal prosecutors in New York.
I'll say M.J.'s piece and the fabulous reporting in the "Wall Street Journal" were pretty explosive. What they alleged, in the "Wall Street Journal," what they reported was that before Cohen was charged, there was an 80-page indictment that was drafted but never submitted implicating the president in detail. Pretty explosive stuff.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And that so much is being said that a sitting president can be -- cannot be indicted. But does that only include any allegations while that person is the sitting president or are we talking about allegations that go back to prior presidency? Can you explain there's a difference or is it all the same?
GARBER: Longtime Department of Justice policy says a sitting president cannot be indicted while he or she is in office. It applies to any crimes. It is DOJ policy and under the regulations governed by both the southern district of New York and also the special counsel. That's the policy and that would bind them, unless the Department of Justice changed their regulations. While he is in office, under current DOJ policy, the president can't be indicted. Now what that doesn't do is prevent a former president from being indicted. After a president leaves office, he or she can be indicted.
The other important thing here is it doesn't prevent those around the president from being indicted. It certainly wouldn't prevent his company from being indicted, which I think is one of the big issues raised by M.J.'s piece.
WHITFIELD: Then when it comes down to admission, or lack thereof, we know that, you know, on Air Force One, the president had been asked about it and he says, ask my attorney, I don't know anything about it. Then later on, he would say in a FOX interview that, yes, I made the payment. Now, none of this is under oath. So is that kind of documentation at all powerful for anyone who wanted to pursue the president?
WHIFIELD: That it's not under oath but public record.
GARBER: Yes. Prosecutors and investigators think -- if there's lying or dissembling, they think that's relevant because, if somebody lies or dissembles or doesn't tell the truth, they've got a reason for hiding the truth. So prosecutors, agents, and potentially grand jurors will think that that -- you know, if that is what happened, that's important.
Ultimately, I think this is going to wind up to be an issue before Congress. Because the presidential pardon powers are vast. The president can pardon anyone he wants. So --
WHITFIELD: Even preemptively?
GARBER: Right. The president -- President Nixon was pardoned by President Ford preemptively. Yes, even preemptively. That is, in effect, the Trump part here, is the president's ability to pardon anyone, including himself. So at the end of the day, where this probably winds up before Congress in a potential impeachment proceeding, and there, the House, and if it gets that far, the Senate, would have to decide what they think of the president's actions.
WHITFIELD: Yes, now Democratically controlled Congress after January.
All right, Ross Garber, thank you.
GARBER: Sure thing.
[13:34:06] WHITFIELD: Next, a scrutiny over President Trump's pick for acting attorney general. So is he qualified for the job or not? After all the backlash, where exactly does the president stand on this?
WHITFIELD: President Trump is downplaying his ties to his new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, a decision that has prompted growing concern among staff at the White House.
This comes as George Conway, the husband of counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, co-wrote a scathing op-ed for the "New York Times" where Conway blasted Whitaker's appointment as, quote, "unconstitutional and illegal." Explaining it this say, saying, "Because Mr. Whitaker has not undergone the process of Senate confirmation, there's been no mechanism for scrutinizing whether he has the character and ability to evenhandedly enforce the law in a position of such grave responsibility. The public is entitled to that ensurance, especially since Mr. Whitaker's only supervisor is Mr. Trump himself, and the president is hopelessly compromised by the Mueller investigation." When asked Mr. Conway's op-ed, Trump says he's only trying to get
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway? He's just trying to get publicity for himself. Why don't you do this, why don't you ask Kellyanne that question, all right?
TRUMP: She might -- she might know him better than me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:40:05] WHITFIELD: Whitaker has made his opinion on the Mueller investigation known publicly well before this. Listen to what he told me in August of last year about the scope of the Mueller probe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT WHITAKER, ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: My understanding of the scope is that it is limited. This is one of the discussions I've been having with lots of people. In fact, I'm writing an editorial piece that should be up on CNN.com soon about that there is a red line, there is a very specific scope to this investigation, and anything that is outside of Russian coordination or the 2016 campaign would be outside of the scope of that investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So shortly after my interview there, Whitaker posted that op-ed on CNN.com, where he wrote, Mueller was, quoting now, "dangerously close to crossing," end quote, a red line following reports that the special counsel was looking into Trump's finances.
Avery Friedman is a civil rights attorney and law professor in Cleveland for us. Richard Herman is in New York, criminal defense attorney and law professor, joins us from New Orleans.
Good to see you both.
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Good to see you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Richard, you first.
You know, starting with what Whitaker, you know, has said in the past and now he is acting, you know, attorney general. Should he be recusing himself at all?
HERMAN: Fred, this is just complete insanity. Trump and his administration are just basically humiliating the American population. They think we're ignorant morons, and we're not. We see through all this facade, Fred. Trump has been under criminal investigation for the Russian collusion issue and obstruction from day one. It's what he talks about every day. Witch hunt. No collusion. Witch hunt. No collusion. To that extent, he fires Comey because Comey's leading the investigation. He brings Sessions in. Sessions recuses himself.
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: -- talking about Whitaker.
HERMAN: Now, you got to follow me, then you'll understand, Avery, when I get to the point.
Now, once Sessions gets fired and Rosenstein takes over, now he -- Rosenstein should have been the one to take over. That's the point, Fred. He hires Whitaker. Who is Whitaker?
HERMAN: He's a pundit --
WHIFIELD: -- confirmation and generally that would be the sequence of events the deputy would fill in where the acting or, you know, the A.G. would not be able to.
WHIFIELD: But now that the president has said it is Whitaker, he was the chief of staff, he has not been subject to Senate confirmation, you know, who would be in the position to override the president's decision? It is Whitaker, period, even though he does not have confirmation. He is going to be the acting A.G. until somebody else is nominated and becomes permanent, Richard.
HERMAN: Fred, all this guy does on TV is support Trump. That's all he does. He takes that position, he's hired to do that position. To the credit of CNN, for the past 18 years, Avery and I have never been told, take this position. We don't. We speak how we see things. This guy goes on and all he does is support Trump.
HERMAN: And Trump rewards him for that and makes him attorney general, skipping over the solicitor general and Rosenstein --
FRIEDMAN: Oh, no.
HERMAN: -- both of whom have been vetted and approved by the Senate. This is an outrageous attempt to destroy the Mueller investigation. This guy is going to fire Mueller. It's just the clock is ticking. He's the hitman for Trump. He's going to do it.
FRIEDMAN: All right.
HERMAN: He's said this. He's already said there's no collusion. He's already said there's no obstruction.
FRIEDMAN: All right --
HERMAN: How does he know any of this?
WHIFIELD: So, Avery --
HERMAN: He's got a previous position, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Avery, how do you see those --
FRIEDMAN: Hey, listen, the bottom line, everybody's getting overly excited. This is an interim appointment. Even Mitch McConnell said he's not going to last long. The bottom line is, in a certain way, CNN is responsible for this guy being acting attorney general.
HERMAN: Oh, please.
WHIFIELD: By putting him on the air?
FRIEDMAN: What was it? He made one remark, made one remark about collusion --
HERMAN: It's not one.
FRIEDMAN: -- and, all of a sudden, two months later, he says good- bye, Des Moines, hello, Washington. He's the chief of staff. Look it, Whitaker --
WHIFIELD: Except he went on the air last year, when he was making the rounds and, of course, now reportedly, you're reading that he has been kind of auditioning for the job for a very long time, waiting in the wings.
FRIEDMAN: That's right.
WHIFIELD: But back to where we are right now, Mitch McConnell did telegraph that, very soon, there will be Senate confirmation of someone. Do you see that this is very, very temporary, Avery, a matter of days, weeks?
WHIFIELD: You know, the president separating himself from even knowing Whitaker, or is this more than 200 days before the next session?
[13:45:00] FRIEDMAN: Here's the point, Fredricka, that wasn't a condemnation. CNN does what it does. Some people showing up on the air saying things. There's a connection between his visibility and the chief of staff. The fact is, whether you're a Trump-supporting Senator in -- if confirmation were to go forward, the views of the Constitution and the federal courts are so out of the mainstream, so extreme, that he could not get confirmed anyhow. He's not going to fire Mueller. He's merely a --
HERMAN: That's not the issue.
FRIEDMAN: It's not going to happen.
HERMAN: It's not the issue now.
FRIEDMAN: It is the issue.
HERMAN: He is going to be -- he is going to be in charge of Mueller. He's going to be in charge of the criminal investigation against the president.
HERMAN: He's said over and over again there's no collusion. It is a witch hunt. You cannot get Trump's personal finances.
HERMAN: He says this over and over.
HERMAN: He's published it.
FRIEDMAN: Take it easy. Take it easy.
FRIEDMAN: So the Republican is saying we're going to protect this investigation. There's no way it's going to happen. At the end of the day, Whitaker said, well, we understand Marbury versus Madison, which is the predicate of our whole predicate of our whole constitutional --
HERMAN: Irrelevant to the issue here. He misses the point.
(CROSSTALK) WHIFIELD: But so many said --
WHIFIELD: -- prior to this it would be a constitutional crisis --
WHIFIELD: -- if in any way the Mueller investigation --
WHIFIELD: -- or Mueller were fired --
FRIEDMAN: The reports are inferior. Mr. Whitaker is inferior. He's going to be gone.
HERMAN: Avery, focus on the issue. He controls Mueller. Anything Mueller wants to do now, he has to go to him to get approval on.
WHIFIELD: Do you believe there are protections put in place just in case?
FRIEDMAN: constitutional crisis --
HERMAN: The president says --
FRIEDMAN: All right, remember, you're saying he's going to fire Mueller --
HERMAN: You keep talking, you can't hear me.
FRIEDMAN: Before you have a heart attack, let's see what happens, all right?
WHIFIELD: All right, we shall, indeed.
All right. Thank you so much.
Richard, do you have a really quick last word?
HERMAN: I'm just saying, why would the president a month ago say, oh, I know him, he's such a great guy, his wonderful. And yesterday, say -- (CROSSTALK)
WHIFIELD: And now he says he doesn't know --
WHIFIELD: -- perhaps that's because of the backlash.
HERMAN: This is a conspiracy. It's outrageous. People have to wake up. This is really, really bad. Wake up.
FRIEDMAN: We'll see you next week.
WHITFIELD: All right, thank you so much, Richard, Avery.
HERMAN: Take care.
WHIFIELD: Appreciate it. You always bringing your passion. Appreciate it.
We'll be right back.
[13:51:55] WHITFIELD: WHITFIELD: A remarkable battle between former first lady, Michelle Obama, and President Donald Trump. Mrs. Obama revealing in her new book that she will never forgive President Trump for his role in the Birther movement.
Here is CNN's Kate Bennett.
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (voice-over): In her new book, "Becoming," out next week, former first lady, Michelle Obama, laid bear some of her most personal previously held secrets.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: It is candid. It's honest. It is totally and utterly me.
BENNETT: Her eight years as first lady, Obama seemed unfailingly accessible.
BENNETT: From her appearances on talk shows --
OBAMA: Turn up? For what?
BENNETT: -- to her use of social media. And the casual openness with which she hosted White House events.
But she was also fiercely private. Revealing little about her daughters, and certain parts of her relationship with Barack Obama.
In this new book, Michelle is telling all, from her struggles to get pregnant, a miscarriage, and ultimately turning to IVF --
OBAMA: I felt like I failed. Because I didn't know how common miscarriages were. Because we don't talk about it. We sit in our own pain thinking that somehow we're broken.
BENNETT: -- to her marriage, which she says is, quote, "phenomenal," but has required bouts of counseling.
OBAMA: We work on our marriage. And we get help with our marriage when we need it. Marriage counseling for us was one of those ways where we learned how to talk out our differences.
BENNETT: And while gracious with the Trumps on inauguration morning, Michelle Obama is now done with niceties. Revealing her husband's successor has made her, quote, "body buzz with fury."
In excerpts published by the "Washington Post," Obama says she will never forgive Trump for questioning whether her husband, the nation's first black president, was born in America.
TRUMP: I want him to show his birth certificate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?
TRUMP: There's something on that birth certificate that he doesn't like.
BENNETT: "It is underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed but it was also dangerous," she writes. "What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family's safety at risk."
The president responding from the South Lawn.
TRUMP: Look, she got paid a lot of money to write a book. And they always insist that you come up with controversial. 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.
OBAMA: When they go low, we go high.
BENNETT: The former first lady has pushed back on Trump before, but with her time in the White House behind her, it is clear Obama is now not holding back.
(on camera): Even though she is no longer first lady, Hollywood still likes Michelle Obama. Sara Jessica Parker, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, some of the names joining the former first lady on her book tour, which coincides with the release of "Becoming."
Kate Bennett, CNN, Washington.
[13:55:05] WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.
WHITFIELD: In this week's final episode of "PARTS UNKNOWN,", we see Anthony Bourdain's personal journey through a formally bohemian New York neighborhood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY BOURDAIN, FORMER CNN HOST (voice-over): In the New York City of the '70s, nearly bankrupt, riddled with corruption, the lower east side, particularly Alphabet City, was left to fend for itself.
[14:00:05] BOURDAIN: Huge swaths of it abandoned, ruined, or simply empty.