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Palm Beach County Says it Won't Be Able to Reach the Recount Deadline; House and Senate Democrats Say Matt Whitaker Should Recuse Himself From the Russia Investigation; This Week's CNN Hero; The Most Horrific Fire Seen in California in 30 Years. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired November 11, 2018 - 16:00   ET



[16:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- anticipated having to evacuate all zones, all at the same time.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: With winds now picking up, there is no sign of relief any time soon.

Plus, a dire warning to President Trump from a key U.S. ally.

EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying our interests firsts, who cares about the others --

WHITFIELD: Trump's nationalist, America first agenda targeted by France's president as world leaders gather to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Millions of American, French, and allied troops had fought with extraordinary skill and valor in one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WHITFIELD: Hello, everyone. Thanks again for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The death toll from the California wildfires is rising. Officials say two people have been killed by the Woolsey Fire. The first fatalities in Southern California. And that pushes the total number of deaths across the state to at least 25 now.

The flames are intensifying. These images are the latest, showing the devastation in Malibu. And today officials issued this warning.


CHIEF MARK LORENZEN, VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: All state, federal, and local agencies are doing everything they can to deal with these fires. Sadly, with these winds, it's not over yet. So please, be careful. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: At this moment, three fires are raging in the state, and with wind gusts expected upwards of 60 miles per hour today, the uphill battle firefighters already face steepening.

Our team is standing by with everything you need to know about these deadly fires. I want to begin with Scott McLean. He's in Malibu, where high winds are expected to fuel this Woolsey Fire for the next couple of days in fact.

So, Scott, tell us more.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fredricka. That's right. Firefighters yesterday had a bit of a reprieve, managing to get this fire 10 percent contained, but the worry, as you mentioned, with those winds kicking up today, all the way into Tuesday, is that things will get worse.

You can see this part of Malibu, or right near the ocean, has been absolutely charred. You can see all the trees that have been burned through. And then if you look to the other side, there's a canyon there. And it managed to get all the way up to the other side. But somehow, those houses or those condos managed to survive.

We know from talking to people who live over there that they're trying to put out hot spots, they're trying to use shovels to put out whatever smoldering areas they can to try to protect their homes. If you come over here, some of these homes that were impacted, you know, you can imagine, were absolutely gorgeous.

This one has a tennis court, has a beautiful ocean view right out to the Pacific Ocean. Then you can see here this looks like it was probably a garage. There's a charred car there. And then check out the smoke at the neighbor's house. You know, this is what we're talking about. Some of these areas that are just smoldering that are hard to put out for good, you know, seem to reenergize and once you get a gust of wind. And that is part of the problem that firefighters are seeing.

I actually spoke to a woman not long ago who used to live in this house right here, the one on the ocean. And she just moved about a year ago. She gave us a bit of a tour, listen.


JUDITH HAENEL, MALIBU HOME DESTROYED BY WILDFIRE: This was the front door and then you went down around the back side there. And the landlords, the owner of the property, had a one-bedroom unit here. And we were in a two-bedroom unit here. That was our living room, fireplace, and the bedroom fireplace is over there.


MCLEAN: She said it's hard to imagine that the fire got this close to the ocean. I mean, right to the edge of the ocean, literally. She said people in this area just never expected that it would come to this. They figured people inland were at a much greater risk. They didn't really think that they were at much of a risk or certainly as much of a risk in this area.

The problem with the winds, Fredricka, is that because they are going to be coming from onshore, that means that they are -- the air is hot and it is dry. Humidity levels are extremely low. Again it makes that fire risk very, very dangerous.

WHITFIELD: Wow. And Scott, did she have a story as to how she got out?

MCLEAN: Yes, so she's lucky. She actually used to live in this house. She moved one year ago. So she lives elsewhere in Malibu right now. She actually operates a kitchen. So luckily, she said she managed to not be in area when the fire was going on. But I spoke to other people who said they were trying to, you know, fend off the flames right until things looked just simply too dangerous.

One guy yesterday, his named is Scott Major (PH), he came back for the first time. He said they were literally going with a garden hose to try to hose down everything that they could, but they lived sort of at the top of a canyon. And of course, fire travels much easier uphill than it does downhill.

[16:05:07] And so he was doing the best that he could, but then once he saw a power pole on his street get knocked over because it had been burned through, he said it's time to leave. And I'm sure there are many stories just like that one -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Close calls. All right. Scott McLean, thank you so much.

All right, now let's go to Nick Valencia in northern California, where the deadly Camp Fire is still out of control. And there, too, are some unbelievable, harrowing stories. At the same time, this is particularly deadly in your region.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, just awful, awful images that we're seeing here in northern California. This is Paradise, California, which really was the epicenter of the Camp Fire as it started on Thursday morning. And some of these sort of shocking images that we're seeing are right here, right behind me. These cars, the aftermath of the gridlock that ensued just after 6:30 in the morning when this fire started. And some of the more shocking images to us here is this melted windshield that melted on to the steering wheel.

We did a check here. It takes about 2800 degrees Fahrenheit to melt glass like this. You have aluminum melted as well. This fire so random and indiscriminate. Already it's burned 109,000 acres. Overnight it burned an additional -- or including 6,000 acres burned overnight. It's not as much as they expected, though, especially with those red flag warnings that Scott was talking about in his earlier report. 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts, perfect conditions for this type of fire to spread. And just how random I was talking about and indiscriminate fire, you

have a plastic bin here filled with kindling that was untouched. This side of the street, just devastated by the fire. You still see, you know, some of these structures that are still smoldering. People have lost their lives, lots of people have lost their lives here. In fact, 19 in all, four in a neighboring town, bringing in the total of 23 so far in all.

A sheriff gave a press conference last night here locally, saying about 100 people are still unaccounted for. They expect that number to fluctuate there, Fredricka, in the coming days as they continue to find people and go through these areas and recover perhaps even more bodies -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nick Valencia, thank you so much from Paradise, California.

Meteorologist Tom Sater joining me right now.

So, Tom, the winds, it's very dry. Just a combustible combination.

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. It really isn't good. I mean, they should have, at least through October into the first two weeks of November, we should have five, six inches of rain, maybe even isolated seven inches. But this season, this wildfire season, year by year, we're starting to see it extended. We haven't had a drop of rain in a month. So that's one of the problems.

But we've got other concerns here. Yes, the winds are strong. Extremely dry. Humidity on Thursday in one hour dropped from like 37 percent into the single digits. That's drier than a desert. But here are the red flag warnings. You see them in pink. In gray, that's poor air quality. Wait until I show you the satellite images. You're just going to be amazed.

Paradise, communities are scorched. They are just lost. This is amazing. We do have 25 percent containment. The firefighters are doing a tremendous job trying to battle these winds. This is the western U.S. on Thursday. You see some snow in the mountains. But not a cloud until you see the smoke plume. They should be into the wet season right now. That's not occurring. But on Thursday, the winds howling down through the mountain passes, through the canyons, triggering this of course.

But then the winds shifted. And look where the smoke went. Instead of offshore, it's through all of California. San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno. That's just what the Camp Fire to the north. But let me show you something because this is interesting. This is where we're having our hot spots. Here's the scorched area. Chico, where everybody has been going a course to get away. Then there's Paradise in the center.

Notice the hot spots. We can now overlay some of the flight paths that the tankers have been taking. And you can start to see it. I'll ground on here for you again. Fighting that northern flank, hot spots to the northeast, but they're really starting to work down to the south now to try to cut this off before it gets down to Oroville Dam. Now let's take a look at this. Camp Fire is now the most destructive

in California history. But if you look at the years past, a thousand here, a thousand structures, thousand, all of a sudden we're up to 6700. And it tops now just last year's Tubbs Fire. The years here is what's really something. They're all from 2015, 2017, 2018 now. To the south, Woolsey Fire, only 10 percent contained.

I can't say that the Hill Fire that started Thursday is now 75 percent contained. So they've been working great on that. But this is where you have Malibu trying to fight it off with a retardant, trying to bomb from above everything to try to save these homes. But on the southern flank, you get over toward areas such as Hidden Hills, tens of thousands of homes are still at risk here, threatened of course from these fires.

So they're working these fires the best they can, from the ground and from above. And of course, we have injuries already from firefighters. Here's the plume offshore, Fredricka, from the fire to the south, Ventura County. And again the winds are blowing that back in. I know they had a wind shift in Burbank and said many people couldn't even get outdoors.

[16:10:01] We are going to see improvement to the north tomorrow, getting a little to the south, but we're still looking at extreme conditions to continue for the Woolsey Fire to the south. But maybe a little better tomorrow. The problem is it reverses and goes back to what it was on Thursday as we get into Tuesday and Wednesday. So this is not a good time of year. We should be having rain in this area of the country and we're not.

WHITFIELD: Just deteriorating conditions. All right. Thank you so much, Tom Sater. We'll check back with you. Appreciate it.

All right. Coming up, to Florida we go. Rick Scott's campaign filing lawsuits over the recount in that state as states prepare to -- counties, rather, to start counting those ballots. So we'll take you live to Florida. Next.


WHITFIELD: We're following breaking news out of Florida. Florida Governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Rick Scott and his campaign are preparing legal action on the Florida recount, which has put this election on hold in terms of the outcome of at least three races now.

[16:15:02] This happening as the process of recounting ballots in all 67 counties is under way for the first time in Florida history.

This is a live look inside the Broward County supervisor of elections office, where voting machines are sorting ballots and soon the recounting of those votes will begin. The vote totals for governor and the U.S. Senate races are less than half a percentage point, forcing now this recount.

Let's get the very latest now from CNN's Ryan Nobles, who is in Tallahassee for us. So, Ryan, tell us more about these lawsuits filed by Rick Scott.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. And we even have some more information since the last time that we spoke. Right?

Let me first tell you about these lawsuits. Three different lawsuits filed by Rick Scott's campaign. They're directed at the supervisors of elections in Broward and in Palm Beach County. The first is directly against Brenda Snipes, who's the supervisor of elections there. It's accusing her of counting ballots after the noon deadline on Saturday, and saying that she did that illegally, against Florida law.

So they're trying to prevent those votes from being counted in the overall total. And then there are two other lawsuits, one dealing with Broward County, the other with Palm Beach County that requests that Florida sheriffs and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement impound any ballot and machine involved in the counting while the counting is not happening. So that would mean if they take a break for any reason or after the recount is all over.

And since we last reported this news, we do now have a statement in, Fred, from Senator Bill Nelson himself. This actually just hit my inbox so I'm going to read it for you now. It says, quote, "If Rick Scott wanted to make sure every legal ballot is counted, he would not be suing to try and stop voters from having their legal ballot counted as intended. He's been doing this for the same reason he's been making false and panicked claims about voter fraud. He's worried that when all the votes are counted, he'll lose this election. We will not allow him to undermine the democratic process, and we will use every legal tool available to protect the rights of Florida voters."

So that comes directly from Senator Bill Nelson. We haven't heard that much from Senator Nelson since the election. He's only given one video statement and has been quiet in terms of paper statements, like this one I just read. So this is a strong reaction from the Nelson campaign as we get this new information about these lawsuits.

Fred, we don't anticipate that these lawsuits will have any real tangible impact on the recount, but, you know, we'll have to see what a judge says when they hear these lawsuits and if that does change the course of this. But at this point right now, a lot of back and forth between these campaigns as this historic recount is really just beginning -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then, Ryan, is Scott's campaign saying anything more about how it knows? I mean, what has it discovered in this accusation that the, you know, supervisor Brenda Snipes counted votes after the noon deadline yesterday, when noon was the deadline for all of the precincts, all the counties to get those numbers in? How do they know that in their accusation?

NOBLES: Yes. I mean, they do -- yes, exactly. In the lawsuit, they do provide some explanation as to why they believe that this took place. But I have to tell you, from my own experience in covering elections and counting ballots, it's not as if, you know, ballots are separated and put in different boxes by the -- you know, from where they're counted at any given time.

You know, Florida does make some precautions for the difference between a provisional ballot versus a mail-in ballot, versus a ballot that's actually filed at the actual jurisdiction. But I do think that this may be a difficult thing for a judge to rule on. And that's just from my own personal experience covering vote counts like this.

You know, a lot of this, Fred -- and I think we do have to caution our viewers. A lot of this is theater from both sides designed to make one side look like they're being more in the interest of voters versus the other side being more in the interest of voters. So, you know, a judge is going to have a look at this. The judge is the one that will make the final decision. But this is just another page in this new story being written about Florida politics.

WHITFIELD: All right. And even with these lawsuits filed now, the counting, the recounting continues. And the deadline for that is this Thursday, 3:00 p.m.

All right. Thank you so much, Ryan Nobles. Appreciate it from Tallahassee.

All right. Still ahead, tension on the world stage. One of the U.S.'s strongest allies denouncing President Trump's nationalism approach. This as world leaders gathered to pay tribute to those who died in World War I.


[16:23:53] WHITFIELD: President Trump is on his way back to Washington after a trip to France that had a few tense moments. During events commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a forceful rebuke of Trump's self-proclaimed nationalist position.


MACRON (through translator): Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They're ready to wreak chaos and death. History sometimes threatens to take its sinister course once again.


WHITFIELD: And later in the rain, Trump spoke at an American cemetery where 1,565 Americans from World War I and World War II are buried. Trump did not acknowledge Macron's nationalism dig, instead focusing on honoring the fallen.


TRUMP: American and French patriots of World War I embody the timeless virtues of our two republics, honor and courage, strength and valor, love and loyalty, grace and glory. [16:25:10] It is our duty to preserve the civilization they defended

and to protect the peace they so nobly gave their lives to secure one century ago.


WHITFIELD: And yesterday after cancelling a planned wreath laying at another American cemetery roughly 50 miles outside of Paris because of what the White House called logistical difficulties caused by weather, vociferous backlash. They grandson of former British prime minister Winston Churchill, who's also a member of parliament, among those criticizing the decision, tweeting this. "They died with their face to the foe, and that pathetic, inadequate realDonaldTrump couldn't even defy the weather to pay his respects to the fallen?"

Joining me right now, CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger.

Good to see you. All right. So your reaction to, I guess, the decision for the president not to do the wreath laying and then get that kind of backlash. What are your thoughts?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Fredricka, I think there are two elements to his trip, both of which I think over time will come to symbolize in some way the breach between the United States and its closest allies in the first two years of the Trump presidency. One of them was just the optics earlier today of all of the leaders lined up and walking together down the Champs-Elysees, trying to show the sign of unity, and they were missing one man. It was Donald Trump.

The White House later said that there was a security protocol that meant that he had to come separately, but we've seen this happen before. We've seen moments where presidents have had to come out with their allies, and they figured out the security protocol in advance.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and what's the damage done when you have -- whether it's a security protocol, whether it's the logistical problems, the, you know, excuses that come with, you know, or the explanations that come with this kind of absence?

SANGER: Fredricka, the problem that you run into is that it plays into a meme very clear in Europe, less so here in the U.S., that the United States is separating itself from its allies. And you heard this a bit in President Macron's statement. It was the section you ran. There was another section of his speech where he said, when you put American -- when you put interests of a nation first -- he didn't say America, but clearly that's what he meant.


SANGER: You are then basically doing the selfish thing of saying that it is your interests over the joint interests with your allies that matter the most. I don't think the president would disagree with that. He's very deliberate in his use of America first. And I think in this particular case, he -- Macron was making it clear that the higher form of patriotism is sewing like-minded nations together.

WHITFIELD: Well, could you tell or do you in any way decipher, you know, how this is being received by, you know, President Trump? I mean, he heard those words via translation loud and clear like everybody else. He was also present when Macron would reach over, you know, and put his hand on Trump's hand or even on his thigh yesterday, you know, when they were talking together. And you couldn't see, you know, a response of body language coming from the president.

SANGER: No, you couldn't. And it's hard to know. Macron is highly aware that during a very politically charged campaign, the president came out and made a defense of nationalism. And he was coming back just as hard today and saying nationalism is actually part of the disease that brought about the war, whose end we are marking in the most solemn way today. He made very clear allusions to the current wave of right-wing nationalist government sort of sweeping around the world, and many in Europe.

He didn't say that we're going back to the era of World War I, but he said that that is certainly one of the risks we have to be aware of. For the president's own reaction, he didn't say anything in that very nice speech that he gave at the American cemetery. But my guess is if there is a reaction, it'll come out in a tweet sometime in the coming days.

WHITFIELD: Is too much being said or thought of in terms of the demeanor between President Trump and Vladimir Putin where President Trump gave, you know, a big smile, you know, and in return, you know, also got a big thumbs up from Putin.

SANGER: Well, it is a little bit strange here that, you know, with Macron's suggestion a few days ago that Europe needed its own military to defend itself against Russia and he suggested perhaps the United States at some point in the future. That truly angered President Trump. And he took a shot at it. And I can understand why he did that. The body language with Putin is always watched and maybe watched too much.

The next big moment will come when they meet in a few weeks at the G20. And I am sure that the President is aware that he can't repeat the performance he had at the press conference after their meeting in Helsinki over the summer, which I think was considered pretty widely to be one of the worst moments of his presidency.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: All right. David Sanger, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.


[16:35:05] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. We're following breaking news out of Florida. We're learning that Palm Beach County says it will not be able to reach the Thursday deadline to complete the required recount. Let's get the very latest now from CNN's Ryan Nobles, who is in Tallahassee, this on top of new lawsuits being filed by the U.S. Senate candidate.

RYAN NOBLES, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yeah, that's right, Fred, a lot of moving parts here in this recount story. And this comes from our colleague, Greg Craig, who has reporting this story in Palm Beach for us. He actually spoke to Susan Butcher, who is the Supervisor of Elections there in Palm Beach. And she told Greg that it is impossible for her county to meet the deadline of having all of their ballots recounted by the Thursday deadline.

And that is a significant development in this recount process, because Florida law states that you can only count the ballots that are counted by that deadline. This could be a significant and big blow for Democrats. Palm Beach County is an area where they did very well on election night. That's where many of the votes that they were hoping that could potentially flip this race could be held.

And the fact that they may not be able to get all those votes in time for the deadline could be a big blow to their chances in terms of overcoming either one of the candidates in the governor or U.S. Senate race. Now, Fred, we should also point out this could perhaps open the door to a new round of lawsuits on behalf of the Democrats to allow for that deadline to be extended.

But that would require a judge to be involved, and that could open the door to perhaps other counties being involved as well. But this is something that we need to keep a very close eye on, because Palm Beach County saying that they will not be able to have that count done by Thursday, and that could have a very big impact on this overall recount. Fred?

WHITFIELD: So then Ryan, is there a reason? So in five days, they cannot do the recount. But the numbers that they did tabulate, that took place in less than five days, did it not, after Election Day on Tuesday?

NOBLES: Right, great question, Fred. So the answer to that is that the recount process is much different than the original counting process. And that's because you need to segregate each one of these races from all of the other races that took place on election night. And in this case, there are three different statewide races.

There's the governor's race, the Senate race, and the race for State Agriculture Commissioner. That is a laborious process. And depending on what type of voting machine you have in each individual county that could mean a much more lengthy process. Like for instance, in Broward County right now, they're needing to separate all these ballots before they actually go into the counting process.

And we're told in Palm Beach County, they basically need to do three independent recounts in order to get these totals in, in time. So it's just a matter of their voting machines not having the same capacity as some of these other voting machines. And also, Palm Beach County has a lot of people in it. They cast a lot of votes on election night. So it's just going to be more of an effort than it would be in some of these smaller counties.

WHITFIELD: Extraordinary. All right, Ryan Nobles, keep us posted. Thank you so much from Tallahassee. So much more in the Newsroom straight ahead, but first, tonight is the final episode of Parts Unknown with a very personal tour of Anthony Bourdain's lower east side.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You actually grew up here. What was that like growing up here, being a little kid here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My main problem growing up down here was that I lived on a gang block.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gang on my block was called the Hitmen. And, you know, they were no joke, right. And I remember they would be hanging out on the stoop, on the church across the street, smoking dust, all of them with their golf clubs and 007 knives. And everybody would be listening to, of all things, Kraftwerk, Trans-Europe Express.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They'd be out there screaming, we're going to kill the next (Inaudible) that comes out of that building. And I am laying there thinking, I got to go to school tomorrow, man. I was never a violent person. Now, Christ, I was raised by hippies. But I was thrown into a crazy environment where I had no choice but to fight my way through it.

I always had a cue ball and a sock in my pocket. I'd split your head open quicker than you could say...


WHITFIELD: See Anthony's final episode tonight at 9:00 only here on CNN.



[16:40:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Waking up and hearing bird's song is one of my favorite things. When I go birding, I find that it takes me out of my head. It's almost as if you enter this whole new world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Birding makes me feel a lot more relaxed. I actually have a lot of difficulty like calming down in the city. It's a nice time to spend an hour or two in silence almost.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nature's absolutely essential to human health. Cognitive benefits are seen. Blood pressure improves and so does pulse. And then over the course of an hour to an hour and a half, if you're walking through a natural setting, symptoms of depression and anxiety improve.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Inaudible) Woodpecker, everyone see that? It's magical. You start to understand the view point, you know, of nature and what the animals go through. There's a phoebe perched a little bit to the left there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Focus on finding beauty in nature versus worrying about whatever terrible things are going on.

[16:44:56] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Using your mind in a different way, getting away from the computer, just knowing this next hour and a half, I am just going to stand here and look at these beautiful birds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're always meeting new people. A lot of times when you're birding, you'll notice someone else with binoculars. People think they have to go on this trip to a place that has a lot of birds. You really don't need to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It makes you aware that like even though we're living in the city, which you think is such a manmade structure, in fact, there's tons of life around.


WHITFIELD: Top House and Senate Democrats say Acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker must recuse himself from oversight of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer telling CNN that Democrats want action now.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK SENATOR: I am sending a letter, along with Leader Pelosi and some of the other Democrats who are ranking members of their committees in both Houses, to the Chief Ethics Officer of the Justice Department, asking him to issue guidelines should Whitaker recuse himself from anything involving Mueller.

He issued guidelines like that with Jeff Sessions. And Jeff Sessions recused himself.


WHITFIELD: That letter says in part, Mr. Whitaker has a history of hostile statements towards Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, including televised statements suggesting that the investigation be defunded or subjected to strict limitations on its scope. CNN's Sarah Westwood joining me right now, So Sarah, where can the Democrats, you know, take their fight from here?

SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, CNN: Well, Fred, Democrats are prepared to use the power of their incoming House majority to investigate President Trump's decision to put Matt Whitaker in the top job at the Justice Department after firing an Attorney General who had recused himself from the Russia investigation. But President Trump has sought to distance himself from Matt Whitaker since there's been a backlash to his appointment as Acting Attorney General.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that he did not know Matt Whitaker, the Chief of Staff to Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, even though he told Fox and Friends just last month that, in fact, he did know Matt Whitaker. Now, Democrats are questioning everything from whether Whitaker's appointment as Acting Attorney General was constitutional, given Whitaker wasn't confirmed by the Senate for that role, to whether Whitaker should recuse himself from oversight of the Russia investigation given that he's been quite critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the past.

And meanwhile, Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler told Jake Tapper this morning that he's prepared to call Whitaker before the House Judiciary Committee, which he's poised to take the gavel of in January when Democrats sweep into their House majority, call Whitaker before that committee and question him about how he can be trusted to take over the Russia investigation, when in the past he's attacked its legitimacy. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After January 3rd, we will subpoena Mister -- or we will summon, if necessary subpoena, Mr. Whitaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what will you ask Mr. Whitaker?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the questions we will ask him will be about his expressed hostility to the investigation, how he can possibly supervise it when he's expressed -- when he's come out and said the investigation is invalid, that there was -- that contrary to the findings of every intelligence agency, there was no Russian interference in our election, and when he has expressed ridiculous legal opinions that go against the foundations of American law.


WESTWOOD: Sources told CNN this week that some within the White House were taken aback by the strength of the negative reaction to Whitaker's appointment. And with the President already working to keep Whitaker at an arm's length before the threat of Democratic congressional probes, really comes to fruition. It's unclear, Fred, how the President will respond this week when he returns to Washington later tonight.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood, thank you so much from the White House. Appreciate that. All right, let's talk more about this. Lis Wiehl is with me. She is a former federal prosecutor and was a lawyer for the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during Former President Clinton's impeachment. Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: All right. So Whitaker's appointment, you know, receiving a lot of criticism, particularly, you know, from the Democrats. Might Congress be able to encourage him to recuse himself, similar to the way Jeff Sessions got that kind of pressure, and then did? WIEHL: Well, first of all, he should recuse himself right off the bat

without any of that. I mean you look at the law straight off and you look at the wording of the law, you know if there's any appearance of conflict, which of course there is, just in his comments and things you've already cited. If there's an appearance of a conflict of interest, you shall recuse yourself. It's not a question.

It's a shall. So right there, just legally, he shall recuse himself. Now, of course, he's not going to be because he's meant to be put in there as a bulldog in this, in this investigation. So that's a setup right there. He's not going to recuse himself. Then it does go right -- as we were talking about goes right then to, you know, to the Democrats. They're going to have the House Judiciary Committee.

[16:50:04] He's going to be subpoenaed, because it has to go straight to them to see if there's any power. Because what will happen within the DOJ is you've got the Attorney General, Whitaker, having to discipline himself over a conflict that he himself has created. You know the hen -- the, you know, the fox...


WIEHL: And you know it doesn't make any sense, right? I mean it won't work. So thank goodness we do have checks and balances here in place that -- at that point drawn out. Now -- but let's back up just a second. We're forgetting one thing here. The investigation, of course, is ongoing. And do you think that Mueller and his team just sort of woke up a couple of days ago and said, oh, gee, you know, Attorney General Sessions, he resigned. Oh, I am just so shocked.

WHITFIELD: So you think they've been putting contingency plans into place already?


WIEHL: I kind of think so. Don't forget, we just heard a couple of days ago they were furiously writing this report. You think that was just such a coincidence as well? I don't think so.

WHITFIELD: But as an acting AG, even if the report is complete or handed over, or, you know, Whitaker would have access to it, he would have the power to seal it. He would have the power to, you know, put up roadblocks so that no one could ever see.


WIEHL: I am so glad you're talking like this. We're thinking exactly alike. Now, if he does seal it, OK -- right. Let's keep going with that. Then the House, now the Democrats, (Inaudible) can say, uh-uh, not so fast. We want that. They then have the subpoena power, right, to take that, pick that document up, that report, because now Mueller and his team, unlike Starr, where I sat there and Starr delivered his report.

Can't do that, they can say, oh, we'll take that by subpoena. Thank you very much. And they can do that, that way. (CROSSTALK)

WHITFIELD: But then it could be altered, couldn't it?

WIEHL: Oh my, gosh. We are so much on the same page.

WHITFIELD: You and me, here we go.

WIEHL: Exactly. OK, so what happens if we're just in there having coffee? What happens if though, there's a redaction, right? Exactly, and now we're all going to say there's a redaction here. Now, potentially you're talking obstruction.

WHITFIELD: The plot thickens.

WIEHL: Yes, exactly. You're talking about something that hadn't even happened yet.

WHITFIELD: There I go finishing your sentences again, Lis.


WIEHL: Right. So here's this bulldog, was put in to -- and created something that didn't even need to happen.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, there's a lot to watch, a lot on the horizon potentially.

WIEHL: The two of us should get together.

WHITFIELD: We'll get together when we're in the same city. Lis Wiehl, good to see you. Thank you so much. All right, meantime, very serious business right now, live pictures of the Bay Bridge in San Francisco where you can see the smoke filling the bay area from these raging wildfires burning in northern California and in southern California. But from San Francisco, roughly 160 miles away, are the burning fires but you can see the consequences of it.

We'll continue to monitor the deadly fires that have now claimed 25 lives in that state. We'll be right back.


[16:55:00] WHITFIELD: All right. Now to this week's CNN Hero, nearly 10 percent of homeless adults in the U.S. once served in the armed forces. An army veteran saw some of his former comrades falling through the cracks rather, so he built a solution to help. Meet Chris Stout.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After starting to work with veterans, I realized there's a huge gap in services. If you've ever served, you know that if one of your fellow platoon guys, they need help. You help them. What we do here gives them an opportunity to kind of get stable, gives them a safe and secure place. And then fix what got them there in the first place. When I see a win for them, it's a celebration for me. It means everything.


WHITFIELD: And you can cast your vote for the CNN Hero of the Year online at And thanks so much for joining me. And a special thank you this Veterans Day weekend to all veterans past and present. I am Fredricka Whitfield. The news continues with Ana Cabrera right now.

ANA CABRERA, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: You're in the CNN newsroom. I am Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with me on this Sunday afternoon. We are following several developing stories this hour. In Florida, the recount is underway for those crucial Senate and governor races. And this hour, the election supervisor from one of the most crucial counties, Palm Beach, says they will not be able too meet the deadline.

Plus, the President this hour flying back home from France after a rebuke by the French President, delivering the message nationalism is not patriotism. But first, our breaking news right now, more people confirmed dead in the most horrific fire emergency seen in California in nearly 30 years. And what's making this disaster even more awful is that it is nowhere near over right now.