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AT THIS HOUR

At Least 31 Killed as Wildfires Scorch Northern & Southern California; Malibu Mayor Wants to Save Lives from Wildfires but Trump Bashes California for Forest Mismanagement; Trump Alleges Ballot Tampering in FL & Says Call Elections for the Republicans. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired November 12, 2018 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[11:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I didn't see it. And I love it. I love that he did that.

Thank you all for being with us today. We'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jim Sciutto.

"AT THIS HOUR" with Kate Bolduan starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

In California, the death toll is climbing and the sheer magnitude is nothing short of stunning. At least 31 people have died in several wildfires burning at opposite ends of the state right now.

To the north, Paradise -- the only way you can say it -- is lost. The picturesque town is smoldering in ruins today. The so-called Camp Fire is now the most destructive in the state's history. I want to show you some before and after pictures of the town. You're going to see them. They are just devastating. That was a church. Again, emphasis on "was" a church. A KFC no longer after that, to the ground. More than 110,000 acres have burned. More than 200 people are still unaccounted for. And many more are sharing their stories of getting out, the terror, running for their lives in many cases.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never been this scared in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK, Mama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, god.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Just horrible.

In southern California, high winds are expected today. Which, of course, could make the fires even more dangerous today. Thousands of homes have already burned. More than 300,000 people have been forced to evacuate.

We have crews on both ends of the state for you this hour.

CNN's Dan Simon is where the town of Paradise once stood.

Let's begin with Scott McLean in Malibu where the threat is very real still.

Scott, what are you seeing there?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. We just got some updated numbers for you from authorities. This fire has now chewed through 91,000 acres. It's also 20 percent contained. That's good news at this point. It's continuing to grow, though, as the winds come through. These hot, dry winds come from inland and go offshore. It's not what you want to see. It will be like this until Tuesday.

This part of Malibu, it seems like the worst has come and gone, but look what it's left behind. Many houses that look just like this one. Absolutely destroyed. And you'll notice, you hear running water. It's because the water has been left on. And there's a couple houses in the neighborhood just like that. In the initial stages this weekend, a lot of the gas lines were left on. Crews had to go door to door, property to property, to dig up the gas lines and try to shut them off. In many fires, you'll notice that you can kind of tell which room was which. In this case, it must have burned so hot that it's really hard to tell what's what. It's hard to see anything recognizable other than the chimney there and the fireplace and a couple walls and things like that. Over here, you'll notice the neighbor's house looks just like it. Same with the house next door and the one on the other side as well. What's amazing is that you'll have a couple houses that were completely wiped out, and then next door, you have a couple more that are completely intact. It's certainly a bizarre sight to see.

Again, Kate, the big worry is the hot dry winds coming from inland. They're expecting them to be in effect, the red flag warning in effect until tomorrow night. That means conditions are ideal for wildfires to either spread or start up -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: It's absolutely the last thing they need right now.

Scott, thank you so much.

Just devastating where he's standing in Malibu.

Let's go to Dan Simon in Paradise where the sun is finally up.

And what you're seeing is just tragic, Dan.

DAN SIMON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kate. This is really at a level and scale of destruction we have never seen before in California. It's just unprecedented. This is the most common sight you'll see all throughout Paradise. You have a neighborhood that's just completely gone. And it's not just homes. It's restaurants. It's all kinds of businesses. It's schools. It's churches. It's retirement centers. Pretty much the entire town of Paradise is destroyed. And you won't have residents coming back here for many weeks. That's just to go through the rubble. Who knows when people will actually be living here again. You talk to police officers and firefighters and everybody says the same thing, nobody has seen anything like this.

Now, in terms of the numbers, we're talking about 113,000 acres. Paradise is 31 square miles, and pretty much every square inch of the town has been impacted by this. You have about 52,000 people who have been evacuated. And at least 29 people, Kate, have been confirmed dead. You still have dozens and dozens of people still missing so authorities obviously think the death toll is going to go up, unfortunately -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Just came through so fast.

Dan, I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

Joining me on the phone is Rick Mullen, the mayor of Malibu, California. He's also an 18-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

I want to show you a photo. You're looking at a photo from the "L.A. Times" of the mayor surveying a house while he's on the job on Friday. The house clearly on fire. The mayor is joining me by the phone.

Mayor, can you hear me?

[11:05:10] RICK MULLEN, MALIBU MAYOR &: FIREFIGHTER, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT (via telephone): Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me?

BOLDUAN: I can. Thank you so much for calling in.

How are you holding up right now?

MULLEN: I'm actually holding up fairly well. I was -- I have been here since Thursday when the whole thing kicked off. The first couple days were fairly exciting. I think the photo you're looking at probably is a good indication of the amount of intensity and work that went on in the initial stages. But we have been able to get a little bit of rest and food and water along the way, so we're doing fairly well at this point. It's calmer now all over than it was when the fire came through. So everyone is getting a little bit of a breather, but still a lot of people have been on the job for quite a while. So we're doing much better.

BOLDUAN: I guess that is one good thing you can take from it is you have been able to get some rest, which we're all very thankful for.

But, Mayor, when you were in -- from that photo we're showing and some of the video we're showing our viewers, how can you -- how would you describe what you have seen out there?

MULLEN: OK, so the photo you're looking at was, we were driving by a neighborhood which is one of our neighbor -- that particular neighborhood is kind of like a regular suburban neighborhood where the houses are relatively close together. And the potential for one house catching the whole block or the whole neighborhood is severe. So what we tried to do is keep the fire to the one house and not have it spread to all the other houses. I think the photo you're looking at, I'm peering over the wall.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

MULLEN: We're trying to keep the fire on this side. When we got there, the flames were essentially licking up on the house next door. And we managed to save that house. And that's pretty much what happened for us the first day as we would go from that point. And then as we're rolling up our hoses from that scene, a neighbor came by and said you have to go up that hill right there because that house is starting to catch fire and that whole row could catch fire. We zoomed up to another one and spent quite a bit of time doing the exact same thing at another house on a slanted road where the whole neighborhood could have gone up.

But the problem is that you can't -- when you normally would respond to a house on fire, you have all the manpower you need, you have maybe four engines, plenty of people, and you can draw on more. Here, it's three guys and everyone else is game on in their own little project. So it takes a lot more manpower and labor, effort for each individual to keep the fire confined to one house. But I think that a lot of those efforts were fairly successful.

You talk about, you see some of the neighborhoods -- there are some places where a whole street got burned up. A lot of the places, it's one, two houses, and each of those not spreading to the next house is an indication of a lot of effort by people who were there on scene to keep that. Because remember, it's not just the house on fire. It's a house on fire with a lot of wind blowing --

BOLDUAN: Right.

MULLEN: -- and blowing all of the embers, et cetera, all throughout the neighborhood. So a lot of effort by people to do that.

Very tragic situation we have here in Malibu. You know, a beautiful town. Everybody loves it. It's Mother Nature when she's -- when she's benign is very gracious, but when she turns angry, she lets everybody know who's in charge, and then everyone is running for their lives. And life is our number-one priority. In the city of Malibu, we're very successful in nobody getting killed. There were two people who were killed in actually my district, which is just outside the city of Malibu. I went to that spot yesterday to look at it, and I don't know what happened, but I suspect what happened is that the key moment, they panicked and made a decision to leave and they put themselves in essentially an inferno.

At exactly the same time that was happening, I was down the street at a prison, a juvenile detention facility, and when I rolled up, which was right when the fire was coming through, the fire front, 35 people, 22 inmates and 13 staff, are getting in vans ready to go, and I made them go back inside because the prison was the safest place to be. And they stayed inside and we stayed with them just outside the prison building as the largest fire I have ever seen in my life blows through a heavy brush area where the fuel hasn't burned in 50 years, but they were safe.

I hear a lot of controversy about this Pepperdine thing from everybody about their decision to shelter in place. What happened at the prison is what happens when you stick with the plan of sheltering in place. Pepperdine is a very defensible spot. And I'm not sure what all the controversy is about there. But sometimes you have to shelter in spots. And I think that instance with the prison, there could have been 35 people who met their deaths, trying to get out in the canyon roads, but unlike that, they stuck with the plan. I told them to get back inside, and they made it out OK. So life is number-one priority. We have been successful in dealing with that.

[11:10:20] Now we have to pick up the pieces and it's going to be difficult for everybody. Now we move into the part where the city is going to do everything they can with all of the assisting agencies to help everyone put their lives back together. Once we do let everybody in, we're going to set up a center at the old Malibu courthouse in the center of town where people will be able to deal with FEMA, Medicare --

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And there's so much to that. But what you're saying is the most important thing, which is, first and foremost, when flames are still flying and people are still in danger, the most important thing is protecting life first. This is still a real threat in many places, what is happening right now. The weather could contribute. Not yet ready to settle down, could make it even worse. Could continue the danger and the threat going forward.

That's why a lot of folks are talking about what the president, his first response to this. I know that you have been too busy and probably don't even have the time or patience for politics right now, but when you're talking about the most important thing is to protect life, and that's what you really should be caring about, his first response was to criticize and blame the state for poor forest management. When you heard that or saw that, what did you think?

MULLEN: You're right what you said, and I don't want to get into politics at all. I have been unaware of all that stuff. We're just focusing on our job at hand. It's probably an inappropriate time to bring political issues into this. We've got our hands full. We're dealing with it, we're doing the best we can. I'll worry about that stuff later.

But I want to say I really appreciate -- when you're talking about the federal government, they have reached out to help us out. We appreciate that help. The state has reached out also, the county, everybody is working together. We thrive here in Malibu because we have good working relationships with every other agency that we interact with, whether it be Caltrans or the state or the federal government. So we sincerely appreciate the help we have gotten from everybody, to include all the communities that have sent fire engines down there. I have seen them from as far away as northern California. And I really appreciate the help that everyone has given us. And it's a community effort.

And this has been a difficult thing. But it's the paradox of living in Malibu. It's a beautiful place, and everybody knows the danger, and that's the risk of living here. But Malibu is a close community. There are people who are going to feel very relieved that their house made it and people that will be devastated that their house didn't make it. We're all going to come together because Malibu is a team, and Team Malibu will ride again. We have taken it on the chin, and we have taken some serious damage. And we're going to get through it, and we're going to put the pieces together.

There are still parts of -- you know, in the past, in the other big fires, like in '93, there was the 101, and it did a certain amount of area. But this started much farther up and came on a much broader front and it did much more severe devastation. There are still parts, particularly east of Malibu Canyon Road, that have not burned. And there's -- there are some wind issues coming up.

So I know everyone is champing at the bit to get back into their homes. I appreciate that. My intention is to try to get everyone back in to pick up the pieces as quickly but as safely as possible.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And obviously, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: And safety right now, you don't need another emergency on the back end of this.

Mayor, thank you so much.

MULLEN: That's right.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate your time. Thank you.

MULLEN: You're welcome.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, lawsuits and claims of fraud flying around Florida right now as officials race to recount ballots in what's becoming nail-biter races. At least one county says it will be impossible to meet the deadline. Now what? Details ahead..

[11:14:10] Plus, new satellite images that show North Korea is not playing ball when it comes to its ballistic missile program. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: It's been nearly a week since Election Day, but in Florida, it's still anyone's guess who will come out on top. More than one race is too close to call. Right now, we're going to show you live pictures of volunteers racing to finish recounts for both the Senate and governor's races before a Thursday deadline. The top election official in Palm Beach County is already telling CNN it will be impossible to finish in time, to meet that deadline.

And there's one person who thinks there shouldn't even be a recount, the man in the White house. This morning, President Trump taking to Twitter to say, The Florida election should be called in favor of Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis." And he goes on to allege ballots showed up out of nowhere and ballots are missing or forged. To this point, the state has not announced any investigation into any issues like that.

CNN's Rosa Flores is at the Broward County elections office, the site of one of the, let's say, most contentious recounts.

Rosa, where do things stand right now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, you know, there's a cloud of controversy hovering over Florida. And one of the counties under the microscope, of course, is Broward County. We have seen lawsuits, protests, barbs, jabs in every direction.

I mention lawsuits because Governor Rick Scott filed three of them yesterday. One of them against Broward County, alleging that votes were counted after the Saturday noon deadline. Then the other two are against Broward and Palm Beach Counties, asking that after the recount that law enforcement should impound the voting machines.

[11:20:07] Now the Democrats also filing their own lawsuit today. They are asking that all of the mail-in ballots that are postmarked November 6th should be counted. This is after a mystery box of 266 ballots were found at the Opa-Locka processing facility. If that name rings a bell, it's because it's the same processing facility that processed the pipe bombs not too long ago that were sent to CNN and critics of President Trump. Now, they specifically mentioned in that lawsuit that there was an evacuation on October 25th that could have impacted that.

Now, fueling the fire, of course, is Palm Beach County. The supervisor of elections there, saying it is going to be impossible for her to finish the recount on time to meet that Thursday deadline. And then the Republicans, fueling the fire by alleging fraud, saying that the Democrats are trying to steal this race. Now, we have asked the secretary of state and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and they say they have found no fraud. They have found no criminal activity. But of course, we are monitoring all of that.

And, Kate, the deadline here is Thursday at 3:00 p.m. All 67 counties in Florida are counting these ballots, and there's more than eight million of them -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Rosa. Thank you so much. See what happens minute by minute, I guess.

How is this all going to shake out? Joining me are two men who know a little bit about Florida politics. Adam Smith is here, a political editor for the "Tampa Bay Times." And Florida-based Democratic strategist, Steve Schale, was the Florida state director for the 2010 President Obama.

It's great to see you guys. Thanks for being here.

Adam, you told me last week when we spoke that at least when it comes to the Senate race, that we could be headed to -- I want to make sure I quote you correctly, "Lord knows what, Never-Never Land of Florida recounts."

(LAUGHTER)

Do you feel any differently today?

ADAM SMITH, POLITICAL EDITOR, TAMPA BAY TIMES: Well, it's always lord knows what Never-Never Land in Florida elections. But I think it's inevitable, yes, we're headed to a recount in the Senate race. We actually have another race that is an agriculture commissioner race nobody is paying attention to outside of Florida. That's also a manual recount as well.

BOLDUAN: Steve, last week, the governor asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to get involved and investigate any wrongdoing. They did so and they said that the secretary of state said there was nothing to investigate. Now, the state attorney general is asking them to investigate any wrongdoing, and still the secretary of state's office, who is a Republican, says there's nothing to investigate. So what is going on here? I mean, could law enforcement really get involved here? Or is this just about messaging?

STEVE SCHALE, FLORIDA DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST & FLORIDA STATE DIRECTOR FOR 2010 BARACK OBAMA CAMPAIGN: I mean, god, I hope not. I mean, after 2000, the state did some things right. One of which was set forth a really clear process for the recounts. And as Adam said, it will take a long time, 8.2 million ballots. Palm Beach County has to count them one election at a time, which is why it's going to take them longer potentially. It's going to be sort of a slow, tedious process. The law is very clear in how it gets done. And you know, if folks have fraud that they know of, they should report it. It should be investigated. But sort of throwing out all these conspiracy theories does nothing but just question the legitimacy of the process.

BOLDUAN: Adam, there seems to be growing consensus among politicos and people who are watching this that mistakes have been made. Incompetence may be a problem, particularly in Broward County. Which has left me kind of wondering why Governor Rick Scott has not or had not removed these election supervisors from office before now. I was going back and looking. Jeb Bush did that back in 2003, I think it was, over incompetence. That's how Brenda Snipes got her job. What's the story there?

SMITH: Well, I think it's not probably -- it's fair to say it's not maybe incompetence. It's clearly incompetence and it's happened over and over again. That's a question that -- Jeb Bush actually appointed her, like you said, but she's been re-elected several times. Facing all kinds of criticism. You're absolutely right. Rick Scott could have removed her from office. Now, it certainly would be extremely awkward -- BOLDUAN: Right.

SMITH: -- for him to do it in the middle of this. But he's got to answer that question, and so far, he's not been willing to.

BOLDUAN: And, Adam, even to that point, he was asked on FOX News this morning this question, and he didn't have an answer to it. He just says she's been re-elected. And she's elected on the local level. He did not answer this question, which I find fascinating, Adam.

SMITH: Well, if you know our governor, he's pretty good at not answering questions over and over again, which maybe is a skill, but I think it's hard to say -- for him to say that this woman is incompetent or worse when he had the authority to get rid of her a while ago.

[11:25:13] BOLDUAN: Steve, the next big deadline, as Rosa Flores was laying out, is 3:00 on Thursday. The machine recount needs to be finished. Palm Beach County is already saying they think it's impossible to finish by then. So is that how this is all going to play out, which is -- the understanding is or the law is, if it's not finished and it's not done, then the existing number stands, which is what they had on election night, if you will. If that is how this plays out, is either side going to accept that answer? We don't have enough time so we can't get it done?

SCHALE: I think we have to find out, unfortunately. Palm Beach County uses a different system, which is why it takes them longer to get through the process. The system has been certified by the state. They're legally allowed to use it, but it's slower. We'll find out. Frankly, once we get to the hand recount, there's about 120,000 vote difference between the lowest race in the recount and the highest race in total votes. That's a lot of ballots to be inspected by hand. So getting this done by Saturday is going to be an interesting challenge.

BOLDUAN: Let's see who's up for the challenge. And the challenge of us keeping track of it all, all along the way.

Adam, Steve, I appreciate it. Thanks so much.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Coming up, they have not officially taken over the house yet, but top Democrats are already setting their sights on Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, even threatening to subpoena him if necessary. How both sides are preparing for this upcoming battle. That's next.

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