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House Democrats Mounting Fight to Protect Mueller; WSJ: Trump Involved in Porn Star, Playmate Hush Money Payments; Satellite Images Show North Korea Moving Forward with Ballistic Missile Program at Hidden Bases; French President Slams Nationalism in Front of Trump; Democratic Challenger Expands Lead in Tight Arizona Senate Race; Senator Ignites Backlash over "Public Hanging" Remark. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 12, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:31:17] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Top Democrats are preparing for a fight and sending a not-so-subtle threat to the acting attorney general: Matt Whitaker must recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation or else.

Here's the likely next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee just yesterday.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: The very first thing obviously is to protect the Mueller investigation. The president's dismissal of attorney general sessions and his appointment of Whitaker, who is a complete political lackey, is a real threat to the integrity of that investigation. That investigation is of utmost importance in making sure that we adhere to the rule of law and that the administration is held accountable. And we will certainly hold hearings on that. Our very first witness after January 3rd, we will subpoena Mr. -- or we will summon, if necessary, subpoena, Mr. Whitaker.


BOLDUAN: Democrats pointing to Whitaker's past statements critical of the Russia investigation as disqualifying. What kind of fight is this setting up to be?

Joining me now is CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston, and CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich.

Great to see you guys.

Mark, what is this fight over the Mueller investigation, or maybe at this point, the Mueller report going to look like when Democrats eventually take over the House?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's going to look entirely different than what we're seeing right now, which was certainly from the House side, we saw Devin Nunes, who is an ally of President Trump, protected him. We didn't see vigorous oversight, certainly from the House Intelligence Committee. We're going to see from Democrats now. We're going to see the likes of Adam Schiff, who is likely to be the chairman of the committee, from California, a Democrat, who is going to be very vigorous. We saw Jerry Nadler, from New York, who is going to be very vigorous. Richard Neal, from Massachusetts, as well because there's taxes involved. He's going to take over the Ways and Means Committee. He's going to be very vigorous. What's interesting about these three gentlemen is they have been on Capitol Hill for a long time and don't expect them to go off on wild-goose chases.

BOLDUAN: I love a wild goose chase, just as a hunter. Never mind.

Jackie, I interviewed Jerry Nadler on Friday night. He said something else about this that grabbed my attention about the investigation. He said essentially that Democrats, they might want to demand that legislation to protect Bob Mueller be part of negotiations over government funding coming up. Listen to him.


NADLER: We could insist that that be a condition of passage of the remaining legislation to fund the government, which has to be done by December 7th.

BOLDUAN: You are going to hold it hostage?

NADLER: I wouldn't call it holding hostage, but I think the future of constitutional government is at stake here. And we must go a long way to make sure that the president is a president, not a king.


BOLDUAN: Is this going to become a thing, Jackie?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I think Senator Chuck Schumer would stop short of saying they would shut down the government over the Mueller probe. But it certainly could be. There are going to be factions in this Democratic caucus, particularly the new ones that are coming in, who really do want to take it to the president, both on the Mueller investigation and several other areas of oversight that have not been exercised under a Republican Congress. It will be up to Democratic leadership, though, to be the guide and to have a sense of strategy. So it doesn't look -- I can't remember where I read this -- like a T-shirt cannon situation with subpoenas and indictments. They'll need to have a road map to make this look like something that has an end.

BOLDUAN: That is quite a visual, a T-shirt cannon of subpoenas.


[11:35:03] BOLDUAN: I will not forget that, Jackie. I'll give you attribution since we don't know where you got it. (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Mark, the "Wall Street Journal" reporting that the president was involved in or knew about the hush payments to a porn star and the playmate every step of the way during the election, that has Jerry Nadler now talking about impeachment in a way he had not before the election, and other top Democrats, it seems. What's changed? Is it just the election or is it this report in "The Journal?"

PRESTON: Well, look, I think they knew all along. Certainly, the evidence was leading up to that. At what point did he know, I guess, is the real big question. We heard, you know, the audio recording from Michael Cohen. What has changed now is you have seen the likes of Jerry Nadler, who has the power now to compel people to actually come in and testify. Democrats didn't have that before. Now they do have it.

But to Jackie's point, too, and I think this is very important, Democrats can't go into the next two years of just going out and investigating and trying to take down Donald Trump. They have to show they can govern as well. And we'll see if that can happen. But that's a big, big chore on Nancy Pelosi's shoulders.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Mark, Jackie, great to see you guys. Thanks.

KUCINICH: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, President Trump back in the White House after his trip to Paris, a trip marked by a face-off over nationalism and also blaming the weather. So where does that leave the Trump doctrine today? That's next.


[11:40:00] BOLDUAN: This morning, we're getting our first look at possible new threats from North Korea. Commercial satellite images appear to show at least a dozen undisclosed missile sites around the country. This, despite promises from Pyongyang to dismantle its weapons program and work toward denuclearization. Remember that? This is coming from a new report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. And this comes just after President Trump assured reporters that U.S. sanctions against North Korea were working. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're in no rush. We're in no hurry. The sanctions are on.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're still expecting to meet Kim Jong-Un?


TRUMP: The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.


BOLDUAN: Joining me right now, CNN global affairs analyst and senior fellow on the Council for Foreign Relations, Max Boot, and CNN global affairs analyst and former deputy secretary of state under President Obama, Tony Blinken.

Great to see you guys.

Tony, hidden bases in North Korea. Analysts saying that any missile at these bases coming from these bases could take a nuclear warhead. What does this mean for the progress that President Trump says has been made?

TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Kate, it means that "The Art of Deal" is really the art of the steal in North Korea's favor. Everything that the president told us was happening with his great success in negotiating with North Korea is not happening. And the North Koreans have talked about dismantling one of their missile sites at the same time when, in secret, they're moving forward apparently with 16 others.

The challenge here is this. I'm glad that President Trump moved to diplomacy and was seeking to engage North Korea. It's better than the "fire and fury" we were looking at a year ago. But you actually have to get something for that engagement. Thus far, the only person who has gotten anything out of it really is Kim Jong-Un. Legitimacy from being able to meet with President Trump on the world stage. Being able to move forward with his program even when he says he's not. And then getting the pressure lifted, because when President Trump said things are going well, the problem is solved, that gave China and Russia and others the green light to going back to business as usual with North Korea. And of course, we're also getting divided from our close ally, South Korea. This has to be refocused and recentered. The president needs to make clear that what's happening is not going well, is not sufficient. We need to put the pressure back on North Korea and see if we can get them to actually engage meaningfully. Right now, all of this is to North Korea's advantage.

BOLDUAN: About this new report, Max, I was just thinking, "The Times" was writing today on the existence of these bases is new to the public, maybe, but has long been known by American intelligence agencies. So does that mean that the president is being deceived by North Korea or the president had this information from American intelligence agencies and he's not being straight up with the American people?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think President Trump is deceiving himself. He's launched into this one-sided love affair where he says he's in love with Kim Jong-Un and pretends the North Korean nuclear threat is over, that North Korea intends to denuclearize. But if you look at what North Korea has said and done, they have never made any suggestion they will seriously denuclearize. They have talked about denuclearization as a process that will involve major concessions -- (CROSSTALK)

BOOT: -- by the United States. They have never said they're going to unilaterally give up their weapons program, as President Trump has suggested. We have had leaks before from U.S. intelligence all this summer long about how North Korea has continued to build up their missile program and their nuclear program and Trump has ignored all that because he wants to pretend this is some kind of great diplomatic success, which is not the case.

BOLDUAN: It will be interesting to see what would tip the scale to get him to say that things aren't going well and things need to be recentered. Not sure we have hit that moment.

BOOT: I think he's desperate for a second summit with Kim Jong-Un because he loved the attention from the first summit.

BOLDUAN: No matter what.

BOOT: So I don't think he's going blow the whistle on North Korea before that summit takes place.

BOLDUAN: Good point.

Tony, on a different topic, I could not help but notice you trolling the president of the United States a bit on Twitter this weekend, posting pictures of President Obama speaking in the rain, getting on Marine One in the rain.

Beyond that, there was a pretty -- it was pretty remarkable when the French president spoke with President Trump right in front of him and what he said with him sitting right in front of him. Listen to this.


[11:45:14] EMMANUEL MACRON, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translation): Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying our interests first, who cares about the others? We erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what is essential. It's moral values.


BOLDUAN: Is there any way that Macron said that without knowing full well what he was doing?

BLINKEN: No, that was a direct rebuke of President Trump and his America First nationalism. America First once again is proving to be America alone. We saw that in what Macron said, and in the powerful images of all these leaders walking together in solidarity in the rain, except for Vladimir Putin and President Trump.

But, Kate, the larger story is this. I think President Trump really missed the lesson of these couple days in Paris. World War I was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. And of course, it didn't. Part of the reason it didn't is because, after World War I, we retreated. We stayed out of the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations. When we had economic problems, we became protectionists. When dictators started to rise in Europe, we became isolationists. When new people started to come to our country, we became xenophobic. And we wound up with a world war. After World War II, we got it right. We engaged. We led the international community in building the rules, the norms, the institutions that kept the peace for more than seven decades. That's exactly what President Trump is moving away from now. And those who forget history, as has been said, are condemned to retweet it.

BOLDUAN: I'm left wondering, Max, does Macron really think this is the way to get through to President Trump? Or maybe he wasn't speaking to him at all.

BOOT: I suspect President Macron has given up getting through to President Trump because he tried the buddy-buddy act with him early on and all it got him was a slap to the face, basically, with Trump pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal and imposing sanctions, not listening to the Europeans, pulling out of the INF Treaty, again, not listening to the Europeans. I think Macron has probably figured that cozying up to Trump is not achieving anything so he's going to tell hard truths in front of Trump, including the corrosive impact of nationalism, which is the doctrine that Donald Trump, let's remember, embraced only a few weeks ago.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

BOOT: Thank you.

BLINKEN: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Really appreciate it.

Coming up for us, Florida isn't the only state that has races that are too close to call. There's also a race that's not over yet in Arizona. Republican candidate for Senate there is now trailing her Democratic opponent. What's taking so long to get that decided? What's happening there? We'll get the details, next.


[11:52:23] BOLDUAN: A race too close to call, votes still being counted and we are not talking about Florida this time. We are talking about Arizona. The Senate race there's also too close to call. Easy for me to say. Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has pulled ahead of Republican Martha McSally. But, again, there are still a lot of votes to count. Where do things stand?

CNN's political director, David Chalian, is here with me now.

Great to see you, David.


BOLDUAN: Talk to me about this Senate race. The president called for a new election on Friday. That clearly does not seem to be one of the options. What is happening there? Why is it so slow to wrap up?

CHALIAN: I don't understand the call for a new election. They are still just counting the votes from the election.


CHALIAN: That doesn't quite make sense.

Why is it taking so long? So much of Arizona votes by mail and absentee and that takes longer than just Election Day vote. We know there was an issue of matching some of the mail-in ballots and the signature on the mail-in ballot. There's a deadline of Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. Arizona time to have that process done so that every absentee ballot will have been counted by then.

But what you see there in that vote total, Kate, that 32,000-vote lead is significant for Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat. She has overtaken Martha McSally in the last couple of days. Some of that outstanding vote we think is in Maricopa County, the most populous county but also a Sinema stronghold. This is a warning sign for McSally. There may not be enough outstanding votes for McSally to take over. But we wait for those remaining votes to be counted.

BOLDUAN: We sure do. And maybe another election. Just kidding.

There's a new controversy I want to ask you about in Mississippi. That Senate race is headed for a runoff. The Democrat who is running in the race responding this morning to something that the Republican candidate said over the weekend. I want to play for the viewers what the Republican said and also the Democratic candidate's response.


SEN. CINDY HYDE-SMITH, (R), MISSISSIPPI: If he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row.


MIKE ESPY, (D), FORMER CONGRESSMAN & MISSISSIPPI SENATE CANDIDATE: Both comments that we heard that were published yesterday are very disappointing. They were hurtful. They're harmful. They are hurtful to the Mississippians who are people of good will. And they're harmful because they tend to reinforce the stereotypes that have held back the state for so long and that have cost us jobs and harmed our economy.


BOLDUAN: David, what's happening in this race. What impact will it have?

CHALIAN: I'm not sure we know what impact it will have. This is a race that is in a runoff. November 27th is the Election Day. This is deep-red Mississippi. Since we saw a blue wave take place over the country on Tuesday, do we see that in some way here in Mississippi? They still have a couple of weeks to go here. I'm not sure this will be the defining moment of this race. It seems it's a moment that Espy is going to incorporate into his campaign, as he did this morning. I think that this is still one that leans towards Republicans at the moment -- Kate?

[11:55:21] BOLDUAN: A week past Election Day and we have a lot of uncertainty to figure out.

Great to see you, David. Thank you.

CHALIAN: You, too.

BOLDUAN: No rest for you. Sorry, buddy.

Coming up for us, deadly wildfires are still burning across the state of California. We will have the latest on the fight and what they're dealing with in the devastation there, next.