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CNN NEWSROOM

Recount Underway in Razor-Thin Florida Senate and Governor Races; GOP Claims "Specific Evidence" of Election Fraud in Florida; Sinema's Lead Widens in Tight Arizona Senate Race; Georgia Governor and Arizona Senate Races Still Remain Undecided; House Democrats Mount Pressure to Fight to Protect Mueller; At Least 31 Killed as Wildfires Scorch California. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 12, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:11] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto. Good Monday morning to you.

This Monday morning we're following two major stories, the death toll spiking now in California wildfires, raging in that state. Right now, at least 31 people killed but 100 are still missing. As the images almost apocalyptic there as you see them. Near Los Angeles the so- called Woolsey Fire only 15 percent contained at this hour. The Camp Fire in northern California is now tied with the deadliest fire in the state's history. And that's a state with a lot of fires through the years.

This heart-stopping video as families try to escape the flames.

(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)

SCIUTTO: Goodness.

HARLOW: Also today, we are following the recount in Florida, racing to meet the deadline. Recounting under way in the Senate and the governor's races in Florida.

This is a live look. This is happening right now, folks. This is a live look at how they recount all of those votes. These are elections officials in Broward County.

Tension is also mounting this morning as Republicans from the president on down are claiming fraud without providing any evidence. The campaign for Republican Rick Scott has filed three lawsuits over the weekend against county election officials and this morning the president is calling for the election night results to stand.

This as Florida's Democratic Party claims, quote, "Rick Scott is doing his best to impersonate Latin American dictators who have overthrown democracies in Venezuela and Cuba."

Needless to say this is getting ugly but we start of course with the breaking news in those horrific wildfires in California. Let's go to Dan Simon, who joins us first on the ground there.

You're in Paradise, California, Dan. What can you tell us this morning before the sun even comes up there?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Poppy. This fire happening at a level and scale of destruction that quite frankly we have never seen in the state of California. And we're still hearing some of these harrowing tales of people who frantically evacuated.

Now the road that leads to Paradise is actually called Skyway. In fact they call it Skyway to Paradise and on Thursday it was just filled bumper to bumper cars, people frantically trying to leave town. And in that traffic you had a mother and daughter, and you can hear just how terrified they were as the fire was ravaging everything around them. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's OK, Mama. It's OK. Please, please drive. Just please drive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am. I'm trying. Oh, please, god, please. Let us get out safe.

AMBER TONEY, FLED WILDFIRE IN CAR: I thought the windows were going to shatter, because it was just so hot.

SUSAN MILLER, FLED WILDFIRE IN CAR: And you were praying the car in front of you wouldn't stop. It was -- I'll have nightmares for the rest of my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMON: Now this was the neighborhood that those two women live in. You can see that it is completely leveled. Now the good news is that the winds have died down today but the bad news is things remain dry and so the threat persists. At this point at least 29 people have died in this fire in Paradise and officials say at least 200 people are missing. So, unfortunately, the death toll, in all likelihood, is going to go up -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: Unbelievable.

SCIUTTO: It's heartbreaking.

HARLOW: Dan, thank you for being there very much. Continue to report for us on the ground. Again over 200 people missing.

Joining us on the phone is the deputy chief Scott McLean with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Thank you for being here, thank you for what you and all of your teams are doing on the ground. Let's me just ask you about a number that we've just gotten out of the Butte County Sheriff's Office that they say at least 100 people are still unaccounted for after the Camp Fire. Do you have any updates on that?

DEP. SCOTT MCLEAN, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: No, that would be under the Butte County Sheriff's Department offices there. They opened up some lines yesterday. So that's where we've influx of information on that as far as welfare check and missing folks. So you can only imagine that where these folks are, they've gone to their friends, they've gone to their relatives, they've gone to hotels, they've gone to anywhere possible. We're looking at a quarter million individuals evacuated on all these fires.

SCIUTTO: The images -- and we're showing some of them as we speak to you. And we know, some people died in their cars trying to escape on crowded roads. We know some people died in their homes. We also know this was a fast-moving fire.

MCLEAN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Are you concerned about how quickly warnings got out to people, evacuation orders got back to -- got out to residents there?

MCLEAN: This is a retirement community. It's an old town, a lot of wood-frame construction and it's in a wooded area.

[09:05:05] So I listened to the initial reports of the fire. And at first reports it's about 10 acres and increasing in size and then started increasing in size exponentially. The operator, the (INAUDIBLE) officer started requesting evacuations right away of Pulga, of Concow, and then of Paradise. So those -- the process was moving very quickly. And unfortunately, this fire was moving very, very, very quickly, due to the winds pushing it, due to the dry vegetation in that area. We're talking a mountainous area. So all unfortunate factors came into play.

This fire hit the town of Paradise in a wide front. Throwing embers out ahead of it causing a multitude of spot fires everywhere they landed. It wasn't just one narrow patch. It took out the whole side of town and then continued through the rest of the community.

HARLOW: What about the missing? I mean, our Dan Simon is on the ground. He just reported where he is in Paradise, more than 200 people still missing. What is your outlook for them? I mean, do you -- are you guys hopeful that they will be found? Do you have any updates on that front?

MCLEAN: That again would be the sheriff's department. I am very hopeful. I don't want to see -- no one wants to see any more individuals found in those situations, by any means. I don't want to see any more records broken, as you discussed. You know, tied at the recorded history for the state of California. 29 fatalities. SCIUTTO: Yes.

MCLEAN: Unfortunately back in 1933. We're looking at the most destructive fire in California recorded yesterday.

SCIUTTO: Chief, I can hear the exhaustion in your voice. I know that these last few days have to have been just debilitating for you. I'm sure you're aware of the president's tweets, pointing blame for the fires, the severity, at forest management, in effect. I'm just going to quote briefly from it. He said, "There was no reason for these massive, deadly and costly fires in California except the forest management is so poor." So poor. And he goes on to talk about the money given each year. The International Association of Firefighters hit back quite strongly, calling that dangerously wrong.

I don't want to get you into politics here, but I do want to ask you about the president assigning blame to the way forestry departments and so on handle the forest there as reason for the severity of this tragedy. What's your response to that?

MCLEAN: I'm not going to respond to it, as I have not in the past, due to the lack of information given in that tweet. If you investigate, all I can talk for is Cal Fire. We have programs in place. We've just received monies the last couple of years to bolster those programs, to get everybody involved in the state, as we've always done in the past. So we've had a lot of work to do ahead of us. These firefighters, men and women, are putting their life on the line. That's what we need to concentrate on.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

MCLEAN: And, you know, it's an ongoing fight right now. Look at the weather. What has been pushing these fires in the last couple of years? The winds, the erratic wind behavior, the high temperatures early on in the year that's dried out all this vegetation that is so receptive to these fires.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, Chief McLean, you've got a lot on your plate now. We want to wish you the best of luck. We know that you and the folks who work with you are risking their lives as well in the midst of this. And we just hope that you stay safe and do your best.

Thanks for taking the time with us.

MCLEAN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Let's get now to CNN's Scott McLean. He is in Malibu, California. Just keep in mind, we got two major fires going. One up in the north, we were just speaking about one down in the south, and more populated areas.

Tell us what you're seeing there now. Some of these images just almost look like they're straight out of the movies.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's a scene that you would expect in a less populated area but right here in suburban Los Angeles, Jim, so it's really striking to see. The good news is that yesterday was undoubtedly a good day for firefighters here on the ground. The footprint of the fire didn't change very much. It's now eaten through 85,000 acres. They have 15 percent of that contained.

The concern, though, today is with the winds. And as there is that wind advisory in place until tomorrow evening, the concern is that, you know, some of those areas that are just smoldering or lying dormant could reignite and cause problems. In fact right now part of the Malibu Canyon is on fire. Firefighters are working to keep that -- those flames at bay.

We are in a different part of Malibu where flames -- well, I'll just step out of the way and show you. They ripped through this area right down to the Pacific Ocean, which is about a mile away from where we are. You can see this would have been an absolutely beautiful home. You can actually see, you know, there's a pool in the background.

[09:10:05] There's, you know, what would have been a really nice house. Over to the left you can see there's a van here completely burned out.

Now there are some evacuations being lifted today but because there are mandatory evacuations still in place for this area there's hardly a person in sight. We did find one person that came back over the weekend. He had actually tried fighting the fire with a garden hose, a shovel, whatever he could find. But it was coming up the Canyon. And obviously fire moves a lot quicker uphill than it does downhill. And he eventually gave up and had to get out because there were just flames everywhere.

When he came back, he was visibly emotional. He dug through what was left of his house, which wasn't much. He said the only thing that he could find was a teapot that he had made in high school and he said he was sick to his stomach, he was literally nauseous. And you can certainly understand why -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Lives and homes going up in smoke there.

Scott McLean, thanks very much.

We want to go now to Chad Myers from the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, I don't know if you heard the interview there we had with someone from the Department of Forestry in California. He said, simply, look at the weather, look at the winds, he said, as a cause between -- behind why these fires are so severe and move so quickly.

Explain that for us. And is there -- I mean, this is a question you often ask of these situations. Is there a climate change dimension to that?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Certainly there is a drying of the timber and of the understory in California because of lack of rain. By this time, we should have at least a couple of showers, one or two passing showers to try to damper the fire season. We haven't seen anything like that. So let me get to it. I don't know how much time I'm going to have to be able to get to all of your questions here. But high pressure sets up there. Somewhere over Nevada. And then the wind from that begins to blow offshore.

As it comes down the hill, this is the Sierra Mountain range right there. As it comes down the hill, even through the canyons, it picks up speed, it dries out and it warms up as it gets down toward the ocean. All three of those things are bad for fire. You don't want dry air, you don't want wind speeds higher and you certainly don't want temperatures going up either. So that's why there are red flag warnings going on even still right now.

And the focus has been on the Woolsey Fire and also the Camp Fire. And I get that. And they're still out of control. Only containment in the 15 to 25 mile per hour range. But there could be more fires. You cannot take your focus off of what we're going to see in the next couple of days where winds again will pick up, mainly to the south of L.A., into San Diego, where winds could be 50 or 60 miles per hour through those canyons.

So I know there are two main fires, three with the Hill Fire. But there may be more. If you smell smoke or you see something that you don't like, it's time to get out there have. That's how fast this was moving. There was no chance to get out.

HARLOW: Right. And we heard our guest say, Chad, you know, this community, one of the communities, a retirement community, many of the homes are wood homes.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: And it was obviously more difficult for the people to move out quickly.

Thank you for being on top of all of it for us, Chad.

If you want to help the people in California that need it so much right now, we have a big list of ways that you can help. Just go to CNN.com/impact. Again CNN.com/impact. You'll see it right there.

Also to Florida next. Tension is rising, recounts under way in a tight Senate and gubernatorial race there. What is at stake. We'll take you live.

SCIUTTO: Yes. By the way, those are state-mandated.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Recounts there by law.

Democrats are vowing to go after acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker if he does not recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. What they are planning to accomplish that.

And so much for the love fest we're used to seeing. French president Emmanuel Macron slams nationalism in what appeared to be a direct rebuke of President Trump's own rhetoric.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Six days after the midterms, there is still no closure in a number of high stakes races. Notably, no surprise here in the state of Florida where not one but three state-wide recounts under way.

Those lawsuits required by law -- the recounts required by law, now lawsuits, though, piling up. Election facilities like this one in Broward County are facing a Thursday deadline to report updated totals for Senate, governor and Agriculture Commissioner which so far is the closest of those three races.

HARLOW: In the Senate race, the outgoing Florida governor and Republican Rick Scott has seen his lead over the incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson shrink to about 12,000 votes out of 8 million cast in the State. In the governor's race, Republican Ron DeSantis running 33,000 votes ahead of the Democrat Andrew Gillum.

But that too is within the half percentage point margin that in the state of Florida triggers by law an automatic recount. Let's bring in some experts, Steve Bousquet is a Tallahassee Bureau Chief of the "Tampa Bay Times", probably not sleeping a lot these days.

Errol Louis is Cnn political commentator and political anchor of "Spectrum News". Thank you both for being here. So Steve, listen, what we've heard over and over in the last 24 hours from Republican officials is this claim that a judge has ruled that there has been a violation of Florida's constitution.

Listen to what the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee Senator Cory Gardner said to Jake Tapper just yesterday about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN: Is there any specific evidence at all of anyone committing fraud or trying to steal the election, trying to change the outcome?

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-FL), CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: Well, here is the specific evidence we have. We have a court in Florida that has said there was a violation of the Florida constitution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: OK, does that, Steve, in any way equal voter fraud? What he's talking about, fact-check that for everyone.

[09:20:00] STEVE BOUSQUET, TALLAHASSEE BUREAU CHIEF, TAMPA BAY TIMES: No, it doesn't. The analysis here is kind of sloppy all the way around, frankly. You know, everybody knows Brenda Snipes has not draped herself in glory here and there's been allegations of incompetence and trying to count some votes after the deadline on Saturday and so forth.

However, you know, the most specific thing I keep hearing is that she failed to meet a statutory standard to report totals 30 minutes after the polls closed, and the law says every 45 minutes thereafter until all the votes are --

HARLOW: Right --

BOUSQUET: Counted. That was the norm in basically every other county except Broward and Palm Beach. But I don't see any penalty provision in the statute for that, none.

SCIUTTO: Right --

BOUSQUET: So, you know, this is about --

SCIUTTO: And to be clear -- and Steve, just for our viewers at home who have trouble following, that kind of initiate this. So the Republican contention here, the violation of the constitution was not meeting those 45-minute reporting requirements.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Not that she or others are creating votes out of the ether, which is what the president is, in effect, claiming, as are other -- Rick Scott and other Republicans.

BOUSQUET: That's right. You know, I'm having a deja vu feeling myself because I covered the 2000 recount here extensively. I think Brenda Snipes owes the public and those of her constituents a full accounting of why it has taken so long to count the ballots in Broward County.

More people voted in Miami-Dade County than in Broward --

HARLOW: Right --

BOUSQUET: And Miami-Dade --

HARLOW: Right --

BOUSQUET: Somehow managed to complete the task, yes.

HARLOW: So Errol, to that point, Brenda Snipes is the name that people are hearing a lot about now and will continue to. Can you just walk us through what the sticking points are with her in terms of how she has previously handled elections and to Steve's point now, why her county-wide is taking such a long time there.

ERROL LOUIS, SPECTRUM NEWS: Yes, I mean, the reality is, and this is I think people have a hard time grasping this is that, there are 67 counties in Florida, each essentially runs its own election, right? They have a startling amount of discretion and as far as how they're going to implement these laws and --

HARLOW: Right -- LOUIS: These requirements and these timetables. Brenda Snipes who

has been there for a long time, her name came up in the 2000 recount --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOUIS: As well. You know, she has a little fifth(ph) in there. And when it comes to whether or not you've got these judgment calls, you know, was somebody online when the polls closed? Did this batch that came in, should they really have been counted?

Should these mailed-in ballots really be rechecked? Should we go back to the people who sent them and double-check their signatures? She has discretion in all of these things, and in all of these cases it has been slow, it has not been as efficient as it should be.

And because it's a heavily Democratic county, every time you sort of work through it and put more votes in, which I think broadly everybody wants to see happen, make sure every vote is counted, it starts to affect the Democratic --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOUIS: Totals and that's where Rick Scott --

SCIUTTO: OK --

LOUIS: Decided to go for --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOUIS: Fair enough, but big picture, Steve -- I just issued the fact- check. What is the essential claim here from the president and other Republicans. And that is that, Democrats are trying to steal the election here in the midst of a legally mandated recount.

If it is fraud, why does the Florida Secretary of State, Department of State run by a Republican appointed by Rick Scott --

HARLOW: Rick Scott --

SCIUTTO: Why does it say the following? "Our staff has not seen any evidence of criminal activity in Broward County at this time. Our top priority is a fair and accurate election." So if they're saying that, what backs up the president and other Republicans claims that there is evidence here of an attempt to steal this election?

BOUSQUET: Right, nothing. This gets to the heart of a matter, Jim. Here it is. Late last night, the Attorney General of this state, Pam Bondi, a Republican, who is leaving office called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said it has a duty to investigate this election.

The FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen decided late last week that no investigation was warranted by his agency for two reasons. Rick Scott never put a request in writing and as you just said, the Department of State has no credible accusation of voter fraud on file.

I check it periodically --

HARLOW: Yes --

BOUSQUET: Allegations of voter fraud are very common in Florida. They're by and large, totally unsubstantiated. They often deal with piccaninny(ph) issues and small local elections --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

BOUSQUET: Around the state.

HARLOW: Here is one of the issues though, Errol, that you bring up. The fact that Brenda Snipes has such discretion over how she handles the counting in her county, brings up what we just saw happen in Arizona. In Arizona, there was a lawsuit filed, it was just settled that says that every county has to count their votes, look at things in the exact same way.

And that seems to have pleased both Republicans and the Democrats now in Arizona. That is not the process of Florida.

LOUIS: Well, that's right. In fact, there are issues with the ballot design. You know, I mean, this is -- the thing is again, we have security throughout the country because there's basically 5,000 local elections. One reason you can't --

SCIUTTO: Right --

LOUIS: Just steal an election when it's time for the presidential election is that you can't figure out how to do it, right? I mean, everybody has got --

HARLOW: Right --

LOUIS: Their own standard, there are different people who are running for different offices.

[09:25:00] The ballot design in this case appears to be the heart of the issue that apparently, there was a big block of instructions, and then after that, underneath that, where it was kind of harder to see, you had the candidates for Senate.

HARLOW: Right --

LOUIS: And so, they think that's why there was such a big --

SCIUTTO: Right --

LOUIS: Gap between --

(CROSSTALK)

People who voted for governor and people --

HARLOW: Interesting --

LOUIS: Who voted for Senate.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, forgive me for, you know, positing that maybe politics have a role to play in this. You know, the president and other Republicans were challenging the results in Arizona, accusing fraud, contradicted by the Republican governor of Arizona, other Republican officials in that state.

When that lead widened to the point where the Republican doesn't look like she has a chance of winning there, they went silent.

LOUIS: Trump --

SCIUTTO: Whereas it's closer, though still no evidence that it could actually be flipped, you know, in a recount here, closer here, is that perhaps evidence of politics in the --

(CROSSTALK)

LOUIS: Well, sure, I mean, look, there's more that, you know -- understanding what's at stake and who is going to squawk the loudest kind of gives you a clue about what might be going on.

I mean, for Rick Scott to sort of, you know, kind of go crazy and say, let's send in law enforcement, the president starts making these accusations. What we know for sure is innocently or not, every new vote that comes out of Broward County is more likely to be Democratic.

With such a thin margin, regardless of the fact that there already has to be a recount --

HARLOW: Yes --

LOUIS: It's going to look worse and worse for Governor Scott --

HARLOW: He saw all that --

LOUIS: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Before you guys go, Steve, to you, we're sitting up here in New York, we're not there, we're not running the bureau of a newspaper down there. So what Floridians saying?

SCIUTTO: Yes --

BOUSQUET: I think Floridians are getting increasingly impatient. They want a result. You know, it does appear that while it's narrowing little by little, as we said, I mean, it looks like we're going to have -- the odds favor Rick Scott going to the U.S. Senate and Ron DeSantis being the next governor and Nikki Fried; a Democrat pulling off a big upset and winning the Agriculture Commissioner seat.

SCIUTTO: Right -- BOUSQUET: But people --

SCIUTTO: All right --

BOUSQUET: Want this -- want this to end --

HARLOW: Yes --

BOUSQUET: For sure. Errol Louis' point about local election officials having a lot of discretion is right on. And you haven't seen anything yet when they start looking at these over votes which are subject to individual --

HARLOW: Right --

BOUSQUET: Interpretation of what the voter had in mind.

SCIUTTO: Right --

(CROSSTALK)

Bottom line --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: No evidence of fraud --

HARLOW: And look how differently DeSantis is handling this versus Rick Scott in just his appearance on "Fox News". All right, guys, thank you, very valuable --

SCIUTTO: Errol Louis, Steve Bousquet, thanks very much. Democrats are racing to protect the special counsel Robert Mueller after a known critic of him and the investigation has been picked by the president to oversee the probe as acting Attorney General.

Their plan to take on Matthew Whitaker.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)