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At Least 31 Killed as Wildfires Scorch California; Recount Underway in Razor-Thin Florida Senate and Governor's Races; House Democrats Mounting Fight to Protect Robert Mueller. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 12, 2018 - 10:00   ET



[10:00:00] MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: But in this case, maybe it did. Realizing it, I made my own optic adjustment. I stopped even trying to smile.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: The former first lady not holding back at all in this memoir, "Becoming." You just saw the clip you just saw is from the ABC special on her memoir.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're glad you're with us. Devastating breaking news that we begin with out of California. At least 31 people have been killed as wildfires have ravaged the state. In northern California, the Camp Fire now is the most destructive fire in the state's history. 100 people are still unaccounted for this morning.

Also, the city of Paradise virtually obliterated. People killed inside their own homes, some as they fled the flames in their cars. Heart-stopping video as families were escaping.

We've got team coverage. Dan Simon, Scott McLean are on the ground with us.

SCIUTTO: Let's begin with Scott where mandatory evacuations still in effect.

Good morning, Scott. What is the level of confidence from people there, folks having been able to heed those evacuation orders?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you that there's been some frustration in the community, certainly a lot of the local affiliates here are reporting on that. People expressing their frustration that they can't get back to even see if their homes are still there. And so -- and the people who are still here know that if they leave the evacuation area, they're not going to be able to come back in. Thankfully, some evacuation orders have been lifted but others are

still in place like here in Malibu where we are. Where, you know, you can see what the fire has done here. It is absolutely destroyed this home. And there are some pretty well heeled individuals who live in this area with some really beautiful properties.

This one looks out on to the Pacific Ocean. If you see, there's running water there. That's because the water has been left on. When we were here this weekend, a lot of the gas was still left on. And so pretty much every house or many of the houses had little fires there fueled by gas. If you look over here, at the neighbor's house, it is also completely destroyed. So is the house over there. Obviously this van is as well.

And so what's odd, though, is that the houses, you know, just down the street are completely intact. The challenge right now is the wind. They are concerned that the wind will spark up new fires and send embers in the air a long distance. The other concern is that as you said, people are still there. If there are new evacuation orders, I spoke to one guy who was trying to fight off flames before his house ended up being destroyed. He said that he's sick. He's nauseous, and it can be dangerous trying to fight off, you know, massive flames with a garden hose or a shovel.

In fact, the mayor pro tem here in Malibu was actually injured trying to protect his home. So you know, it is really a serious issue here. And authorities are asking people to heed the warnings until this is all over.

SCIUTTO: Scott, just amazing to think behind you there, those were people's homes.


SCIUTTO: Memories, lives there, and now they're gone, up in smoke.

Let's go to Dan Simon now. He's covering the Camp Fire. That up north.

You're in the town of Paradise. We're hearing reports of the whole town destroyed. What do you see there? Tell us what it looks like.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is at a level of scale and destruction that we have just never seen in the state of California. This is the most common thing you'll see in Paradise. An entire neighborhood that has been leveled. Even when you talk to police officers and firefighters, they will tell you they've just never seen anything like this.

And we're hearing -- we're still hearing these harrowing tales of people who evacuated the fire. The road that leads to Paradise is actually called Skyway. And in fact locals call it the Skyway to Paradise. And on Thursday, as everybody was evacuating, it was just bumper to bumper traffic. There were so much traffic as people were trying to leave town. In fact, people just kind of left their cars on the side of the road and many people got out on foot. Well, in that traffic was a mother and daughter and you can see and

hear their voices how terrified they were as the fire was just taking everything around them.




TONEY: Oh, my god.

SIMON (voice-over): A mother and daughter desperately trying to escape the fast-moving inferno.

TONEY: Please, please drive. Just please drive.

MILLER: I am. I'm trying.

SIMON: Behind the wheel is 59-year-old Susan Miller.

MILLER: I'll have nightmares for the rest of my life. This was a bucket list I never wanted of things I hoped to have never gone through.

TONEY: It's OK, momma.

MILLER: I'm so scared.

TONEY: It's OK. Just --

[10:05:02] SIMON: Her daughter, Amber, just trying to keep her calm.

TONEY: I thought the windows were going to shatter because it was just so hot. How can God take a town away that's called Paradise?

MILLER: We thought the tires were going to melt. We thought the car was going to melt.

SIMON: The camera still rolling, you can see the moment when the skies become a little clearer and hear the relief in Amber's voice.

TONEY: We're just trying to escape Paradise. I think we might have.

SIMON: Her grandfather, a Korean War veteran, made a separate journey to safety.

JERRY KRUCELL, WILDFIRE EVACUEE: I'm still in a shock, not really realizing how bad it is because I'm homeless at 82 years of age. And that makes it hard.

SIMON: While many abandoned their cars in the slow-moving traffic and got out on foot, Jerry, a former truck driver, used his well-honed skills to weave his way out.

KRUCELL: If the Good Lord got me here, I think he's going to take me a little bit further. That's all I can say.

SIMON: The most destructive wildfire in California history, the Camp Fire has destroyed more than 6400 homes and claimed at least 29 lives. The family doesn't know if they'll ever return to the town they loved.

(On camera): I know you're just trying to get through day-by-day, but what do you want people to know about your situation and what happened to Paradise?

TONEY: We're strong but some of us won't stay. It's just too hard.

MILLER: Where we had beautiful trees, it's now black. And it will take years for any of the pine trees to get even close to being what they were. That town was probably 180 years old and it's not there anymore.


SIMON: Well, this is the neighborhood where Susan and Amber lived. And like I said, nothing is standing here. And like thousands of others, they are staying at hotels and just trying to figure out what's next.

Jim and Poppy, back to you.

SCIUTTO: Can the town come back? Dan Simon, thanks for being on the ground there for us.

HARLOW: Yes. Incredible. And that man saying God took me this far, I think he'll take me a little further. Amazing.

SCIUTTO: Town called Paradise.


SCIUTTO: Well, as we speak, not one but two -- three, rather, elections that were too close to call Tuesday are the subjects of painstaking recounts required by law. Where else could that be but the state of Florida.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Election workers in every Florida county are now recounting ballots for governor, U.S. senator, and agriculture commissioner because the law requires it when the gap between the candidates is 1.5 percentage points or less.

In the Senate race, outgoing Governor Rick Scott, the Republican, holds a lead of roughly 12,000 votes over the incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. This out of a total of eight million votes cast. In the governor's race, Republican Ron DeSantis is running a larger margin there, 33,000 votes ahead of the Democrat, Andrew Gillum.

Drama all around, but nowhere more than in Broward County. CNN's Rosa Flores is there. So why the particular controversy there? There are a lot of charges

of outright vote fraud. Stealing an election. Is that what you're seeing there or is it other questions?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the question about fraud is an important one to talk about, Jim, because there is no evidence of fraud. Now that is according to the secretary of state and FDLE, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But there is this cloud of controversy over the Sunshine State because of these three different races that are in a recount.

We have seen lawsuits, protests, barbs, jabs, all directed into a geographic area of Broward County and Palm Beach County. And of course, the big question is, why? It has taken a little longer to count votes here in Broward County and in Palm Beach County. That is one of the things that has been mentioned here. But the governor of this state alleging right out fraud, saying that the Democrats are trying to steal this election but not providing any proof.

Now moments ago, Congressman Ted Deutch was here and he spoke to reporters and called out the Republicans for their heated rhetoric. Take a listen.


REP. TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: The supervisor's offices are all working hard around the clock. We just need to ease off of the rhetoric. We need the governor and Senator Rubio and President Trump to stop spinning conspiracy theories about what's happening in our election.


FLORES: Now, just yesterday, the governor filing three more lawsuits. One here for Broward County, alleging that the supervisor of elections counted votes after the noon deadline on Saturday and then two other lawsuits, one in Broward and one in Palm Beach County, alleging that -- not alleging, excuse me, asking that the voting machines be impounded by law enforcement after the recount is done -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Wow. Remarkable.

[10:10:04] SCIUTTO: Just an update as we're talking there.


SCIUTTO: Because as Rosa noted, the Florida Department of State issued a statement this weekend, we had a quote from it. "Our staff has not seen any evidence of criminal activity in Broward County at this time." Keep in mind, the secretary of state in Florida appointed by a Republican.

I reached out to ask if they have any updates to that statement. In effect, have you seen any evidence of fraud in the last 24 hours.

HARLOW: Right. Yes.

SCIUTTO: I just got an answer. No updates to the statement. Thank you. So the secretary of state's office that oversees the election in Florida is saying they have seen no evidence of fraud. That has not stopped the Republican Senate candidate or the president from saying the contrary.

HARLOW: I'm so glad you did that. You've been calling them all morning trying to get a response.

SCIUTTO: They finally got back.

HARLOW: Good. I'm glad. And the secretary of state, as you said, not only a Republican or Republican appointed by the governor, Rick Scott, in 2012.

SCIUTTO: Right. Who's got skin in the game.

HARLOW: There you go.

All right, so let's talk a lot more about all of this. Florida, also Georgia, Arizona, it's getting ugly out there. CNN Political Writer, Harry Enten is with us, and Politico's Florida bureau chief, Matt Dixon.

So, Matt Dixon, to you. I really just want to clearly fact-check this claim that Republicans, some Republicans, are making, including Cory Gardner, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee who just yesterday on CNN to Jake Tapper when asked, is there's any evidence of voter fraud, he said, well, quote, "there's specific evidence. We have a court in Florida that has said there was a violation of the Florida Constitution."

There are two different things here, right?

MATT DIXON, FLORIDA BUREAU CHIEF, POLITICO: Yes, that's absolutely right. What Senator Gardner had referenced there is true. There was a lawsuit in Palm Beach and Broward County court that went for Governor Scott against the local supervisors. That was related to a public records dispute, that turning over of documents that were deemed public. It had nothing to do with outright fraud or the idea of, you know, stuffing ballots or doing anything fraud-related. That has -- there's no evidence to that at this point.

There was court rulings. The senator is right, but it had to do with public records, not voter fraud.


SCIUTTO: Yes. So you have them, in effect, Harry Enten, including the president of the United States from his Twitter account followed by more than 50 million people, claiming voter fraud where there is no evidence of voter fraud here. And you have Republicans basically repeating this talking point based on something unrelated. So hitting reporting requirements but nothing related to actually changing the vote counts. HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER AND ANALYST: Exactly. And

the thing that's so bizarre here is yes, these races are so close, but they're not so close that they're likely to be overturned in a recount. Right? Remember 2000. That race was considerably closer, it was .03 percent.

HARLOW: 518.

ENTEN: Right. And it went down all the way to 538 or 537, whatever it was. And it was 0.03 percentage point. Even here, the Senate race is 0.15 percentage points. It's five times as large a lead. It's just very unlikely to be overturned, so why is the president coming in here saying voter fraud when they're going to win anyway most likely?

HARLOW: And, Matt, to you, I mean, let's just be really clear because, you know, the president has said a lot about this and claimed fraud multiple times. But you know, he said many ballots are missing or forged. Those are the words of the president. And then he says an honest vote count is no longer possible. Ballots massively infected. Must go with the election night.

Well, just to be clear. Florida law mandates, right, Matt, mandates that you have recounts when the margin is this slim. And by the way, the president is not insisting on a recount when it's the Ag commissioner race where the Democrat is leading.

DIXON: If the president has proof or evidence of some of those things happening, he should turn them over to law enforcement. We've spoken to law enforcement many times as it sounds like you guys have, and the Scott administration itself. Neither of them have pointed to any indications or allegations of voter fraud.

So there's obviously a lot of political rhetoric out there, but thus far, sort of where the rubber meets the road, it really isn't matching some of that rhetoric.

SCIUTTO: There's also something that I just want to specify here. If Florida were to listen to the president on this and stop voting now, would that not exclude military ballots sent from overseas.

HARLOW: Oh, good point.

SCIUTTO: Which still I believe have until 10 days after the election, that they can be received up to 10 days after the election as long as postmarked on Election Day?

DIXON: Yes. That's accurate. Overseas ballots aren't counted or aren't part of the numbers yet. And there's a 12-day span after Election Day for official results to actually be certified and actually kind of put a lid on it. So there is time yet, and there are votes yet to be counted. And that's a very normal part of Florida's process.

SCIUTTO: Can't be understated.

HARLOW: Very good point. SCIUTTO: So the president, if were listened to, would be

disenfranchising U.S. soldiers deployed overseas.

HARLOW: Important note.

Arizona, Harry. OK. You have a growing divide in favor of the Democrat in Arizona right now in the Senate race. But the way it's being handled is fascinating to me. That -- you know, the Republicans, the Democrats, they have a settlement on Friday over sort of how the county should handle counting the rest of these, but the rhetoric just isn't the same from Republican officials in Arizona as it is from Florida.

ENTEN: Right, they've been through this before. Right? There's a lot of mail-in ballots that get counted at different points and remember, you have the secretary of state there who is a Republican.

[10:15:03] They know what is going on. And she in fact issued a statement saying this is just part of the normal process.

HARLOW: Right.

ENTEN: This is the way elections should be handled. I should also point out that Martha McSally might get a seat in the United States Senate anyway because she might get --

SCIUTTO: Appointment.

ENTEN: Right. She might get the appointment that Jon Kyl that filled John McCain's term. So she doesn't have as much on the line. But that's the way that we really should be handling this. Because at the end of the day, not all those ballots have been counted. And the most important thing I think we all can agree is that all the votes should be counted. In Florida, that can probably lead to a Republican senator, and in Arizona, mostly lead to a Democratic senator.

SCIUTTO: And Arizona has a lot of mail-in ballots. Right? So that helps explain why it's taking so long to get to 100 percent precincts reported.

ENTEN: Correct, and they are counted over, you know, a long period of time. And they do that in order to ensure that we have the most accurate count.


ENTEN: And I just keep saying that. That's what's important. Make sure everybody's vote is counted.


SCIUTTO: Seems a simple statement.

HARLOW: Thank you, both.

SCIUTTO: Harry Enten, Matt Dixon, thanks very much as always. Still to come, top Democrats penned a letter to the Justice Department

demanding that the Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker recuse himself. What do they plan to do to protect the Russia investigation, if anything?

Plus, a new report says that North Korea is moving ahead, even expanding its ballistic missile program. New satellite images show that North Korea is making improvements to some 16 hidden missile bases. We're on top of that story.

HARLOW: Also, we sit down exclusively with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Why did he mandate that half of the women -- half of the people who serve in his cabinet are women? We'll talk to him about that and who made him a feminist. Ahead.


HARLOW: Are you a feminist?

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Yes. Absolutely. I'm a feminist because a feminist is someone who believes men and women should be equal and who believes that there's a lot more work to do to get there.


[10:21:15] HARLOW: New this morning, top Democrats in Congress are asking the Department of Justice's chief ethics official if he advised the new acting attorney general to recuse himself from Mueller's Russia probe.

SCIUTTO: In a letter to the Department of Justice, Democrats highlight Matt Whitaker's past critical comments of the probe and want to know if he has been advised by ethics lawyers inside the DOJ against overseeing the probe.

Let's discuss now with Sabrina Siddiqui. She's politics reporter for "The Guardian" newspaper, and Margaret Talev, CNN political analyst.

Margaret, as you look at this, you know, we asked -- we had a lawyer on the air a short time ago, Shan Wu, and asked him, you know, are public comments of criticism in the past, are they by law evidence of bias that would require someone to recuse? And he made the point, no, not necessarily. And I just wondered, are Democrats pointing to anything more than the public comments by him and things such as an opinion piece he wrote on CNN last year.


SCIUTTO: Are they pointing to anything else to back up this demand?

TALEV: I think Democrats are just looking to use whatever tools they have, and the biggest tool they have right now, at least the start of the new year, is going to be their ability to subpoena people and their ability to put political pressure and public pressure on people. And that's really the arm they're looking at right now. And I suppose potentially the threat of tying this to keeping the government open, although it sounds again that that is a more rhetorical threat than anything else.

SCIUTTO: But wait, wait, the government, tying it to funding. That was about protecting Robert Mueller, right, not just the Whitaker thing? Legislation to protect the special counsel probe.

TALEV: That's right, but this is all going to be glommed into the same discussion, which is to put pressure on President Trump's choice, to put pressure on President Trump, and to say if this is who you're going to go with, we're going to put him on the hot seat and try to compel him to answer every question possible.

SCIUTTO: Right. Fair enough. Yes.

HARLOW: Yes, I mean, I do think it's interesting to the point that you bring up. But, Sabrina, you had Chuck Schumer yesterday on CNN talking about, and it's a question that a lot of Democrats are going to have to answer to, you know, how far are you willing to go? Are you, for example, willing to risk a government shutdown to include protection for Mueller in the probe, et cetera, to make sure essentially that Matt Whitaker doesn't limit that scope in any way. Do you think -- I mean, how smart of a play is that for Democrats?

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, I think it was notable that while Chuck Schumer suggested Democrats might seek to tie a Mueller protection bill to must-pass legislation to keep the government open, he stopped short of saying that Democrats would be willing to force a government shutdown over the issue.

HARLOW: Right.

SIDDIQUI: Now Chuck Schumer knows that the Mueller protection bill has bipartisan support. It's sponsored not just by Democrats but also by Republicans, and Jeff Flake, who is an outgoing senator, so perhaps doesn't have as much influence anymore, has called for that legislation to be brought to the floor. So this is really a pressure tactic by Schumer and Democrats to force Republicans on the record at a time when their earlier arguments that there was no need for a Mueller protection bill may no longer carry as much weight given Jeff Sessions has been fired and the person who --


SIDDIQUI: At least temporarily has replaced him has openly expressed criticism of the Russia probe.

SCIUTTO: But do Republicans have the votes to push this? Yes, you know, you have the Flakes who have expressed public support for this, you got Thom Tillis as a co-sponsor.


SCIUTTO: But you still have the Senate majority leader, we don't have a lot that gets to happen in the Senate without McConnell's approval, and he, again, has restated the statement Mueller does not need protection. I mean, is there any new move post-election in this direction?

SIDDIQUI: Well, I think that it certainly is the case that Republicans still have -- some of it depends on the outcome of the elections that are still under way, but they still have a fairly narrow majority in the Senate. And so there may be enough Republicans who are willing to cross over and support that legislation.

[10:25:02] But Mitch McConnell has been fairly adamant he that doesn't believe that this legislation is necessary.

HARLOW: Right.

SIDDIQUI: So a lot of this also comes down to whether we will in fact have any new tone set by the new Congress in terms of actually taking on this president. We know that Republicans have been very reluctant to do so. And especially at a time when it seems that the president is trying to take control or rein in the Russia investigation with this appointment of Whitaker. It's unlikely to be Republicans changing that -- you know, in terms of their reluctance to take him on directly.


HARLOW: And would McConnell bring it to the floor, right? Which is exactly your point.

Before we go, guys, this struck me when Jerry Nadler, who is the very likely incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said this about the potential for impeachment proceedings. Articles of Impeachment against the president. Listen to this.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: You don't want the country torn apart in the sense that half the country says for the next 30 years, we won the election. You stole it. So one question before you do an impeachment is do you think that the evidence of such terrible deeds is so strong that a large portion of the opposition vote base, of the president's vote base, will be convinced by the end of the process.


HARLOW: That struck me, Margaret. Do you think you have enough of the president's vote base onboard here? Were the deeds so wrong that that deems removal from office? What's your read on that?

TALEV: Yes, it's quite a threshold, right?


TALEV: But look. I mean, this is Nadler trying to signal to the incoming class that makes up the tipping point for the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, hey guys, take a deep breath and think about the implications on 2020 which by the way, if they wanted free advice, President Trump kind of told them the same thing. This is what Nancy Pelosi has been trying to say for a while as well.

Impeachment is a political tool to use when there is not a legal tool to use. But in this case, the Democrats are saying there could be a consequence a year and a half down the road.

SCIUTTO: Right. Not to go too far back in history. It was Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee who turned against Nixon and --

HARLOW: There you go.

SCIUTTO: Turned the tide on his impeachment.

HARLOW: Right. Who will be the Howard Baker? Will there be one? All right.

SCIUTTO: Sabrina Siddiqui, Margaret Talev, thanks very much s always.

SIDDIQUI: Thank you.

HARLOW: Of course we are seeing all over the tragedy across California this morning. Dozens of people have died. More than 100 people are still missing in these ferocious wildfires. We'll have the latest on the search and rescue next.