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Firefighters Slam Trump for "Demeaning" & "Misinformed" Remark; GOP Sharpens Fraud Claims amid Massive Florida Recount; Dow Takes Dive Weighed Down by Tech Fears but Trump Blames Democrats; Dems Pressure Whitaker to Recuse Himself from Mueller Probe. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired November 12, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] SCOTT AUSTIN, PRESIDENT, PASADINA FIRE FIGHTERS ASSOCIATION: Those are called wild and urban interface fires. They are fires that start in our wild land areas that are like foothills and the rolling hills, as you are familiar with, being a native Californian, that move from that area and those fuels that are the light grasses and the brushes into the residential areas. And sometimes, as you have seen in our fire last year, the Tubbs Fire, in Santa Rosa, burned down to the towns and devastated them. I needed to take the opportunity for the citizens of California and the fellow firefighters on the line and the law enforcement risking their lives to start a dialogue and invite him and his administration to come to California to learn about those things and to understand the needs and what we need right now. What we need right now is a good partner with the federal government to work with our state government and work with these local agencies. These fires travel over multiple jurisdictions and we need that help from him and his administration. We thought we would take that opportunity.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Did you think it was a lack of understanding? Did you think it was being quick to place blame even where it doesn't lie? Maybe a lack of empathy? I mean, what did you think that?

AUSTIN: I'm going to take -- I feel that maybe he doesn't know. Not everybody knows what we are up against here in California and in the western United States. I think it's really a good opportunity to educate him and the public. I don't think that's a bad thing. What we want to do is educate the public on what we need and the president and the administration and state leaders and throughout our nation. I thought it was a great opportunity to do that. And to bring the necessary resources. We have 31 dead between the two fires. And I believe 6500 homes that are lost in the fire in northern California. Our southern California fire, somewhere around 180. Those people's lives are greatly affected.

Going forward, we are in a new norm in the state of California and in the west.


AUSTIN: With these fire seasons year around now. They were predominantly in the late summer and into the fall. As we saw last year, the Thomas Fire, which burned from Ventura County to the ocean in under two hours are the new norm. We need to bring people in that have the means and ability to deal with this.

KEILAR: It is so.

And we appreciate you, Scott Austin, being here to talk with us about that. Thank you, sir.

AUSTIN: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: With a massive recount under way in Florida, Republicans are pushing unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. Next, I will speak with the chairman of the GOP in Palm Beach County.

In the meantime, Democrats are warning Acting A.G. Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from the Russia probe. We will have details ahead.


[13:37:33] KEILAR: Election Day continues in Florida. And right now, we are in the middle of a massive recount with two incredibly important races still not settled. In the Senate race, Republican Governor Rick Scott leading incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson by a razor-thin margin. It's a similar story in the governor's race with Republican Ron DeSantis leading Democrat Andrew Gillum. Election officials are working around the clock to get this done.

Joining me now is Michael Barnett, the chairman of the Republican Party in Palm Beach County, Florida.

I wonder if the deadline is missed, the current results stand. You say that is good news for Republicans because our candidates are ahead. Michael, a factual statement, but are you OK without every vote being recounted to make sure the outcome is accurate?

MICHAEL BARNETT, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN PARTY, PALM BEACH COUNTY, FLORIDA: I'm OK with the count as long as it's in accordance with the law. We have laws regarding deadlines for providing results to the State Division of Elections for a reason. To prevent voter fraud, to prevent votes being materialized out of thin air as we have in Palm Beach and Broward. Where are the votes coming from? I think the Rick Scott campaign and their attorneys are doing the right thing by litigating this matter to find out what's going on, to find out why the count continued after the deadline, contrary to law.

KEILAR: Authorities have thrown cold water on the idea of voter fraud there. You disagree. Have you seen concrete evidence of this?

BARNETT: We have seen evidence of Democrat lawyers fighting to include noncitizen votes and evidence of the supervisor in Broward County allowing the count to continue past the Saturday noon deadline, contrary to the Florida statutes. This can't happen. We want to ensure a fair election for all Florida voters, but it has to be done according to the law. That's not happening here. That's why we are very much in support of Rick Scott and the Scott campaign litigating these cases in court.

KEILAR: Who are you specifically talking about? Can you name names here?

BARNETT: We had a court reporter in the supervisor election's Canvassing Board. We had transcribed dialogue between the supervisors and the judge and the other member of the --


BARNETT: -- Canvassing Board. Supervisor Bucher and the others reviewed a ballot that was cast by a noncitizen voter. It was rightly discarded. It should not have been counted. Susan Bucher, to her credit, did the right thing. The attorneys for Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson objected to that action.

[13:40:12] KEILAR: You are talking about one vote.

BARNETT: One vote, but we don't know how many times it happened in Palm Beach County or Broward County. That's why we need a full accounting and an auditing of the elections process.

KEILAR: So do you support extending the deadline to do that?

BARNETT: No. We don't support expanding the deadline. The law is the law.

KEILAR: But how do you do what you are talking about if you don't extend the deadline?

BARNETT: The Rick Scott campaign is prepared to file litigation and has filed litigation to take possession of the voting machines and the ballots after the coming recount deadline this Thursday at 3:00 p.m.


KEILAR: The campaign wants to take possession?

BARNETT: They have the right and the authority under the law to obtain this information to find out where these irregularities are happening and if there's fraud or incompetence or negligence. Absolutely.

KEILAR: But, Michael, the authorities whose job it is, this is what they are dedicated to doing, say they do not see evidence of that.

BARNETT: They don't see evidence, we need to make sure. Florida -- I represent 265,000 registered Republicans in Palm Beach County and it's my job to make sure their votes are not disenfranchised. Rick Scott is doing the right thing. We fully support him and his lawyers taking this legal action. They won a number of court victories ordering the supervisors of Broward County to turn over the voter data.

KEILAR: If this were reversed, if Rick Scott were trailing and Ron DeSantis were trailing, would you support extending the deadline to make sure they were not the winners? BARNETT: We would support making sure that the supervisors in Palm

Beach County and Broward are doing their jobs according to the law, as they're required to.

KEILAR: Would you support extending the deadline if they trailed.

BARNETT: There are no legal grounds for supporting -- there are no grounds, no legal grounds for supporting and extension of the deadline.

KEILAR: Would you want there to be -- let me put it this way. Would you want there to be an accurate and full recount if your candidates were trailing?

BARNETT: The recount needs to be completed by this Thursday, 3:00 p.m. Sixty-five out of --


KEILAR: I understand. But that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking, if your candidates were trailing by the narrow margins that they are currently ahead by, wouldn't you want to see this through, this recount, to know what voters wanted is what is represented in whoever takes these positions?

BARNETT: You're talking about if the shoe is on the other foot. We are talking about what's going on right now. Right now, we have two supervisors of elections that are unable to comply with the law. We hope that Susan Bucher will be able to complete this machinery recount in the Rick Scott/Bill Nelson race by the deadline. If she is not able to, the law must take precedent. The original vote count that was submitted on Saturday at noon must stand.

KEILAR: I wonder because Florida you have Republicans who like you, they want to move on. Their candidates are leading. That really stands in contrast to what we see in Arizona where Republicans want this counting to continue, even though it is revealing a pretty big Republican loss at this point. Why are we seeing differing values on the importance of maintaining the legitimacy of the election?

BARNETT: I don't know what's happening in Arizona. I can't speak to that. I can speak to what's happening in Florida, in Palm Beach County, what we're seeing on the ground with our own eyes.

KEILAR: Michael Barnett, we really appreciate you being with us.

BARNETT: Glad to be here. Thank you.

KEILAR: The Dow is down around 450 points.

And for more on the market and what is driving the stocks down, let's bring in Business Correspondent Alison Kosik, live for us from the New York Stock Exchange.

Alison, what is going on? ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: What's not going on because

President Trump had tweeted basically blaming the Democrats for today's stock sell off. When I talked to investors and traders about that, they laugh and scratched their heads and thought, it's not the Democrats causing the sell off. In fact, if you see what happened last week after the mid-terms, we saw the Dow rally 500 points because, a lot of times, you see investors be happy about a split Congress. That means there's gridlock in effect.

What is causing the sell off? I would say Apple shares. That's taking a big bite of the Dow. Apple shares were down 5 percent. One of Apple's big suppliers has cut its sales and earnings forecasts. That is causing a lot of concerns about future demand for Apple's iPhones -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Very interesting.

Alison Kosik, thank you so much.

Now, Democrats are scrambling to protect Robert Mueller from Acting A.G. Matthew Whitaker and the country from what they call a potential constitutional crisis.

[13:44:59] Plus, the president's alleged role in silencing Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal is shaping up to be the top target for House Dems.


KEILAR: Top House and Senate Democrats say Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker must recuse himself from oversight of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Whitaker, in the past, has criticized the investigation. He said looking into President Trump's finances should be a red line. And if former Trump adviser, Chris Christie, is right, well, there's good reason for the Democrats' concern.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR & FORMER TRUMP ADVISOR: I think he is really there to land the Mueller investigation. To get it done.

What the president is attempting to do is have someone who is already involved to get the Mueller investigation to its completion.


[13:50:02] KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. We also have former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates.

So, Laura, when you hear Chris Christie say that, he is saying that this is essentially obstruction? How do you take -- how do you interpret what he's saying?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I find it odd that there's an insinuation he's going to get it done or wrap it up. He shouldn't have any involvement whatsoever, given his background, number one. And also, Mueller's pace is Mueller's pace. It's an appropriate one. It's been 18 months. You've got jury convictions, guilty pleas, evolving documents or grand jury issues, and, of course, the forthcoming report issued to Rosenstein -- not Rosenstein -- Matt Whitaker at this point in time. I think, if anything, he's placed there knowing his status is temporary, knowing he may be able to - he's not Senate confirmed, to give information to the president of the United States and to accelerate the pace at which he is informed, not to conclude the delegation.

KEILAR: Gloria, Democrats, is there anything that they can do? Do they have any resources at their disposal to protect this investigation?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Chuck Schumer, the leader in the Senate, was saying, look, we're going the try to pass legislation to protect Mueller. We're going to try to attach it to must-pass legislation, say the funding of the government. He hasn't said whether he'd shut down the government over it, but they do want to protect Mueller and Mueller's integrity.

Also they'd like to know the answers to a lot of questions, which is, was this cleared internally by the Department of Justice's ethics czar. How could they let Whittaker, somebody who says there was no Russia hack, there was no collusion, there was no obstruction, how can you let somebody like that be making these important decisions about the future of the investigation?

KEILAR: At a certain point, Democrats could be accused of overreaching.

BORGER: Oh, you think?

KEILAR: No one under reaches --


KEILAR: -- in that position, right? But is that something they're concerned about. Is there a concern about that in the Democratic Party?

BORGER: Give them a few days to get used to their majority here. There will obviously be concern about it. They're not talking impeachment yet. Of course, they could overreach. Newt Gingrich did it in 1994. They're perfectly capable of doing it. Right now, I think they want to make sure Mueller gets to finish his job.

KEILAR: Let's listen to some hints, for instance, about, perhaps, impeachable offenses. A recent report about how then-Candidate Trump was fully involved in the plan to pay hush money to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. This is key. Here's what Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, likely the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said about consequences.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. JERRY NADLER, (D), NEW YORK: That might very well be an impeachable offense. The question would be, A, can you prove -- well, it may be an impeachable offense if it goes to question of the president procuring his office through corrupt means, and that could be impeachable.


KEILAR: I mean, there you have it, Laura. That's dipping the toe in the water for sure. Do you see the president in legal trouble here?

COATES: Well, there's a distinction. Impeachment trouble and legal trouble are two different things. Remember, the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors very different than what it would mean in a court of law. The political aspect of it, yes, with the House now being controlled, who draft the article of impeachment. If there was a statement about there being hush money payment or the circumvention around campaign fiancee laws, politically, he would be in trouble. Legally speaking, it's not really whether he committed a crime, but will they prosecute that as a crime. That he is a sitting president is a lot of why he's protected at this point in time. Remember, the DOJ policy that Mueller seems to have abided by up to now and perhaps in the future about a sitting president not being able to be impeached will likely rule the day. We're halfway through his administration right now. One could always have an indicted coconspirator, as in the case of Watergate and Nixon. And number two, Michael Cohen already said the president of the United States was a part of the crime he pled guilty to in a court of law. So he's in two different hot water jugs at this point in time, but I think the impeachment one is highly more likely.

KEILAR: Laura Coates, Gloria Borger, one thing is for sure, we are going to be seeing more drama.

Thank you, ladies.


[13:54:32] KEILAR: Thank you for being here on day one. Really appreciate it.

Just in, we're getting word that a new brushfire has broken out along this highway in California. It's near Los Angeles. And we're going to take you there live, ahead.


[13:59:38] KEILAR: California hard hit by wildfires. And these pictures just in now. This is a new brushfire. It just broke out along a highway near L.A. You're looking at live pictures coming to us from Highway 118, which is in Ventura County. It's north of the main area of the Woolsey Fire burning in southern California. Earlier, helicopters were making water drops along the freeway lanes, trying to protect cars from flames. This is in addition to the Camp Fire that is burning up in northern California. Casualties are at 31 right now and more than 200 people are missing. We'll continue to monitor this.

That's it for me.