Return to Transcripts main page


Florida Officials Racing to Finish Recount by Deadline as Broward County Starts Recount; Jeb Bush: Brenda Snipes Should Go; Dade County Allows E-mail, Fax Votes Illegally; Fl Judge Urges Both Sides to "Ramp Down" Recount Rhetoric; Democrat Sinema Wins Arizona Senate Race after McSally Concedes; CNN Sues Trump Administration for Taking Acosta Press Credentials. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 13, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: "AT THIS HOUR" with our colleague, Kate Bolduan, starts right now.

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

It is the election night that just won't quit. Midterm races still in limbo. Legal challenges under way. One week after Election Day, several races are still too close to call. In Florida, the Senate race, the governor's race, even the race for state agriculture commissioner are facing recounts. These are recounts required by state law.

Focusing on the Senate race, though, now we have Republican Rick Scott, the governor, and other Republicans, including President Trump, claiming voter fraud. An important note, though, they're not offering proof of voter fraud. The Florida secretary of state still says that they haven't seen any voter fraud.

Right now, they are all racing toward a Thursday deadline to recount all votes. One crucial county started counting just a few minutes ago.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Broward County, joining me now.

Rosa, the question all along has been, can they meet the deadline? What is the latest you're hearing right now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kate, if what I'm about to tell you sounds as clear as mud, it's because it is as clear as mud. As you mentioned, Broward County just started recounting, but they stopped sorting to start recounting, but they're not saying exactly when they're going to go back to sorting because they have to finish the sorting before they can finish the recounting. Again, it's as clear as mud, but that is the guidance we're hearing right now.

Most of the controversy here in Florida has been zeroed in on Broward County and Palm Beach County, which are Democrat strongholds. Now, inserting a county into the controversy that's a Republican stronghold, a big county in the panhandle. It was hit by Hurricane Michael, when Hurricane Michael ravaged through that area. We have learned that 158 people were allowed to vote via e-mail or fax. Now, the rules were eased after Hurricane Michael to accommodate those counties. But voting by e-mail or fax was still not allowed, so it's still unclear how those votes are going to be handled.

Now, there's a slew of lawsuits. I wanted to zero in on one that could actually have an impact if it actually goes as the Dems are hoping for. A lawsuit that was filed in Tallahassee. There's a hearing tomorrow. It alleges the state law that requires that the signature match for a mail-in ballot with the signature on record is unconstitutional. Now, the reason why that could have an impact is because that would insert thousands of ballots into this very narrow race, Kate.

So a lot of moving parts here in Florida. But the headline here from Broward County is that the guidance we're getting is clear as mud. The recounting has started, but they still have not finished sorting -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Perfect. Thank you, Florida. Again. Another example of our democracy in action or something like it.

Thank you, Rosa.

Things have gotten so toxic, though, in that Senate race we're talking about that a judge yesterday told both sides to ramp down the rhetoric.

Joining me is one attorney who was in that Florida courtroom, Leonard Samuels, an attorney for the Florida Democratic Party.

Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: Of course.

Let me play that sound bite for our viewers. You heard it, but for our views, what the judge said yesterday.


JACK TUTER, CHIEF JUDGE, SEVENTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT COURT: I am urging because of the highly public nature of this case to ramp down the rhetoric. If someone in this lawsuit or someone in this county has evidence of voter fraud or irregularities at the supervisor's office, they should report it to their local law enforcement officer.


BOLDUAN: Ramp it down. Is your side taking that seriously? Are you going to?

SAMUELS: I don't -- he was addressing all of the lawyers and we are taking it seriously. I would like to point out, though, as counsel for the Florida Democratic Party, we're not the ones claiming fraud. We're not the ones claiming corruption. We are simply the ones telling the Republicans, if you're aware of fraud or corruption, bring it to the court. Now the court has said bring it to local law enforcement agencies. And bring it to us. What we want is legal votes counted. We would like to know if there's fraud. We would like to know if there's corruption. We have seen no evidence of any of that.

BOLDUAN: The supervisors of elections have faced a lot of criticism and are facing a lot of criticism right now. I know you have -- I have seen you have defended Brenda Snipes, the Broward County supervisor of elections. The governor who gave her the job in the first place 15 years ago, Jeb Bush, he now says that she should go.

I want to read you what he put out in a tweet and get your reaction. He tweeted this: "There's no question that Broward County supervisor of elections, Brenda Snipes, failed to comply with Florida law on multiple counts undermining Floridians' confidence in our election process. Supervisor Snipes should be removed from her office following the recount."

Do you still think she should stay on?

[11:05:17] SAMUELS: I have a few reactions to that. She should stay on because she's been elected and re-elections several times by the voters of Broward County. Also, I want to point out, as counsel of the Florida Democratic Party, I'm not defending Brenda Snipes, Dr. Snipes. She has her own lawyer doing that. We keep, in my world, is simply keeping an eye on the process and making sure every legal vote is counted.


BOLDUAN: Do you think she's doing a good job?

SAMUELS: -- defending her.

So here's what I can say about 2018. So far, everything seems to be running fine. There's no corruption or fraud, no evidence of any wrongdoing at the moment. And she's working -- her and her office, they have people working around the clock to get this machine recount done and, hopefully, they'll finish it on time. If she finishes it on time and properly, I will not criticize her. I'll be happy about that.

BOLDUAN: She's already admitted she mixed invalid ballots in with valid ones and says she doesn't know which is which, so they can't be sorted. How do you defend that?

SAMUELS: Yes. Well, I'm not defending it. There's an issue out there with roughly 22 pages on ballots. And as to the 22 pages, the Canvassing Board took the position to segregate them and to make sure they were segregated, so if at any point in time there's a contest to the election, which takes place after, if at all, the votes are certified, the election is certified. Then at that point in time, those issues can be reviewed. So there was over 700,000 votes cast, and there's an issue as to 22 pages that exist. You're right about that. Is it 1,000 percent perfect? No, no election ever is. I venture to guess there are little things like this that happen in virtually all elections in most counties. This certainly is not grounds for removal.

BOLDUAN: A new issue has popped up. Dade County was one of the counties, one of the places hit really hard by the hurricanes, where a lot of people are still displaced. The election supervisor there says that he has allowed more than 100 people to submit their ballots by e- mail or fax. That violated guidelines set by the secretary of state. No question they're dealing with a unique challenge, a real challenge there. But should those votes be counted?

SAMUELS: You know, I would really defer to Senator Nelson's campaign at this point in time. I hate to punt the ball, but we really -- this is a new development. We really haven't formulated our position at this point in time as to those ballots.

BOLDUAN: The Republicans are arguing that you all are trying to commit fraud in this election. What do you say to them?

SAMUELS: How? When? Where? Why? That's all I can say. I'm basically speechless. There's been politicians accusing --


BOLDUAN: When Mark Elias is saying he wants something like 20,000 provisional ballots -- he's going to court saying he wants tens of thousands potentially of provisional ballots to be counted when they were deemed -- they were deemed invalid because they don't strictly conform to state law. Is that trying to commit fraud?

SAMUELS: Absolutely not. It's trying to advance a legal position that will or will not be accepted by the courts. There are constitutional issues that are raised by the standards, and they have every right to raise those issues in a court of law where a judge will decide. That is not fraud. That is advancing a legal position that, you know, that the court will decide on.

BOLDUAN: We'll see what happens next. Tomorrow is a big day in court.

Leonard Samuels, thanks for coming in.

SAMUELS: Thank you for having me. Bye-bye.

BOLDUAN: Joining me to talk about this and much more, Anna Palmer is here, a senior Washington correspondent for "Politico". Chris Cillizza is also here, CNN politics reporter and editor-at-large.

Anne, you're so much more than just that.


BOLDUAN: Good to see you.

PALMER: Good to see you. BOLDUAN: Thanks for coming in.

You hear -- you were listening to that interview with Leonard Samuels, what Florida Democrats are saying. Where do you think this is headed now?

PALMER: The thing that is so stunning to me is how toxic the language is, how the rhetoric has gotten heated so fast.


PALMER: If you look at the last time there was a Florida recount, the Bush election, it took weeks to get there.

The other thing I think is really interesting that we didn't tie in here, is Ron DeSantis, who was bear hugging the president on the campaign trail, having a lot of that fiery rhetoric, and coming off as a statesman. He's stepped back. He's letting Rick Scott be the guy who is going to, you know, get out there, allege all these things with no evidence. It's just a turn of events. It's worth noting.

[11:09:57] BOLDUAN: It's a really good point, Anna.

Chris, if you look at the vote count right now, there's something like a 12,000 or 13,000 vote difference between Scott and Nelson. That is a big hill to climb for Nelson when it comes to a recount. If that's the case, I do wonder why Republicans aren't just sitting back and letting the recount happen. Recounts rarely reverse the results, so it seems maybe something else is going on.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Yes, I'm totally with you. Kate, I think if you look at it, you look and say 12,000 votes out of 8.5 million cast, that's not a lot. And it's not. It's .15 percent of the overall vote. But look at the history of recounts in this country. If it's over 1,000-vote lead, the chances of that changing -- as I always remind people, if it's 12,000 votes, they have to -- the recount has to find 12,001 votes for Bill Nelson and zero for Rick Scott in order for Bill Nelson to win. It usually doesn't happen that way. I think the biggest margin a recount has ever flipped is like 2,000 votes. So it's not a lot as it relates to the number of votes cast, but it is a lot as it relates to what past recounts tell us can be flipped.

So, yes, I continue to believe that the most likely outcome here is Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott, which is why I don't totally get this. You know, the president is his own thing. He just says and does whatever. I don't understand it from the Scott perspective because I don't know what he gains by this other than sort of P.R. to show you're being aggressive


CILLIZZA: Because the legal fight is the legal fight. I mean --

BOLDUAN: But I would argue, P.R. isn't just -- it's a something when it comes to kind of recounts. I think the P.R. and messaging on this and going forward, I think, could be a thing. I don't know. Let's see.

Let's talk about Arizona, and let's call it the stark contrast of how to deal with a contentious race. It is -- it ended between Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, ended in the most polite and civil way possible, with McSally wishing her well with her adorable dog with her in the video when she conceded. So on its face, that should be applauded in this day and age. But also, I do wonder if -- is there more going on here as well? Could it have something to do with another Arizona seat that could potentially become available?

PALMER: It's not quite so secret of why maybe Martha McSally was as deferential and acting very statesman like. She is one of the kind of leading contenders who sought to be the top choice for replacing Senator Kyl, who said he will step down in January. She actually could be the elder statesman, the elder Senator of Arizona. You could have two women Senators for the first time.

BOLDUAN: For the first time. And they already ran against each other.

Chris, why are you so cynical and you think this has everything to do with McSally getting potentially Jon Kyl's seat, formerly John McCain's seat.

CILLIZZA: Because politics. I mean, because, look, let's say this McSally had lost once before, and this was seen as sort of her last chance to get to the Senate, for example, there's no way she concedes down 40-ish votes with 92 percent counted. You wait. Because what's the harm? You're not harming your political career if this is your last race. You might as well fight it out.

BOLDUAN: She also has a long political future ahead. She was a very well liked Republican in the House.

CILLIZZA: Yes, absolutely. No, no, no. Yes, I think that's absolutely true. But her long political future ahead is -- you cannot separate the fact that she and everyone else knows that Jon Kyl, when he took the appointment to replace the late John McCain, said I am definitely not serving past 2020, and basically, I probably won't serve even until 2020. Martha McSally knows that. She is smart about that. She knows that. She ran a campaign in which she came very, very close. There's already some buzz in Arizona media about the idea of, wouldn't this be a good thing? Two credible, serious people, as Anna mentioned, two women representing Arizona for the first time. Why do anything like you're seeing -- again, I don't understand why, bizarrely, what Rick Scott is doing. Why do anything from a public relations perspective? Why not just say, I came close, I congratulate her, dot, dot, dot, and I may be joining her soon.


BOLDUAN: Anna, great to see you.

Chris, great to see you.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Kate. BOLDUAN: Dot, dot, dot.

All right, let's go over to California. Coming up for us, the death toll rising. Dozens still missing in the deadliest wildfire in California state history. Now, no rescue today. Strong winds are threatening to make matters worse.

[11:14:55] Plus, CNN files a lawsuit against the Trump administration after it pulls the press credentials of chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. We have details on that ahead.


BOLDUAN: The number of people killed in the California wildfires has reached 44 today. Two people died in southern California's Woolsey Fire and 42 people died in the Camp Fire, making it the deadliest and most destructive fire in California's history. Wind gusts in southern California are expected to reach 70 miles per hour today, offering no relief for firefighters. And more than 300,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.


ADRIENNE JANIC, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT (via telephone): Just to be surrounded by flames was just unreal. It was literally hell on earth. These things happen and I have been in this community for 15 years and we did have a fire, a pretty horrible fire 13 years ago which we survived, but not to this extent. I would say this is the worst fire in Bell Canyon history.


[11:20:13] BOLDUAN: All right, joining me now is CNN correspondent, Dan Simon, in Paradise, California, and CNN correspondent, Scott McLean, in Malibu.

Scott, first to you.

What are you seeing? What are you hearing from folks in Malibu?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kate. It's not clear there's any active flames at this point, but there certainly are a lot of active firefighters. More than 3500 of them working to build and re- enforce fire lines and put out any hot spots. This fire scorched 96,000 acres. It's 35 percent contained at this point. But the worry is that some of the smoldering areas or the hot spots will reignite again given the dry conditions we seem to be seeing.

In this part of Malibu, the fire seemed to hit sporadically. If you look across the street at this house, it was completely untouched. If you come back this way, we have a photo that shows a before picture of what the property looked like as compared to what it is now. There isn't much left of it at all. As we walk closer along the roadway, you can see this house, all that's left is really the steel beams, the trusses, things like that, a bit of tin siding there or tin roofing. If you look over to the left here, there's actually a chicken coop that managed to survive this and there's chickens inside. It's not clear whether the chickens were put here after the fire came through or whether they survived it, but if they did, that seems pretty miraculous. Then, look over here to this truck here. Well, what's left of this truck. You can see there's only really the threading left on the tires. The entire cab is completely gone. Then down here, Kate, you can actually see there's a melted puddle of aluminum that's hardened in place.

We know the weather conditions for the next day or are not favorable. There will be red flags until tomorrow. Firefighters have to be standing close watch to make sure that this thing doesn't spark up again.

BOLDUAN: That's a perfect example of just how intense that fire was going through.

Really appreciate it. Thank you so much, Scott.

I want to go to Dan Simon now in Paradise, California, where the Camp Fire became the state's deadliest in history.

Dan, what are you hearing there? The scenes there have been devastating, but there's still a search for the missing.

DAN SIMON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kate. First of all, let me explain where I am. Perhaps you can recognize these. These are shopping carts. We're in front of a Safeway grocery store. This is one of the first structures I saw when I first came into town. I wanted to come back here today and show it to you because it's just so massive. But it's also representative of the kinds of businesses that have been lost here. This is a small community, and a lot of people relied on this grocery store. So it's going to take a monumental effort to bring this community back.

In the meantime, we did get the word that 42 people now have been confirmed dead as a result of this fire. That's a record for the state of California. And the focus today is to go out and try to find even more victims. We know that more search-and-recovery crews have been brought in, and they're also bringing in cadaver dogs looking for bodies. One of the gruesome things associated with all of this is many of these bodies are unrecognizable because they have been so badly burned. Authorities are asking loved ones to give DNA samples so hopefully these bodies can be identified.

Kate, we'll send it back to you.

BOLDUAN: Yes, all right.

Dan, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Just horrible.

Coming up for us, CNN sues the Trump administration after it pulls the credentials, the press credentials of chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. We have details on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:28:29] BOLDUAN: This morning, CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for revoking the press credentials of chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. You may remember, the White House took the action after a contentious back and forth during a press conference after the White House last week.

There's a lot to discuss here. Joining me is CNN's chief media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter, and CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, who is also a former professor of media law.

Thank you both for being here.

Brian, first and foremost, can you lay out what's in the lawsuit?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": The head of CNN said this was not a step taken lightly, but the White House's action last week was unprecedented. That is true. I have looked at the law in the past here. There's no other case where a White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has been kicked out, had his press pass revoked after asking tough questions at a press conference.

The White House has been coming up with shifting explanations for why his pass was revoked, but it's been suspended for almost a week now. CNN tried behind the scenes to get it reinstated. Sent letters, sent requests, and said if we have to, we'll sue. Now, we're at the point where the lawsuit has been filed. It alleges Acosta's and CNN's first and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated, so freedom of the press and also due process. Up until now, for decades, there has been a standard for when credentials are granted and when they're revoked. You're always allowed in unless you're a threat to the president's life. And of course, Acosta is not a threat to anybody. So as a result, CNN is saying this is a violation of the First and Fifth Amendment.

BOLDUAN: What's the White House saying in response?

STELTER: Just a few minutes ago, Sarah Sanders, who is one of the six defendants in the suit, issued a statement. Let me put it on the screen. She said, "We have been advised that CNN has filed a complaint challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta's hard pass.