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Officials Predict Trump Could Ask Department of Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen to Resign Soon; President Trump Hits Back at Macron After French President Rebukes Nationalism; CNN Sues White House for Suspending CNN Reporter's Press Pass; DOJ Office of Legal Counsel to Defend Whitaker's Appointment; 42 Dead, More Missing in California Wildfires; Florida Judge Calls Republicans and Democrats to Ramp Down Rhetoric in Recount. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired November 13, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: It's great. It's a great story and a good reminder for all of us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And you'll sing to me in just a little bit.

Time now for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto.

Hit it.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


We begin this morning in northern California. Dozens of people still missing as the so-called Camp Fire becomes the deadliest wildfire in the history of the state. At least 42 people killed and fears we will see more images like this today as officials search the charred piles with cadaver dogs. There is still dozens missing.

HARLOW: Wow. Look at those images. 500 miles south near Malibu, the Woolsey Fire has intensified overnight. Crews could soon face near hurricane-force winds. That is what they're up against.

Let's get straight to our Dan Simon, he joins us in Paradise.

And, Dan, the irony in that name cannot be overstated, looking at the devastation behind you. The death toll now from these fires combined 44. What are officials telling you?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Poppy and Jim. You know, There was concern when this fire first broke out that you would have a high number of fatalities. In fact, they were concerned that it might break records and in fact it has. We're now looking at 42 people dead. And the reason why they were concerned about it is because this fire spread so fast. And combine with the fact that you have a lot of elderly retirees who live in this community.

So we know the focus today is going to be for search and recovery teams to try to identify more bodies in the rubble and they're also going to be bringing in cadaver dogs. It's just such a gruesome thing that they're doing. And we also know, given the way this fire spread and it was so hot, that many of the bodies are simply burned beyond recognition. So authorities are asking family members to provide DNA samples. So ultimately these bodies can be reunited with loved ones.

In the meantime, guys, let me just explain where I am. This is pretty identifiable You can see these are shopping carts. We're in front of a burned-out Safeway grocery store. And this sort of underscores what has been lost in this community. You have all kinds of businesses that have been lost. Restaurants and motels and then you have the schools and the churches. This is going to be a multi-year recovery for the town of Paradise.

The good news is the fire has really spread modestly over the past couple of days, right now it's at 117,000 acres. Just grew slightly overnight and the containment number has gone up. The bad news is things remain dry and there is no rain in the forecast. And by the way, there is also no wind today, so that's good news.

We cannot say the same for what is happening in Southern California with what's happening in Malibu. As you mentioned, they're expecting hurricane-force winds there tonight, so we could be seeing more devastation down in Southern California.

Guys, we'll send it back to you.

HARLOW: Wow. Unbelievable imagines. Dan, thank you for all your reporting. Your whole team on the ground there. We're going to stay on top of that and keep a very close eye on that. We'll update you as we have more.

Also, to politics, one full week after the midterms, Democrats celebrating another flip Senate seat with the concession last night of Republican Martha McSally. Kyrsten Sinema will become the first Democrat to win an open Senate seat in Arizona since 1976. She will also be Arizona's first ever female senator. Her win guarantees Democrats at least 47 Senate seats come January.

As for Mississippi, that race headed to a run-off. And Florida? Well, we are starting at a Thursday -- we are staring at Thursday deadline to recount eight million ballots divided almost equally between the incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and outgoing Republican governor Rick Scott.

SCIUTTO: A federal judge is now overseeing one of several lawsuits warning all sides to ramp down the rhetoric and let the process play out. Of course you have the president and other Republicans accusing without basis Florida of election fraud there.

Let's go to CNN's Rosa Flores. She is in Broward County where one of the biggest battles being fought right now.

Where do things stand right there with the recount, Rosa? ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, here they are still

separating ballots as part of the recount process. But overall here in Florida, we've got a judge scolding both sides and another county now entering the controversy.

But let me start with this. We have heard Governor Rick Scott and President Trump alleged rampant fraud, accusing the Democrats of trying to steal the election. And then the Florida Democratic Party calling Rick Scott a dictator. Well, yesterday in court, a judge asked both parties to simmer down, to bring down the rhetoric because the judge said those words are being beamed all around the country.

Now here are the facts. This recount was triggered because of Florida law, because the margins are so thin. And according to the secretary of state and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, no criminal activity has been found.

[09:05:00] Now Democrat Bill Nelson asking Governor Rick Scott to recuse himself from all of these recount activities. Two voting groups doing the same but going to court to ask a judge to compel Rick Scott to recuse himself.

Meanwhile, Rick Scott heading to Washington, D.C., planning to travel there to be a part of photo ops, new member orientation, and also doing some voting there as part of the new member orientation.

Now we've mostly heard about the controversy in Broward County and in Palm Beach County. Bay County now inserting itself into the controversy. About 158 people were allowed to vote by e-mail and by fax, Jim and Poppy. Now according to the supervisor elections there, he consulted with the secretary of state. But the guy from the secretary of state of course said that no one is allowed to vote by e- mail or fax -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: Rosa Flores there in Florida. Thanks very much.

Let's keep the conversation going. CNN senior political analyst John Avlon, also CNN political commentator and "Daily Beast" senior columnist, Matt Lewis.

Now, Matt, if I could begin with you. The president and other Republicans continue to claim rampant voter fraud in Florida when state officials there, Republicans, a Republican state -- secretary of state in Florida.

Is the president dangerously undermining confidence in the Florida election here?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, I think that Donald Trump is doing more harm than good really on two counts. On one hand, he's, you know, delegitimizing elections in general. I don't think we -- I don't think that's helpful to America right now. In fact, I kind of wish that these elections had been very decisively won one way or the other decided, but we are where we are. Trump isn't helping there. I also think Trump isn't helping the

Republican cause actually because there really are some things happening that, you know, for example, the Democrat Bill Nelson is suing to basically try to get Florida to go against the law. The law says, for example, that if you have a mail-in ballot that's mismatched, you didn't sign your name correctly, that those ballots shouldn't be counted. Bill Nelson is arguing they should be, that this is disenfranchising people.

I think that's a policy question. That's a legal question. And I think Republicans win on the law if that's the question. I think what Trump is doing is injecting this culture war fight into it, and I don't think that's actually very helpful for anybody.

HARLOW: John Avlon, to you, I mean, I wonder if you think there is a lesson here to be learned for a lot of people. From the president on down, to how Governor Rick Scott is handling this from the very graceful concession of Martha McSally.


HARLOW: And Republican officials in Arizona, in the days leading up to the concession last night.

AVLON: I do. I mean, look, Donald Trump tried to inject the same kind of doubt, allegations of fraud into the Arizona race.


AVLON: Didn't remotely apply as is all these cases. It's fact free. But the counting was going on as normal in Arizona as they do it. Republican officials importantly didn't take the bait. Neither did Martha McSally. And so that tone has been different. And actually, just contrast the president's tweets with Joe Biden's congratulating Krysten Sinema and thanking Martha McSally for not doubling down with the divisiveness.

It's not too much to expect that elected leaders will actually try to unite the nation, not divide it. That's the president's impulse. But this impulse to have fact-free accusations of fraud, President Trump's campaign trying to fund-raise off it last night. That is just intentionally inflammatory and it's designed to reduce confidence in our democracy. And that's disgusting.

SCIUTTO: Yes, Matt Lewis, I wonder when you look big picture at these midterm elections, whether there are political lessons here for both parties. Because you look at Krysten Sinema, though she had a very progressive past, ran very much towards the center in the Senate race.


SCIUTTO: And it seemed to pay off for her. She won 12 percent of Republicans there. Exceeded only by Joe Manchin in West Virginia who got 17 percent of Republicans. That's quite a haul in today's very divisive environment.

Do you think Democrats should take that as a lesson nationally for the kinds of candidates that can win in these tight races? LEWIS: Absolutely. And I think, though, the thing to keep in mind is

it's not just ideology and policy. It's also temperament and style. Now Krysten Sinema was a radical leftist. I mean, let's not -- you know, let's not pretend she wasn't. Ten years ago she was. She gets elected to Congress. She actually changes her policies. But more importantly, I think she actually came across as very moderate, very normal and very likable. Actually I think more likable than Martha McSally. That may have been the difference.

Look at Beto O'Rourke down in Texas. Same thing. He ran as a hardcore progressive actually.

[09:10:04] He really didn't moderate but he did very well in Texas. And I think it's because stylistically he comes across temperamentally as moderate.

If I were advising Democrats I would say yes, think about ideology, think about policy, but probably more important is somebody who comes across with a moderate temperament.

HARLOW: And John --

SCIUTTO: You can sense how people want that. You and I speak to people all the time. They want the temperature to be lowered.

HARLOW: Yes. Right. But I wonder, John, what you think about that and what that sort of bodes for 2020 and who ultimately, you know, sits at the top of the ticket for the Democrats in 2020. Should they be sort of the antithesis of the Trump, you know, you punch, I punch harder? Should they be as calm as a cucumber?

AVLON: Well, look, I think there is an impulse to try to fight fire with fire. And Democrats are looking for their own Trump.


AVLON: And the big question Democrats still can't answer is why Hillary Clinton lost. There is a still debate. Was it that she was not liberal enough? Or was it that she was too liberal? Too associated with culture identity politics.

I think what the 2018 election shows, as Matt just said, is that actually the more pragmatic candidates who didn't try to inflame and play identity politics and lead with ideology did better. A lot of the progressive heroes heading into the night didn't actually go first across the finish line. I think Beto O'Rourke did very well in Texas in part because he tried to reach out. He didn't demonize Ted Cruz. Some folks may be say to his detriment.

But if you look at the folks who won and where they won, they did focus more on pragmatic problem solving and less on hyper partisanship. And I think that really should send a message to the Democratic Party.

SCIUTTO: Right. And, Matt, can't you say the same for Republicans, right? I mean, you -- that races where they went, you know, very hard right, and even races where the president doubled, tripled down on his messages, nationalist message, his nativist message, that Republicans lost a lot of those races there. Did they not? I mean, can you say that Republicans have to learn that same lesson looking forward to 2020?

LEWIS: Well, look. Sadly, I think it is actually kind of mixed. There were some bomb thrower, you know, Trumpian right-wingers who lost and some of them who won, including DeSantis, who I think will end up winning down in Florida. So I don't know that Republicans can take the same lesson at the Senate and congressional level.

But look, I'll completely agree with you when it comes to running at the national level. You know, it's -- the problem of course is the incentive, right?


LEWIS: The things you have to do and say to win a Republican primary make it much harder to actually win the general election.

SCIUTTO: But if you look at swing seats, right, that turned the 2016 race, state-wide races, blue did pretty well in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, right? Should that not be a warning sign to Republicans as you look to 2020?

HARLOW: John, final thought.

AVLON: Yes. Just the undercurrent of the race. Those pivot counties that voted twice for Obama and that flipped for Trump, the Democrats did better. It wasn't a sweep. But I'll just -- two names. Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan. The two most popular governors in the country are Republicans in deep blue states. That should be the kind of plus that we're looking to this nation. For the current composition of the Republican Party, they are the outliers.

HARLOW: Thank you both.

SCIUTTO: John and Matt, thank you.

HARLOW: Glad to have you this morning.

All right. Is time running out for the Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen? Officials saying this morning the president could ask her to resign in just days. More on that.

And also they're back. Congress returns to Capitol Hill, but it won't be like they left it. A different dynamic and a major spending deadline.

SCIUTTO: Plus "The New York Times" is reporting that the audio recording of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi seems to show a direct link to the Saudi crown prince.


[09:15:00] HARLOW: All right, this morning, multiple officials predicting the president could ask the Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to resign within days. Those officials citing the president's frustration with Nielsen over her handling of immigration and border security.

Let's go to Joe Johns at the White House with the latest reporting on this. Look, she is a close ally of Chief of Staff John Kelly, she was brought in by Kelly, he's been an ardent defender of hers. But this reporting that she could be on her way out?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right, as you know, they both came from the Homeland Security Department. And, look, our Kaitlan Collins reporting today that multiple officials say she could be asked to leave any day now.

Of course, there's always been a question of timing. Cnn has reported in the past that she was likely on her way out. This is a very tough job, as you know, in the Trump administration in no small part because of the immigration issue. The president is said to be dissatisfied over the agency's handling of his immigration policies.

Of course, Kirstjen Nielsen has also gotten criticism from Democrats on Capitol Hill who have suggested things like the separation of families policy has gone too far. So, it's a difficult position for her, and the question is when and if she will be on her way out.

A lot of questions follow after that including who would replace her there at Homeland Security simply because, again, it's a very difficult job, Poppy.

HARLOW: And before you go, Joe Johns, also to you on what we're hearing from the president this morning. A few tweets from him, but one of them is sort of confounding. He takes another swipe at French President Emmanuel Macron after he just spent time in Paris with him and after the two sort of seemed to mend things up a little bit. Why and what is the president saying?

JOHNS: Well, this is more of the back and forth over Emmanuel Macron's call for a European army. The president has suggested that is in a front to him, the president of the United States, and just reading, he said "Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., Russia and China."

[09:20:00] And then he points out that it was Germany in World Wars I and II. How did that work out for France? And then finally a big cut there. They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along.

So the president going after him on that, once again calling on France to pay more to NATO. And there were a bunch of other insults this morning, including one about French wines and suggesting there is a trade imbalance between French wines being brought to the United States and American wines going over to France. A long list of grievances there and there may be more to that as you know, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, we appreciate very much your reporting, Joe Johns, thank you. We do have news just in -- Cnn is taking action after the White House banned our Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. A lawsuit has been filed against the president and others in the Trump administration. Brian Stelter joins us now. Brian, walk us through this.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This is a historic moment for press freedom in the United States. A lawsuit by Cnn and Jim Acosta against President Trump and several other top aides. I can show you the statements that's been issued just now from Cnn, it begins by saying, "Cnn filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration this morning in D.C. District Court.

It demands the return of the White House credentials of Cnn's Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. The wrongful revocation of his credentials violates Cnn and Acosta's First Amendment rights of freedom of the press and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process.

We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim and will seek permanent relief as part of this process." So what does that mean? Essentially, it means Cnn is asking for a hearing today in D.C. District Court, today or tomorrow, sometime this week to get a temporary order to get Acosta's press pass back right away.

Then Cnn will also seek what's called permanent relief so that this doesn't happen again in the future.

SCIUTTO: Right, to be clear, is there any precedent for a White House revoking the press credentials of a journalist?

STELTER: There is no case like this that we found. I've spoken with multiple media lawyers about this, there is almost no precedence for a news organization suing the White House either.

HARLOW: Right --

STELTER: But with regards to taking away of a press pass, there's very specific guidelines that regulate how press passes are assigned and allotted. Frankly, all past governments, past administrations have been very permissive about press passes. Whether it's Republican administration or Democratic administration, President Trump took a very extreme action by stripping Acosta's credentials with no notice last week.

And let me just read the other part of the Cnn statement as well, because it points out this is happening to Cnn, but it could involve any news organization. The network statement says here, "while the suit is specific to Cnn and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone. If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House could create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials."

This morning in the last few minutes, the White House Corresponds Association which represents all of the press who has come out with a statement supporting Cnn's efforts to reinstate this credential because look, Acosta was the one targeted last week, but it could have been someone from the -- HARLOW: No --

STELTER: "New York Times" or "Nbc" or the "Washington Post".

SCIUTTO: Or in the future, right?

HARLOW: Right --

STELTER: That's right --

SCIUTTO: As you can see that up.

HARLOW: Exactly, he did that Brian on Friday, on Friday, with that guy who have reporters -- when asked about revoking Jim's press pass --

STELTER: Yes, that's right --

HARLOW: He said, quote, "it could be others also." This is a First Amendment case of freedom of the press case, this is also a due process case, this is also a Fifth Amendment case because you laid out the procedure, the guidelines that have to be gone through before you revoke a press credential.

STELTER: That's right, there's case on all of this. It goes back to the 1970s, there was a mock-raking(ph) journalist named Robert Cheryll(ph) who wanted a press pass at the White House. He was denied access, this went on for years, but eventually a judge in D.C. ruled in his favor and said, hey, if you're going to try to deny access to a reporter, you'd have to have really specific reasons.

And in practice, the only reason that's been stated is that the reporter would be a threat to the president. Obviously, nobody in the White House press corps is a threat to the president. And so that's going to be the legal argument that's going to take place in court.

And I mentioned the top aides are being sued as well, it's not just President Trump, but it's John Kelly, Sarah Sanders, Bill Shine, the head of the Secret Service and the officer who actually took away the hard pass last week.

SCIUTTO: We're going to be joined shortly by one of the two lawyers who is taking this case for Cnn. One Ted Olson, of course one Bush v. Gore --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: In 2000 --

HARLOW: Or Bush --

SCIUTTO: And the other Ted Boutrous, numerous cases including challenging California's law banning same-sex marriage. We're going to be joined by him shortly. If you are just hearing this, Cnn is suing the president and the White House, several top aides for the revocation of our colleague Jim Acosta's White House credentials. HARLOW: And something that the president told Cnn in an interview in

June of 2016, he would not do. He said, quote, "I would not do that", meaning take a reporter's --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HARLOW: Credentials away. That has now been done to our colleague and Cnn is taking them to court, we'll have the war on the other side.

SCIUTTO: We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: Happening today, Cnn has learned that the Justice Department is expected to issue a legal opinion that will defend President Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker as the acting Attorney General. This as Democrats in Congress continue to call for Whitaker to recuse himself from Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

Whitaker has publicly criticized the Russia probe multiple times in the past which has some Democrats claiming that he was appointed by the president to hinder or even kill the investigation. Let's discuss this now with Mike Rogers; he's Cnn national security commentator, former Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you for taking the time.


SCIUTTO: So, first, your reaction to Whitaker's appointment here, you're a Republican, but you've been a defender of the special counsel Robert Mueller being able to complete his work. First of all, do you see Whitaker's appointment as intention intended to somehow hinder the investigation?

ROGERS: You know, boy, I hate to get there. This is somebody who has been a prosecutor and because he has public statements or public commentary is one set of facts. The fact that he is now the acting Attorney General, you know, I would like to at least let him rise to the level before we jump to some conclusion that he is there specifically to undo the investigation.

I think somebody has to have that opportunity. Now, that said, I think this is right in line with the president's kind of impetuous "I pick that guy."