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Trump Is Eyeing Replacements for Chief of Staff and Others; Maryland Challenges Trump's Whitaker Appointment as Unlawful; CNN Sues White House for Suspending Jim Acosta's Press Pass; 44 Dead in California Wildfires, Worst in State History. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for joining me on this Tuesday afternoon, we are exactly one week after election day. Another major political shake-up could be in the making. I'm not talking Congress, but the president's cabinet and the west wing. Officials say President Trump is eyeing potential replacements for several senior positions, including his own chief of staff, John Kelly. In fact, the talk is the only ones who feel completely secure with their jobs are the Trump family members.

So let's go straight to our CNN White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, you have all the goods on these details on any potential shake-ups the president is considering. Tell me what you know.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brooke. Good afternoon. What you said there is pretty interesting and revealing that most of the people who feel secure about their jobs are family members. That includes Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, the daughter and son-in-law who are senior advisers. But the reality here is at the mid point of the president's first term, shake-ups are routine. But this is a bit more than that. The president has made no secret of his displeasure, particularly at immigration, border security, and he blames most of that, if not all of that, on the Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen NielSEN.

So, we are told by a variety of officials that she is on the short list and she is likely to be the first person to be replaced. The timing of course is up to the president. He'll make that announcement, as he often does. Usually sending out a message. But the question then is will John Kelly stick around or will he leave well? He put her in that position. He's her biggest defender here inside the west wing. That would set off a series of dominos.

That is the question today. Will John Kelly leave if Kyrsten Nielsen leaves? And of course, there could be many other people as well and who would fill that job. There is a sense when you talk to Republicans around Washington, they wonder who is going to come in and take some of these jobs, at a time when Democrats are controlling the House, investigation, et cetera, it might be harder to fill these jobs than the President might think.

BALDWIN: That's an entire piece of the equation. As we wait to see if these folks do leave, everyone is on Mueller watch. You've heard that the president met with his lawyers yesterday regarding the special counsel investigation. What have you learned on that?

ZELENY: That has been a central question here, is the president going to answer questions from the special counsel? Our Pamela Brown reported that the president did meet with his lawyers. We were told he was meeting with his lawyers to talk about how he is going to answer questions about potential collusion during husband presidential ca his presidential campaign. That is something that is going to come to a head here as we watch for indictments and other people in the matter. How the president will respond is something we're watching very carefully. We'll find out what they decide to do. He said all year long he wanted to sit down and talk with Bob Mueller. That will not happen. But now will he answer written inquiries from bob Mueller? It's pretty quiet here today. Something might be up behind the scenes.

BALDWIN: When it's too quiet, something is up. Jeff Zeleny, you know that too well. I want to hone in on Jeff's first point, talking about the chief of staff, the White House John Kelly and the woman who Kelly first brought into the White House as his deputy may now be losing her job as secretary of Homeland Security. Several officials said she is expecting President Trump to ask her to go at any time. Chris, why is secretary Nielsen's job at risk?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Remember that Donald Trump's formative experience prior to coming to the White House was a reality show producer and star, which means he's likes drama. He's basically writing a 30-minute reality show but for a whole day every day. So, changes and movement is important. Trump lays the fact that they haven't solved the border crisis problem at her feet. Lots of people believe that Nielsen would have been gone sooner had it not been for Kelly standing up for her. Remember John Kelly and Donald Trump don't exactly have the warmest relationship either, despite Trump saying Kelly has agreed to stay on for as long as he's president. No one thinks that's going to happen. I think you're looking at a two-for-one deal here. That's why Zeleny mentioned quiet right now. You might be looking at a negotiated settlement to get those two out.

[14:05:00] BALDWIN: Not for you to be able to say I told you so --

CILLIZZA: Any time I can, I would like to.

BALDWIN: In March you wrote this piece for "THE POINT" called "The Nine People Donald Trump Will Fire Next." Where do we stand on these baseball cards of very important people in Washington?

CILLIZZA: Here they are, right? You recognize most of these people, prominent features. So, we've got four gone. Sessions obviously fired the day after the election, Shulkin gone, McMaster removed, Scott Pruitt removed after a long time. But, but, but Kelly potentially in trouble, Zinke, big trouble. Trump was asked about him and he said we're looking into it, I'm not totally sure. If you're Ryan Zinke, you don't feel good about that. There's been rumors about Mattis. He's been the quiet one. DeVos and Carson probably safe. I didn't put Nielsen on here and I should have. The point is let's just forget NielSEN. Let's say we take out one of these two people. Now you're talking about more than half of the people I predicted in March would go are gone and Jeff Zeleny is right, there is always turnover in administrations, particularly after an election. But there's a great study Brookings is doing. They're maintaining it for the amount of turnover among top Trump administration officials versus top administration officials for the Obama cabinet, Bush cabinet. It's exponentially more than either of those two. So, yes, change is normal but this level of change at this high a level, not normal.

BALDWIN: A couple of people defying your predictions. As Trump would say, we'll see what happens. Thank you. Now to the Trump hire that is so controversial, it is forcing a courtroom showdown. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, Maryland's Attorney General just filed papers asking a federal judge to replace Whitaker with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying Whitaker's appointment violates the Attorney General Succession Act plus the Appointments Clause which is in the U.S. Constitution.

Today the Justice Department is expected to release its defense of Matt Whitaker who as you well know took over after the president fired Jeff Sessions. And officials are expected to cite a law as well to back them up, the Federal Vacancies Act. Let's get a better explanation of all of this. Gene Rossi is with us, a former federal prosecutor. Welcome.


BALDWIN: Maryland is saying that Whitaker's appointment isn't legal and that Rosenstein should be the acting A.G. You tell me what grounds does Maryland even have here?

ROSSI: Very simple. There's a lawsuit or a motion that will be filed in eastern district of Missouri in a federal case by a former colleague of mine raising the same issue. Here's the issue -- under the Appointments Clause in the United States constitution, principal officers such as the Attorney General have to be appointed and approved in a certain way. And Mr. Whitaker, acting Attorney General Whitaker, his appointment has clearly violated the appointments clause and Kellyanne Conway's husband, George, hit the nail on the head. It violates the constitution. So, you're going to have defendants who are convicted or go to trial or indictments that are returned by the grand jury, and you know what's going to happen? While he's in office and even when he leaves, a lot of people in the criminal division and the civil division of the department of justice are going to be burning the midnight oil because you're going to have motions to dismiss, habeas petitions, 2255s. It's going to be a mess.

BALDWIN: Why? Why?

ROSSI: Because the authority of the Attorney General to approve indictments --

BALDWIN: Would be in question?

ROSSI: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: I got you. Explain this to me. I want to come back to the federal vacancy reform act, which is what the Trump administration is citing. We know Maryland is suing Jeff Sessions in his official capacity. But because Jeff Sessions is no longer the A.G., the judge has to decide who his legal successor is. Is that clever maneuvering to force the judge's hand here?

[14:10:00]: Yes. I think Maryland, the people behind the Maryland suit, they're brilliant. They are making this an issue that's not politics, it's the law.

BALDWIN: It's the law.

ROSSI: Whenever Donald Trump is outside the realm of politics and he's in a court of law, whether it's Michael Cohen, whether it's Paul Manafort, Donald Trump loses. And he's not a winner in a court of law so this is a brilliant stroke. But I got to tell you, going back to the eastern district of Missouri, stay tuned. You're going to have the same issue in the United States mail fraud or wire fraud case and $, it's going to pop up like weeds in a garden.

BALDWIN: We'll look for it and watch what happens out of Maryland. Gene Rossi, thank you. Good to see you.

ROSSI: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, CNN files a lawsuit against the White House after it pulls the press credentials of our chief White House reporter Jim Acosta. And parts of California are looking more like a war zone. 44 people have now died in these wildfires and now hurricane force winds are threatening to make it all worse. We will take you live to California. And all eyes are on Florida. Senator Bill Nelson about to hold a news conference as he demands his opponent, Governor Rick Scott, recuse himself from this recount process. Both men want that Senate seat in Florida. Deadline is this Thursday. Live pictures from capitol hill. We'll take you live. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The Trump administration vowing to fight back against a lawsuit filed today by CNN. CNN is suing the President and other top officials for violating the first and fifth amendment after the White House revoked the press pass for our chief White House correspondent last week. CNN has just asked the judge to immediately restore Acosta's credentials. A statement in part from CNN, "while the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone."

With me now one of the lead attorneys retained by CNN, Ted Olson is the previous solicitor general. Could you first just explain CNN position here, Ted Olson.

TED OLSON, ATTORNEY FOR CNN, FORMER SOLICITOR GENERAL: First of all, this is a very, very important case. As CNN said in that statement which you just read, this could happen to any journalist by any politician. The first amendment is one of most important bulwarks of our liberty and freedom. Presidents over history have complained about it but most of the presidents at the end of the day have realized the first amendment is absolutely necessary. It is the public's window into what public officials are doing. Journalists cannot be silenced, censored or intimidated and that's the end of the line. The White House cannot get away with this.

BALDWIN: Ted, CNN did ask the White House for some sort of explanation. What did we get?

OLSON: Well, we first of all got an explanation that there was some physical contact between the reporter, Acosta, and the intern dealing with the microphone. They backed away from that because it wasn't justified from anybody who watched the tape. Then the president said we can't have people in this room who don't respect the president or respect the presidency. The first amendment requires robust, aggressive reporters. Reporters must be free to ask tough questions and to be persistent about it and they don't bow do you and take an oath before walking into the press room. They have to be independent, free and aggressive.

BALDWIN: Brian, I am coming to you in a second. Ted, back in 1977 there is precedent in a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals. What was ruled then?

OLSON: Well, the court ruled then that if someone was going to attempt to interfere with or take away the press credentials of someone covering the White House, there had to be an explanation, there had to be objective procedures, there had to be a fair process and an opportunity to be heard. None of that applies here. And the reason that that is so important is if that process doesn't exist, a President or anybody working for a President or other public official can discriminate against any reporter on the basis of that reporter's viewpoint or simply because the President doesn't like that reporter. And there is plenty of evidence that President Trump does not like that reporter or the organization, CNN, for whom he works. And we cannot allow public officials to discriminate on the basis of their personal prejudice or feelings towards a reporter. Freedom must be free.

[14:20:00] The first amendment must stand for something and it must stand for the fact that -- we have a situation all over the world where reporters are being beaten, jailed, intimidated and in fact murdered. We can't allow that step to be crossed here.

BALDWIN: Yes. Brian, what is the White House saying?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: I think the White House is trying to divert attention from the actual claims in this case, the actual claims in the lawsuit and instead they are basically just complaining about Jim Acosta. Sarah Sanders, one of the six defenders in the suit issued a statement where she said Acosta was unprofessional, was rude. That is the official rationale for taking away his press pass. She said, "the first amendment is not served when a single reporter out of 150 attempts to monopolize the floor." So that's her claim, but of course lots of reporters ask follow-up questions. It happens all the time. This hypocrisy is pretty strong here. Ultimately this is about the legal precedent and processes that weren't followed. The code of federal regulations is pretty specific. It says the only factor considered for denying the request for a press pass, a hard pass, is whether the person is a physical danger to the President. Like Jim Acosta and every other reporter there, is not a threat to the President. So that code was not followed in this case.

BALDWIN: Ted, going back to Brian reporting on the White House's response, you read part of Sarah Sanders' statement, what your reaction to that?

OLSON: It doesn't stand up. If the White House has to have rules with respect to those press conference, it should adopt rules and let everybody know what those rules are. Everybody knows that's a pretty robust and exciting environment. It is allowed to be that way. Why is Jim Acosta being expected out? Because the President has said again and again he does not like Acosta. He does not like Acosta's reporting. That's more important than anything. We can't have a President acting like dictators do all over the world to silence reporters that they don't like or reporters who say things or dig too deeply or expose the President too much. The President wants to silence people like that. He cannot do that under the fifth amendment.

BALDWIN: Ted Olson, a big thank you to you. Brian Stelter, thank you as well. Gentlemen, appreciate it. Coming up next here, the fire in northern California, now the deadliest in state history with 42 dead. And in the south growing fears that these hurricane force gusts will only make the situation worse. My next guest captured this photo of her house, the last picture she says she'll ever take. She'll join me live next. And the embattled supervisor of elections from Broward County, Florida, said she may step down from her post. We'll take you live to Florida. Do not miss a beat. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: More staggering evidence of the sheer devastation of these California wildfires. The Camp Fire to the north is the deadliest and most destructive in California state history, claimed 42 lives and decimated more than 6,000 homes. It is only 30% contained. The Woolsey Fire near and around Malibu is only 35% under control. It has melted hundreds more homes and caused two deaths. Tracey Bregman, who stars on "Young and The Restless" lost her Malibu home. I can't even begin to imagine. We'll put the photo on the screen. You said you lost your home and you feel numb. Do you still feel numb?

TRACEY BREGMAN, ACTOR: I was in disbelief when I saw in a photo. My neighbor is 75 years old and stayed at his house. Several structures around his house burned. People had been saying, oh, we saw your house on the news and I couldn't find anything. Then I was sent that by my neighbor.

BALDWIN: Is your 75-year-old neighbor OK?

BREGMAN: Yes, I was so concerned about him. He's been great. In fact, he has protected our land and he's amazing. I did lose my house, but whatever he's done, he's helped so many other people.

BALDWIN: Were you able to grab any of those precious life items before you had to evacuate?

[14:30:00] BREGMAN: You know, unfortunately I could not get my kids' baby books or my grandmother's items and I had a beautiful oil portrait of my other grandmother that, you know, we've had in the family for years. There are so many items I wish I could have grabbed. This is my third evacuation and actually I wasn't sure that there was a threat to Malibu. We've had it before. I was sending people from the valley to my house for protection. So, it kind of blew my mind that it came so close to us and actually got my house.

BALDWIN: We have heard these tales of people evacuating. You hear of these cries of children in the cars obviously terrified, cars melting on the highway.


BALDWIN: How did you get out?

BREGMAN: I had a very interesting thing happen to me. The night before -- we had just moved my horses.