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First Lady Says White House Aide "No Longer Deserves" to Work in White House; Sources: Few Aides Feel Safe as Trump Considers Major White House Shakeup; Trump Silent on Caravan as Mattis, Nielsen Head to Border; Feds Investigating Whitaker's Involvement in "Scam" Company; Some Lawmakers Pushing Bipartisanship Issues Like Infrastructure, Health Research, Opioid Crisis; Trump Promises 10 Percent Tax Cut Before Midterms. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:08] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan.

This might be a little much for 11:00 a.m. Do you know why it is called pillow talk, I ask rhetorically? It happens on a pillow, behind closed doors, in private. Do you know where that doesn't happen? In a press release directed from one spouse to another. That is exactly what is happening at the White House right now. The first lady of the United States, through a spokeswoman, announcing to the world that one of the president's advisers should be fired. Here's the statement. She says, "It is the position of the office of the first lady that Mira Ricardel no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House." Sources tell CNN that blindsided officials in the West Wing. Ricardel is the deputy national security advisor.

Add to that that there's more drama over who is working in the White House, who should stay, who's there now, and who should be going. According to CNN's Jeff Zeleny you are looking at the only two people with job security, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. It is hard to fire family. The "Washington post" describing this past week as "Five days of fury" and describes the president fuming in the wake of the midterm elections.

But according to the president, everyone is looking to get in on the action. Here's what he said last week.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everybody wants to work in this White House. We are a hot country. This is a hot White House.



CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House with much more.

Sarah, is Mira Ricardel in or is she out? SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, there's

potentially big staffing shakeups on the horizon. But none have happened yet. Mira Ricardel is here at the White House today, according to press secretary, Sarah Sanders. She is in her office physically, working, despite the stunning statement from the first lady's office calling for her removal. Sources say there have been tensions between the East Wing and Mira Ricardel for weeks now. Mira Ricardel clashing with people on the NSC, where she was deputy national security adviser. It is unclear when or if she will be leaving the National Security Council.

Looming over that drama are questions over whether chief of staff, John Kelly, will be here for long. The president is considering a number of potential replacements for Kelly, including vice president Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, and a handful of others inside the administration and maybe some outsiders. Kelly's fate has been seen as closely tied to that of yet another embattled senior administration official, and that is Homeland Secretary Nielsen. Nielsen has drawn there for President Trump for not being tough enough on his two signature issues, immigration and border security. Trump has come to view her as ineffective given that the border wall hasn't been built, border crossings are up. And the president has considered removing her in the weeks ahead. Nielsen said she expects to be asked for resignation at any time. The president has been known to change his mind on big decisions in general, personnel matters in particular. As with anything when it comes to staffing with this president, nothing is certain until it is in writing.

BOLDUAN: Stand by to stand by is the only way we can live at this moment.

Great to see you, Sarah. Thank you so much.

Joining me now, CNN chief political correspondent, Dana Bash, and Chris Cillizza, CNN political reporter and editor-at-large.

Dana, Dana, why would the first lady ever feel the need to put out a statement to say anything to the president of the United States like this? I don't understand.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, so I don't have a degree in marriage counseling, but all of us do have some expertise in political gamesmanship. Look, anybody who has spent any time talking to the people around the president know that Melania Trump is incredibly strategic. She knows what she is doing. She is one of the president's most important political advisers when it comes to a lot of things.

On this issue, the question is -- and I don't know the answer to this -- why wasn't she able to, if she has such influence on the president on such issues, why wasn't she able to just do what Nancy Reagan and other first ladies have done since the beginning of time, and that is go to her husband and say, this person needs to go? So the answer to that we don't know or whether that was irrelevant because she so wanted to make a statement that she wanted to have this public shaming because she is, in the words of one person in Trump world to me this morning, a killer. This source meant that in a loving and positive way for the way that Mrs. Trump approaches her political skills. So that is the short way. But it certainly adds to the drama that we heard Sarah talk about. I'm also told by Trump sources to remember that it is all related to the chaos, the dysfunction, much of which the president thrives on. We have been talking about that for over two years. Some of which is related to the president's very sour mood that began on election night and has gotten worse in the past week.

[11:05:37] BOLDUAN: Chris, I am now wondering, when it comes to the first lady, is this now a new line that has now been drawn, don't cross Melania Trump or else? Or is it not since the reporting this morning, Ricardel is still in the office?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Ricardel is still at the office now. Maybe she lasts. Sarah mentioned Donald Trump's mercurialness. He changes his mind. If you asked me a month ago if Rod Rosenstein would still be deputy attorney general, I would have said no, and here he is. But I don't think it crosses a new line, Kate, because I think Melania Trump is someone who, behind the scenes, exerts considerable influence on her husband. He doesn't listen to virtually anyone. We know that. When he does listen, he usually does his own thing. She, along and Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, are probably the people he does listen to the most and the people we are sure will be there throughout his tenure as president. I think this was a public airing. I don't totally know why that was done other than maybe a show of force. But this was a public airing of something that I think does happen privately, which is she has said before in interviews, she, Melania Trump, has said, there are members of my husband's staff I don't trust who still work there. My guess is she conveys those points to her husband. She just doesn't usually do it via a statement from her communications director.

BOLDUAN: It is really amazing stuff.

Dana, as you are talking about, kind of the rest of the shakeup that is thought to be coming this round, you have a DHS secretary Nielsen, who is likely out. You have a lot of people wondering about John Kelly, is he on his way out, too. Maybe even Defense Secretary James Mattis. "Politico" quotes one former Trump aide on kind of the last 24 hours as like an episode of Maury. The only thing missing is a paternity test.


BASH: I don't want to touch that.


BASH: Yes. But in fairness, we are seeing everything going on behind the scenes. In most White Houses, even in properly functioning White Houses, there are changes after two years. It is a very tense and intense job. But in this White House. we are seeing it play out in public. We have since day one. Kirstjen Nielsen is a perfect example of that. The president had a problem with her since the day that she got that job. She got the job because she is close to John Kelly. John Kelly had a lot of positive things to say about her abilities to do that job. It is an impossible job for anybody, no matter who you are, because of the president's promises on the campaign trail and expectations, which Nielsen has said privately more than one time to the president his expectations are not in touch with reality. That doesn't fly when you are the president and you are talking about an issue like immigration. She has been on borrowed time since day one.

What I'm hearing from people in and around the president and on Capitol Hill is, who are you going to replace her with. Who would want that job? It is an impossible task with this president on that issue of immigration.

CILLIZZA: I think, Kate, that is a really important point, not just related to Nielsen but related to any other openings that come up. You have two problems. One is, for all of Donald Trump saying it is a hot White House and everyone wants to work there, there's no question that in some of these jobs, including communications director, which was vacant for long time, before Bill Shine filled that role, Donald Trump is having trouble recruiting top-end Republican talent because they look at what is happening. Do you want to be the next Jeff Sessions? Do you want to be the next Nielsen in terms of how he's treated them?


BOLDUAN: There was also the element, at the beginning, they weren't expecting anybody to come in who ever said anything against the president.


BOLDUAN: That eliminated a lot of folks from what went on in the election.

But I want to ask you, Chris, in the context of kind of focus over here and focus not right here, what the president has not tweeted about since the election, if the election is what is roiling right now, is the migrant caravan in Mexico right now. He moved troops to the border because of it. Is this all that folks need it see, which is that there aren't tweets post-election, to know if this was a politically motivated stunt and nothing more?

[11:10:28] CILLIZZA: Yes. This was a bold political move. If you doubted it then, you should not doubt it anymore. Between October 16, when Donald Trump seized on the caravan, to November 6, Election Day, Donald Trump sent 45 tweets mentioning the word "border." He sent one since then on November 9, which was essentially a presidential proclamation on what he had done in sending troops to the border. "Caravan," October 16 to November 6, he mentioned that nine times, many times, suggesting there were untoward elements in it without fact. You know how many times he mentioned the caravan on Twitter since then, Kate? Zero. This, from its start, looked like a political ploy. At this point, it seems that -- this was just to get his base energized. There's no question in retrospect that this was an issue that he seized on and put it in the high profile and he is on to other things because that's who he is and that's what he does.


BOLDUAN: It is -- go ahead, Dana. Sorry.

BASH: I was going to say, it's really important for us to point this out.


BOLDUAN: I totally agree.

BASH: It was transparent at the time. We were trying to call him out on it at the time. Now, all of our observations are showing to be 100 percent right because of the fact that it's silence since then. Silence.

BOLDUAN: It's not just what is important what is said or what is there. It is also really important what is missing and what is not there.

CILLIZZA: That's right.

BOLDUAN: Where the focus is.

It's great to see you guys. Thank you so much.

CILLIZZA: Thanks, Kate.

BASH: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, Matt Whittaker had a lot to say before he was at the Justice Department, especially about the Mueller investigation. You see him right there speaking live now publicly for the first time as acting attorney general as the battle for his appointment rages on. What's he saying?

Plus, the race to recount votes in Florida heating up. We mean literally heating up. The recount machine malfunctioned, putting election workers in a tough spot. What does it mean for the recount? That is coming up.


[11:16:47] BOLDUAN: You are looking live at Matt Whittaker making his first public comments since becoming acting attorney general after Jeff Sessions was fired. This as the Justice Department this morning comes to his defense, releasing a lengthy memo justifying his appointment, pushing back on critics who say it is unconstitutional. House Democrats have something to say about it.

CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, is joining me now with the details.

Laura, what is the Justice Department's defense of Whittaker?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Kate, it is a 20-page memo, a lengthy discussion of all the constitutional issues, the past precedents, and how they all overlap. In recent days, this has come to a head since his appointment, as various scholars have raised constitutional questions. The state of Maryland raised a legal challenge to the Justice Department about this yesterday.

It centered on the fact that Whittaker was not Senate confirmed when he was installed as acting attorney general last week. The question is, if he wasn't Senate confirmed, is that constitutional under the Appointments Clause? The Justice Department today answering definitively, yes, it is constitutional, for two main reasons. There's a federal statute from the '90s that says, if you have served at the Justice Department as a senior official for at least 90 days at a certain senior level of pay, you can come in in an acting capacity. The Justice Department is saying that is how Whittaker was appointed here. They are also pointing to the fact that this is only temporary. Yes, he hasn't been confirmed by the Senate. They acknowledged that the last time this happened, someone in an acting capacity like this becoming the attorney general, was over a century ago in 1866. They say even in that case, it was valid as it is today. They offer several justifications, Kate, unlikely to quell some of the lingering issues from the critics. There's now litigation going on. But it's the most robust defense we've seen of Whitaker's appointment. It does not mention the controversial issue, which is the recusal, given his past writings and criticism of the Mueller probe. It doesn't get into any of that -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: That is fascinating.

Also happening, top House Democrats making moves in promising that they are clearly interested in investigating Whittaker's involvement in a company that the FBI is now investigating that has been described as a scam company. What are you learning about that?

JARRETT: We are really seeing the opening salvo from some of the top Democrats in the House and a preview of what is likely to come in January. They have issued seven letters on this issue. World Patent, this company, tried to help consumers get patents, at least that was how it was pitched. The FTC shut it down several years ago. Whittaker was on the advisory board. Before he was over at DOJ, he served several years ago, even issuing some of his own correspondents with consumers. Democrats are raising questions about, what was his involvement. They are saying, we didn't get a chance to vet this guy because he wasn't Senate confirmed. We need more information from him. We need to understand his role. Last week, the Justice Department said in a statement to me that he didn't know about any fraudulent activity. But this is just the first of many, many letters like this to come, I expect -- Kate?

[11:20:08] BOLDUAN: A lot of letters.

Thank you, Laura. I really appreciate it.

JARRETT: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Joining me now to discuss this and more, Republican Congressman Tom Reed, of New York.

Congressman, thanks for coming in.

REP. TOM REED, (R), NEW YORK: Great to be with you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Democrats are challenging Whittaker's appointment. Critics are challenging it. They don't think it is constitutional. Do you have concerns over his appointment with that regard that he hasn't been confirmed by the Senate?

REED: I do not. This is a temporary appointment. You need somebody to fill the role while we go through the appointment process. I think the most effective and efficient way to deal with this, Kate, is have the Senate agree. Let's take up the nomination and not bog it down into legislative tactics, playing games in the Senate to avoid an appointment, and we get someone appointed to this position forthright.

BOLDUAN: There's obviously a lot of focus, one of the big focuses on Whitaker, his recusing or not of overseeing the Mueller investigation because of past things he has said. With that in mind, do you think that Congress needs to act to protect the Mueller investigation?

REED: I appreciate the question. I think we are missing maybe the substantive issue here. Mueller needs to come to a conclusion. This is two years of an open investigation that needs to come to a conclusion. Why would we need to protect Mueller if he is coming to the end of his investigation like he should? We need to know the evidence he is finding and the issues, if any? I'm confident there will not be a conclusion of collusion. At the end of the day, let's get Mueller to complete his investigation, then we can get away from the political talking points that seem to be running around Washington, D.C.

BOLDUAN: If it came up -- I'm seeing some Senators commenting about it today, yesterday, Lindsey Graham one included. If it was a simple piece of legislation to protect Mueller from being fired so he can complete his investigation, would you support it?

REED: I have said and I continue to support the completion of the investigation. It needs to come to a conclusion ASAP. Legislatively, I just don't think we need to do that because this investigation needs to come to a conclusion. It is time. Two years and millions of taxpayer dollars, it needs to come to an end.

BOLDUAN: In the grand scheme of things, it's not necessarily over time in terms of how long this has been going on when you talk about lengthy investigations like this.

But let's talk about something else. You were elected to the House of Representatives in the Republican wave of 2010. You never served in a minority of the House. What are you most looking forward to, Congressman, come January?

REED: My hope is that we can get things done for the American people. That is why I'm so proud of the work we are doing in the Problem Solvers Caucus, this group of bipartisan members. My Democratic co- chair leading the charge to reform rules of the House and let members be members and let us legislate from a consensus being awarded. That, to me, is a critical piece. As you watch these negotiations with Nancy Pelosi I think we are in a position to get these reforms done, to get the institution working again rather than facing this gridlock that we see day in and day out.

BOLDUAN: On that point, I read you would consider voting for Democratic speaker if they would sign on to the reforms. Are you saying you would support Nancy Pelosi if she would sign on to reforms to reward bipartisanship?

REED: This is the bizarre world that I'm trying to go into because I care so deeply about the American people being left behind in the gridlock of Washington, D.C., that I would be willing to consider that. And other Democratic candidates have reached out to us for our support. So long as you are reforming the institution for the American people to get it working again so members can get rewarded for consensus and bipartisan legislation, I'm open to that type of vote being taken for a Democratic speaker.

BOLDUAN: Maybe that is more of a statement of how unlikely it is that anyone in a leadership position would sign on to losing their power. I don't know.

REED: But if they need to become speaker of the House, don't lose sight of the power of 218 votes in order to get it done.

BOLDUAN: Excellent point.

You are the co-chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus. It's a good of centrists Democrats and Republicans. You lost some of your members this election. Carlos Curbelo is one of them. I want to play what he said to CNN about you all.


REP. CARLOS CURBELO, (D), FLORIDA: I just hope that people don't give up on that approach to politics. I hope that the Tom Reeds and the Stephanie Murphys and Brian Fitzpatricks of the Congress, these centrist members, Kathleen Rice, from New York. They want to shake things up in Washington. They want to get big things done. They come from both parties. I hope that they win the day, not the hardcore partisans who have put us in the political rut we are in.


BOLDUAN: But your numbers are dwindling because folks lost or are retired. Are you an endangered species now?

[11:25:02] REED: I don't believe so. On the Republican side, there has been a growing appetite. Members, joining with the American people, are frustrated with this gridlock here, Kate. I appreciate Carlos' sentiment and comments. That is exactly the kind of governing we need. We can go into the theater of politics of division or we can govern for the American people. I choose to side with the American people. BOLDUAN: Let's see how far that gets.

I want to move off politics for a quick second. A quick policy question. You are on Way and Means. Have you heard anything about the 10 percent middle-class tax cut that the president promised just before the election?

REED: We have been working on that in tandem with the White House. I think there's still an opportunity to put the legislation on the floor. It is obviously next congressional session. We all agree, Democrats and Republicans. I don't know a Democrat advocating for raising taxes on individuals or small-business America. I think there's an opportunity to lock this in and maybe bridge this, come the next session.

BOLDUAN: Let us see. I will ask you about that many more times.

Thanks, Congressman. I appreciate you coming in.

REED: Always a pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, one Florida county racing to recount votes hits a major snag, recount machines overheating. Can they get the ballots counted in time now? We'll get an update.