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Trump Considers Shake-up; 50 Dead in California Wildfires; Submitting Answers to Mueller; NRA Slams Doctors Over Guns. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:46] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Back to our top story now.

President Trump is reportedly moving toward a major shakeup in his cabinet and the West Wing. And he is apparently not hiding his anger and frustration. A new "Washington Post" article saying there have been five days of fury and citing a senior White House official who said, quote, this is a week where things could get really dicey. Imagine that.

Joining me now, one of the articles co-authors, "Washington Post" White House reporter Josh Dawsey. He is also a CNN political analyst.

So, Josh, a fascinating piece. Walk us through the list of things that is upsetting the president in these last several days.

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. So the president, when he left Friday on the way to Paris for his weekend there, grew frustrated on the phone with Theresa May, the British prime minister, who called him. He was brooding about the midterm elections, concerned about the Iran nuclear deal, brought that up with several world leaders and saying that they have not done enough on Iran, concerned about the written questions with Special Counsel Robert Mueller that are likely to be finished soon and essentially in a bad mood the entire time.

So what we saw was a pretty tense meeting with Macron, the French president, an out lash at his staff over the botched kind of cemetery visit and that publicity -- bad publicity that he received. A tense call, obviously, with Theresa May. And now the chance of a pretty major staff shakeup. The president is still in the throws of figuring out what he wants to do. But by all accounts, this is kind of a time of upheaval in the West Wing after the midterms.

SCIUTTO: It's CNN's reporting as well that the president has spent a number of hours this past week with his lawyers answering that take- home test, as we call it, the written answers to Robert Mueller's questions.

What portion of his frustration can be attributed to that? Because our understanding is the president doesn't like to answer those questions and spend time with his lawyers doing that. DAWSEY: Well, he certainly tends to get angry when the Mueller probe

comes up. He said repeatedly he thinks it's a witch hunt. He dislikes how much it's gone into his White House, into his private life. And he spent a considerable amount of time earlier this week prepped questions, we're told maybe four or five hours with his lawyers. This is entering a pretty pivotal stage, Jim, and it's something that always tends to flare-up with the president, the frustrations over the Mueller probe.

SCIUTTO: So what did this official mean, saying that things could get really dicey in the coming week? Is that speaking specifically to the number of White House officials, cabinet officials who might be on the way out?

DAWSEY: That's correct. There was a time last year, I don't know if you remember, there was a ten day stretch or so in July when Reince Priebus was out, Sean Spicer was out, Scaramucci was in and out. Several people have likened it if not directly to this time. But the president's really itching to make changes. He sees the midterm as kind of a natural point to rejigger his cabinet, potentially rejigger his West Wing staff and is ready to make some moves.

Now, this president is also sometimes uncomfortable with personal conflict. He's often relegated firing, like with Jeff Sessions to John Kelly. So it remains to be seen how quickly he will do this. But Kirstjen Nielson, John Kelly, potentially Ryan Zinke, others in the White House, there could be a lot of change afoot.

SCIUTTO: Final question. Of course the president claimed the morning after the Tuesday midterm elections a tremendous victory. Since then, a number of House seats, more than appeared would be the case that night, have gone the Democrat's way. Not as bad a setback in the Senate for them as well.

I'm sure the president would never admit this in public, but is it your reporting that in private he is realizing that this was a setback for him, the midterms?

DAWSEY: Well, it seems to be dawning on the president, and many in the White House, that there's a new reality. It's going to be incredibly difficult to get money for our border wall. They're trying to hire more lawyers for the White House counsel's office to get ready for oversight. So far that's been an uneven effort at best. There really is a new dawn there where a lot of these cabinet officials are going to be under scrutiny. A lot of people in the West Wing are going to be under scrutiny. And I think the president realizes things maybe get difficult in the next, you know, few months for him. So there seems to be some realization of that.

[09:35:06] But even in private, Jim, the president has not conceded that it was a bad day for Republicans. In fact, he's almost done the opposite. He said, if it wasn't for me, it would have been even worse. I kept the Senate. These House seats, I did everything possible to put them in play. This is not a president who often says that he takes blame. In fact, even in private he rarely takes blame for anything.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Truer words never spoken.

Josh Dawsey, thanks very much.

At least 50 people have died from wildfires burning now across California. Just the images are incredible. You see them there. Firefighters are now facing yet another threat.


SCIUTTO: Well, the death toll keeps rising in California. At least 50 people have now died in wildfires across the state. And this morning, residents there are facing a new wildfire threat. The Sierra Fire started just overnight, just east of Los Angeles. Firefighters in bulldozers are trying to fight off the flames. This while thousands of other firefighters battle other deadly wildfires in the state.

[09:40:14] CNN's Scott McLean joins me now from Malibu, where the Woolsey Fire is still burning.

Scott, what do we know about this new fire? How big is it? And what are the conditions there today?


So this fire is big enough to get its own name. It's called the Sierra Fire. It sparked up east of San Bernardino. At last word it was 147 acres and firefighters say they've got a decent handle on it despite the fact that these winds continue to be a problem.

As for the Woolsey Fire, the fire that has charred the area of Malibu, where I am, well, it got a breath of fresh air yesterday. Literally winds kicking this fire up into high gear. We know from new pictures from this morning there were flames and a whole heck of a lot of smoke in those hills. In fact, a lot of people had been allowed to go back to their homes around the Thousand Oaks area, and south of Thousand Oaks area. Well, they had to turn straight back around and get out of there when those -- when that new fire or that -- the Woolsey Fire sparked up again.

It's chewed through 97,000 acres already. It is 40 percent contained. Here in Malibu, for a lot of people, though, you can see it really doesn't get much worse for them. It cannot get much worse. Their houses have been absolutely levelled.

Some people are allowed to come back on the eastern edge of Malibu, but where we are they are still under evacuation orders. And so we've hardly seen any residents.

But I ran into one yesterday named Thomas Hirsch. He came back to survey the damage at his childhood home where his parents still live. His parents are 97 and 94 years old. As you can imagine, they had a lifetime of things collected. When we were with Thomas, he was looking for a sterling silverware set that he managed to find in just a big blob that had been melted.

Despite the destruction, despite his parents' age, though, he says that they plan to rebuild. Listen.


THOMAS HIRSCH, PARENTS' MALIBU HOME DESTROYED: We're survivors. And we'll rebuild. We'll come back and take whatever little insurance money they had and clean it up and rebuild it and make it nicer than it was before. I told my dad this and he said, Tom, you can't make it any nicer than it was.


MCLEAN: I'm sure a lot of people are feeling the same way. And, Jim, there are red flag conditions in effect for the end of today. That means they -- conditions are still prime for fires to start or spread quickly. They're in effect until later this evening. Hopefully after that, though, this area should get some relief.


SCIUTTO: Goodness, so many lives to rebuild.

Scott McLean, thanks very much for staying on top of it.

President Trump could soon be handing over his written answers to Robert Mueller's questions on Russian collusion. But will he ever actually sit down face to face with the special counsel? We're going to discuss that, next.


[09:47:16] SCIUTTO: President Trump and his attorneys are expected to soon finalize his answers to the special counsel's written questions regarding Russian collusion. The president and his team met Monday to go over those written answers. The take-home test, as we call it. They could be sent to Robert Mueller within days. But many questions remain, like will the president sit down in person for an interview with Robert Mueller and answer questions about a separate issue, possible obstruction of justice.

Joining me now is Elie Honig. He's a CNN legal analyst, long time federal prosecutor.

So first on this idea of this take-home test. In your time as a prosecutor, did you ever submit written questions as part of an investigation?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No. It's extremely rare to do it this way. I've dealt with hundreds of cases, hundreds of witnesses, grand jury, I never once issued written questions. I never even thought about it. I never even heard of it.

That said, I think what Mueller is doing here is he's carefully choosing his battles, right? It's one thing for me to subnormal normal people, but this is the president of the United States. I think you have to be a little bit extra careful. And I think the calculation from Mueller is, I'll take the written answers on the collusion part. He'll be locked in, in black and white. He can't waffle about it. If he lies in those written answers, it's perjury or obstruction of justice.

But I think the bigger battle that lies ahead is, where are they going to end up on the obstruction question.

SCIUTTO: Right. And that's key.

So these questions are confined to collusion. But that certainly does not mean that the question of obstruction of justice is settled. That's just -- that's subject to another round of either written questions or face to face questions at a later date.

HONIG: That's going to be round two. And I think the big question from Mueller's perspective is, will he issue a subpoena to the president? And, if he does, it's likely to end up in the courts, and probably the Supreme Court.

Now, that's complicated now by Matthew Whitaker taking over because the regs say that a major investigative step, certainly a subpoena to the president will qualify, needs to be run through and approved by the attorney general. And there's been reporting already that Whitaker's hostile to the idea of a presidential subpoena.

SCIUTTO: So Whitaker, in this position, even as acting, he could kill a Mueller request to subpoena -- or Mueller's subpoena to the president on questions regarding obstruction of justice?

HONIG: Yes, he absolutely could. The regs say a major step like that has to go to the AG. If the AG finds that it's inappropriate or out of normal practice, the AG can overrule it. Now, the AG has to sort of log those and then report them to Congress --


HONIG: Which makes it all the much more important that the Democrats now control the House.

SCIUTTO: Now he, if he does that, is there any appeal to that process, or is his decision final?

HONIG: There's no formal appeal. There may be political pressures that can come to bear. But there's -- I don't believe there's a way Mueller can say, you and I disagree, I'm taking it up the chain. There is nowhere up the chain.


HONIG: This is the attorney general.

SCIUTTO: OK, so put on your legal prognosticator cap for a moment here. As you look at the activity that the special counsel has had post-election here --

HONIG: Yes. SCIUTTO: Including finalizing the answers -- or at least the president finalizing the answers to the questions, it's not your sense this is anywhere close to being wrapped up?

[09:50:05] HONIG: No, I don't. There's been some reporting of, well, Mueller's started to draft his final report. Of course, any good prosecutor, when you have a complex case, it's like building a skyscraper.


HONIG: You put in beam after beam. But it's always a work in progress.

I think there's plenty more to go here. We still have a potential subpoena battle with the president. We know that Manafort has cooperated.


HONIG: We haven't seen the results of that yet. Certainly something will come out of that. Michael Cohen seems to be right on the brink of becoming an official --

SCIUTTO: We saw him arriving in D.C. this week.

HONIG: Right. And I think it's only a matter of time before he signs the paperwork and pleads as a cooperator. You have to prune all that information and turn that into charges. So I think we got a ways to go.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Elie Honig, I know you're going to help us stay on top of that as it comes forward.

The NRA is sparking controversy after telling doctors to stay in your lane when it comes to guns. And that's when thousands of medical professionals, surgeons who have seen the effects of gun violence, fought back.


[09:55:21] SCIUTTO: It has been one week since a gunman opened fire on a crowd of college students at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California. Twelve people were killed that night, adding to the hundreds more killed by gun violence this year.

Earlier this month, the NRA criticized the American College of Physicians after it published guidelines on ways to reduce gun violence. The NRA tweeting in part saying, quote, someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane. Medical professionals across the country immediately struck back with how the results of gun violence affect them every day. They've got a remarkable view of this.

And joining me now is Dr. Joseph Sakran. He is the emergency general surgery doctor -- director, rather, at Johns Hopkins and a gunshot survivor himself. Doctor, thanks very much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So you, your colleagues, you see the blood. You see the victims and the families of victims every day of gun violence.

When you heard the NRA attack you so personally -- I'm just going to repeat this language, someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane -- how do you respond to that?

SAKRAN: Yes, well, Jim, I think when you hear that type of communication, it really tells me, the rest of the medical community, and Americans all across this country that they are not serious about moving the needle forward on this issue. And, you know, day in and day out, we have patients that are coming into our trauma centers that are being injured and killed. And so that type of rhetoric is not helpful. And anyone that understands how complex a problem this is will realize that this requires stakeholders from all walks of life to participate in order to move it forward.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Do you see in particular the effects in the ER of powerful weapons like the AR-15s or even automatic high caliber handguns? I mean I imagine you get a view of just how damaging those particularly powerful weapons are.

SAKRAN: Yes. So, you know, in our trauma centers all across this country, we see the full spectrum of injuries. Anything from handguns to the AR-15s to shotgun wounds. And depending upon the type of weapon used, sometimes the injury pattern can be different.

But I think something that's very important to kind of point out is, you know, the mass shootings get a lot of the highlight here, but they're less than two percent of the problem.


SAKRAN: And we have young black men that are being killed every day in cities like Baltimore. And so, Jim, we have the possibility and the responsibility to ensure that their stories are heard and ensure that we implement common sense solutions to make communities safer all across this country.

SCIUTTO: You call it, as others have who study this issue, you call it a public health crisis and that we should, as a country, deal with it as a public health crisis. Explain that.

SAKRAN: Well, I mean, if you think about what a public health crisis is, it's a complex health issue that occurs in different geographic areas throughout the country. And when you look at what we've done in other similar problems, like motor vehicle fatalities, for example, you know, in the '60s and '70s, we didn't get rid of cars. We came up with seat belts and air bags. We made roads safer. It's about time that we take this issue on and deal with it like the public health crisis that it is. SCIUTTO: Yes. And as I mentioned in introducing you, you, as a child,

were a victim of gun violence. You have a personal experience here that I imagine helps motivate you.

SAKRAN: Well, correct. I mean, you know, when I was 17, I was nearly killed after being shot in the throat. And I think having that perspective, as being a former patient and now a provider, it really kind of puts me in a unique, you know, situation where I can relate with a lot of my patients and my families.


SAKRAN: And, Jim, I'll just tell you, there's nothing worse than having to go out to that waiting room and talk to the families of these loved ones and tell them that their family member is not coming home again.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's a -- I can't imagine in those moments a burden on you.

But, Joseph Sakran, Dr. Sakran, thanks very much for what you do.

SAKRAN: Jim, thank you so much for having me.

SCIUTTO: Take care.

[10:00:02] Top of the hour now. I'm Jim Sciutto.

The story of the hour, comings and goings in Washington.