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First Lady Leads New Round of White House Firings and Fury; Nick Ayers The 36-Year Old Who Could Become Chief of Staff; Trump Has Tweeted Zero about The Caravan After the Elections; Trump Calls for Firing of Florida Election Official. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi there, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. We begin with this postelection cliffhanger consuming this White House. Who will President Trump fire? As sources say, he's weighing a major shake-up in his ranks, including several senior positions. Today's latest turn in this whole west wing drama involves Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel. Wait for it -- she showed up to work today. The normally mundane move raising some eyebrows after Melania Trump called for Ricardel's dismissal about 24 hours ago.

And the first lady made her extraordinary comments minutes after President Trump held a public cultural event with Ricardel just over his shoulder. Ricardel is far from the only Trump official here on shaky ground. Officials also saying President Trump wants his White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen gone.

The staff upheaval comes amid reports that the president's quote unquote, five days of fury, it is this "Washington Post" piece today detailing Trump's darkening mood from one negative after another, including his Paris trip and his election disappointments.

So, let's start at the White House with a senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, let me take a wild crazy guess that Mira Ricardel stayed as far away from the east wing this morning as possible.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As far as we know, she did. Which is the normal course of business for the national security advisor, the deputy, to not really be in the east wing. But that is about the only normal course of business that is going on here.

It is extraordinary Melania Trump weighed in with just a 24-word statement yesterday that ricocheted all across the White House here and all of Washington that she wanted her gone. Well, she is still at work. We do still believe that the President, as we reported yesterday, he was telling advisers that he is going to likely side with the first lady and thinks she will be gone at some point, but it is going to be more of a softer departure, not being thrown out immediately. All of this is coming as John Bolton, the national security adviser and his allies are trying to convince the President to keep his deputy in. But John Bolton is in Singapore, half a world away here at meetings there. So, he is not here standing by this. Perhaps that had something to do with the timing of yesterday. But this is not the only drama happening. We are talking to a variety of officials who are saying just like that "Washington Post" report did that the President is in a sour mood, a dark mood, a depressed mood. We've not seen him much at all. After seeing him day by day, hour by hour before the midterm elections, the applause at those rallies, he's retreated into a bit of a silence here at the White House. He'll be seen later today at a prison reform event. It's clear that his mood is dark. He's trying to decide what staff changes he'll be making. And you mentioned Kirstjen Nielsen is at the border with Jim Mattis. I can tell you there's a cloud hanging over everyone's future here.

BALDWIN: This just happened. The Republicans just elected Kevin McCarthy as the House minority leader, as expected. What's his relationship like with President Trump?

ZELENY: President Trump was working behind the scenes trying to get McCarthy elected. He'll go from being the majority leader to the minority leader once the Democrats assume control. The President is close with McCarthy. There was a bit of an internal shuffle. Was there going to be someone rising up and challenging him from the freedom caucus. That really didn't materialize. The President is an ally with Kevin McCarthy. Certainly, one of the many signs of the changing order in Washington is Kevin McCarthy will be the minority leader, not the majority leader. We are keeping an eye on the corner office here in the West Wing, the chief of staff's office, John Kelly, will he stay on? Nick Ayers the vice president's chief of staff is being mentioned as a potential replacement of his. So, Brooke, a lot of things to keep in mind. I think we are going to need a scorecard by the end of this week or month, to see who is in and who is out.

BALDWIN: Jeff, perfect segue because he mentioned Nick Ayers. Nick is the man who may be John Kelly's replacement as the White House chief of staff. Maybe. Ayers has not only grown pretty close with this President but also to the two members of Trump's inner circle with the most job security, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

[14:05:00] Word is that Ayers is valued for his political acumen, something the Trump allies say the current chief of staff is lacking. So, with me now, Olivia Nuzzi, Washington correspondent for "New York Magazine." And Olivia, we wanted to talk to you today because not too long ago you my friend wound up in the Oval Office with the president because you were there, you were pursuing this rumor that Trump had offered John Kelly's job to a number of other people at the White House including Nick Ayers. Can you remind us of that conversation?

OLIVIA NUZZI, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": The way the president speaks about job offers is not the way that perhaps you or I would recognize an official job offer. He speaks in a sort of stream of consciousness way so there was some confusion about this. When I began asking question about Nick Ayers and John Kelly and whether or not he might replace him, it seemed like the White House was very concerned. I was brought into the oval office where a series of very high-ranking government officials disputed my reporting, including Nick Ayers, including the President and including the vice President. And including John Kelly. Not only did they say that the job was not offered, but towards the end of my time in the oval office for that interview, Nick Ayers and John Kelly actually physically embraced and called to me from across the room and I turned to see them hugging each other and they said they were friends. This was in the context of the President telling me that there was no chaos, that everything is running smoothly, everyone is happy. Now of course the way that his officials talk to each other and to reporters when he is not in the room and the way that he talks to his own officials is quite different based on my reporting, based on CNN's reporting and reporting from almost every other outlet covering this White House.

BALDWIN: Incredible. Hugging it out to show job security is one way to go about things. I want to ask you more about Nick Ayers. I read this huge piece that Vicky Ward wrote in it she writes "in person Ayers is known to be exhaustingly charming. He has a panache you don't normally encounter in D.C., floppy blond hair, wide smile, swift stride, expensive suit. His greatest weapon is a southern drawl that makes you feel as if everything is happening in slow motion." What is he like?

NUZZI: t's a fantastic feature. It gives you a sense of who Nick Ayers is and how he's perceived in Washington right now. He does have a lot of enemies. In a lot of ways, it's surprising the President does seem to like him. He's the kind of operator, the type of striver, who you would think based on everything the President has said before he would not like. But apparently, he has managed to get close to the President and get close to his daughter and son-in-law and to really make some allies that are very important in this west wing.

BALDWIN: You said it. The word is White House aides, they don't want him there. "the Washington Post" reporting there that during Trump's home from Paris, aides were like filing in to go see the President saying that if he were to appoint Ayers as chief of staff, it would lower morale, trigger potentially an exodus. Why don't they like him very much?

NUZZI: I think he's viewed as a striver, as an operator. I think he prompts some fear among people who have managed to survive there for a long time. And it's not surprising people want to hold on to their jobs when somebody comes in who seems to be able to have the President's ear, to be able to be in important meetings and meet with the President privately, it's not shocking to understand why that might prompt some fear. But I would add that all of these conversations that we have about chaos in the west wing, about an upheaval, a lot of this doesn't pan out. The President doesn't fire people. He likes to force them to stay on until they're so demoralized that they eventually evaporate and have to be replaced. Throughout the first year, it was always when is Sean Spicer going to be fired, when is Reince Priebus going to be fired? A lot of people who have been mentioned as being on the chopping block next have managed to hold on, keep their heads was always when is Sean Spicer going to be fired, when is Reince Priebus going to be fired?

[14:10:00] A lot of people who have been mentioned as being on the chopping block next have managed to hold on, keep their heads down and survive a little bit longer. When we have these conversations, oftentimes it results in the President being frustrated that things are being leaked to the press, people like you and me, and other reporters at CNN and he changes his mind because he doesn't want to give the press the satisfaction of being correct. I fully expect something like that could happen here. He is unhappy right now. The midterms were not good for him, no matter how much he tried to convince everyone they were. When things are not going well at him, he's in the corner and he points the finger at those around him. It's not surprising he would be trying to make some changes given all that.

BALDWIN: I'm stuck on the word you used when you go away from the White House, evaporate.

NUZZI: I'm going to evaporate right now.

BALDWIN: Thank you, Olivia.

The President has tweeted multiple times about the caravan, many of them fleeing gang, terror and poverty. Let's go to CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza. If you're the President, it's like caravan? What caravan?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: It's remarkable. I don't think it's by accident, Brooke. If you remember at all any campaign rally the President held in the run-up to the election, this is Kavanaugh and caravan. He mentioned in three weeks 45 times, nine times he mentioned the caravan. Breaking news, these were not positive mentions. Let's go to one example. I think we have a tweet that is sort of what Trump said. "Many gang members and some very bad people are mixed into the caravan heading to our southern border." Please go back, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You get the idea. Point being he was villainizing these people, painting it as an invading hoard who were on the border of our border. They never were. These are numbers pre-election. Let's pop up the numbers since the election. These will probably not surprise you. We went down to two mentions. To both of these mentions, one was on election day about Arizona, one was basically linking to his Presidential proclamation saying we need to tighten the border. Two, caravan mentions, zero. If you think that was accidental, I would like to introduce you to something called campaign politics. The truth of the matter is this was never an urgent issue. These people were a thousand-plus miles away from the border. Whatever you think of them, they were not on the edge of the border and they were no evidence as Donald Trump suggested unknown middle easterners and nasty criminals. Why do I know this? Because the facts bear it out but also this -- he stopped caring the day after the election. I don't know what else you could possibly conclude.

BALDWIN: To also further your point, if you are so concerned about invaders and very bad people, wouldn't you be on the border today instead of your secretary of defense?

CILLIZZA: Correct. I always tell people, we've talked about this on air before, look at Donald Trump's Twitter feed because it's the best encapsulation of what's on his mind at any time. Whatever his White House is saying publicly watch his Twitter feed. His Twitter feed has not made mention of the caravan, it is barely, and last week not at all. Made mention of the border, it's just he has stopped caring about it because it was a means to an end. It was a means to frighten his base into voting. It worked OK. Not overwhelmingly. But that's why he did it. He didn't do it because this caravan ever posed a serious and immediate and urgent threat to our country. I'll remind people, sorry, one last thing, there are 5,000 troops that Donald Trump has sent down to the border. This is not just about rhetoric and tweets and what he says on tv. This is also about 5,000 men and women who are down there right now with an unclear mission.

[14:15:00] BALDWIN: Who are away from their families for veteran's day weekend as Karen Tumulty pointed out in her amazing piece in the "Washington Post" yesterday. Chris Cillizza, thank you very much, my friend. Appreciate that.

Just in, a federal judge in Florida is expected to rule on thousands of previously tossed out ballots that can be a game changer for this razor tight Senate race. This comes as Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott says he will now recuse himself from the recount process. And the most destructive and deadliest fire in California history. What fire crews are up against. And parts of Malibu still remain under mandatory evacuation. The husband of pop star pink is sending a warning to looters suggesting they could be shot on sight. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: Any moment now we're expecting a decision from a federal judge in Florida to rule on whether or not thousands of previously tossed out ballots can actually be included in the state's recount. This is about ballots with signatures that do not match the signature on file. And while it could be hugely significant, it is just the latest of several lawsuits being addressed in this massively chaotic recount. One official said she is officially in prayer mode just to reach the recount deadline.

The contentious Senate race between Republican Rick Scott and Bill Nelson is now being recounted. A confident Rick Scott showed up for his official new member photo with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell up on Capitol Hill today.

[14:20:00] So with me more to talk all about is David Smiley, he is a political reporter for the "Miami Herald." There are something like 12,000 or 13,000 vote difference between the senator and governor here, all vying for the Senate seat. Are the ballots at issue in this signature ruling enough to close the gap for Nelson?

DAVID SMILEY, JOURNALIST, "MIAMI HERALD": Well, we know that there are at least 20,000 rejected vote-by-mail ballots in the U.S. Senate race or I guess in Florida's elections. This lawsuit also includes rejected provisional ballots. Probably not enough to narrow that gap, but percentagewise there are going to be more from the larger counties in Florida where Nelson did better than Scott. So certainly, if those ballots are included in the count, his chances of narrowing the gap and pulling ahead of Scott are better than they are now, and right now it's still a pretty far long shot.

BALDWIN: There's been all this county about the Broward County Election Supervisor, Brenda Snipes. The President said, quote, when they call this woman incompetent, they're wrong. She's very competent but in a bad way. Will that just add more fuel to the fire because there are already a lot of calls for her to step down?

SMILEY: Absolutely. Any time the President weighs in, he certainly stokes the base. A lot of people have seen matt gates' videos of trucks in the middle of the night, claiming there are ballots being shipped in. Of course, there's no evidence for any of that. But I think it's fair to question whether Brenda Snipes is going to make it to 20, which is when her term would be up. She's already said that she may not run for reelection. She may not get there. The governor has the ability --

BALDWIN: But even if she does bow out, she still would be in charge through the 20 election, correct?

SMILEY: Right, yes, correct. She would still be overseeing the 20 Presidential election if she's still in office at that point.

BALDWIN: What did you make of Governor Scott showing up in his freshman class picture up on capitol hill today?

SMILEY: We know that recounts rarely overturn the results of elections, so he has every right to feel confident. He certainly wants to project that he has already won. I think part of the Republican line is that this election is over and that the recount is seeking to change the results when really it's more like we're in overtime of the elections if we're going to use football analogies like Marco Rubio and that, you know, the outcome is still in doubt to some extent.

BALDWIN: Well, here's for people who don't no what you're references. Marco Rubio compared all this to a football game tweeting "Imagine if an NFL game was treating 24-22, but in the final seconds hits a three- point kick to go in. Then after game lawyers for losing team get a judge to order rules changed to that last second field goals are only one point."

[14:25:00] It's an oversimplification but there are a lot of lawsuits out there for example I was reading that this one lawsuit involving 66 ballots found at an Opa-Locka mail facility. That's one example of what the state is dealing with.

SMILEY: The federal judge in Tallahassee, Mark Walker, who is currently discussing whether to include or allow rejected vote by mail ballots which were thrown out over mismatched signatures. He also has lawsuits before him related to the state's method for including or rejecting undervotes or overvotes, which is ballots where maybe a voter -- their vote wasn't counted where they circled a name instead of bubbling in, which is what you're supposed to do or maybe they accidentally marked Bill Nelson's name and bubbled in Rick Scott. So that was rejected. The judge has a lawsuit challenging that process before him and he has a lawsuit challenging the deadline looming tomorrow at 3 p.m. for the machinery counts to be submitted given there's obviously some question whether at least in Palm Beach County whether that deadline is going to be met.

BALDWIN: David Smiley, thank you very much from Florida for us.

Coming up next, the painstaking process of trying to find and identify those who are missing amidst California's deadly wildfires. And while parts of Malibu remain under evacuation, there are rare scenes where surfers and fire fighting planes are sharing the swell. That's next.