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Sources: Trump Angry, Isolated & Weighing Administration Changes; Showdown in Senate Over Bill to Protect Mueller Investigation; Judge Hears Arguments in CNN Lawsuit to Reinstate Press Pass. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show, @TheLeadCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

[17:00:10] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Deciding shortly. President Trump, said to be isolated and fuming, weighs the future of top administration officials, including his homeland security secretary. Is a shakeup imminent?

Taking it to court. CNN and the White House face off before a federal judge over press access after the president claims he can pick and choose which reporters are allowed inside. Will the judge restore the press pass of our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta?

Rising death toll. More bodies are recovered in California as federal officials survey what one calls one of the most complicated disasters ever to strike the U.S.

And with friends like these. Conservative lawyers form a new group to put checks on President Trump and speak out against his abuses and attacks. Among the high-profile founders, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories this hour, including a possible White House shakeup at any time as President Trump openly weighs firing top administration officials.

The president described as isolated and growing more furious by the day, following Republican losses in the midterm elections and poor reviews of his weekend trip to France. The tension with European leaders was clearly evident.

I'll talk about that and more with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. And our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, tension clearly very high in the West Wing right now. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, no question

about it. Tensions are high at all levels: from lower-level staffers to senior staffers. Not sure of what their standing is as the White House enters this new phase here.

And the president has not been seen much at all since election day. He -- he held an event a few moments ago on prison reform, but that was the first time many people have seen him.

But behind the scenes we are told that he's been brooding and angry and looking for change.


ZELENY (voice-over): After projecting optimism a week ago after the midterm elections --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a big day yesterday. Incredible day.

ZELENY: -- tonight President Trump's mood is anything but. He's isolated and growing more furious by the day, White House officials tell CNN, with one bluntly saying, "Yes, he's pissed at damn near everyone." And tonight, he's searching for a scapegoat.

In an Oval Office interview with "The Daily Caller," the president revived old conspiracy theories about voter fraud: "The Republicans don't win, and that's because of potentially illegal votes," he told the conservative website. "When people get in line, they have absolutely no right to vote, and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go in their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace what's going on."

There is no evidence to back up the claim aimed at the Florida recount. But it offers a window into the president's state of mind as the White House heads into uncharted territory, with Democrats assuming control of the House, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller inching closer to issuing a report on the Russia investigation.

A day after first lady Melania Trump launched a public grenade across the White House, saying deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel "no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House," she reported to work today, a rare personal rebuke for Mrs. Trump. CNN has learned she's been quietly calling for her firing for weeks because of a conflict over her trip to Africa last month. When the problem wasn't solved, Mrs. Trump went public.

All that as a far bigger shakeup is looming. Even as the president says he will soon decide the fate of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, she was at the U.S./Mexico border today, alongside Defense Secretary James Mattis, receiving a briefing from military commanders.

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It's evolving very quickly. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ZELENY: The president has made little secret of his dissatisfaction with Nielsen on his two signature issues, immigration and border security. It could touch off a domino of departures, including White House chief of staff John Kelly, who is Nielsen's top advocate inside the administration.

The president is already talking to a handful of potential replacements for Kelly, including elevating vice president's chief of staff Nick Ayers to the post. But even before his name, CNN has learned there's been aggressive pushback against him, with some senior aides even threatening to resign if he's tapped for the job.


ZELENY: So even with questions here about a shakeup in the second half of the first term of the president's time here, Wolf, he did just sign a -- or actually announce his support for a bipartisan prison reform bill. It's going to be very interesting to watch in the lame duck session here going forward. Some conservatives oppose that, and some Democrats support that.

But, Wolf, interestingly, the president was asked specifically about those voter fraud allegations he made earlier about those voters in Florida. He looked directly at reporters, Wolf, but would not give any evidence or answer questions.

[17:05:11] BLITZER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us. Thank you very much.

We're also following breaking news up on Capitol Hill, where two senators, including Republican Jeff Flake, are demanding a vote on a bill to protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, but were blocked by the majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is joining us with details right now. Manu, Senator Flake is issuing a direct threat to get a vote on this bill.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT; Yes, he is. He's saying he's going to vote against all pending nominations in the Senate Judiciary Committee and all pending judicial nominations on the floor of the full Senate until he gets a vote on this bipartisan bill that would make it harder to dismiss special counsels like Robert Mueller. So that accounts for about 21 judicial nominees in the committee, 32 on the floor.

And why that's significant is because only -- there's only 51-49 breakdown in the Senate right now. So if two Republican senators over an additional one in addition to Jeff Flake were to join him, that would be enough to scuttle any further judicial nominees until the special counsel bill gets voted on.

Now Mitch McConnell blocked any efforts to move forward today, because he believes that the president will not do anything to quash the Mueller probe. Still, that prompted significant concerns from Jeff Flake, along with Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, who went to the floor to raise their concerns about the way this investigation is going and the person who is now overseeing it.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: With the firing of the attorney general and, in my view, the improper installation of an acting attorney general who has not been subject to confirmation by this body, the president now has this investigation in his sights, and we all know it.


RAJU: So that acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, someone who was installed, post last week, someone who has been a sharp critic of the Mueller investigation.

I asked Jeff Flake at a press conference here just moments ago whether or not Matt Whitaker should recuse himself from the Russia investigation. He said he should recuse himself. That's breaking with most Republicans on the Hill, who don't have concerns with Matt Whitaker.

Now, at the same time, Flake and Chris Coons called for hearings to discuss with Matt Whitaker exactly how he views the Mueller investigation. Chuck Grassley, who is currently the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told me earlier today that they will not move forward with hearings this year. He said that they're going to look for a new attorney general nominee to come forward instead.

So you're seeing resistance from the Republicans and the Republican leadership over doing anything to deal with the Mueller investigation or to push back against the Whitaker appointment. We'll see if that posture changes if pressure continues build from this effort, led by Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, to demand a vote and if they're able to deny any further judicial nominees from getting confirmed this year, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is clearly a big deal, Manu, that Mitch McConnell won't even allow a vote like this to come forward. There must be deep anger, clearly, among the Democrats, but I suspect not just Jeff Flake among the Republicans.

RAJU: Yes. There certainly are Republicans who are supporting it, but there are Republicans who are not going as far as Jeff Flake. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina actually co-sponsored this bill, as did Thom Tillis of North Carolina, another Republican, and neither of them joined Jeff Flake and Chris Coons on the floor to demand a vote.

And Chuck Grassley himself voted for this bill in the committee, but he did not join them on the floor here.

The question, Wolf, is whether or not the Democrats and Flake and some of these Republicans will succeed in adding this to a must-pass spending bill that must pass by December 7 to avoid a government shutdown. How far are they willing to take it? House Democrats want to push this very hard. Some Senate Democrats are uncertain about how hard they want to push it, but this fight is not ending. It's bound to intensify in the days ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect it will. All right, Manu, thanks very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Also breaking this hour, a very important hearing in CNN's lawsuit against President Trump over the decision to suspend the press pass of our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Let's go to our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter. He has the very latest.

So Brian, tell our viewers what we know, what's happening right now. Some drama unfolding.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this hearing began around 3:40 p.m. at the U.S. District Court. It is continuing now, and it looks to continue for at least a little while longer.

But Judge Timothy J. Kelly may issue a ruling from the bench right after the hearing. That means he could make a statement this evening about whether Jim Acosta's press pass should be reinstated right away.

That, of course, is what CNN and Acosta are asking for. They've applied for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the government so that Acosta's press pass will be returned.

But a government lawyer is speaking right now in court, and he is arguing that the White House action was lawful and followed accurate and fair procedures.

[17:10:01] There are two arguments here, Wolf. Two arguments. One involving the First Amendment, one involving the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

The First Amendment argument that CNN is making in court is that Acosta was being discriminated against because of his point of view or his content, because of his reporting as a CNN correspondent. The judge expressed some skepticism about that point of view and said there is some evidence that it was Acosta's behavior or conduct that led the White House to revoke his press pass.

All of this, of course, goes back a week to that press conference that the president held after the midterms. Acosta tried to ask several questions. The president tried to move on. Acosta held onto the mic, asked another question and then surrendered the microphone. So based on that exchange, which, of course, we all saw on live TV, the White House revoked the press pass, and now it's a battle in court.

So the First Amendment issue being discussed in court and so is the Fifth Amendment issue. That, of course, involves due process. CNN and Acosta's lawyers say that Acosta was denied due process. After all, he was surprised when he walked up to the White House that night and was told he was not allowed to enter.

But the government lawyer right now in court is arguing that due process was followed. Apparently, they're claiming that, because Trump was critical of Acosta in the press conference, that somehow was due process. We will see if the judge agrees with that argument or not.

As I said, Wolf, the conversation is still going on. The arguments are still going on in court. We may hear a resolution in the next hour or so.

BLITZER; I assume as you find out, we'll get back to you, Brian. Thank you very much.

Clearly, lots at stake in this decision by this federal judge. Let's get some analysis right now. Jeffrey Toobin, you're our lawyer. You've read the arguments on both sides. What do you think?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think -- CNN's argument under the First Amendment is really their better argument. The argument that, you know, if the White House is going to set up a system where people get press passes, you can't discriminate among the various reporters on the basis of their views, on the basis of what they say. That is content-based discrimination. And that's something that is generally prohibited under the First Amendment.

I think the due process argument is weaker. I don't think, you know, the White House is obliged to follow, you know, strict procedures in deciding who gets a press pass and who doesn't.

But the idea that Jim Acosta's press pass was taken away because of what he said, not because he was disruptive, not because he proved himself unfit to be in the pressroom, that argument, I think, is where CNN is going to win or lose. And I think it's a good argument.

BLITZER: I think it's a very good argument.

You know, Gloria, the president is really determined and the White House is determined to fight this, and it sort of underscores the foul mood based on what the president has been saying, that he clearly is going through right now, presumably as a result of his disappointment that the Republicans didn't do better in the midterm elections.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, the White House called it a stunt. It's obviously not a stunt. It's a very serious issue.

And all of us have done a bunch of reporting today about the mood inside the White House. It's kind of like a hyperventilation chamber in there -- in there.

The president is in a bad mood, didn't do as well as he thought he should have done in the midterm elections. He wants to clean House. I have a source who told me, you know, yes, he's upset at people, but on the other hand wants to face off against the Democrats. He's looking forward to that, because he likes to -- he likes to have an enemy.

But everything is up in the air there now, which is I think the way Trump likes it. You know, people's heads are on the chopping block, sort of. Somebody we thought was fired yesterday is still there today. And all of this is being played out in public, like a soap opera, which is the way the president likes it.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And there's always, you know, this -- you live -- going through those doors every day. But there's always a sense of chaos and a sense of uncertainty. But that is heightened, we are all told, to the Nth degree right now.

You know, the president thrives on reports that this person in the cabinet or that person in the staff are going to potentially get fired. But right now, we're told that's real. It's not just, you know, playing games. It's real.

And what is really troubling to people inside the White House, and in and around the Trump world, not just people who work in the building, is the uncertainty is, even more than usual, being fomented by the president. It really is kind of a "Hunger Games" situation, that he knows that people are worried for their jobs, and is kind of involved in situations, whether it's sitting in a room in the White House on election night, huddled with the first lady and Nick Ayers, who's now the vice president's chief of staff, very much rumored to be and talked about to be his next chief of staff, huddled there for a long time. People looking at them and saying, "What's going on? What's this about?"

[17:15:00] My understanding is that that was intentional. Whether Nick Ayers was offered a job there or not, it doesn't matter. He was trying to see, is somebody going to leak this? Is somebody going to, you know, think that maybe Nick Ayers has the job that John Kelly wants? And the president revels in that kind of uncertain and, frankly, backbiting.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And this is a moment he's been looking forward to for some time now. He's been waiting until the midterm elections were over in order to make some of these big moves, because he had been told by his advisers and by Republicans on the Hill, "Please do not do anything else to create more problems for us going into this election."

That's over with. And so now he's taking this moment to let his staff know that he wants a change.

But as with always with President Trump, he's seeing problems all around him. He's seeing people giving him bad advice. He's seeing things not going well for him politically. And he's blaming everyone but himself. Everyone around him is being blamed for all the problems that he believes that he's experiencing.

That's not necessarily new, but the timing right now allows him to potentially make some really big changes, and potentially, some dramatic ones that could have ripple effects going down the chain of command within the White House and within the administration.

BORGER: Don't forget, he's already fired the attorney general. I mean, that was a pretty big --

BLITZER: That was a week ago.

BORGER: Was that a week ago? That was a pretty big change. And he's just come off of a month of adulation, where he loves, he gets energy from being on the campaign trail.

BASH: That's a good point.

BORGER: He was out there for a month, and everybody loved him, and he was excited and he thought he was going to win. And then suddenly, the bubble bursts, and it didn't really work out that way. So he's looking for people to blame.

And so it will not only be his chief of staff or his homeland security adviser, but it may -- it may go down to other places in the cabinet, I'm told, where he's just not -- he's just not thrilled with the way people are performing and his feeling is, you know, "I want to clean House now, because I know how to do this job. And no matter whom I appoint as chief of staff, that person is going to be a paper pusher. I'm really going to be running the White House."

PHILLIP: And suddenly, Abby, and you get in these photo ops many times. Suddenly all of a sudden, reporters are shouting questions to the president, and as opposed to what he was doing until the last few days, he's refusing to answer their questions at these various events.

PHILLIP: Yes. That's a really interesting development. And that also has to do with the fact that the midterms are over.

The strategy leading up to the midterm elections was to let Trump try to control the narrative by talking as much as he could to reporters directly: answering those questions, talking about what he wanted to talk about.

That's all over now. He's in a bad mood. He doesn't want to take questions. He just wants to go about doing only the things that he wants to do.

It's worth noting also, Wolf, the president has been cancelling things on his schedule left, right and center. He is in one of those moods where his staff is probably, at this moment, having a little bit of trouble getting him to do some of the things that he needs to do.

For example, spending Veterans Day holed up at the White House, absolutely no public events; when he was in Paris, not going to that cemetery event. There are a number of things that President Trump is not doing right now. And that's because the political environment doesn't require him to really be trying to control the narrative like it did a week ago.

BLITZER: Until the last few days, he was doing the daily White House press briefings, and Sarah Sanders wasn't doing that.

And Jeffrey, among other things he's doing, apparently, the last couple days is going through the written answers to questions submitted by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. And this is taking place as there's now a new bipartisan effort, a dramatic one, to try to protect Mueller up on Capitol Hill, including Jeff Flake, the outgoing Republican senator, and Chris Coons, who's going to be a -- who's the Democratic senator. He's not going anywhere.

TOOBIN: Yes. Jeff Flake, you know, is there anything more empty in American politics than a threat from Jeff Flake, who has made his entire career by folding every time Mitch McConnell breathes hard?

I mean, Mitch McConnell is going to squash Jeff Flake like a bug, as he always does. And the idea that Jeff Flake is going to hold up anything to protect Robert Mueller is, in my opinion, absurd.

Mitch McConnell has said, "We don't need a law to protect Robert Mueller," and that means there's not going to be a law to protect Robert Mueller. I mean, Mitch McConnell is in charge. Jeff Flake is wandering off into the -- into the darkness these last few days as a senator. I mean, this is not a fair fight. Mitch McConnell and a 98- pound weakling named Jeff Flake is just not -- you know, that is not going to happen.

And that means that the administration is going to have a free hand to do with Mueller what they will. And we'll see what happens.

BASH: Jeff Flake would probably argue he's wandering into the light, not the darkness, as he leaves the U.S. Senate.

But, you know, Mitch McConnell has been very resistant to do this. But if things change as we get closer to Mueller issuing -- issuing his get closer to Mueller issuing his report or people like Lindsey Graham and Democrats, frankly -- much more importantly -- get word that it is problematic, McConnell could be forced to change his mine. Jeff Flake or not. And that's just the reality, the political reality for the Republicans who I know we just had an election.

[17:20:17] But the Republicans -- the landscape for Republicans in the next election, in 2020 -- never mind the presidency, in the Senate, is much less positive for the GOP. And they have to start looking at --

BLITZER: We're going to have --

TOOBIN: But remember -- but remember, the Republican caucus is now more pro-Trump than it used to be.

BORGER: True. Yes.

TOOBIN: Jeff Flake is leaving. Bob Corker is leaving. You know, John McCain, of course, is gone. The people who remain are the real hard-core Trump loyalists. So the idea, I think -- I mean, we'll see -- that Mitch McConnell is going to feel any sort of pressure to protect Robert Mueller from his fellow Republicans, who are the majority, seems remote.

BORGER: Mitt Romney is in the Senate. Remember that.

BLITZER: We'll see what Mitt Romney, the incoming senator from Utah, what he has to say.


BLITZER: Everybody stand by. Much more on all the breaking news right after this.


[17:25:26] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue here in Washington.

Lawmakers are trying to pass a bill protecting the special counsel, Robert Mueller, while over at the White House, sources describe President Trump as angry, isolated and mulling more staff shakeups at very high levels.

Let's get some more on all of this. Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York is joining us. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. Let's get right to the substance. Do you think this push to protect Robert Mueller by this bipartisan, very small coalition in the Senate stands any real chance of surviving?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Well, I certainly hope so, because the Congress, as a separate and coequal branch of government has to make sure that the integrity of this investigation remains intact. Our democracy was attacked in the context of the 2016 presidential election. And we need to get to the bottom of what happened and allow the Mueller investigation to proceed in a calm, dispassionate, fact-based fashion with an erratic White House that may be prepared to try to jettison him. We cannot allow that to happen.

BLITZER: The renewed anxiety surrounding Robert Mueller and his team comes after the appointment of the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, who has publicly denigrated the entire Russia probe. The Justice Department, though, is now arguing that his appointment was, in fact, constitutional. How do you see it?

JEFFRIES: Well, we have an independent Article III judiciary that ultimately will have to resolve that question. It does appear that the appointment was constitutionally and legally flawed. But ultimately, the federal court system will have to work that out.

It is an example of what happens when you have an administration and a president who makes decisions that don't appear to be grounded in any thoughtfulness as it relates to the Department of Justice, the administration of a fair and even-minded investigatory process. And that's unfortunate.

And we're going to do our job as a separate and coequal branch of government to uphold our constitutional responsibilities, while at the same time focusing on resolving real problems for the American people who improve their quality of life.

BLITZER: You sit on the House Judiciary Committee. In, what, just two months, after January 3, Democrats will control that committee. Your party will get a chance to decide which investigations you want to pursue. Are Democrats going to pursue -- pursue an immediate investigation into the Whitaker appointment?

JEFFRIES: Well, that's for the chairman, in partnership with the members of the majority of the House Judiciary Committee, to decide. But I do think that, generally, we should proceed with caution. We have to make sure that we uphold our oversight responsibilities.

But we were elected into a majority based on a promise to focus on lowering health-care costs; increasing pay for everyday Americans; for cleaning up corruption and the mess in Washington, D.C.; for improving the quality of life of the American people by focusing on kitchen- table, pocketbook issues. And we cannot lose sight of that.

BLITZER: What else would you like to see your committee, the Judiciary Committee, look into? You're going to very soon have subpoena power.

JEFFRIES: Well, we have a broken immigration system, and we have the ability on the House Judiciary Committee to try to rectify what is clearly a broken system and to do it in a bipartisan way.

We have to make sure, with all of the problems that we've seen and the voter suppression efforts in places like Georgia and Florida and Texas and North Dakota, that we make sure that the integrity of our democracy is protected, that we restore the Voting Rights Act. And that's a Judiciary Committee-level responsibility in terms of jurisdiction.

So there's a whole host of things that need to happen while also making sure that no one is above the law in this country, that the administration of justice is allowed to proceed and that Bob Mueller can be Bob Mueller, that he can bring this investigation to a conclusion, and then we can report the facts to the American people and figure out what needs to happen from there.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to what we just saw live here on CNN a few minutes ago. The president coming out in favor of bipartisan legislation for criminal justice. It's called the First Step Reform Act. There were Democrats there, Republicans there. They clearly want to do something about allowing prisoners who get out of prison to have a second chance. This is a serious move, the president says, and he wants to work together with Democrats to do something about this. What's your reaction?

JEFFRIES: Well, it's a very positive step in the right direction. The First Step Act is actually legislation in the House, where I was the lead Democratic sponsor, as you know, Wolf, and the lead Republican sponsor was Doug Collins, a conservative Republican from rural Georgia, and I'm a very progressive Democrat, pragmatically progressive, but progressive Democrat from Brooklyn. And we worked together to forge a bipartisan consensus over the fact that we have a massive incarceration problem in America, an over-criminalization problem in America that's out of control. And we have to break the back of the prison industrial complex. And we need to begin to do so with the First Step Act so we can help currently incarcerated individuals successfully transition into society, reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.

This is a positive step in the right direction. We have to see the Senate act, and then we're going to have to see the House of Representatives act, and then hopefully, we can show America that Democrats and Republicans could work together to get things done.

BLITZER: Well, if the president is serious about this, that would be a really -- as you say, a very positive move in terms of getting Republicans to work with you, the Democrats, in order to get this passed in the House and the Senate.

JEFFRIES: Well, that's correct. And the original version of the First Step Act, which passed the House of Representatives in May, did so in a strongly bipartisan vote: 360 people voted for it, only 59 voted against it. The Senate, led by Grassley and Durbin and Cory Booker and others, have been negotiating some enhancements to try to make sure we do something about sentencing reform, which I certainly would embrace, and Cedrick Richmond, the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and others, I believe will embrace.

We want the strongest possible bill to come out of the Senate. The administration appears to be signaling support for it. And then hopefully, we can get something done in the House and send something to the president's desk for his signature.

BLITZER: Have you met with Jared Kushner, who was the White House lead in trying to generate support for this legislation?

JEFFRIES: I've met with Jared Kushner several times over the run-up to the negotiation of the bill in the House and have continued to talk with him in the months thereafter. And he's been a very positive force in terms of trying to get something over the finish line. I believe he's authentically committed to a good, substantive bill, and look forward to continuing to work with him on this issue.

BLITZER: You think this is potentially opening the door to further bipartisan cooperation with the president of the United States? We know that among the Democrats in the House there's a lot of opposition to what the president is doing. But is there an area now -- is there an opening for cooperation with the president?

JEFFRIES: I think it absolutely can present an opening. The House Democratic majority will now be operating from a position of strength, and we've articulated a set of issues we think there are bipartisan avenues of support available to getting something done.

The president has said he wants to lower the high cost of prescription drugs. We've said that. We want to lead the way and make sure that we can get something done.

We need a real infrastructure plan. We have one, $1 trillion. It would create 16 million good paying jobs. Hopefully, we can meet the president halfway there toward what he'd like to accomplish, and he'll come toward our view of the world in really fixing our crumbling bridges, roads and tunnels. BLITZER: Well, if you can do that, if you can get some bipartisan

cooperation like that, I think the American people would be very, very pleased, especially in those areas you just discussed where there potentially is some good cooperation.

Congressman Jeffries, thanks so much for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thanks as always, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, President Trump makes some bizarre new claims about voter fraud in a new interview.


[17:36:48] BLITZER: Now to breaking news on the CNN lawsuit against the White House involving the press credentials for our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Let's go to our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, who's getting word on some significant movement, significant decisions in a federal courtroom just now here in Washington.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this initial hearing just wrapped up, Wolf. It lasted for about two hours. And at the end of the hearing, Judge Timothy J. Kelly said he will reconvene court tomorrow, Thursday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. That's when we are expecting he will issue a ruling, some sort of ruling in this case.

Remember, CNN and Jim Acosta's lawyers are asking for a temporary restraining order, and a preliminary injunction that would have the effect of returning Acosta's press pass right away.

CNN's argument is that every day that goes by when he's been suspended from the White House, that's a day that's causing damage and that's violating his First Amendment constitutional rights. So CNN is seeking an immediate relief from the court. And that's what the judge will be considering. We expect he will issue a ruling sometime tomorrow and he'll reconvene court at 3 p.m. Eastern Time to share his decision.

BLITZER: So during this two-hour hearing, Brian, the lawyers representing CNN, they made their case. The lawyers representing the White House, they made their case. The federal judge, I assume, was asking questions. Did we get any indication in which direction that federal judge might be moving?

STELTER: You know, he asked some skeptical questions of the CNN lawyer. He also spent a long time talking with the government lawyer. Erik Wemple, "The Washington Post," who was listening in the whole time, he said he couldn't tell which way Kelly was going to go. CNN's reporters were in the courtroom. They're heading outside now. So we'll be able to hear more from them about some of the details of the proceeding.

But we do know the government lawyers took a relatively radical position about the First Amendment and about access to the White House. The government lawyer representing the president and the other Trump aides who are being sued, he said that hypothetically, the White House could bar any reporter from the White House at any time.

That is a real break from decades of tradition and some established case law, which says the only reason why a reporter would be ejected from the White House would be if the person was a physical threat to the president.

So the White House -- the Trump administration, the DOJ, going much further than that, saying that a reporter could be barred at any time for any reason, although they say in this case, that's not what's happening. They say that, in this case, Acosta was suspended because of his conduct at a press conference last week.

Obviously, CNN rejects that argument. And by the way, most of the nation's major news organizations have sided with CNN, because they're concerned that, if Acosta gets kicked out, other reporters could also be kicked out in the future.

BLITZER: And when you say most of the major news organizations, that includes not just ABC, NBC, CBS and "The Washington post" and "The New York Times," it includes FOX News, as well.

STELTER: Yes, that's right. You can see on-screen just some of the outlets here. We don't frankly have room for all of them. As the day has gone by, more and more news outlets, from BuzzFeed to the A.P., from Politico to "The New York Times," have joined to this effort. Many of these outlets are joining what's known as a friend of the court brief to express support for CNN's position.

This is something that has been going on, of course, for a week. The lawsuit was filed yesterday. And now we're told the judge will -- will weigh in tomorrow afternoon.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stand by for that. Jeffrey Toobin, how significant is this decision by this federal judge?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there's also a significant decision that he's already made. I mean, the CNN lawyers have argued, as Brian said, that every minute that Jim Acosta is denied access to his job at White House is a violation of the First Amendment. What the judge has said is 24 hours doesn't matter, is that, you know, he's going to extend the ban on Jim Acosta for another 24 hours, so that in itself is a small victory for the White House.

[17:40:28] Now, the judge may go the other way at 3 p.m. tomorrow and, you know, this day will largely be forgotten.

But, you know, the argument made very clearly by Ted Boutrous, the lawyer for CNN, was you have to change this now. Because the effect on the First Amendment and the invitation violation is going on now. And at least as far as one day is concerned, the judge didn't buy it.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to get more information on this, all the day's breaking news. Everybody stand by. We'll be right back.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now in California, millions of people remain at risk as some 10,000 firefighters battle what's become the most destructive and deadliest outbreak of wildfires in the state's history.

Worst of all, the death toll keeps rising. At least 50 people are dead, more than a hundred remain missing. Here's CNN's Nick Watt in Malibu.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In southern California, another completely separate fire exploding east of Los Angeles. Whipped by those same Santa Ana winds creating carnage across California.

And another dangerous flare up on the western edge of the enormous Woolsey fire around Malibu. Not near homes but those hot, dry, gusty winds can carry dangerous burning embers far and wide.

Two dead in Malibu so far. And inland in Agoura Hills, another body found. Authorities suspect that fatality, also fire-related.


WATT (voice-over): Thirteen million people remain under red flag warnings. Hundreds of thousands forced to flee from their homes.

HACKETT: Please, God. Please, God, please let me out of here. Please.

I just thought maybe I was going to die. I just -- I was like, I just have to keep going. I can't turn around. I can't stop. I have to just keep going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were all left in the dark.

WATT (voice-over): At a meeting for the Malibu evacuated, emotions high, tempers hot.

NICK STEWART, RESIDENT OF MALIBU, CALIFORNIA: I mean, the evacuation was not smooth. I had to hear about this smooth evacuation on the radio a hundred times while I'm sitting in that Zuma parking lot, wondering if I'm going to die from the smoke.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, in northern California, through the ash and rubble that was once a town called Paradise, they're still searching for the dead.

The toll will rise. This already the deadliest fire in California's history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our dream is gone right now. But I just want to say that everybody out here has been so gracious, and we're so thankful for our friends who have been so supportive. WATT (voice-over): Nearly 7,700 homes burned and counting, lost to

the fast-moving flames of the so-called Camp fire. At its peak, consuming every second an area the size of a football field.

Cal Fire creating this interactive map. All that red is destroyed. Those tiny chunks of black, the only areas unaffected. One official says, in his 30 years of service, he's never seen such destruction.


WATT: You know, in less than a week, an area four times the size of Boston has burned. Brief glimmers of hope on the horizon, the winds are dropping and some rain forecast for next week. But right now, Wolf, California is still a tinderbox.

BLITZER: Nick Watt on the scene for us. Thank you very much, Nick.

Up next, new opposition for President Trump from the conservative side of the political spectrum.


[17:51:04] BLITZER: Tonight, it looks like President Trump is facing some newly organized opposition, not from Democrats but from conservative lawyers. CNN's Brian Todd has got details.

Brian, there are some prominent names in this new list.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prominent names, heavy-hitters, Wolf, some who've had top jobs in other Republican administrations.

They believe President Trump is treading on some dangerous ground, especially when the President attacks the Justice Department, and they are determined to counterattack.


TODD (voice-over): Tonight, the latest challengers of President Trump coming from the most unlikely corridor of the political spectrum, conservatives he once considered his friends and allies.

Called Checks and Balances, the new group is made up of influential conservative lawyers who say they are fed up with President Trump and determined to be a thorn in his side on constitutional issues.

CARRIE CORDERO, ROBERT M. GATES SENIOR FELLOW AND GENERAL COUNSEL, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: The President's efforts to undermine the rule of law need to be called out.

TODD (voice-over): What may be even more shocking is not that it was founded by conservatives, but that the group's founder and the person most likely to be the biggest thorn in Trump's side is married to someone who works within spitting distance of the White House Rose Garden.

George Conway, the husband of Trump confidante and counselor Kellyanne Conway, founded the group overnight after serving as a check on and a blistering critic of Trump on his own.

Conway has hammered Trump on Twitter, once tweeting that the country needs a, quote, president capable of comprehending the law, and has written op-eds calling out the President, including one in "The New York Times" saying Trump's, quote, installation of Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General is unconstitutional. It's illegal.

The White House hasn't commented on the formation of Checks and Balances, but President Trump lashed out at George Conway on Friday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- unconstitutional.

TRUMP: You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wrote that you were unconstitutionally appointing him. Is he wrong?

TRUMP: He's just trying to get publicity for himself.

TODD (voice-over): Conway may have founded Checks and Balances, but the group includes 13 other prominent conservative lawyers such as former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who says he is fed up with Trump's attacks on the media.

TOM RIDGE, FORMER SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: There are countries in the world that don't have freedom of the press, but we all don't want to live in China or Russia or Iran.

TODD (voice-over): CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, who is also a member, says Trump is trying to misuse the Department of Justice.

CORDERO: Law enforcement should be nonpartisan, not politically motivated.

TODD (voice-over): The group says it will speak out and fight back whenever Trump attacks an institution it feels should be protected.

At the top of the list tonight, Cordero says the group believes it was a dangerous move by the President to appoint an Acting Attorney General who once said Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be fired.

And these lawyers are incensed that Trump attacked the Justice Department for indicting two Republican congressmen before the midterms.

CORDERO: He has indicated an intent to influence prosecutions of individuals for political purpose. That is absolutely anathema to the way that law enforcement is supposed to take place.

TODD (voice-over): But will the group, even with the help of the husband of one of Trump's top aides, move conservative politicians and voters away from Donald Trump? Some say probably not.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: That seems like it's a real stretch. Right now, it's still Trump's GOP, and you can't change that in the short term.


TODD: When discussing the prospects for Checks and Balances to be a real counterweight to President Trump within the Republican Party, analysts point out the fate of others in the party who have tried to do that.

Many of them have turned and become Trump's allies like some of his former GOP primary challengers, or they're leaving politics all together like senators Bob Corker and Jeff Flake.

Now, we should note that, in a recent interview on ABC, Kellyanne Conway said her political differences with her husband are not relevant.

And we also asked George Conway for an interview for our story. We never heard back from him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much.

There's breaking news coming up next. President Trump described as isolated and fuming and possibly on the verge of firing senior officials. We're learning new information tonight.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Isolated and angry. We're learning more about the depth of the President's fury as he weighs a new White House shake-up and stews over Republican's midterm election losses. Who will be the next target of his rage?

Constitutional question. CNN faces the Trump administration in court as the network challenges the suspension of Jim Acosta's White House press pass. We're going to tell you what happened in the hearing just moments ago.

[17:59:53] From defiant to silent. An associate of Trump ally Roger Stone suggests he may cut a plea deal with the Special Counsel just days after predicting that Robert Mueller would indict him. Tonight, Jerome Corsi is clamming up as Stone may be throwing him under the bus.