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Trump Lashes Out at Mueller Probe, Pushes False Claims of Voter Fraud, Fumes at White House Aides, Staff Drama; Palm Beach County Poised to Miss Recount Deadline; Trump: Broward County Election Official Should Be Fired; Flake Says He'll Block Trump's Judicial Picks to Protect Mueller. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2018 - 11:00   ET


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

He's fuming, he's peddling new conspiracies and he's lashing out. That's the president of the United States right now. Why, you ask? You might need to hold on, sit down, grab a cup of coffee, because I need to bring out the list. The Republican losses in the midterm elections, the P.R. mess of his trip to France, a very public arm twisting coming from the first lady, and the Mueller investigation inching closer to a conclusion. As one White House official puts it to CNN, "He's pissed at damn near everyone."

With all that, what could make his mood even worse? There's something. A judge's ruling this morning that could delay the recount of the high-profile races in Florida. And here is where his new conspiracy theory comes in, telling "The Daily Caller" in an interview that voter fraud, in his view, is very real. Here's the quote for you: "Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in, and vote again."

As if I needed to say this again, there's no evidence of this happening in Florida or anywhere else.

Let's get to Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Kaitlan, forget the hats, forget the shirts, forget any of the clothing. I'm afraid to ask, what is the mood at the White House right now?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty dark, Kate. And the president is maintaining on Twitter that everything is fine. He said it's running smoothly. But that's not what aides inside the White House say, and it's not how they're describing the president's mood, which they say has gotten darker as the days have gone by since the president returned from that trip to Paris, which turned into a P.R. debacle after he cancelled the planned trip to a military cemetery due to the weather. The president seems to be trying to make up for that today. He has several events related to the military on his schedule starting any minute now today.

But overall, the president's mood is continuing to be dark. He's continuing to isolate himself, aides say. And there seems to be fear of a major staff shakeup, not just among the usual suspects at the White House whose jobs have been on the line before, but also among other aides.

Now, that's not the only thing the president is lashing out about. We have also seen from Twitter this morning that he is hyper focused on the Mueller investigation once again. After a brief reprieve from those tweets going after the special counsel, he's back in full force today, Kate, going after him, saying, "The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess." He says, "They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with answers they want." He called them a disgrace to our nation. And he later goes on to criticize Bob Mueller, saying, 'He is conflicted himself, saying he worked for Obama for eight years."

But, Kate, to provide a fact check for that, Mueller didn't work for Obama for eight years. He ran the FBI under George W. Bush for nearly eight years, and then remained the FBI director under President Obama for four years.

And the President Trump keeps going back to this criticism, saying he wasn't Senate confirmed as a special counsel because that has been a criticism of the guy he's picked to run the Justice Department, Matt Whitaker, who was Jeff Sessions' chief of staff. But Robert Mueller was confirmed by the Senate in his time when he needed to be, to be the FBI director. But as the special counsel, you do not need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Now, Kate, of course, this comes after the president met with his legal team here on Monday to discuss the written answers they're going to submit to the special counsel, so you can see why it's front and center on his mind. Clearly, on Twitter today.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

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

All right, joining me, CNN senior political reporter, Nia Malika Henderson, and CNN political analyst, Julie Pace. She's the Washington bureau chief for the Associated Press.

Great to see you guys.

Nia, presidents do get mad. Presidents do have staffing problems. Presidents do suffer losses in the midterms. But with this president, this seems different.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right. In some ways, because it's sort of all of those things all at the same time over time. This is sort of the running narrative of this presidency. Sort of staffing feuds, his anger, his anger at his staff, him thinking he wants to fire people but not wanting to actually be the person to carry it out. If you think about all of the people and issues he's been mad at, Jeff Sessions, Republicans in Congress for not running more closely to him, Jeff Sessions, any number of issues, yelling apparently at Theresa May on the phone, mad at John Kelly because of what happened in France, it's just this sort of constant moodiness and sort of grievances that he's always airing about what's going on around him. And there never seems to be any sort of accountable. Many of these things are self-inflicted from the president, doesn't seem to be at this point any sort of end in sight. Even if there's this massive kind of upheaval at the staffing level, it's not clear that would right his mood.

BOLDUAN: Julie, we have heard before that the more he sees people talking on TV about staff changes, the less likely he is to make those staff changes. That seems in some way remarkably wag the dog, I'm not sure, but could that be what's going on here?

[11:05:08] JULIE PACE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's been a pretty familiar pattern when this kind of thing comes up. And it's coming up repeatedly in the course of Trump's presidency. There's rumors fueled largely by the president's own views on whoever is in his line of sight at that point. But the stories get out there. He sees the stories. He denies them. But ultimately, it doesn't change the fact that he wants to see that person go. It may slow down the process. We have seen it happen with numerous people going back to the early days of the administration with Reince Priebus, who was chief of staff, or Sean Spicer. It's Trump way of sort of trying to make it look like the media doesn't have a real sense of what's going on there. But again, it's largely just a pause. Ultimately, he does follow through on most of these actions.

BOLDUAN: With Sessions, it was a very long pause. For Jeff Sessions, that probably felt like eternity. But a pause nonetheless.

Nia, so the president makes -- is now making unfounded claims again about voter fraud. This is exactly what he did after the 2016 election, after he didn't win the popular vote. I just wonder why he's going back to the well on this, especially because all indications are when it comes to Florida, his candidates are winning.

HENDERSON: Yes. That's right. They are -- they're obviously going to go through a recount and it's unlikely to overturn what the margins are for the Republican candidates.


HENDERSON: You know, this is a president that likes consistency. He also, his wills, such as they are, somewhere between Fantasy Island in conspiracy-ville, particularly on this issue of voting. It's something he goes back to time and time again to explain losses. Of course, in this case, there probably won't be losses in Florida. There are obviously losses all across the map, on the Senate side, on the House side, in particular, in governorships as well. Again, this is him not wanting to take accountability and him not wanting to face any blame. He makes up some theory about some person putting on a shirt and hat and funny mustache and funny nose to vote over and over again, which is just bonkers. It makes no sense. He doesn't even get credit for creativity with that conspiracy theory, it's just so bizarre.

BOLDUAN: Nia, I will fact check you. I don't think he said anything about a funny nose.


BOLDUAN: Don't go that far, my friend.



That's a bridge too far. That is a bridge too far on this one.

Julie, he -- what Nia is talking about, though, is the inability -- forget just -- maybe don't accept responsibility, but I don't know why he has to be casting blame. He hasn't -- it's really kind of this remarkable thing. He wasn't lashing out at Mueller. That was a pause around the election and since Election Day. Today, the floodgates just opened. They found no collusion, he says in the tweet. They haven't issued their report yet. They're screaming and shouting at people. I would love to know where he got that from. That might be some inside reporting we would love to see. Mueller worked for Obama for eight years. We know he didn't. It was Bush. These fact checks are exhausting. It was Bush for eight, it was Obama for four. Why are we hearing about this now? What is going on?

PACE: We know that White House officials coming out of the midterm elections have really been bracing for Mueller to reassert himself. Mueller was very quiet in the lead-up to the midterm elections. That appears to be strategic on his part. But we do know there's a lot of stuff on Mueller's plate that he needs to move on. There's a lot of discussion around what's going to happen to Roger Stone, who is a longtime associate of the president. We know Rick Gates, who was working for the campaign in the transition is still cooperating. Mike Flynn hasn't been sentenced yet for his guilty plea. Those are just the things we know about with Bob Mueller. There's a whole bunch of stuff that you can imagine we don't know about. So the White House, Trump in particular, has really been bracing for Mueller to come back. And it's that unknown that really unnerves the president.


PACE: There's so much that he tries to push back on but, again, so much that he doesn't know, and that's really out of his control at this point.

BOLDUAN: So if it is out of his control, Nia, if the reporting is that he's pissed at everybody, who or what do you venture to guess will get him back on track? Back on track in the most immediate sense is, he's about to face a Democratic majority in the House. There's some stuff he needs to be doing and preparing for.

HENDERSON: That's right. There isn't a lot of good news ahead for this president in terms of what's going to be happening. Not only the Mueller probe and probably some report released about that, but also Democrats are probing into his finances, trying to get his tax returns, probing into why folks in the military were sent to the border. What were the conversations around that? That's the thing that, you know, this could be the tip of the iceberg and the beginning of a long period for this president's frustration and possibly anger about what's going on. And if you think about what will actually happen in Congress in terms of legislation moving forward, unlikely that that's really about to happen. More likely some gridlock and real deep dives into the president's background and some of his actions so far.

[11:10:30] BOLDUAN: But it's going to be beautiful bipartisanship. That's what he said.


It's going to be beautiful bipartisanship. All bipartisanship is beautiful, let's just say that.


Great to see you guys. Thanks so much.

HENDERSON: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the clock is ticking down in the Florida recount saga. Vote tallies are due in less than four hours but one big county may not be ready in time. So then what?

Plus, a Republican Senator sounding the alarm and leveling threats: Protect Bob Mueller or else. So what do Republicans in the Senate do now?


[11:15:18] BOLDUAN: The election recount deadline in Florida now just three hours and 45 minutes away. The clock may be ticking but it's becoming clear that the largest county in the state is very likely not going to meet the cut-off to submit machine recount totals. This morning, CNN crews on the ground saw no workers, no supervisors, no ballots being scanned in Palm Beach County. What happens now with the Senate and governor races on the line? Because, don't forget, there are a slew, a number of last-minute lawsuits that are still being decided.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is on this for us. He's in Florida's capital of Tallahassee, with details on the key court battles.

Ed, there have been, I have to say, so many challenges and counterchallenges, it's a bit hard to follow. Where do things stand right now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's nearly a dozen different lawsuits and claims being made, most of them being held here at the federal courthouse in downtown Tallahassee. A lot of those decisions and a lot of these cases landing in the hands of just one particular federal judge here, so he's trying to navigate all of these arguments and all of these decisions here as all of these deadlines, Kate, are quickly looming. Remember, today is the deadline, as you mentioned off the top here, of the recount deadline coming up later this afternoon. This is -- there are serious questions whether or not Palm Beach County can meet that deadline.

But in one of those lawsuits, it really has been brought by Senator Bill Nelson and Democrats here in Florida, challenging this question of whether or not the signatures on these mail-in ballots are proper. This affects about 5,000 votes, we're told. The judge in this case has ruled that there has been an extension until Saturday afternoon to clear up the question surrounding these signatures. The real question is, how are these people going to find out? It's a variety of ways from what we understand. These are some 5,000 people spread out across the state. Democratic and Republican lawyers will be reaching out to many of these people. Maybe election officials can reach out to them. They can also, if they have been notified they are in this pile of ballots, voters can also reach out. How that is going to play out in the next couple days is still very much up in the air.

Democrats are calling this ruling a victory so far. A lawyer and representatives for Rick Scott say that they have appealed the decision. They are very angry about the ruling. And also went on to say that the lawyer in this case for the Democrats is actually arguing the exact opposite argument in a similar case in Arizona. And that the lawyer in this case, Marc Elias, is trying to rack up massive legal fees regardless of the blatant hypocrisy or damage this will do to Bill Nelson's legacy. So the barbs are flying back and forth as these deadlines are quickly approaching -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: All right, Ed, thank you very much. We'll stick close to you.

Joining me now to discuss is Brad Todd, a senior adviser to the Rick Scott campaign.

Thanks for coming in, Brad.

BRAD TODD, SENIOR ADVISOR TO RICK SCOTT: Thanks for having me, Kate.

BOLDUAN: As Ed was talking about, your campaign is appealing the judge's ruling on extending the deadline for what appears to be thousands of voters to sort out problems with signatures on ballots. If the goal is to have every legal vote count, why not give voters two more days if the judge has ruled it's OK?

TODD: First, let's be clear. I want to correct one thing. The judge did not say that every signature that was mismatched can be corrected. He said that every signature of a voter who was belatedly notified can come in and correct their signature before Saturday.


TODD: He didn't really explain what belatedly means. Under Florida law, once you submit a signature the elections commission cannot match, in an open court yesterday, supervisors of elections testified, look, we give the benefit of the doubt to the voter. Any common loop, anything that vaguely looks at all like their signature that's on record is counted. That the voter gets the benefit of the doubt. Then they're notified if their signature didn't match and they can come in before Monday at 5:00 p.m., the Monday the day before the election. That's Florida law. And I would also note, Kate, that's Florida law that was passed unanimously in the Florida legislature. The Democrats and Bill Nelson's campaign are suing to throw that out. Meanwhile, every Democrat in the Florida legislature supported it.


TODD: If they didn't think it was an appropriate law, they should have debated it then.

BOLDUAN: But let's talk about it now. Let's talk about it this very moment. If the judge says it it's OK to extend the deadline for this group of people to sort this out by Saturday, why not -- why are you appealing it? Why not give them the time?

TODD: Well first off -- well, first off, because Florida's election laws were very clear. And we set Florida's laws, and the votes that were cast legally and according to Florida's election law and received in a timely manner, those are the legal votes. And those are the votes that are being -- were counted and that's what should count.

[11:20:11] BOLDUAN: Then you face criticism of, why don't you want every legal vote to count.

TODD: We do. Every vote that was legally received in a board of elections office in a timely fashion. That's why we have these election laws, these anti-fraud laws, so we can all be certain which votes will be legal.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about fraud.

TODD: And if the Democrats didn't -- if the Democrats didn't like it, they should have raised this point in the legislature when all the Democratic representatives were voting for it.

BOLDUAN: Let's talk about fraud. Have you seen evidence of people, "Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again?" That's what the president is suggesting happened on Election Day.

TODD: Well, I wasn't in Florida on Election Day. But I can tell you that the Broward County elections office has consistently not followed the elections code in Florida. And I think that's why a lot of people are alarmed. In Palm Beach right now, the supervisor of elections --


TODD: -- seems to have given up. Just given up --


BOLDUAN: But on that, have you heard any suggestion of -- do you think that is possible that happened? You have been around.

TODD: Kate --

BOLDUAN: You have been in the political world a long time, been around a lot of elections. Do you really think people are returning to their cars and by putting on a hat and a different shirt and coming in, they're able to vote twice?

TODD: Kate, I will tell you fraud hides in the shadows of noncompliance. We have election laws to prevent fraud. It's essential that the people who run our elections abide by those laws to the letter.

BOLDUAN: I totally -- right. And fraud is a bad thing and should be found out. But on this, you have not seen this? You have not heard about this? You don't think is possible, or do you?

TODD: I was not in Florida on Election Day, but I can tell you that Palm Beach and Broward County's supervisors of elections have not conducted this election with the exacting standards that Florida's law requires. Susan Bucher, the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County, seems to have just stopped running the ballots through the machines. At 3:00 today, if she does not submit a number from her machine count, then we will revert back to the number we had on Saturday. That's what Florida's law says.

BOLDUAN: But I'm -- there's a lot of focus on the supervisors of elections in these two counties. When it comes to --

TODD: Right.

BOLDUAN: You have Palm Beach County and Broward County. When it comes to Broward County, the governor, your candidate, the governor, could take Brenda Snipes off the job. She was put in place 15 years ago by that -- by Jeb Bush under those kinds of exact same circumstances.


BOLDUAN: Not during an election. He does. But why hasn't he removed her then, if she's so bad?

TODD: You know, first off, he did send monitors to Broward County's elections this year to try to bolster her and try to increase the chances of compliance. But the governor takes that responsibility very seriously. Not many governors in America have that ability to remove a local official from office. And Governor Scott strongly believes that the will of the voters ought to be honored. That's why he's very reticence to remove any locally elected official. And Brenda Snipes is an elected official. I think a lot of people are unaware, in Florida, the supervisor of elections is elected at the ballot box. She's a partisan office holder. She was nominated as a Democrat and ran as a Democrat.

BOLDUAN: But as you said, the president would like to see her removed. The president thinks she should be removed. Rick Scott disagrees with him?

TODD: Governor Scott, he takes that -- he's very judicious with that power. He believes the voters at the local level should determine who runs their elections. (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: So that's not going to happen in the realm of the recount happening. She's not going to be removed within the timeframe between now and when a final count is done. Is that what you're saying?

TODD: Again, she needs to do her job. That's what I would tell you. Governor Scott believes that the local elected officials should run the election.


TODD: They should do it according to Florida law. That's all we ask.

BOLDUAN: Brad Todd, thank you for coming in. A lot more to discuss. Come back on any time. Appreciate it.

TODD: Thanks so much, Kate. All right, you got it.

BOLDUAN: Because this is not over.

Coming up, retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake drawing the line and issuing a threat to his own party: Unless there's a bill to protect Bob Mueller from the president. What's he threatening? And will it work?

[11:24:12] We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: He's on his way out but he's not done yet. Republican Senator, retiring Senator Jeff Flake announcing yesterday he will move to block President Trump's judicial nominees unless he gets a vote on a bill to protect the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Listen.


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.

I have informed the majority leader that I will not vote to advance any of the 21 judicial nominees pending in the Judiciary Committee or vote to confirm the 32 judges awaiting confirmation on the Senate floor until S-2644 is brought to the full Senate for a vote.


BOLDUAN: He's not the only conservative speaking out right now. A group of conservative attorneys is joining forces to stand up to what they fear is a broad-based presidential power grab coming from the White House.

Joining me is one of those attorneys, Marissa Malik, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thanks for coming in.

MARISSA MALIK, ATTORNEY: Thanks for having me. Good morning.