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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

More Mueller Indictments Coming?; Florida Recounts Hit Deadline. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 15, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It's snowing in Washington, D.C., today.

Yes, Mr. President, winter is coming.

THE LEAD starts right now.

President Trump today rage tweeting, frenzied tweets about the Mueller probe, calling the investigation a total mess, as an expression about glass houses comes to mind.

Trying to cover up a murder and exonerate a dictator, Saudi Arabia's prosecutor charging 11 men in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, concluding the crown prince had nothing to do with it. Will the White House, will President Trump go along with what critics are calling a cover-up?

Plus, the Trump administration and the U.S. government cracking down on e-cigarettes after a new report finds vaping among teens and even among tweens has skyrocketed, but with numbers like these, is the FDA's action too little too late?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with our politics lead. Does President Trump know something about the Russian investigation that you and I don't know? President Trump on a Twitter tear today, lashing out against special counsel Robert Mueller and his team in his first tweets about Mueller in a month.

In one of the four tweets about the subject so far today, the president said about the special counsel's investigators -- quote -- "They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers that they want," which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like a different workplace that we covered earlier this week.

The president also declaring in all caps -- quote -- "A total witch- hunt like no other in American history."

The presidential outburst coming as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is blocking an effort co-sponsored by his fellow Republican Senator Jeff Flake to force a vote on legislation to protect Robert Mueller.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

And, Jeff, a person close to President Trump says of the Mueller probe -- quote -- "He knows it's winding up."

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, he does.

And we know the president has been meeting with his personal lawyers here all week going over those written questions from the special counsel's office, deciding which ones he will and will not answer, so it's clearly fresh on his mind. But it's also affecting his mood, people close to him say.

Now, this morning, he was airing all the old grievances we have heard before, but he was also trying to discredit the investigation, but along the way, he proved one thing. He's increasingly fixated on it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Goodbye, everybody. Goodbye, everybody.

ZELENY (voice-over): At the White House today, President Trump reminding veterans of all he's done to help them.

TRUMP: I figured I did so much, I could leave now. But we're not finished. We never will be finished.

ZELENY: The president offering no new policies, but patting himself on the back after days of questions for why he missed a solemn ceremony at an American military cemetery in Paris during a visit last weekend.

But behind the scenes at the White House, multiple officials and allies of the president tell CNN he is in a sour mood, watching the Florida recount play out on television and stewing about the Russia probe.

A day after removing Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel from her post after first lady Melania Trump publicly called for her firing, the president and Mrs. Trump seen together briefly today as they visited the Marine barracks near Capitol Hill.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general, by the president's side, even as his future is uncertain amid a looming West Wing shakeup. Yet if you want to know what's really on the president's mind, look at his Twitter feed from just this morning.

First, he insists the White House is running very smoothly. Then he goes on to vent, calling special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation "a total mess" and saying Mueller is highly conflicted because he worked for President Obama for eight years.

But that's not true. He was first appointed by George W. Bush to lead the FBI and Obama kept him in the post for four more years. Still, he lashed out at the probe: "A total witch-hunt like no other in American history."

Finally, he's reviving old gripes and grievances about "crooked Hillary," insisting he's been treated unfairly, and blaming Democrats for any collusion.

All of his words being carefully followed by Democrats in Congress, as they prepare to assume the majority, providing a new check on the president for the second half of his first term.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: On the other side of Pennsylvania, the president continues to wage an all-out campaign to obstruct the Mueller investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: Now, Republican Senate leaders are meeting with the president here at the White House this afternoon, but it is increasingly the Democrats on Capitol Hill who the White House is beginning to focus on, focusing on those investigations they know are coming.

The big question is, what staff here will be left to deal with that? We still expect a staff shakeup of some kind. If it's this week or next week, that is up to the president, but, Jake, he's said it's coming, and people here can feel that something is indeed on the way -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, watch this Twitter space, I suppose. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks so much.

President Trump this morning tweeted -- quote -- "The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want."

[16:05:10]

Let's talk about this with the panel.

Jackie, do you have any idea what is he talking about? Where is this coming from?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We were talking a little bit about this earlier in the green room, and I thought David brought up a good point, in that Trump is going through the questions. He's going through the questions from Mueller, and it seems like he's walking down memory lane, and he doesn't like the scenery.

And so that might explain why we're seeing these throwbacks to the campaign and to his old material in these tweets.

TAPPER: Playing the oldies, playing the early hits.

KUCINICH: Yes, the early hits.

TAPPER: Why is he criticizing Mueller's team for shouting, screaming, dysfunctionality?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm not sure exactly what's going on, so that's the good news for me.

I'm not apprised of that, but I can only imagine kind of behind the scenes it's kind of winding down, and you see what's going on in the papers with Credico and Stone and kind of the food fight that is going on there.

And the president is probably answering these written interrogatories and he sits back and thinks, how many months has this gone on? You get the news today about Facebook, you know, "New York Times," a big story about Facebook knew the Russian of the Russian interference sometime in the campaign, and they didn't do anything. Why aren't they being investigated?

I can only imagine the things that are running through his mind and so he's venting.

TAPPER: Oh, they are going to be investigating, I'm pretty sure, Facebook.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: But not by Robert Mueller.

TAPPER: No, but by House Democrats, I would imagine.

What's going on behind the scenes?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think a lot has to do with the fact that they were able to push the Mueller investigation off until after the midterm elections. Not a lot of people were talking about it. Mueller wasn't doing a lot of -- didn't have a lot of activity in those weeks leading up to the midterms, so it was a way for the president to kind of tuck it away in his mind, put it off until the midterms.

Same with Jeff Sessions, why we didn't see him complaining about Jeff Sessions in the weeks leading up to that as much, and now, not only did he meet with his lawyers on Monday to discuss those questions and answers they are going to submit, but also Michael Cohen was seen at the special counsel's office, Paul Manafort's attorneys were seen going to the special counsel's office.

So it's all of that coming back. The president is still continuing trying to discredit Robert Mueller. As Jeff was pointing out, he is saying he worked for President Obama for eight years, which is not true. He worked for President Bush for eight years and then went on to work under Obama.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Four, not for eight.

(CROSSTALK) COLLINS: Exactly.

And he's also trying to use this Matt Whitaker thing as an excuse for why Mueller should be discredited, saying, well, he's not Senate- approved either.

Well, the special counsel doesn't have to be Senate-approved. The FBI director does. The attorney general does. And when Robert Mueller was the FBI director, of course, he's been Senate-confirmed several times.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Plus, you see from these exit polls after the election, the Mueller probe is pretty -- is wildly popular, right? It's taken a nosedive.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: That's because of a year of campaigning against it.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's exactly right.

And I would also just add that the piece that was different about this -- he's been attacking Mueller for months, months and months, as we all know, but is, he referenced the inner workings, as you said, of the Mueller investigation.

Now, we don't know if he actually has any access to the inner workings, but I think those of us who are a little skeptical about the Matt Whitaker appointment do question whether there is information that is being shared by Matt Whitaker. he does have access to all the information.

We don't know. Maybe Trump is making that up. Certainly possible, but there is a little bit of a I would say agitation about that reference in there.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Well, it's not proven, what you're saying.

PSAKI: It's not proven, and I have said that.

But the reference to the inner workings is the first time he's really said that. And that is different. And there's a new deputy -- acting attorney general.

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Getting to a point where he's probably -- he's answering interrogatories. He is getting more -- as Kaitlan points out, more involved in the actual -- the nitty gritty, the machinations of getting this wrapped up.

TAPPER: Yes, let's talk about Matt Whitaker, because there's this renewed push in the Senate to protect Mueller through this legislation.

Whether or not it's needed is another matter. But a lot of it is in the wake of the firing of sessions and the appointment of the acting attorney general.

President Trump was asked by The Daily Caller yesterday about Whitaker and who he's considering in that position. And his answer was interesting, because all of a sudden he brought up the subject that wasn't on the table. The question was about Whitaker and who is going to be the permanent attorney general.

Here's President Trump's response, saying -- quote -- "Whitaker is just somebody that's very respected. I knew him only as he pertained as he was with Jeff sessions." He serves as Sessions' chief of staff.

"And, look, as far as I'm concerned, this is an investigation that should have never been brought." All of a sudden he's talking about the Russia investigation. "It should have never been had. It's something that should have been brought. It's an illegal investigation."

And I have heard -- somebody on Twitter refer to this as like Lester Holt 2.0. Lester Holt asked a question, and President Trump admitted that the Russia investigation was at the top of his mind when he fired Comey.

Here, he's talking about Matt Whitaker and immediately starts talking about the Russia investigation.

COLLINS: You can see why the president his mind intertwines the two of those, because all of the criticism of Matt Whitaker has not just been because he's not confirmed.

[16:10:05]

It's because the comments he's made about the Russia investigation, so that is what President Trump was remarking on before he left for that Paris trip. Even while he was in Paris. He was up before 5:00 in Paris, tweeting about Matt Whitaker.

And he said very clearly, if I can't hire someone because of things they have seen on television in the past, I can't hire anyone in the administration.

That is not exactly what the problem is here.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: Right. A lot of people get their jobs because they're on television.

PSAKI: Right.

COLLINS: But you can see what the president intertwines those two in his mind, because that has been the main criticism against Matt Whitaker TAPPER: So some people reading the tea leaves think -- that's a

perfectly logical explanation you just offered.

Some people, other people, critics of the president, read the tea leaves and think, oh, he thinks Matt Whitaker, he starts talking about Russia. It's because he thinks Matt Whitaker is going to protect him from...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: Look, I agree with Kaitlan on this, right?

This has been all Matt Whitaker all the time, other than like, I made the vague reference to the Bigfoot story, which I think was out there. But it's...

TAPPER: That's a congressman from the Virginia I think has been...

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: I'm conflating bad news stories, then.

But all that has been out there about Matt Whitaker is what he said when he was -- when he was a commentator here and kind of his remarks on -- it's all been about Russia. It's not been about anything else.

So it's easy to see how the president thinks one, thinks the other. I don't think he's thinking Matt Whitaker is going to save him from Mueller.

KUCINICH: But also why -- it's why Jeff Sessions is no longer the attorney general. He always looked at the attorney general through the prism of Russia.

It's not like Jeff Sessions wasn't doing his job otherwise.

URBAN: I think the president was upset with Jeff Sessions...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Because he didn't recuse himself.

URBAN: Because he knew before he became attorney general he was going to recuse himself. I think the president feels like he should have been apprised of that, that as soon as the attorney general's going to take the job, he is going to walk away.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Jen, I want you to take a listen.

Our Manu Raju asked Republican Senator Orrin Hatch about the push to protect Mueller and here's what Hatch had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Why not allow the bill to come forward for a vote?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Because you don't need that.

And, frankly, even if you did do that bill, all you would do is get into a big hassle.

(CROSSTALK)

RAJU: A hassle with the president?

HATCH: With him and with a lot of others. That's not the way to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The argument from Republicans is if President Trump was going to fire Mueller, he would have taken those steps long before now, and they don't need to protect him.

PSAKI: Based on what?

I mean, we know it may be wrapping up. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. Obviously, the heat is on President Trump now because the House is going to be run by Democrats, so he's certainly feeling it.

What's interesting to me about this whole process with the legislation to protect Mueller is that the Senate Judiciary Committee under Republicans passed it and McConnell would not allow it to go to the floor. So in addition to Hatch, I'm curious as to why McConnell is protecting Trump.

But really the question is, why not have it?

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: It's going to get a vote.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: You think?

URBAN: Flake is going to force it, right? Jeff Flake is not going to vote on judges.

TAPPER: In the committee, right.

URBAN: Yes. They're going to want it. Flake is -- they are going to need to do it. It is going to get a vote.

COLLINS: It is really hard to state that the president is not going to fire Robert Mueller, because, A, even people very close to Trump will not try to predict what he's going to do.

Typically, the smartest people and the people who are the closest to him say that. And,B, he's tried to fire the special counsel before.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: It's not like he hasn't tried to do this before.

So, that doesn't give a lot of credence to the arguments from Republicans.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: What McConnell and Hatch say, right. I'm just conveying -- don't shoot the messenger.

(CROSSTALK)

PSAKI: Hatch doesn't want to be hassled, as he says.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: You have always known that about Hatch.

Everyone, stick around.

We got a lot more to talk about.

The deadline for all Florida counties, including you, Broward County and Palm Beach County, all counties, to finish their vote recounts has come and gone. And we could get new vote totals at any moment and find out who is the next governor and the new senator from that state.

Then, the FDA wants to stop millions of kids from doing something they're likely hiding from you, parents.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:56] TAPPER: Moments ago, the deadline was reached for every, every Florida county to submit its machinery count results for the governors and senators, with all but one county meeting that deadline, Palm Beach County, a bastion of Democratic voters. Adding to the bad trove of bad news for Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson, who already needs a straight up miracle to overcome the 12,000-vote lead for his opponent, Republican Rick Scott. No one in the history of modern recounts has come close to closing a gap like that.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Florida getting the latest results.

And, Ryan, we're on day six of the Florida recount. I understand this is the process. This is how the state law is, et cetera, but when is it going to be over?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, my wife is hoping before Thanksgiving, Jake. It's supposed to be certified by the 20th of November.

What could happen today, and we're still waiting for those official recount numbers to come in, is that they are going to take a second look at these numbers, and if any of these races are within a quarter of a percent, that will automatically trigger a hand recount of overvotes and undervotes, and we do expect that to happen in both the Senate race and the as culture commissioner race. So the initial look at the numbers from the machine recount number, and we don't have the official numbers in from the secretary of state yet, but looking at a county-by-county basis it doesn't look like the machine recount demonstrably changed very much from the results we saw on Saturday.

Now, there's, of course, a bevy of lawsuits being filed and are being hashed out in courts of law that could impact this overall. But, Jake, if everything goes the way we're supposed to, we should have the final numbers by the 18th of November.

TAPPER: The 18th of November. OK.

And Democrats continue to say they believe there are enough votes out there for Nelson to win, even though he trails by 12,000 votes. Have you seen any evidence at all that there are 12,000 votes out there somewhere that will go net for Bill Nelson?

NOBLES: Yes, you know, Jake, I heard what Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had to say yesterday about this particular recount process, and if we can play that bite, let's play it and talk about it afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:20:01] SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Well, Bill Nelson is strong as could be. He believes, I believe, he's won a majority of the votes, and as long as they are counted, he will continue being senator from Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBLES: So, Chuck Schumer saying that he believes that he's won majority of the votes. But to your point, Jake, there's simply no evidence of that. We've gone through an exhaustive count of 8.5 million and the margin is more than 12,000 votes. We're now going through a machine recount that doesn't look like the numbers are going to change all that much. The only way that you can make this argument is if there is some sort of dramatic problem with one of the machines in one of these counties and if Democrats are able to win almost all of these lawsuits that they have filed in federal court and within those lawsuits is revealed a whole bunch more votes for Bill Nelson.

At this point, there's just no evidence that this possibility exists. It would be a historic overcoming of a margin on Election Day if that were to change. And at this point, it doesn't look like it's going to happen.

TAPPER: All right. Well, this is the United States of America. People can have belief systems, whatever they want.

Ryan Nobles, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Let's talk about this. David, I want to start with you. This looks like it's going to end

with Republicans winning the Senate race and winning the governor's office. We don't know. It's not final yet, but it looks as though, and yet, there are Republicans who continue to cast aspersions about the process.

I want you to take a listen to Congressman Matt Gaetz giving an interview on Breitbart Radio.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: If the Democrats are able to learn now what techniques work and don't work, what transparency laws are going to be followed and which ones aren't, then it gives them a road map on how to steal the election from Donald Trump in 2020.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, what is that?

KUCINICH: What's going on? Whoa!

URBAN: So, look, transparency is never a bad thing, right?

TAPPER: Sure.

URBAN: Transparency is a great thing, but as we talked about before, I think what you're seeing, you know, in Broward County and other places, right, it is a complete breakdown of the system that should move pretty smoothly and effectively. So by that system not running so smoothly enables folks to go on radio, talk shows and other places and kind of cast aspersions on the whole system. You know, if there was transparency in Broward County, if there was complete openness there, you wouldn't have folks on the right signed of saying, look --

PSAKI: I think, David, there's no question if we all look at Broward County, it's a little horrifying that 18 years later, we're still looking at this and the ballots are confusing and Democrats and Republicans can agree on that.

However, this is specifically language that President Trump used back when he was running for president, threatening that the election was rigged, questioning institutions, and can you see this person as a loyalist, this member of Congress as a loyalist, trying to seed doubt already two years before the election about the outcome --

(CROSSTALK)

URBAN: As you just said questioning institutions, Broward County, that's an institution. They are failing.

PSAKI: But I think, David, my point is this is much bigger than that.

TAPPER: He's lodging a conspiracy. He's saying Democrats are doing this so they can steal Florida from Trump. COLLINS: And you can do both. You can criticize them for being

incompetent and not say that the 2020 election have going to be rigged. You don't have to pick one or the other.

URBAN: Or maybe they'll both -- or maybe both.

TAPPER: Well, take a listen. Republicans are not actually the only ones trashing the other party and sowing doubts about the integrity of the process.

URBAN: Yes.

TAPPER: Take a look what's being said about the Georgia governor's race, which is also not over yet. Democrat Stacey Abrams still trails Republican Brian Kemp. The race has not been called.

Take a listen to what some Democrats have said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: If Stacey Abrams doesn't win in Georgia, they stole it. It's clear. It's clear.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If she had a fair election, she already would have won.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is that really any different from what the Matt Gaetzes and Donald Trumps of the world are doing?

KUCINICH: The only difference is that there was some -- in terms of closing polling places, there were some shenanigans when it came to voter suppression in Georgia. It was documented fairly well even before the elections. That said, at this point, no. It's not.

URBAN: A big flat N-O, same thing. Same thing.

KUCINICH: Ii think, yes, what they are doing right now, Sherrod Brown today, yes, that is --

URBAN: Sherrod Brown is running for president. Hillary Clinton is running for president.

KUCINICH: That's true. But I will say, I think the gold standard here is look at Arizona. You saw outside forces trying to make that into -- trying to degrade the process, say it was stolen and you had the Arizona officials saying no. This is over. Sinema won, everybody shake hands. We're good.

TAPPER: Jen?

PSAKI: Look, what Sherrod Brown went on to say is that gerrymandering and other issues and voter suppression which are real issues in Georgia --

KUCINICH: Yes.

PSAKI: -- are contributing this to being unfair. He said it in a very ham-handed way. It is clear he's running for president given his "New York Times" interview today, and he's probably thinking in his mind, I need to be a fighter, and he just wants to blurt it out. So --

URBAN: But make no mistake, same.

PSAKI: No, no.

URBAN: Oh, come on.

PSAKI: I wish he said it in a different way, but he was raising issues that are real issues in places like Georgia which is voter suppression, gerrymandering is a real issue.

[16:25:07] He said it in a sloppy way, but I don't think it's the same thing.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We got a lot more to talk about.

Nancy Pelosi says bring it on, but there are signs that she might not have all the support she claims to have to become the next speaker of the house. What are those signs? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: This afternoon, Democrats picked up yet another House seat, making the Democrats' net pickup 33 with seven races yet to be called.