Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Said to be "Pissed at Damn Near Everyone"; 17 Democrats Vow to Vote No for Pelosi as Speaker; Judge Allows Voters More Time to Fix Signature Problems; Saudi Prosecutor Seeks Death Penalty for Five in Khashoggi Killing; Jeff Flake Vows to Block Judges After GOP Blocks Mueller Protective Vote; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This, says the company, is not true.

It is 10:00 a.m. in the East. 7:00 a.m. in the West. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us this morning.

The White House is, quote, "running very smoothly, thank you." That is according to President Trump, who for his part, according to one White House official, is, quote, in this official's words, "pissed at damn near everyone." That is because of the midterms and the Mueller probe and of course the sudden ouster of a top White House National Security aide at the behest of the first lady.

SCIUTTO: The midterms are still a work in progress. In Florida, the deadline to finish machine recounts is just five hours away. Court fights are sure to last far beyond that, though. In Florida, and next door in Georgia as well.

We begin this hour with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, she is at the White House.

Kaitlan, the question of the hour, can the White House run very smoothly when the president is, quote, "pissed at everyone"?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the idea that the White House is running smoothly is not an assessment that most people who work inside the West Wing would agree with right now. They've actually been the ones describing the president's dark mood, which they say has only intensified in recent days since he returned from Paris, and a lot of them are fearing for their job security, unsure if they're on stable footing with the president.

Now that's not only limited to the chief of staff, John Kelly, but also the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. And when the president was asked about Nielsen's future in this administration, he did not give a yes or no answer during an interview with the "Daily Caller" yesterday, but he did points to how administrations make changes after the midterm elections saying, "After the midterms you make changes so I'm looking at things." He said, I've got a lot of options.

And I'm quoting the president now, he says, "I haven't made a decision yet. I will be making a decision on Homeland shortly."

Jim and Poppy, we've been talking about that, the fact that the president is obviously wanting to get rid of Kirstjen Nielsen in that post at DHS. He's just not sure who it is he should replace her with yet, and then that creates another question, does the Chief of Staff John Kelly who brought her into this administration in the first place follow her when she does leave, which we are told by sources is a matter of if not when. A question of if -- when, not if, when she does leave the administration.

But it's not just staffing changes that are making the president's mood so dark in recent days. He came off that trip from Paris and he was very embittered about the PR and the optics of it, after he cancelled that trip to a military cemetery. He also feels that the White House has lost that winning narrative they had in the days after the midterm elections. So all of those are on the president's plate.

And then as you can see from Twitter this morning, he is quite troubled by the Russia investigation once again.

SCIUTTO: Yes. That's putting it mildly. Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

With us now, CNN political commentators Doug Heye and Patti Solis Doyle.

Doug, if I could begin with you, because also in this "Daily Caller" interview, the president propagating once again unfounded and -- you know, genuinely dangerous myths about voter fraud in Florida. He said, I'm going to quote here, "I have seen it. I've had friends talk about it, when people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote then 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. The disgrace is that voter I.D. if you know buy a box of cereal, if you do anything, you have a voter I.D."

Let's set that aside for a moment because of course you can buy cereal without an I.D., and in fact, in Florida, a voter I.D. is required here.

In your view as a Republican as well, is this dangerous for the president of the United States from his pulpit here to be calling into question the votes in such a crucial state as Florida?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: In a word, yes. And I think it was troubling for a lot of people when he was doing so in 2016 as well. Obviously, he won that result and then it was a big, beautiful result with no fraud because he won. But politically the reality is I think Ron DeSantis is going to win the governorship. I think Rick Scott is going to win the Senate seat. They are both leading right now. So calling into question the results is, I think, a dangerous

precedent anyways. But it also doesn't suit his political purposes if Republicans are going to win. Why call into question a result that would benefit you?


HARLOW: Patti, just moments ago, the president tweeted again about, you know, the Russia probe and collusion, et cetera. Nothing new there, but I did find it fascinating, and I wonder if it's a warning to some Democrats on how to proceed here in the new term, what the CNN poll that we just got showed us about impeachment. It said 55 percent of Americans don't think the president should be impeached or removed from office. Six in 10 say there's not enough for Congress to even begin impeachment hearings. And I think you only had 3 percent here who felt that that should be the top priority for Congress right now.

What should Democrats take from that come January?

[10:05:06] PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think talking about impeachment now is not a good idea for Democrats. We have to wait for the Mueller report and see. You know, there's a high threshold for impeachment. High crimes, and we don't know whether Mueller will say that indeed President Trump obstructed justice or indeed he colluded with the Russians or his campaign colluded with the Russians. So we have to wait.

But trust me, there is plenty of other things that now a Democratic- led House can do. First and foremost, I think, is getting the president's taxes. Secondly, there's just a plethora of ethics violations in that administration right now. But also, there's legislation to be done. There's an infrastructure bill, there's a voter rights bill. There's work to be done. So I think talking about impeachment is just not smart for Democrats and it's very premature.

HARLOW: Interesting.

SCIUTTO: Doug, let me bring up this crazy idea of bipartisan legislative cooperation. Funny thing is, though, that both sides, even the president, had a Democratic lawmaker on, Eric Swalwell, on in the last hour talking about that and then bringing up specific ideas. First, we had this prison reform bill yesterday, bipartisan support for that. There's talk on drug prices, on infrastructure, possibly on DACA.

Do you see with this split Congress and noting the difficulty that Democrats might have voting along with the president on anything, but do you see the potential there for some of these priorities moving forward?

HEYE: I do. I think in a limited sense, infrastructure being one. I was at a criminal justice reform event yesterday in Los Angeles that Van Jones was doing with Kim Kardashian. And you know, bringing that kind of attention to an issue like that only propels things further. And we have Republicans and Democrats who support it. Hakeem Jeffries, the Democrat, Doug Collins from Georgia, the Republican, who pushed the First Step Act. That's a good first step forward. Not just on the issue but on bipartisanship.

I have long thought, Jim and Poppy, that Donald Trump is in a unique position to cut deals that no other Republican would be able to cut, say a President Jeb Bush or a President Scott Walker on guns or on immigration. That may be a taller order, but if issues come up where that needs to be done, Trump is in the unique position to do it if he seizes that moment. And then people would be very surprised that he is the great negotiator he's always told us he is.

SCIUTTO: Well, yes, I mean, one caveat, there has been talk on gun control. We saw that in the last session. Didn't go anywhere. We'll see.

HARLOW: Patti, to you, on Nancy Pelosi. I mean, you have these 17 Democrats who put their name down on this letter saying we're not going to vote for her. CNN's reporting is there are five more who haven't signed it yet but are in that camp as well, and that would mean that she wouldn't have the votes, the 218 number that she needs to be speaker and the CNN polling again shows when you look at all Americans, only 3 in 5 -- 3 in five say they'd prefer someone else.

And even among Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, 44 percent only back her. 46 percent want someone else to take the lead. Is this the time for a new leadership for the party?

SOLIS DOYLE: You know, I don't -- I can't remember a more effective speaker than Nancy Pelosi. She is very, very good at what she does. And you know, with the help of others, she took a great lead in actually winning back the House for Democrats. But having said that, Nancy Pelosi has a problem. There are several new members, newly elected members of Congress, who pledged that they would not support Nancy Pelosi for leadership.

And if I were advising any of those new members, I don't think that going back on your campaign pledge is a way to start your new job. So she's got a problem with those members, for sure. And for a long time, Republicans have made Nancy Pelosi the boogey woman.


SOLIS DOYLE: Much like they've made Hillary Clinton the boogey woman. It's unfair, it is not right, it is not substantiated by any real facts in terms of her doing her job. And she's more moderate than she is liberal, actually. But it is an issue for her. Ultimately, I think she will win, but she's got a problem right now.


HEYE: Can I respond to that really quickly?

HARLOW: Very quickly, yes, go ahead.

HEYE: In 2010, I helped spearhead the "Fire Pelosi" campaign at the RNC. And I agree with Patty, one of the reasons that we wanted to fire Pelosi was because she was so darn effective and she put Obamacare through. Democrats would be foolish to cast her aside, I think.

HARLOW: That's really interesting.

SCIUTTO: Interesting. You have -- she has your endorsement. We're going to let her know that.


HARLOW: There you go.

HEYE: A weird one.

[10:10:03] HARLOW: There is that. Thank you both, Doug and Patti. Nice to have you as always.

So this morning, Florida Governor Rick Scott is appealing a judge's ruling that allows voters to essentially try again to match their signatures. Earlier, a federal judge in Florida extended the deadline for voters with mismatched signatures to sign again and see if they match this time.

SCIUTTO: It's a hard standard to meet. This comes as officials in Florida work to meet a 3:00 p.m. recount deadline today. Just a few hours from now, all 67 counties must submit all machine vote totals.

Let's get right to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He is in Tallahassee, Florida.

What's the latest, Ed? Do we expect to see a resolution today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what we're waiting for, for this 3:00 Eastern deadline from the secretary of state here in Florida, as all of the counties across Florida are sending in their recount numbers that have been implemented here since last week's election. But really the focus here in Tallahassee is the ruling from this federal judge extending this deadline on the question of signatures that didn't match. And this is a deadline that is extended until Saturday afternoon. So they have several days to go back to all of these people, which is close to some 5,000 people across the state.

Now what is interesting here, Jim and Poppy, is that right now, Rick Scott leads Senator Bill Nelson in this senatorial race by more than 12,000 votes. So if even unlikely scenario that all 5,000 of these signature ballots that are in question were all to vote for Bill Nelson, which we all know is highly unlikely, that means that there still aren't enough votes there to make a difference.

But this is just one of several lawsuits that are still winding their way through the system here in Tallahassee as Democratic lawyers and Republican lawyers continue to fight it out here in the courts as these deadlines of counting and certifying this vote quickly loom here in the state of Florida.

HARLOW: Been there before. Ed Lavandera, thank you.

So will McConnell cave? Outgoing Republican Senator Jeff Flake says he will vote against, block judges if a vote to protect Special Counsel Bob Mueller does not get taken to the floor.

And prosecutors push for the death penalty for five people charged in the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But the Saudi Foreign minister says this has nothing to do with the crown prince.

SCIUTTO: Hundreds are still missing as wildfires burn across California, sparking fears that what's already the deadliest wildfire in state history, that that death toll could rise.


[10:17:02] SCIUTTO: The Saudi Foreign minister says that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia had nothing to do with the death of "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

HARLOW: Of course, Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul more than a month ago. This morning, Saudi prosecutors announced they have charged 11 people with his murder and that they will seek the death penalty for five of those individuals. The Saudi Foreign minister has called the journalist's murder a rogue operation.

Let's go to Sam Kiley, our colleague who is covering all of this.

So look. I mean, it's just -- you have, you know, the prosecutor there in Saudi Arabia going after these 11, going for the death penalty for five, but saying it is not -- it is in no way connected to the crown prince.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's been a somewhat predicted and predictable maneuver, I think, what we have seen here. If you're going to put a cynical hat on it there, Poppy. And that is that as far as the Saudi narrative from the prosecutor now, which is not an opinion. It is supposed to have been arrived at as a result of an investigation.

The story is as follows. The deputy head of intelligence in Saudi Arabia ordered a mission to go to the consulate in Istanbul, to meet with Mr. Khashoggi, and persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia. His orders were that if that failed, he should be abducted and physically, forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia.

The team then went on the ground, according to the prosecutor, the person in charge of this negotiation decided that what in America is called a rendition, a forced removal, was not possible, and therefore if he refused to go home, then he would be killed.

There is an insistence on the Saudi prosecutor's level that this was a decision taken on the ground by the operatives who were following orders up to that point, but at that point, they broke orders. They then say that there was a scuffle. During this scuffle, there was a drug was administered to Mr. Khashoggi, and that caused his death. He was deliberately overdosed.

What is different about this narrative is in two ways. First of all, for the first time there is, of course, the demand or the expectation of a death penalty for these servants of the Saudi state for this killing. And secondly, the Saudis have said therefore that this was a premeditated murder, but a decision to do that premeditated murder was taken on the ground in Istanbul, not at headquarters.

HARLOW: I was wondering about that. So what happen then to the Saudi line that this was indeed premeditated? This explanation would change a lot.

Sam Kiley, important reporting, thank you.

SCIUTTO: For more on the impact of all this, let's speak to Ambassador Robert Jordan. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia under President George W. Bush.

Ambassador, thanks for joining us again.

Thank you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So I'm curious, as you watch this from your seat, a number of years in Saudi Arabia, do you find this story credible? A team of 15 sent there, including a, quote-unquote, "logistics team" that brought tools to cut up his body.

[10:20:10] Do you find it credible that this was a decision made on the ground and a decision made without approval from higher up?

ROBERT JORDAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: No, absolutely not. You don't bring a bone saw to a negotiation. This is an absolutely absurd explanation. And it follows, of course, on the heels of many other absurd explanations.

What they've got now are a number of people who have been sentenced to death. They clearly are also witnesses, by the way, who might be able to provide evidence to an international investigation team, but that, of course, is now not going to happen.

I think we've got a lot of other people to be held accountable. Certainly people close to the crown prince clearly were involved in this. They've actually lost their jobs now, and some are under either arrest or detention within the kingdom. This requires a much more thorough investigation and not simply by the Saudis.

SCIUTTO: You heard the president's National Security adviser John Bolton say that the audiotape provides no evidence of a link to the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Do you see the Trump administration in effect going along with the Saudi cover story here, placing this all on the shoulders of these lower-level officers as opposed to the Saudi leadership?

JORDAN: Well, I think they're trying to make every effort to smooth this over and to conduct business as usual. I think the international community needs to step in here and say not so fast. Where are the other allies who have also received these tapes? They need to speak up, I think, and certainly an international body should have access to the tapes.

The Turks need to be at least as transparent as possible on this so that we can really get further clarity.

SCIUTTO: You spent a lot of time in that region. What would it mean for the United States of America not to definitively and fulsomely condemn the murder of a journalist, a resident of northern Virginia, the murder, dismemberment of a journalist in a consulate by an allied government? What would be the effect of this for its relationships with those leaders but also for the broader public in the region?

JORDAN: Yes. It certainly enables rogue behavior of this kind. Let's remember, also, that one of the senior advisers to the crown prince lost his job because he as communications director supposedly created an atmosphere in which people thought they were empowered and enabled to take these drastic steps. Certainly we're contributing exactly to that same environment if we don't step in forcefully here.

SCIUTTO: Just a quick question before we go. To deter similar action in the future, in your view, does the U.S. need to sanction the Saudi government, the country, as opposed to individuals here?

JORDAN: I think we can in a way do both. There certainly are individuals who need to be sanctioned beyond simply denying them their American visas so they can visit Disneyland. I think we have also got to slow down perhaps these arm sales. It doesn't mean we cut the cord, because the Saudis, like it or not, are an important ally in the region, but I think the time has come for some hard-nosed diplomacy.

I'm glad to see that the president has identified General Abizaid as perhaps the next ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He's a terrific choice. And I think he would be able to stand up to the Saudis. But I think we've also got to draw some sort of line here and say we're at least putting these arms sales on hold. We're going to be more demanding in terms of the Saudi conduct in Yemen. And hopefully also dealing with Qatar. These are tools in our toolbox that I think need to be used.

SCIUTTO: Ambassador Robert Jordan, thanks very much.

HARLOW: It's such important perspective.

All right, so Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, with a warning to his fellow Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. Vote on prosecutor for Special Counsel Bob Mueller or Flake says he won't vote on the president's nominees for federal judgeships. That is a vote that the Republicans cannot afford to lose.


[10:29:07] HARLOW: All right, there battle on Capitol Hill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe is growing. Retiring Arizona senator and a consistent thorn in the president's side, Jeff Flake, has made this threat on the Senate floor.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: 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.


SCIUTTO: That's quite a marker to throw down.

Joining us live from Capitol Hill is Manu Raju, he's CNN senior congressional correspondent.

So Jeff Flake here, he does have some power because there's only a one-vote majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee for Republicans. 11-10. Does he have the power in effect to back up this demand for legislation to protect Mueller?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he needs support from other Republicans in order to succeed because of course on the full Senate, it's a 51-49 split in the Senate. That means another one would have to join him, other Republicans, if all Democrats voted no --