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Flake Vows to Block Judges after GOP Blocks Mueller Protection Vote; U.S. Sanctions 17 Saudi Officials over Khashoggi Killing; Death Toll Rises to 58 and more than 300 still Missing; Trump Endorses Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Bill; E-cig Use Jumps among Teens. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired November 15, 2018 - 10:30   ET



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, another Republican if all Democrats voted no in order to force Mitch McConnell's hand.

But I can tell you, I just spent this morning talking to some key Republicans who are not willing to bend at this point. Senator Cornyn, the number two Republican, just told me moments ago, he does not agree with going this way. Senator Orrin Hatch, president pro tem of the Senate, also told me that it would be, quote, "a hassle to have a vote on the special counsel bill." And I said a hassle to whom? He said to the president and to others. So there's not much support on that regard.

But you're hearing a lot of calls from Democrats for at least Matt Whitaker to recuse himself. And yesterday, Jeff Flake also joined that call, saying that Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general, may have to step aside from overseeing the Mueller probe.


RAJU: Given that concern that there's someone who has open hostility towards Mueller's investigation, should Matt Whitaker recuse himself from overseeing the investigation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, absolutely.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Yes, I think he shouldn't be in that position at all to have oversight over the investigation. That's what seems unconstitutional. Or to step out of the succession that they have always had, the same type of succession. It goes to the deputy, who is already performing that function.


RAJU: And just moments ago, Chuck Grassley of the Judiciary Committee chairman, said at a committee meeting that he believes that the Whitaker appointment is constitutional. He said that he criticized Democrats going after the Whitaker appointment. He also told me yesterday he would not bring Whitaker forward for a hearing this year, even as Democrats and even Jeff Flake say that they want to question Whitaker about his views of the Mueller investigation.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That was fascinating to hear. You have Democrat, Republican standing next to each other, saying the same thing about this very -- but you know the Republican is not running again. So, there you go. Manu thank you.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We have some news just in to CNN. The Treasury Department announcing that it will impose sanctions on 17 individuals for their roles in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. These are wide ranging. They're under the global Magnitsky Act which was initially passed to focus on Russia, but the bigger picture here is it goes after individuals who violated human rights. Big name on this list is Saud Al-Qahtani, the senior official involved and he was a longtime adviser to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman, although we should say that the Saudis continue to insist that he was not involved in this decision here. But a significant step by the U.S. imposing sanctions on these individuals means all of their assets around the world frozen, in effect, no travel to the U.S., and certainly a story we're going to continue to follow.

HARLOW: And so, the question becomes, will there be more? Will anything happen with the arms deal? Will this be it?

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Will they sanction -- will the U.S. sanction the government of Saudi Arabia for this or just these individuals involved?

HARLOW: Important breaking news there.

All right, ahead, we're going to head to California where at least 58 people are dead as wildfires leave a path of destruction. Now authorities are asking for DNA from survivors to help identify the victims.


[10:38:00] SCIUTTO: Well, the death toll sadly is rising in California, where those massive wildfires continue to burn. So far, at least 58 people have died. 56 of those victims killed in the Camp Fire in northern California.

HARLOW: And right now, National Guard troops are working to find more than 300 other people who are missing. Scott McLean is live in Paradise, California, this morning. And Scott, just hearing from the authorities, what they're going through, you know, just to find DNA matches to identify the victims.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's quite a process because, well, the damage here is expansive. It is more surprising to find a building standing here than to find one absolutely obliterated right down to the foundation, Jim and Poppy. There is some good news. And that's that the fire is now 40 percent contained. It did grow slightly up to 140,000 acres, but this is the first time that that containment number has bumped up since Tuesday. But obviously, the bigger concern here is with loss of life. 56 people have been confirmed dead so far, but as you said, 300 are on a list that the sheriff's office has compiled of people who are still unaccounted for.

Now, the hope is that most of the people on that list will be found in one way or the other. Maybe they just haven't been in touch. Maybe they went elsewhere. Maybe it's some sort of other misunderstanding. But we know that the death toll is almost certain to rise. There are hundreds of people, hundreds of crews going out searching through the debris, the twisted metal, the ash, trying to find human remains. But this fire burned so hot that they're having a difficult time even identifying human remains versus animal remains.

And so, identification is a massive challenge. The sheriff's office is asking people to go to its office in nearby Orville to give a DNA sample if they have a missing relative. That will expedite the process of matching up some of the remains with loved ones. Jim, Poppy.

[10:40:00] It sounds, Scott, like they're zeroing in on a cause -- possible cause for this fire, PG & E, the state electric company, talking about a malfunctioning transmission line. What does that mean in terms of legal action?

MCLEAN: Sure. So the cause isn't official yet. But there was a lawsuit filed on behalf of 22 people who lost their homes in this fire against Pacific Gas and Electric, which is the electrical company here. They were doing work on a transmission line just 15 minutes before the fire started in that very same area. They said no cause has been determined yet, at least officially, but the company says that if it is indeed responsible for this or at fault here, well, its insurance policy isn't big enough to actually cover the damages here. Even if you combine their insurance policy with the cash that they have on hand from a line of credit, that's still not even big enough because we're talking about billions of dollars. The latest estimate by Moody's pegs the damages here at nearly $7 billion. That is billion with a "b."

SCIUTTO: And the lives lost. Scott McLean thanks very much.

HARLOW: No amount of money can make that up.

SCIUTTO: President Trump has thrown his support behind a bipartisan prison reform bill. The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the architect behind that legislation and he worked very closely with CNN's Van Jones. We're going to talk to Van right after this.


[10:45:53] HARLOW: So could we finally see prison reform? We just may. President Trump is pledging his support for a bipartisan prison reform bill called the FIRST STEP Act. It makes a major overhaul for sentencing laws. Listen to the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're all better off when former inmates can receive and re-enter society as law-abiding, productive citizens, and thanks to our booming economy, they now have a chance at more opportunities than they have ever had before.


HARLOW: So this legislation namely would focus on rehabilitation and opportunity for current inmates. It will eliminate the staffing provisions that lead to consecutive sentences. It would shorten some mandatory minimum sentences including those convicted under the three strikes provision. It would also reduce the number of nonviolent drug offenders receiving mandatory minimums.

Van Jones is with me. He's not only the host of "The Van Jones Show." He is also the co-founder of the cut 50 initiative which is a national bipartisan movement for criminal justice reform. You're all smiles today.


HARLOW: And you, Van, have done something that you rarely do. You tweeted praise of President Trump on this.

JONES: You know you got to give credit where credit is due. When Obama was in office, he would do stuff that Republicans said they wanted him to do, and he would do it and give no credit, sometimes he would get beat up for doing stuff. So I said to myself, if Donald Trump ever does anything praiseworthy, I'm going to praise him. And I'll praise him.

He came out and he endorsed a bill that will not only do all the stuff that you mentioned, but for the people who are in prison right now, who are suffering right now, they get hope and help that they haven't had for almost two decades. They can earn their way home earlier if they want to. Take the classes. They can come home, job ready. And also women who are behind bars right now who are shackled when they're giving birth to babies, that will stop. A lot of indignities against women are also outlawed in this bill. So you've got the first major serious bill in a generation. And Trump said he's for it, and I said listen. I'll beat you up on 99 other issues but on this one, I'll give you the high five.

HARLOW: In a generation. I mean this, if it passes would change so many lives. I will point out that it's important to some of the Democratic pushback on this. You have this letter signed by senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Dick Durbin, also representatives John Lewis and Sheila Jackson Lee. They call this, Van, a step back. They say that this excludes too many incarcerated people. They say it's not real time off sentences. It won't reduce recidivism. They wanted this to go a lot further. Are they right?

JONES: They were right, and what happens is in the Senate, we worked very hard and we got some of those fixes and improvements in the bill. But the most important thing I can say about the bill, it's called the FIRST STEP Act for a reason. It's a first step. We held out for a lot under Obama, and Obama and Republicans worked very hard, but we could not get the camel through the keyhole that we had in terms of having -- getting so much in there. So we got a lot of improvements in there. We didn't get everything, but we will come back next year. But breaking the logjam is important.

HARLOW: But do you think that you'll have the support from the administration next year on more or are you concerned that they could point to this and the president say look, I already did x, y, and z. Why go further? Because you do have, you know a number of conservatives in Congress who will say, no way to more.

JONES: Listen. There are still things that conservatives want in this bill that they didn't get. There's stuff we want as liberals and because we didn't get. So there's more to be done. There are more deals to be cut. But what I will say is what's driving this is not how good Trump is or how the Democrats are or how good any politicians are. It's how bad the prisons are. The prisons are so bad that people are there for 10 years, 12 years, 20 years, 30 years, and they come home with no skills, no help.

HARLOW: Right.

JONES: They're not job ready. So the prisons are so bad that it's bringing out the best in both parties, and this is being driven in large part by formerly incarcerated people themselves who have been crying out for a change.

HARLOW: A big partner of yours in this is Newt Gingrich.

JONES: Yes, that's right.

HARLOW: Talk about bipartisanship, but McConnell. I mean, what do you think? There's no promise that this is going to come to the floor in a lame duck session.

[10:50:02] Now it has the president's support. Does he bring it to the floor? Does this thing make it through?

JONES: I think McConnell brings it to the floor for one reason which is the president of the United States just said he wants it passed. And so, that's the leader of your party. Listen. Jared Kushner also deserves an awful lot of credit. His father went to prison. He took this very personally. He went to bat many, many times to keep this thing alive. And I think you know when Trump is sitting there and he's hearing law enforcement saying this will make streets safer. He's hearing civil rights leaders saying this is fair. I think there's an opportunity to get something done. And I don't think McConnell can stand in the way of this much bipartisan momentum.

HARLOW: Well, you know, you give this credit to Jared Kushner who you've worked with for months very closely on this. You sort of sticking point for him on this and you guys -- was Attorney General Jeff Sessions - Jeff Sessions is - well, Jeff Sessions is no longer attorney general. I mean he said that this would reduce sentences for highly dangerous cohorts of criminals, et cetera. How -- I mean, would this have happened were Sessions still attorney general? Do you think that that was the movement on this for the president? JONES: Listen. I think Attorney General Sessions was just wrong on the facts. You know, listen, the bill changed a little bit. It didn't change a lot and you have all these law enforcement groups saying it's a great bill. So I think Sessions is wrong in many, many ways, certainly this one.

HARLOW: If you're a prisoner right now.

JONES: An incarcerated person.

HARLOW: If you're an incarcerated person right now and you're reading about this and thinking about if this passes, my life will change in x way, what is the number one thing you think it will do for them?

JONES: If you are one of the 182,000 people who are in a federal prison, every one of those people, if they stay out of trouble, their sentences can come down a little bit. Now they have incentive to stay out of trouble. And for 100,000, if they take classes, if they get job ready, they can come home even sooner. So now everybody in the federal prisons has a reason to behave better and half of them have a reason to get job ready to come home. That transforms the culture of the federal prisons. You took out good time, and you had bad activity and bad outcomes. Put the good time back in, something positive is going to happen.

HARLOW: Let's see what happens and let's see if some of those Democrats who were critical of it will be in favor, Van. Thank you --

JONES: We took those concerns seriously, and the new bill has a lot of fixes in it.

HARLOW: OK. They will all read it. Thank you. We appreciate you being here, really good to have you.

So parents, listen up, stunning new numbers this morning on kids smoking these e-cigarettes. It's on the rise in middle schoolers and high schoolers. And it's prompting the FDA to take new action. We'll explain next.


[10:57:04] HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. Wait until you hear these numbers, staggering new stats on the rise of e-cigarette use among young people. Use of these cigarettes among middle schoolers has risen 48 percent and is up 78 percent among high schoolers.

SCIUTTO: Those disturbing numbers have pushed the U.S. FDA Food and Drug Administration to propose new tough measures this morning. Joining us now is Polo Sandoval. There's already an age limit for purchase of these cigarettes. What kind of regulations are they talking about?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, Jim, these are regulations that are supposed to combat what the feds consider to be a real health crisis that is facing a new generation here. I mean think about the flavors here. Bubble gum, vanilla cream, these are flavors of e- cigarettes that would be appealing to adolescents. The results are this new sets of proposed regulations that were just released by the federal government here most recently, mainly the FDA commissioner here. And the one that I really want to highlight here is the one that would essentially ban the sale of flavored e-cigarette products in convenience stores and in gas stations.

The FDA basically wants to make it harder for children to get their hands on these products, and they would only be available in certain locations like tobacco shops, vaping stores, for example. The FDA is making these proposals based on real numbers. The ones you just showed up on the screen.

Let's bring them back up again so you can see some of these brand-new just recently released numbers from this year. A 2018 National Tobacco Youth Survey showing a 78 percent increase among high schoolers and nearly 50 percent increase among middle schoolers using e-cigarettes. The total number right now, guys, of adolescents using e-cigarettes is 3.6 million -


SANDOVAL: -- compare that to last year's number of 1.5 million. So it really is concerning right now.

HARLOW: One thing that I noticed that you put up there that is changing or this regulation would change is how -- these are a lot of big tobacco companies that make cigarettes. How they can market to kids. Remember, that's what they went after big tobacco on in the '90s, was this marketing, so they're also trying to do it this time, going after how they market - that seems to be directed at kids, right?

SANDOVAL: And this is also something that our colleague Dr. Sanjay Gupta had been reporting on is this perceived harmlessness at this vaping or e-cigarettes not necessarily cause any damage. Well, of course, officials and the science seem to indicate otherwise. And the government certainly is in an interesting place here, right? They have to recognize that this could provide an off-ramp for adults who are trying to get off regular cigarettes.


SANDOVAL: But with the flavor factor that then could provide an on- ramp for middle and high schoolers too.

SCIUTTO: When the flavor is cookies and cream, it is a little doubt as to who you're trying to market that after, it seems. Polo Sandoval thanks very much.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, guys.

SCIUTTO: As always --

HARLOW: Thanks for being with us today. I'm Poppy Harlow. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. "At This Hour" with Kate Bolduan starts right now.