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Pelosi Faces Opposition; Judge Rule on CNN Case; U.S. Drops Key Demand of North Korea. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 16, 2018 - 09:30   ET

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


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[09:31:58] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, a new challenger may be stepping into the ring to challenge Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. Ohio Democrat Marsha Fudge says that she is considering a run and gets -- getting a lot of support from fellow House remembers.

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REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D), OHIO: I held the majority, too, as have most of us. I traveled the country. I raise money. I contributed money. Certainly not as much as she, but she didn't do this by herself. She also was the person who over the last eight years lost seats. It's one thing to give people credit for winning, if you also make them responsible for losing.

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SCIUTTO: Strong words.

Let's discuss with Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He is also running for assistant Democratic leader.

Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D), RHODE ISLAND: My pleasure. Good to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So, congressman, I know you're a supporter of Nancy Pelosi here, but you heard the criticism from your colleague Marcia Fudge. Is that a fair criticism that's credit for the Democrats gains in the midterms should be spread around more widely than Nancy Pelosi?

CICILLINE: Well, look, I think that Leader Pelosi has been very clear that this is a Democratic victory that belongs to everyone. Everyone in the caucus worked hard. As she's been our leader, she obviously worked particularly hard traveling the country, raising money and bringing us into the majority. But she's never said she did it alone. This is a collective effort. We had a great chair at the DCCC. He had DPCC with great message. But, most of all, we had extraordinary candidates who worked hard, who raised the money, who won their elections.

So I think this was a collective effort by Democrats all across the country and, most importantly, by voters who wanted to be sure that they were electing people who would focus on the issues important to them.

So, you know, this is an exciting time for the Democrats. We have the biggest, most diverse caucus in our history, which I think is terrific --

SCIUTTO: OK.

CICILLINE: And we'll have leadership elections when we come back after November. I mean after Thanksgiving.

SCIUTTO: Credit -- credit to the party's gains, but this is a very public and divisive battle for the party over leadership. Is this damaging the party coming out of the midterms to have this battle?

CICILLINE: No, I don't actually -- I don't -- I don't think it's divisive. Look, this is how our democracy works. We have lots of new members. We have lots of candidates running for lots of leadership positions. That's a healthy thing for the caucus. It's a healthy thing for our democracy. People are going to see that play out. That's how it should work.

We have a lot of talent in the caucus. We have a lot of new members who bring extraordinary gifts and great assets to the caucus. They're going to want to be sure their voices are heard. So I think that's a healthy thing.

I mean the good news is, we're in the majority. We can move forward on reducing health care costs, rebuilding the infrastructure in our country and raising family incomes and taking on the pervasive corruption in Washington. That's the agenda for House Democrats. And we'll sort out the leadership. My hope is that it will be diverse and fully reflective of the great diversity of our caucus. But this is an interfamily discussion and it's a good problem to have.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's a public one, too.

Let's talk -- let's talk about the Robert Mueller investigation.

[09:35:00] There are deep concerns among your party, and even some Republicans, about the position, the security of the position of Robert Mueller, the special counsel. The Democrats now have the House. What can you do without Republican support in the Senate, the Senate majority leader there refusing to bring a bill before the Senate, but what can you do to protect the special counsel?

CICILLINE: Well, we obviously have legislation specifically for this purpose, to be certain that the special counsel cannot be removed but for cause and there is a judicial review if that happens. We have been imploring our House Republican colleagues to join us in this effort and to move the bill. They have not so far. There has been some effort to see if there's a way to add that to a must pass appropriations bill so we can protect Mr. Mueller. Republicans used to say, oh, this is not necessary. Mr. Mueller's not in any danger. Hopefully they recognize that's not the case anymore. But, obviously, if they're unwilling to do that with us, we're going to have to wait until we become the majority. And I think we'll bring Mr. Whitaker in and also pass the legislation to protect him.

But this is part of the president's ongoing effort to impede or stop or undermine this investigation. He seems to be particularly frenzied right now, the sense that this is coming to some conclusion that is going to be unfavorable and he puts in a, you know, political hatchet man to -- as the acting director of the -- acting attorney general I think in an effort to, again, try to impede or stop or shut this investigation down. We cannot let that happen. The American people deserve to know the truth. And we need to protect Mr. Mueller.

SCIUTTO: Well, let me ask you this, because a lot of attention is focused on precipitous moves, the firing of Robert Mueller, the firing of the attorney general. Is it your concern now that, as you mentioned, Matthew Whitaker is the acting attorney general, someone who publically has opposed this investigation, criticized this investigation, that that so-called Saturday night massacre, so recall the Nixon years, is happening in front of the country's eyes now?

CICILLINE: Absolutely. It's a --

SCIUTTO: The president already has the ability to restrict this investigation.

CICILLINE: It's a slow motion Saturday night massacre and we have -- this is a real crisis, as Chairman Nadler says, Ranking Member Nadler says. We have got to do everything we can to make sure that we protect this investigation, protect the team that Mueller has assembled, not allowing the acting attorney general to interfere. There's litigation in Maryland right now challenging his appointment, real questions about whether it's constitutional. He's not Senate confirmed. He sort of was plucked out for the express purpose of protecting the president. That's not the role of the attorney general.

So this is, I think, one of the consequences -- one of the reasons we won the election. People want accountable. They want oversight of this administration. They expect Democrats to hold the administration accountable. And when we're in charge, we will do that.

SCIUTTO: Congressman David Cicilline, thanks very much.

CICILLINE: Thank you.

HARLOW: So, moments from now, a federal judge is expected to rule in the CNN lawsuit over press access to the White House. You will hear that decision right here. Stay with us.

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[09:42:04] HARLOW: Minutes from now we are expecting to hear a judge's initial ruling in CNN's lawsuit over press access to the White House. The judge set to decide if our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta will temporarily get his press conference back. But even after today, the battle far from over.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now is CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.

So today the decision is just -- or expected to be just on the temporary restraining order, in other words, the emergency relief that CNN sought to get his pass restored, but would likely give an indication, would it not, of the judge's approach of the broader question?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, of where -- which direction he is leaning in. You know, think about this as the top layer of the cake. The temporary restraining order is an argument that every day Acosta is kept out of the White House it's a violation of the First Amendment. So it's an ongoing damage. And that's why CNN is saying give back the pass temporarily, give back the pass temporarily while the underlying legal arguments can be fought over. That would happen in the weeks to come.

So we're going to find out this morning if the judge is granting that temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and giving Acosta his press pass back for a couple of weeks. But then, no matter what happens, this will be debated in a larger context, in a larger hearing, this is, of course, unless the White House settles.

HARLOW: And, again, just a reminder to people, this isn't just about Jim Acosta and CNN. This is about press freedom, press access to the White House. One of the top officials in the White House Communications Office, Mercedes Schlapp, did an interview with "The Washington Post," yesterday, Robert Costa, and she was asked, look, is the White House considering yanking other passes?

STELTER: Yes.

HARLOW: She could have said no. She didn't.

STELTER: Right. Instead -- instead of saying no, she said, I'm not going to get into our internal deliberations. But we know from the president's own words last week that he has thought about yanking other reporter's press passes. That's why Fox News and the AP, NBC and "The New York Times," virtually every major news outlet in the country, has lined up with CNN in this lawsuit because there's concern that today it's Acosta but tomorrow it could be somebody else.

There's actually only one outlet I've seen that's supporting the White House. That's this small, conservative cable channel called OANM. They say Acosta is rude and he takes away time from other reporters. But, look, there's a lot of reporters at the White House who ask a lot of questions. Acosta's not the only one who tries to be aggressive and ask follow-up questions. In fact, that's part of the beauty of our free press is that lots of reporters get to ask lots of questions.

So it is notable that almost every news outlet is standing with CNN in this case. And even if there is a rejection of that temporary restraining order today, it does not mean the case won't go forward and it does not mean that CNN won't prevail eventually. In fact, this will eventually get appealed probably. This could go on for a while. But today is round one. SCIUTTO: The question is, do you want to give a president, and future presidents, the ability to make that decision and to decide to exclude someone based on their impression, right, of the questions they ask?

STELTER: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Brian Stelter, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

STELTER: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Other news we're following, North Korea has tested a new high-tech weapon with Leader Kim Jong-un right there looking on. What does this mean for nuclear disarmament talks with the U.S.?

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[09:49:19] SCIUTTO: Is this a message, an alarming one, for the U.S.? North Korea has now tested a newly developed ultra-modern, they call it, weapon right in the middle of nuclear negotiations with the U.S. According to state media, the test was under the supervision of Kim Jong-un himself.

HARLOW: It also comes as Vice President Mike Pence backs off what was a key U.S. demand. He is saying that North Korea no longer has to provide a list of nuclear and missile sites before a second potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Let's go to our global affairs analyst, Kimberly Dozier. She joins us now.

I mean that is striking, right, Pence's confirmation that the U.S. is backing down essentially on one of the key demands the U.S. has put out there and yet the president may have a second summit with Kim Jong-un despite that. What does the Trump administration have to show so far for these negotiations with Kim?

[09:50:15] KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, not much. And it seems what North Korea is learning is that every time it pushes hard, the U.S. blinks. I mean, look, just last week, the senior North Korean official canceled a meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, though they said the meeting was just postponed. And we also had a think tank CSIS say from their analysis of satellite photos, North Korea is continuing to work on its ballistic missiles weapons program.

Now, North Korea knows that if CSIS can see that, definitely U.S. intelligence can see it. So the message is, we're going to keep working on all of these weapons systems until you give us the concessions we're looking for, which is that they want sanctions lifted.

SCIUTTO: Yes. In the midst of this, we know that China has been weakening, and Russia too, undermining the international sanctions regime on North Korea. If that is happening, and that's been the primary pressure point, leverage from the Trump administration during these negotiations, if those sanctions are being weakened, what incentive does North Korea have to make concessions to the U.S.?

DOZIER: Well, I think that's true. And what you're also seeing is that South Korea is adding to the pressure when the North and South Korean leaders met. They agreed to increase trade, open up routes between the two countries. Things they can't do unless U.N. sanctions are lifted.

But just by saying it out loud, that they've agreed to do this, that together with China signals that North Korea's most close neighbors, South Korea and China, and, in a sense, its best supporters, are putting the pressure on the U.S. to hurry up and come up with some sort of a deal. And what you see in response is that the president is offering this great prestige of another meeting, possibly in the United States, maybe at Mar-a-Lago. So, you know, the message from -- that you see Pyongyang getting is every time we misbehave, we actually get a little bit more for it.

HARLOW: Now, that said, Kimberly, North Korea has now said that it will deport an American citizen who is detained there a month ago in North Korea, and officials say that this person illegally entered the country. How significant is that? Sign of good faith?

DOZIER: Well, that -- it's positive that they're not keeping him, and making an example out of him to embarrass Washington.

HARLOW: Right.

DOZIER: But, you know, my fear is that at some point President Trump will get eventually infuriated by what North Korea is doing, and that he will start becoming more aggressive, and that these talks could break down. The other risk, though, is that he will lose faith in his own negotiators and say, if I can see him directly, I can fix this. And that just gives more strength to the North Korean position.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, that was his posture going into the Singapore summit. There were no concrete concessions out of there. So we'll see next time.

HARLOW: Yes, good point.

Kim Dozier, have a nice weekend. Thanks so much.

DOZIER: Thanks.

HARLOW: WikiLeaks founding Julian Assange could possibly be facing criminal charges. What would that mean and how could it be tied to the special counsel's Russia investigation?

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[09:57:53] HARLOW: All right, so this morning, shares of FaceBook are down nearly 3 percent after falling about that much yesterday following a damning "New York Times" report about how the company responded to several crises, including Russian election meddling and data privacy breaches, including hiring a PR firm to dig up dirt on its competitors to deflect attention away from its internal issues.

Now, much of the blame in this "New York Times" extensive investigative piece was aimed right at FaceBook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandburg. In an interview this morning with CBS, Sandburg defended herself. Here's part of what she said. Quote, the article saying that I was spending time hiding, deflecting or hiring PR firms to do other things, that's just all not true. I wasn't involved in any of that. And I don't think that that was the strategy at all.

SCIUTTO: FaceBook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also weighed in during a press conference on Thursday, pushing back against the thrust of "The New York Times" story.

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MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, FACEBOOK: I've said many times before that we were too slow to spot Russian interference, too slow to found (ph) it and too slow to get on top of it. And we have certainly stumbled along the way. But to suggest that we weren't interested in knowing the truth or that we wanted to hide what we knew or that we tried to prevent investigations is simply untrue.

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SCIUTTO: Well, a spokesperson for "The New York Times" tells CNN that their story is accurate and that they're standing by it.

Top of the hour. A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. We're so glad you're with us.

At any moment, a federal judge in Washington is expected to hand down his initial ruling on CNN's groundbreaking lawsuit against the Trump administration. Here's the issue, press credentials, press access to the White House, specifically for CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, credentials the White House revoked after a contentious post-midterm news conference. You will hear what the judge has decided in just minutes.

SCIUTTO: We're also following an apparent clerical slip that suggests the feds have finally decided to prosecute Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder's last name popped up for no apparent reason in a court filing in an unrelated case.

[10:00:02] Also this morning, another story, it just gets bigger every day. More than 600 people are now said