Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Unsealed Court Filing Reveals WikiLeaks Founder Could Face Criminal Charges; Trump Met with Lawyers About Mueller Questions; More than 600 People Missing in California's Camp Fire; Florida Senate Race Heads to a Manual Recount; Judge Asks White House to Reinstate Jim Acosta's Hard Pass; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 16, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Also this morning, another story just gets bigger every day. More than 600 people are now said to remain missing in the California wildfires. A staggering increase from yesterday. We will be live in what's left of Paradise, California, in just a moment.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: But we begin with what prosecutors in Virginia are calling an administrative error. The name Assange, we all know that name, Julian Assange, of course, they're saying it has no apparent connection to a routine motion filed months ago in an unrelated case. But it certainly suggests that the WikiLeaks founder might soon be in a major legal fight of his own.

SCIUTTO: Let's go to CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett.

So, Laura, it looks like the lawyer here used a template, right, for another case, and that revealed Assange's name. But do we know what particular path prosecutors are taking here? What are they prosecuting him for?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, good morning. That's the big question on everybody's minds right now after this colossal, massive error, just uncovered last night for the first time, even though it had been sitting on the public docket since earlier this month. Unfolding last night after a fellow at George Washington University discovered it, posted it on Twitter, and it's all part of this unrelated case having nothing to do with Assange at all, but it was an opportunity for the prosecutors to try to keep it under seal.

And as they were trying to keep this other matter under wraps, they made two explicit references to charges against Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder. And I just want to read one part of it from one of the filings to you here, Jim. It says, "The complaint's supporting affidavit and arrest warrant as well as this motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter."

Now we asked a spokesman over there in the eastern district of Virginia what is this, how did this happen, they say it is a court filing that was made in error. Joshua Stevie said it again today. So clearly they are admitting that this was an error. It had nothing to do with Assange, but raising questions about what is this criminal complaint against him, what could the charges be, could it have to do with the DNC hack, the result of the distribution of thousands of e- mails that we saw during the 2016 campaign, or could it have to do with things that happened years ago, as WikiLeaks has essentially disseminated thousands, a treasure trove of important classified government materials dating even back to the former Army intelligence officer Chelsea Manning back in the Obama administration. So we wait to see exactly what charges could be at issue here.

HARLOW: OK, Laura Jarrett, thank you for the reporting. I know you'll stay on it for us.

Let's go to the White House now where we have learned that this week alone the president has spend three days crafting answers to Robert Mueller's questions on collusion. Those answers could land on the special counsel's desk as soon as today.

Our Sarah Westwood joins us.

So, you know, we haven't heard from the president yet today. Clear, though, his nerves are sort of shaken, potentially about all of this. What can you tell us?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's right, Poppy. And the president has been lashing out repeatedly at Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he's been huddling with his lawyers three days in a row this week, ironing out answers to the written questions that the special counsel submitted to the president. The president again referring to this probe as a witch hunt. Going after the Mueller probe, calling it -- its inner workings a total mess.

This as his lawyer Rudy Giuliani tells "The Washington Post" that there's potentially some what he described as possible traps among the more than two dozen questions that the White House has received from the special counsel. And meanwhile, this is all taking place against the backdrop of broader turmoil in the Trump administration as the president weighs a shakeup of his Cabinet. He's already, as you know, ousted the attorney general.

He's looking at other major changes to his senior staff. But top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters this morning that the president is not frustrated by the speculation over potential staffing shakeups and she denied or downplayed the possibility that we will see some big changes ahead. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president was frustrated by the special counsel --

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT: He's not frustrated by it. I think he's frustrated about Congress failing to act on immigration. If he's frustrated about anything, it's that this town just doesn't keep pace with his rate of change. He wants to make even more changes. He wants to make sure that we don't go backwards on what is clearly a humming and successful economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now sources have told CNN that the president has been in a dark mood since the midterm elections. And as we are looking at this turmoil within the Trump administration, as you mentioned, Poppy and Jim, the answer to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's questions could be at the special counsel's office as soon as today.

HARLOW: OK.

SCIUTTO: Sarah Westwood, at the White House, thanks very much.

[10:05:02] Let's discuss now with Rick Santorum, he's CNN senior political commentator, also former senator from Pennsylvania, and Symone Sanders, CNN political commentator as well.

Senator Santorum, if I could begin with you, the president and his lawyers, they got what they wanted. They got the take-home test in effect. Written questions that they would reply written answers to. Now we hear that the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani is complaining about some of those written questions. He calls them unnecessary. He goes on to say there are some that create more issues for us legally than others.

Why can't the president of the United States answer written questions from a special counsel?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he will. I mean, he's in the process of doing so. And I think he will answer them. Obviously, you know, Director Mueller is someone who is a pretty smart cookie when it comes to trying to, you know, get information. And I'm sure they put some pretty challenging questions out there. And pushed the envelope on the president. And it's up to him and his lawyers to make sure that they truthfully answer those and do so in a way that obviously protects their client.

SCIUTTO: But isn't that the thing? They truthfully answer them, because they use this term again, perjury trap. I mean, the way, like a speed trap, you avoid a speed trap by not speeding. With a perjury trap, you avoid that by just giving a truthful answer, don't you?

SANTORUM: Yes, look, I mean, one of the challenges that the president's team has is that, you know, the president can depart from the truth at times. And so I think it's really important for them, and it's probably why it's taken longer. It's probably why they're not going to put the president in front of the -- in a direct interview with Mueller and his staff. They've goy have to really hone down and pound him to get the ground truth on a lot of these issues. So I hate to say it, but it probably takes a little longer.

SCIUTTO: I'm going to write the phrase down, the president can depart from the truth sometimes.

SANTORUM: I said that more than once.

(LAUGHTER)

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If I can be a little more blunt, Jim and Poppy, I think the President has lied, and he's a known liar and lies about small things, things that folks don't even know why he chooses to lie about them, and that is in fact why his lawyers are very concerned about him answering questions in person and on paper from the special counsel.

HARLOW: Symone, let me also get you on this because, you know, when you talk about the importance of press freedom and real news -- we're about to get the ruling from the judge in the CNN case against the White House in terms of press access. And we've also learned overnight that the president's top pick right now, the person our reporting has him leaning to, to potentially pick to be the U.N. ambassador for the U.S., Heather Nauert, was asked about how dictators around the world have used this fake news rallying cry, sort of echoing President Trump.

Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: When the President has spoken about fake news, when other world leaders have spoken about fake news, there is such a thing. One news magazine, for example, referring taking the secretary's quote about Iran and twisting that quote and making it inaccurate. That information was used by the Iranian regime, for example, and I can give you all the details, for its own propaganda purposes. So fake news, I hate to say, but is a real thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: She is, Symone, a former ABC News reporter, former FOX News reporter. What's your reaction?

SANDERS: I think this is dangerous. You know, as a communications professional, I have definitely been in situations with reporters for a candidate or for a client but I don't like what the reporter wrote, I don't like what the reporters are saying, I don't like the reporter's, quote-unquote, "interpretation" or their editorializing about an issue, but that doesn't mean it's fake news.

And I think that we have to protect journalism. I think what makes America different than other places around the world is that we do operate with a free, fair, and open press. And we have to protect that. I think we have to -- you know, it's important for folks to have a great working relationship with reporters, but fake news is dangerous. When journalists and folks are literally putting their lives on the line across the world, when people -- Jamal Khashoggi, he lost his life for speaking out and telling the truth and being critical with his words on paper.

This is serious business. And I think it's very dangerous for the administration to be trafficking in this conspiracy theory, if you will, of fake news. (CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: The thing is, Senator Santorum --

SANTORUM: I can't disagree more with that. Now let's just be honest here. Journalists have to protect journalism. And we all know because CNN, I understand, I mean, I work here and I know they work very hard to get it accurate, but let me just be honest. There are lots of news networks out there in this new media world where --

SANDERS: Like Breitbart? Like Infowars?

SANTORUM: -- everything is coming off unfiltered --

SANDERS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: Now hold on.

SCIUTTO: One at a time, please.

SANTORUM: Symone, let me finish. I let you talk. Let me finish. So the idea that because of the technology wave and the rush to get the story right out there the first time, not right, but just to get it out there, we have seen a degradation of the quality of news.

[10:10:11] And as a result you do see a lot of fake news out there, you do see a lot of opinion leaking into the hard news cycle. And that is real. And if journalism just wants to say, oh, that doesn't happen, there is no such thing as fake news, I'm sorry. The public isn't buying it because it's not true.

SCIUTTO: But, Senator, here's the difference.

SANDERS: Well, if I can just say --

SCIUTTO: Here's the difference. Symone, I want to give you a chance, but because I cover this deeply, fake news is a real thing. Fake news is something that's been weaponized by authoritarian states such as Russia. It was injected into our election in 2016.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Absolutely fake news. And I'm not -- the thing is I'm not denying there is mistaken reporting out there. CNN has made mistakes.

SANTORUM: No, and there's twisted reporting.

SCIUTTO: And acknowledge those mistakes.

SANTORUM: I'm not talking about you.

SCIUTTO: Would you grant that's not the same thing as deliberately fake news which is what the president claims. The president claims repeatedly that reporters make news up, make sources up out of the either which is not true.

SANTORUM: Well, what they do is that they report things that are not well sourced and is not --

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Yes, but that's it. That's not what the president says. That's not what the president claims.

SANTORUM: But that is -- but that feeds their agenda. And that's fake news. So if you're reporting something that you don't have good sources on or you haven't really checked out but it comports with the story line you want, that's fake news. That's just as guilty as making it up.

SANDERS: No, so I think we have conflated a few things. I think fake news has now become synonymous with news we do not like. And that's not true. If we want to talk specifically about fake news, i.e. altered information, information that is not true, those are things that come from the annals of the Internet, like Breitbart in some instances. Like Infowars.

SANTORUM: Left and right. You just mentioned two on the right.

SANDERS: That is -- no, no.

SANTORUM: How about some on the left?

SANDERS: I mean -- OK, those are instances -- these are outlets that the White House has now brought into the White House that they have labeled as actual journalism, when that is not real journalism. But when you're talking about news that maybe reporters don't get all the facts together, that's not fake news. Those are errors in journalism. I think we have to hold reporters accountable.

Again, I worked for folks when they had my candidate or my principle or my issue wrong, but that doesn't mean it's fake news. So we have to be careful with the language here because we could slip real quickly into a place where we are demonizing journalism, and we're in a place where the American public doesn't believe what's written on the front -- doesn't even believe what's written on the front page of newspapers anymore.

HARLOW: We could slip into a place? I mean, we've slipped.

SANDERS: We're there. Right.

HARLOW: We're in a place where real news is, you know, yes. All right, thank you both. It's an important conversation. You will be back. Have a good weekend, Symone Sanders, Rick Santorum.

At any moment, on this issue, a federal judge is expected to rule on the CNN lawsuit against the Trump administration over press access to the White House. We're on top of that.

Also, to Florida. Florida racing to recount votes in a tight Senate race. You're looking at live pictures of work that's been going on around the clock here. These ballots now being counted by hand.

SCIUTTO: And just the devastating news from California. Now more than 600 people are missing. That in just one of California's major wildfires still blazing. 600. We're going to be live in California next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:17:48] SCIUTTO: This morning, more than 600 people remain missing in northern California's Camp Fire, just an astonishing number. It's risen over the last several days. Officials say at least 63 people have now been confirmed killed in what is already the deadliest, most destructive fire in the state's history. Those who were able to evacuate are giving chilling details of their escape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA WHITAKER, EVACUATED CAMP FIRE: I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see. It was black and red and it was terrifying. I really thought that's how I was going to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Unreal. Our Scott McLean is in Paradise, California, for us again this morning.

So I mean, we hear these harrowing stories of people abandoning their cars, abandoning their cars as they're trying to evacuate, and now this number, 600 plus believed missing.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pretty scary number, Poppy. One quick thing, one quick update we've just gotten from firefighters and that they've managed to get this fire -- 45, excuse, percent contained. It's now grown to 142,000 acres. Obviously, they're getting a reprieve with the lack of windy conditions. And they're hoping to get this fire under control quickly.

That number, though, you mentioned, though, is pretty staggering. And it's gone up. It's more than doubled since yesterday. More than 600 now. And the reason is because authorities believe that or authorities, excuse me, have been going back through 911 calls and police reports that were filed in the early hours, the early frantic hours of this that may have been set aside to make sure that anyone reported missing at that time is added to the list.

The good news is that many of the folks on that list are probably safe and sound. It's just a matter of having them check in with authorities. The bigger concern for the well over 20,000 people who are out of their homes is finding a place to stay. Of course, there are hotels, many of them are booked. It's almost impossible to get a room within, say, an hour radius of here. There are also shelters. But many of them are jam-packed and four of them we know are also dealing with the Nor virus outbreak.

And so that's not a very appealing option for a lot of people. And so yesterday we found that many people have just resorted to staying in tents, in a Walmart parking lot, or staying in their cars. And that one woman, Jennifer Fitzgerald, she was staying in her friend's car, actually, in that parking lot with her 7-year-old daughter.

[10:20:05] She's also lost her job doing home care work in Paradise. Obviously, there's no one left in Paradise to care for. I asked her what's next. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER FITZGERALD, LOST HOME IN WILDFIRE: That's where I don't know. I'm kind of stuck. Like I don't know where -- if I'm going to stay here or leave because if I stay here, I mean, I don't know if there's ever going to be a Paradise again. You know, I don't know if -- it's going to be a long time, I'm sure. Everything is gone. So I don't know. That's the hard part right now, is what I'm going to do next.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCLEAN: And Jim and Poppy, there are also questions being raised about the effectiveness of the emergency alert system that texts you or calls landlines to warn you to evacuate. Many people say that they never got that alert or if they did, it came quite late. The sheriff defended the system this week, though, saying that this fire just moved so quickly, it was difficult to stay on top of it. He also said that some people may have gotten the alert and just chosen to ignore it.

The president, he will be here tomorrow to survey the damage for himself and speak with a lot of people like Jennifer Fitzgerald. And as I said earlier, it's not going to take much to find them.

SCIUTTO: Someone has got to help those people find shelter that they can live in.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: And survive in. It's remarkable.

Scott McLean, thanks very much.

HARLOW: So we're also awaiting a decision any moment now from a federal judge in Washington, D.C. Expected to rule in CNN's lawsuit over press credentials. Press freedom at the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:26:12] SCIUTTO: Well, we've seen recount 2.0. Now it is hand recount 2.0. A look now at Broward County, Florida, this is where they're doing it. Officials here and in counties across the state have until noon Sunday to recount by hand some of the ballots cast in the state's Senate race.

Right now Republican Rick Scott leads incumbent Bill Nelson, the Democrat, by just 12,000 votes.

HARLOW: Let's go to Jessica Dean, our colleague in West Palm, Florida. So what's the latest?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you guys. We are here in West Palm Beach, Florida. They have not started the hand recount here. That's scheduled at 11:00 a.m. We have seen volunteers trickling in. All across Florida, in every county. Volunteers are going through and evaluating overvotes and undervotes. An overvote is where the machine read more than one vote in a particular race. And undervote is where the machine didn't read any vote in a particular race. So they need human eyes to take a look at this and discern what was the voter intent.

HARLOW: OK.

DEAN: So we're going to be taking a lot at. We'll keep an eye on it, guys.

SCIUTTO: Jessica, thanks.

We've got to break in here because we do have breaking news now. Just in to CNN, a federal judge has sided with CNN saying the White House was wrong to revoke our colleague Jim Acosta's press pass. Federal Judge Timothy Kelly ordering the White House to reinstate his press pass. This --

HARLOW: Immediately.

SCIUTTO: Initial victory to reinstate because they had sought immediate relief, emergency relief to this. So a victory in this case. You can say broader, more than for CNN, for press freedom.

HARLOW: Right. Again, this is about all press access to the White House. Whether the administration or any administration likes questions asked or the tone they're asked in or not, this is about the First Amendment and the Fifth Amendment.

Our experts are with us, chief media correspondent Brian Stelter and our chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, to you on the law, this seems to be from what we're seeing initially even more of a Fifth Amendment due process win here.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Right, and it doesn't necessarily mean Jim Acosta and CNN's ordeal is over. But there should be no ambiguity, CNN and Jim Acosta won in court today. But what the judge said was if you are going to take away a hard pass, there has to be some sort of explanation. Some sort of process, some sort of standards for doing that if you're going to -- if you're going to threaten First Amendment rights in this way.

SCIUTTO: Right.

TOOBIN: So basically what the judge has done has thrown this issue back to the White House and said, OK. There may be a justification for you to take away Jim Acosta's press pass, but you have to create and establish and follow some rules to do that. And let him understand what he's accused of violating and let him defend himself. But in the meantime, he gets his press pass back, and the status quo returns.

SCIUTTO: So wait, until this point, to revoke a hard pass as it's called, you would need to be a threat to the president. Is that right? Based on a Secret Service judgment.

HARLOW: That's right.

SCIUTTO: Is the judge inviting the White House to create new rules here?

TOOBIN: Well, I think the judge is inviting -- not inviting, he's requiring the White House both to clarify what the rules are that justify taking away a hard pass, as these passes are known. Plus, giving the hard pass owner, Jim Acosta or the next person in charge, some opportunity to say that's not fair. It's not right. Create some sort of process for --

SCIUTTO: Right.

TOOBIN: Rather than just taking it away willy-nilly.

HARLOW: And Brian, the argument that CNN's attorneys made here is that this was capricious and arbitrary, doing this against Jim Acosta and against CNN. And this is the judge agreeing with that in part.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And at times this judge, a Trump appointee, seemed to emphasize --

(END)