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CNN NEWSROOM

California Wildfires; interview with Mayor of Paradise, California; CIA Concludes Saudi Prince Ordered Journalists' Killing; Mueller Probe; Dems Split on Choice for House Speaker; Women Sue Dartmouth University. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired November 17, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[10:59:43] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It's 11:00 on the East Coast. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

NEWSROOM starts right now.

Destruction and despair in parts of California. At least 74 people dead and more than a thousand others missing in wildfires burning across the state. The so-called Camp Fire in northern California has become the deadliest and most destructive fire in that state's history.

Thousands are now living in makeshift campgrounds. Their homes singed and completely burned out. And their futures uncertain, including in the destroyed town of Paradise where half the police force is now homeless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OFFICER DAVID AKIN, PARADISE POLICE: My 3-year-old son keeps asking why can't we just go home? And -- I don't know what to tell him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Soon President Trump is expected to arrive and see the desperation firsthand. Alongside California's governor and governor- elect, the President spoke about his shock at the damage before leaving the White House this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a shame. It seems that many more people are missing than anyone thought even possible. And I want to be with the firefighters and the FEMA and first responders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Families are finding signs of hope and fear on message boards like this one in Chico. It shows photos of those missing and notes written by loved ones trying to find them. Five of the 71 victims in the Camp Fire in northern California have been identified now. Nearly 60 others have been tentatively identified. The fire has burned through 148,000 acres -- that's the size of

comparable to the city of Chicago. Over 9,000 homes are destroyed and the fire is only 55 percent contained.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in nearby Chico, California. And I see some of the tent cities -- what has become kind of a tent city behind you where people have nowhere else to turn. Tell me about what everyone is facing.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right -- Fred.

As the sun rises here in Chico, light is being shed on this pop-up city. It's outside a Walmart. We counted hundreds of tents here. And also you can see the haze -- the air quality is absolutely horrific.

No doubt there are some people staying in this tent city -- when you talk about these sheer numbers -- who might be on that, we'll call it the unaccounted for list that is more than a thousand. This is interesting.

The sheriff made this point. He wanted journalists to put these numbers into context. He said this is just raw data. In no way did he ever say during this news conference that these people are presumed dead.

He said that this list was compiled from so many different areas, e- mails, phone calls, going back through early 911 dispatches. And with this unaccounted for list it wasn't a case of just a relative saying I know, for example, that my uncle is missing. It could be as simple as I know there's a guy down the street, I'm not sure what his last name is, that person would be on this list. And he says there are cases where there might be duplication where someone might be Mr. Smyth spelled with a y, Mr. Smith spelled with an I.

Now, in the middle of all of this agonizing, because the sheriff is requesting that anybody who thinks that their loved one might be dead should submit DNA samples. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN MEER, CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER, ANDE: At this point we're working full speed with the coroner to identify remains. Our need now is for parents and children of missing -- that have missing family members to go to the missing -- I'm sorry, to the family assistance center at the old sears building at Chico mall between 9:00 a.m. And 7:00 p.m. To have a DNA swab collected for comparison purposes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: Identifying remains, one of the big tasks today.

Back to you now -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Paul Vercammen -- somber, somber reality -- thank you so much. Appreciate that. So Paradise which has been, you know, ground zero of the most devastating fires is a city of 26,000 residents. And many of them have been retirees and others who just wanted to be away from the bustle of bigger city life before the devastation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER FITZGERALD, PARADISE RESIDENT: 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.

And 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)

WHITFIELD: I'm joined now on the phone by Jody Jones. She is the mayor of Paradise, California.

And Mayor Jones -- you also lost your home, as did your center, your husband's office building was destroyed. We're talking about homes, lives, livelihoods -- all of it lost there in Paradise. So just like the woman who just said, now what?

[11:05:00] MAYOR JODY JONES, PARADISE, CALIFORNIA (via telephone): Now what? Well, I'm committed to rebuilding as are everyone else on the town council and many people that I know.

A friend of mind posted yesterday on Facebook. "Paradise is not gone, it's just closed for remodeling." Which made me smile but -- and it's not true that it's all gone either. There are some really key things that a community needs that are still standing.

Our town hall, our police department, our library, our high school, our hospital, which has to be recertified, but it's still there. We still have two of our grocery stores with the shopping center around them, our hardware store. Our Starbucks is still there. So there are things to build around.

WHITFIELD: And so is that what's getting you through these toughest moments, you're already thinking about recovering, rebuilding, hoping that people who are displaced, who survived this fire, will make their way back and start anew?

JONES: Yes, that and the people themselves. Paradise was a very special community, very close knit, friendly, lots of opportunities for community service, people who did things to help other people all the time. It was just a special place. And the people are what make it.

WHITFIELD: So we're talking about more than a thousand people who are still missing, unaccounted for. There are message boards. People have put up photographs. Notes saying if you've seen this person.

We just heard an official talking about collecting DNA samples, saliva samples that will be run through a machine that might help be matched up with any kind of remains that have been found. Those are the grizzly details.

But in general, how are you, how are officials able to assist in finding any of those who are missing and possibly just those who have relocated?

JONES: Well, there's a registry. So the sheriff is handling all of that, but there's a place where anybody who thinks somebody is missing can let the sheriff know. And that he did say last night that there are over a thousand people on that list but they're not sure that there aren't duplicates in that list. So hopefully that number will come down.

And they have teams of people out there looking for these folks. And then the shelters are assisting so they're able to match, if there's somebody in a shelter or not, by the lists of people that are in the shelters. So we just keep looking.

WHITFIELD: And Mayor Jones -- everyone is going through so much. I mean this is unbelievable, you know, hardship. But there's also been some criticism, earlier this week at a town meeting in your area, people were complaining of not being adequately evacuated, not being informed adequately about the potential danger while they smelled smoke in the air.

There is criticism of officials, including of you. How do you respond to those who are just beside themselves saying that the city could have done more. You, as the mayor, could have done more as they reflect now a week after this fire began sweeping through?

JONES: Well, if you look at the map where the fire started, it started in Polga. And the fire chief told me, in order to have had time to orderly evacuate everyone in Paradise, he would have had to order a citywide evacuation ten minutes after the fire started in Polga.

Now, Polga is a long way from Paradise. I think it's like seven or eight miles. No official would do that. The fires in the past have never jumped the Feather River. So there was no -- no logical reason to do that ten minutes after the fire started in Polga that you would evacuate all of Paradise. Then we would have been criticized for displacing people out of their homes when there wasn't a need.

The fire was moving so fast, the embers were being thrown two miles further ahead that there was no time. I did get an evacuation notice on my phone. And in thinking about this, I think we could have done a better job in getting people to sign their cell phones up for the red alert system.

[11:10:01] If you have a land line it works it works automatically you're signed up. But a lot of people only have cell phones now and you have to opt in. You have to actually go online and register your cell phone.

We did a few drives to get people to do that. We sent information to their homes to get them to do that. But I think maybe we could have done more so that people were tied into the notification system.

We did have a very robust evacuation plan. It was zone based. And I don't know that there's a city or town in the entire world that could evacuate their entire population all at the same time and not overwhelm their roadway structure. The roads just aren't built for that.

WHITFIELD: Mayor Jody Jones -- it is an unbelievable task, 26,000 people in that town. A time of, you know, you're reflecting on what could, should have been, at the same time trying to address the immediate needs of finding people who are missing and addressing the immediate needs of those who survived And really have nothing except the clothes on their backs.

Paradise mayor -- Jody Jones, thank you so much for your time, appreciate it. Of course everyone is wishing you and all of your constituents, all of the residents there the best. >

Meantime President Trump is on his way. He is expected to land in California in just a matter of hours.

Let's bring in CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood. So Sarah -- what do we know about the visit that the President will be making, whether it's northern California, southern California, both, and in between?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred -- the President will be making two stops on his trip to California today. He'll be meeting with firefighters, meeting with FEMA administrators as he visits some of the communities that have been affected by these two fires.

He will be traveling with the California Governor Jerry Brown and his newly-elected successor. And according to the President they'll be talking about forest management. The President has been quite critical over the past week of California's handling of forest management in the past. And he says that's something he'll be taking up with state officials when he touches down today.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm meeting with the governor and the new governor -- governor-elect. So we have a lot of things to talk about. We will be talking about forest management. I've been saying that for a long time. This could have been a lot different situation.

But the one thing is that everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing. And there's no question that it should have been done many years ago. But I think everybody's on the right side. It's a big issue. It's a big issue. Very expensive issue, but very, very inexpensive when you compare it to even one of these horrible fires.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WESTWOOD: Now, on the way to California the President says he will be getting a briefing from the CIA about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

So Fred -- the President has a packed schedule today as he embarks on a trip that likely won't have him back at the White House until well after midnight tonight.

WHITFIELD: All right. And that briefing with the CIA, that coming after "Washington Post" reporting the CIA had determined that the Crown Prince, just indeed may have made the directive for the killing of the journalist, the contributor of the "Washington Post".

All right. Thank you so much -- Sarah Westwood. Appreciate that.

All right. Next, the CIA issues that stunning report in the murder case of "Washington Post" columnist Jamal Khashoggi that implicates the Saudi Crown Prince. With this new intel, how will President Trump digest the information after that briefing today?

[11:13:38] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: President Trump says he expects to learn more today about the reported role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the death of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a Saudi citizen who lived in the United States and was a columnist for the "Washington Post". He hasn't been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey last month to get some marriage papers for his fiances.

Here's what the President told reporters as he left the White House earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The CIA's going to be speaking to me today. We have not been briefed yet. As of this moment we were told that he did not play a role. We're going to have to find out what they have to say. I'll be doing that while I'm on the plane. I'll be speaking also with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. The CIA has concluded that the Crown Prince personally ordered the killing of Khashoggi, according to a senior U.S. official. After weeks of shifting narratives the Saudi government admitted Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate, but is denying the Crown Prince had any role.

I want to bring in senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman. So Ben -- the CIA came to this assessment based on available intelligence. What does that mean?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, because basically they're basing it on a variety of sources. One of them was a telephone intercept and a conversation between the Saudi ambassador to Washington, who happens to be the brother of the Crown Prince and Mr. Khashoggi in which the ambassador tells Mr. Khashoggi that in order to get that paper he should go to Istanbul and he assures him that no harm will come to him if he does that. And apparently, according to the CIA, that phone call was prompted by the Crown Prince himself.

In addition to that, the conclusion of the CIA is based upon the fact that Gina Haspel, the director of the CIA, got access to Turkish audio intercepts from inside the embassy, rather the consulate in Istanbul, which apparently document the torture, murder and dismemberment of Mr. Khashoggi.

[11:19:57] In addition to that, the CIA got access to audio of a conversation on the phone between Maher Mutreb, who's a security official closely aligned with the Saudi Crown Prince, in which he calls a senior adviser of the Crown Prince and tells him from the consulate that the deed is done.

So all of that taken together in addition to the fact that, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. And the fact that a 15-man hit team goes to the consulate in Istanbul and kills a Saudi citizen is probably something that cannot be done without the knowledge of the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ben Wedeman -- thank you so much, we'll check back with you.

All right. Let's talk further on this with Steve Hall, retired CIA chief of Russia operations and CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski. Good to see you both.

So Steve-- the President said, you know, before getting on, you know, Marine One to head to Air Force One to head to California, you know, he said that he'll be getting a briefing from the CIA later on today.

That this is already being reported out wouldn't the White House have already had access to this kind of CIA assessment reporting? And wouldn't that include the President already?

STEVE HALL, RETIRED CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Sure. What probably has happened is that the CIA, as well as the rest of the U.S. Intelligence community, probably sent over as part of the President's daily brief or an addendum to it the actual written report and the written assessment, the finished intelligence, if you will, that CIA is providing on this particular topic.

Oftentimes what happens is presidents will come back and say, ok, I've got your written report, but I'd like to talk to somebody about it, perhaps Director Haspel or somebody who's, you know, more of a specialist who's directly involved in this.

But yes, it's almost sure that the President has already seen these conclusions and now simply wants to talk it over with the CIA director who, of course, has heard it herself personally from the Turks as well as I would imagine from other foreign liaise or another intelligence -- foreign intelligence services that the CIA maintains a relationship with. WHITFIELD: Does it make a difference -- does it offer more gravity

that the CIA has assessed this when Turkey had already said it believed that the Saudis were behind it and then the implications were that the Crown Prince would have ordered it to have that many resources devoted to carrying out a killing like this?

HALL: Yes, it does. Because when you get to the high level of confidence that the CIA has apparently indicated that this reporting has, it's all source reporting. So it's not just one human source, it's not just one foreign intelligence service, it's not just conversation with the Turks, it's a wide variety of collection mechanisms all of which would have come together to indicate, you know, what happened.

And, of course, my concern here-- there's two of them. The first is the President has shown this inclination to really like autocrats and dictators. And that's pretty much what's going on in Saudi Arabia, their form of government.

The second thing is, of course, that President Trump has also indicated, you know, he's called his own intelligence services and law enforcement services -- the FBI, the CIA and others, you know, he said that he doesn't always trust and believe them.

So it's a very difficult policy decision that the President's going to have to make. And how do you, you know, how do you deal with that? It's going to be a tough call.

WHITFIELD: Ok. Vice President Mike Pence responded to this report and this investigation. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press. And the United States is determined to hold all those accountable who are responsible for that murder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So Michelle -- what are the U.S.'s options here?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'll see. I mean, they've already taken two steps.

First of all was to stop helping the Saudis with their ongoing nearly four-year war in Yemen. That was seen as a fairly minor step although, you know, it is something. And the U.S. did it fairly quickly.

Now, just days ago, they've sanctioned 17 more Saudis. And, remember, both of these moves are because of the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. So they've sanctioned 17 Saudis, some of them are very close to the Crown Prince.

They're in his royal court. They're his close aides. They're high ranking government officials. That was expected to happen.

The White House did it quite ahead of schedule. But our sources say that's just because the White House on both of these moves wanted to get out ahead of Congress, ahead of Congress coming back and wanting to do something more severe and that the White House was hoping that these moves would be enough.

Now to have this CIA assessment coming out, it really changes the game, puts the pressure on not just the U.S., but other countries too, to take some more severe punishment.

[11:24:55] Could it be sanctioning the Crown Prince himself? Some kind of official move censuring these people, tougher sanctions, stopping weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

I mean the potential goes on and on. We just don't know exactly what that's going to be. And when you hear the President even now -- even now that he knows this assessment is there, defending Saudi Arabia, sounding very much like he's on the side of Saudi Arabia.

It kind of is reminiscent of when the U.S. intelligence community assessed that not only Russia but Vladimir Putin himself had tried to meddle in the U.S. election, and he kept saying, well, Putin denies it, Putin denies it. You know, he several times now has taken the line of Saudi Arabia.

So we're going to be watching to see once he is briefed what happens next.

WHITFIELD: Right. And quickly, Steve Hall then, you know it's the what's next that's really important in terms of even rebuilding a relationship between the President and the trust that is eroded between he and particularly the intelligence community.

HALL: Yes. And that's one of the things that I'm very concerned about. I mean look, the CIA and the other members of the intelligence community are professionals. And they will pass to the President the other information.

Here's what they won't do. They won't say here's what you should do on a policy perspective. It's the CIA and intelligence role simply to say here's what happens if you do this, here's what happens if you do that.

But it presupposes, you're right, a good relationship with the community which I'm not sure there is right now.

WHITFIELD: Ok, we'll leave it there.

Steve Hall and Michelle Kosinski -- thank you so much.

We'll be right back.

[11:26:30] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: President Trump says he has finished answering all of the questions from special counsel Bob Mueller in the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The President says he will turn his responses over to the special counsel team next week. All of this after he made a point on Friday of telling reporters that he wrote the responses, not his attorneys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My lawyers aren't working on that, I'm working on that. I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers.

I was asked a series of questions. I've answered them very easily, very easily. I'm sure they're tricked up because, you know, they like to catch people. Gee, you know was the weather sunny or rainy? He said it may have been a good day, it was rainy, therefore he told a lie. He perjured himself.

Ok, so you have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions. But no, it's -- the questions were very routinely answered by me, by me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. With me to discuss now, Larry Noble, the former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission and David Swerdlick, the assistant editor of the "Washington Post". Good to see you both.

All right. So Larry -- you first, you know, what are your thoughts when you hear the President say it was he who has written the questions, he's in total control?

LARRY NOBLE, FORMER GENERAL COUNSEL, FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISISON: Yes, I don't believe it.

WHITFIELD: Or answers.

NOBLE: I think what happened probably was the lawyers either drafted a first response or he may have drafted a first response, you know, a number of different ways and then the lawyers review it.

I doubt any lawyer would continue working for him for very long if he insisted on sending in responses without having his lawyers review them. He also said that the lawyers would review some questions.

So I think this is probably a combination of what he wrote and what the lawyers vet. One thought I had was if we see random words in all caps, you know, we may suspect he wrote more of it. But I think this is going to go through the lawyers.

There's also another interesting point here. He said that the lawyers have to submit the questions. And I wonder at this point now whether the lawyers are going to sign the answers, or whether he's going to sign the answers. If the lawyers sign the answers, he's adopted them by saying that he wrote them.

But normally you want the actual person to sign, not to have the lawyers sign. So that's another thing to look for.

WHITFIELD: Larry, wouldn't there be criticism if it was the attorneys answered all of the questions? I mean wouldn't that defeat the purpose of, you know, why the special counsel has acquiesced to written questions as opposed to, you know, him doing a face to face interview?

NOBLE: Absolutely. And I'm assuming he's going to sign them. The only reason I raised the issue is because of his statement that they would submit them. And also it has happened before. There have been other cases where the client hasn't signed the answers, but the lawyers do. And then if something goes wrong the client says, oh, well the lawyer misunderstood or I didn't read it closely enough.

WHITFIELD: Ok.

NOBLE: I'm going to assume that the President is going to sign them.

WHITFIELD: So David -- if submitted this week or, you know, if the question and answer period is over, is this a sign that this probe is close to wrapping up?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "WASHINGTON POST": Good morning, Fred, I think it's a sign that they are moving toward the end game. But I just would caution anyone from thinking that this is, you know, going to be wrapped up, signed, sealed, delivered with a bow.

Yes, it's possible that special counsel Mueller will deliver a report in the next weeks or months. But, you know, this is a slow and steady process, and I think that what they have to do after they get the President's responses to these interrogatories is to then compare them to what other witnesses that they've already talked to or already deposed have said. So I don't want to speculate too much on exactly when this is going to wrap up. But it's safe to say that they are, you know, can probably see the light at the end of the tunnel.

WHITFIELD: And then Larry, you know, the Mueller team has been really good at keeping things, you know, quiet. But is -- do you buy that, you know, this is a bit of a telegraphing?

NOBLE: Well, you know, there's a bit of telegraphing here, but I agree with David completely. We don't know where they are.

[11:34:54] First of all, they've been -- contrary to what the President says -- they've been very productive. They've gotten guilty pleas. They've gotten indictments. And so they've been really working it. But we don't know exactly where they are.

But the problem they're going to face with this is if he doesn't answer the questions completely, and I think that's a likely outcome that some of the answers will be very evasive, what does he do next?

You know, normally when you send out interrogatories or questions, you're doing it to get ready for a deposition, to get ready to talk to the person personally. And here I think they may find that the answers aren't, you know, particularly responsive. You know, putting all the President's threats about, you know, perjury traps, that they aren't particularly responsive.

And I think Mueller may be going on for a while longer. I'm sure he's also very aware of the dangers and the people talking about what may happen to his investigation. So I suspect, you know, there are kind of way stations where he's prepared things.

But I hope he will go on until he gets to the end of it, until he feels satisfied he knows what's going on.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there for now. Thanks so much --

NOBLE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: -- Larry Noble, David Swerdlick. Thanks so much.

All right. Still ahead, President Trump vows to reach across the aisle and help Nancy Pelosi win speaker of the incoming Democratically-controlled House. So what is that strategy all about?

[11:36:10] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Democrats are expanding their majority in Congress after picking up yet another House seat in California. That means Democrats have now picked up 34 house seats. The overall balance of power stands at 229 Democrats and 200 Republicans. There are still six House races that are too close to call. The new freshman class is historic when it comes to women in particular.

At least 102 women will serve next year, crushing the previous record of 85. But they aren't all in agreement about House leadership. Congresswoman and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been shoring up support, but more than a dozen incoming lawmakers have said they do not plan to support her bid for speaker.

But guess what? This morning President Trump voicing his support for Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Whatever number of votes she needs, if it's 15 or 10 or two or one, she's got them from me -- automatic. So tell her opposition they're wasting their time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So one of Pelosi's Democratic critics and potential challenger for speaker, Ohio representative Marcia Fudge. She actually met face to face with Pelosi yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARCIA FUDGE (D), OHIO: We talked about some succession planning. We talked about some other things. I think that the biggest issue that we discussed was the feeling in the caucus of people who are feeling left out and left behind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me right now, one of the first of two Native American women ever elected to Congress. Democratic representative-elect from New Mexico, Deb Haaland. Thanks so much for being with us, and congratulations on your win.

DEBRA HAALAND (D), REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT, NEW MEXICO: Thank you so much. I'm happy to be here.

WHITFIELD: So you are one of 61 women who signed a letter supporting Pelosi --

HAALAND: Yes.

WHITFIELD: -- as House Speaker. Why?

HAALAND: Yes, well, look, I believe that she is the leader we need right now. She's extremely strong. I stand by her because I don't think we would have gotten the Affordable Care Act passed if not for Leader Pelosi. I am very confident about her leadership.

And right now, in this era, we need a strong leader who can stand her ground and make sure that we're moving our agenda forward. And I believe that's Leader Pelosi.

WHITFIELD: And I know you're incoming, but, you know, what about Marcia Fudge's comment where she says there has been a feeling that some have been left out of the process and that's why there is some momentum behind the idea of some Congressional members supporting someone else as House Speaker?

HAALAND: Sure. Well, of course, I know Leader Pelosi is eager to ensure that we move some leadership forward as well. However, we just won back the House after a number of years. It's important that we have a strong leader who knows, who can navigate the system and who knows how to lead us forward.

I am -- the progressive caucus met with her, the leadership from the progressive caucus met with her the other day as well. They're confident about her stance on ensuring more progressive leadership across our caucus. And so I think that it will happen.

But this, right now is not the time for us to find a new leader. We need somebody who can -- who knows how to get things done and who can lead our party for the agenda that we need to stand by.

WHITFIELD: So how do you decipher the President's comments? I mean he says he's all for Nancy Pelosi. He's going to do everything he can to make sure to support her. This from the President but then as -- you know, the man on the campaign trail as a candidate and as president-elect, he was very negative about Nancy Pelosi. What's behind this?

HAALAND: Right. Well, you know, there were thousands and thousands of political ads this past election year tying Democrats to Nancy Pelosi. And you can see how effective that was. We won, we won back the House in great numbers.

[11:55:03] So I honestly feel that she has done this before, she knows how to count votes. She wouldn't run if she didn't think she could win and I believe that she will win.

WHITFIELD: All right, Congresswoman-elect Deb Haaland, thank you so much.

HAALAND: Thank you. >

WHITFIELD: All right. Next -- chilling accusations against former Dartmouth College professors. Current and former students claim the teachers coerced them to drink and then sexually assault them, the victims speaking out in a new interview with CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:50:01] WHITFIELD: It's being called a 21st century Animal House atmosphere. Three former Dartmouth professors are accused of coercing female students into drinking and then subjecting them to sexual harassment and in some cases even rape.

The men are named in a $70 million federal lawsuit filed against the school by seven women who say the abuse was allowed to go on for years.

Polo Sandoval joins me now. What else is being said?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred -- the story that you find in the 72-page lawsuit is certainly disturbing. It claims that three tenured professors treated women as sex objects and now seeking $70 million in damages. The women alleging that they were coerced into drinking and also being made to feel as though their success depended on their willingness to go along with so-called alcohol- saturated culture at the university.

They (INAUDIBLE) the professors mentioned in the lawsuit -- three of them -- forcing to have sex with them during their time at the university. The professors now identified in that lawsuit as William Kelley, Paul Whalen and Todd Heatherton. In a statement through his lawyer, Heatherton categorically denying having played any role in creating this kind of toxic environment at Dartmouth College.

It went on to state that none of the plaintiffs, seven of them in this case, were actually students. So far Kelly and Whalen have not responded to CNN's request for comments. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit however, they are speaking publicly.

Here's one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VASSIKI CHAUHAN, PLAINTIFF: But my initial impression was that these were professors that were really friendly with grad students and approachable. But over time when I heard the kind of jokes they were making and the manner in which they were talking to their grad students, I was definitely uncomfortable with the nature of the conversations that are taking place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDOVAL: We should point out that some of these allegations are recent, as recent as this year. School officials launching an investigation of their own. That eventually culminated in the resignations of both Whalen and Kelley in June and July. Heatherton actually retired this past summer.

The plaintiffs claiming Dartmouth actually knew about the professors' behavior for more than 60 years and did nothing, that in 2017 at least 27 people came forward in connection with formal claims of alleged sexual assault and sexual harassment by the three men. The university has responded.

I want to read you a portion of that statement -- Fred. Dartmouth saying that, "Sexual misconduct and harassment have no place at the school. We respectfully but strongly disagree with the characterization of Dartmouth's actions in the complaint."

This suit was filed as universities across the country are grappling still with how to handle allegations of campus sexual misconduct and their obligations under Title 9 -- Fred.

You'll recall in 2017, the Department of Education withdrew the Obama administration's guidance on how schools should actually handle sex assault claims. Then yesterday, there were some new rules that were proposed that are supposed to adopt a clear definition of sexual harassment actionable under Title 9 -- Fred.

So this is certainly going to be an important case to watch and it's certainly going to be a pretty good example and a test case under some of these new guidelines with this issue.

WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval -- thank you so much.

SANDOVAL: Thanks -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM right after this.

[11:53:20] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

In this all new episode of "THIS IS LIFE", Lisa Ling dives into an underground subculture of sorts as animal super fans known as Furries. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA LING, CNN HOST: The moment Lindsay puts on that suit, the shaking stops and Lalia (ph) comes alive. LINDSAY: When I first imagined this character, I imagined her just

like me, so kind of shy and withdrawn. But it was very quickly that I realized the costume had a life of its own. The shyness was gone.

LING: Twice a month, Josh and Lindsay hop in the car and head to one of her charity events.

LINDSAY: I just get super excited every time I put it on. I'm going to go out there and perform and make people happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were like what's going on? There's a giant dog driving around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Catch an all-new episode of "THIS IS LIFE" with Lisa Ling. That's tomorrow night 10:00 Eastern time.

We've got so much straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. And that all starts right now.

[12:00:05] All right. Hello again -- everyone. And thank you so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.