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President Trump Won't Probably Sit Down for Interview with Mueller; Another Dead Camp Fire Victim Raises Death Toll to 77 with Nearly 1,000 Still Missing; Mother of a Newborn Describes Daring Escape from Camp Fire; CNN Asks for Emergency Hearing After White House Warns it May Revoke Acosta's Press Pass Again; Investors to Watch Growing U.S.-China Divide Ahead of G20. Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired November 19, 2018 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:11] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us.
The next big moment in the Mueller probe, potentially the biggest moment yet, may be at hand. President Trump says he will be submitting his written answers to the special counsel's questions on collusion any time now. And after that he says as far as he's concerned, quote, "probably we're finished."
SCIUTTO: That's right. The take-home test as we're calling it.
SCIUTTO: Whether Robert Mueller is finished or nearly so much less certain unless he is constrained by the president's newly appointed acting attorney general. And on that question, the president who constantly threatened to, quote, "get involved with the DOJ under Jeff Sessions now says that he will stay out of it.
CNN's Joe Johns is at the White House this morning.
Is the president -- has he made any new threats or signals regarding Mueller's days, the days of the special counsel investigation?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think he has. And when you take the totality of the circumstances, listening first to what the president has said about whether he will sit down for an interview, and you put that together with what the president has said about the man who's been ultimately put in charge of the Mueller investigation and the fate of it, you start getting a picture.
So let's listen to what the president had to say in that Fox News interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you OK with that? DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, it's going to be
up to him. I think he's very well aware politically. I think he's astute politically. He's a very smart person, a very respected person. He's going to do what's right. I really believe he's going to do what's right.
WALLACE: But you won't overrule him if he decides to curtail?
TRUMP: I would not get involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: Now remember Whitaker is a guy who has already publicly on the record saying he's reached a conclusion about the direction this investigation ought to go and he has suggested that there was no collusion. So that's an important fact. And the question, of course, is where it goes from here and whether we actually get into the position where people are taking actions instead of speaking words.
Back to you.
HARLOW: There you go. Joe Johns, thank you.
With us now, CNN Legal Analyst, former Federal Prosecutor, Shan Wu.
Shan, thanks for being here. Good Monday morning to you. And let's take a listen to a little bit more of what the president said in that interview that Chris Wallace did, which Jim and I were just saying he did a remarkable job and got a lot out of the president on that.
When asked if he would not sit down with Mueller and then there was a little bit more of an exchange, let's just play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think we've wasted enough time on this witch-hunt, and the answer is probably. We're finished.
WALLACE: What are the odds? One out of 100? What --
TRUMP: I don't do odds. We would -- I gave very detailed --
WALLACE: You run a casino, sir.
TRUMP: You're right, and very successfully actually. We gave very, very complete answers to a lot of questions that I shouldn't have even been asked, and I think that should solve the problem. I hope it solves the problem. If it doesn't, you know, I'll be told and we'll make a decision at that time. But probably this is the end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: So if probably is really it is the end, what legal power if any does Mueller have and his team have to compel the president to answer questions in person?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's the big question is, from a constitutional standpoint.
WU: And from a precedent standpoint. Most legal scholars, and I agree with this, don't think that you can subpoena the president. I think that in a fight which would immediately go to the Supreme Court, they might lose that. That's probably why Mueller has been seeking to get something more voluntary. Let's piecemeal it out, get some written answers first, and then hey, Mr. President, we have some follow-up questions for you.
They can certainly issue the subpoena. Nothing stops the grand jury from issuing it. But then the immediate thing that's going to happen is it's going to get appealed right away. And, you know, knowing Mueller's personality, I don't think he wants unnecessary fights. Bad cases can make bad law. He'd like to avoid making a constitutional precedent here and it'd be better to get a voluntary statement.
But once those questions are answered, I mean, you know, the president said I think the problem is solved. It's not really a problem. It's part of the investigation. So the first step is answering questions and then there are going to be follow-up questions. So it can't possibly just end right there.
SCIUTTO: Shan, and correct me if I'm wrong here, if Mueller were to want to subpoena the president, that would require the acting attorney general's OK, would it not, to take that step? And if so, is it the president's impression that he now has kind of an insulating layer of protection with a friendlier acting A.G.?
WU: I certainly think that's the case.
[09:05:02] The president doesn't seem to be saying that. But, yes, that's such an extraordinary step to have to take, it's such an unusual investigation if you're going to subpoena the president then absolutely the attorney general would need to approve that. And I think it's quite clear that Whitaker would not approve that. And what's really fascinating about that, Jim, is in many ways the special counsel operates as a miniature Justice Department.
He has his own internal appellate people, (INAUDIBLE) over there. And they're certainly capable of taking on appellate issues that normally the A.G.'s office would take on. So they could find themselves in an adversarial position willing to appeal the issue on their own and that's where Whitaker really has to make a decision, is he going to just come in and stop things?
SCIUTTO: Shan Wu, thank you.
Of course there's been the political calculations as well.
HARLOW: Yes. SCIUTTO: The president may determine that an ongoing legal battle
with these suits is political.
SCIUTTO: He can say, listen, they're coming after me again. You know, protect me at the ballot box. You know?
HARLOW: Yes. That's a good point.
HARLOW: So in a White House that revels in (INAUDIBLE) woes and infighting, President Trump may be about to roll a hand grenade into his own Cabinet.
SCIUTTO: The president says that he may replaced as many as five people in his Cabinet but says that high turnover is not a sign of chaos rumbling through his administration.
Let's bring in our guests, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," David Drucker, CNN political analyst and senior political correspondent for the "Washington Examiner."
David, if I could begin with you, and yes, it is true, the president certainly has a point, the president particularly after the midterms often make changes, presidents of both parties here. From your perspective, particularly someone as a conservative writer, do you see an unusual volatility in this administration, particularly with the number of senior positions that the president is talking about changing now, chief of staff, Department of Homeland Security. He's already changed his attorney general.
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Look, I think this administration has, from day one, been a little more chaotic and volatile than most. And I think part of that had to do with the president adjusting to the job where he came from a private sector background, but not overseeing a big private sector bureaucracy. I mean, he was running his own small business where everything he said was the word of God.
He was surrounded by a small cadre of loyalists and I think moving into the White House, he had to deal with the fact that even though he was the leader of the executive branch, the way our government is set up, not everybody in the executive branch actually is loyal or reports to him because everybody gives an oath to the Constitution of the United States and it's much more about serving the government and the bureaucracy is just so vast that even if you can bring some of it under control you're never going to bring it all under control.
So I think we've seen a lot of changes that we wouldn't have normally seen. And I think the president likes the chaos. Look, I think a lot of the volatility we've seen, notwithstanding his claims that it's a well-oiled machine, is because he's airing his own dirty laundry in public via tweets. He's found it to be therapeutic apparently, but also I think he's found it to be politically advantageous to get into fights, whether it's with members of his own Cabinet, whether it's with members of his own party.
And those are things we just haven't seen before but the president won doing this in 2016. And I think he believes it is still a winner for him, even though Republicans lost the House this month, in large part because so many self-described Republican voters did not like his behavior even though the economy was doing so well.
HARLOW: So perhaps more fights internally but, Susan Page, the president is like singing kumbaya with Nancy Pelosi all of a sudden and going to bat for Nancy Pelosi, if you read his words as genuine over the weekend, saying she should be the next Democratic speaker of the House. I thought that the first line in Julie (INAUDIBLE) Davis' piece in the "Times" this morning was really interesting.
She wrote, what if House Democrats tried to stage a coup and no one shows up? I mean, what's at play here for Democrats in terms of internal division within the party come January and is this just much ado about nothing? Is Pelosi going to be the next speaker?
SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, USA TODAY: Well, you know, division within the Democratic Party not exactly a headline we've ever seen before.
PAGE: And especially a party that has a lot of new members coming into the House caucus and people who have not necessarily come up through the ranks in the traditional way. Some people who've ran for these House seats had never run for office before. They defied some of the conventional wisdom, some of the standardized rules that we have for rising in politics. So they don't come in necessarily bound by the old ways of doing things.
But on the other hand, you don't beat somebody with nobody and you tell me who is the candidate in the Democratic House caucus who has a real potential to defeat Nancy Pelosi?
PAGE: I don't see it. Nancy Pelosi argues persuasively that one reason they regained the House is because of the discipline and the fundraising that she brought to that effort.
SCIUTTO: Yes. David Drucker, if I could broach another subject, you know, the remarkable news coming out on Friday, into the weekend, that the CIA, the intelligence community has made an assessment that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, "Washington Post" journalist, lives in northern Virginia.
[09:10:15] And yet the president still seems to be reserving judgment on this. You saw some of that in the Fox News interview, saying do we really know, et cetera. Will the Trump administration, in your view, still attempt to move on
with the status quo as it is, this very close relationship -- in effect, throwing its lock in with the crown prince despite this growing evidence of his direct involvement and really just a stunningly brutal and brazen murder here?
DRUCKER: You know, look, I think the Trump administration is in a very difficult position because our alliance with Saudi Arabia is a key part of our strategy to constrain Iran and sort of reformulate the Middle East so that we are once again the dominant player where we've been dealing with Iran, and its rising hegemonic activity.
SCIUTTO: Fine, but you know --
DRUCKER: And the Russians --
SCIUTTO: It's a big country, and the royal family is a big royal family. Can you not continue that alliance and still directly punish those responsible for this?
DRUCKER: Right. And that's -- and Jim, that's where I was going. So I think the Trump administration is in an unenviable position. I do think, however, that the president could show more concern for how the Saudis acted. And as he says all the time in terms of the U.S. throwing its weight around, I think that he could place a lot of pressure on the Saudi royal family and the government, as it were, that it has to fix this, change its ways and possibly spread some of that power around if they are going to continue to reap the benefits of their alliance with us.
Because it is a two-way street. We're not at their mercy. And I think where the president has been lacking here it's a tough position because we don't want to just wash our hands with the alliance but I think the president could have been much more careful and nuanced in his rhetoric in talking about what happened, what MBS did and how the fact that the U.S. isn't happy with it.
And if the president isn't careful and doesn't take some of this upon himself, what's going to happen potentially is a bigger backlash in congress. And for a president that wants to maintain his alliance because what it means for us going against Iran, that's the last thing he wants to have happen.
HARLOW: Maybe --
DRUCKER: Is to start to have funding fights with the U.S. Congress.
HARLOW: Maybe. But words are one thing and actions are another. Right? If you just think about Lindsey Graham yesterday, going after -- calling Mohammed bin Salman irrational and unhinged, talking about -- you know, saying I have no intent of working with him ever again.
Susan, I mean, are enough Republicans in Congress on the same page as Lindsey Graham that they're willing to act and they're willing to tie the president's hands?
PAGE: You know, I think there are enough Republicans in Congress who are willing to speak up and there's a lot of I think discomfort with the idea that there will be such limited penalties to the effective leader of Saudi Arabia for what is a murder so brutal that the president said he was refusing to listen to the tape of it, was just being read from it.
HARLOW: Good point.
PAGE: But whether Republicans in Congress will actually vote to tie his hands, that is a very big step to take against any president, especially a president of your own party. And that's the reason why it's so important to listen to what the president is saying about this. Now he hasn't closed the door to doing more. And in fact he said that the final -- he hadn't gotten the final report from the intelligence services about where the blame really should lie. He's left the door open to doing more. But he has certainly been very reluctant so far.
HARLOW: Right. So that report --
DRUCKER: Keep in mind in --
HARLOW: So sorry, David, we are out of time but you'll be first next. We got a lot to get in this hour. But I mean, yes, we got the report tomorrow. So then what does that president say after he reads that report from his own intel community?
So ahead for us, 77 killed and more than 900 missing in California's Camp Fire. Now this forecast from officials, it's not even halfway done burning yet. We're live.
SCIUTTO: Can you believe those figures? Just alarming.
SCIUTTO: Plus this, days after call America's veterans, quote, "special people," the president takes direct aim at the SEAL commander who orchestrated the bin Laden raid.
And this is just in to CNN, CNN asking for an emergency hearing after the White House warned reporter Jim Acosta that his press pass could be pulled again. We're following the latest.
[09:15:00] SCIUTTO: Well, the toll on the West Coast keeps rising. The Camp Fire in Northern California has now claimed at least 77 lives, and families are still desperately searching -- wait for this, for nearly 1,000 missing loved ones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH WADE, SACRAMENTO FIRE DEPARTMENT: Victims of this fire are being found in all sorts of locations. So, be it inside of a structure, outside of a structure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard, but you've got to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Search crews are going from what would have been door-to- door, but is now just lot after lot of ash and debris. And fire officials say the Camp Fire isn't even halfway done burning. Kaylee Hartung joins us now from Chico, California right near the epicenter of this.
Kaylee, you've been surrounded by people who don't know what the future holds. I just wonder, has any official there given you an explanation for why there're still so many hundreds who remain missing?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, tens of thousands of people were displaced. Authorities estimate 50,000 people evacuated from the fire zone. And so with that comes this difficult task of now putting together this list of those people who were unaccounted for.
Authorities say some people may not know that others are looking for them, and that's how that name ended up on the list. But this number as it stands now, 993 has been accumulated by pulling information from 911 calls and e-mails and incident reports that authorities received.
[09:20:00] They caution that this number will fluctuate sharply and suddenly, and they also advise that nearly 300 names were removed from that list just yesterday as they came to better understand the circumstances that those people found themselves in.
But everyone you speak to here has a story. Everyone living in a tent in this parking lot behind me, some who have been here for as many as 11 days, they all have a story. As do the people in the vehicles that helped them escape from that hilltop town of Paradise.
We heard one of those stories this morning. A woman who last Thursday morning gave birth to a healthy baby boy just hours after a C-Section, she was forced to evacuate that Paradise hospital as it caught on fire. She was put in a vehicle with a hospital worker, his personal vehicle, a man with no medical training, and she then gave him these instructions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were really unsure that we would be able to get out of there. And so when that happened, he asked me, what do you want me to do? And I said I want you to take the baby and run. I cannot run, I just had surgery. I can't even walk, I don't know what to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: Rachelle and her baby boy survived, but their home did not. Their home, one of the more than 10,000 that has been destroyed. And again, Jim, with so many people displaced with so many homes destroyed, there's a serious housing crisis developing here in Butte County with no end in sight.
SCIUTTO: Who is going to take care of those people? That is still a burning question. Kaylee Hartung, thanks very much.
HARLOW: Well, let's talk about some of the people that are doing everything to help them. More than 5,000 firefighters on the front lines in the Camp Fire, that is in Northern California, they're working still to contain the flames.
With us now is one of them, our Scott McLean; Deputy Fire Chief with Cal Fire. Scott, thank you so much for what you and your entire team have been doing through the days, through the nights. Update us at this point on where things stand when it comes to containment and what the biggest threats are still today.
SCOTT MCLEAN, DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF, CALIFORNIA FIRE DEPARTMENT: They're still moving around a little bit on the eastern part -- northeastern part as well. You're looking about a little over 150,000 acres burned to date as well as 65 percent containment, which is really good news, actually.
Because they're starting to get a handle on it. They're having to fight this fire right now in those mountainous areas, the ravines, the canyons, very steep, rugged terrain. And unfortunately, believe it or not, yes, unfortunately, we are having some rain come in. And it might be a signal to get them out.
It's hard to say until it gets here. As far as helping with the fire fight, yes, it will pretty much diminish a lot of those flames that are taking place right now. However, it's not going to pose a hazard to the firefighters because they're back there on dirt roads, dirt trails trying to fight this fire. Now it's going to turn into mud which will be another hazard for them to contend with.
HARLOW: So that's interesting. The rain is not necessarily beneficial overall for you guys?
MCLEAN: It poses its challenges, yes.
HARLOW: Yes --
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, you see the challenge of containing the fire, and I know you guys are working hard and there are folks out there right now who are risking their lives, and I don't think that could be underestimated. You also have so many displaced people, they're still living in tents.
I wonder, has the state of California, has the fire service asked for more federal help including the help perhaps of the U.S. military, the National Guard?
MCLEAN: These fire or these fires within the state that took place roughly at the same time, the Hill, the Woolsey and the Camp Fires. We had over 9,000 individuals assigned to these incidents at one point. We had the National Guard, we had over 15 states and resources. Earlier this year, 14,000 individuals were assigned to the fires, same
aspects, including the army. National Guard this time had, I believe, 100 soldiers boots on the ground as well as their helicopters. So we're getting the resources. You have to understand with this fire, where it burned, how it burned, it was -- visibility was an aspect as far as aircraft being able to see to make those drops.
SCIUTTO: Well, listen, we're going to keep watching this, you've got to keep us honest on what you need and we'll try to make that as public and CNN viewers have the chance to contribute as well by looking at our Web site.
HARLOW: Yes --
SCIUTTO: Chief Scott McLean, thanks very much.
MCLEAN: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: CNN is responding after the White House warns that it once again plans to pull Jim Acosta's press pass.
HARLOW: Also, we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. The Dow expected to drop at the start of trading, investors closing watching new growing divide between the U.S. and China ahead of a key meeting between President Xi and President Trump at the G20 summit.
[09:25:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
HARLOW: All right, welcome back. So this morning, CNN is asking for an emergency hearing. This is after the White House has warned that they may pull our colleague Jim Acosta's press pass again.
SCIUTTO: And you thought this was all settled last week, well, on Friday, the network won a temporary restraining order, forcing the White House to restore Acosta's credentials for 14 days. But just after that, White House officials sent Acosta a letter, saying they may suspend his pass once that order expires. CNN's Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter is with us.
So TRO's temporary restraining orders by nature, they last for two weeks, 14 days. White House saying, OK, that's all the time you have --
BRIAN STELTER, CNN MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right.