Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump Won't Probably Sit Down for Interview with Mueller; Nearly 1,000 Missing in Camp Fire, Death Toll Climbs to 77; Trump Declines to Hear Recording of Khashoggi Murder; Democrats Sweep House Seats in Reagan Country in California. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 10:00   ET



[10:00:01] CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is that your final position, that there's going to be no sit-down interview and nothing written or in person on obstruction?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say probably. Probably. I mean, I can change my mind, but probably. I think --

WALLACE: No interview.

TRUMP: I think we've wasted enough time on this witch hunt. And the answer is probably. We're finished.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: In that FOX News interview, the president also said that he won't interfere if his newly appointed acting attorney general decides to get involved more so with the Mueller probe.

Let's go to the White House. Kaitlan Collins joins us there.

Good morning, Kaitlan. So what is the sort of status update? It seems like at any moment now these written answers could get to Mueller's team.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does. And they haven't submitted them yet according to what Kellyanne Conway told reporters on the North Lawn earlier this morning when she was speaking with us, said she's not aware that they have sent those answers in yet.

And the president was clear yesterday, he's dictated those answers to his lawyers so the answers he says are his own. But the larger question here has been about whether or not the Mueller investigation is going to be able to go forward. And the president was asked about Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general's criticism of the probe, which he said he wasn't aware of before he selected him to run the Justice Department, even temporarily, even though sources said that's actually what caused the president to notice Matt Whitaker in the first place. Now, Jim and Poppy, in this interview, the president was asked point

blank, yes or no, are you OK with Matt Whitaker limiting the scope of this investigation? And here's what his answer was.


WALLACE: If Whitaker decides in any way to limit or curtail the Mueller investigation, are you OK with that?

TRUMP: 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.


COLLINS: So the president doesn't say a yes or no answer there, but the bottom line is he said he will not overrule Matt Whitaker if he doesn't get or if he does try to limit the scope of this investigation. And also in that interview, Jim and Poppy, the president said he believes Matt Whitaker is right in his criticisms of the special counsel.

HARLOW: Right.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting there. He quoted him being astute politically. Is that the judgment for an attorney general? That's a question.

Joining us now, CNN political commentators Doug Heye and Robby Mook.

Thanks very much to both of you.

Doug, if I can begin with you. It strikes me, you know, of course the president multiple times over the last couple of years said listen, I'll sit down with the special counsel if need be. Now he has a new attorney general who the president might expect will not approve a subpoena to the president from the special counsel if the special counsel were to choose that. And now he's saying there's no way I'm going to sit down with the special counsel.

I just wonder, are we seeing in that answer there already an effect of having his guy in effect leading the Justice Department? That the president feels insulated from being required to sit down with the special counsel?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I don't think we know at this point yet. This is something that's going to play itself out over the next coming days and weeks obviously. But I hope that the president sticks to his word that he will do what's necessary. I think politically, the smart thing to do politically for the president, not for an acting attorney general, the smart thing for the president to do is to not sit down.

That would open a can of worms for this president that could be disastrous. He's submitting the written questions. I think that's good and proper. And if I were advising this White House, I would tell him, say you want to be as open as possible, but definitely do not sit down and testify.

SCIUTTO: Let me just ask, the president said of the nation's premier law enforcement official who leads the Department of Justice, who he appointed, that he's very astute politically. In effect saying he'll make a political judgment as to whether and how to proceed with the special counsel's investigation.

Is that the way you -- is that the way Republicans want an attorney general to be operating, making decisions on a political basis?

HEYE: Yes, unfortunately, I think it depends on what Republican you ask about which administration. If Eric Holder had said --

SCIUTTO: I'm asking you.


HEYE: If Eric Holder had said that, it would be a different answer. I'm obviously troubled by that answer. I think Jeff Sessions made what was probably a political decision but also the right decision to recuse himself.

And what we know, obviously, Jim and Poppy, is there's a new sheriff who is coming to town come January 3rd. And that affects things. If there's not going to be a subpoena coming from the investigation, we know that the new House of Representatives is going to be pretty eager to do so.

HARLOW: I don't know. I mean, 77 percent of Democratic voters in the midterms said that, you know, that they were sort of pro-impeachment, but, Robby, Nancy Pelosi has been very careful in terms of how she's talked about this being a priority for Democrats.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And I think she's doing the right thing. First of all, we have to let Mueller get through the investigation. That's going to be the most credible thing.

[10:05:04] And for Democrats to just go stumbling in and try to impeach the president outright, it is going to look cravenly political. I think there is a lot that needs to get investigated, and Democrats should start one step at a time, piecing -- you know, pulling all the different threads here, but just to rush on day one and try to impeach the president I think would be a big mistake.

We saw the Republicans go head over heels in the '90s to do this. There were pretty bad implications in the election.

HARLOW: Right.

MOOK: Again, let's just -- I of all people care a lot about this. I know that bad things happen. I want the president to be held accountable, but let's take it one step at a time.

SCIUTTO: It's not a choice between just impeachment or killing the Mueller investigation, right? I mean, Democrats and Republicans, frankly, can operate responsibly by protecting the investigation short of --

MOOK: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Short of either option there. Right?

MOOK: No, but --

SCIUTTO: Those aren't the only choices.

MOOK: No, that's exactly right. And I think again, that's step one. Let Mueller do his job. Step two, there's a lot of really legitimate questions here about how the president has been profiting from the presidency. There's a lot of questions about his business dealings today. You know, there's been a lot of discussion about the Saudis. I have big questions about whether the president is denying what happened with this killing because he has business with the Saudis.

So there's lots of -- lots here for us to look at. Let's let Mueller focus on the Russia piece, bring those revelations forward and then make a decision from there.

HARLOW: Doug Heye, there's part of the interview with Chris Wallace that isn't getting as much attention but I thought was really telling, and that is that the president suggested that had Whitaker been supportive of the Mueller probe, that he wouldn't have hired him, after saying I don't know him that well.

Let me just read you the quote. He said, "So if he," Whitaker, "said there's collusion, I'm supposed to be taking somebody that says there is?" The president went on to say, "Because then I wouldn't take him. For two reasons, but the number one reason is the fact that he would have been wrong."

How do you read that, Doug?

HEYE: Well, I read that as the president is making a political decision. And that shouldn't be a surprise that this president or other presidents. What the challenge I think is for this administration then is these things then get defined forward. And as we look at all things Whitaker, the president's words then are going to be read by Republicans and Democrats as possibly being favorable to one side or another or prebaking a decision before anything has actually been determined.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, it's a fair point. Robby, I will ask you this, though. You know, there is an exhaustion factor here with the Mueller investigation. From both sides, frankly. Right? I'm not a both sides fan, I'm just saying some Republicans think it's gone too long, but some Democrats think where is this going? Does that pose a danger for Democrats? You know, I'm not talking about impeachment. I'm just talking about, you know, is there demand even from folks you talk to on the Democratic side to say, listen, OK, what's going to be the final result of this whole thing? What are we really going to find out here?

MOOK: Yes, and what's a little concerning to me is I think Mueller still has a long way to go. So I think some people are creating expectations that aren't fair. I wouldn't be surprised if Mueller goes into the summer. And keep in mind, as every step we've gone on this, we're getting closer and closer to the president.


MOOK: I think Roger Stone and his associate are the next to go. Then the question is who was talking to the president? That could take a really long time. So I do worry about that just in terms of expectations. We need to let this go on as long as --

HARLOW: Can I ask you before we go to break? Does the president mean it when he says Nancy Pelosi should be House speaker?


HARLOW: I mean, I was like trying to decode that tweet over the weekend.

MOOK: The president is brilliant at throwing a lot of chum out there and a lot of distraction. I think that's a string he wanted us all to pull and muse on. I think the president just wants chaos and he wants the Democrats fighting with each other. I think that was -- he saw that as a gift, you know, to mix it up with some people that may not want Pelosi to be speaker. That's all that was.

HARLOW: All right. Thank you both, Doug, Robby. Appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

HARLOW: So to the fires that continue in California. The Camp Fire in Northern California has now claimed 77 lives. Families are searching for nearly 1,000 people. 1,000 people missing.

SCIUTTO: It's just nuts to imagine. The Camp Fire already the deadliest and the most destructive wildfire in the history of California. But fire officials say that it isn't even halfway done burning.

Kaylee Hartung joins us from Chico, California, right near the epicenter of all this.

Kaylee, what is the latest on the search for the missing? Are they making any progress on tracking down these hundreds of folks who are still missing?

KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Poppy, authorities caution that this number of people unaccounted for, it will continue to fluctuate sharply and suddenly, because they're working through multiple reports leading them to build this list. And the search for and the recovery of human remains is an ongoing process, again, authorities saying because so many people were displaced. 50,000 people evacuated from the fire zone.

This is just a very tedious process. One in which also is impacted by where people evacuate, the unreliability of cell phone service, communication with family members, et cetera.

[10:10:04] This is an ongoing process, but the crisis in this area has no end in sight, when we're talking about where these tens of thousands of people have gone. You know, this tent city behind me, an example of the need. The people who have lost everything now with weather approaching the area, rain expected on Wednesday that could bring mudslides and flooding. There is a greater sense of urgency to get these people into more secure, more safe structures.

Three American Red Cross shelters are advertising that they have room. Their doors are open, but some of their shelters are as far as an hour away. Many of the people who are still in this parking lot, who have been living here for 11 days now, don't have the means to get there. That's where volunteers come in to play.

And right here in this parking lot, we have seen donations coming in by the day, by the minute. Whether that be food, clothing, medical supplies, dog food. This white board behind me now helping to instruct people where their resources will be as they are moved from this site.

Again, that weather approaching this area, bringing a whole new set of challenges for people whose need is already tremendously great -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Well, the folks need help. They really need help.

Kaylee Hartung, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, President Trump says that the U.S. has the tape that captured the murder, the chilling murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but he says that he will not listen to it. We're going to tell you why he says that.

HARLOW: Also, Democrats continue to make gains in the House, even flipping every Republican seat in a place once considered Reagan territory.

And Florida now taking aim at CVS and Walgreens, accusing the drugstore giants of contributing to the nationwide opioid crisis. We'll talk to you about the case brought against them and how they're responding. Next.


[10:16:21] SCIUTTO: President Trump says the U.S. has a copy of the audio recording that captures the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

HARLOW: But after seemingly pushing back on the CIA assessment that the Saudi crown prince personally ordered the murder, the president says he won't listen to the tape. Why? Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have the tape. I don't want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape.

WALLACE: Why don't you --

TRUMP: But I've been fully briefed.

WALLACE: Why don't you want to hear it, sir?

TRUMP: Because it's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape. I have been fully briefed on it. There's no reason for me to hear it. In fact, I said to the people, should I? They said you really shouldn't. There's no reason. I know exactly -- I know everything that went on in the tape without having --

WALLACE: And what happened?

TRUMP: It was very violent, very vicious, and terrible.


SCIUTTO: Joining us now, former CIA and FBI official Phil Mudd who is now a CNN counterterrorism analyst, and Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen who now serves as the director for Gulf Affairs at the Middle East Institute.

Phil Mudd, I want to start with you here. You have the U.S. intelligence community deliver the president an assessment, it appears a strong assessment, that the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was involved in this. And you have the president receive that one, saying he doesn't want to hear the tape that's behind some of that assessment, but more broadly, leaving open the possibility that that assessment is just not true. Using that phrasing, we don't really know, we'll never really know. What's your reaction to that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, there's a couple of pieces to this, Jim. It reminds me of what we had to deal with in the Russia situation where we went from the president repeatedly questioning the intelligence to finally people in the administration saying we got to talk to Vladimir Putin about this, even though the president didn't want to because the intelligence is too overwhelming.

The two quick pieces of the story I tell you are the president has the right to say I received the intelligence. The intelligence is compelling, but I want to maintain a relationship with Saudi Arabia. It's his right to ignore the intelligence. It's not his right to create the facts. And that's where the Congress is going to come into play. If the intelligence is compelling and the president ignores it, other people will say you can ignore it, but you can't create new facts, Mr. President.


HARLOW: Ambassador Feierstein, to you, as this pertains to the broader issue here and tied to the horrific war in Yemen, you served as U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013. The war there rages on. You've got 10,000 people dead, eight million people on the verge of starvation.

Do you believe that if the U.S. essentially gives Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a pass here, that will just embolden Saudi to carry out these atrocities and continue them in Yemen?

GERALD FEIERSTEIN, DIRECTOR FOR GULF AFFAIRS, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Well, I think that it's important to distinguish between the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen. I think that the compelling issue for the United States is to continue supporting the U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths in trying to bring this conflict to an end.

What happened to Jamal was a terrible thing. I think it affects our ability to work with Mohammed bin Salman going forward. But I don't think that it changes the reality inside of Yemen or what the United States needs to be doing in order to try to resolve the conflict and address the humanitarian crisis.

SCIUTTO: Phil Mudd, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican senator, has been pretty much in lockstep with this president for the last several months. A marked turn for him, but on the issue of the crown prince, the issue of the Khashoggi killing, listen to what he had to say this Sunday. I want to get your reaction.


[10:20:07] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I haven't been briefed, but I believe from day one that 15 people, 18, whatever the number was, they don't get on two airplanes, go to Turkey, and chop a guy up in the consulate who is a critic of the crown prince without the crown prince having known about it and sanctioned it.

When it comes to the crown prince, he's irrational. He's unhinged. And I think he's done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.


SCIUTTO: Graham went on to say that he personally is done working with the crown prince. If you have a prominent Republican senator like that, not to mention as we discussed the intelligence report here, can the president proceed, keep the relationship on a status quo?

MUDD: I think maybe in the long term, but I think in the short term, the question is going to be whether people like Lindsey Graham translate words into pain. Let me tell you exactly what I mean, I think other people in the administration, Vice President Pence, the secretary of State, have been more careful in foreign policy situations, including in this one, than the president has been.

So you not only have Lindsey Graham, you have others in the administration more carefully choosing their words about where we're going to be with the Saudis if the information is compelling about their involvement in this murder. The bottom line here is whether the Senate lines up and says OK, we're going to make it hurt by denying weapons sales to the Saudis. That's the only clear litmus test I see.


MUDD: You can't just bar travel. You can't just take people's money. You've got to bar weapon sales.


HARLOW: Is -- Ambassador, is Phil Mudd right that the only way to really show Saudi and show the crown prince we mean it is to, if not cancel an arms deal, really pull back on the extent of it?

FEIERSTEIN: Well, I think that there are a number of different things that the U.S. can do that would signal very clearly to the Saudis that they need to address this situation, that they need to demonstrate clearly that whatever happened with Khashoggi, they have modified their decision-making train and that they've taken steps to insure that nothing like this can happen again.

HARLOW: But what specifically? I mean, you know, if curtailing visas and sanctioning these 17 individuals isn't it, what actually makes them change behavior?

FEIERSTEIN: Well, you know, the United States has a very broad and deep range of areas where we work with the Saudis. We cooperate very closely with the Saudi Ministry of Interior on a number of different programs. We can pull back on those. We can reduce work with any of the Saudi institutions that were implicated in this assassination. We can do a number of things.

One thing that I think is really important is that we need to get an ambassador out to Riyadh as quickly as possible in order to expand and deepen the nature of our dialogue with the Saudis. And get it out of this Kushner-Mohammed bin Salman channel, which I think has been extremely unhelpful for our interests.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Maybe deliver some hard messages there, and of course, the president has now nominated General Abizaid, former commander in the Middle East. Here we are, 48 days after Khashoggi disappeared, no body and no hard answer from the administration as to the response.

Phil Mudd, Gerald Feierstein, thanks very much.

It is a clean sweep for Democrats in Orange County, California, a place once dubbed Reagan country no longer.


[10:28:27] HARLOW: All right. It is -- yes, it's a complete sweep for Democrats in the once Republican stronghold of Orange County, California. That's saying a lot. Republican Young Kim decided Gil Cisneros over the weekend. That means all the congressional districts in the county are now repped by Democrats. Orange County had been a conservative bastion within the deep blue

state of California. It's a place President Ronald Reagan once touted where good Republicans go to die.

Joining us now Harry Enten, our senior political writer and analyst.

Good morning to you.


HARLOW: How did this happen?

ENTEN: I mean, this is amazing because it's not just where Republicans survive during the Reagan era. Ronald Reagan won that county by 50 points in 1984.

HARLOW: Right. '84, yes.

ENTEN: But look at where the Republican Party has been heading and look where the Democratic Party has been heading. Education levels mean more in voting patterns than they have at any point in recent history. And all four of these districts that flip from red to blue this year have above average education levels and all of them were districts that Mitt Romney won in 2012 but that Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

HARLOW: What does that tell us or --


HARLOW: Or tell Republicans and Democrats and strategists for 2020?

ENTEN: Yes, I think that if the story of 2016 was that non-college whites in the northern part of the country are starting to vote like non-college whites in the southern part of the country.


ENTEN: The story of 2020 will be that college whites in the south will begin to vote like college whites in the north. And you saw this not just in California but you saw this in Texas in the 7th and the 32nd district. You saw it in Georgia, Georgia's 6th District with Lucy McBath. You saw it in Kansas with Sharice Davids.

HARLOW: Right.

ENTEN: This is a trend that we're seeing across the country, is that education levels are beginning to take on paramount importance compared to everything else in terms of voting patterns especially among white Americans.