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Senate Democrats Sue to Block Trump's Acting Attorney General Appointment; Pressure Mounts on Trump After CIA's Chilling Conclusion on Khashoggi; Life Without Parole for The Man Who Killed Pregnant Wife and Daughters. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Brianna, thank you so much. Hi, everyone, I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Thank you for being with me on this Monday afternoon. A major legal offensive is now at play against President Trump's new acting Attorney General Mathew Whitaker. These three Democratic Senators just filed suit contending that Whitaker's appointment to lead the Justice Department is, in a word, unconstitutional.

There lawsuit says Whitaker performing the duties of the AG, quote, "has denied each plaintiff the opportunity to cast a binding vote on whether to consent to defendant Whitaker serving as a principal officer. Senator Blumenthal, Whitehouse, and Hirono are all members of the Senate Judiciary committee, that is the panel questions and confirms presidential appointees, and Whitaker as a fill-in for that top job skipped that process.

The lawsuit lists multiple other problems with Whitaker, including his public criticisms of the Russia investigation, let's start at the White House, with our correspondent there, Kaitlan Collins. And Kaitlan, that the DOJ just last week issued a defense as to why they believe that Whitaker's appointment is valid. Is that the same defense that the White House is using today?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is the same defense. And that's what they're arguing. And we've seen President Trump take his own route here by saying, well, Matt Whitaker's not confirmed by the Senate, but neither was the special counsel, Robert Mueller, even though, of course, Brooke, the special counsel is not a cabinet-level position, therefore he doesn't have to be confirmed by the Senate, even though Robert Mueller personally was during his times as the FBI director. But that doesn't matter here at the White House. They are focusing on defending Matt Whitaker. We've seen President Trump do so several times over the last few weeks, as he's come under increasing scrutiny from Democrats, like the ones you just showed there who have filed this lawsuit against Matt Whitaker. And it all really revolves around his criticism of the Russia investigation. Now, President Trump was asked about that criticism and if he knew about it before he tapped Matt Whitaker to run the Justice Department, even temporarily, and this is what the President said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you know, before you appointed him, that he had that record and was so critical of Robert Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not know that. I did not know he took views on the Mueller investigation, as such.

WALLACE: And when you found that out?

TRUMP: I don't think it had any effect. If you look at those statements, those statements really can be viewed either way.

WALLACE: Well, he says there's no collusion, he says --

TRUMP: Chris, I'll tell you what.

WALLACE: He says you can starve the investigation.

TRUMP: What do you do when a person's right? There is no collusion. He happened to be right.


COLLINS: So, Brooke, the President says there that he did not know Matt Whitaker had criticized the Russia investigation before he picked him. But that contradicts what sources inside the White House have told us, which is, in fact, that that's how the President notice who had Matt Whitaker was in the first place. Because he saw him on tv making those remarks about the special counsel, which the President later said in that interview there that he believed his criticisms were founded and that he was correct in his opinions on the special counsel. But another thing this President said in that interview is that he will not overrule Matt Whitaker if he does try to limit the special counsel's probe, because in the President's words, Matt Whitaker is a smart guy and he can handle it.

KEILAR: Kaitlan, thank you very much. I want to focus in on that interview. We just played you a short clip here. This is the President's latest one on one, it's filled with insults and inaccuracies and one rare moment of introspection. But first, the President's revelation about the killing of U.S.-based journalists Jamal Khashoggi. A senior U.S. official and a source confirming to CNN that the CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman ordered the killing of Khashoggi, who was a critic of the Saudi royal. The President has yet to agree with that CIA assessment. And he revealed in his interview that he is choosing not to listen to the audio of this father of four's torture and murder.


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 want to hear it, sir?

TRUMP: Because it's a suffering tape. It's a terrible tape. I've 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. I know exactly -- I know everything that went on in the tape without having to --

WALLACE: what happened?

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


BALDWIN: Let's talk to Ryan Lizza, our CNN political analyst and chief political correspondent for esquire. Ryan Lizza, first on the fact that the President says he doesn't need to listen to this audio. Don't you think he should?

[14:05:00] RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, look, I actually don't think it's 100 percent necessary for him to listen to the actual audio to make a good decision about what the United States should do, right? I mean, I think that the bigger problem here are the comments he's made about basically seeing this issue as a nuisance, right? That is interfering with our relationship with Saudi Arabia, interfering with the Trump's entire middle east policy, which is to place a big bet on the sides, rather than what they did is and that the Trump is not caring about this issue enough or do something with teeth. Then I suggest it's problematic that he doesn't want to listen to it. Because there are a lot of human rights advocates and a lot of foreign policy experts who think it's a very sad day that Trump doesn't see this as a sort of crisis in our relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I think that's the bigger problem.

BALDWIN: Right. And that full report comes down tomorrow and all eyes on this President and this White House to see how he responds to that.


BALDWIN: I want to get to your perspective on the moment when President Trump unloads on Retired Admiral William McRaven. You know, this is the man who was in charge of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011, and Trump attacked the military for not having killed OBL sooner. Here he was.


WALLACE: Bill McRaven, retired admiral, Navy S.E.A.L., 37 years, former head of U.S. special operations --

TRUMP: Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Special operations --

TRUMP: Excuse me! Hillary Clinton fan.

WALLACE: Who led command of the operations that took down Saddam Hussein and that killed Osama Bin Laden says that your sentiment is the greatest threat to democracy in his lifetime. TRUMP: OK. He's a Hillary Clinton backer. And an Obama backer.

And, frankly --

WALLACE: He was a Navy S.E.A.L. for 37 --

TRUMP: -- wouldn't it have been nice if we got Osama Bin Laden a lot sooner?


BALDWIN: OK, first of all, Admiral McRaven took no position in the 2016 Presidential election, so I don't know where Trump is getting that from. And on top of that, he wasn't responsible for finding Bin Laden, he was in charge of that mission in Abbottabad to capture and kill. So, what is this really about? Is this about the Trump prism to review people? You know, whether it's those who voted for me and those he feels like who didn't?

LIZZA: I think that's the right word. The Trump prism, is this person a supporter or not. Does this person like respect and say nice -- actually, like and respect doesn't even matter.

BALDWIN: Do they say nice things? Because we know he hasn't.

LIZZA: 100 percent. Anyone who has sort of lobbied Trump and any world leaders who have sort of figured out the Trump relationship are very clear about this, if you talk to any of those people, he is as simple as that. Flattery will get you everywhere with him.

BALDWIN: Everywhere.

LIZZA: And look, as you pointed out, McRaven was a non-partisan military man for his entire career, as he said in a statement, he liked George W. Bush. He liked Barack Obama, he pointedly did not say he likes Donald Trump, but he made a very serious and significant comment about Trump being a threat to democracy and, man, it doesn't get anymore sobering when someone like that makes a statement, someone as non-partisan, who has served his country for as long as he has, makes a statement like that. All of us should, you know, pay attention. I mean, that doesn't mean that he's above criticism, of course. But the idea that the criticism of him should be that he took too long to find bin laden when that wasn't even his job, you know, of course, is absurd. But, you know, you're either for Trump or you're against him. And McRaven crossed that line, obviously.

BALDWIN: There was a rare moment in this interview where President Trump actually expressed regret about his absence at Arlington on Veterans Day. Here he was.


TRUMP: I should have done that. I was extremely busy on calls for the country. We did a lot of calling, as you know.

WALLACE: But this is Veterans Day.

TRUMP: I probably -- you know, in retrospect, I should have. And I did last year. And I will virtually every year.


BALDWIN: Why do you think on that, with Ryan, he was willing to go there?

[15:10:01] LIZZA: First of all, I mean, I know there's a reason you're playing that, because we are all blown away that he -- when he expresses anything approaching an apology. And frankly, usually, he regrets things because of the way that they play on cable and in the papers that he's obsessed, right? It's not so much that he let the troops down or he let veterans down, it's that he got the you and frankly, usually, he regrets things because of the way that they play on cable and in the papers that he's obsessed, right? It's not so much that he let the troops down or he let veterans down, it's that he got the you know what beaten out of him for not doing what every President usually does on Veterans Day. But it is extremely rare to actually see him, rather than just defend it, say, you know, he made -- he made a mistake. But I think he's apologetic or he's not happy about not going, because of the criticism and because of the way it has played and he's just been attacked from all sides over it.

BALDWIN: He has. From the left and from the right. And he realized he should have been there. Ryan Lizza, good to see you. Thank you very much.

LIZZA: Good to see you, Brooke. Thank you very much.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here, the judge calls it one of the most inhumane and vicious crimes he has ever seen. This Colorado man who once went on TV begging for his wife and young daughters to come home has now been sentenced for their murders.

Also, surrounded by flames. I'll talk to a California mom who said she had to make a life-or-death decision hours after giving birth. Her harrowing story of survival is coming up. Look at that precious face.

And happening right now, what's behind the sharp market sell-off? The Dow falling close to 500 points on this Monday afternoon. We'll keep a close eye on that. You're watching CNN.


BALDWIN: Checking the numbers on the big board today. The Dow down less than 500 points. What's behind this? Let's go to Christina Alesci.

CHRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY CORRESPONDENT: There's a lot of pessimism. There seems to be a general sense that we're just not going to get the kind of growth that we've seen over the last couple of years out of some of these darlings of Wall Street, as we call them, like Apple and Facebook. So that's been a drag on the market. I also just got off the phone with a source who told me a lot of the sophisticated investors in the market are selling. And they are what we call de-risking, taking some money off the table before year end. So, all of that is driving the market lower and we're probably going to see this kind of up-and-down for quite some time. One of the biggest banks on Wall Street today put out a study saying overall, investors are just not in a great mood. They're not doing the typical thing that we've seen over the last couple of years, which is called buying the dip. So, when the market goes down, typically, what we've seen is that bargain hunters come in and try and get some good prices on some stocks. That's not happening this time around. And that's why you're seeing so much red across the screen, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Got it. Thank you so much.

An emotional heart-wrenching day of justice for a Colorado family as a man was sentenced for killing his wife and two young daughters. The victims' family agreed to a plea bargain, trading the death penalty for multiple life sentences without parole. 33-year-old Christopher Watts pleaded guilty to strangling his wife, Shanann and the couple's young daughters 4 and 3. After burying his wife in a shallow grave, he stuffed his daughters in oil barrels in an effort to hide their bodies. Today, the family of the victims and the convicted murder got a chance to confront him and talk about how the deaths have forever changed their lives.


FRANK RZUCEK, VICTIM'S FATHER AND GRANDFATHER: God only knows what happened that night. Life will never be the same without Shanann, Bella and Celeste and Niko. Had all their lives to live. They were taken by a heartless one. This is the heartless one, the evil monster, who dare you take the lives of my daughter Shanann, Bella, Celeste, and Niko

I trusted you to take care of them, not kill them. And they also trusted you. The heartless monster and then you take them out like trash. You disgust me. You buried my daughter, Shanann and Niko in a shallow grave and you put Bella and Celeste in used containers of crude oil, you, heartless monster. You have -- you have to live with this vision every day of your life and I hope you see that every time you close your eyes at night.

SANDRA RZUCEK: Your daughter, Bella Marie, sang a song proudly. And I don't know if you got to see it, but it was, "daddy, you're my hero." I have no idea who gave you the right to take their lives. But I know god and his mighty angels were there at that moment to bring them home to paradise. God gives us free will, so not only did you take the family of four, your family of four, you took your own life. I want the world to know that our daughter and her children were so loved by us.

[14:20:00] CYNTHIA WATTS, HER SON KILLED WIFE AND YOUNG DAUGHTERS: Our families have been irreparably broken by the needless deaths of

Shanann, Bella, Celeste and Niko. This is something we will never get over. We will always mourn the loss of our family and in that, we are united in our grief. I am still struggling to understand how and why this tragedy occurred. I may never be able to understand and accept it, but I pray for peace and healing for all of us. MICHAEL ROURKE, WELD COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We know that our

experts will tell us that it takes 2 to 4 minutes to strangle someone to death manually with their own hands. The horror that she felt as the man that she loved wrapped his hands around her throat and choked the life out of her must have been unimaginable. Even worse, what must Bella, age 4, and Celeste, age 3, must have experienced or thought as their father, the one man on this planet who was supposed to nurture and protect them was snuffing out their lives. They both died from smothering. Let me say that again. The man seated to my right smothered his daughters.

JUDGE MARCELA KOPCOW, WELD COUNTY COURT: I've been a judicial officer now for starting my 17th year and I could objectively say that this is perhaps the most inhumane and vicious crime that I have handled out of the thousands of cases that I have seen. Deputies, I would respectfully ask that you take this defendant into custody and have him serve the rest of his life in the Department of Corrections.


BALDWIN: I know. Shaking your head. So am I. Pat Lalama is with me. A crime journalist who has closely watched this case. It's like, you listen to these family members. I -- I have no words. And, you know, obviously, you want them to throw the book at him, just shy of the death penalty, as that was the deal they made, right? If he were to have plead ed guilty, but still, how do they reach this sentence?

PAT LALAMA, CRIME JOURNALIST: Well, I must tell you, Brooke, Chris Watts fought and screamed all the way to this agreement. In his -- might I use the term -- narcissism, really wanted to put himself out there and make himself the hero and he was saving his children from, you know, the wife, et cetera, et cetera. But he finally came to what senses, if he has any, and determined that there's really nowhere to go. And interestingly, though, people want answers.


LALAMA: Everybody wants an answer. The fact that he had a mistress is not the reason for this, Brooke. There's some underlying answer that even the prosecutors and the courts agree, even Chris Watts' parents agree that everyone deserves an explanation. But you want to know why there isn't one? I'm going to give you three words. Bella fought back. When you hear those three words that his own daughter looked at her father, the man that she called a hero, and fought back, at the hands of her own father, that tells you that this man is so morally, emotionally, and intellectually bankrupt that there really is never going to be an answer, Brooke, ever.

BALDWIN: That she bit her tongue, that they saw that she had multiple times to try to fight back against her father, who was killing her. What -- so he goes away for the rest of his life. All of these statements that we heard from not only her family, his family, how impactful are these statements in affecting the judge's decision?

LALAMA: I think in this case, I'm going to take a guess here, because I don't know this judge, but he clearly knew the terms of the plea deal. He clearly probably knew ahead of time those sordid, horrific details that the prosecutor so solemnly and forcefully laid out. And I think that the prosecutor did that because he didn't want to give that judge any other option but to give him the ultimate maximum on each and every count and that's what the judge did. And the judge even said, and you don't hear this a lot, Brooke, I've been in courtrooms for a lot of decades, that judge said there was no more inhumane act than what he saw. And he gave him everything he could, short of the death penalty. And interestingly, it was Shanann's family that didn't want the death penalty either.

[15:25:04] They felt that fighting fire with fire or an eye for an eye was not appropriate. But the judge did everything else he could to make sure that that man lives with himself every single day until he drops dead.

BALDWIN: His wife, two children, unborn child. Last question, as he goes and rots in prison, how will he be treated by other inmates?

LALAMA: Well, you know, there's an obligation on the part of authorities to make sure he's not put in harm's way. But you know what, that doesn't always happen. I'm not saying I wish for it, but it's going to be a rotten life for him. The only problem, Brooke, is I don't think he has a conscience. Did you see a tear in that hearing today? Did you see anything except his head down and glanced up every now and then? Even when listening to that description of his little baby girls being stuffed in separate vats, 8 inches in diameter, nothing from this man. So, I think he's just going to become and remain the narcissist he is until the day he drops.

BALDWIN: Thinking about that entire family. Pat lama, thank you very much. Thank you for your analysis.

Coming up next here, this harrowing story of survival from these California wildfires. My next guest, a California mom who says she was confronted with a life-or-death decision hours after giving birth to her third precious child.

And ahead, no joke, the stunning move by the White House Correspondents' Association, deciding to ditch the comedian for their annual black-tie dinner. What they plan to do instead, coming up.