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Reports of Active Shooter Near Hospital in Chicago; Jim Acosta's White House Press Pass Restored; Trump Lashes Out at Special Counsel, Special Ops Head Who Ran bin Laden Raid. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 19, 2018 - 17:00   ET

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


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: Again, these reports are early. We're going to continue to follow the facts here. Our coverage of the breaking story continues on CNN right now.

[17:00:20] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. There's breaking news we're following in Chicago, where police are responding to reports of an active shooter near a major hospital.

Let's go straight to CNN's Athena Jones. Athena, update our viewers on what you're learning.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, we just got a tweet a few minutes ago from the chief communications officer from the Chicago Police Department, and he tweeted, "Officers are doing a methodical search of Mercy Hospital. At least one possible offender shot. Please avoid the area around 26th Street and Michigan." This is a little bit south of downtown Chicago, near the shores of Lake Michigan.

This same communications officer tweeted earlier that there were reports of multiple victims from a possible shooting. So it's clear that the police don't quite have a handle on this situation yet. Unclear whether this one possible offender really was the offender. Unclear what happened to that person. And the numbers. We don't have the number of how many people have been shot, how badly they were injured. That is something that we're still waiting for.

But they have a heavy police presence there, as you can see. Are advising everyone in the area to avoid the area as they do this methodical search. That's the last update we have from Chicago P.D., from about ten minutes ago. So we're staying on this to see what develops.

BLITZER: Yes, and Athena, I'm just getting this information in from "The Chicago Tribune," quoting a fire department spokesperson in Chicago as saying fire officials are sending at least ten ambulances to the scene. They're calling for an emergency medical service plan two, a serious operation right now that's unfolding in Chicago. And authorities, according to this report, are warning all people to stay away from the area right now. Once again, as you say, reports of multiple victims in the attack.

That according to the police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. He released that information in a tweet.

I want to bring in Phil Mudd, who once worked at the FBI. So these are initial reports, Phil. And clearly, only sporadic information is coming in. We're probably going to be learning a lot more fairly soon. But what's your initial assessment of this? It sounds obviously very, very bad.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes, there's a couple questions you would have from the outset and I would judge that the police department might have answers already. First of all, for example, is the individual -- if the individual, the shooter, has been injured, is he speaking? Does he have identification on that would allow you not only to determine who he or she is, but to reach out to things like family and associates to say who is this person, and what might be the motivation for this event?

The other thing, obviously, you have is targets. Can you determine why this person was shooting at these targets? Is there a broader conspiracy afoot? Was this an individual who was simply deranged? We should know those pretty quickly with the access, obviously, that the officers have to the individual. But right now the first question is whether he's alone and how do you clear the area, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, because as they say, the police are saying, that there are reports of multiple victims right now. And they're also suggesting at least one of the shooters, if there's more than one, we don't know. One of the shooters may have been shot as a result of the initial police activity. But they're sending a lot of police to this area, maybe in part, Phil, out of an abundance of caution.

MUDD: Sure. I mean, you have to act out of as you say, an abundance of caution in this situation.

Remember, too, when you're dealing with a hospital, the amount of rooms in that place, the difficulty, especially, with people who are ill, to clear the area. You might have a 99 percent judgment that this individual is acting alone. But you still have to clear the hospital and provide assurances that nobody else is there who might have been acting in concert with this individual.

So all these officers don't necessarily indicate that they expect to find somebody else. But they really have to be cautious, especially in these first few minutes or hour.

BLITZER: Yes, it's very, very early, as I've been reporting.

Athena, you've been getting some more information. What else are you learning?

JONES: Hi, Wolf. That's right. This is coming from the same spokesperson for the Chicago P.D., who's tweeting that a Chicago police officer has been shot in this active shooter incident there at Mercy Hospital. " He is in critical condition but receiving excellent care. Please send prayers," this coming from Anthony Guglielmi, who is the chief communications officer from Chicago P.D.

So we've been getting some pretty frequent updates from this spokesperson and expect to continue to get updates. But this is the latest. A police officer has been shot. We're still waiting to find out who else has been shot and how badly.

BLITZER: We don't know if there's one shooter involved in this incident or multiple shooters, right, Athena?

[17:35:03] JONES: That's right. So far we don't. Even in that earlier tweet, you had the spokesperson referring to a possible offender. So there's still a lot of questions about that possible offender.

As we heard someone else say, how badly was that person injured, were they really one of the -- an offender? Is there another one? How many are there?

So still a whole lot of questions as the police officers -- you've seen the very, very heavy police presence doing a methodical search of this hospital. I'm not sure how many stories it is, but this is something that is going to take some time before we get a fuller picture of just what is going on and who's been injured and how badly.

BLITZER: The key right now, Phil Mudd, and you've worked these kinds of situations during your career. The key right now is to find out how many shooters may have been involved and to clear the area right now, because potentially there could be more shootings under way.

MUDD: Sure. I mentioned access to -- obviously, access to the shooter. And my first question would be whether he's speaking to law enforcement at this moment.

There's a couple other questions that might help answer that issue of whether he's acting alone. The first I'd want to know is whether he's carrying identification. Even if he's not speaking. If he's carrying identification, that allows me immediately to get up on things like what his address is, and what his social media is to see if there's any indications that he's not acting alone.

The second question you're going to have, very quickly in a case like this, is whether he's carrying a phone. As soon as he's carrying a phone, you're going to telephone carriers to say, "I want to see his record of phone calls," including even potentially whether he was communicating during the event.

So I'd expect that law enforcement working quickly with those kind of indicators should be able to give us an answer as they clear the building about whether this individual was acting alone or not.

BLITZER: What does it say to you, if anything, Phil, that this incident is occurring near a major hospital in Chicago?

MUDD: Well, I'll give you my initial thought. It's sort of a gut thought. But I'll lay it out for you. And that is as soon as I see an event like this, the first question I have in the event is whether it's an iconic target. A target like what we saw in terror attacks in the past that might be associated with things like a military facility, an intelligence facility. U.S. Infrastructure.

I don't associate any of those things with a hospital. So my gut, when I'm seeing this after a lot of time, doing a lot of these kind of incidents, is that we're going to see somebody who has some kind of personal problem with an individual in the hospital or with the hospital itself. Maybe hospital personnel. I don't think I would draw a conclusion further than that at this time, though.

BLITZER: And just to repeat what the police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi is saying in various tweets, reports of multiple victims -- multiple victims -- in the attack. At least ten ambulances have been sent to the scene. Lots of police on the way or already there. Fire crews on the scene, as well. Authorities are warning police to stay out of the area.

And according to the chief communications officer for the Chicago Police Department, at least -- and these are specific words, Phil, I want you to react. At least one offender shot in an incident in Mercy Hospital. Police are searching the hospital, according to the press spokesman for the Chicago Police Department. So if they're already searching the hospital, presumably that's good news.

MUDD: I would agree with that. I mean, the fact that the offender is down, obviously, suggests that he's clearly not a threat any more. I mentioned earlier, if he's down, there's a prospect that they're speaking with him.

I would say, on the other hand, there are facts here, as well, that are deeply concerning as we go, potentially, to look at the investigation through the evening and tomorrow morning.

The first would be the number of victims in this incident would suggest to you that the individual didn't go in looking for a specific target. Maybe he had an issue with the hospital itself.

The second is if you're dealing with that many injured people, you're talking about six, eight, ten people. I heard something about ten ambulances. That suggests to me that he's carrying a weapon or weapons, where he intended to shoot a lot of people at once and didn't have a specific target in mind. Boy, it's the same thing we keep seeing again and again in this country, Wolf. What we just saw in California recently.

BLITZER: You know, unfortunately, we see a lot of this unfolding.

Josh Campbell is with us, as well, our law enforcement analyst, former FBI special supervisory agent. So Josh, what are your initial thoughts? And I want to just caution everyone. This is preliminary information we're getting from the Chicago Police Department.

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, you nailed it, Wolf. We have to keep that in mind. These initial reports and you have to think about what happened. Witnesses, bystanders, will be calling in to 911, reporting what they're seeing. You have first responding officers who are reporting back. So a lot of that is a very chaotic situation, and it's up to dispatchers and the officers responding to try to make sense of what they're dealing with.

So whenever we start hearing the numbers come out, again, it's very early. I assume we'll start getting some of that information in short order. We did hear from the Chicago Police Department there was a large police presence that was inbound to this location. This is a facility that would have had security onsite. These lawyers -- hospitals, usually do have some type of security presence. Whether they are armed or not, we don't yet know.

But also, Wolf, I have to tell you, looking at this building, we're talking about a 10-, 11-story building. There's a lot of work ahead of police officers as they go through this facility.

[17:10:05] We heard the initial reports that possibly one offender is down. But again, the officers won't give that all-clear, Wolf, until they go floor to floor, room by room, and you can imagine a very chaotic situation.

The last thing we have to think about, Wolf, in this instance is this isn't a typical facility like a mall or a school, where, you know, people -- everyone inside can get up and evacuate. Obviously, you have people that are in the hospital that are in these rooms, that they have to be cared for.

So, again, very chaotic and it's up to officers to work through that facility floor to floor and ensure that there's no threat before they send out that all-clear, Wolf.

BLITZER: And what is obviously so disturbing, Josh, is that the police spokesman suggesting that there are multiple victims right now in this shooting incident. And once again, we don't know if there's one shooter involved or multiple shooters, right?

CAMPBELL: Yes, exactly, Wolf. And, again, you know, they're trying to get information out to the public as best they can initially. That's something we've seen police officers come out and, you know, try to gather information and to disseminate it. Not to wait.

But, again, a lot of these numbers are reports we have to really work through and wait for. Officers to really give us a firm grasp, a firm handling on what it is that they're dealing with when we start talking about the numbers.

I can tell you again, Wolf, you see officers responding, just based on some of the footage that we see there, you don't see that influx of officers coming in that you would expect if that scene was still hot, you know, if they were expecting that, OK, this is, you know, possibly an active situation. Again, an active shooter is active until it's not.

But we do see police officers arrive, but they don't appear to be in that tactical posture where they're rushing in. So that may be one indicator for us to understand at least they feel they have the building surrounded and secure enough so they can work through and methodically go through.

And then the next question, obviously, Wolf, is going to be who is this person, and why did they do what they did? Again, we've seen shootings where, you know, suspects will not have any type of identification, and that's a very herculean task for officers to try to identify the person. We'll find out in short order who this person was if, indeed, the person down is the person that was responsible.

And then we get into the weaponry. What was the person using? Again, a lot of details that we don't have yet that we'll start getting and we'll continue to work our sources as well, Wolf, with law enforcement officials to gather that information.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise, Josh. The Chicago Police Department chief communications officer says in a statement -- and I want to be specific -- "At least one offender shot in incident at Mercy Hospital." Police are searching the hospital right now. So what does that say to you? At least one offender shot in incident at Mercy Hospital raises the possibility there could be more out there.

CAMPBELL: That's right. And so that either means that the person took his or her own life or they came into contact with law enforcement. There was an exchange of gunfire. Again, those are details that we'll continue to sort through.

But again, I have to tell you, Wolf, in these situations, you know -- and I remember this being in the FBI and now obviously, covering these for the American people in the press, is there is almost always never more than one person involved in these things. But law enforcement officers can't be sure of that until they actually go through.

We think about San Bernardino, for example, where you did have more than one person responsible. So, again, almost always you have one lone individual that's conducting these types of incidents. But until the officers go through, until they go through every single floor in that hospital, they're not going to send out that all-clear. And you're going to continue to see resources assisting in that effort.

Also tell you, Wolf, and I know this, working some of these cases, that hospitals are now, obviously, a pivotal part of a response to an active shooting. So if an incident like this happens somewhere out in public at a shopping mall, at a school, that alert will go out to hospitals. They'll send out a code alerting their personnel that there s a possibility that they're going to be having victims inbound to be treated. You know, once that happens in a hospital, as we see here, obviously, you know, their first goal is to not only protect the patients that are also in the hospital but also to respond and try to save lives.

So very chaotic situation at the early stages as these happen. And the last thing -- these facilities are fused together, so this alert is no doubt going out to other medical facilities, as well. So if they do have to evacuate this hospital, at least there are other medical facilities in the vicinity that can be prepared to receive patients. And again, we see some of the ambulances there moving. So it looks as though they might be moving people to different facilities. Again, we'll gather a lot of information as the hour unfolds here, Wolf.

But a very long investigation, a long task ahead for law enforcement officers. That is a very large building there, 10, 11 stories they have to work through, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's obviously a huge, huge operation that's unfolding right now. Even as we're reporting the initial information we're getting. Phil Mudd, this incident as it's unfolding right now, a key will be to determine if there's more than one shooter and what kind of weapon or weapons were involved, right?

MUDD: Sure. There's -- and I suspect they have answers to that. Now, think of some of the questions that have already been answered. Is there anybody killed or injured in a vicinity that does not include the downed shooter? Already you can be speaking to people in the vicinity saying, "Did you see anybody else beyond the one shooter?" Within I would say minutes or maybe an hour or two, you're going to get identification of who the individual is, and you're going to have somebody swarm on his House or apartment and start to ask the question: Who was he? Did he live with anybody? Did he ever speak about doing something like this that involved a conversation that might suggest somebody else participated?

[17:15:08] So I'm with Josh. I would look at this and say, in most of these incidences, it's going to be a single individual. But you've still got to apply the 1 percent ruled, Wolf. And that is if there is a 1 percent or less chance we're wrong on that judgment, you've got to spend a few hours making sure you're right.

BLITZER: Absolutely. You've got to err totally on the side of caution. Athena, you're getting more information.

JONES: That's right. We're getting this via Adam Collins, who is the spokesperson, the communications director for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This is something that Chicago P.D. spokesperson just retweeted.

They're saying that Mayor Emanuel is currently at the public safety headquarters with the superintendent of the Chicago Police, Eddie Johnson, where they are monitoring the events unfolding at Mercy Hospital.

So as you would expect, the mayor of Chicago is now together with the superintendent for Chicago police, watching closely as things unfold here. We don't have any more updates on this search, but we would imagine that the search of a building this size would take some time. There's rooms, there's closets. So that is still ongoing.

And as you've been talking about, we still don't know exactly how many people were injured. Or shot, potentially, and how badly they were injured. We do know about this Chicago police officer who was shot, and he is in critical condition but receiving care there at Mercy Hospital. So that is the very latest we have on the situation there.

BLITZER: Very early in all of this. We're getting more information. Let's take a quick break. We'll update our viewers on the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:55] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories right now, including reports of multiple people shot at Chicago's Mercy Hospital or just outside the hospital. Chicago police say at least one police officer has been shot and is in critical condition right now. Additionally, at least one offender, a shooter has been shot, and there are reports of multiple victims in the incident. We're going to continue to follow the breaking news, update you on the latest situation in Chicago.

But there's other breaking news we're following here in Washington. The White House now dropping a threat to revoke Jim Acosta's press credentials again, fully restoring his press pass after a CNN warning of further court action.

Jim Acosta is over at the White House with more on what the president is saying and not necessarily doing as far as the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is concerned. We're going to get to Jim Acosta in just a moment. But first, let's go to our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter. Brian, first of all, what's the very latest on the White House backing down?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: While Jim is over there doing his job, I'm covering Jim today, Wolf. Strange situation. But all of this has been strange for the past two weeks. After all, the White House has never tried to kick a reporter out, the way they tried to out Jim almost two weeks ago.

So as you know, last Friday, the judge ruled in CNN's favor. The press pass was returned to Acosta for a two-week temporary period of time.

Over the weekend, the White House moved once again, making a new threat against Acosta's press pass. So CNN fired back in court this morning, and lo and behold, 3 p.m. today, the White House seemed to back down. The new statement from Bill Shine and Sarah Sanders is the press pass will be restored. There's no more threat of revoking it in the future.

Here's CNN's statement about this, essentially saying the legal battle is over. Quote, "Today the White House fully restored Jim Acosta's press pass. As a result, our lawsuit is no longer necessary. We look forward to continuing to cover the White House." That's the message from CNN today. This legal battle over for now, at least. But there is still this cloud hanging in the air about whether Trump might try to do this in the future to somebody else.

BLITZER: Why did the White House back down in the face of these latest legal developments?

STELTER: Yes, I think one of the theories is lawyers all along thought CNN had a very strong case, and the Department of Justice may have advised the White House that further defeats were likely. After all, the judge last Friday said he thought CNN was likely to prevail if this became a full, lengthy court case. So the DOJ may have given the advice to the White House.

But we know how the Trump administration is. They don't like to ever admit defeat. So in this letter today to Jim Acosta, Sanders and Shine outline what they call new rules, one of the rules being that you can only ask one question at a presidential press conference and you can only ask a follow-up at the president's discretion. So what they're doing is they're putting down in writing the idea of these rules that they could then potentially use to punish reporters in the future.

Here's the thing, though, Wolf. The president rarely has press conferences, and White House reporters haven't agreed to these rules. So it remains to be seen if this is just a fig leaf in order to give the White House an excuse to drop this case and give the press pass back or if, in the future, there's going to be a chilling effect. And frankly, that's the concern going forward, that there's going to be a chilling effect in the White House press corps. If you try to ask too many questions in a row, the White House might try to revoke your press pass.

That all remains to be seen, but we, I think, can all agree, that Americans deserve more questions, more answers, not fewer from the administration. So that's where things stand as of tonight.

BLITZER: And reporters are going to ask questions, and if they don't get answers, they're going to ask follow-ups. That's the nature of the job.

STELTER: Follow-ups.

BLITZER: You've got to do both. Ask the question, if you don't get an answer, you ask a follow-up or two, if necessary. All right, Brian, thank you very much.

All of this comes as the special counsel's probe closes in and the president lashes out. I want to go live to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. He's working over at the White House right now. Jim, the president is attacking seemingly in all sorts of directions.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is setting the stage for some bruising fights this week, sending the message that he won't be sitting down with a special counsel, Robert Mueller, in the Russia investigation. And he's starting a war of words over, of all things, something most Americans have cheered. The killing of Osama bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[17:25:04] ACOSTA: Welcoming the national Christmas tree to the White House, the president is warning Special Counsel Robert Mueller there is one gift he shouldn't count on. A sit-down interview with Mr. Trump in the Russia investigation.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think --

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: No interview?

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

ACOSTA: And the president is far from finished with fights he's picking on a number of fronts. He's still battling with retired Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

TRUMP: He's a Hillary Clinton backer. And an Obama backer. And frankly --

WALLACE: He's a Navy SEAL.

TRUMP: -- wouldn't it be nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that? Wouldn't it have been nice?

ACOSTA: McRaven, who has been sharply critical of the president's rhetoric, fired back with a statement of his own, saying, quote, "I stand by my comment that the president's attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime."

The president's criticism of the bin Laden raid runs counter to statements he made at the time of the mission, when he told Politico, "I want to personally congratulate President Obama and the men and women of the armed forces for a job well done."

TRUMP: The witch hunt --

ACOSTA: The president isn't holding back when it comes to his own team, openly criticizing Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

TRUMP: I want her to get much tougher, and we'll see what happens there. But I want to be extremely tough.

ACOSTA: And White House chief of staff, John Kelly.

TRUMP: Look, we get along well. There are certain things I love what he does, and there are certain things that I don't like that he does.

ACOSTA: The president reserved his nastiest attack for House Democrat, Adam Schiff, whose name he intentionally misspelled.

Contrast that with the president's softer touch with Saudi Arabia. In response to reports that the administration has the audio of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a murder the CIA says was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the president says he doesn't want to hear the tape.

TRUMP: 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.

So we're going to spend the money that it's necessary.

ACOSTA: Perhaps the strangest battle Mr. Trump has chosen to wage has been over the cause of the wildfires in California. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The European Union --

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump said the president of Finland told him his country rakes its forests.

TRUMP: I was with the president of Finland, and he said we have a much different -- we're a forest nation. He called it a forest nation. And they spend a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things. And they don't have any problem.

ACOSTA: But the Finnish president told a news outlet in Finland he could not recall any conversation with Mr. Trump about raking forests. The president won't give up the raking idea.

TRUMP: That should have been all raked out and cleaned up.

WALLACE: What about the argument --

TRUMP: You wouldn't have the fires.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: The president is holding out the idea with the -- that he could still sit down with Robert Mueller, but it appears for now the president's legal team will instead release written answers to the special counsel and its questions in the Russia investigation.

The question, of course, after that, is whether Mueller's team will keep pushing for an in-person, sit-down interview with the president, Wolf. It is possible that Mueller's team won't be satisfied with the answers coming from President Trump, coming from the White House, and they'll want more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, thank you very much. Reporting from the North Lawn of the White House.

And joining us now, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for joining us. As you know, the president says he didn't know about Matt Whitaker's views on the Mueller investigation before he appointed him to become the acting attorney general. Do you believe the president?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Wolf, that's very difficult to believe. No, I think the president understood that by appointing Mr. Whitaker, he was appointing someone who would be sympathetic to his position in regards to the Mueller investigation. The logical choice was Rod Rosenstein. He was the deputy. He had been confirmed by the United States Senate. This appointment was clearly one to influence the Mueller investigation.

BLITZER: Three of your Democratic colleagues, Senators Mazie Hirono, Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, they've filed a lawsuit in federal court arguing that Whitaker's appointment is unconstitutional. Do you think they will prevail in court? CARDIN: I think it is a very serious constitutional issue that the

president has brought to the United States, to the public now. And that is by appointing someone who is not confirmed by the United States Senate, where the next person in line was confirmed by the United States Senate, that, I believe, can create a constitutional crisis.

So I'm pleased that my colleagues have filed this lawsuit. I hope the courts will clarify this. But I do think this is a serious constitutional issue.

BLITZER: The president has said he believes the Mueller investigation is now coming to an end. If Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general, decides to bury Mueller's final report -- Mueller has to submit his report to Whitaker before it goes any place else, to Congress or the courts or any place else. What are you prepared to do if Whitaker buries Mueller's final report?

CARDIN: I can tell you this. I've heard from my colleagues in the Senate and the House. Everyone has said we're going to protect the Mueller investigation. It's time for Congress to take action.

There's bipartisan legislation that's been recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It's been sitting on the docket now for six months. Congress should pass this bill to protect the Mueller investigation so that it can reach its conclusions without interference from the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Let me ask you about the president's decision to go ahead and insult the retired U.S. admiral, McRaven, who he shamed publicly for not killing Osama bin Laden sooner. The president was lashing out because McRaven has sounded the alarm on the president's attacks on the free press. I want your reaction to that.

CARDIN: It was outrageous. The general pointed out that he serves the commander-in-chief, whether that commander-in-chief is a Democrat or Republican. And what he did was patriotic on behalf of America. A successful mission to get Osama bin Laden.

Now for President Trump to challenge his political beliefs, because he was working for a Democratic president? Now he's working -- now the generals are working for a Republican president. They're not partisan. These are generals. They're serving our nation and should be honored. Not ridiculed by the president of the United States.

BLITZER: Yes, spent 35 years in the U.S. Navy, becoming a Navy SEAL, head of the U.S. -- the U.S. military's Special Operations command and led the operation that eventually resulted in the killing of bin Laden.

Let's turn to the president's comments on the Saudi journalist who was working for the "Washington Post," Jamal Khashoggi. The president seems to believe the denials of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Do you think the president is being lied to?

CARDIN: First of all, Wolf, here we go again. We had the same problem with the U.S. intelligence community informing the president of the United States about Russia's interference in our elections. President Trump refused to accept the intelligence community's findings.

Once again, we have the intelligence community telling us that the royal family, the crown prince, was very much directly involved in this murder, and that here the president is saying, "Well, I believe the crown prince."

So the president very clearly is trying to dodge what he needs to do. And that is to take action and hold the crown prince accountable for ordering this murder.

BLITZER: He says the Saudis are a great ally of the United States. But the CIA has concluded with a high degree of confidence that the crown prince ordered the killing of Khashoggi. Why do you think the president doesn't necessarily trust that intelligence community conclusion?

CARDIN: I'm not sure the president doesn't trust it. The president just doesn't want to act on it. The president wants to maintain relationships with these strongmen around the nation -- around the world that do horrible things. I mean, we saw that when he first embraced Mr. Putin. We see that now with Kim Jong-un. We now see it with the crown prince.

These are individuals that you need to stand up. America's strength is our value. And our foreign policy needs to be wrapped in American values.

BLITZER: Do you want --

CARDIN: And the president is doing a disservice.

BLITZER: Do you want the so-called Magnitsky sanctions to be imposed on the crown prince himself?

CARDIN: I think they need to go higher than they've been already applied. I applaud the administration for using the Magnitsky sanctions. We -- we sent a letter urging him to do that under the law. But I think he needs to go higher than they've gone so far.

BLITZER: Senator Cardin, thanks so much for joining us.

CARDIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's bring in our political and legal experts to talk about the breaking news. And we have lots to discuss.

And Kaitlan, let's begin with you. The president in that interview with FOX News yesterday, he said he's not ready, and he has no plans to sit down with Robert Mueller. He's going to submit his answers in writing, but that's it. He says the investigation has gone on long enough. Enough time, he says, has been wasted.

But he has sounded a very different note in the past. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of --

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One hundred percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

TRUMP: Thank you. Sure, I would like to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

TRUMP: I'm looking forward to it, actually.

I would love to speak. I would love to. Nobody wants to speak more than me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. He's changed his mind.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Quite so. And at one point, they were close to having the president do that interview, preparing for it at Camp David one weekend. So we really do see how far we've come in the months of these negotiations going on between the president and the special counsel.

And things really took a turn after Michael Cohen's office home and hotel had a search warrant conducted on them by the FBI and agents, which the president later said they had broken into. That's how he described it. But that is really when we saw things change with the president.

But something interesting has happened in the past few days, the president's remarks on Mueller. One of them being that he believes after he does submit these questions, because he's completed the answers, but he says he hasn't submitted them yet. He believes this is all winding down. Though it's unclear why he thinks that. Because the special counsel has provided no time line, and what we're told is they have not provided a time line to the president's legal team either.

[17:35:12] We heard Kellyanne Conway make a remark this morning during an interview that caught my attention. Because she said there was no collusion, but she specified among high-ranking officials in the Trump campaign. That's not what we've heard before. And before we heard them focus on no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. But it was interesting to hear her clarify it as among the high-ranking officials.

And it does make you wonder if in those questions they got, which were likely very specific from the special counsel, if it included any details that alluded to the fact that maybe they know something that other people in the campaign knew about, any contact with other officials. That raises a lot of questions for us.

BLITZER: Because it did -- certainly, I heard what you said, too, which seemed to suggest, yes, there was some collusion among low-level officials. But there was no collusion among senior officials. Top officials.

Chris Cillizza, the president says this whole Russia probe that's been going on now for a long time has been a waste of time. But look at the numbers. And I'll put them up on the screen. Russia investigation: 191 criminal counts; 35 people or entities charged. Six guilty pleas. Three people already sentenced to prison. You can't argue with those numbers.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE: No. And that's why I think I'm so glad we posted that. I think we should post it every time he says witch hunt or hoax. Because regardless of what you think and I think Kaitlan's astute analysis of the collusion and who it might be, regardless of what you think of that, this investigation has already done quite a bit. Already pretty far down the road.

And in those numbers of people who pled guilty or sentenced, found guilty, Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman, effectively the campaign manager. Rick Gates, who was the deputy campaign chairman. Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's guy.

BLITZER: Michael Flynn.

CILLIZZA: Michael Flynn.

BLITZER: The national security adviser.

CILLIZZA: These are not low-level people, right? And I always -- people always say, "Well, you know, Donald Trump -- there's no collusion. Nothing is proven."

I always say to them, "Look -- look at the people who have pled guilty. Do you think that Michael Flynn pled guilty and is cooperating because the news media did something?" Like -- they had things on him that he decided he needed to cut a deal. Same thing with Manafort, same thing with Gates. We've got this up here. Same thing with Papadopoulos.

These are guilty pleas in a court of law. This isn't the media reporting on something one way and the facts being something different. The facts are the facts, and it's what you just showed. The raw numbers are startling. I think we need to talk about it more.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, let's talk about the president. He seems to think that once in the coming days the written answers are submitted to Mueller, that's going to indicate the probe is basically over. Is he right?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, he might be. I mean, this is the thing. This is why people under investigation really like to delay. As Kaitlan said, this interview was almost conducted in January at

Camp David. So now it's almost Thanksgiving. That's how long this negotiation over these answers has gone on.

You know that the president is going to be saying, "OK, we've given their answers. Wrap this thing up." We don't know if Mueller is filing more charges. Yes, there is clearly an investigation surrounding Roger Stone and his relationship with WikiLeaks. But I don't know that there are going to be criminal charges filed there.

This -- it may be that at this point the president -- the Mueller investigation is wrapping up and reports will be filed soon.

And I think, you know, this was a smart strategy on the part of the defense, to drag this thing out so long, that they could now say, "Well, now it's over." Now Mueller may disagree, but certainly, there is political pressure to wrap it up at this point.

BLITZER: And Laura, as you know, the president keeps saying that he personally wrote all the answers to those written questions that were submitted by Mueller and his team. Some legal experts have suggested that, in and of itself, opens up the president to possible legal action.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it would. I mean, you have lawyers, because you want them to be able to vet what you say, so you're not actually exposing yourself to greater legal liability or jeopardy. The president may be the head executive branch of government, but he doesn't know all the laws that may be on the books, as we've seen time and time again. He may not know about his own exposure.

So if he is allowing his lawyers to actually hand off what he has written himself without checking it, without verifying it, without actually confirming that he is not in greater legal peril, he would be a complete and total fool.

So the fact that he's taking credit for it is one thing he normally does, but the fact that he did it in this circumstance would be really kind of malpractice for his lawyers to allow that to happen.

And of course, the fact that he has these new questions coming up -- and you alluded to this, Kaitlan -- the idea of why he's so confident or secure about it wrapping up, Giuliani, one of his lawyers did say that the questions themselves posed some greater legal questions than anticipated. Now, if that's the case, that means the president of the United States has his own particular counsel, is advising himself on what to do next. And we heard over the weekend he doesn't actually plan for his decisions. So that would be a big mistake for him.

[17:40:03] CILLIZZA: And cutting off his nose to spite his face, to Laura's point.

COATES: Right.

CILLIZZA; He is his own worst enemy in lots of ways, but this is one. The reason that he's so insistent, "I wrote the answers," is because

he doesn't like the idea being out there that he's not the decider, he's not the smartest guy in the room and he doesn't know exactly what's happening. "I don't need other people to write these things for me."

But we, of course, all know that's why you have a legal team, to see and know things you don't know. And not get yourself into peril. He's incapable -- now maybe privately he lets that happen. But he's not capable publicly of saying, "You know what, I don't know everything, every fact in the known universe. So, yes, I'm deferring sometimes to people who have greater expertise."

COATES: You have the right to defend yourself in court. Everyone knows, you can be your own counsel. But I would advise against that against a seasoned prosecutor, one of them, let alone the team that Mueller has. Not because they have nefarious intent, but because you do not know how to navigate a case of this level of gravitas and severity. And so for that reason, he should actually consult counsel.

He's doing it in part for what you're saying, I think. Also, I think because he thinks he's got nothing to hide. Therefore, "I can simply answer the questions as asked and be fine."

COLLINS: And he did clarify that he dictated the questions to his lawyers and that they wrote them down, because initially last week, in a few chances to speak with reporters, he said, "I wrote them myself. I didn't have the legal team part of it." He said he dictated them, which is something he often does. He doesn't typically write his own things.

But I do think it raises the question that he does say the lawyers are reviewing them before they submit them. That's why they haven't submitted them yet.

But that is a concern amongst the legal team that they've had for over a year now, that the president could potentially perjure himself with some of these answers. And that, of course, is the big thing that Mueller has gotten, so many of the people you've just listed, is because they have lied.

BLITZER: And Jeffrey, another potentially significant legal development today, three Democratic senators, they filed a lawsuit in federal court, trying to block the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker's, appointment. Explain the case that they have, and whether or not you think it has merit.

TOOBIN: Well, the issue is that Matthew Whitaker has never been confirmed to any position in the Justice Department during the Trump administration. And the question is, can someone who has never been confirmed act as the attorney general, even for the 210 days allowed under the statute? And I think it's an unsettled question.

I think the biggest problem with this lawsuit is that the three senators are very likely to have -- very unlikely to have standing, to have the right to sue. The courts are very reluctant to get involved in lawsuits between the other branches of government. They always say to Congress, "Look, if you want to cut off funding to the Justice Department, help yourself. But we don't want to get in the business of litigating the fights between these two -- between these two branches."

That's why I think Whitaker is in pretty good shape, because I don't know of anyone who would have standing legally to make this challenge. He's deeply, as far as I can tell, unqualified for this job. But that's a political judgment, not a legal judgment. And I don't think this lawsuit is going to go very far.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more news we're following. CNN is live amid the devastation left by California's wildfires, which continue burning.

Also tonight, people who managed to get out alive are facing more problems.

And there's troubling new satellite images that reveal Kim Jong-un may not have given up his dreams of military conquest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:45:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In California, firefighters are counting on a break in the weather this week as they continue battling the deadliest and most destructive outbreak of wildfires in the state's history. At least 80 people are confirmed dead and hundreds remain unaccounted for.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is amid the ruins of what used to be the small city called Paradise in northern California.

So what's the situation there, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, every day, those destruction numbers go up, the loss of life goes up, and it's absolutely astounding.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Tonight, the death toll rising in the incinerated wreckage of Paradise, and there are more than 15,000 structures obliterated. The search for remains is unlike any in California history.

DAN NEWMAN, CAPTAIN OF THE SEARCH AND RESCUE TEAM, BUTTE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: This is the largest -- the largest search and rescue operation in California ever. And we have over 500 search and rescue volunteers from all over California, and that's just unprecedented.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): The number of people unaccounted for is down from more than 1,200 to under a thousand. Authorities are trying to whittle down that list as survivors are found.

SHERIFF KORY HONEA, BUTTE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: This is still raw data. My objective of finding progress or moving forward, over-perfection, I think, is still the better course of action even though the numbers, in many cases, seem quite daunting.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Those displaced in camping and area parking lots are now spreading out to shelters ahead of predicted rain.

SCOTT MCLEAN, DEPUTY CHIEF, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: Unfortunately, believe it or not -- yes, unfortunately -- we are having some rain come in.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Four to six inches of rain desperately needed before the fires that officials fear will now cause mudslides and debris flow.

MCLEAN: 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.

[17:50:08] VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Still, out of the devastation more dramatic rescue stories. A bus driver a few months on the job shuttled two teachers and 22 elementary school children to safety and rescued a third teacher along the way. A five-hour odyssey through walls of flame.

CHARLOTTE MERZ, STUDENT, PONDEROSA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: There were, like, fires left and right. Everywhere you look, there was, like, smoke everywhere and people trying to get out.

KEVIN MCKAY, BUS DRIVER, PONDEROSA ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: It was time to go. It's much worse than we've ever seen, so let's get the kids that are here left and let's get them out of here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERCAMMEN: And here live, look behind me, one of the many structures burned. As for that heroic bus driver, he lost his house and three cars. That extremely articulate fourth grader, she lost her house. One of the teachers, house completely gone.

They estimate that 80 to 90 percent of the people here in Paradise lost their home. Just staggering, Wolf.

BLITZER: Paul Vercammen on the scene for us. Staggering, indeed. Thank you.

Also tonight, new satellite images are revealing what appears to be a possible new military provocation by Kim Jong-un. Let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd.

Tell us more, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting new information tonight about a possible new training site for Kim's military which could be preparing to stage a practice assault on South Korea's version of the Pentagon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Even as North Korea's Kim Jong-un is publicly embracing his South Korean counterpart, behind the scenes, newly released satellite pictures show Kim's military may be building a full-scale model of South Korea's version of the Pentagon. Evidence, experts say, of Kim continuing his aggressive military training.

Voice of America says on the left is a South Korea government building and on the right is a North Korean mockup of that building. Two satellite imagery experts we spoke to say the mockup building looks like South Korea's military headquarters seen here.

NICK HANSEN, AFFILIATE, STANFORD UNIVERSITY'S CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AND COOPERATION: I think they want to basically practice or at least study ways of attacking it or assaulting it or doing something in a military sense.

TODD (voice-over): The CIA declined to comment on the new pictures, but a Pentagon official tells CNN it would not be unusual to see North Korean training mockups of buildings like the South Korean military headquarters.

Two years ago, North Korea staged a simulated attack on a mockup of South Korea's Blue House, that country's equivalent of the White House, with artillery barrages and camouflaged commandos parachuting in.

But since that time, Kim Jong-un has made peace overtures to South Korea and to President Trump. Is this mockup a possible mock attack an indication that Kim is about to give up on diplomacy? One expert says probably not.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They're not going to reestablish training sites based on some political initiatives that have taken place in the last year. They still have to teach the basic private in their army how to conduct these operations, so they use these mockups to do that.

TODD (voice-over): Tonight, we're getting insights on just what it's like to be one of those North Korean soldiers from someone who once was one.

The member of the North Korean army who made this dramatic dash across his country's border with South Korea a year ago in order to defect is speaking out for the first time.

Oh Chong-song was pursued closely by his North Korean comrades, shot five times, and was dragged to safety by South Korean soldiers.

In an interview with the Japanese newspaper, Sankei, Oh said he doesn't hold a grudge against his North Korean pursuers. Quote, if they don't shoot, they will be severely punished. If I were in their position, I would have shot me too. HERTLING: They incur discipline that is beyond belief. The

intelligence community has said that it's one of the more draconian armies in the world in terms of punishment of soldiers for what they do and don't do with regard to their duties.

TODD (voice-over): The young former soldier, who almost died from his wounds then was discovered to have parasites in his body, said hunger is at dangerous levels in North Korea, telling the newspaper, quote, if you don't have money or power, you die in a ditch.

Experts who study the isolated country say life is the same for soldiers and civilians alike.

GREG SCARLATOIU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMITTEE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: You have to live on scraps. Ordinary people are left to fend for themselves. They must find means to survive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, that former soldier, Oh Chong-song, said average North Koreans have been left so desperate from widespread shortages of food and basic goods that it's led to a general antipathy toward the country's leadership.

He said about 80 percent of people his age are so preoccupied just with surviving that they're indifferent toward Kim Jong-un and they don't feel loyal to him, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks for that update.

There is more news. We're following breaking news. President Trump says he'll soon submit written answers to questions posed by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. But he makes it clear he has no intentions of sitting down with Mueller, declaring he is finished with the investigation.

[17:55:01] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Press pass turnaround. The Trump White House backs down and restores the press pass of our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. But tonight, a new threat to revoke reporters' credentials.

We're finished. The President flips on a sit-down interview with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. He now says he probably won't do it after saying he would.

[17:59:57] Not full disclosure. The Justice Department is refusing to release the public financial disclosures of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.