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Sources Say Nick Ayers Top Pick to Replace John Kelly; Hillary Clinton Warns Europe Deal with Migrants, It's Fanning Flames of Populism; Obama Doesn't Buy Argument a Woman or Person of Color Can't Beat Trump in 2020; Dems to Probe if Trump is Protecting Saudis; Rep. John Garamendi Blames California Wildfires on Climate Change. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired November 23, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] LIZ LANDERS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Nick Ayers' name continues to surface as President Trump continues to clash with his current chief of staff, John Kelly. My colleague, Jeremy Diamond, and I spoke with more than two dozen people for this story to understand who is this relatively young man? As you mentioned, he is 36 years old and got his start in politics when he was 19, working for Sonny Purdue in Georgia. He had a meteoric rise in Republican politics in D.C. over the years, most recently becoming Vice President Pence's chief of staff.

The people that we spoke with for the story were supporters of Ayers who commented on his loyalty to Vice President Pence and Trump and the successes he's had. A lot of people said he is a political genius. There are detractors in the West Wing who told the president they do not want to be to be the chief of staff. That is potentially going to complicate things for Ayers. These people point to his outsized ambitions which rubs people the wrong way. People who he has become close to are Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who President Trump have the president's ear and are people President Trump trusts a lot. Also the president has come to trust Nick as well, as he has gotten to know him over the weekly lunches that Nick has been invited to between Pence and Trump. I know this is kind of an interesting detail in this story.


LANDERS: Nick has been invited to join President Trump and vice president Pence for what used to be their private meeting.

KEILAR: The three of them?

LANDERS: General Kelly has been invited, too. It is a four-man table and it is chat-chat. There's FOX News on in the background. This has been the time that President Trump has had to get to know and trust Nick Ayers.

KEILAR: To characteristically pick a chief of staff. It's an interesting report and you talk about Nick Ayers' finances. Is that going to be a complicating factor?

LANDERS: This in our reporting came up with people that we spoke with that there may be scrutiny around Ayers' finances. He is worth between $12 million and $54 million according to the financial disclosure forms that we reviewed to write the story. He's a self- made man. A lot comes from financial investments over the years that have done quite well. But it also comes from a political arrangement where he was both advising the political candidate politically on strategy during the campaign and also doing the ad buying for the advertisements and the media for that campaign as well, which raised some eyebrows with Republicans here in D.C.

KEILAR: That's very lucrative.


LANDERS: Extremely lucrative.

KEILAR: Liz Landers, thank you so much for that report.

Cindy McCain, in her first interview since her husband's funeral, gets very candid about why she can't forgive the president.

Plus, a new monthly record for the number of unaccompanied migrant children being held by the U.S. government.


[13:37:42] KEILAR: What's behind the president's decision to stand by Saudi Arabia and largely ignore the murder of "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi? That's going to be a question for the new Democratic-led House. The "Washington Post" reports the incoming House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff will launch an investigation into the CIA assessment that points the finger at Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.

And in other news, Hillary Clinton is warning European leaders that they need to deal decisively with migration issues because it is fanning the flames of far-right nationalism across the continent. Clinton tells the "Guardian" newspaper that she commends Germany's Angela Merkel for her sympathetic treatment of migrants, but says European leaders need to make it clear that they, quote, "won't always be able to provide refuge and support," end quote, to migrants. Europe sawn an influx of roughly one million migrants in 2015 mainly fleeing war in Syria and conflicts with Africa.

With me now to discuss is S.E. Cupp, host of "S.E. CUPP UNFILTERED" here on CNN.

Hey, S.E., how is it going?


KEILAR: It looks nice behind you but, yes, it's very cold here, too.

You saw this interview. Clinton said politicians ignore immigration issues at their peril. What did you think of her comments overall? CUPP: She's right. It's not just the recent addition of millions of

refugees fleeing from Syrian refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere into Europe. It's the open border policy, which I think she rightly points to as some of the impetus for that populist uprising. Whatever you think of immigration policy, it has fomented both in Europe as well as parts of South America as well as this country, it has fomented an anger and fear and anxiety of waves of immigrants coming in. Her point was to warn that open-border policies are only going to exacerbate that.

What's astonishing is that she ran on an opposite message for the whole of her presidential campaign. She hailed sanctuary cities and called them good public safety policies. So it seems a little late message for her, but it will be interesting to see if Democrats back home heed that advice or run in the opposite direction.

[13:40:23] KEILAR: Revealing she did shift left in the presidential election from the views she holds true to herself. This is a warning that she's giving for America as much as it is for Europe. How do you think politicians can address this issue if they want to talk about meaningful solutions at a time when you have divisive rhetoric we're seeing from President Trump? He used it big time ahead of the midterms. It's really resonating with a big part of the country.

CUPP: The problem is Trump's rhetoric, which is horrible when it comes to immigrants and migrants and refugees, is being conflated naturally with Republican policy. Republican policy is largely popular. Sanctuary cities are not popular with the majority of Americans. And fixing the borders and strengthening the border is popular. But Trump has made the whole of immigration a very nasty conversation to have. So if you are an average voter, you're saying I'm not for that, what Trump says, even though you might be for the underlying policies. Democrats have to be careful here not to paint voters with as a broad a brush as they might want to. They should understand that voters might be with the policies of Trump and now the policies that Hillary Clinton is espousing, even if they don't like a lot of the rhetoric he uses.

KEILAR: In 2016, we saw the shift through the Rustbelt away from Democrats towards President Trump. This was something that was of discussion between David Axelrod and former President Obama. He said he doesn't buy the argument that a woman or a person of color cannot beat President Trump in 2020. Let's listen to what he said.


DAVID AXELROD, CNN HOST, "THE AXE FILES": People say, well, you know, we can't have another candidate of color. We can't have a woman because --


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That kind of stuff I don't buy. Generalizations that we draw about, well, a woman is not going to win this time. This is ideal time for a woman. You've had one black guy so you can't have another black guy. AXELROD: You know why they -- I'm not subscribing to that theory.

You know why it comes up because.

OBAMA: Because I'm a black guy.

AXELROD: -- you spoke -- right.


KEILAR: There are some people in the Democratic Party who think maybe somebody to take on President Trump is Joe Biden, with Scranton, Pennsylvania roots. What do you think?

CUPP: Two things. Obama went on to say the person who runs against Trump should speak to the moment. That's incredibly smart advice. Republicans missed this in 2008. Mitt was a terrific -- I'm sorry, 2012. Mitt Romney was a terrific candidate. He's still a terrific guy. But running a billionaire businessman just after Occupy Wall Street was not running the right person for the moment. Democrats are going to have to find that right person for the moment and they shouldn't pick him or her today. David Axelrod will be the first to say they should let Democrats campaign, run for president before deciding who should be the nominee two years earlier. But the idea that someone will need to speak to those Rustbelt blue-dog Democrats, those left-behind voters, something is very real there. It's an existential crisis for the Democratic Party. Do they go to Elizabeth Warren/Kamala Harris far-left wing of the party in terms of rhetoric and populism or do they find a candidate who can really recapture those voters that stayed home or voted for Donald Trump?

KEILAR: Who knows what's going to happen in two years. It's so far down the road. It's fun to talk about though with you S.E. Cupp. Thank you so much for being.

CUPP: My pleasure. Have a good one.

KEILAR: The former head of the CIA says the president's pardon of the Saudis shows that America is for sale. We will discuss that as House Dems say they will investigate the president's personal financial ties to Saudi Arabia.

[13:44:50] Plus, more on our breaking news. One of Roger Stone's associates in plea-deal talks with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What does it mean for the case?


KEILAR: What is behind the president's decision to stand by Saudi Arabia and largely ignore the murder of "Washington Post" journalist, Jamal Khashoggi? It's looking like that's going to be a question for the new Democratic-led House. The "Washington Post" is reporting that incoming House Intel Committee Chairman Adam Schiff will launch an investigation into the CIA assessments that points the finger at Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, and whether the president's personal financial interests are playing a part in his turning a blind eye. In the meantime, the president and his administration have spread the

blame around as much as they possibly can.


[13:50:02] MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's a mean, nasty world out there.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Who should be held accountable?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Maybe the world should be held accountable because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.


KEILAR: Joining me from Sacramento is California Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

What do you make of those explanations, basically saying -- it's sort of dismissive that the world is just a mean nasty place?

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI, (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, whatever the world is, America has always tried to make it a better place. Tried to bring about our values, our values of democracy, the values of moral high ground. Here this president is going exactly the opposite direction. Why is he letting Saudi Arabia off the hook, not just for this murder of Khashoggi but also for the horrible famine and deaths that are now a result of the Saudi war in Yemen? Just letting him off the hook. We can't do that. I'll tell you, the new Congress is not about to put up with it. We're going to take whatever actions and whatever investigations are necessary. Why is the president doing this? Why is he ignoring the Intelligence Community? And what is the result? I'll tell you one thing, on the Armed Services Committee, of which I sit, there has been many of us Democrats who have been opposed to the continuation of arms sales to Saudi Arabia so that they could prosecute their war in Yemen. We're going to take a hard look at that and I'll bet that you're going to see a cutback in those arms sales.

KEILAR: As Adam Schiff says he's going to look into this, how should Democrats prioritize this? You've also got other issues, for instance, the acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, and some of his financial issues. He's also disparaged the Mueller investigation before he was brought in as acting A.G. How do you prioritize?

GARAMENDI: We're going to multi-task. There will be two different multiple tasks going on. One will be the investigation of the administration. Adam Schiff going after the Saudi Arabia thing. And there are many, many other things on the intelligence side. On the judicial side, we're going to look at the Matt Whitaker situation. I think he's there illegally. He was not confirmed by the Senate. Three Senators are taking that up. That will be important. We know also on the Armed Services said, I just spoke about the arms being sent to Saudi Arabia to prosecute the war in Yemen. And finally, the second track, which is legislation. We said we were going to deal with health care, we're going to deal with the cost of drugs, we're going to deal with the preexisting condition issue and nail that down so that no American has to worry about that. We know that we want to do infrastructure. So we'll be pursuing infrastructure, everything from roads to ports and airports and in between, including the high- speed Internet systems that don't exist in much of rural America. These are all things. And finally we're going to get a voter registration and voter suppression and corruption.

KEILAR: That is a long list.

Congress, while I have you here --

GARAMENDI: It's a good list.

KEILAR: -- from northern California, I want to ask you about the wildfires that devastated your state. Good news that the Camp Fire is 90 percent contained. But as you look toward the future, and the fact that these don't seem to abate, what does California need?

GARAMENDI: What we need is very serious climate action. Things are not going to get good in California, they're not going to get good along the gulf states and along the east coast because of the hurricanes. We know that climate is changing. We know that it's greenhouse gasses being emitted by the United States and other countries. We have to get after that. That's fundamental. While we're doing that, we're going to have to make our communities more resilient. We're going to have to deal with the problem that many of our communities have brushed in. The forests have been allowed to have too much growth and overgrowth. We need to properly manage not just the forest but also the urban wildland interface. And when we rebuild, whether it's one home or 13,000 homes as is the case in the Camp Fire --


KEILAR: That sounds look what we've heard from some Republicans and President Trump, what you're talking about.

GARAMENDI: Well, there's two different things here. The president is right that the forests need to be better managed. It's not that they've been mismanaged. It's that we believe that Smokey the Bear was correct, that there should never be fire in the forests. The forest should be naturally be left alone. That's not the case and never was the case. So, yes, we do manage the forests better. But he was quite wrong about what was going on in Paradise. Paradise was not a national forest issue. It was an issue of a community that was on the brink of disaster year after year after year as the brush and the wildlands around that area grew and the community expanded into it.

We also have a piece of legislation interestingly that --


[13:55:08] KEILAR: Congressman, Congressman --


KEILAR: -- I am so sorry to cut you off. Unfortunately, we are out of time.

GARAMENDI: No problem

KEILAR: But we will chat again soon.

Congressman John Garamendi, thank you so much and have a good holiday.

GARAMENDI: Thank you, Brianna. Thank you.

KEILAR: Just ahead, the chilling last words from the American who was killed on a remote island by one of the most-isolated tribes in the world. What his diary reveals.