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Trump Says He's "Very Happy" with New Mueller Filings; Paul Manafort Lied About Five Major Issues; James Comey Questioned Behind Closed Doors; Trump Confirms John Kelly Will Leave White House Position; Evidence of Election Irregularities Mounts in North Carolina; Kevin Hart Drops Oscars Gig Over Past Homophobic Tweets. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 8, 2018 - 15:00   ET


[15:00:07] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, it's 3:00, Eastern, noon out West, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Great to have you with us, as we begin with Individual 1 weighing in on the latest bombshell court filings against his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former attorney Michael Cohen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On the Mueller situation, we're very happy with what we are reading because there was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign. Very one-sided situation. But I think it's all turning around very nicely. But as far as the report that we see, according to everybody I've spoken to, I have not read it, there is absolutely no collusion, which is very important.


CABRERA: It is difficult to see why President Trump thinks these filings are good for him, because the one concerning Cohen specifically implicates the president in at least two federal crimes.

Here is what it says. "During the campaign, Cohen played a central role in two similar schemes to purchase the rights to stories. Each from women who claimed to have had an affair with Individual 1. In particular and as Cohen himself has now admitted with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1."

Legal jargon aside, what this says is that Cohen committed two felonies and he committed them under the direction of Trump. The president admits he hasn't read these memos just yet, but he says they're good news for him.

Also on the South Lawn earlier, the president confirmed his Chief of Staff John Kelly will be leaving in just the next few weeks. We'll have more on that mayor departure in just a moment. But for now, we have to start with these bombshell memos and CNN political correspondent Sara Murray has been following every development for us.

Sara, there is a lot of moving parts here. You have the two filings against Cohen and then the filing against Paul Manafort. Can it get a little confusing so let's just break it down and I want to start on Cohen and only Cohen. Walk us through what we have learned in the memos specifically concerning him.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Well, the Cohen filing makes it a little confusing why the president seems so jolly about what's in these. And for the first time, prosecutors are implicating President Trump in federal crimes and saying that it was at his direction that Michael Cohen made these hush money payments to women. Previously, Michael Cohen has been the only one who is saying. But they also lay out the extent of Cohen's cooperation on other issues.

You know, they say he provided information about people he was in touch with in the White House in 2017 and 2018, as well as interactions with Russians. Now of course part of this had to do with the Trump Tower project in Moscow which Michael Cohen came clean, said he lied to Congress, that it actually went on much longer than he had previously stated and that it kept President Trump in the loop about that project and his contacts with the Russian government. But there is also another contact with a Russian national that Michael Cohen divulged.

This was in November of 2015, and this was the person who offered political synergy, whatever that might mean, with the campaign and the Russian government. Even offered to set up a meeting with then candidate Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Now Cohen says that meeting never happened. He never followed up on it. But it does show you just how many potential contacts there were, potential ways there were for the Russians to try to influence Donald Trump's inner circle. Obviously Michael Cohen had his own contacts with the Russians. And we know that Donald Trump Jr. accepted that meeting, now infamous meeting at Trump Tower with the Russians, and we've seen it with George Papadopoulos, we saw Michael Flynn get caught lying about their contacts with the Russia ambassador.

All of this very bizarre to be happening in the context of a presidential campaign. And we should just add that despite Michael Cohen's assistance, the Southern District of New York still wants him to serve substantial jail time.

CABRERA: All right, Sara Murray, a lot happened there. Thank you.

Again the president is claiming these filings are good for him. He says they prove that there was no collusion. Well, here's a short clip of what he said again paired with a quick fact check.


TRUMP: There was no collusion whatsoever. There never has been. The last thing I want is help from Russia on a campaign.

Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e- mails that are missing.


CABRERA: Joining us now, White House reporter for Bloomberg News, Toluse Olorunnipa, and CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu.

Toluse, the president admits he hasn't read these documents. Do you have any reporting on where exactly his head is if he really believes these filings help him or if it's just this image he is trying to project?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Yes, he's been trying to project this image for much of the last two years. You heard this constant refrain from the president, no collusion, no collusion, no matter what happens, he talks about how everything comes down, show no collusion. But now we're seeing from these documents that there are several documented instances where people within the Trump's -- within Trump's orbit, within his campaign, his former lawyer, were in contact with Russians during the campaign, talking about doing deals, and is getting closer and closer to the president.

[15:05:13] His family is now being swept up in this, and it's not looking quite as optimistic and positive as the way the president described it. It's very clear that this is a president who is under duress. He just announced he is going to be changing his chief of staff for the third time since he took office.

This is a presidency and a White House that is very much under duress and these documents by the Mueller probe, by the Mueller investigation, shows how much that this administration is struggling to keep up with what is a very clear and very strong sense of investigation from the Mueller team. They're not making a lot of mistakes, but the president seems to be calling audibles day after day after day.

CABRERA: Shan, if you're the president's attorney, are you happy with what you're reading in these documents?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I'm very unhappy if I'm the president's attorney. Really, although the DOJ through the Southern District has not charged the president, and holding aside the constitutional question about charging a sitting president, they have clearly accused him. I mean Cohen's admissions state that there is campaign finance fraud which was directly at the direction of the president. I mean that's potentially an impeachable offense. And politics aside, that is a big problem for him.

And the biggest problem has always been with Michael Cohen, that he was the confidante, he was the attorney, and with your attorney, you let your hair down, you talk about things, you may muse about things, you need some advice, all that's now very much open. Even though there wasn't a formal cooperation agreement which we can talk about, clearly Cohen has an ax to grind and he was clearly giving up information which is detrimental for the president.

CABRERA: The president's attorney Rudy Giuliani has been trying to distance the president from all of this. He says this, quote, "Mueller's late Friday dump demonstrates yet again no evidence connected to the president. It also indicates SDNY," the Southern District of New York, "is asking that Cohen receive a four-year prison sentence, the longest so far, because, as we have said, he's still lying."

So obviously, Shan, that first part clearly not true, but I want to kind of focus on that second part, because Giuliani makes an interesting point. Because prosecutors are calling for Cohen to get a substantial prison sentence despite his help, if he's still going to prison, what reason would Cohen have to flip at all? Why not keep up the lies theoretically and hope for a pardon?

WU: Well, I think that trying to get inside of his head, he was not holding out much hope for a pardon. I mean the president is all over the place in terms of what his rationale is and when he does give pardons. Cohen tried a very unorthodox approach to this. He basically, you want to be zed about it, it was the art of cooperating without cooperating. He didn't have a formal agreement and in that sense he had a bit more control over what his disclosures were.

The downside, he didn't have a promise of anything. And we're also seeing that Southern District has in fact punished him for not entering into the traditional cooperator agreement where they would have more control. Also, you see that the Mueller folks kind of took it easy on him, didn't take a position on sentencing and kind of deferred to SDNY, and that's SDNY is probably looking at a long course of behavior.

It's not just what has happened recently. There is the tax evasion, the financial fraud, the institutions, so they're looking at a pretty long history. Not just the things of value in the moment right now, which is all focused on the Trump campaign and the Russian connections.

CABRERA: And I think it is also important for our viewers to understand that the SDNY was all about the investigation directly into Cohen. We had the raid of his properties. And all of the documents and technology that was then taken. That's separate from the Mueller probe. The Mueller probe, and their filing, says that Cohen was cooperative, they believe he has been truthful, but again, two separate investigations to some degree. Cohen is just connected to both of them.

Toluse, there was some talk, if I recall, earlier this year, though, of Cohen may be getting a pardon, right?

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, this was something that was sort of floated out there, and there was all of the talk from Cohen about how he would take a bullet for the president and how he'd stand by the president until the end. Clearly at some point under the weight of all of these investigations and potential charges, he decided that he could not trust the president or rely on the president to pardon him or get him out of all of the legal problems that he was in.

On the SDNY side, you have not only the issues of, you know, lying to different banks, and some of the tax fraud concerning the taxi medallions but also these payments to two of the alleged mistresses of then candidate Trump and the campaign violations around that, that directly implicate the president, then on the Mueller side, you have all of the questions about the discussions that were taking place from -- between Cohen and various Russians close to the Kremlin, thinking about doing a financial deal, a real estate deal, in Moscow, during the campaign, and how he lied about that to Congress.

[15:10:16] So there is a long list of legal challenges that Cohen has because of some of the lies that he told and some of the deceptive practices that he engaged in, but on both sides, on the SDNY side and on the Mueller probe, he is implicating President Trump in some of those crimes as well.

CABRERA: All right, Toluse Olorunnipa, thank you. Shan Wu, much more to come. I want you to stand by.

Again, the filings we've been talking about on Michael Cohen are just one hard punch to the White House this weekend. There are two. The other one, this man, Paul Manafort, who ran the Trump campaign for a couple of months in 2016 during a crucial time. He has already pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. At the time of that plea deal, he promised to be honest with prosecutors who were looking into Russia's involvement in the election. Well, now the Mueller team says nope, Paul Manafort has been lying to them.

Here is our senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown with more.


PAMELA BROWN, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mueller's team outline in a heavily redacted filing how they believe and why they believe Paul Manafort lied in, quote, "multiple ways" and on multiple occasions. Manafort they say lied to the special counsel's office regarding his contact with the Trump administration this year even after his indictment last October. He said he didn't talk to anyone in the administration or convey messages to them. But Mueller said that's not true.

His team says Manafort told a person to talk to a Trump administration official just this past May and had contacts with administration official, including a senior administration official in February and May of this year. And so this new and damaging information for the White House comes at a time when every move by Mueller appears to bring his investigation deeper into the White House and Trump's inner circle. And it shows it has expanded well beyond what may or may not have happened in the 2016 campaign.

So these revelations in Mueller's filings certainly raises questions about why Paul Manafort may have been lying about these contacts and who the contacts were made with. And now Sara Sander, the press secretary, released a statement in response to this, saying that it has nothing to do with the president and that the media is making up a story.

Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


CABRERA: Thank you, Pamela.

Just a recap for you here are just some of people who have been convicted or pleaded guilty since Trump took office. His former attorney, his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as we just discussed, his former National Security adviser Michael Flynn, his former deputy campaign chairman and his former campaign adviser.

Before most of these people even face charges, the man originally looking into some of their alleged crimes fired. But now James Comey has returned to Capitol Hill testifying behind closed doors. We have details.

And just in to CNN, a date is set. President Trump confirms White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is on his way out. When he is leaving just ahead.

And bracing for bad weather a nasty winter storm targets the southeast. Where the storm is headed. When we come back. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[15:17:26] CABRERA: Welcome back. More than 18 months after his very public firing by President Trump, ex-FBI director James Comey returned to Capitol Hill Friday for six hours of aggressive questioning by members of Congress. And his testimony left all involved frustrated. Republicans were annoyed. Comey refused to answer questions about the Russia investigation.

Democrats were frustrated over what they felt was biased questioning. And Comey tweeted afterward, "Today wasn't a search for truth but a desperate attempt to find anything that could be used to attack the institutions of justice investigating this president. They came up empty today. But will try again. In the long run it will make no difference because facts are stubborn things."

Joining me now CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett, and Laura, the transcript of the testimony still hasn't been released, it was expected sometime today, but what do we know so far about the questions he was asked?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Ana, sources in the room tell us it was quite tense, a very highly heated partisan atmosphere as one might expect. Democrats think this entire thing is a waste of time. Republicans feel like they're not getting the answers they need in order to prepare their report on the FBI's handling of both the Trump and Clinton e-mail investigations in preparation for the Democrats to regain control in January. They want to get this report done.

Now Comey was exasperated that he was questioned at length about the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation despite it being over two years ago. Republicans were pressing for answers on the genesis of the Russia probe. And he also talked a little bit about the Special Counsel Bob Mueller. Apparently saying that he would bet his life on the integrity of that investigation. But also saying that he is not best friends with Bob Mueller, as Trump has recently claimed on Twitter -- Ana.

CABRERA: Republican lawmakers who were in that room say he refused to answer some specific questions. Did he respond to that?

JARRETT: He did. And he said it actually didn't happen as frequently as they had suggested to the cameras yesterday. Take a listen to how he described why he was doing that in order to protect the investigation.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Well, the FBI, for understandable reasons, doesn't want me talking about the details of the investigation that is still ongoing. It began when I was FBI director and so it makes sense that they don't want me going into those details but that's a very teeny part of what we talked about. They had a whole of Hillary Clinton's e-mails, which will bore you.


JARRETT: But Republicans will get another shot at Comey on December 17th. He is slated to be back up on Capitol Hill -- Ana.

CABRERA: Using every last day out before they turn over the power to Dems come January.

JARRETT: Exactly.

CABRERA: Laura Jarrett, thank you.

[15:20:03] We learned today as well that the man hired to restore order at the White House is out as chief of staff. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. This announcement from President Trump comes as we're learning Kelly was questioned as part of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. That's ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is out. That's according to the man who hired him. President Trump making this official announcement just a short time ago. The president confirming that Kelly will leave his position by the end of the year. He did not say who will take Kelly's place.

[15:25:03] CNN White House reporter Sarah Westwood is traveling with the president today. He just tossed the coin at the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. That's where we find Sarah.

Any word, Sarah, on who is being considered to take John Kelly's place as chief of staff?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, sources tell CNN that Trump is strongly considering Nick Ayers, that's the chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence as a potential replacement for General Kelly. Trump and Ayers have discussed the prospect of Ayers taking that position and sources tell our colleague Kaitlan Collins that the president wants Ayers to hold that position for the long haul and Ayers would like to do it on a temporary basis so it's not a done deal.

Now Trump announced Kelly's departure after weeks of their relationship becoming more and more strained. The two were not on speaking terms. And President Trump had begun to circumvent some of the policies that Kelly put in place to restore order to the West Wing when he first joined the White House. And this is an incredible shift from as recently as July when the White House made a big show of publicizing the fact that Trump had asked Kelly to stay on as chief of staff until 2020, but today the president announcing that Kelly will be leaving the White House within weeks. He won't be staying for two more years. Take a listen.


TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving. We -- but I don't know if I can say retiring, but he is a great guy. John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We'll be announcing who will be taking John's place. It might be on an interim basis. I'll be announcing that over the next day or two. But John will be leaving at the end of the year. He has been with me almost two years now, as you know, between the two positions. So we're probably going to see him in a little while. But John Kelly --


TRUMP: Ready? Are you ready? So John Kelly will be leaving toward the end of the year, at the end of the year. And I appreciate his service very much.


WESTWOOD: Now his announcement comes one day after CNN reported that Kelly sat down with investigators from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Office and answered questions about alleged obstruction of justice.

Kelly's departure will come as the White House tries to navigate this new and potentially final phase of the Russia investigation and as the White House attempts to navigate a string of new personnel changes to the base of the makeup of the administration, that includes the attorney general, the U.N. ambassador and even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- Ana.

CABRERA: The revolving door continues.

Sarah Westwood, thank you.

I want to get our national security analyst Samantha Vinograd in here because she has worked in other administrations. But the announcement of the John Kelly's departure, Sam, how consequential is it? SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I actually don't

know that John Kelly's departure is that consequential, Ana, because it is entirely unclear to me what role General Kelly has played over the past several months. If you just look at the president's Twitter feed, his public statements, or his policy decisions where he said he's gone with his gut rather than relying on his team, it really looks like President Trump considers himself to be the chief of staff among other roles, rather than relying on the office of the chief of staff to perform the traditional responsibilities.

CABRERA: And yet you've in the administration during other times of transition. This will be his third chief of staff when the replacement is announced in less than three years, really within about two years of his administration.

What do you see as the implications of this? And how does it compare to past administrations, to your experience, process-wise?

VINOGRAD: Well, I actually handled then National Security adviser Tom Darlen's transition personally and there were four chiefs of staff when I worked for President Obama. What I can tell you, Ana, is haste makes waste in these situations. One transition at a time takes so much work. They're trying to handle the departure. Come up with a list of qualified candidates. Make sure they can play well with various constituencies, get them through a Senate confirmation, and then most importantly, make sure that there is no lack of institutional knowledge transition, that no balls are dropped, that there are no exploitable vulnerabilities.

Doing so many of these in such a short amount of time makes me think that we're really opening ourselves up to potential exploitation during all these transition points.

CABRERA: Vulnerabilities. That word stuck with me. Because one of his vulnerabilities right now is what is going to happen with the Russia probe and I want to bring in Shan Wu back to the conversation because the timing of John Kelly's departure is interesting. This news coming on the heels of CNN reporting that John Kelly was recently interviewed by Robert Mueller for an obstruction of justice probe.

So, Shan, remember, John Kelly was not chief of staff when Trump first took office. He wasn't chief of staff when Michael Flynn was fired, or when James Comey was fired. But according to CNN's reporting, he was there during the time when President Trump reportedly tried to fire Mueller. How useful could Kelly be to Mueller's team?

[15:30:03] WU: He could be very useful because the whole issue of the obstruction is what kind of intent is there? And so the prosecutors want to assess, was there a corrupt intent? And if the testimony by an eyewitness to those discussions like Kelly may have been, is that the president was angry and felt that, let's say, Mueller was incompetent, that's OK, that's not obstruction, but if he is very angry because he just thinks, you know, he shouldn't do this and I want him out of there because I want an end to this, that's in a gray area. That could be obstruction to. And I think, you know, to Sam's point, one of the problems here is the

complete lack of discipline in the Trump White House. I mean, there is no way there should be this many people being converted into witnesses for Mueller. There's normally a very tight control, tight discipline -- frankly, I don't even think they know who's in the room with him when he's making these comments. So he's really just creating more and more potential witnesses against himself through this very haphazard random way of running things.

CABRERA: Which makes you wonder, who wants to be part of it right now? I mean, it seems like a big risk.

Shan Wu, Samantha Vinograd, thank you both for being here.

Twenty million Americans in the path of a dangerous winter storm this weekend as ice, snow, blizzard conditions are moving east. We'll tell you the southern cities facing more than a foot of snow.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go anywhere.


[15:36:07] CABRERA: For the fourth weekend in a row tensions in France have turned violent and deadly. These are live pictures. Things appear to be settling down. But the streets of Paris, including the iconic Champs Elysees has been filled with cars on fire, police in riot gear and tear gas this weekend.

The "yellow vest" protest started as a grassroots protest against fuel taxes but this has now becoming a nationwide movement against the Macron administration. And all across the country 135 people were wounded. Almost 1,000 were taken into custody. Tens of thousands of police were deployed. And all major tourist attractions are closed.

Four deaths have been attributed to these protests including an 80- year-old woman who was hit in the face by a tear gas canister flying through her window.

Back here at home, it's Mother Nature that could wreak havoc. A wet winter storm flooded much of Southern California Thursday, stranding motorists and closing roads and is now barreling across the U.S.

Lubbock, Texas, woke to more than nine inches of snow this morning, and it is still falling. Tonight's Christmas parade has been canceled. States across the entire southern tier are prepping for some heavy snow.

This is Harrison, Arkansas, where snowplows are just getting ready to roll. Crews are also out across North Carolina, treating the roads in advance of what's expected to be a big storm. More than 20 million people could be caught up in it. And it's not just heavy snow. This storm is also carrying the threat of the same kind of flash floods we saw in California.

Let me bring in meteorologist Ivan Cabrera who's with us from the Weather Center. You're tracking this storm, Ivan. What is the latest?

IVAN CABRERA, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Tracking the storm. Ana, good to see you. It's a big storm. It is basically going to put out everything we can as far as precipitation. We're going to rain, we're going to have sleet, we're going to have freezing rain. A wintry mix. And some snowfall as well. In fact by the time all is said and done, I think some areas are going to be buried in feet of snow.

But let's talk about Lubbock which you mentioned there. 8.2 inches. It does snow in Lubbock, Texas. That's the yearly annual. That's the annual amount. But what it did in 24 hours. You mentioned nine inches, we got an update from the weather centers, because it's still snowing. they're up to 10.5 inches in one day. So they crushed their yearly average in 24 hours. And that is something.

Now you are pretty much done in Texas, this is where the storm is right now, east of Texas, and the flood threat continues across the southeast. The area that I'm concerned about as well is not just because of rain, because we have temperatures that are going to be falling below 32 across portions of Tennessee, into northern Arkansas, this area here is likely going to see accumulation of not snow but ice, and that's going to be treacherous here and that's where we have winter weather advisories for this region.

And the blockbuster snow is going to be reserved for the Carolinas and into parts of Virginia.

Atlanta, this is not your storm. There is going to be a wintry mix northeast of Atlanta. But not in the city thankfully because I think there are about two plows in Atlanta. So here's the ice accumulation. A quarter of an inch to Nashville. I started getting worried when power lines start coming down with branches when you start getting into three quarters of an inch. And that's a potential for Charlotte. Why? Because it's going to snow in Charlotte, and then it's going to rain, and rain is going to fall on 32 below degree temperature and that's going to cause a glaze of ice.

Take a look at the snowfall tally. This is going to be a huge storm. 18 to 24 inches. Boon, it will be buried. I think that's going to be certainly the focus for the heaviest of the snow.

All right. Let's time this out for you, here comes the low. There you see the pink in Little Rock, as we get through tonight 11:00. Atlanta is going to be pouring rain, may have airport delays certainly in the morning with the wind as well. And then tomorrow morning, very heavy snow across eastern, western Carolinas, I should say, and into Virginia as well. And that's what we're going to be talking about the potential for two or three inches of snow an hour, and then we're finally done with it, Ana, by the time we get into Sunday night.

So a huge storm. And for places that, you know, typically don't see a lot of snow, it is certainly in this short amount of time.

CABRERA: Yes. Two to three inches in an hour, Ivan.


CABRERA: Ivan, it sounds like a good weekend to stay inside.

I. CABRERA: Absolutely.

CABRERA: Read some book and in front of the fireplace.

I. CABRERA: You bet.

[15:40:04] CABRERA: And have a cup of hot chocolate.

I. CABRERA: That sounds fantastic. I'm going to go do it now.

CABRERA: We can make a silver lining out of all this.


CABRERA: Thank you. Important information for our viewers.

I. CABRERA: You bet.

CABRERA: From snow and ice to a story that will hopefully warm your heart. Many families struggling this time of year as they try to give their loved ones a special holiday but Tyler Perry just made it a little easier for some by giving back himself. The actor and filmmaker paid off more than $432,000 worth of lay-aways at two Walmarts in Atlanta. Perry said he originally wanted to keep his contributions anonymous but he then posted a video on Twitter announcing his gift.


TYLER PERRY, ACTOR/FILMMAKER: I know it's hard times and a lot of people are struggling and I'm just really, really grateful to be able to be in a position to do this. So God bless you. Go get your stuff. Merry Christmas.


CABRERA: How awesome is that?

To North Carolina now where the FBI is involved after allegations of election fraud. This, as the state's election board has now named a person of interest in the investigation and it turns out there are problems in more than one county.

CNN has the story next.


[15:45:37] CABRERA: Some sad news now, coming in about the California sergeant killed in last month's shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill. Ventura County sheriff, Sergeant Ron Helus, who was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene, ultimately died from police gunfire. The sheriff's department says Sergeant Helus was shot six times, five rounds came from the gunman, the sixth and fatal one came from a California highway patrolman's rifle. Officials say the bullet was recovered during Helos' surgery. It struck him in the chest and the heart. Sergeant Helus was 54. He leaves behind a wife and son. Investigators still don't know the motive for this shooting.

The FBI is now involved in North Carolina's expanding probe into alleged election fraud. And the state board of elections has named a person of interest. Leslie McCray Dowless. Investigators are probing his connection with an alleged absentee ballot operation in the 9th Congressional District.

Now Dowless was an operative working for Republican candidate Mark Harris who leads his Democratic opponent Dan McCready by 905 votes. Harris says he would support a new election if there is evidence of fraud.

As CNN's Drew Griffin reports, evidence of election irregularities continues to mount in North Carolina.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Documents being released by the North Carolina Board of Elections show the investigation is expanding. A CNN review of Robeson County found a team of hired Republican campaign workers may have harvested dozens of unsealed absentee ballots, then signed as witnesses.

It's the same pattern found in neighboring Bladen County, and allegedly connected to McCrae Dowless, the paid political operative under investigation. Dowless has not returned numerous requests for comment.

The mounting evidence of election fraud has prompted the Democratic loser of the Ninth District congressional race, Dan McCready, to rescind his concession to Republican Mark Harris.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Are you suggesting that your opponent Mark Harris knew about this election fraud?

DAN MCCREADY (D), NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Well, it certainly looks that way. He hired a criminal who was under investigation for absentee ballot fraud to do his absentee ballot work, and apparently he got what he paid for. He liked his services so much that he actually recommended these criminal services to other politicians.

GRIFFIN: Friday afternoon, Republican Mark Harris, who won by just 905 votes, released this video on Twitter reiterating he had no knowledge of any illegal activity but says this.

MARK HARRIS (R), NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: If this investigation finds proof of illegal activity on either side to such a level that it could have changed the outcome of the election, then I would wholeheartedly support a new election to ensure all voters have confidence in the results. GRIFFIN: In addition to the alleged ballot stuffing operation under

investigation, authorities confirmed to CNN a criminal investigation is under way, looking at a possible scheme to suppress minority absentee vote by destroying ballots.

The director of North Carolina's Republican Party tells CNN, his party is now open to the idea of a new election if the election fraud impacted the outcome of the race.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE, NORTH CAROLINA GOP EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR: Anybody, anybody that targeted some racial or demographic group to affect their votes absolutely has to be prosecuted under state law and has to be prosecuted for federal civil rights violations.

GRIFFIN: North Carolina's Board of Elections announced McCrae Dowless is a person of interest in its investigation. And the board has subpoenaed records from the Mark Harris campaign, his political consultants and in yet another twist, announced it's seeking records from the committee to elect Bladen County sheriff James McVicker.


GRIFFIN: And, Ana, in an indication of just how serious this has become, the Wake County district attorney is confirming to CNN that the FBI has joined her investigation -- Ana.

CABRERA: Drew Griffin, thank you.

Comedian Kevin Hart bowing out of an offer to host the Oscars. How a series of offensive tweets he posted years ago have come back to haunt him.

But first, for many, this time of the year, it's about giving back. But the 12th Annual "CNN HEROES ALL-STAR TRIBUTE" salutes 10 people who put others first all year long. This is a star-studded gala. It airs tomorrow, live, right here on CNN at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Take a look.


[15:50:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're humans helping humans and they need our help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are truly giving the gift of mobility.

ANNOUNCER: They are the best the world has to offer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're building something that matters a lot more than we do.

ANNOUNCER: They're heroes today and every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is like, what (INAUDIBLE). Go swimming. We teach girls how to program. It's all about solving problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We serve anybody who has ever raised their hand to defend our Constitution.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My vision was to have a home where women could find safety and find themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our first goal was just to create this hospital- based intervention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want each and every one of them to feel special.

ANNOUNCER: Join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live as they name the 2018 CNN Hero of the Year.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, CNN HEROES, AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE: Here once again celebrating the best of humanity.

KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST, CNN HEROES, AN ALL-STAR TRIBUTE: Don't we need this tonight more than ever?



CABRERA: It is going to be a great show. You don't want to miss it. Gather up your family. Grab your tissues. And get ready to be inspired.


[15:55:47] CABRERA: The Oscars needs a host because Kevin Hart is out. Just two days after the big announcement naming the comedian as host of next year's ceremony, Kevin Hart has had a change of heart following major backlash.

It's really about this. Tweets written by Kevin Hart at certain points of his career, homophobic and anti-gay words and slurs he chose to use when he says he was younger and a different person.

Brian Stelter is here with me now. He is our chief media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

Brian, the Motion Picture Academy wanted to hear an apology from Hart. He hesitated. He eventually gave one, but now it's too late.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Right. By the time he apologized, he also said he was quitting the Oscars, and we don't really know if he was jumping or if he was pushed. You know, this might have been one of those cases where the Academy was pressuring him to quit or maybe he did it all on his own. But either way, now he is out of the Oscars.

Here's how it went down. As you mentioned, these old tweets, comments from past stand-up routines were really offensive, clearly homophobic. Some of them were from 2009, 2010, 2011, and Hart kind of sort of addressed it in the past but obviously he had not addressed it strongly enough. So when he was hired as the host of the Oscars on Tuesday people

started to point these old tweets and by Thursday morning it was becoming a growing controversy on Twitter and Facebook.

Here's how he initially responded in the first of two Instagram videos.


KEVIN HART, COMEDIAN: So I just got a call from the Academy, and that call basically said, Kevin, apologize for your tweets of old or we're going to have to move on and find another host. I said who I am now versus who I was then. I've done it. I've done it. I'm not going to continue to go back and tap into the days of old when I moved on.


STELTER: So you can see there he was, you know, kind of I don't want to say dismissing the issue entirely, but defending himself and resisting calls for an apology. Then he posted a second video. Here it is.


HART: I'm almost 40 years old. If you don't believe that people change, grow, evolve as they get older, I don't know what to tell you. If you want to hold people in a position where they always have to justify or explain their pasts it, then do you.


STELTER: So that was his point of view. He was saying he didn't want the Internet trolls to win. He called the trolls people who were commenting on those old tweets, but it wasn't trolls --

CABRERA: Then why did he eventually apologize?

STELTER: Right. These were advocacy groups, gay rights groups, Hollywood leaders speaking out criticizing him. So by the end of the day, he backed down. He quit the Oscars and he did apologize. Here's his tweet where he came out, he said he is sorry for his past remarks. He is sorry he hurt people in the past. So he came out and issued a forthright apology after saying he didn't want to do that.

Point is here, Hart says he doesn't want to be a distraction, but I'm wondering whether the Academy is going to do. The Academy and ABC have a big decision here about who should host the Oscars. It's the biggest non-sports night of the year on TV. A big even, a big opportunity for a host.

You know what's curious, Ana, the Academy hasn't commented. They haven't even deleted their announcement about Hart being the host. So I wonder, are they going to try to salvage this somehow? Are they going to try to keep him on as the host? We don't know. All we know is that he says he is not going to host. CABRERA: Let me just -- let me just really quick ask you about Les

Moonves. He was fired in September after sexual harassment allegations. You have one of his accusers on your show tomorrow. We're learning more about he allegedly tried to cover things up.

STELTER: Yes. This has been the week's other huge story in Hollywood, and a really sickening story. The "New York Times" obtained a draft report by lawyers who were hired to investigate what the heck went wrong inside CBS. They found, frankly, a ton of misconduct. They found evidence that Moonves tried to cover up the alleged abuses and in one case a woman who says she had been victimized by Moonves 20 years ago was -- Moonves was trying to keep her quiet by offering her jobs.

Moonves allegedly destroyed evidence, text messages that were incriminating. So this law firm has been writing a report, they're delivering a report to the CBS board, and then the board has a $120 million decision to make. That's how much Moonves was owed according to his contract. But if the board decides they can fire him because of all this alleged misconduct, they wouldn't have to pay him $120 million.

So you have this intersection of money and power here. It's very ugly, and it goes to show these big companies, not just CBS, but other big companies have been racked by misconduct scandals. They've got a lot of house cleanings still to do.