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Trump Attacks Mueller, Comey as Russia Cloud Darkens; James Comey Testifies in Congress; Jared Kushner Offered Advice to Saudi Prince on Khashoggi Killing; Nick Ayers Will Not Replace John Kelly. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 9, 2018 - 16:00   ET


[16:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The president is railing against former FBI director James Comey accusing him without evidence of lying to Congress. The tweets coming one day after President Trump's surprising announcement that Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his post at the end of the year. An announcement that was supposed to come tomorrow.

Despite that, the Russia cloud continues to hang over the White House with questions now being raised over whether a sitting president can be indicted. Some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree on this. No one is above the law.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I disagree with the office of the special counsel in the Department of Justice. There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the president from being indicted and I think it's very important that -- you know, we originated -- this country originated under rebellion against the English king. We didn't -- we did not seek to create another king. Nobody, not the president, not anybody else, can be above the law.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If someone has violated the law, the application of the law should be applied to them like it would to any other citizen in this country. And obviously if you're in a position of great authority like the presidency, that would be the case. I don't know if it's going to reach that point or not, we have to wait and see, but my position on that or my position on that one, not be a political decision. It will be the fact that we are a nation of laws and no one in this country, no matter who you are, is above it.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's check in with CNN's Sarah Westwood at the White House.

What more are you hearing, Sarah?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, President Trump has spent the weekend going after the Paris climate agreement, calling for the end of the Russia investigation, making a series of sweeping personnel changes, and basically just talking about anything but Special Counsel Robert Mueller's claim in court filings submitted Friday that the president directed his former attorney Michael Cohen to make two illegal payments during the presidential race.

Now as the White House was bracing for the submission of those filings late last week, the president began what became a spree of high-level appointments starting with his announcement of his intention to nominate Bill Barr as his next attorney general. He said he would be naming Heather Nauert as his next ambassador to the U.N. That was an appointment that has been widely expected.

Saturday morning he said he would be naming General Mark Milley to take over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff replacing outgoing chairman Joseph Dunford. And then the president ended months of speculation by telling reporters on Saturday afternoon that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will soon be leaving the administration. They have had a strained relationship for months now.

In that same conversation with reporters as he was heading out to the Army-Navy game yesterday, the president also said that his team was happy with what they were reading in the memos that prosecutors for Mueller submitted on Friday. He said he hadn't read the memos himself, but that he understood there was no evidence of Russian collusion contained in this particular document so he said that they cleared him.

Of course those documents did tie him to what prosecutors say are campaign finance violations that occurred during the 2016 election regarding those payments that Cohen made to women who were trying to come forward and allege affairs against Trump during that presidential race.

Now Congressman Jerry Nadler, he's the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said if Trump was involved in directing those payments, it would be an impeachable offense even if politically it doesn't rise to the level of impeachment.

Take a listen to what Nadler told our Jake Tapper this morning.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If it is proven that the president directed or coordinated with Cohen to commit these felonies, if it's proven, and I understand it has not yet been, it's been alleged by the prosecutors but has not been proven, if it's proven, are those impeachable offenses?

NADLER: Well, they would be impeachable offenses, whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question, but certainly they'd be impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be the -- that would be an impeachable offense.


WESTWOOD: Now the White House has attacked Cohen and sought to undermine his credibility as a witness. They have also sought to distance the president from revelations about the conduct of his former associates including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But this week the president will likely have to confront these new disclosures from the special counsel even as the White House prepares to adjust to new faces across the administration -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood, thank you so much at the White House. So we're learning more about former FBI director James Comey's close door interview on Capitol Hill Friday. The transcript shows a moment when Comey was asked a question about being fired as FBI director and an FBI lawyer stepping in and saying this. Quote, "Mr. Chairman, to the extent that question goes, again, goes to the special counsel's investigation into obstruction. The witness will not be able to answer."

[16:05:02] So again the lawyer using the words investigation into obstruction. CNN justice correspondent Laura Jarrett has more on that testimony.


LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: In over six hours of testimony, the former FBI director went over familiar territory about the beginnings of the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election saying he'd bet his life that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is handling it the right way and suggesting you'd have to almost fire everyone in the FBI and the Justice department to derail the relevant investigations at this point.

But Comey also fact-checked the president on this claim that he's somehow best friends with Robert Mueller, saying, quote, "I have never hugged or kissed the man," and quote, "I admire the heck out of the man, but I don't know his phone number, I've never been to his house, I don't know his children's names."

And while Comey's testimony did not shed new light about his views on whether the president obstructed justice in his firing last year, the testimony from another senior official at the FBI, former general counsel James Baker, described how those at the highest level of the FBI were seriously concerned about Comey's firing.

And finally Comey was also asked to weigh in on Bill Barr, President Trump's pick for the next attorney general. And he said he thinks very highly of him, joking that, quote, "I probably just damned him by saying he's a friend of mine, but I respect him and I think he is certainly fit to be attorney general."

Laura Jarrett, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me now to discuss, Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator Maria Cardona, and CNN political commentator Matt Lewis.


WHITFIELD: All right. So, Maria, the president has tweeted about Comey saying, you know, he's lying to Congress and then the president also commented on the sentencing filings and said, you know, he's happy with everything that they are reading. So is this the president just trying to put a good face on things or do you believe or detect that he is really worried?

CARDONA: Well, you know, clearly this administration loves alternative facts. So maybe his staff gave him some alternative memos to look at instead of what the real ones were because I can't imagine anybody in their right mind, any lawyers in their right mind, that would be happy about the kinds of memos that just came out because they implicate this president in criminal acts. And they do it pretty directly.

Now whether that is something that the president thinks is not really that important and that he thinks it's trivial compared to what he might be afraid of in terms of the Russia investigation, maybe that is what he is talking about. I have no idea.

But I think what we're seeing, Fred, the bottom line is that this is no witch hunt because you have had over 100 counts, over, you know, 33 people indicted, several have gone to jail, several have pled guilty and are clearly cooperating with Mueller. Everything is now coming out. Frankly, I believe that it is unraveling this administration and, you know, whether they are telling the president the truth or not, I don't know, but there is no way that they can actually be OK with what has been coming out.

WHITFIELD: So from the Mueller probe we're talking about 192 criminal charges against 36 people and entities, seven guilty pleas, three people sentenced, one convicted in jury trial.

CARDONA: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: So, you know, Matt, you know, if these filings, and we're talking about the sentencing filings, implicate the president, how concerning is it that the full report has yet to be revealed?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And that is what I think is much more concerning. I think that the Russia stuff, who knows what is being said by people who have cut deals with Robert Mueller, people who are flipping. I think that's much more damaging than this question over whether or not you can indict a president over some campaign finance reform. So I don't think that's a big deal. I do think the Russia investigation overall, however, is something that should be very concerned about.

WHITFIELD: OK. So the president also, you know, I guess tried to change the lead this weekend by announcing while he was on the lawn before heading off to Philadelphia that his chief of staff was on his way out, John Kelly would be, you know, ending his term at the end of this year. So, Maria, you know, this kind of upstages what could have been a very

formal, you know, thank you for your service and, you know, notes of departure, even perhaps giving John Kelly an opportunity to explain why he was leaving. Reportedly it would have happened tomorrow. Why do you suppose the president did it in the manner that he did yesterday?

CARDONA: Well, because we know that this president is very erratic when it comes to personnel and staff changes.

[16:10:02] You know, one day he wakes up pissed off at somebody and he will tweet about it and he'll start murmuring that he wants to get rid of that person and then the next day he wants to paint that person as their best friend in the world. And so what we are seeing now I think is what we've all seen the writing on the wall for some time now, but we were just never showed when it was going to happen.

I think what we're seeing yet again is that this president and this White House chews people up and spits them out no matter how tough their jobs have been, no matter how loyal they have been to this president, no matter how hard and how committed they have served this president.

I think the big question moving forward is how many other people are going to be willing to put themselves in this position where the question daily is, do I love the country more than my loyalty to this president, because it is questionable frankly in the minds of a lot of Trump critics, not really questionable, that this president and what he is doing, what he is saying is a danger to the country.

WHITFIELD: So, Matt, reportedly it could be Nick Ayers who's the vice president's chief of staff who would, you know, fill the shoes of John Kelly. Perhaps he is in a good position given that he's been on the periphery and almost kind of on inside to know what he would be getting into. Why would he be at an advantage to take this chief of staff job with the president?

LEWIS: Well, I think that the reason would be that Donald Trump initially was -- I hate to say forced, but he felt compelled to put up this facade of having people who were experienced be his chief of staff or be his staffers, right? So you had -- and also there was an olive branch --

WHITFIELD: You mean in terms of John Kelly? I mean, he was Homeland Security but, you know, a good number of the people that the president has brought in have not been kind of used to policy. They have come from other disciplines. And this is kind of new, this whole White House thing.

LEWIS: Right. Now, look, I think that Donald Trump initially felt that he had to, whether for appearance sake or whether to, you know, calm people, had to bring in -- look at Rex Tillerson, right? The guy he fired by the way over a tweet who didn't even -- you know, so Rex Tillerson, I don't think --

CARDONA: And then called dumb and lazy. LEWIS: Right. I don't think Rex Tillerson was somebody Donald Trump

wanted, he was recommended by like Condi Rice and some others. And I think Trump felt like well, I need somebody with gravitas, this guy looks the part, we'll make him secretary of State. I think the same thing with John Kelly.

He's not a Trump guy necessarily. It's we need someone who has the gravitas. I think Trump is past that, he is past feeling like I need to have people who have this impression. Now what Trump wants are people who are basically loyal to him and maybe good -- and actually just logistics.

I think Nick Ayers certainly is not going to challenge the president as somebody -- he's not like a general or something like that. But he will probably implement the president's agenda in a pretty, you know, efficient manner and that is what the president wants.

WHITFIELD: All right. We shall see. Matt Lewis, Maria Cardona, it's good to see you both.

CARDONA: Thanks, Fred. You too.

LEWIS: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: All right. Next, a new report about the relationship between Jared Kushner and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, and the contacts they had following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.


[16:17:37] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. New details on how President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner handled the outrage following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. According to a report in the "New York Times," Kushner was advising the Saudi crown prince even after he was accused of ordering Khashoggi's killing.

The "Times" says Kushner offered Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, advice about how to, quote, "weather the storm" after the killing. It goes on to say Kushner and MBS were chatting privately and informally in the days after the October murder despite White House protocol that National Security Council staff be on all phone calls with foreign leaders.

According to three former White House officials and two others briefed by the Saudi royal court, I'm quoting now what's being reported in the "New York Times," the two men were on a first name basis, calling each other Jared and Mohammed in text messages, and phone calls," end quote.

Kushner first admitted he had contact with MBS when he talked to CNN's Van Jones in October.


VAN JONES, CNN HOST: What kind of advice have you given MBS in this whole situation? JARED KUSHNER, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SENIOR ADVISER AND SON-IN-LAW: Just

to be transparent, to be fully transparent. The world is watching. This is a very, very serious accusation. And a very serious situation. And to make sure that you're transparent and to take this very seriously.


WHITFIELD: In November, the CIA concluded MBS personally ordered Khashoggi's killing. But according to the "New York Times," Kushner continued to argue that Saudi Arabia is a key ally to the Trump administration.

Joining me right now, Karen Attiah, who is -- who was Jamal Khashoggi's editor at the "Washington Post." And Max Boot, senior fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations.

Good to see you both.

All right. So, Karen, I want to read your tweet. And you wrote, you know, after the "New York Times" story reporting that Jared Kushner has been advising MBS on how to weather the storm after Khashoggi's murder, it is definitely time for some subpoenas.

Do you believe anything consequential will happen, Karen?

KAREN ATTIAH, KHASHOGGI'S EDITOR AT THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, at this point, we have a new House coming in and we already know that there have been some signals from the incoming congressmen and House members that they do intend to investigate fully the Trump-Saudi relationship.

[16:20:09] And they have sent signals that they do want to investigate whether or not this White House has been complicit in the cover-up of this murder. And so what this "New York Times" report is pointing to is that indeed Kushner who was a senior White House aide has indeed been advising MBS who has been implicated in this murder. So I think there's so much evidence that points towards, yes, the need for congressional oversight and the need for a lot more to come to light about the White House's role in this horrific, horrific scandal.

WHITFIELD: Well, Max, even with this "New York Times" reporting, do you believe it's going to be more of the same from this White House, more of the same from this reported relationship between Kushner and the crown prince?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, it certainly seems like it. I mean, the impression that you get from reading that "New York Times" report is that the Saudis have really played Jared Kushner and Donald Trump for suckers. There was even a Saudi sly that was quoted in that report where the Saudis were saying that Jared Kushner revealed his lack of familiarity with the U.S.- Saudi relations and essentially the Saudis took advantage of that to feed a line to Jared Kushner to convince him that giving the Saudis a blank check to do whatever they wanted would in return result in the Saudis brokering a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Well, it's almost two years into the Trump administration and Jared Kushner still has not been able to actually release a peace plan because it's dead on arrival essentially. So the Saudis have not come through, but Kushner and Trump have come through for the Saudis giving them a blank check do whatever they wanted including apparently to murder Jamal Khashoggi and then cover up that horrific act.

So I don't see any reason why the administration is going to change course now. But as Karen suggested, Congress is likely to have its own say and Congress is disgusted by what we're all seeing here.

WHITFIELD: The White House has been pushed on this, all that is at stake, to try to encourage an investigation, to encourage some sort of penalty to Saudi Arabia. But you've heard from the president, he says, you know, there is a lot at stake in terms of, you know, lots of money, lots of business, lots of jobs. The "New York Times" talks about hundreds of billions of dollars in deals. And so will that be the White House's best defense on why -- whether it needs to continue with this ally of Saudi Arabia, Max?

BOOT: Well, that is clearly their defense, but it's not a credible defense because as we've been pointing out, as newspapers and television networks have been pointing out, the benefits that Donald Trump claims for the U.S.-Saudi relationship are vastly exaggerated. I mean, I was really interested to read that "New York Times" story where the Saudis basically sold Trump on the idea of buying $50 billion worth of U.S. weapons.

Well, in fact they're only buying about $14 billion. But then Trump and Kushner decided to inflate that already inflated amount of $50 billion and to claim it's actually $110 billion. You know, they might as well claim it's a trillion dollar, it's all nonsense. It's just not true. And so I think there is a case they can make for maintaining relations with Saudi Arabia and nobody is really saying that we should break off relations with Saudi Arabia, but these nonsensical false and misleading explanations for why we can't hold MBS to account, they just fly in the face of logic and human decency and they are being rejected in Washington by everybody who does not work in the White House.

WHITFIELD: The Trump administration claims that, you know, there is no direct link, you know, between MBS and Khashoggi's murder despite what the CIA, you know, has said. But Florida Senator Marco Rubio said this earlier.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We don't need, you know, direct evidence that he ordered the code red on this thing. The bottom line is that there is no way that 17 people close to him got on a charter plane, flew to a third country, went into a consulate, killed and chopped up a man and flew back, and he didn't know about it, much less order it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: So, Karen, what is your thought on this? You're hoping that Congress would do something, but in your heart of hearts, do you feel like that is plausible that will happen?

ATTIAH: You know, here is what's at stake. I mean, right now, again as Max said, it's not that we're asking to throw away the Saudi relationship. The question is whether or not the United States should really be in bed with Mohammad bin Salman. And for all that this White House is looking to give to the Saudis, whether it's complete cover-up of murder, giving them a pass for kidnapping the prime minister of Lebanon, for breaking up diplomatic relations with Canada with the tweets, right now it's basically about why are we giving unconditional, unquestioning support to Mohammed bin Salman? What are we getting for that?

[16:25:08] Max said we haven't gotten any sort of fruit on the Israel- Palestinian peace. Iran, the Houthis, they have not been able to counter them effectively in Yemen. And this regime is torturing and detaining women activists, killing journalists. Right now there is absolutely it seems no reason for us to be trusting this 33-year-old prince with our entire Middle East policy.

So right now it looks more like we're putting Mohammad bin Salman first and not America first for that matter. So I think in my heart of hearts it is about the American people, Congress, to do the right thing and impose a strong check on this behavior. Otherwise we are looking at perhaps dealing with a brutal, brutal regime for the next 40 or 50 years and the world and Saudi Arabia deserve much better than this.

BOOT: And if I could just --

WHITFIELD: Go ahead, Max.

BOOT: Yes, if I could just pick up on the excellent point that Karen just made, which is that, you know, we should not be relying on this crown prince and Saudi Arabia. Well, we shouldn't be relying on this crown prince and Washington either. I mean, there is good reason why there are nepotism laws which the Trump administration is skirting because nobody in his right mind would put this 30-something real estate developer with no experience in politics or policy in charge of our Middle Eastern policy. That's what happened. And the result is a predictable catastrophe.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it there. Max Boot, Karen Attiah, thank you so much.

BOOT: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. And this breaking news, remember how we have said the president made the announcement that the Chief of Staff John Kelly would be out by the end of the year and a possible replacement might be the vice president's chief of staff, Nick Ayers. Well, now apparently there is a decision from Nick Ayers.

CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is joining us now. So, Kaitlan, thumbs up or thumbs down from Nick Ayers?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is certainly a surprise to most people even in the administration who thought that Nick Ayers who has served as the vice president's -- Mike Pence's chief staff for over a year now was going to take this job. He has been widely seen as the leading contender to replace John Kelly for at least six months now. But we are now being told by sources inside the White House that negotiations between the president and Nick Ayers fell apart over a time line.

The president wanted a two-year commitment from Nick Ayers, but Nick Ayers told the president he could only on commit to a few months citing his young children and his desire to move back to his home state of Georgia at the end of the year. And the president was insistent, he wanted someone who was going to commit to being his chief of staff for the next two years and now we are being told that Nick Ayers is not expected to become the chief of staff any longer.

Of course this raises the question who is going to be the next chief of staff. And from what we've largely been told over the last several months most of the negotiations about replacing John Kelly has focused on Nick Ayers and it would seem to be a given almost inside this administration that he was going to take the job. But now they do not have anyone on the short list and they're going to have to find someone in the next three weeks or so to take over for John Kelly because President Trump told reporters yesterday that John Kelly is going to leave at the end of the year after a 16 or 17-month tenure into the job. So now it is really an open question of who it is that's going to be -- that's going to take over as chief of staff.

WHITFIELD: So quickly, Kaitlan, barring an emergency for a job like that, wouldn't the White House have lined up someone, a replacement, for such an important job before making an announcement that a chief staff is on his way out?

COLLINS: Well, absolutely. And it seemed to be that they had this plan in place, for the president to announce John Kelly was leaving and for Nick Ayers to take this job. But they still had not agreed to a time line of how long Nick Ayers would stay in the job with President Trump's announcement that John Kelly was going to be leaving yesterday. When he did that when he was leaving the White House to go to the Army-Navy game.

Now even that was not part of the plan. John Kelly and the president had discussed his leaving on Friday after CNN reported that John Kelly was expected to leave in the coming days and they said that they had agreed to having John Kelly tell the other staffers at a senior staff meeting on Monday that he would step down as chief of staff and that is what they believed they would announce Nick Ayers would take over.

But they could not come to an agreement on the timeline and that seems to have led to Nick Ayers saying he's not going to take the job if it requires a two-year commitment from President Trump. Now while talking about that timeline, we should consider the fact that just five months ago, President Trump also asked John Kelly to stay on for two more years and to be the chief of staff until at least 2020. That was the timeline John Kelly had agreed to and he told senior staff members at the White House about it during a meeting over the summer. But even that did not last and John Kelly of course is now leaving just five months after that announcement. So right now, though, it's an open question of who is going to take over for that job.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

Now the White House having three weeks, days in counting, in which to find a replacement for John Kelly. All right, we'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: In Special Counsel Robert Mueller's filing on Paul Manafort, he said that Manafort lied about five major issues after agreeing to cooperate with investigators. Mueller says two of those of lies involved Manafort's interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a shadowy figure with ties to the same Russian intelligence agencies accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

[16:35:13] Kilimnik had been a close business associate of Manafort for years. Manafort told investigators the two had no meetings during the campaign, but when he was confronted with evidence to the contrary, he admitted to investigators that he had lied. Senior International Correspondent Fred Pleitgen joins us now from Moscow. So Fred, paint the picture of who this gentleman is.

FRED PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yeah. Hi, Fredricka, and I think the two words that you put out there are absolutely correct, shady and also a very close associate of Paul Manafort. On the one hand, a very secretive figure, those two pictures that we just showed, those two quite grainy photos. That is pretty much all we have of Konstantin Kilimnik. He is someone who seems very, very shy in public, not looking to get out there.

And certainly not looking to get his picture out on there as well, nevertheless very important person for Paul Manafort, he worked with him for a very long time in Eastern Europe, specifically of course, in Ukraine and in Russia as well, where he worked with (Inaudible) pro- Russian Ukrainian government and also with a key oligarch named (Inaudible), who is very close to Vladimir Putin.

Now, you're absolutely right. The Mueller investigation says that Paul Manafort lied about allegedly not having meetings with Kilimnik while he was the chairman of the campaign in 2016, when apparently those meetings did take place. And then even after Paul Manafort left the campaign and was arrested, apparently Kilimnik is still very close to him, he's also accused by the Mueller probe of allegedly trying to tamper with witnesses as well.

So certainly a very key figure, someone who helped Paul Manafort earn a lot of money while dealing in Eastern Europe. And certainly someone who the Mueller investigation would like to get their hands on, would like to question him as well. That however looks like something that probably won't happen, Fredricka. He was in Kiev for a very long time, and at some point this year went

back here to Russia and is apparently now in the outskirts of Moscow somewhere, and of course, not very keen to speak to the Mueller team, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Fred Pleitgen, in Moscow. Thank you. All right, still ahead, allegations of election fraud in North Carolina. The FBI is now involved. And the state's election board has now named a person of interest in the investigation.


[16:40:00] WHITFIELD: All right, seven people have been wounded, one critically in a shooting in the west bank. The Israeli health officials say the attack happened near the Israeli settlement of Afra. The Israeli defense forces say that the shots were fired from a car and targeted a group of people at a bus stop near the settlement entrance. Soldiers returned fire, but the car was able to get away.

A community already rattled by anti-semitism is now dealing with a new threat. Pittsburgh police are investigating anti-semitic pamphlets being spread across the city, including in the neighborhood of Squirrel Hill. That is the same community where 11 people were shot and killed at a synagogue back in October. The city's Department of Public Safety released a statement, and it reads in part, such hate- filled material will not be tolerated in Pittsburgh, not by residents, city officials nor law enforcement.

The Department of Public Safety ensures the community that we are taking this matter very seriously and will follow every investigative avenue. Pittsburgh is and will remain stronger than hate. There is one congressional race still undecided from the midterm elections. And it is being marred by allegations of election fraud. Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready are vying for North Carolina's ninth district house seat.

McCready had conceded to Harris after it appeared Harris had won by some 900 votes. Well now, there are some serious concerns about fraud involving absentee ballots in two counties. The man at the center of these allegations is McCray Dallas, a political operative who personally turned in nearly 600 of the absentee ballots requested in one county. And as CNN correspondent Drew Griffin reports, even Republicans are now open to a new election.


DREW GRIFFIN, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: 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 is the same pattern found in neighboring Bladen County and allegedly connected to McCray Dallas, the paid political operative under investigation.

Dallas 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you suggesting that your opponent Mark Harris knew about this election fraud?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 this criminal's 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...

[16:44:56] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 confirm to CNN a criminal investigation is underway, looking at a possible scheme to suppress minority absentee votes 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody, anybody that targeted some racial or demographic groups to affect their votes absolutely has to be prosecuted under state law, and has to be prosecuted for federal civil rights violation.

GRIFFIN: North Carolina's Board of Elections announced McCray Dallas as 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 is seeking records from the committee to elect the Bladen County Sheriff, James McVicar.


And Fredricka, in just an indication of how serious this has become, the Wake County District Attorney who is leading the investigation confirms to CNN the FBI is now helping her with her investigation, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you, Drew. Up next, we'll head out to the red carpet as CNN gets ready to honor our Top Ten Heroes of the year.


[16:50:00] WHITFIELD: Tonight is the night. The 12th annual CNN Heroes all-star tribute salutes continue people who put others first all year long. The star-studded gala airs live at 8:00 p.m. eastern. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're humans helping humans and they need our help.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do the best the world has to offer.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are heroes today and every day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is nice. They teach you the skills. It is 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 to create this hospital based intervention.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join Anderson Cooper and Kelly Ripa live as they name the 2018 CNN's Hero of the year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here once again celebrating the best of humanity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't we need this tonight more than ever?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN Heroes, an all-star tribute tonight at 8:00 eastern.


WHITFIELD: Oh, it is big, people. And it gets bigger every year, to the extent that it is a real red carpet event from New York. And our Athena Jones is already on the red carpet. So Athena, give us an idea. This is a hugely exciting night. What can we expect?

ATHENA JONES, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Hi, Fred. It is an exciting night, and it is a night for feel good stories. You mentioned this campaign began 12 years ago. This -- it began in 2007 honoring folks who are giving back, ordinary people who are changing the lives of others in their community and serving others. And it is a very special night for CNN, because so many of the stories that we report on a daily basis deal with conflict and controversy and tragedy and scandal.

And this is a time to celebrate selflessness and service. We have nominees, these 10 nominees, spanning the globe. Someone from Nigeria, a woman who is helping teach girls how to computer program, there is a doctor in Peru, there is a doctor a doctor in Brooklyn who has established an anti violence initiative, so all sorts of ordinary folks with remarkable stories will be honored tonight.

And we should tell folks how this all works. CNN Heroes are nominated by viewers online. CNN received thousands of nominations. Each of these Top 10 Heroes gets $10,000 to put towards their work. And at the end of the night, of course, there's the big reveal that is who will be the CNN Hero of the year. That person gets $100,000 to further their work.

All again in celebration of service when it comes to celebrity, so it's going to be like any big and good awards gala. There's going to be a musical performance, this time by Lenny Kravitz. And when it comes to the red carpet, about an hour from now, we'll start seeing Heroes arrive and also the young wonders, our young Heroes in the making who are doing things like feeding the homeless in their communities.

So then we'll start to see people (Inaudible) we expect to see Will Ferrell, Bryan Cranston, (Inaudible) from the Walking Dead and a long list of celebrities who are out here tonight to put the spotlight on those helping others.

WHITFIELD: So much fun and it's so feel good, so inspirational, and of course, we celebrate all of those 10 CNN Heroes. And it has gotten to be so big, so popular that there are a lot of celebrities who are, you know, knocking on the door saying I want to be a part of that because that kind of inspiration is so contagious. Athena Jones, thank you so much.

And of course, you don't want to miss a minute of this star-studded show. CNN Heroes, an all-star tribute is live tonight 8:00 eastern. Thanks so much for being with me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The news continues right now.


[16:55:00] ANA CABRERA, NEWSROOM ANCHOR, CNN: It is 5:00 eastern, 2:00 in the afternoon out west. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You're live in the CNN Newsroom. Things are different this weekend in Washington and not good in a good way for President Trump. The official probe into Russia's role in his election, the legal hammers falling on people he once confided in, testimony by the former head of the FBI.

These are all things that the President has long blown off as a witch hunt, a total hoax and fake news. Like I just said, this weekend, things are different. Here is why.