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Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate Change after Deadly Wildfires; British PM Speaks after Move to Delay Brexit Vote; Trump: Chief of Staff John Kelly will be Leaving at End of Year. Aired 10:30- 11a ET

Aired December 10, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL WEIR, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like Butte County Sheriff's Deputy Palmer Lee (ph), who activated his body camera --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that's not good.

WEIR: Not sure he'd even survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we get in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

SHERIFF KORY HONEA, BUTTE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: He honestly believed that he was recording the last moments of his life. And, in his mind he thought that perhaps the video would survive.

WEIR: But somehow all first responders survived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I found an elderly woman standing on the side of the road. And I only found her because I got tangled in some power lines that I had to cut.

WEIR: And somehow they helped the city of 27,000 evacuate or shelter in place, surrounded by blowing flames, on gridlocked roads and thanks to melting pipes, no water.

SIMS HAWKINS, BATTALION CHIEF, CAL FIRE BUTTE COUNTY: As I opened my door, the embers are blowing inside my truck. I'm thinking my truck's going to catch on fire. Shut the door. Run to the screaming I hear. I mean it was an elderly couple cuddling each other.

WEIR: There are thousands of stories like this, making Paradise a symbol of community sacrifice and survival.

The biggest clean-up in state history is underway. And when the lines are up and safe, neighbors will be back up and safe, neighbors will be back helping neighbors sift through what's left. WEIR (on camera): But those who study fire and water, wind and climate

say Paradise should be a warning. In fact, on Black Friday, while this fire was still burning, the Trump administration put out the most frightening climate forecast in American history, over 300 scientists from NASA, NOAA, the Pentagon, Smithsonian all agreeing that unless things change, this is just the beginning.

WEIR (voice over): But when asked about the report --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's fine.

WEIR: And it's prediction of economic devastation.

TRUMP: Yes, I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe it.

FAITH KEARNS, SCIENTIST, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA WATER INSTITUTE: You know, climate change doesn't really care if you believe in it or not, right? It's reality. We have gravity. We have climate change.

WEIR: Dr. Faith Kearns is a scientist at the University of California.

DON HANKINS, PROFESSOR, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY CHICO: Yes, we are seeing larger fires.

WEIR: And Don Hankins teaches the Geography of Fire at Cal State Chico. They both agree that California is also paying for the sin of building into the wilderness with no regard for natural cycles.

WEIR (on camera): But I suppose the lesson is, if you don't have a lot of little fires throughout the seasons, you're going to have some really big ones.

HANKINS: That's right. That's right. And the little fires, if you can imagine checker-boarding a landscape with a lot of little fires, it could really do a lot to minimize those bigger fires later.

WEIR (voice over): There are around 130 million dead trees in California. Controlled burning or cutting them would cost billions. But the risk of leaving them to burn wild is anyone's guess.

HONEA: One of the problems we have as part of human nature is that, one, we rely upon our past experiences to predict how things are going to go forward. And so I've talked to a lot of citizens who have said, yes, we were aware of fires, but they were always able to stop them on the ridge before they got there. And so I think it engenders this fault sense of security.

KEARNS: A lot of natural hazards have been viewed that way as sort of through the lens of history. And now it's much more like, uh, we can't really rely on history as a guide anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I believe that, you know, from when I started, the fires that we see on a regular basis are much more -- they're larger. They're more destructive. And the future generation moving forward, they have a very dangerous job ahead of them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEIR: That fire chief has been on the job 20 years and he said you know if you don't believe the scientists. Believe me. I can see it with my own eyes. Jim?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: It's a great point. You know not crazy tree huggers, right? I mean he's on the front lines of this. I want to ask you this because now the Trump administration has aligned the U.S. with Russia, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, denying, in effect, this climate change science. Of course, we should note those are undemocratic countries but also countries whose economy -- economies are very much dependent on oil and it rings like big tobacco and lung cancer, right? You deny the science because it's in your interest. What does it mean to have the U.S., the world's biggest economy, biggest democracy, lining up with folks like that?

WEIR: Well, I think it was an Upton Sinclair who said it's hard to convince a man of something when his entire income depends on him not understanding it. You're right. What are the things those companies have in common, including the United States, huge energy exporters. It's the bread and butter. But even if the entire world stopped burning carbon today, turned off the engines, the atmosphere would continue to heat up for maybe a generation. This is a very slow-moving disaster we're dealing with here right now.

And so, all of this arguing about whether to row in the right direction. Precious time is being lost to mitigate possible disasters. It's not a matter of -- if it's going to happen. It's just a matter, Jim, of how bad it's going to get.

[10:35:03] SCIUTTO: You're standing there right in the midst of some of the consequences. Bill Weir thanks very much, as always.

More news we're watching this morning. British Prime Minister Theresa May is delaying a crucial vote on her Brexit deal. She's speaking in front of parliament right now as we speak. Those are live pictures. We're going to have a live report from London after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: The White House is facing a political storm now, tightening of the Russia investigation, a potentially hostile Democratic majority coming to Congress with veto - with subpoena power, rather.

[10:45:07] But President Trump's allies tell "The Washington Post" that instead of hiring lawyers and building a war room to respond, the White House is winging it. They're depending on President Trump's core supporters to believe what he tells them.

Joining us now is former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci. Thanks very much for taking the time.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: So, I mean, just go back for one second, who is saying that? Like --

SCIUTTO: Listen, we had a lot of folks on the Hill. You hear from Republicans and Democrats. It's not just -- it's not made up.

SCARAMUCCI: Do you like New York better than Washington, Jim?

SCIUTTO: Me personally, I like them both. But I'll always be a New Yorker at heart. As a fellow New Yorker, you know that never leaves you.

SCARAMUCCI: Just curious.

SCIUTTO: Let's start if we can on the president's chief of staff position, because you just said another name take his -- another guy take his name out of the hat, that is Mark Meadows. You had Nick Ayers over the weekend who appeared to be the frontrunner. Does this indicate that folks don't want this job?

SCARAMUCCI: I don't think so. I think -- in Mark's case, look at what he's done with the Freedom Caucus and look at the role that he has in the Congress. And he's been unbelievably helpful to the president's agenda inside the Congress. And so, I think in Mark's situation, he's a total team player. He's trying to figure out what is the best utility for him, and he probably thinks it's to stay in Congress, which should make sense given you know how much power he's galvanized inside the House of Representatives.

SCIUTTO: But the point is you have a pattern, right? Because Nick Ayers, a young guy. You would think in the administration, a 36-year- old gets offered a job like that, he jumps at it. You got Mick Mulvaney saying he likes where he is. I mean you have to imagine that the legal questions, the president's style of management, are turning people off.

SCARAMUCCI: OK, so the legal stuff, in my opinion, I think you know the next chief of staff will probably have to convince the president to start ring fencing that. He's got very good legal counsel. They've got a pretty good idea where the facts are in the case, and I think they can protect the president. So I think that will dial back some of the president's tweets on that.

As it relates to the other stuff, I don't think there's any shortage of people that would come and serve the country and work for the president. You know, and so for me, he'll probably -- you know, I don't know what happened with Nick Ayers. So I'm not sitting there at the table, but my guess is that the president was probably going to announce him or came close or thought about announcing him. Something happened.

He withdrew. And so the president picked an exceptional cabinet. He's got very smart people around him. He'll probably deliberate about this for a week or two and come up with a great guy to be his chief. But here's the thing. I want the next chief of staff to be somebody who really likes the president. I mean it's enough of like, you know I'm serving the country.

SCIUTTO: Not the Kelly/Trump dynamic.

SCARAMUCCI: It's enough of I'm serving the country but I don't really like the president. Let's have somebody that really likes the president, recognizes that the president is the boss. Don't be a sycophant, you've got to talk to the president honestly, but recognize he's got the ball. You know you're just giving him some more offensive coordination and defensive coordination but he's the head coach and the quarterback.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you about this because of course, you had the filings in the Cohen and the Manafort cases on Friday. The president, Rudy Giuliani, they dismissed both filings, but including the Cohen filing as being unrelated to this president, when in fact, Cohen is testifying that the president directed him to break campaign finance law. And as I always remind folks, you know the president will say it's a bunch of angry Democrats leading this, but the southern district of New York is run by a Trump appointee. How can the president and Giuliani say this is a totally unrelated to him when he's implicated?

SCARAMUCCI: Well, I -- they probably are saying it and they're probably saying it in that way. I'm not trying to be the translator here, but I think what they really mean is that whatever went on with Paul or in the case of Michael it's probably not going to be over the line of criminality as it relates to the president. I think that's the point that Rudy is making. And so I think that's the point that the president was making on Twitter.

You know, having looked at the case, I do have a legal background. You know people obviously will disagree with me. Some of this is politically charged. Let's just look at the facts. The question will be does he have a John Edwards-like defense. Is it a campaign violation or was this something that he was doing in a normal course of his business and normal course of his process? And so to me, I think that's where they're coming out on, and I think that's why they're saying it's not illegal from the president's perspective.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask you this question, and you get asked this a lot. And I saw my colleague Chris Cuomo, he pressed you on this. The president not telling the truth on things in public. You used the expression, flowered up. Sometimes he embellishes. Sometimes he flowers things up.

SCARAMUCCI: -- things up. He flowers things up.

SCIUTTO: But sometimes, let's be fair --

SCARAMUCCI: I've also said to John Berman, the president has told lies. I'm not one of these sycophants where I'm going to sit out here and pretend that he hasn't said a few things that are not truthful, but let me just say this. You have to understand his operating style. You have to understand his presentation skills. The stuff that he's saying that isn't truthful, most people get the joke about it.

SCIUTTO: Is it a joke?

SCARAMUCCI: Other people say, well, intellectually how could you say that? You're justifying that he's not saying the truth. [10:50:02] I'm not. I'm not justifying it. I'm just explaining based on my observation of the president's personality and someone that's worked with him, what he's doing and why he's doing it. And it's been generally effective for him, Jim, over the last 45 years.

SCIUTTO: But this gets to core issues here.

SCARAMUCCI: I'm not condoning it.

SCIUTTO: I know you're not condoning.

(CROSSTALK)

I'm just asking what the damage is. In a way, you're excusing it by saying that's how he operates. What damage does it do when for instance the commander in chief says that there's no intelligence that implicates the Saudis in this when in fact you hear from Republicans that there is or when the president says, you know, even going back, there were three million illegal voters who voted for Hillary Clinton when now you have an actual case in North Carolina of what appears to be real election fraud. You know what's the effect on the country?

SCARAMUCCI: So, again, I'm really not condoning it. I'm just trying to explain it. The president, I think, controls the bully pulpit. He has a voice in the debate that I think is very powerful, and there's ways that he can sit down and strategize about how to use that voice going forward. But I think it would be more effective. I have said repeatedly that some of the war with the media, some of the issues and attention there is a 5 percent to 7 percent headwind in the president's face. He could have a much higher approval rating in my opinion if he dialed back some of that.

SCIUTTO: To your credit -

SCARAMUCCI: I've said that -

SCIUTTO: -- you have criticized this president for instance, for repeating the enemy, the people thing, which he repeated over the weekend.

SCARAMUCCI: I don't like it.

SCIUTTO: And we appreciate that.

SCARAMUCCI: I don't like it. And it's not -- I'm not saying that because you're in the media. I just don't like it. I understand the Constitution and the First Amendment. I understand the people in the media are there to hold people in power accountable. I mean, I didn't do that many things. I was in the White House, but I did turn the lights and cameras back on because I believe in the First Amendment, and I know the president believes in the First Amendment.

By the way, the president had a great relationship with the media years ago. There's no reason why he can't have a better relationship with the media over the next two years than he did in the first two of his presidency. SCIUTTO: Appreciated.

Final question, if I can. This struck us because you were speaking at a conference this weekend, and you talk because this gets to the truth issue. You talked about this QAnon, which is the source of many of the worst you know conspiracy theories going back to Pizza Gate and a whole host of others, but you said that they're accurate about so many things.

SCARAMUCCI: OK, this is what I love about the media. This is sort of what happened to me with CNN, right, where I said these guys, OK, you're being dishonest. If you're going to report that, I'm going to have to come after you. Of course, the three CNN people got fired. I don't even remember this reporter's name. And so I'm not even going to bring the guy's name up and give them --

SCIUTTO: But on this issue.

SCARAMUCCI: Let me say what I said. I said there was a woman there. She had a T-shirt on that had Q on it. I laughed. I said what is this whole Q thing? She started listing things for me. The reporter didn't hear the whole thing of what this guy has apparently predicted. I said wow, I didn't realize he had gotten so many things right. I'm not focused on Q.

SCIUTTO: You're not endorsing them.

SCARAMUCCI: I'm not endorsing Q. I don't know anything about QAnon. The reporter thought he had me in a got you moment because that's what reporters do. He didn't declare himself as a reporter. He didn't say he was interviewing anybody. I was teasing the woman when I said wait until you find out who the guy is. I have no idea who the guy is. I'm not a quote, unquote. She went on truther. I could care less about QAnon. But that's what I don't like about the media, OK? They set me up - let me finish.

SCIUTTO: I asked you the question. I'm accepting your answer.

SCARAMUCCI: I appreciate you bringing it up so that I can clear it up. I'm not going to respond to this joker on Twitter or these other jokers that hang out with the guy, but this is why the American people strongly dislike elements of the media that they think are being unfair. You're a very fair guy, and I appreciate you bringing it up, but I just want to state for the record, I'm not a QAnon truther. I don't know anything about QAnon and -- but according to what the woman said, if it's true, some of the things that the guy put out there turned out to be true. Maybe there are 95 percent of things that turn out to be false. I have no idea. I don't even look at the stuff.

SCIUTTO: Question asked and answered. I appreciate you --

SCARAMUCCI: Could you understand why that would be something that would upset me?

SCIUTTO: I get it. I get it. I do.

SCARAMUCCI: Ridiculous stuff that goes on.

SCIUTTO: But you also answered the question. And we're you know -- because I'm hearing your answer, I'm taking your answer at face value.

SCARAMUCCI: This is ridiculous, Jim.

SCIUTTO: I appreciate you taking the hard questions on this and other topics, looks forward to having you back.

SCARAMUCCI: Any time. Thanks for having me.

SCIUTTO: Anthony Scaramucci thanks very much. And we'll be right back after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:53:43] SCIUTTO: Happening now, as we speak, British Prime Minister Theresa May is defending her decision to delay a crucial vote on Brexit. It is the latest hiccup for many for May as she negotiates Britain's divorce from the European Union.

Let's go to Matthew Chance. He is live outside parliament. So, vote delayed now. What happens now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a good question. You can see she is speaking now, Theresa May. She's been speaking for the past couple minutes to an absolutely divided house that has all sorts of strands of opinion about what to do next. Should there be a general election, should there be a second referendum. Should we crash out of the European Union without a deal, or should we accept the plan that Theresa May has been at the forefront of negotiating for the past several months.

Well, the British Prime Minister has said she's deferring a crucial vote in the parliament to accept that plan, knowing that she was going to be confronted with a massive rejection by MPs in the House of Commons. She's going to go back to the European Union and seek some concessions, some additional reassurances, as she says, on the issue of the backstop. This is the deal that would kick into force to make sure there's no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Isles. It's been one of the most divisive and contentious issues of the Brexit plan because the Brexiteers fear it would eventually cut the country in half, cut off Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, so very contentious indeed.

[10:55:10] Already, the Northern Irish political party has said that's not enough. That the backstop must go. And so she's in this very unenviable position. No matter what she comes back with when she comes back from the European Union and after the next round of negotiations she's about to try and to enter into, the chances are that's not going to be accepted either. And so we're at the end of a big period of chaos here, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Big consequences for Britain, for the United Kingdom, splitting up, possibly Europe. Matthew Chance, we're going to stay on this story. This just coming in to CNN, accused Russian spy Maria Butina has reached a plea deal. The breaking news, we're going to have it right after this break.

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