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Wind Gusts Hit Hurricane-Force Amid California Wildfires; Flames Moving Closer To Reagan Library In California; Trump's Next Russia Ambassador Pick Testifies On Ukraine Scandal & Impeachment; Inside Trump's Pentagon Under Defense Secretary Mattis; U.K. Family Suing Trump Administration, Diplomat's Wife Over Crash That Killed Teenage Son. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired October 30, 2019 - 13:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: We have breaking news out of California where winds are gusting above hurricane-force as several fast-moving wildfires burn across the state. Right now, more than 26 million people are under red-flag warnings. Several major fires threaten California.

This morning, a new fire in Simi Valley forced the Reagan Presidential Library near Los Angeles to evacuate.

CNN's Bill Weir and Omar Jimenez are in Simi Valley.

Bill, let's start with you.

Tell us what you're seeing.

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we're obviously right here in front of the Reagan Library. A statue of the president on horseback here.

Interesting that when they dedicated this building, they hosted firefighters who saved this place from a threatening wildfire like this. The Reagans' own Malibu ranch burned back in the day. Fire is always part of this landscape. The folks at the museum say they've never seen anything like this.

Get a load of this valley. When we arrived about 90 minutes ago, it was burning on the far ridge line. In just that short amount of time, these 60-mile-an-hour Santa Ana gusts pushed this thing.

Fire crews just pulled out of there because they have neighborhoods below us that are now in danger. You can see these hot spots kicking back up just within the last few minutes since Cal Fire pulled out of here.

It's really astounding the speed and unpredictability of these Santa Ana gusts. Cal Fire has never managed to contain this kind of fire in the history of the state. All they can do is wait for the weather to shift.

This one was about 15 acres when we started. Now it's in the hundreds of acres and headed toward more residential areas here.

The library itself, they believe is pretty safe. Obviously, crews wouldn't have pulled back. It's fireproof, it's earthquake proof.

What's interesting is that every year they bring in herds of goats to eat the vegetation around this precious home and archives as well.

Look at this moon scape. It's reminiscent of the Woolsey Fire in Malibu just last year when we saw so much of Calabasas and that area burn.

There's still the Getty Fire to worry about in the Hills of Los Angeles. We heard of another fire outbreak in Riverside County. That's a couple of hours from here.

That's not to mention all the fires, Brianna, that are still raging up north in northern California as Pacific Gas and Electric has those rolling blackouts out of fear of another electrical spark here.

We're going to follow this one. It feels like the library and museum are safe for now. So we're going to follow this one to Simi Valley and check on proof of life amongst the ranchers. So much livestock in this area they're evacuating as well -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Bill, we'll let you go so you can stay safe. Make sure you do as you follow this story. Very dangerous there. You can see the conditions.

I want to go to Omar Jimenez, also in Simi Valley.

Tell us what you're seeing.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we are in sight of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. You see it just over this clearing. You can see how scorched this earth has been leading up to that library.

We were actually just on the other side of that a little bit earlier today. The flames came in so quickly, exasperated by this wind, that we along with the fire department had to move.

This is along the guardrails of the road leading up to the library, all of them scorched with fire that spills over coming up from the valley below as part of the Easy Fire.

I want to show you how active this scene is. I lost my hat there. Wind obviously very much a factor. Up on this hillside, you see all these fire crews below. Crews have walked up in person. That spot that is smoldering was just in flames just a few moments ago.

You see close to 20 people, fire personnel up there working at that fire, digging it out as they do, trying to make sure it doesn't get whipped up by some of these very intense winds as you feel and probably hear right now.

This is a fire that just two hours ago -- we were speaking to Ventura County Fire Department -- was at about 200 acres. In just those two hours, up to 1300 acres.

This is part of why officials upgraded from just a red-flag warning to an extreme red-flag warning. That terminology coming about for the first time in this, highlighting just how dangerous and just how explosive the fire potential was, given the conditions of the humidity, the wind and, of course, the temperature.


Crews are taking no chances, attacking this from the air. We've been seeing planes from Cal Fire and helicopters assisting not just from here in Ventura County but L.A. County as well trying to get this under control.

When you put this in perspective, this is the third major fire to hit Ventura County in just the past three years.

KEILAR: Omar, thank you for that report in Simi Valley.

In the president's first Pentagon briefing, a former aide to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the president was like a, quote, "squirrel in traffic." He joins me to explain more.

Plus, I'll speak live with the family of a British teen killed in a crash involving a U.S. diplomat's wife. The family says they are suing the Trump administration for an alleged coverup.



KEILAR: President Trump's pick to be the next ambassador to Russia is in the spotlight, with the Ukraine scandal and impeachment questions taking center stage. Current Deputy Secretary of State, John Sullivan, is testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In a sharp line of inquiry, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez asked why the U.S. Senator (sic) to Ukraine, who Sullivan said served admirably, was recalled.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): So you would agree that she served the Department of State and represented the United States capably and admirably?


MENENDEZ: Yet, you were the one who told Ambassador Yovanovitch that she was being recalled early, correct?

SULLIVAN: I did. MENENDEZ: In your view, was there any basis to recall Ambassador

Yovanovitch early?

SULLIVAN: Yes, there was. The president had lost confidence in her.

MENENDEZ: You were aware there were individuals outside of the State Department seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch?


MENENDEZ: And seeking to remove her?


MENENDEZ: Did you know Mr. Giuliani was one of those people?

SULLIVAN: I believed he was, yes.


KEILAR: Sullivan also testified he didn't think soliciting investigation into a domestic political opponent would be in accord with U.S. values. That speaks to the heart of the impeachment inquiry and where it stands right now.

For almost two years, General James Mattis served as President Trump's secretary of defense. A new book paints a candid and often chaotic scene in the higher ranks of the Pentagon during that time and how it led to the eventual resignation of General Mattis.

The book is called "Holding the Line, Inside Trump's Pentagon with Secretary Mattis."

Former speechwriter to Secretary Mattis and retired Navy commander, Guy Snodgrass, is the author. And he's here with us now.

Thank you for joining us in studio. We appreciate it.


KEILAR: There are many interesting parts to this book, but one in particular is the president's first briefing at the Pentagon about six months into his tenure. It really seems like the Pentagon was all abuzz trying to get this ready, showing him, really briefing him on the state of U.S. forces in the world.

And there's a particular part where, knowing, of course, that he's concerned about the economic piece of this, General Mattis actually said and explained that Japan was footing the bill to move U.S. troops from Okinawa to Guam.

The president's reaction was surprising to you all. He wanted to know basically why the U.S. was paying for any of it.

Tell me more. SNODGRASS: When you're in that type of scenario, you want a president

to walk into that room and be laser focused on national security, on what's best for the American public and, of course, strengthening our alliances and partnerships around the world.

For him to walk in with a scowl on his face automatically dismissing anything that Secretary Mattis or Tillerson or Gary Cohn was going to share with him about America's place in this world and the importance of our military and what we do abroad was very disruptive. It was disappointing to see that. We need a president who is laser focused on national security.

KEILAR: Is it possible for you to square a president who talks a lot about the military and rebuilding the military, and then a president that you describe in your book, who largely does not see a place for the military in other countries.

SNODGRASS: We wanted to share with the president that America gets a great return on investment capital. When you send a few troops overseas, you get a lot in return for doing that, not least of which is the fact that America has an important place on the world stage. People need to be able to trust that America is a partner of choice.

We're seeing that today with what's happening with the ad hoc and sporadic Syria withdrawal and in Afghanistan.

That's what this book does. It brings the reader inside the room for those types of decision making.

When you're in that meeting and you realize President Trump is more fixated on undermining his predecessor and pinning medals on his own chest and ripping the strips off of President Obama's sleeve, it's one of those things where, again, that's not where his focus should be.

KEILAR: Did you think that General Mattis was able to convince him -- I mean, in the end, General Mattis resigned because the president said he was pulling troops out of Syria.

Then we saw the president didn't really make good on that until somewhat recently as he's moved them from northern Syria.


Did you see General Mattis having a positive impact in convincing the president to go against his own nature and more with the prevailing ideas about what was right among the national security community?

SNODGRASS: There's no doubt that Mattis is a patriot. He served the country incredibly well for four decades in the Marine Corps and as a general and, further on, as secretary of defense.

When you think about the service he played, maybe the first six months to a year in the administration, the president relied more heavily on those national security experts.

Unfortunately, the president has certainly relied more on his confidence and his misplaced confidence than he had on his own competence. That's dangerous.

KEILAR: Guy Snodgrass, thank you so much. We can check out your new book, "Holding the Line." Definitely worth reading. Thanks for coming in.

SNODGRASS: Thanks, Brianna, appreciate it.

KEILAR: Appreciate it.

A former Trump campaign advisor who was jailed for lying to the FBI is running for Congress in the swing district just vacated by Katie Hill.

Plus, why Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, went to extraordinary lengths to dodge questions about a White House staffer's impeachment testimony.



KEILAR: Nearly three months after a teenager was killed in a head-on crash in England, lawyers for his family are suing the Trump administration and the woman responsible.

Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a U.S. diplomat, admitted she was driving on the wrong side of the road when she hit and killed 19-year-old Harry Dunn. Sacoolas claimed diplomatic immunity and left the country three weeks later and claimed immunity. Now the family is seeking justice.

Radd Seiger is a spokesman for the Dunn family. He's joining us now, along with Larna Harber, who is Harry Dunn's step-sister.

I want to thank you both so much for joining us.

Rad, I want to start with you.

You instructed lawyers in the U.S. to sue the Trump administration for misconduct and cover-up. We should note the White House has declined to comment on this. But explain why the family is taking this legal action.

RADD SEIGER, DUNN FAMILY SPOKESMAN: Yes. There's two things. First of all, I think anybody agrees with us that Mrs. Sacoolas needs to go back to the U.K. and face the music for what she did. There can be no argument there.

But, Brianna, this turned into a much bigger thing where you have the United States government behaving lawlessly, flouting the diplomatic immunity laws and conventions and saying to its greatest ally, we're going to pull any American citizen back who has committed what is a serious crime, albeit accidental, and there's nothing you can do about it.

So when I say, willful, mindless, lawless behavior and misconduct, that's exactly what we mean. And unless this family draw a line in the sand and takes this action, where is it going leave us all in the international community, the global village we all live in?

KEILAR: Larna, can you tell me a little about how your family is doing as you're trying to keep this case in the public eye?

LARNA HARBER, STEP-SISTER OF HARRY DUNN: Yes. We as a family, we're suffering. Our grieving process hasn't even begun to start yet. We thought after the funeral there may be some closure and the police would carry on with their investigation, and it would be a clear-cut case. However, that hasn't been the case.

We're now having to fight justice for Harry. It may be that the public thinks we're managing OK and the tears don't seem to be flowing on the telly like they were in the beginning but, behind the cameras, it's a very different story.

KEILAR: What do you think the accountability process, Larna, for Mrs. Sacoolas should be? What would accountability look like for you that you think is appropriate?

HARBER: So we need her to come back to the U.K. She was on the wrong side of the road. It was on U.K. soil. And there's lots of unanswered questions we need to know as a family that she can answer, and only her. She can answer those.

We're not wanting her behind bars. That isn't what we want. You know, I'm a mum myself, and she's a mother of three, and we don't want to take that role away from her.

But she needs to come back and admit what happened and answer our questions that we have.

KEILAR: Two weeks ago, the Dunn parents met actually with the president in the Oval Office. They described the meeting as a stunt, because they were told that Mrs. Sacoolas was there in the other room. They hadn't known she would be there and were asked on the spot if they'd like to meet with her and they declined.

Tell us more about this meeting, because you also described it as an ambush.

SEIGER: It was an ambush. It was crazy. So we were in New York, in the morning, doing various things, going on various shows. And midmorning, I got a phone call from the White House, inviting us down to Washington as soon as we possibly -- we could get there.

KEILAR: What was the tone like?

SEIGER: Very friendly. You know? Very, very inviting and very friendly. Just, if we were free to make our way down, but they didn't say.


KEILAR: If I -- we have about 30 seconds left.


KEILAR: What was the tone like when you got there?


SEIGER: Completely sinister and intimidating and oppressive and scary, frankly.

KEILAR: You found it scary?

SEIGER: I found it scary. You see the signs of me. Imagine what the poor parents were feeling, completely befuddled and confused.

KEILAR: Radd, thank you so much.

Larna, we really appreciate you coming on and talking to us about this and we'll be thinking of your family.

HARBER: Thank you.

KEILAR: More on breaking news. Sources telling CNN a key State Department witness is willing to testify in public about an alleged quid pro quo involving the president.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.