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Presidential Contenders Flood Iowa In Critical Weekend Push; Impeachment Battle; Trump Claimed ISIS Leader Whimpered In Final Moments; California Wildfires; Suburban Pittsburgh Voters Weigh In On Impeachment; Washington Nationals Pitcher Will Not Visit The White House. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired November 2, 2019 - 11:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:59:44]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. It's 11:00 on the East Coast.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We are just about three months away from the first in the nation caucus but this weekend in Iowa, it's do or die in the 2020 race. All of the remaining Democratic candidates are crisscrossing the state hoping to swing voters and catapult their campaigns to the forefront.

But the field is also shrinking. Former Congressman Beto O'Rourke announcing he will no longer pursue the presidency. He's telling supporters he couldn't raise enough money to remain competitive with his party's leading contenders.

The latest poll has Elizabeth Warren leading the pack in Iowa with Senator Bernie Sanders, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former vice president Joe Biden rounding out the top tier.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is on the trail in Des Moines, Iowa this morning. Arlette -- it's a pretty big weekend in the Hawkeye State. How are they spending it?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Fred -- it certainly is. And last night there was that high-stakes dinner where you had most of the Democratic field coming here making their pitch to Iowa voters. The attendees heard from Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg as well as several of the other candidates.

They were there taking their pitch, trying to convince voters why they are the best choice to be the Democratic nominee. Take a listen to a few of those messages from last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight all of us, no matter what candidate we are supporting, are in agreement that we must defeat the most dangerous president in the history of our country.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first thing we have to do is get rid of Donald Trump. Get him out of office. And once that happens, the road is clear for significant change.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not running some consultant-driven campaign with some vague ideas that are designed not to offend anyone. I'm running a campaign based on a lifetime of fighting for working families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAENZ: Now, it's not just the messages that were important last night but also this event gave candidates a chance to show off their organizing strength. How many supporters they could pack into that arena. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg were among the candidates who had kind of the biggest showing, the loudest group of supporters.

And as you mentioned, just a few hours before this dinner kicked off, Beto O'Rourke announced that he was going drop his presidential bid. Actually there were signs lining outside of the arena. There are a few Beto O'Rourke signs that were still set up during the day. I remember seeing an advertisement near a concession stand as well inside the arena.

So that news came as a bit of a surprise to some of his supporters that were here on the ground. But the campaign trail still continues on for the other Democratic candidates. They're fanning out across the state throughout the weekend. There's an NAACP forum here in Des Moines.

Joe Biden is going to be opening an office here in Des Moines. And other candidates will also be here through the state throughout the weekend.

And one thing that's really critical to remember, that poll that was released yesterday found that two-thirds of Iowa Democrats still are undecided about who they are going to vote for in this 2020 caucus. We're 93 days out and these candidates are going to be making their pitch as to why they should be the nominee -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Two-thirds, that's a pretty sizeable number. All right. They're going to make their pitches.

Arlette Saenz -- thank you so much.

All right. Meanwhile, Mayor Pete Buttigieg seems to be embracing his new role as one of the top tier candidates in Iowa and his comparisons to former president Barack Obama. Here's what he had to say at the Democratic Party's liberty and justice celebration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first time I came to this state was as a volunteer to knock on doors for a presidential candidate, a young man with a funny name. And we knew the stakes were high then. The stakes are colossal now.

This country cannot afford four more years of Donald Trump. We will not recognize it if he gets re-elected.

Talking about hope and belonging sounds optimistic to you for a time like this, fine. Call it optimistic, but do not call it naive. Because I believe these things not based on my age but based on my experience.

The purpose of the presidency is not the glorification of the President. It is the unification of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk about all of this -- all the stakes very high in Iowa and beyond.

Joining me right now assistant editor with the "Washington Post" and CNN political commentator, David Swerdlick. All right. David -- good to see you.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Good morning -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So I mean -- the cadence is one thing, right? That's a striking similarity with Buttigieg and Obama.

[11:04:54]

WHITFIELD: But, you know, talk to me about whether this would be an asset, this kind of comparisons with President Obama, with Buttigieg. Or you know, is the challenge for Buttigieg and other Democratic candidates to distinguish themselves, to really stand out ahead of the pack?

SWERDLICK: Yes, good morning -- Fred.

We're getting toward crunch time. President Obama remains extremely popular among Democrats across the country, so the comparisons are an advantage. Every one of the top tier candidates has a piece of Obama and the question is which one is going to be most important.

You know, Biden was part of the administration. Senator Warren, I think, has Obama's organizational skills. You have someone like Senator Harris who has his charisma.

Someone like Mayor Buttigieg I think has President Obama's speaking style and ability to communicate with different audiences. He would also be a barrier breaker if he were to become the first openly gay president of the United States.

So I do think he's on to something there -- Fred. The question is, as we go into Iowa, who's going to be able to sort of take their strengths and combine it with strengths of some of these other candidates and go forward and kind of gain votes and pull ahead out of this sort of four-way race atop the polls right now.

WHITFIELD: For Buttigieg, while his popularity is rising, not necessarily among the African-American community.

SWERDLICK: No.

WHITFIELD: How critical is it to embrace and to appeal to that electorate nationwide?

SWERDLICK: So it's a little less critical in the first two voting states -- Iowa and New Hampshire -- because those states have smaller African-American populations. But nationally you have to win the black vote to be a viable Democratic contender in the primary and to have a lot of black turnout in the general election.

And when you get to South Carolina, the third state, you're going to really see African-Americans be the majority of the Democratic vote there and then as you go on in successive states, the black vote remains important.

One of the reasons that Vice President Biden, Fred, is still at the top tier is mostly because he's being bolstered by a ton of African- American support. Support that Senator Warren, Mayor Buttigieg and others have gained a little bit on him, but they still don't have the same bloc that Biden does.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So Mayor Pete, you know, he's in that top tier of four, but the Mayor himself sees this as a two-person race. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUTTIGIEG: I think this is getting to be a two-way. It's early to say it. I'm not saying it is a two-way. But I think --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see it's coming into focus -- you and Warren.

BUTTIGIEG: Yes. And certainly a world where we're getting somewhere is that world where it's coming down to the two of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Too confident? Potentially dangerous? Or is this down to he and Warren?

SWERDLICK: Right. So I don't think it's ever a bad thing to be confident, especially when you're looking to be in a race against President Trump who always projects confidence even when he doesn't actually have it.

Mayor Buttigieg there I think is trying to make some waves, emphasize the fact, Fred, that he has a lot of fund-raising and that he's playing well in Iowa.

Going back to your previous question, I do think he's going to have to finding a way, if he wants all of that to come true, to convince African-American voters that some of the problems that he had as mayor with the African-American community are behind him. I also think he's going to have to sort of face attacks in the November and December poll. If he's atop those polls, he'll have more fire trained on him.

Senator Warren did not handle that front-runner status in the debate last time very well. But he's right that if he can pull all of that off, he is pulling into a narrower race with Senator Warren, probably still Vice President Biden though as well. I wouldn't quite write him off just yet.

WHITFIELD: Yes. The field now minus one. Beto O'Rourke last night dropping out of the race. Our Jeff Zeleny when he was reporting last night said that in talking to at least one of the supporters there in Iowa saying that that person thought it was a very selfish move to drop out.

But then Beto O'Rourke, you know, said it's really about finances. You know, he didn't have the money to keep it going in part. And you look at this latest campaign issue of finances. He was in the middle of the pack, outpacing others who are still in the race.

So, you know, might this just be a sign of more to come, you know, others behind him in terms of fund-raising who might not be able to have the stamina to stay in?

SWERDLICK: Yes, Fred -- I actually still think it's amazing that there are still 17 declared candidates in this race when only let's say less than ten of them are really viable going into next year.

Some of what Congressman O'Rourke was saying there is just it's not selfishness, it's just pure arithmetic.

WHITFIELD: Right.

SWERDLICK: You can't mount a national campaign when you can't fly staff to advance your events.

WHITFIELD: Right. You've got to stay in hotels.

SWERDLICK: Right. You go from business class to a middle seat on Southwest, it just becomes unworkable for campaigns. You know, some people like Senator McCain had that legendary campaign where he was carrying his own luggage, but that's not where you want to be at this stage of the race.

WHITFIELD: And plus wasn't his wife -- his wife helped finance the air transport, so that makes a difference too.

SWERDLICK: Yes. Clearly. Clearly.

[11:10:00]

WHITFIELD: All right. David Swerdlick -- thank you so much. Appreciate it.

SWERDLICK: Thanks -- Fred. WHITFIELD: All right. Still to come, yet another administration official pushing back at Democrats' request to testify behind closed doors. Why Energy Secretary Rick Perry says he will only consider testifying if it is in public. The conditions next.

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WHITFIELD: All right. The impeachment inquiry now formalized after a House vote Thursday and it's barreling ahead now even as a few key witnesses hesitate at appearing behind closed doors on Capitol Hill. Just some of the people House Democrats want to hear from next week, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Perry says he won't testify in private, although he would consider doing so in public. There is also former national security advisor, John Bolton, who says he will not show up without a subpoena.

But kicking things off on Monday is top national security council lawyer John Eisenberg. He helped move the transcript of President Trump's call with Ukraine -- with the Ukrainian President Zelensky to a more secure server.

And now CNN has learned that Eisenberg told White House Ukraine expert Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman who listened in on the call and expressed concerns about what he heard not to discuss it with anyone.

Kevin Liptak is a CNN White House Producer. Kevin -- good to see you.

So what more do we know about what Vindman told lawmakers about that call?

[11:14:58]

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE PRODUCER: What Vindman did was really flesh out and provide a fuller picture of that scramble behind the scenes in the White House after this call took place between President Trump and President Zelensky.

Now, remember, Vindman -- Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He's a decorated Iraq war veteran. He was on that phone call. He expressed his concerns about what he heard on that call the top National Security Council lawyer, John Eisenberg. A few days later Eisenberg told him not to discuss it with anyone, and there's a few reasons why this is significant.

It provides a fuller picture of that attempt to lock down the phone call. Among the efforts to do that was placing it in a highly classified server. That also was Eisenberg's decision. And that's another reason why Vindman's information is interesting.

Democrats really want to hear from Eisenberg. That's one of the reasons they actually subpoenaed him to appear before their committee on Monday. At this point it doesn't appear likely that he will comply. He is, after all, a member of the White House counsel's office. The White House counsel's office is the department that created this legal strategy of not cooperating with the impeachment inquiry. He's one of a long list of current and former White House and administration officials who Democrats want to hear from next week.

Among them Rick Perry. As you mentioned, he has found himself in the center of this Ukraine controversy somewhat unwittingly. The Department of Energy says that he won't appear. They call this a secret star chamber inquisition. They say he won't appear unless these depositions take place in public.

John Bolton also seemingly unlikely to appear. His lawyer was in court this week on behalf of another former White House official saying that they need a judge to rule about whether he can comply with these requests -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Ok, so let's talk about strategy, you know. The President has seemingly one strategy. The White House another. And it's -- you know, Republicans are saying they would like a strategy.

So talk to me about how these are so incongruent because the President will say one thing while, you know, the whole GOP might think that they should be taking a different direction. How is this -- how challenging is this for all players?

LIPTAK: Well, the President's allies in the House and outside of the White House have been advocating for this entire month-long impeachment for the White House to consolidate around some sort of communication and legal strategy that might help guide their own efforts to defend the President.

And we are learning a little bit about how the White House is cooperating with some members of the House to learn more about these closed-door depositions. We hear that Representative Jim Jordan and Representative Mark Meadows, they have been informally advising the White House counsel's office on some of what's been going on in these depositions mainly guiding the White House in how they respond to what's been publicly reported about what is said behind closed doors, helping them wade through whether there are any mischaracterizations. Helping to sort of formulate a way to respond to all of this.

Now, this impeachment inquiry is entering a new phase. That is why the House voted this week on some ground rules and how they're moving forward. One of the main arguments against the impeachment inquiry coming from the White House and Republicans is that it's all taking place behind closed doors.

Nancy Pelosi says that's about to end. Democrats feel as if they have heard enough closed door testimony. They want to bring these depositions into public. Nancy Pelosi says that could happen this month.

WHITFIELD: All right. Kevin Liptak -- thank you so much.

So even as House Democrats look ahead to the next round of impeachment hearings, testimony from this week is sparking new scrutiny. And it came from the top Russia advisor to President Trump, Tim Morrison. Morrison, who listened in on the call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky, told Congress he tried to figure out if E.U. ambassador Sondland went rogue on Ukraine or acted at Trump's request.

Sources tell CNN that Morrison described Sondland who testified that he was reluctant to work with Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney of Trump on Ukraine, while diminishing the roles of both the President and himself on the issue as a, quote, "free radical".

Renato Mariotti is a former federal prosecutor and a CNN legal analyst. Renato -- good to see you.

So this is kind of the latest example of, you know, a witness contradicting testimony from Ambassador Sondland. Is there a giant risk here?

RENATO MARIOTTI, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I mean Sondland is at a point now where multiple witnesses have contradicted him. His lawyer has been trying to square the circle, so to speak, trying to clarify his testimony.

It's an issue for Sondland. And you know, he's somebody -- first of all, there's reputational concern. He's a wealthy man who seems to be concerned about his reputation, but also of course, lying to congress is a crime.

[11:19:58]

MARIOTTI: I don't expect the Trump administration to take the lead in prosecuting him. But it's not a good thing and, frankly, you know, if he was concerned less with his reputation and more with his legal jeopardy, he should take the Fifth.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So his testimony came by way of, you know, what's kind of like a deposition, right, in the, you know, behind closed doors inquiry. But then now that this vote has happened a lot of these witnesses would be called back and they would be now testifying publicly.

And if there are contradictions in his deposition versus the more public testimony, if he indeed, you know, testifies again, is that where the potential perjury would come in? While the White House may not be the one, you know, launching that, it would be Congress then, it would be up to them, right, to pursue any kind of perjury charge?

MARIOTTI: Well, they could try to hold him in inherent contempt -- you know, excuse me, they could try to -- you know, what they would do is they would refer this to the United States attorney in the District of Columbia and that person is part of the Justice Department. So ultimately that office could decide not to act on it.

I would say, though, that he could -- he's already testified. And that prior testimony, if it's false, is a problem for him. Now, I suppose what he's going to say is I was mistaken or I forgot something. You know, he'll try to say it wasn't a purposeful false statement. I mean that statement would have to be knowingly and willfully false for it to be something that could be prosecutable.

WHITFIELD: Ok. So Speaker Pelosi has said repeatedly that, you know, a cover-up took place in the White House, so put on your prosecutor hat for me. Based on what we know about the Ukraine call, based on even the President's admission -- Rudy Giuliani, the personal attorney, his admission, and there are some Republicans who say, ok, the transcript may say that but it's not illegal. It's not considered a high crimes and misdemeanor. Do you dispute that?

MARIOTTI: Well, I think there's very little question that this is potentially a high crime or misdemeanor. I mean this is an abuse of power by the President where he is using his office for his own gain. It seems there's ample evidence of a quid pro quo. Republicans are talking about coming out and admitting that.

The question is, you know, whether this is something that warrants his removal. That's something that the Senate can decide, whether or not it's sufficiently problematic to do that. I mean, you know. But as to whether or not this is something that could be a high crime, I think that's absolutely the case.

WHITFIELD: So the "Washington Post" is reporting that an increasing number of Republican senators are considering acknowledging, yes, there was a quid pro quo. There was a this for that on that July 25th call. But that Trump's actions, you know, may be eyebrow raising but it's certainly not illegal.

So I want you to listen, you know, to something that one of your fellow CNN legal analyst, colleagues, impeachment attorney Ross Garber said earlier today on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROSS GARBER, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there's been sort of a little bit of a misunderstanding about what quid pro quo means. Quid pro quo means this for that. And the point that Mick Mulvaney made was that, yes, there are trades all the time in Washington.

The big question, though, is not the this for that, it's the intent. If President Trump was doing this exchange, this condition for the good of the American people, for the good of the government, well, that's one thing, that's not a crime, that's not impeachable. If, on the other hand, what he was trying to do was advance his campaign or his personal interests, well, that could be another matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So that's going to be the interesting portion. It's, you know, proving that this is for the good of the nation or, I guess, the narrative. Was this action for the good of the nation or was it indeed for personal gain?

And if a foreign country is being asked, you know, to investigate a political opponent of the President in time for an upcoming election, how is that an issue of national security for the protection of this country as opposed to for personal gain?

MARIOTTI: Yes, Fred -- I appreciate what Mr. Garber is saying. He's correct that certainly if the President was trying to leverage the Ukrainians to get lower tariffs for U.S. products or to get jobs for Americans, if he was trying to get them to buy U.S. products, for example, none of us would be talking about this, right? You wouldn't be asking me questions about this quid pro quo.

I think it's -- I think everyone sort of assumes that this -- an investigation of Joe Biden is not something that the President should be focused on for the good of the nation. This is a partisan political move because Biden very well may be the President's opponent, and we know from the President's tweets that he's very concerned about Joe Biden.

[11:24:56]

MARIOTTI: So I think on its face, it appears to be something that benefits Donald Trump himself as opposed to benefitting the United States. That's why for so long the question has been a quid pro quo and the Republican line has been that there isn't one because the assumption here is that the quid pro quo would be for the benefit of the President personally.

WHITFIELD: All right. Fascinating. Renato Mariotti -- good to see you, thank you so much.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Straight ahead, questions about the moment the President described the takedown of a terrorist last weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He died like a dog. He died like a coward. He was whimpering, screaming and crying. And frankly, I think it's something that should be brought out so that his followers and all of these young kids that want to leave various countries including the --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: New reporting indicating that may not have been the case.

Stay with us.

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WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Nearly a week after the President gave a graphic and detailed account of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, there are still unanswered questions about the accuracy of the President's description of the terrorist's final moments.

[11:30:00]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way.

He died like a dog. He died like a coward. He was whimpering, screaming and crying.

Crying, whimpering, screaming and bringing three kids with him to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

But guess what? The Defense Secretary, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the regional commander who oversaw the operation all say they don't know where the President got the information about Baghdadi crying or whimpering before he detonated his suicide vest.

And the "New York Times" cites four anonymous Defense Department officials saying they haven't seen any after action reports, situation reports or any other communications that support the President's claims and descriptions.

The article headlined "The whimpering terrorist only Trump seems to have heard", adding "President Trump offered a vivid account of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi crying and screaming in the final minutes before his death. The only problem, no one else knows what he's talking about."

That's from "The New York Times".

With me now Matthew Rosenberg, an investigative correspondent for the "New York Times" and a CNN national security analyst. Also joining me, Brian Stelter, CNN's chief media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES". Good to see you both.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: You, too.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Matthew-- you first.

This article by your colleagues saying that a lot of it just can't be corroborated by other people who were in the room. So what does this say about the believability of the President, the credibility of the White House and how is that interpreted by our allies even?

MATTHEW ROSENBERG, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Look, this isn't a president who has a whole lot of credibility on a whole range of issues. I think that, you know, for our allies, there are a lot of people, a great many Americans, most of our allies are glad to see Baghdadi gone. Nobody is crying over this.

But, you know, to relish in the death of a person with these kind of gory, lurid details -- this isn't a "Game of Thrones" episode, this is real life. I don't think it helps. I think that, you know, most world leaders expect a certain degree of decorum. And this kind of language, especially when there's simply nothing to back it up strikes me as unseemly. And, you know, further undermines the credibility of somebody who remember started off his presidency by claiming to have the biggest inauguration in history. You know, from day one we were having problems here. WHITFIELD: So Matthew -- there was some reaction, you know, last week

after the President's description saying, you know, it made people feel uncomfortable, you know, hearing, you know, some of the colorful language, the descriptive language, almost to seemingly take joy in the whole whimpering and all that.

And now that there are others in the room who don't really recall it that way, I mean what is the overall message that is being sent of just how this White House is handling, you know, grave, important information occurrences and, you know, that there could be a ripple effect from that kind of description that was used last week and possibly for naught?

ROSENBERG: I think it can strike a lot of people as you know, it lacks a degree of gravity. It seems at times -- you know, I don't want to call it juvenile or whatever but that kind of braggadocio, that kind of, you know, this gory, lurid detail of the death of a human being -- as terrible as that human being may have been. It's something that strikes a lot of people -- strikes a lot of people as unnecessary.

Especially when like, look, this is somebody like I said before most people are glad to see gone.

WHITFIELD: Right.

ROSENBERG: This was seen as a victory. There was no need to relish in it like this.

WHITFIELD: So Brian, you know, the President I guess didn't have to do it, right? I mean if it turns out that he was embellishing, it was completely unnecessary because, you know, it was something that is fairly good news, right. And that is --

STELTER: Of course.

WHITFIELD: -- interpreted as good news.

STELTER: Some of the best news of the Trump presidency. Yes, absolutely.

WHITFIELD: So how does one even explain? Why would the President feel the need to take this approach?

STELTER: For the same reason that he needs to exaggerate everything about his presidency. I think it is clear, a week after the al Baghdadi raid he made it up. We should just be honest about that. All signs point to the fact that he made up the claims about crying and whimpering.

And he's been doing it all week long, repeating this at other events, swearing that al Baghdadi was crying and whimpering in those last moments, even though there was no live audio from inside that raid. There was no indication the President was ever told this by anyone in the military. So he seems to have made it up. This is par for the course from the President. But we shouldn't get used to this. You know, we teach our children to tell the truth. And we teach our children that the President is supposed to tell the truth. So even when the United States is celebrating a major military victory, I think we should still hold the bar as high as possible for the President of the United States.

You know, Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, took issue with the "New York Times" reporting and said here is it not possible just to celebrate that a terrorist, murderer and rapist has been killed?

[11:35:00]

Yes, of course. I think it's been very clear for a week there's been a celebration that al Baghdadi is dead. But it is also possible to expect the President to tell the truth.

And for now it seems the Republican Party is ok with him spinning up these stories, even about U.S. military action.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And speaking of Stephanie Grisham, let's talk about, you know, in the midst of this impeachment inquiry now picking up speed --

STELTER: Yes.

WHITFIELD: -- you know, the President now, you know, suggesting taking a page out of FDR's playbook you know, from the 30s and 40s, it became popular during World War II. The President now saying he wants to read, likely in dramatic fashion, the transcript of that perfect phone call as he calls it with the president of Ukraine in a live televised fireside chat. What might that look like?

STELTER: I don't think it's going to happen. I definitely do not think it's going to happen.

WHITFIELD: But just tossing an idea out there to get people's reaction?

STELTER: Yes, yes. I do think that's what this is about. And the President is banking on a strategy to say if you look at the transcript, when you read the transcript, you can see I didn't do anything wrong. A, that's not true and, b, he knows most people won't actually go and read the transcript.

Even though it's only nine pages long and it's out there for everyone to access, I think it's a deflection strategy by the President.

But it does show that he wants to be out there on offense and he could at any time make an address to the nation, decide to give a primetime speech in that way. I just don't see him actually following through on that suggestion.

Right now the strategy is a pretty -- a strategy of weakness, which is to only talk with right-wing media outlets. That's what Grisham's been doing only going on Fox News, only going on Sinclair -- really avoiding scrutiny about these issues.

WHITFIELD: No press briefing from Stephanie Grisham in now how many days?

STELTER: Well, ever since she's been on the job, about 236 days since the last briefing which was back during the Sarah Sanders era. But ever since Grisham took over this summer, she has not held a formal on-camera briefing.

Look that's the President's choice. He doesn't want her out there. It's a sign of weakness of this White House given this crisis of credibility.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brian Stelter -- we'll leave it there. Matthew Rosenberg -- thank you as well. Appreciate you both.

STELTER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Next -- California where weary firefighters are facing yet another large wildfire and barely contained.

[11:37:14]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right.

Some encouraging news for firefighters battling a dozen wildfires across California. Improving weather conditions are providing much- needed relief for those crews fighting off flames that have threatened homes and forced people to evacuate.

Fire officials are keeping a particularly close eye on the Maria fire burning north of Los Angeles in Ventura County. So far fire, which began Halloween night, has torched nearly 10,000 acres and it's only 20 percent contained.

CNN National Correspondent, Athena Jones joining me now from Ventura County. So, Athena -- what can you tell us about how that fire got started in the first place?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi -- Fredricka. Well, I just want to mention the fact that the fire is now 20 percent contained is actually a real sign of progress. As of last night, around 7:00 p.m. ls night, that update, the fire was zero percent contained.

So this shows that the firefighters who have been working day and night to battle this blaze to keep it away from homes and people and structures and these citrus fields and avocado orchards that surround us, at least they made some progress.

But I can tell you that Southern California Edison has put out a statement. They're saying the fire, the actual cause of the fire is under investigation. But this public utility is required to make reports to one of the state regulatory commissions when it comes to situations like this.

They say, the company says while we have no information about the cause of the fire, they notify the California Public Utilities Commission that about 13 minutes prior to the start of the Maria fire on Halloween night, the company began to re-energize a high voltage line, a 16,000-volt circuit near the area where that fire began.

So we don't know for sure that this is what caused the fire, but this is certainly something that could have led to the cause of the fire. We'll have to wait and find out what investigators come up with.

But as we talk about these fires, Fredricka, we're talking about wind and we're talking about fuel. And the fuel is this dry conditions. Really, really low humidity. Humidity in the single digits. And then winds that when they're really fast can spread these fires, these embers caught up by the winds, spreading these fires. And that is why you can see fires grow very, very quickly in a short period of time.

As of right now, the good news is that overnight there was some wind coming off of the coast that was expected to help with humidity levels. And the winds so far today haven't been incredibly high.

Now, one thing that fire officials say is they have to pay attention not just to the speed of the wind but also the shifting winds. So that's something they're going to be watching out for today as they try to make more progress on this fire -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. We're hoping for the best indeed for everybody involved.

Athena Jones -- thank you so much in Ventura County.

All right. For ways you can help fire evacuees, go to our Web site CNN.com/impact.

[11:44:07]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.

Voters in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania helped President Trump win the swing state in 2016. He may need them even more in 2020. So how is impeachment playing there?

Here's CNN's Miguel Marquez talking to voters in Washington County, Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What one thinks of impeachment --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he deserves to be impeached, absolutely.

MARQUEZ: -- often tracks with what one thinks of Donald Trump.

What do you think of impeachment?

JAMES DILLIE, TRUMP SUPPORTER: It's bull.

MARQUEZ: James Dillie (ph), a coal miner and his stepson Roc Dabney (ph) are huge supporters of the President. Proudly displaying Trump flags like this one. They see impeachment as Democrats trying to reverse the outcome of 2016.

DILLIE: I think they're just headhunting. They're mad they lost and just trying to get him out.

ROC DABNEY, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think it's something the Democrats are doing right now. They're just like grabbing for straws really.

MARQUEZ: Washington County, south of Pittsburgh has trended Republican for years. In 2016 Donald Trump beat Clinton here by more than 25 points.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aren't you excited for the first female president?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am.

MARQUEZ: CNN was here on election day in 2016. The Krachalas then married 37 years and diametrically opposed on candidates.

Today --

You voted for Donald Trump, you voted for Hillary Clinton. Has anything changed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

MARQUEZ: Now both of them 90 -- they still lovingly bicker.

WILLIAM KRACHALA, ANTI TRUMP REPUBLICAN: I think he's a crook and I think he's going to get us into a war.

JACQUELINE KRACHALA, TRUMP SUPPORTER: None of that.

Well, you're not dead and we had wars before that.

W. KRACHALA: We're not done yet.

MARQUEZ: Jacqueline couldn't be clearer on impeachment.

J. KRACHALA: Well, that's ridiculous.

MARQUEZ: Bill -- a lifelong Republican, is as opposed as ever to Donald Trump. But impeachment?

[11:49:54]

W. KRACHALA: I don't know whether impeachment would solve anything or not. It would just create a lot of upheaval, but I'm hoping to hell that he gets elected out of office.

CODY SPENCE, TRUMP VOTER: My health insurance alone --

MARQUEZ: Cody Spence, a registered Democrat in 2016 was struggling to pay for health care. Today his financial situation has improved. He credits Donald Trump.

SPENCE: I don't think at this point there is a reason to impeach him. If you get some hard evidence that the people of the country can see, that is a different story.

MARUQEZ: Some moderates question the wisdom of an impeachment fight now.

SUSAN LUISI, MODERATE DEMOCRAT: Well, we've already gone pretty far into this presidency, so do we really want to spend the last time of it impeaching someone who may or may not be elected again.

MARQUEZ: More progressive Democrats say full steam ahead on impeachment regardless of the outcome.

ANDREW GMITER, DEMOCRAT: It probably still favors the Democrats.

MARQUEZ: And then if he goes on to win the election?

GMITER: It's going to be -- it's going to be a rough another four years.

MARQUEZ: Democratic officials here in Washington County say that not only does dislike of Donald Trump help him, but impeachment does as well. They have an off-year election coming up in just a few days and they say impeachment and the dislike of Trump is already driving voters and raising enthusiasm among the Democrats here. and they expect that trend to continue through 2020.

Miguel Marquez, CNN -- Washington County, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right. On now to Major League Baseball. The Washington Nationals celebrating their historic win. Why one of the team's pitchers is reportedly saying, thanks but no thanks, to an invite to the White House.

[11:51:30]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right, it is time for a victory lap in Washington where in just a couple of hours the 2019 World Series champs, the Washington Nationals will take to the streets for a parade and rally. And at least for a moment the nation's capital will come together to celebrate the franchise's first ever World Series championship.

But when President Trump welcomes the team to the White House on Monday, Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle will reportedly not be there. He says, I'm quoting now, I just can't do it. He's the first player on that team to publicly say he will not attend the White House invitation.

CNN's Coy Wire has more on that decision.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Fred -- look, all of the Nationals will be chanting, cheering, and drinking their way down Constitution Avenue at the parade today. It starts at 2:00 Eastern. But when the team goes to the White House on Monday, the one notable absence will pitcher Sean Doolittle. He told the "Washington Post" it's because of President Donald Trump. He referenced some of the President's policies including those on immigration.

He said quote, "As much as I wanted to be there with my teammates and share that experience with my teammates, I can't do it. I just can't do it." Unquote.

Now, you may remember, Fred, some fans booing the President chanting "lock him up" when he attended game five of the World Series in Washington last weekend. There has not been any comment from President Trump about Doolittle. The President is expected to be in New York tonight for the UFC fight between Nate Diaz and Jorge Masvidal.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coy Wire -- thank you so much for that.

All right. House Democrats are hoping for a date with President Trump's Energy Secretary. But Rick Perry is putting a fight and he's got some conditions before he says he'll meet impeachment inquiry investigators.

[11:57:04]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)