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Trump Fires Deputy National Security Adviser; 50 Dead, 100+ Missing in California's Worst Wildfire Disaster; More Mueller Indictments Coming?; Interview With California Congressman Ted Lieu; White House Chaos?; Florida Recount. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired November 14, 2018 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Jerome Corsi is clamming up, as Stone may be throwing him under the bus.

And serial fraud claim. The president suggests that grocery shoppers need I.D.s to buy their breakfast, as he goes to wild new extremes in his unproven claims of illegal voting. Does he really believe that people are putting on disguises so they can vote more than once?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on new instability inside the Trump White House, where high-powered heads could roll at any moment.

In a new interview tonight, President Trump says he will decide the fate of his embattled homeland security secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, shortly. Others may be on the chopping block.

Sources tell CNN that Mr. Trump is isolated and furious at just about everyone, as Democrats get ready to take over the House and Robert Mueller gets ready to issue his report on the Russia probe.

This hour, I will talk with House Judiciary Committee member Ted Lieu, and our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, we are hearing about a long of anger and anxiety in the West Wing tonight.


The anger is on behalf of the president and the anxiety is on behalf of the staff members here at most levels of this White House and, indeed, around the government, wondering what their fate is going forward. The president has said repeatedly he does plan to shake things up for

the rest of his first term in office, and that is usually what happens in the White House. But, Wolf, what we have seen over the last 24 hours or so is nothing like what we have seen in other presidencies, the first lady getting involved.

The person she was talking about only a day ago is still on the job here tonight. Her future, of course, uncertain. Wolf, all of this has led to people wondering, are they next and what happens next?


ZELENY (voice-over): After projecting optimism a week ago after the midterm elections...

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a big day yesterday, an incredible day.

ZELENY: ... tonight, President Trump's mood is anything but. He's isolated and growing more furious by the day, White House officials tell CNN, with one bluntly saying, "Yes, he is pissed at damn near everyone."

And tonight he is searching for a scapegoat. In an Oval Office interview with The Daily Caller, the president revived conspiracy theories about voter fraud.

"The Republicans don't win, and that's because of potentially illegal votes," he told the conservative Web site. "When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles, sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It is really a disgrace what is going on."

After announcing his support for a bipartisan prison reform bill tonight, he did not answer questions about the fraud allegations. There is no evidence to back up the claim aimed at the Florida recount, but it offers a window into the president's state of mind as the White House heads into uncharted territory, with Democrats assuming control of the House and special counsel Robert Mueller inching closer to issuing a report on the Russia investigation.

A day after first lady Melania Trump launched a public grenade across the White House, saying Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel no longer deserves the honor of working in this White House, she reported to work today, a rare personal rebuke from Mrs. Trump.

CNN has learned she has been calling for her firing for weeks because of a conflict over her trip to Africa last month. When the problem wasn't solved, Mrs. Trump went public. All that as a far bigger shakeup is learning. Even as the president says he will soon decide the fate of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, she was at the U.S.-Mexico border today, alongside Defense Secretary James Mattis, receiving a briefing from military commanders.

The president has made little secret of his dissatisfaction with Nielsen on his two signature issues, immigration and border security. It could touch off a domino of departures, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, who is Nielsen's top advocate inside the administration.

The president is already talking to a handful of potential replacements for Kelly, including elevating Vice President Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, to the post. But even before he is named, CNN has learned, there's been aggressive pushback against him, with some senior aides even threatening to resign if he is tapped for the job.


ZELENY: So, we will see what happens with the White House chief of staff position, if there is even an opening. Of course, the president said earlier this year he wants John Kelly to stay through the rest of his time in office, through the rest of his first term in office.

But, of course, Wolf, things can change here in a hurry. But there is a sense, talking to so many of the president's friends and advisers, that he's making the adjustment from going from all of those rallies, all of that applause that he heard during the midterm election campaign, now to a more routine setting here.


And he is feeling some -- a sense of isolation, Wolf. But the question is, what is the staff shakeup going to look like coming forward? We do believe by the end of this year, the beginning of next year, the staff could look a whole lot different -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's widely expected. All right, Jeff, thank you very much.

There's more breaking news right now, this time on CNN's lawsuit against the Trump administration. It is aimed at restoring our Jim Acosta's suspended White House press pass.

A hearing just wrapped up in a federal courtroom here in Washington just a little while ago. The federal judge says he will issue a formal ruling tomorrow afternoon.

Our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, was inside the courtroom for us.

Jessica, tell us more about what happened during this hearing.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a two-hour hearing with quite a vocal and inquisitive judge.

This judge will decide by tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. whether or not he will issue an order that would reinstate our CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta's hard pass that would allow him full access to the White House grounds.

Of course, CNN filed this motion for a temporary restraining order to get Jim Acosta's hard pass reinstated or in the alternative to get some sort of hearing for Jim Acosta, so he can make his case that his hard pass should not have been revoked.

In the alternative, the government in this courtroom today made quite a broad argument here. They said essentially that no one is entitled to their First Amendment rights within the White House grounds, that essentially it is within the White House's discretion whether or not to admit certain reporters, whether or not to grant access or interviews to certain reporters, that is fully within the White House right.

Well, the judge definitely asked some very tough questions. In fact, he was quite vocal as soon. As CNN's attorney stepped to the lectern, he immediately began asking questions. In particular, he pointed out and asked questions about CNN's arguments that there has been a pattern of discrimination from the president, that CNN has had it out for CNN, that CNN's lawyers pointed to those tweets, those repeated tweets from the president where he has called CNN fake news.

And the judge said, look, I watched this tape. Can't we -- can't we look at that tape separately from the president's previous attacks? He seemed to say that we should look at this and maybe take some credence in what the White House has said in, that they have banned Jim Acosta because of his disorderly or disrespectful conduct.

That was the judge's temperament. But, on the other side, the judge also asked some tough questions of the government, saying why was there this shifting response from the government? Initially, of course, Sarah Sanders tweeted the night that Jim Acosta's hard pass was revoked, she had tweeted that it was in large part because Jim Acosta had placed an arm on the intern that was trying to take that microphone away from him.

So the judge delved into that, asked why where these shifting explanations from the White House and who exactly made the decision to revoke the hard pass? Because it did seem to come perhaps directly from the president.

So quite a lively two-hour hearing. No decision just yet, but CNN's attorneys did talk just after the hearing. Here is what he had to say.

BLITZER: We're waiting for that sound. Unfortunately, we don't have it, Jessica.

But let me get the -- what did the White House attorneys, the federal attorneys, the Justice Department attorneys, say when the judge asked them who made the decision to suspend Jim Acosta's pass?

SCHNEIDER: They said that there was nothing particularly in the record, but they said that all signs pointed directly to the president.

They said that in Sarah Sanders' tweets and in that subsequent discussion, that press availability with President Trump the day after Jim Acosta's hard pass was revoked, the president seemed to indicate that it was his decision, that he weighed in on that decision to revoke the hard pass.

But, essentially, the government says that it is within the White House discretion. You know, it was quite this broad argument from the government, saying that really the First Amendment doesn't apply to who can access the White House grounds, to who can answer questions.

They equated this press conference to really a one-on-one interview, saying that the president can decide who he gets those questions from and which questions he answers. So, a pretty broad argument from the government. It is now in the judge's hands. He said that he will have a decision by tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We will see what the judge decides. Jessica, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman Ted Lieu. He's a Democrat. He serves on both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

Let me get your quick reaction to what we just heard. The judge is going to make a decision tomorrow afternoon. What do you think?

REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf, for your question.

Let me just first say I want to commend the first-responders in California fighting the wildfires. They have done an extraordinary job, and my heart goes out to the victims of these wildfires, especially to those who lost their lives and their property.


In terms of your question, the First Amendment protects the government and it protects citizens. However, if it means anything, it means the government cannot choose which reporters to ask it questions.

The government can't just pick friendly reporters to ask it questions. So I think CNN has a great legal case. I am also pleased that FOX has joined CNN in this legal case.

BLITZER: Yes, all of the major news organizations in the United States have joined CNN in supporting. And there you can see only some of them. there are so many more, but the major news organizations are all on the side of CNN.

This represents a potentially very, very significant setback for freedom of the press in the United States, depending on how this goes. We are going to watch it very closely.

Let's talk about some other issues while I have you, Congressman. The president says he will decide on the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen's fate shortly, his word, shortly. He hinted also that he might fire other senior officials after that.

What, in fact, do you think these changes will have on the Trump administration? LIEU: The president has not treated his staff well, and right now to

hang Secretary Nielsen out there like this is really unfortunate, even though I do disagree with her. This is not the way that he should treat any Cabinet official.

And if there's any message that happened on Tuesday's elections, it is that the president should be blamed. He ran a divisive campaign. He pitted Americans against each other. He tried to sabotage health care.

What Americans want is for this country to heal. We want to protect our preexisting conditions, work on infrastructure. That's what the president should be doing. He needs to change course.

BLITZER: As you know, the Justice Department has just put out a lengthy memo defending the constitutionality of Matt Whitaker's appointment as the acting attorney general of the United States.

You're on the Judiciary Committee.

LIEU: Yes.

BLITZER: You are a lawyer. How strong is that argument, in your view?

LIEU: The Justice Department is wrong. And here is why.

If we allow a president to simply take any Cabinet official, force them to resign, and then install an employee that's not been confirmed by the Senate, then there's no telling what future presidents could do.

And we can't have a situation where the Senate-confirmed nominee is then removed and someone who is not Senate-confirmed is put in that person's place. The Vacancy Act was put in by Congress to exactly prevent this situation. Whitaker should not be acting attorney general right now.

BLITZER: Do you think you could gain enough Republican support in the House and the Senate to pass a bill to protect Robert Mueller and his Russia probe?

LIEU: If Republicans want to put country over party, I do think we could do that.

And, again, Tuesday's election night results were showing that America wanted a course change, and we want to make sure that we can protect these investigations, but also work to heal America and work on issues that affect everyday Americans, health care, infrastructure.

I hope that's what the president does.

BLITZER: As you know, Democrats have now picked up a net gain of 31 seats in the House. Another nine seats are still in play right now, too close to call. The president is blaming Republican losses on what he calls illegal votes. And he says people vote multiple times by simply changing their attire. They wear a different hat, then they go back. Obviously, there's absolutely no truth to those claims.

But what is your reaction when you hear the president of the United States make an argument like that?

LIEU: Yes.

The president has no evidence for those claims. He's just making stuff up. But, in particular, this is a very damaging and dangerous claim, because it threatens the very bedrock of our democracy, which is the integrity of the ballot, of the vote.

There is no evidence that we have all of these illegal votes. What we have instead are votes that are being counted. So, in California, for example, you can submit an absentee ballot on Election Day, mail it in, and three days later, it can still be accepted.

That's a valid ballot. It just takes time to count those ballots, and when all of those ballots are counted, we're going to increase from three in California to six, at least six flips in California.

BLITZER: Yes, the president also says he wants a national I.D. for people to vote. He says you need I.D. to go out buy cereal, which clearly you don't need I.D. to buy cereal, but that's what the president's argument is.

Let's talk about Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House. Do you think she can get enough votes to become the next House speaker?

LIEU: I do.

Nancy Pelosi has been a terrific minority leader. She was an amazing speaker. She will be an amazing future speaker. She will win the caucus vote for the nominee that we send to the floor, and I believe that come this January she will get the votes on the floor.

BLITZER: In the past hour or so the president says he supports a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, and he says it is an example of what can be accomplished by working together, Republicans and Democrats.


First of all, do you give the president credit for supporting this legislation?

LIEU: Sure. I'm glad the president supports this legislation.

I voted for it on the House floor, and this is a step towards criminal justice reform. There's a lot more that needs to be done, but I'm glad the president is at least supporting this initial first step.

BLITZER: Can Democrats work with the president on other issues? LIEU: Absolutely, if the president wants to protect preexisting

conditions, work on infrastructure. Last year, I introduced an infrastructure bill.

If he wants to work on those issues and on helping veterans, we will work with him. If he wants to take us backwards and attack immigrants and pass laws that are divisive and harmful, we will stop him.

BLITZER: You opened the interview by mentioning the deadly wildfires that are still raging in your state of California, and our hearts go out to all of those people, and we applaud all of the firefighters, the first-responders.

Governor Jerry Brown of California says this is now the new normal. First of all, how is your district out in California doing?

LIEU: Not well.

The northern part of the district got severely affected. My city of Malibu has lost hundreds of homes. I visited shelters, and it is these windy conditions, the Santa Ana winds, that really drove these wildfires. Some of the firefighters I met with said this is one of the worst fires they have ever seen, but it is now 47 percent contained.

And that's a remarkable achievement for these firefighters, and we just want to make sure that people can now go back to their homes. The ones that were destroyed, we will help them with their FEMA claims and other assistance.

BLITZER: There's a lot of work that you guys need to do, and the federal government will be involved. Of course, our hearts go out to all of those folks. This has been a horrendous situation.

Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for joining us.

LIEU: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead: Is President Trump getting ready to clean house over at the White House and beyond? We are getting more information about the potential targets of a major shakeup.

And new hints emerging about Robert Mueller's next move in the Russia probe. Is he preparing an indictment? Is he preparing a plea deal or both?

Trump ally Roger Stone could be at the center of it all.



BLITZER: We're getting breaking news on the shakeup inside the White House.

I want to go back to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny Jeff, tell our viewers what you are learning.

ZELENY: Well, Wolf, you will remember the incident at the White House yesterday when first lady Melania Trump essentially was calling for the firing of the deputy national security adviser.

We are now getting word just a few moments ago that the president has agreed to do just that. He has agreed to remove Mira Ricardel from her position. Now, she did report to work here today at the White House, which was raising some uncertainty and questions inside and outside if she was still on staff or not, but I am told by one official she was simply given time to essentially collect her things and move on.

But we do have this new statement just released a few moments ago from the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders.

Let's take a look at that, Wolf. It says this.

It says: "Mira Ricardel will continue to support the president as she departs the White House and transitions to a new role within the administration. The president is grateful for her continued service to the American people and her steadfast pursuit of her national security priorities."

So, not being fired, per se, but certainly being removed from here at the West Wing, and she was the second highest ranking person to the national security adviser, John Bolton. So, she certainly was a key member of his team when he came on here to the White House.

Now, there was some questions here if she was going to be able to stay on, but it was simply, you know, seen as too impossible a position after the first lady weighed in. The president was certainly not going to go against that.

But, Wolf, still so many questions, A, why the White House took 24 hours to actually confirm this, because we did hear last evening that the president had made his decision, but they waited a full day on that. And also why this had to spill out into public in the first place, why the first lady simply couldn't have had a conversation with her husband about this.

So, Wolf, it is the latest sign, perhaps the biggest sign of dysfunction here and anxiety and uncertainty, as staff shakeups continue to go on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, clearly, the president has decided, even though she may get another job elsewhere in the administration someplace, clearly, she has been fired as the deputy national security adviser to the president, the number two on the National Security Council, right behind the national security adviser, John Bolton.

ZELENY: No question.

And the word fired is not in this statement, Wolf, but that, of course, is what this is. You know, she is being removed from her position. And we have seen this time and time again. The president, you know, does not like to fire people as much as he once used to fire people on "The Apprentice."

That was his famous line again and again, but he really has fired few people. Jeff Sessions, of course, the attorney general, is the one most recent big exception, and a few others along the way. But this is one example. The president, you know, he actually does not like face-to-face conflict, but he did decide to remove her, because, again, an untenable situation, with the first lady weighing in because of all of these concerns and conflicts.

And it was interesting. This afternoon, Bob Dole, the former Republican majority leader, senator from Kansas and the former Republican presidential nominee, he issued a statement in support of Mira Ricardel. She used to work on Capitol Hill and he said that he hopes all of this can be worked out.


So, Wolf, that was a sign that she was still trying to get allies to come to her aid, but clearly I'm told this decision had been made. The White House simply hadn't announced it until they did a few moments ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're still trying to figure out, find out why the first lady of the United States clearly hates her, Mira Ricardel, issuing that extraordinary public statement yesterday saying she is not worthy of working inside the White House.

Once we get -- there's obviously something going on. We don't have all of those details yet, but we will figure that out.

All right, thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny, reporting for us.

Also tonight, a new plea deal may be in the works in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. An associate of Trump ally Roger Stone is suggesting that he's entering into talks with the special counsel just days after declaring that he expected Robert Mueller to indict him.

Our political correspondent, Sara Murray, is joining us right now.

Sara, so, what is going on with this stone associate?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's what we're waiting to find out.

You know, we know that the attorney for Jerome Corsi has been in pretty regular contact with the special counsel's office, but the big question is what happens next. One thing we do know is that Jerome Corsi was out there talking about all of this very publicly. That is not the case today.


JEROME CORSI, AUTHOR, "THE OBAMA NATION": And I expect it's going to be historic. MURRAY (voice-over): Jerome Corsi is back in no comment mode as he prepares to be indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. The author, conspiracy theorist and associate of Roger Stone announcing on his Webcast earlier this week that he is bracing for charges.

CORSI: Now I fully anticipate that, in the next few days, I will be indicted by Mueller for some form or other of giving false information to the special counsel or to one of the other -- grand jury or however they want to do the indictment, but I'm going to be criminally charged.

MURRAY: He told Reuters he expects his next discussion with the special counsel to be about pleas and possibly striking a plea deal.

Investigators have been trying to determine whether Stone, a longtime adviser to President Trump, had advanced knowledge of any WikiLeaks document dumps. They're dealing into whether Corsi played a role in that and had a heads-up that WikiLeaks had the stolen e-mails of then Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Corsi told The Daily Caller this week that he told associates in summer 2016 he believed WikiLeaks had obtained Podesta's e-mail. Corsi says it was just a theory and insists he was not in direct contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

CORSI: I want everybody to know that, to the best of my recollection, I never met Julian Assange.

MURRAY: But Corsi also told The Daily Caller that he shared his theory with Stone. Stone insists they never discussed Podesta's e- mails. He says he believes Corsi is being squeezed by investigations and claims Corsi met with both Trump and Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen during the campaign.

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: It appears to me that he has been heavily pressured to bear false witness against me and perhaps others. I do know that he met with candidate Trump and with Michael Cohen during the campaign. I don't know what that was about. I do know that this relates to me.

MURRAY: Mueller's interest in Corsi adds another interesting personality to the cast of characters involved in the Stone investigation.

The former D.C. bureau chief for the right-wing Web site Infowars, Corsi is well-known for trafficking in conspiracy theories. He was so convinced of the false claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S. that he wrote a book about it entitled "Where's the Birth Certificate?"

Corsi's mini-media tour this week in which he vowed to keep broadcasting his Webcast coming to an abrupt end today. He took to Twitter to say he is "going dark due at my lawyer's advice" and to solicit donations for his legal defense fund.

Now he's waiting on word from Mueller.

CORSI: I'm hoping that Mueller does not have the necessity to come and handcuff me and take me out of my home in front of my family. We did try to cooperate.


MURRAY: So we're still waiting to see what happens with Jerome Corsi. As for Roger Stone, he still insists he was not in touch with Julian Assange, he didn't ever believe that Jerome Corsi was in touch with Assange.

And he's seen so many of his associates hauled in before Mueller. He is still waiting to see if the Mueller team contacts him directly, Wolf.

BLITZER: There is drama unfolding. We will get some word on all of this, I'm sure, fairly soon.

Sara, thank you very much.

Coming up -- Sara, stick around. We have more breaking news on Mueller's moves on Corsi. I want you to be part of our panel.

There's also a Senate showdown under way over a bipartisan bill to protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Lame-duck Republican Jeff Flake is taking a direct stand, but will it really make any difference?


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following a lot of breaking news. The deputy national security adviser to the president has been fired by the president tonight after the first lady made it clear she wanted her out.

[18:34:34] Also, the battle over legislation to protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is heating up dramatically in the U.S. Senate.

Let's bring in our analysts.

And David Swerdlick, Senator Flake, he's giving up his seat, he's a lame duck. He says he will vote against all, in this lame duck session, all of President Trump's judicial nominees unless the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, allows a vote on a bipartisan bill to protect Robert Mueller and his probe. Is that going to make much of a difference?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think it's sort of a verbal marker that seas are going to be rough for the president going forward, both in the lame duck and in the new Congress, but this measure is largely toothless, right? Republicans have enough votes to break a tie in the Senate if they want to. There's no obligation for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to go to committee. He can go straight to the floor. And let's face it, Jeff Flake already tried a maneuver with the

Kavanaugh nomination, and that really didn't get anywhere other than buying the opposition a week of time, but in the end McConnell, the president, got their agenda through. I don't think this changes anything.

BLITZER: Mark, take a look at what Mitch McConnell said about all of this earlier in the day. Listen to this.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We know how the president feels about the Mueller investigation, but he's never said he wants to shut it down. I've never heard anybody down there say they want to shut it down. I think it's in no danger, and so I don't think any legislation is necessary.


BLITZER: So is this going anywhere?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it's not going anywhere. And what I think it is important is that we don't talk about this very important fact. If Mitch McConnell allows it to go forward, Mitch McConnell is acknowledging he has no faith in President Trump to ensure that there is a fair investigation into what we've seen with Russia right now. If he goes forward, he is going to not only incite the ire of President Trump, but he's also going to incite the ire of all those folks who are backing President Trump and helped, you know, certainly, candidates that he needed in some of the key Senate races.

BLITZER: You know, you cover, Laura, the Justice Department for us. The Justice Department issued a very lengthy statement defending the constitutionality of the new acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker's, appointment to oversee the Russia probe. And there's been a huge debate unfolding. What's the latest?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So they offered a pretty substantive, thorough, full-throated defense of why this appointment is valid, and it's really sort of highly technical, in the weeds. It's a legal argument about why this is constitutional. It has nothing to do with whether he needs to recuse because of what he said about Mueller.

And their basic argument is, look, there's a Vacancies Act that provides for this. If you've been at the Justice Department at a high enough level for 90 days, you can stay there for 210 days. And so even though it's a principal officer, it's a serious position that requires Senate confirmation, he's only there on a temporary basis, so they can do this.

But it's interesting. There's like a flip between conservatives and liberals on this. Usually, liberals are the one who want to look to the purpose on the statute. On this one, because people are so worried that Mueller is going to be ousted by Whitaker, liberals are at this point are saying, "Oh, no, no, no, you can't do this under the Vacancies Act," and conservatives are the ones who are saying his appointment is valid.

BLITZER: It doesn't look like the president is in any rush right now --


BLITZER; -- to get a new real attorney general confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

JARRETT: All the reporting from my colleague, Jeremy Diamond, and myself shows that he is actually digging in on Whitaker. He had a rocky couple of days there, a series of bad stories. We resurfaced everything that he had ever said about Mueller. But everyone, at least, according to the sources we've talked to said he's going to support this. He is in no rush to pick someone, and he's got him there for 210 days if he wants him.

BLITZER: Sara, it looks like Mueller and his team, they're moving quickly now that the midterm elections are over. What are you hearing about his next steps?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I mean, the big thing we're waiting for is whether there are going to be additional indictments surrounding this Roger Stone case. This is really the big piece of activity that we know is going on.

Because you know, it feels like everyone Roger Stone knows has been hauled in for an interview or to provide testimony before the grand jury, except for Roger Stone himself.

And so we're waiting to see if Jerome Corsi is right, if he's actually going to be indicted, if he's going to face charges. And we're waiting to see if Roger Stone himself is going to face charges. He said he expects to, but as of right now, we just don't know if they're going to be able to make that case, they're actually going to be able to bring charges.

I can tell you there continues to be plenty of activity. These people continue to talk to the special counsel's office, and we're just waiting to see if it comes together, Wolf.

BLITZER: And it looks like the president and his lawyers have been going through the written answers to the written questions that Mueller provided about these allegations of collusion during the campaign.

SWERDLICK: Right, Wolf. I think it's fair to say the president's lawyers, right, if you're his legal team, you don't want the president anywhere near those answers. You know, this is something that they want it written just so, that the president is a step removed, and they can provide the answers they think will help best down the road when the special counsel is looking at it.

BLITZER: It does suggest, at least given the fact that they're going to get these responses from the president in writing and it's unlikely the president's lawyers will allow him to do any, you know, face-to- face Q&A with Mueller and his team, that Mueller may be getting ready to wrap things up fairly soon.

PRESTON: I think there's a lot of people that would hope that Mueller is getting ready to wrap these things up very soon on both sides, because this has been very long and arduous.

But look, the thing you can say about the Mueller investigation. We've all spent a lot of time in this town. This is an investigation where I've never seen no leaks come out of it. And it's really been a very straightforward investigation. It's pretty amazing.

JARRETT: As I said today, the special counsel said today Rick Gates is still cooperating. And not only that, but we're going to still be doing this until January of 2019.

PRESTON: You're always a Debbie Downer.

[18:40:04] JARRETT: Happy holidays. This is going until at least January.

BLITZER: That's two months. That's not very long given the nature of these things.

Everybody stand by. There's a lot more we're watching. We're going to talk about more -- talk a little bit more about the axe that fell on the president's deputy national security adviser. She is now out, just as the first lady of the United States wanted. So who might be fired next?

And we'll also dissect the president's newest conspiracy theory about illegal voting in the United States. He says people are simply changing their clothes, they're putting on a hat so they can cast more than one ballot.


[18:45:18] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're back with our analysts. We're breaking down all of the news.

President Trump fires his deputy national security adviser after the first lady, Melania Trump, made it clear she wanted Mira Ricardel to go.

And Kate Bennett is with us.

You've been on the front lines reporting all of this. Give us the latest information, what exactly are you hearing?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: So, Sarah Sanders released a statement saying that Mira Ricardel was removed from her position and that she will be working for the administration elsewhere. We don't know where that will be yet, but clearly, the act, I guess we could call it, the statement, the desire of the first lady that this person no longer has the honor of serving in the White House, she felt she didn't, has come through.

I always say there are no Melania Trump coincidences. Everything she does typically has purpose, and there's something behind it. In this case, we don't know the specific event that was the impetus for the statement yesterday, but we do know there was a very contentious, very sort of back-and-forth relationship between Mrs. Trump's staff and Ms. Ricardel.

And those moments escalated, there were charges, accusations of leaking stories, there were accusations of investigating some of her staff, her behavior in Africa, there was investigation of keeping her off the Africa trip all together, and all of these things in some degree elevated to the point that the first lady felt she had to make this unprecedented statement, and, again, it seems to have gone the way she wanted.

BLITZER: Because as you know, first ladies often talk to their husband in private and say I hate this person, I hate this person, get rid of this person -- that happens all the time. But what was extraordinary yesterday was this public statement that the East Wing, the first lady's office issued, saying that Mira Ricardel, quote, no longer deserves the honor of serving in the White House.

We're trying to figure out precisely -- and you can do this for us -- why the first lady hates this woman.

BENNETT: It is -- again, the exact thing is something we don't know. I know that as early as mid-September, mid to late September, the first lady's office, the first lady sort of flagged this person to the president, and also perhaps to Chief of Staff John Kelly and said, you got a bad actor here. And as the allegations, as the feud grew, it carried into October. And Mrs. Trump did have conversations with the president.

This wasn't something that out of the blue she thought she would put out this statement, although it felt very abrupt. This was -- I'm told there were conversations, proper channels were followed so to speak, but there was a protection there with John Bolton. This is a woman who does not work for the first lady. She works for John Bolton, and that he would intervene and, of course, like she remained on the job and now here we are.

BLITZER: Mark, John Bolton is the national security adviser to the president, she is number two -- at least she was until a few minutes ago. She is now moving off someplace else. Clearly, she was fired as the deputy national security adviser.

What is awkward is that she and Bolton work very, very closely together. He is over in Asia someplace right now, and the statement was released by the press secretary, not him.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, again, I mean he has been out of -- out of the loop so to speak, you know, during this, but I would say this. There is something to be said about how she wasn't outrightly fired and how Bolton and how much power he has within that White House. He has only been in that position for, you know, not a very long time, and the fact that she is not being pushed out entirely really does say something. BLITZER: But she has been fired as the deputy national security

adviser to the president. She may get another job in the administration, but she has been fired as the deputy national security adviser. Just like Sessions, he was fired as attorney general even though in his letter he said at the request of the president I'm submitting my resignation, which underscores -- let me let David get into this. The president, despite his program "The Apprentice" where he said "you're fired," he personally doesn't like to fire people.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, that's been the trend, farm it out to aides to fire other aides essentially, which suggests two things. One, the persona on "The Apprentice" was just that, a persona, not the tough-talking CEO that he portrayed himself on TV. Also, Wolf, this idea that when he campaigned and said he would bring in the best people, he did not always have a handle, the track record now shows, on the strengths and weaknesses of some of the people he was bringing in.

BLITZER: How is this being viewed at the Justice Department, the craziness that's going on and the tumult?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: I think people are still reeling from the firing of Jeff Sessions, not because we didn't know that the president despised him, not because we didn't think that it would happen eventually, but just because of how it has all played out and because his chief of staff took his job. I mean, it's just sort of a bizarre circumstance.

[18:50:03] And so, I think people are still reeling from that, even though it was only a week, he was fired last Wednesday. It kind of caused such a ripple effect that it's still a lasting impression over there.

BLITZER: Kate, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this. So, did the president of the United States know that his wife was going to authorize the release of this statement yesterday?

BENNETT: I'm going to say no. From what I -- all my sources are telling me, he did not know.

BLITZER: So, he must be upset, because it makes him look weak.

BENNETT: Certainly, and I think this sort of keeping her on somehow, not fully firing her from the administration, you're right, she's no longer going to be in that role, it appears, sort of keeps him from being the bossed around husband, sort of saves face with his staff, with Bolton, doesn't fully say, hey, my wife told me to do this, and here I am firing. He sort of waited a day, kept us all on pins and needles, and then he provided this convenient exit letter on her desk, I think it was yesterday.

But, yes, I mean, he -- from what I hear, he was not happy about it. This was something that took, as I said, a lot of people by surprise. There was actually someone in the senior official in the White House West Wing who said the East Wing will do what the East Wing will do and that's them, it's very independent. It's sort of unprecedented again to not have some form of

communication between the two sides of the building especially when something like this affects the administration, not just staffing in one part of the building.

BLITZER: It's truly extraordinary that a public statement like this was released by the first lady, press secretary to the first lady. That in and of itself is extraordinary. What's even more extraordinary, perhaps, is it wasn't cleared by the West Wing of the White House, and certainly doesn't seem to have been cleared by the president of the United States.

BENNETT: But none of Melania Trump's statements ever are. This is something we reported on quite some time ago when she was tweeting and saying things that felt very disconnected from the West Wing side.

Actually, I asked and it was answered. She does not need to clear her tweets. She does need to clear her statements, quite frankly, or her agenda with the president. This is sort of something --

PRESTON: But that in itself is out of the norms of how a normal White House operates or quite frankly a normal family operates. I mean, really.

BENNETT: It's a very different, I keep using the word, independent, you know, good or bad.

BLITZER: She's an independent woman. I give her a lot of credit. She does what she wants to do and that's that.

Everybody, stand by.

There's more news we're following, including the urgent search for more than 100 people missing in the California wildfires, the death toll and the devastation growing worse every day.


[18:57:07] BLITZER: Tonight, the worst wildfire disaster ever to hit California is taking a staggering toll. At least 50 people have been killed and officials fear that number will keep rising as fires keep burning and as crews search through charred neighborhoods and acres and acres of scorched earth.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in the ravaged town of Paradise.

Nick, you're following the search and recovery operations. What are you seeing, what are you hearing?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm in front of the staging area for that search and recovery operation in this county alone. More than 100 people are still unaccounted for, but with every day that passes, the hope of finding them alive is dwindling fast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VALENCIA (voice-over): Tonight, the search for the missing intensifies in northern California. The Camp Fire, which ignited nearly a week ago, already the deadliest in California history. The death toll almost certainly will rise. Rescuers scouring burnt out homes searching for signs of life but fearing the worst.

SHERIFF KORY HONEA, BUTTE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA: Even after we've searched an area, once people get back in there, it's possible that human remains could be found.

VALENCIA: The death toll climbing from the northern California Camp Fire. Officials say they have a partial list of names of 103 missing people. Authorities have requested National Guard troops, cadaver dogs, and mobile morgues to help with the recovery.

Inspection teams are mapping out the destruction in Paradise, one of the hardest hit towns. The population there, 27,000 people, 8,000 structures destroyed. These images show how a nurse used his truck to help rescue people stuck in the fire. The lights on his truck melted, the sides burned and blackened.

ALLYN PIERCE, DROVE THROUGH WILDFIRES TO HELP PATIENTS: I think the word is terrified. I stayed calm but I was terrified.

VALENCIA: In southern California, firefighters still battling the Woolsey Fire, which has burned nearly 100,000 acres and left at least 2 people dead in Malibu. A third body was found in a burnt home.

A new fire east of Los Angeles whipped by those same Santa Ana winds was knocked down. Thirteen million people remain under red flag warnings. Hundreds of thousands forced to flee from their homes.


VALENCIA: One woman describes how she narrowly escaped death by driving straight through the fire.

HACKETT: I just thought maybe I was going to die. I just -- I was like, I just have to keep going. I can't turn around. I can't stop. I have to just keep going.


VALENCIA: There's no official cause for the fire but that hasn't kept 22 residents who lost their homes from suing PG&E, the electric company, which had an incident with one of their high voltage lines in the origin of the fire, 15 minutes before it started. PG&E says they're aware of the litigation but right now their focus is on the community, not the lawsuit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the best. Our hearts go out to all those folks.

Nick Valencia on the scene for us, thank you very much.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.