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Trump Says He's Written Answers To Mueller's Question; At Least 600 Missing In California Wildfires; Kellyanne Conway's Husband Calls Trump Administration "A Dumpster Fire". Aired 5-6p ET
Aired November 16, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:00] TAPPER: 9:00 a.m. and noon Eastern. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Breaking news. Written answers. President Trump reveals he's personally responded to questions from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, saying he didn't need his lawyers to do it. And tonight we're learning which questions his legal team balked at.
Press pass restored. A federal judge appointed by President Trump orders the White House to give back the credentials it revoked from our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. Now the president is vowing to make rules for how White House reporters act.
Almost all. With his embattled Homeland Security secretary standing just feet away, the president says he loves almost all of his Cabinet members. Is it a sign more heads are about to roll?
And dumpster fire. The husband of top presidential aide Kellyanne Conway uses colorful and coarse language to describe what he thinks of the Trump administration. We're going to hear him in his first interview.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump saying he's now answered written questions from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. But a source is telling CNN that the president's lawyers took issue with questions about the transition period after the 2016 election. And tonight the president is threatening to write rules of decorum for White House reporters after a federal judge appointed by Mr. Trump sided with CNN and ordered the White House to reinstate the press pass of our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
I'll talk about that much more with Senator Ron Wyden of the Intelligence Committee and our correspondents, analysts and specialists are also standing by.
First, let's begin with those two stories coming out of the White House tonight. Our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, standing by with details on the federal judge's order and CNN's lawsuit against the administration. But first, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim
Acosta, who is reporting from the White House North Lawn right now.
Jim, even though the president and his team have spent months negotiating and reviewing Mueller's questions, he says they weren't difficult to answer.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump revealed today that he's already answered a list of questions from special counsel, Robert Mueller's team. And the president all but accused Mueller and his investigators of setting a trap.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Predicting that the Russia investigation is winding down, President Trump claimed he's been hard at work crafting written responses to questions coming from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. The president made a point of adding, he's writing the answers himself.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But it didn't take very long to do them. And they were my answers. I don't need lawyers to do that. Now you need lawyers for submittal. You need lawyers to go over some of the answers. But they're not very difficult questions.
ACOSTA: In a jab to Mueller, the president also suggested the questions posed by the special counsel's office were designed to trip him up.
TRUMP: I write the answers. My lawyers don't write answers. I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I've answered them very easily. Very easily. I'm sure they're tricked up, because, you know, they like to catch people. Gee, you know, was the weather sunny or was it rainy? He said it may have been a good day. It was rainy. Therefore he told a lie. He perjured himself. OK. So you have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions.
ACOSTA: Signaling he thinks the Russia investigation is coming to an end, he pushed back on reports that the looming outcome of the probe is putting him in a sour mood.
TRUMP: No, I'm not agitated. As far as I'm concerned, I like to take everything personally. Because you do better that way. The witch hunt, as I call it, should never have taken place. It continues to go on. I imagine it's ending now, from what I hear, it's ending.
ACOSTA: One of the president's chief critics, prominent D.C. attorney, George Conway, husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, revealed why he never joined the Trump administration in a podcast with Yahoo! News.
GEORGE CONWAY, KELLYANNE CONWAY'S HUSBAND: I'm watching this thing and, you know, it's like the administration is like a shit show in a dumpster fire. ACOSTA: The president may have other staffing issues on his mind.
TRUMP: I also want to thank secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen.
ACOSTA: With much of Washington betting that Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will be the next Cabinet member to leave the administration, the president sounded as if some high-profile departures are coming soon. He made that clear with Nielsen in the Oval Office.
TRUMP: I'm extremely happy. I'm very happy with almost all of my Cabinet. And, you know, changes are made because they're always made. Especially after midterms.
ACOSTA: But there were some in the White House who seemed to indicate they aren't all that happy with the president, like Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who appeared to turn away when Mr. Trump spoke at a Medal of Freedom event.
[17:05:02] TRUMP: Justice Ginsburg, glad to see you're feeling great.
ACOSTA: It was at that event where the president honored Antonin Scalia and noted the late Supreme Court justice's large family of nine children to his widow.
TRUMP: You are very busy, wow.
TRUMP: Wow. I always knew I liked him.
ACOSTA: And the president is traveling to California this weekend to look at the devastation left from the wildfires in that state. The president has blamed that devastation on poor forest management practices by local officials. They expect those local officials, though, to push back on that. They believe the president is wrong on that -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent, reporting tonight from the White House.
Jim, thanks very, very much.
ACOSTA: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's get some more on the federal court order that allowed Jim to return to the White House. Our chief media correspondent, Brian Stelter, has details.
Brian, how consequential is the federal judge's ruling today?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: This was a big round one win for CNN and for Acosta, Wolf. But it was just round one. And we don't know how many more rounds this legal fight is going to go.
Judge Timothy J. Kelly issued a temporary restraining order which forced the White House to return Acosta's hard pass. And as we just saw there, he is now back in his post where he belongs. But Judge Kelly said he was only issuing a narrow ruling. This was not a ruling that found that Acosta's First Amendment rights were being violated. Instead, Kelly said that Acosta's Fifth Amendment right to due process had been violated by the Trump administration last week.
The judge indicated that CNN and Acosta would be likely to prevail in an overall case and that's a very important detail going forward because the White House now has to decide how many more rounds it wants to go. And as for the ruling today, we heard from Judge Kelly with some critical words for White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, one of the six defendants in this case. He said that when Sanders came out last week and said that Acosta inappropriately touched a White House intern that that was likely untrue.
Of course, the evidence -- the video evidence contradicted Sanders and it was notable to hear a Trump-appointed judge point out the press secretary's falsehood. It was also notable that Kelly said the White House never even revealed who made the decision to revoke the press pass in the first place. He said it was, quote, "shrouded in mystery." The assumption, of course, is that President Trump did it. That he was angry and he decided to take his anger out on Acosta.
But the fact that we don't even know how it happened last week shows that Acosta's due process rights, his Fifth Amendment rights, were violated. So that is why the judge this morning issued the temporary restraining order, gave that pass back to Jim Acosta.
And, Wolf, frankly, this was a day like we've never seen in White House Press Corps history.
BLITZER: That's a good point. Today the president reacted by saying that White House officials will just leave if they don't want to answer questions from reporters. So what's the White House plan going forward?
STELTER: That's right. Now we don't know exactly what the White House plans to do next. There is another hearing scheduled next week that the lawyers will be back in the court talking about next steps, talking about possible hearings in the future. It does seem to me the White House may be seeking a resolution to this case, though. Maybe it will try to settle out of court.
Here's what President Trump said going forward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: If they don't listen to the rules and regulations, we'll end up back in court and we'll win. But more importantly, we'll just leave. And then you won't be very happy.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President?
TRUMP: Because we do get good ratings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STELTER: The president also said there needs to be decorum at the White House. Good behavior, decorum, he said. I think that comment from the president is its own punch line. It speaks for itself. But as for CNN's position attorney Ted Boutrous said to me, CNN would like a resolution in this case. We're not looking to stay in court and continue fighting. If there is a settlement, we would be interested in that. However, he said, CNN will continue to litigate for as long as is necessary if the White House tries to put in strange or excessive new regulations or rules.
If the White House tries to keep kicking reporters out, CNN will head straight back to court -- Wolf.
BLITZER: CNN's Brian Stelter, thanks very much.
And coming up, I'll speak with the lawyer representing CNN in this case, Ted Boutrous. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's dig deeper now on President Trump's response to written questions from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is working this part of the story for us.
Shimon, today the president called Mueller's questions, and I'm quoting him now, "not very difficult." We know that the questions were the result of months of negotiations between Mueller and the president's legal team. If they're so easy to answer, why hasn't the president turned them in yet?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. That's a great question, Wolf. And in terms of when you think about the fact that it's taken them nearly a year to answer some of these questions, to respond to some of the investigation that Robert Mueller and the special counsel have ongoing.
You know, one of the things that certainly some of the folks -- some of the folks here are hearing on our team is that they are concerned with some of the questions, in that they don't have anything to do with -- they have to do with maybe those executive privileges in that some of these questions the president doesn't have to answer because they have to do with the transition.
[17:10:13] The other thing, and more importantly, is that really -- is that the lawyers, the lawyers representing the president don't exactly know what Mueller is up to. What is the next move here? And they could be concerned with what's about to come. And so they want to wait before they submit some of these questions. Whether or not there are any indictments. And obviously one of the biggest concerns for the lawyers is that the president may not be telling the entire truth here. And so, of course, they're worried about that issue because the president could be perjuring himself.
BLITZER: The president said he answered Mueller's questions. Not his lawyers. Could that declaration potentially be problematic for the president?
PROKUPECZ: No. Because usually what happens is whether it's the lawyers who write the answers or whether it's actually a person who the questions are being posed to by the FBI, by the U.S. attorney, it doesn't really matter because it's going to be weighed in the same way. So that if he is lying, if anything there is proven to be untrue, he could potentially face some kind of consequence as a result of that.
BLITZER: Let me turn to another interesting twist in all of this. Potentially could be tied to the Mueller case. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may be facing criminal charges here in the United States, but we only know that because of a clerical error made by the Justice Department.
Shimon, what are you learning and could this be tied to Mueller's probe?
PROKUPECZ: Yes. And it's a major blunder here certainly. You have National Security lawyers, the Eastern District of Virginia, who essentially accidentally kept Julian Assange's name in court documents that had nothing to do with him. This was a different case, nothing to do with Julian Assange. They were using a template, it seems, for something that they were filing, and that was to keep sealed, essentially what they probably did in the Julian Assange case.
And what they wrote in this court document is that the complaint supporting affidavit and arrest warrant as well as the motion and the proposed order would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges and the criminal complaint, and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.
Now, Wolf, this has to do with the Eastern District of Virginia that doesn't appear to be any connection to the Robert Mueller investigation. But we know from what Robert Mueller has been asking of people associated to Roger Stone, that WikiLeaks, that Julian Assange is in the crosshairs of this investigation. And though while he may not be facing charges related to the Russia investigation or other things out of the Eastern District of Virginia, he could still be facing charges out of the district here in Washington, D.C., where the Mueller grand jury is sitting.
BLITZER: Good point. All right. Shimon, thank you. Shimon Prokupecz reporting.
Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, he's a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for coming in.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the president. He says now he hasn't submitted his response yet in writing to the written questions from the special counsel. Even though he said they were not very difficult. He said the questions were not very difficult, but they still haven't responded, they haven't filed the formal response. What does that say to you?
WYDEN: That says to me that there is still more stonewalling. Look, what we have seen -- you saw the president, for example, give a long interview this week to "The Daily Caller." He said he installed Whitaker because he was mad about Mueller.
BLITZER: As the acting attorney general.
WYDEN: Right. It sounds like the same thing that happened with Comey. So I just wish that the president could focus on his job rather than trying to prevent law enforcement from doing theirs.
BLITZER: The president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said yesterday, he said some of the questions, in his words, create more issues for us legally than others. You have been looking, and your colleagues on the Intelligence Committee, very closely into the whole issue of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. You've been looking at that now for more than a year. When he talks about creating issues for the president, what do you think he's referring to?
WYDEN: First of all, Bob Mueller has always done everything by the book. This whole idea that he is just looking for potential perjury traps -- I mean, this is a war veteran. He's worked for Democrats, he's worked for Republicans. He doesn't have press conferences. And I just think that if you look at his track record, he methodically does it by the book. And I don't buy this idea that he spends his nights just looking for ways to find perjury traps.
BLITZER: Do you believe it significant that the Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has pleaded guilty, as you know, in his cooperation of the Mueller team, has been going on -- it's now been extended for another 10 days.
WYDEN: We just heard about this a few minutes ago. And, of course, being the professional he is, Bob Mueller doesn't leak why he might be doing that.
[17:15:03] Again, I want to focus on the central question, which is making sure that Bob Mueller can do his job. The president is not above the law. All of these things, even like the interview with "The Daily Caller" really sounds like the president is trying to find ways to undermine Bob Mueller. That's my focus. Making sure you do that work.
BLITZER: I want to play for you a clip. This is Mike Pompeo. He's now the secretary of State. But in April of 2017, he was the CIA director. And he said this of WikiLeaks, the Julian Assange organization. This is what he said about WikiLeaks. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, THEN CIA DIRECTOR: It's time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is. A non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So if Russia is using WikiLeaks as what he calls a non-state hostile intelligence service, and then WikiLeaks is making information available to individuals with ties to the Trump campaign, is that what they're looking for now? Is that some sort of collusion, you think, that Mueller and his team are looking at?
WYDEN: To the extent Assange was acting as a tool of a hostile foreign intelligence agency, he may well have committed crimes. Look, the collusion issue is far from resolved. If you look at Donald Trump Jr.'s comments in that now infamous meeting, there is no question in my mind, Wolf, that there was an intent to collude. He said that in the e-mails.
BLITZER: So you think that there was collusion, is that what you're saying?
WYDEN: I said there was -- in that e-mail, if you just read the actual e-mail itself, there was a clear intent to collude. So I don't think the collusion issues are resolved. We have matters going on with respect to Maria Butina today, potential settlements. She was the Russian who in effect was indicted for using the NRA to infiltrate our democracy. She was a college student. She went and set up a shell company in South Dakota.
You don't have very many college students set up shell companies in South Dakota with NRA operatives for innocent purposes.
BLITZER: We know there is a lot going on. We anticipate some answers from Mueller and his team fairly soon.
Senator, thanks so much.
WYDEN: Let's do it again.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
Up next, the Russian troll farm that attacked the 2016 election here in the United States is now back in business. We have a CNN exclusive.
[17:21:54] BLITZER: Now a CNN exclusive. Disturbing new information tonight about the operation behind the unprecedented Russian cyber attack on the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, has details for us.
Fred, the Russians have regrouped and are at it, apparently, again.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly are, Wolf. And despite being indicted by the Mueller investigation, this troll outfit that we're talking about is now better funded, more sophisticated and also more persistent than it has ever been before. Here's what we found.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Russian troll factory once known as the Internet Research Agency is still up and running, now operating as various new legal entities under the name Project Lakhta, according to a U.S. criminal complaint.
Tonight CNN has obtained video of this flashy business center in St. Petersburg where several of Project Lakhta's firms are now apparently working. And Project Lakhta is putting down more cash to harm America. Company financial records in a U.S. criminal complaint reviewed by CNN show huge budget increases since 2013, especially in 2018. Around 650 million rubles, almost $10 million in the first six months of this year alone, though the prosecutors say not all the money goes to operations targeting the U.S.
BRET SCHAFER, SOCIAL MEDIA ANALYST, HAMILTON 68: It's essential to look at these efforts as consistent and persistent as opposed to they rally around a specific geopolitical event or election. The way that they actually gain influence is by talking to these specific populations over a period of time.
PLEITGEN: A former employee we're not naming out of safety concerns tells CNN Project Lakhta's operatives constantly create new online identities using special tools caught anonymizers along with virtual private networks and varying cloud services to mask their origin.
SCHAFER: I don't think that's anything that we have established at this point that's going to fundamentally deter them from continuing this kind of operation because frankly it's been pretty successful.
PLEITGEN: According to the criminal complaint, Project Lakhta is part of a sprawling business empire controlled by this man, Russian tycoon, Yevgeny Prigozhin. Nicknamed "Putin's chef" because of his close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin and because of his restaurant empire. Putin has denied the two men are close.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through translator): I know him but he is not among my friends. This is misrepresenting the facts. He's a businessman. He has restaurants and some other businesses but he is not a state official. We have nothing to do with him.
PLEITGEN: But Prigozhin clearly has major dealings with the Russian state. A firm linked to him runs a mercenary company active in Syria that even attacked U.S.-backed forces there.
CNN also spotted a man who appears to be Prigozhin in this video from Russian state TV, of a meeting between Russian officials and Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for severe human rights abuses.
[17:25:06] Prigozhin's firm tried to push back on the special counsel's indictment, arguing, like President Trump, that the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt. On Thursday a federal judge refused to dismiss the indictment charging Prigozhin's company with having a role in Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Meantime cyber security experts say Project Lakhta's trolling efforts are expanding in the United States and elsewhere. Their message, unabashed and unapologetic, like this recent online meme planted by the group, which reads, "Remember, 90 percent of online trolls are paid professionals."
PLEITGEN: And Wolf, we did reach out to the parent company of this troll outfit but they did not get back to us with any sort of comment. And experts do tell us that right now it's less for them about supporting one or the other political party or President Trump or be against President Trump. To them it's about undermining America's liberal democracy. And as we've noted there, they still are very much at it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Great reporting for us, Fred Pleitgen. Thank you very much.
There's breaking news right now. We're following the Democratic candidate in Georgia's governor's race is ending her fight to force a runoff election. Stacy Abrams refused to officially concede, but acknowledged that former secretary of state Brian Kemp will be certified the victor. She also leveled accusations of voter suppression against Kemp, but telling a crowd of supporters, quote, "The state failed its voters."
There's a lot more to discuss with our correspondents, analysts and commentators. All of them are standing by. We've got a lot to assess. We'll be right back.
[17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Our breaking news. The president just says he, not his lawyers, wrote the answers to questions from the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. He also told reporters he is "happy with almost all of my cabinet." Those are his words. Let's talk about this and more with our political and legal analysts. And Laura Jarrett, listen to the president earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My lawyers don't write answers, I write answers. I was asked a series of questions. I've answered them very easily. Very easily. I'm sure they're tricked up, because, you know, they like to catch people -- gee, was the weather sunny or was it rainy? He said it may have been a good day, it was rainy. Therefore, he told a lie. He perjured himself. OK? So, you have to always be careful when you answer questions with people that probably have bad intentions. But no, it's -- the questions were very routinely answered by me. By me. It's been very, very hard to find time. But it didn't take very long to do them and they were my answers. I don't need lawyers to do that. Now, you need lawyers for submittal. You need lawyers to go over some of the answers. But they're not very difficult questions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Give us your analysis, Laura.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN REPORTER: OK. There is no universe in this world in which any lawyer worth their salt is letting the president of the United States in the highest profile case that we've had in decades answer these questions himself. Now, he may be working hand in glove. He may be going back and forth with them on drafts. I'm sure they're working diligently on language. But the idea that he's doing this without very, very hands-on supervision from his lawyers just belies the fact. And more to the point, Pamela Brown's new reporting tonight shows there's actually been a little bit of tension on some of these questions. And, you know, it partially explains partly why this is taking so long. We've been at this for almost a year now. So, this is a serious exercise. This is not something you do light.
BLITZER: What do you think, Susan?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, like, it doesn't matter who ultimately composes these questions. The president is going to have to sign his name and face the criminal penalty if there is anything in there that's untrue. By saying this, essentially, what he does is eliminates his ability to blame this on his lawyers, one of his favorite tacks moving forward. You know, like Laura said, you use lawyers for a reason, because even people that are trying to be honest and forthright, these are challenging questions. You want to make sure you don't inadvertently say something that's false.
You don't want to make sure you don't disclose damaging information that you didn't have to. You know, what the president's issue here is more fundamental, and that's that it's been abundantly clear from the outset that the president's lawyers had been terrified that he is incapable of telling the truth but he's going to end up perjuring himself. And so, it doesn't matter who wrote the questions. If there is information in those questions that is demonstrably false, the president is going to have a serious legal problem on his hands.
BLITZER: Certainly will. And if the questions are -- the president said not very difficult questions -- if they're not very difficult questions and they're easy to answer, why has it taken him so long to come up with answers?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Because I mean, everything he says you have to take with a grain of salt or perhaps like truckloads with salt. Could you imagine the edits with his sharpie? I mean, and just so everyone recalls, President Trump is well-known for going through and editing people's work or writing through newspaper articles and questioning them and then signing his name and throwing it back. I mean, it's a bit of a mess. I mean, and in that I do feel bad for the lawyers. But for him to have to come out and say, I answered them very easily. Oh, by the way, I'm sure they're written to trick me up. It's just -- he's trying to set the narrative again that no matter what happens, that he has been framed. I mean, that is what he's been trying to do. It's been going on for months.
BLITZER: Let's get David Axelrod to weigh in. Go ahead, David.
[17:35:05] DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, maybe we've solved the mystery of what he was doing in that hotel room in Paris those seven hours when he was supposed to be going to the cemetery. Maybe, he was working on his answers so that he could give them to his lawyer. Listen, I agree with everything that's been said. The guy didn't write his own memoir. So, he certainly -- he hasn't written his own answers to questions that he is submitting on penalty of perjury. I think that this has been going on, as Mark said -- this has been going on for a year.
The strategy has been to create an environment in which if the news is bad when Mueller reports out that it can be dismissed at least among his supporters as a political exercise. But anyone who knows Bob Mueller, watch Bob Mueller, watched the way this investigation has been conducted, I think would say otherwise. And I think it would be important for both Democrats and Republicans to say, we're going to wait on this report and we will make our judgments based on the substance of what is reported out by the special counsel.
BLITZER: It's interesting, Mark. The president said today, I'm very happy with almost all of my cabinet. In effect, he's confirming more members of the cabinet are about to be dumped.
PRESTON: Yes. There's no question about that. And what's actually scary about this is that usually what happens in the administration and David has gone through this and, you know, others have as well, you usually see the best and brightest tend to go in at the beginning. And then on the second wave, it's not necessarily the best and brightest, but you tend to have the second best and brightest, right, that come in. What is very concerning, specifically here in Washington, D.C., is that some of these positions that he is going to draw off of to come in and fill, those people might not be qualified at all to fill those positions.
BLITZER: David, senior administration official told our Jake Tapper, "In this administration, there are arsonists and there are firefighters. The president is looking to get rid of the firefighters. The more he does, the faster his administration is going to burn down." What's your reaction to that?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say, I appreciate Mark's characterization of the best and brightest coming first, because I left after two years. So, I appreciate that. But I will tell you, from my experience in the White House, that the hardest thing you can do is tell the president things he doesn't want to hear. And I think it's even harder in this administration, because Donald Trump has never had to answer to anyone. He's run basically a small family business, no board of directors. And people don't tell him what he doesn't want to hear. Or very few people tell him what he doesn't want to hear. And there's a lot of work-arounds and so on. And if fewer and fewer people there are willing to tell him that he's wrong or tell him there's a -- this is an unwise -- or at least find a way to work around him, then he's going to act more and more on impulse. And as we know, his impulses can be destructive.
BLITZER: I want to make sure our viewers know, David, tomorrow night "THE AXE FILES," you have a special guest, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN, the Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. We're going to be watching that tomorrow night. Everybody standby. Still ahead, the husband of top presidential aide, Kellyanne Conway, comes up with a devastating description of the Trump administration. We're going to hear him in his first interview. Also, an alarming increase in the number of people listed as missing as California's wildfires continue to burn.
[17:43:06] BLITZER: In California, at least 66 deaths are now confirmed and (INAUDIBLE) in the wake of the devastating wildfires has grown to more than 600 names. Not only the fire is still burning, shelters for some evacuees are coping with the virus attack. Let's bring in our CNN Correspondent Nick Watt is on the scene for us. What are you seeing, Nick?
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tomorrow President Trump is going to travel to California to see the devastation for himself. Now, in an interview with Fox News, he did concede that climate change maybe contributed a little to the wildfires but he also doubled down on that controversial claim, which is challenged by some, that bad forest management is the major culprit in these wildfires that have so ravaged this state.
WATT: As authorities sift through every 911 call and report received during those terrifying early days of the campfire blaze, that list of the missing exploding to more than 600 names.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you look at that list and you see that your name is on it, please call 538-6570 or 538-7544 and let us know that you've been -- that you're safe.
WATT: Seven more bodies found Thursday, more remains, no doubt, will be found in the ash and wreckage today. 461 personnel, 22 dogs now involved in that gruesome search. Of the 63 people confirmed dead so far, the camp fire, coroners have tentatively identified 53. At town called Paradise, hit hard.
MARE REASONS, PARADISE RESIDENT: I am loyal to paradise. My heart is tethered to that town. I value that town and the people. And everybody I knew there, everybody I helped there, they just meant so much to me. I blossomed when I moved to paradise.
WATT: Right now, Central and Northern California has the worst air quality in the world. Smoke lingering in a 250-mile radius. Today schools as far away as San Francisco still closed due to that danger. Classes cancelled on college campuses in Sacramento and Berkeley. According to Calfire, firefighters have battled 500 blazes in the state in just the past 30 days alone. California's governor says this is the new abnormal. GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: Going forward, we are going to have
to take a lot of steps that aren't so easy. And we're going to have to manage our forests better. We're going to have to build our cities more smartly. We're going to have to build shelters so that people can escape when these terrible fires get out of hand. And yes, we're going to have to deal with climate change. All of that.
WATT: Meanwhile, 145 evacuees and workers in shelters around Butte County are suffering from Norovirus. 25 of them hospitalized as a result of the gastrointestinal bug. Health officials now working to create separate shelters for the sick. Butte County, with 10 percent of its homes now turned to ash, facing crisis.
ED MAYER, BUTTE COUTY HOUSING AUTHORITY: So, we have a town of approximately 14,000 houses and associated commercial activity that's literally been burned off the map.
WATT: And what sparked these blazes, we still don't know. But many people up in the north pointing the finger at the local utility company. Wolf?
[17:46:40] BLITZER: Nick, thank you very much. Good luck to all the folk out there. Coming up, a truly devastating takedown of the Trump administration by the husband of presidential adviser, Kellyanne Conway. We're going to hear him in his first interview.
[17:51:33] BLITZER: Tonight, we're following the political aftershocks caused by a devastating assessment of Trump administration and it comes from the husband of one of the president's top aides. Brian Todd is here. Brian, not necessarily a complete surprise.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not a complete surprise, Wolf, but George Conway, the husband of top Trump aide, Kellyanne Conway, is critical of the president. He's been skewering him for months, but it is surprising, jarring really, that George Conway is so brutal in his latest broadside against Mr. Trump.
TODD: Tonight, the contrarian husband of one of the president's top aides, Kellyanne Conway, isn't just raising eyebrows. He's dropping jaws, speaking public for the first time about his disdain for the Trump administration.
GEORGE CONWAY, CONSERVATIVE LAWYER: It's like, the administration is like a shit show in a dumpster fire.
TODD: George Conway, a conservative lawyer and prominent Republican, was once on the short list for a top position in the Trump Justice Department. Now, he's become one of the president's chief critics. In a new interview on the Yahoo Podcast skullduggery, he explained why he turned down the job. CONWAY: I don't want to do that. I don't know. And then it's like,
then you got the Comey firing and then you got him going on T.V. saying, I had Russia on my mind. It's like, oh, no.
TRUMP: She just destroys them.
TODD: Despite his proximity to one of the president's most ferocious defenders, George Conway has unabashedly slammed President Trump in recent months. This week, he established checks and balances, a group of conservative lawyers who publicly question the president's adherence to the law. He has also chided Trump on Twitter, with tweets like this one questioning the president's comprehension of the law. And he's written op-eds including this one, saying Trump's appointment of his acting attorney general is "illegal." But until recently, he'd avoided the president's ire.
TRUMP: You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway? He's just trying to get publicity for himself.
TODD: George Conway says, he took the president's broadside in stride, saying he also calls himself Mr. Kellyanne Conway. Today, his wife even changed her Twitter bio to read the Kellyanne Conway and Kellyanne Conway's husband. George Conway admitted today his wife is not a fan of his push back on the president.
CONWAY: I don't think she likes it, but I told her I don't like you know, administration, so we're -- it's even.
TODD: Despite their differences, Conway says he's proud of his wife and what she accomplished in 2016.
CONWAY: My wife did an amazing thing. She basically got this guy elected and other people like to take credit for it, but she got this guy elected. She steadied that boat. She did it. She went on television. She imposed messaged discipline on that campaign. He was in the crapper, when she took that campaign over.
TODD: Perhaps the great irony, analyst say, is that of all of Conway's criticism today, that remark, supporting his wife's role in the campaign, might be the one that pushes the president's buttons the most.
DAVID DRUCKER, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: We know that the idea that anybody had anything to do with his success except for him really seems to drive him bonkers. He's very narcissistic. It always has to be about him.
TODD: When asked if he thinks the president is fully stable, George Conway laughed and said no comment. We asked the White House for comment on George Conway's latest remarks about the Trump administration, we did not hear back from them and neither George or Kellyanne Conway would comment specifically for our story. Interestingly enough, Wolf, George Conway also said today he is changing his affiliation from Republican to unaffiliated. He says, he's not comfortable being a Republican anymore. He says it is a personality cult.
[17:55:15] BLITZER: Interesting. Brian Todd, thanks very much for that report. There's breaking news that's coming up next. President Trump answering Robert Mueller's written questions, but when will he actually hand over the written responses to the special counsel?
[17:59:55] BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. His own words. President Trump insists he personally and easily wrote the answers to Robert Mueller's collusion questions.