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West Wing Does Damage Control Amid Bad Headlines; Trump Begins Obamacare Dismantling With Executive Order; Trump Threatens Broadcast Licenses Following Critical Stories; California Wildfires Death Toll Climbs To 31, Now The Deadliest Fire Disaster In State History; Kids For Sale; President Expected To Decertify Iran Accord Tomorrow

Aired October 12, 2017 - 21:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Today he gave a rare press conference and point cold water (ph) and all the stories lately. Most of them source to White House insiders or people close to the West Wing. Paint a picture of deep dysfunction. That is what General Kelly is up against and what today he railed again.


[21:00:21] JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: My only frustration, with all due respect to everyone in the room, is when I come to work in the morning and read about things I allegedly said, or things that Mr. Trump allegedly said. Or people who were going to be fired or whatever, I think and it's just not true. That's my frustration. I mean no disrespect to you all.


COOPER: He said more than that, we'll talk about all of it. But let's go first to CNN Jeff Zeleny who's at the White House. What are you learning about why General Kelly came out today to speak with the press?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, actually, we've learned just a short time ago, I was talking to a White House official who tells me that the president asked his chief of staff to go before the cameras today to quell so much of the questions here that have been going on about all of the, you know, things in the West Wing, staffing, other matters.

So this was the president urging and asking his chief of staff, who is quite camera shy, which is pretty striking when he walked out into that press briefing room to make his first appearance there. He was on the direction on the order of the president.

Anderson, tonight I'm told by this White House official, the president thought he did a good job by putting to rest some of the speculation and also talking about the serious matters here. But, Anderson, I can tell you, I was struck by how much the chief of staff sounded like the president. He talked and railed against the false reporting in his view, the media in his view, he did not address, however, the tweets or the statements or the issues from the president himself. That's one thing he steered clear of. Intentionally focusing it on what he calls the false reporting, he did so with a smile, got some laughs in the room, but in many ways, he sounded much like his boss.

COOPER: He also talked about what the president considered to be his biggest challenges.

ZELENY: He did indeed. He laid out and pretty a start turns what the challenges are which we've heard, of course, but to hear this retired four-star marine general laying them out was a pretty stark. North Korea, of course, not a surprise. He said, yes, people in the U.S. should be worried and concerned, that the homeland here could be struck. Also talked about Iran, of course, those are the top two challenges. Also talked about how slow things move through this government here. He didn't talk about the terrorist threats or Afghanistan or ISIS, but did talk about those nuclear threats both in North Korea and Iran.

COOPER: And General Kelly was very specific about what he considered his job to be when it comes to the president.

ZELENY: Anderson, I think this is perhaps the most interesting thing of all, of course, the general was brought in to instill some discipline, some order into this White House. We heard, if you will, a job description or at least how he's viewing it now, 11 weeks in, saying, look, I can't control the president, but I can control what the president sees and hears. Let's watch.


KELLY: I was not sent into -- or brought in to control him, and you should not measure my effectiveness as a chief of staff by what you think I should be doing, but simply, the fact is, I can guarantee to you that he has now presented with options, well thought out options, those options are discussed. In detail with his team. And then he comes up with the right decision.


ZELENY: So there's no question he has instilled some order here, but Anderson, at the end of the day, all the challenges that were there earlier today and yesterday, still remain tonight, Anderson.

COOPER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Jeff, thanks.

I want to bring in the panel, Bakari Sellers, Molly Ball, Alice Stewart, and Jen Psaki.

Molly, when General Kelly comes out, says everything is fine in the White House, the people shouldn't believe stories about chaos or dysfunction, A, is that believable? And, B, is he saying that as much for the president to hear as anyone else? Since now Jeff Zeleny reported it was the president asking him to go out.

MOLLY BALL, POLITICAL WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Right, I mean, nothing says I'm not going to get fired like calling a press conference to tell the word that you're not going to get fired. I mean, this has happened over and over. This is like the Tillerson press conference from last week. And I think it's also similar to when Jeff Sessions was under fire, and he called a press conference to say we're going to go after leakers. I think people around the president have realized that when he's mad at you, if you can show him you have a common enemy, in particular, the media, that is something that endears you to President Trump.

So, I do think there's tension there, you never know where you stand with this president. He doesn't actually like to fire people, despite some of his bluster, but he does like to keep people on their toes and sometimes even hang them out to dry. So you have these continued sort of -- somewhat humiliating command performances by members, top members of the staff, or even members of the cabinet in order to curry favor, in order, to your question, I think, to speak directly to the president, through the media and to say, look, I have your back and I'm subservient to you.

COOPER: Jen, as someone who worked in the White House. How did you see today?

[21:05:01] JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think they had a real problem, which is this perception that General Kelly was unhappily, that he was about to leave in some capacity whether being fired of his own accord. In that sense, he helped himself, and he probably helped the president for the moment because he took some air out of that balloon.

Now there were some things that Molly said, that she said that were a little strange and slightly bizarre, that probably if John Kelly were talking to you, Anderson, and not on camera, he wouldn't have said, like, that the president believes that there shouldn't be nuclear weapons in the world. That he agreed with everything the president's tweet said this morning, part of this was the audience of one, and that's Donald Trump. So part of it was John Kelly reassuring Trump that he was with him, and also trying to take some air out of the balloon publicly. He helped himself, I think, for the time being.

COOPER: Alice, it is interesting, because time and again, over the months we've had people from the White House come out and say, look, the reporting about, you know, problems in the White House, with Jeff Sessions, with Anthony Scaramucci, with Sean Spicer, with Reince Priebus, it's all incorrect. Only then later to have the other shoe drop.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure, and that's normal when we're talking about a lot of palace intrigue, kind of news stories. I think a couple things with regard to timing of this, General Kelly made it clear that he intended to have -- address the press and attend one of these briefings, once he got his feet on the ground and figured out what base he was on any given day, but that in addition to the president asking him to put out some of these fires is why we have the press conference today.

I think that, you know, the questions -- the main points with regard to answering a lot of the palace intrigue, I'm not quitting. I'm not getting fired. I'm not here to control the president's tweets. Those were things that the press has been talking about. But he also went further to say, look, my job and one of my priorities is to control the flow of information to the president, and I've been successful with that.

But I think the bigger substantive issues that he addressed today, I think Americans are really concerned with, are what keeps him awake at night? What keeps the president awake at night? He addressed that with regard to nuclear weapons and North Korea and in time with the Iranians. And he said, look, as Molly said, the president talks more about -- I'd just as soon do away with all nuclear weapons, and I think that was important, in addition to reinforcing the administration's commitment to helping Puerto Rico and those affected by hurricanes.

COOPER: Bakari, obviously, you're a Democrat. Have you see what Kelly said?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, there wasn't much difference between what Chief of Staff Kelly, General Kelly said, and what others have said behind that same podium. Look, he came out, he defended Donald Trump, he deflected anyone from believing that there was any discord in the White House, and he blasted the media, it was the same type of message that we've heard from the White House. The difference was, that the messenger was more calm. And he was more serene. He was more subdued. He was more thoughtful. And deliberate what people expect from someone who stands behind that seal, that presidential seal. Dare I say that the chief of staff, General Kelly, looked more presidential than the president himself. I know that's going to drive the White House crazy, and the president crazy, but he looked more presidential than even the White House.

But can I just say that -- let's just toss aside this belief that somehow General Kelly is going to change Donald Trump. That has not happened, that is not going to happen. What we have seen for the past 70 years in Donald Trump is going to be the same person that we see through the pendency (ph) of his tenure as president of the United States.


COOPER: Sorry, and Molly, it also seemed like General Kelly was basically trying to, you know, reset in the public's mind the parameters of what his job are. I mean to Bakari's point saying, look, I'm not, you know, here about tweets, All I'm here about is the flow of information, the president presenting the president with options in an organized way.

BALL: Yes, I mean, I think along the lines of what Bakari was saying, you did see in a lot of ways the reasons that General Kelly is valuable to the president and to the White House. Because of that, even temper, that even demeanor, but also very much because he has realistic expectations. He knows that if you go in there thinking you're going to reign in Donald J. Trump, you're just going to drive yourself and everyone else crazy. He has a realistic idea of what the parameters are of this job, he knows that nobody is going to make Donald Trump stop tweeting weird things in the middle of the night.

And so, he's focused on -- a very sort of -- precise in military way, what are the things that I can control? What are the inputs that I can get a handle on? What are the aspects of this chaos that I can tame, given that the man in the center of it, the chaos generator in chief is not tameable?

COOPER: And what's interesting, Jen, though, this isn't all just stuff that's coming from reporters with, you know, sources named or unnamed. I mean, you had Senator Bob Corker talking on the record to "The New York Times" saying, you know, I know that every day in the White House, that people -- it's a battle for people who try to control the president.

[21:09:56] PSAKI: That's exactly right. And as we know in other reporting, a lot of the sources are high level people in the White House, including President Trump himself, and people who are senior advisers. So, the notion that this is coming from absurd source just -- doesn't really pass muster.

They clearly have a problem with this ongoing Game of Thrones style mode of governing.

Now, I think General Kelly clearly has at least from the outside, taken some steps to improve information flow but not only can he not control President Trump, he can't control a lot of the characters and personalities that are still in the White House even after the departure of people like Steve Bannon.

STEWART: And Anderson, one thing. They've always had trouble with leaks throughout the campaign and the administration and that's something I'm sure General Kelly and all of them would like to address. But the reality is, as much as I want them to succeed, a lot of their problems with regard to the media, come from the president's tweets that get them off message.

So, at the end of the day, if there was any way anyone could, you know, pull back on that a little bit, that would help solve a lot of these issues they're dealing with.

COOPER: Yes. Not only gets them off message, but undercuts often what his -- their own people have said just the day before.

Much more to talk about with the panel ahead including the president's executive order on Obamacare, depending on who you ask, you know, either makes good coverage, more accessible or amounts to out -- sabotage the program that millions of Americans rely on. We'll discuss that next.

And later, there are sort of things you simply can not imagine, moms, mothers being deceived. Children for all intents and purposes being stolen and it only gets worse from there when exclusive CNN investigations uncovered ahead on 360.


[21:15:05] COOPER: The president took more action today to keep a campaign promise to undue Obamacare. At the same time, he also did something he criticized President Obama for time and time again, namely, using executive order to get what he wants instead of relying on Congress. He sign, as you see, an executive order making easier for small businesses to join together to buy coverage. Also, to extend short-term policies.

Now, critic says this could draw younger healthier people away from Obamacare marketplaces driving up cost there. They also point provisions that would allow certain plans to drop customers with certain medical conditions to raise the rates. The president and many other Republicans call it a step toward greater choice and lower rates.


TRUMP: This will cost the United States government virtually nothing. And people will have great, great healthcare. And when I say people I mean by the millions and millions.


COOPER: Back now with the panel. Molly, I mean, the president is saying that he keeps hearing repeal and replace, repeal and replace, this executive order is starting to -- starting that process. Is that what this is?

BALL: Well, no, this is not a repeal or a replacement of Obamacare. But according -- but one thing that the administration and its opponents agree on is this isn't an undermining of Obamacare. It is an attempt to undue some of the parts of Obamacare, that critics find onerous, that obviously supporters of Obamacare believe are essential to the health care system and or forecasting that there could be disastrous consequences for the already troubled healthcare markets.

I think politically, what it means is that whatever ends up happening in terms of potential legislation on healthcare whether or not anything can still get done which the president is apparently optimistic about. The president is going to be on the hook for this politically. If people's rates continue to go up, if people start to lose coverage, this is now going to be -- he's going to own this.

COOPER: Alice, I mean, to that point, the president is promising this is going to be great healthcare. Does he -- I mean, to the point, does he own this now?

STEWART: Well, the pottery barn rule goes into effect here, if you break it, you own it. And I don't think we're on the way to breaking healthcare. I think it needs to be fixed. The reality is you look at the numbers, one third of counties in this nation right now, only have one health choice for people there. If the health insurance companies continue to pull out of the market at the same rate, next year, one half of counties in this country people only have one option, and that's not sustainable.

Look, we're finding out that Barack Obama is not the only person that has a pen and a phone. And since Republicans in Congress and Democrats can't come together and do what needs to be done, which is repeal and replace Obamacare, it seems as though the president has no option but to take these executive actions. I think this is good to increase competition that will help to bring down costs. I think it's good to allow people to shop across state lines. And I also think it's good to enable small businesses to join together to purchase health insurance.

So, ideally, we could have all Republicans follow through on their campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. But in the meantime, this is the first step.

COOPER: Jen, how do you see it?

PSAKI: Here is the problem. There are things that need to be fixed about Obamacare. There's not enough competition in the marketplace. The cost sharing reduction payments aren't being made. That's the fault of the current administration. But you don't fix that by creating junk plans that lower the standards. And the problem with these plans that he announced today in the executive order is that they will not cover pre-existing conditions, they won't cover maternity care. These are some of the issues that a lot of people, Republicans frankly, had with some of the plans that were working their way through Congress. And it will allow these associations to cherry pick which small businesses they want to work with, which means that small businesses that have older Americans that have people with health issues will be in a bad spot. So, this doesn't solve the issues. It frankly makes a situation that needs to be fixed much worse.

COOPER: And Bakari, I mean, you know, this support -- look, this is Trump fulfilling a campaign promise.

SELLER: This is anything but, the fact is, I think you said undermine early, but the probably better term is that this sabotages the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. I mean, you couple this with the fact that the site will be down mysteriously for 12 hours on Sunday. I was just with Governor Sebelius, former Secretary of Health and Human Services who said there is research (INAUDIBLE) that Sundays are the days when people sign up for the markets more than any other day. This is an intentional effort by the Trump administration just to undermine and sabotage Obamacare.

But practically speaking, with these junk plans, I'm 33 years old. Many of my peers, many of those individuals who are getting off their parents insurance and find themselves in between, they're going to go out and they're going to purchase these junk plans. What that means is that older, sicker, middle class Americans are going to have their premiums go up. It's not going to affect lower class and those in poverty because they will have subsidies but it will affect middle class.

[21:20:07] Donald Trump and House Republicans do not know what they're doing with healthcare. That's why every other group is oppose to this, and only House Republicans and Donald Trump are the only ones cheering.

COOPER: So, Alice, I mean, if that is the impact that Bakari is saying, won't that hurt President Trump and Republicans, you know, a year or two years from now at the polls? STEWART: Well, time will tell. And certainly, look, we also we have to go back to -- I hate to revisit this issue again and again. But you have to remember, when Obamacare was passed, we were promised that if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance, lower premiums. And none of that proved to be true for many Americans.

So, I think while all intentions are best on the front end. Time will tell how this plays out.

But I do think insurance is like any other product that consumers buy, the more choices, the more options you have, the greater incentive it is for those in the insurance industry to provide better quality care at a lower cost, and that is a benefit for people out there across this country.

So, the more we can do to increase competition for people across this country, the better.

COOPER: You know, it does seem Molly that, you know, the president did repeatedly promised about pre-existing conditions would be covered and, you know, people could stay longer on their parents plans. If, I mean, if what Bakari is saying is true, what Jen is saying is true, that's not going to be fulfilled?

BALL: Well, the president made a lot of promises, right? He promised that everybody would have healthcare, and he promised that everybody would have great plans that would cost less. And he's clearly not going to be fulfilling the fullest extent of all of these various things he promised.

I think in large part that's because he was sort of willing to say anything on the campaign trail and let different people cherry pick the different things they liked out of all of the different things he said.

So, I think that this has been a really interesting object lesson in the leadership style of a president who is new to politics, who is new to governing. This is a situation where he failed to lead his party in the House and Senate, despite the majorities that they had, he was not able to use the power of his office and his personality in the bully pulpit and everything else. He was not able to lead them into a solution, bring his own party together behind legislation, even though they all agreed on the end point of some kind of repeal and replacement.

And so -- but he wanted to get something done, and so he decided to do it in this manner, and that was his priority.

COOPER: Everyone, thank you. Up next, President Trump once again goes on a Twitter rant over so-called fake news, but this time he takes his anger to a new level, threatens to revoke broadcast licenses. Could he actually muscle the media like this? We'll get it back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:26:15] COOPER: President Trump is threatening the press again, twice on Twitter yesterday, he went on the attack, suggesting that broadcasting licenses should be revoked over critical stories about him. Here's one of those tweets. "With all of the fake news coming out of NBC and the networks, at what point is it good to challenge their License? Bad for our country!"

A questions as when is it OK, to challenge a new outlets license is loaded one obviously. I want to talk it over to CNN Contributor John Dean, White House Counsel for President Nixon, also CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeff Toobin, a former Federal Prosecutor.

John, you were actually in the room with President Nixon when he discussed doing almost this exact same thing, explain what he wanted to do.

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, what happened is, I was in there to report on the indictments that he had handed down. That he was very happy it hadn't gone higher than the men who are arrested at the Watergate, plus hunting (ph) Liddy. And it was a 50 minute conversation where he rambled on about what he was going to do to his enemies in his second term and that included a plan that I now know today, he was developing with Colson to file on -- against licensees to try to get their broadcast license and particularly "The Washington Post." Indeed, they would have conversations in some detail about setting up what today became Fox News. Not to that particular conversation.

COOPER: And Jeff, I mean President Trump obviously loves to go after the press, loves to bluster, how seriously should this threat be taken? Is this something he actually could do?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think the answer is no, basically. I mean, most -- the way the licensing works is that local stations are licensed by the FCC. NBC, which he hates more than CNN at the moment, doesn't have a license to do news. It doesn't need license. CNN doesn't need a license from the government.

But, I mean, the idea of government harassment of the news media simply because the news -- the government doesn't like what the news media is reporting is something that is prevalent in authoritarian countries, in Russia, in China, in Turkey. I mean, it is really -- the idea that a president of the United States would even suggest this is so repugnant that the fact that it is basically impossible for him to do this is almost minor in comparison.

COOPER: John, I mean, the -- I mean, obviously no president really loves the press, that's not -- they're not supposed to be loved by the president or those in authority. Not loving the press, though, wanting to silence them are two different things.

DEAN: Very different. It certainly comes with the job, that they can expect criticism. Nixon had a -- his sore spot was the leaks, not unlike Trump. He went to extremes to deal with leaks, trying to figure out who the leaker was. He wiretapped some 13 different people, including his own staff, to try to find out who was leaking. We don't know -- we don't believe that's happening at this time, but Nixon was certainly always distressed about leaking. It came with the job.

COOPER: Jeff. Go ahead.

TOOBIN: Well, it just kind of -- you don't have to be a lawyer, all you have to do is read the first amendment. Congress, that is the government, shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press. I mean, that's -- this would be a straightforward attack on the press, because the government, that is the president, doesn't like the press. And that is something that is simply not done in the United States.

And that's been outside of politics. I mean, yes, all presidents get angry, but the idea that you would use the government's power has only been suggested by Richard Nixon as my brother John Dean will tell us. You know, and it was part of what got him thrown out of office, or on his way out.

[21:30:05] COOPER: And also just in terms of -- John in terms of just an idea that is not a conservative value. The idea of the government interfering with businesses in this way just let alone, you know, ignoring the first amendment all together, just from tat is not a conservative value.

You had Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, you know, no fan of the president, you know, tweeted, Mr. President are you recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect and defend the first amendment? I mean, because that is to just point, John, that's what this comes down to.

DEAN: That's exactly what it is. It's an attack on the press. It's trying to intimidate them by threatening their licenses. He doesn't seem to understand that it won't work that way. I think Nixon had a better understanding. He thought the way to do it was create competition, because he only could find voices on the left. And indeed, he had Roger Ailes in to talk about getting a voice on the right.

COOPER: John Dean, Jeffrey Toobin, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

Breaking news out of California, out of the wild fire of the north, the death toll just risen to 31, making it now the state's deadliest ever. That number could of course rise with the potential for all this to get worse in the coming days, a lot depending on the weather. We have the latest from the frontline, next.


COOPER: We have breaking news to report, 31 people have now lost their lives in the California wildfires. That gives it the horrible distinction of being the state's deadliest ever. With strong winds blowing in, the fire fight could get much worse over the next few days. Dan Simon has the latest.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We're on the front lines as firefighters try to keep another town from burning.

(on camera): The fire is coming up this hill. You can see the flames below us, the smoke is billowing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Move west, only do 2 or 3 feet.

SIMON (voice-over): In the hills above Calistoga, it's a race to keep up with the flames. Endless fuel in the form of dry trees and brush make it a daunting task.

[21:35:07] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really steep. It's rugged. There is a lot of thick vegetation. There's wind. There are spot fires blowing everywhere.

SIMON (voice-over): Controlled burns like this one are meant to block the fire from advancing, but a half mile down the road, the fire has done just that, inching down this hill toward the community. The team puts it out. They're exhausted. They use fire hoses as rope to make it back up the hill. We find this firefighter trying to catch his breath.

DAVID ALLHISER, CALIFORNIA DEPT. OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: Very sporadic, erratic fire behavior, that's about it.

SIMON (on camera): How difficult has it been the last couple days?

ALLHISER: It's been busy, definitely been busy.

CAPT. ANDY BOZZO, CONTRA COSTA FIRE DEPT.: This is absolutely the worst fire I've ever seen in California. I think it's because of the amount of people that are affected. You have whole swaths of neighborhoods. It looks like a bomb has gone off. It looks like we've been bombed.

SIMON (voice-over): The fire swept through so quickly here, residents say they didn't have time to grab even the most basic belongings.

KARISSA KRUSE, HOUSE BURNT DOWN IN CALIFORNIA FIRES: I took a photo of my brother, me, I lost my brother 11 years ago and I wanted to make sure I had a photo of us.

SIMON (voice-over): Karissa Kruse trying to keep the lost of her three bedroom house in perspective.

KRUSE: This is all just stuff, you know, at the end of the day, just stuff. But man the smell is just terrible.

SIMON (voice-over): Back on the line, crews working overtime with little or no sleep.


SIMON (on camera): You're not able -- rally get any rest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I mean -- you to keep up with the fire so we -- try to save homes, property, lives.


COOPER: Dan, I mean, the number of missing people. Where does that stand tonight?

SIMON: Right now, Anderson, it is at 400. That number continues to change. It is a very scary number. We know that this is the deadliest fire on record in California.

And unfortunately, it's probably going to go up. It something that we should keep in mind Anderson, is that this fire swept through the community in the middle of the night, and we know when covering natural disasters, whether it's a hurricane, a tornado, and now a wildfire, that for some reason, people are not able to evacuate at night or they choose not to evacuate. We're seeing apparently that being compounded here in northern California, as this death toll continues to rise, Anderson.

COOPER: Dan Simon, appreciate the reporting. Joining me now is the Deputy Chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Scott McLean. Deputy Chief McLean, thank you so much for being with us. Where do things stand tonight with the containment of this fire?

SCOTT MCLEAN, DEPUTY CHIEF, CALIFORNIA DEPT. OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION: Well, the containment on the Tubbs fire went up to 10 percent early this morning. It's continuing to climb but it's going to be a very slow process. So, as you can imagine looking all around behind me here, all these homes that have been just thoroughly destroyed.

And we have to go through each home, each plot here to make sure there's no hotspot. So there's no chance of any embers. If you go back up over here in the hills, again, you have topography that's difficult to climb and get into. So it takes time for our hand crews and dozers to get up in there and do those jobs very thoroughly and meticulously.

COOPER: So I mean, the difficulties, the particular challenge with this fire is the topography, also the winds?

MCLEAN: Definitely the winds. This fire started 8 to 10 miles to the east, in a community called Calistoga, and it was propelled late in the afternoon, it was propelled this way, by one 1:00 in the morning, it hit a subdivision back over there on the hill. One o'clock in the morning when everybody is sounds asleep and then it came through here. Went a cross a freeway, four lanes and came into this area about -- we think around 2:30 in the morning, again, people are sound asleep.

And you look all around here, you see cars, every home almost has a car still in front of it or in the drive way. So that's kind of telling me that it hit so hard, people had no time.

COOPER: I mean, I understand it's also not just the flames and the winds that are correspondent -- the smoke is also causing significant difficulties.

MCLEAN: Yes and no. During the course of this fire, after that particular firestorm went through, we have what's called an inversion layer. The cold air holds that smoke down close to the ground. Sometimes we do have visibility issues, and that would hamper our aircraft efforts at times.

But, again, we've had all the resources, aircraft. They pump 331,000 gallons of retardant out of one air base in Sacramento for this area yesterday alone, which is an all time record.

COOPER: And something like, you know, an ember that's brought, you know, take carried by the wind. How far can that go and land and restart a fire?

MCLEAN: Well, that's a very good point. With that wind pushing us far this way, it was throwing ember casts. It was throwing embers way out. It could be a quarter mile, half a mile, possibly even up to a mile depending on the topography.

Every one of those embers is going to land in that vegetation and start a fire, that's how receptive this vegetation is in California right now, as I speak.

[21:40:01] Once those fires start from those embers, they grow and grow and grow. And they'll actually add to the speed of the main body of fire. They'll draw that main body of the fire to them, making that fire moving in faster and so unfortunate as well.

COOPER: So this is -- question, but first of all the fact that an ember can travel a half mile or mile and light down and start another fire is extraordinary, you're saying, if it does that and it starts a new fire, that actually draws the existing fire to it?

MCLEAN: It can, yes. As that -- a new fire, that new start develops and starts growing and growing and growing. Now we're talking a decent size of fire that's developed from that, because it still has time to grow, because that fire could be like I said, maybe three quarters a mile away. So it's growing and it's growing quickly. So that just draws that other fire. Now I'm not talking just one ember, it could be a whole series of embers out in front of that fire.

COOPER: It's just incredible. Again, Chief McLean, I appreciate you talking to us, and I wish you and all the other firefighters the best --

MCCLEAN: Thank you.

COOPER: -- in doing extraordinary really difficult job.

When we come back, the heart breaking story of this little girl, taken from her home in Uganda, with her loving mom, sold to an American couple who thought they were adopting an orphan. The CNN exclusive investigation uncovered families being duped next.


[21:45:22] COOPER: A heart breaking, disturbing report, CNN investigation has uncovered children being purposely orphaned, mothers think they're temporarily giving up their children to be educated. Instead, they are sold to adopted families who think they're taking an orphan in need. Randi Kaye tonight has part one of our CNN Exclusive Investigation "Kids for Sale."


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her name is Namata, and this is her in Ohio with her adoptive family.

Namata was born here in a tiny village in Uganda. But in 2015, when she was just 5, Jessica and Adam Davis adopted her. They call her Mata. The Ohio couple already had four children of their own, but wanted to take in an orphan.

In October 2014, they got the call from their adoption agency, European Adoption Consultants.

(on camera): What did they tell you when they called you about Mata?

JESSICA DAVIS, ADOPTED A CHILD FROM UGANDA: We were told her father was deceased, that she was being severely neglected at home, and her mother was leaving her open to abuse.

ADAM DAVIS, ADOPTED A CHILD FROM UGANDA: Couldn't provide an education.

J. DAVIS: Yes, he never has been in school.

A. DAVIS: Didn't provide daily sustenance.

J. DAVIS: They just kept saying, this is a mother that does not want her child.

KAYE: So it was made clear to you that Mata's mother was relinquishing her, didn't want her.

J. DAVIS: One hundred percent.

KAYE: There was no question.

J. DAVIS: No. No. Not at all.

KAYE (voice-over): In April 2015, the Davis' flew to Uganda to meet Mata, their new daughter.

J. DAVIS: She was in an orphanage, no toys, bars on the window.

KAYE (voice-over): The orphanage was called "God's Mercy" and it was about four hours from Mata's village. By September 2015, Mata was in Ohio, bonding with her new siblings.

(on camera): But after about six months says Mata's English started to improve. She opened up to Jessica Davis about her life in Uganda, and what she shared was alarming. Mata told Jessica that her biological mom was a really good mom who loved her. She even detailed how her mother there would walk her to school every day.

J. DAVIS: Every single thing in that file and that we were told aside from the file, she unraveled to be a lie.

KAYE (voice-over): A lie? How could that be? Jessica alerted the U.S. State Department.

(on camera): What did you tell the State Department?

J. DAVIS: Everything that she had told me. Everything was not true. And it sounds like she has a mother out there that really loves her and possibly a father.

KAYE (on camera): What were you afraid you'd find?

J. DAVIS: That we had somehow participated in taking a child from a loving family.

A. DAVIS: Yes.

KAYE (voice-over): Their fears would be realized. Jessica contacted an organization run by Karen Riley, who actually found Mata's biological mother in Uganda and arranged a video reunion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why are you so excited Mata?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I get to talk to my mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How nice? Are you happy?


Hi, are how are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are doing fine. How are you?


KAYE (voice-over): And in that moment, everything changed. The real story of why she was given up by her mother to this family in America was exposed.

A. DAVIS: With that face time call, she learned --

J. DAVIS: The true story.

A. DAVIS: -- that her mother was tricked.

KAYE (voice-over): Tricked the Davis' say because Mata's mother was lied to, she was told the Davis' were simply sponsoring her daughter's education in America not adopting her. And that, if you can believe it, was just the tip of the iceberg. Because the Davis' have learned their experience is not unique. In fact, a CNN investigation has discovered that multiple families have been duped.

(on camera): It works like this, children are being taken from their homes, placed in orphanages even though they weren't orphans, then sold for as much as $15,000 a child to unwitting American families, the promise of education with an ultimate return home all just a ruse.

KAREN RILEY, REUNITE UGANDA: They will hone in on vulnerable families, usually being single parents, widows. Would you like an education opportunity for your children?

KAYE (voice-over): Karen Riley who is an advocate for Ugandan and children and runs a group called "Reunite Uganda" says a villager turned trafficker usually makes a sales pitch to mothers at a local church. Mata's village she says was targeted.

[21:50:01] RILEY: That's how it all starts at the beginning. Is the person came to the church and that's what happened in that particular village. The seven children went from a tiny village, the same village.

KAYE (voice-over): This affidavit from the Uganda and government investigation, one of many documents obtained by CNN, has a statement from Mata's mother. "I had not realized that I had gone through a process to take away my parental rights completely."

She states clearly, she thought Mata, "was going to be educated in returned back to me."

J. DAVIS: I don't want to see another mother --

A. DAVIS: Yes.

J. DAVIS: -- go through this.

KAYE (voice-over): A Ugandan court says Mata's referral form to "God's Mercy" orphanage is fraudulent. It says Mata's mother is helpless. The reason given for referral, no care is provided by the mother. The referral form is dated October 21st, 2014. Exactly one week after the Davis' say they got the call that Mata was available for adoption.

At the time of that call the Davis' now believe Mata wasn't an orphan at all, but still living at home with a mother who loved her.

A. DAVIS: If our child had been taken from us.

J. DAVIS: Yes.

A. DAVIS: We would want our child back.

KAYE (voice-over): So the Davis' did something remarkable. They filed paper work to have the adoption vacated. They would take Mata back to her birth mother.

(on camera): Did you have the State Department's blessing?

J. DAVIS: They were saying, you know, you can just keep her if you want. I said to them, I didn't purchase her at Walmart.

KAYE (voice-over): One year after they brought Mata home to Ohio, this.

J. DAVIS: So Mata, what's today?


J. DAVIS: Are you excited?


J. DAVIS: Are you going to Uganda?


J. DAVIS: What's the first thing you're going to do when you see your mom?


A. DAVIS: Is this a long flight or a short flight?


KAYE (voice-over): After a 14-hour journey, Mata finally arrived home to her village.

KAYE (voice-over): In September 2016, the Ugandan government officially gave parental rights back to Namata's biological mother, but Jessica's story wasn't unique, enter Stacey Wells.

STACEY WELLS, ADOPTED A CHILD FROM UGANDA: I just wasn't in it to, I don't know, to buy a child. I didn't need a child.

KAYE (voice-over): Stacey Wells and her husband Shawn already had two sons, but in 2016 they adopted seven-year-old Viola (ph) from Uganda. They worked with, you guess it, the same company the Davis' used, European Adoption Consultants.

They too paid around $15,000 to the company. They say that agency told them a story strikingly similar to Namata's. But this time it was about Viola.

(on camera): What did they tell you about her mother?

WELLS: They just said that she had abandoned the girls. That after the dad died they told us that she didn't feed them, that they were found sick like dying, basically.

KAYE (voice-over): Viola, it turns out, was taken to the same orphanage as Mata, "God's Mercy." But later at her new home in West Virginia, as Viola became fluent in English, the truth started to unfold.

WELLS: A lot of it was about how she talked about her mother. Her experience in her home just did not match the paperwork.

KAYE (voice-over): Stacey, who spoke exclusively with CNN, also contacted "Reunite Uganda" to find Viola's biological mother. Karen Riley told us Viola's mom was also lied too by local traffickers, using the same false promise of education in America.

(on camera): Viola wasn't an orphan. In fact she was made an orphan, so you could adopt her.

WELLS: Right. Right.

KAYE (voice-over): Stacey traveled back to Uganda in November 2016 and reunited Viola with her mother.

WELLS: I mean, she was just running, and we get out and her mother just embraces me.

KAYE (voice-over): Viola's adoption was a fraud and Stacey says it's all about money.

WELLS: They are getting the orphans because there's a dollar sign. You know, a market has been created.

KAYE (voice-over): A market for children with a pipeline, it appears, back to the United States, which is where European Adoption Consultants is headquartered and where we found the director of EAC's Africa Adoption Program.

(on camera): You helped to organize the Uganda adoption.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. There was people in Uganda that did it. I did not --

KAYE: Were these mothers lied to?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Absolutely not.


COOPER: Randi joins us now. On the story what happened to these families, it's obviously heartbreaking. How many families could be affected here?

KAYE: It's hard to say how many other families, Anderson, were misled or tricked, but we may have just scratched the surface, actually. We have been told about at least two other girls from Uganda. They're actually Viola's sisters who were adopted by American families, and so far those women have been unwilling to reunite the girls with their mother in Uganda.

[21:55:09] COOPER: So you mentioned the orphanage where Mata and Viola were taken. Is that still open?

KAYE: The Ugandan government has told us, Anderson, that orphanage has actually been closed. They found that they were operating illegally, processing guardianship orders fraudulent, and yes, trafficking children. We weren't able to reach anyone from that orphanage to ask about this since it has been closed.

But meanwhile, the FBI and the State Department has been investigating EAC and its ties to this alleged trafficking scheme. In fact, last year, the State Department debarred and shut down that adoption agency for three years after finding that EAC failed to adequately supervise its foreign country providers to ensure that they didn't engage in the sale, abduction or trafficking of children.

No charges have been filed against EAC, but the FBI told us the investigation is ongoing, Anderson.

COOPER: Randi, incredible reporting. Thank you. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Quick note, what could be the next big controversy out of the White House tomorrow afternoon at 12:45 Eastern Time. The president is expected to declare the 2015 multi country Iran nuclear agreement is not in the national interest.

[22:00:01] This decertification then leaves what to do next in the hands of Congress. We'll have full reporting on that tomorrow.

It's time now to hand it over to Don Lemon. "CNN Tonight" starts now.