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President Trump Today: "I Don't Know Matt Whitaker", President Trump Last Month: "I Know Matt Whitaker"; Iowa Sate Senator Says Whitaker Targeted Him; WSJ: President Trump Knew About Nearly All Steps in Hush Money Payments to Daniels and McDougal; Florida Recount Possible As Vote Count Tightens In Both Senate, Governor Races; President Trump Weigh In On Florida Vote As Both Sides Assail One Another; Michelle Obama: I'll Never Forgive Trump For "Birther" Stunt; President Trump Slams Reporter's Question As "Stupid" And Calls Reporter a "Loser"; Death Toll Rises In California Wildfire, One Of 3 Major Blazes In The State. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired November 9, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us on a very busy Friday night.

A lot to get to. New reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" that reveals despite denial from the president and the White House and the surrogates for the president and Michael Cohen all over TV, the president was involved every step of the way in paying off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. We'll also have the very latest on the tight races in Florida that have the president tweeting up a storm and could be heading for recounts.

We begin however keeping them with honest, with the president's pick for acting attorney general. Two days ago, the president named Matt Whitaker, as you know, for that position after he fired Jeff Sessions.

Today, after two days of stories about Matt Whitaker's past involvement and apparently shady company and his numerous past comments about how to slow down or end the Mueller investigation, now the president is saying he doesn't even know Matt Whitaker, which is sort of surprising because previously he'd said he did know him and he said it on television. It was actually live. Many human beings with ears that worked actually heard it.

We're actually going to play it for you in a moment because it's been recorded. But first, just setting aside the logic of why the president would appoint someone he doesn't even allegedly know to a position that could have close oversight of the Mueller investigation, it's also just demonstratively false. Whitaker has been to the White House dozen of times, has met with the president and they've spoken on the phone several times according to CNN's reporting.

And again, keeping them honest, the president just a month ago admitted he knew Matt Whitaker. He said it on Fox News when asked about speculation that Whitaker would replace Sessions.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never talk about that but I can tell you, Matt Whitaker is a great guy. I mean, I know Matt Whitaker.


COOPER: OK. So, it seemed pretty clear. I know Matt Whitaker. But since he's been appointed acting attorney general, there's been widespread criticism of Whitaker's past comments against the Mueller investigation and calls for him to recuse himself.

So, here's what the president said today when asked about that.


TRUMP: Well, Matt Whitaker, I don't know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker worked for Jeff Sessions and she was always extremely highly thought of and he still is, but I didn't know Matt Whitaker. He worked for Attorney General Sessions. He was very, very highly thought of and still is highly thought of. But this only comes up because anybody that works for me, they do a number on them. But Matt Whitaker is very smart man.


COOPER: All right. So just -- let's review, all of a sudden, the president claims not to know his own choice for acting attorney general, and he didn't just say it once either.


TRUMP: I don't know Matt Whitaker. I didn't know Matt Whitaker. I didn't speak to Matt Whitaker about it. I don't know Matt Whitaker. In all fairness to Matt Whitaker, who again I didn't know.


COOPER: OK, of course, the president knows Matt Whitaker. It stands to reason that the president knows Whitaker has spoken out against the Mueller investigation. The president watches TV. The president may not have known Whitaker's entire history. That would require a White House staff that actually researched him just a little bit.

That's what our senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been doing. Last night, he reported on Whitaker's ties to a company that the Federal Trade Commission shutdown because it says it was running a scam.

Today, Drew has more about Whitaker's past and his time as a U.S. attorney in Iowa.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions walked out of Department of Justice and shook hands with the man who would take over at least temporarily, this Iowa state senator was aghast.

MATT MCCOY (D), IOWA STATE SENATOR: Well, I initially thought, I can't think of a more ill-qualified person to assume that role, based upon my experience with him.

GRIFFIN: Matt McCoy has a history with President Trump's new acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker. And it is not a good one.

In 2007, McCoy was a young, gay, rising star in Iowa's Democratic Party. Matt Whitaker was the young, conservative Republican U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Iowa.

(on camera): At the time you were indicted, you were openly gay, the only openly gay?


GRIFFIN: Legislator in the state of Iowa. You were a Democrat. You were considered a rising star.

Do you think that's why you were targeted?

MCCOY: I absolutely believe that's why I was targeted.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The federal indictment was brief. The U.S. attorney was accusing McCoy of attempted extortion by a public official. McCoy says it was a $2,000 business dispute with a private consulting client who wouldn't pay a bill.

Those facts didn't matter to Whitaker, he says, who brought the full weight of the federal government against him.

MCCOY: I believe it was a political prosecution. There's no doubt in my mind. I'm 100 percent certain that it was.

GRIFFIN: Here is all you need to know about the case. The U.S. attorney's office, under Whitaker's direction, spent more than two years going after McCoy using the FBI, a paid informant, secret recordings, a special prosecutor. And after two years, it took a jury mere minutes to reach its verdict.

[20:05:03] Not guilty.

MCCOY: That's correct. I was acquitted within really 20 minutes.

GRIFFIN: Whitaker was criticized heavily in Iowa's press. Reporters asking, why was McCoy prosecuted? Legendary "Des Moines Register" editor Gil Cranberg asked, if the U.S. attorney's case was misplaced zeal or partisan politicking.

(on camera): This for most U.S. attorneys' decision in court would have been embarrassing.


GRIFFIN: Did it appear embarrassing? Did he apologize to you in any way, shape or form?

MCCOY: No, he never reached out to me.

MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: My name is Matt Whitaker. I applied to be on Supreme Court.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Whitaker's career sputtered after he left the U.S. attorney's office in 2009. He tried and failed to become an Iowa Supreme Court justice, tried and failed in a run for Senate. He seemed to have limited success in private practice.

Then in 2014, using the legal system as a political weapon, he found an entirely new career. Backed by conservative Republican donors, Whitaker became director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, FACT. The nonprofit claims it is dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics and transparency in government by demanding the truth.

Under Whitaker's leadership, critics say it became a tool to attack Democrats through the legal system. FACT went after dozens of Democrats, Democrat organizations, and especially Hillary Clinton, filing ethics complaints, Federal Election Commission complaints, anything it could do to legally hamstring Democrats.

SARAH TURBERVILLE, PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: I think when you're looking at an organization that is focused almost exclusively on investigating individuals of one party and one political persuasion, and that the head of that organization is now going to be installed as the attorney general of the entire United States, that sets off a number of alarm bells.

GRIFFIN: Matt McCoy doesn't need an alarm bell. He is frightened by the prospect of Matt Whitaker in a position of power.

MCCOY: It's very frightening, because I know how pliable he is.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You mean an attorney general who will do whatever the boss wants.

MCCOY: Absolutely. Without question.

GRIFFIN: The Department of Justice did finally get back to us concerning our questions about this case, and said in the case of U.S. versus McCoy, U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker had a responsibility to pursue the case because of credible allegations of illegal activity. The Department of Justice says the entire case was signed off by superiors and the jury's verdict does not negate the obligation to pursue an open cases when it's believed laws have been broken.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Des Moines.


COOPER: Now, Drew, in the case of Matt McCoy, I mean, he was found not guilty I think you said in 20 minutes. How much damage due to his career and how much money he must have spent defending himself? GRIFFIN: Yes, financially he said he's still suffering. He really took a beating. He's actually still paying off his legal bills, Anderson. But politically, it didn't seem to hurt him that much. He stayed in the Iowa state senate, and just this week with a vote where he got him 80 percent, he was elected to the Polk County Commission -- Anderson.

COOPER: Have you gotten a response from the department of justice or even Matt Whitaker?

GRIFFIN: Surprisingly, they did give us a response. I read some of that in that report, but they basically told us that it was Matt Whitaker's responsibility to pursue these allegations because they were credible allegations. And despite the fact that the jury didn't believe any of it, the Justice Department says it doesn't negate the obligation to open cases when laws may have been broken -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Drew Griffin, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

With me now is CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero and Laura Coates.

Carrie, you hear Drew's reporting. I mean, it's sort of ironic that Whitaker has cast such doubt on the validity of the Mueller probe when he himself has led what Mr. McCoy believes is politically motivated case that used a special prosecutor and the FBI and was a two-year investigation.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the report that was just given really just dovetails right into the issue as to whether Matt Whitaker at the lead of the Justice Department would use the department in the president's interest for political purposes. We know that over the course of the president's term, he has repeatedly expressed a desire and an interest in the Justice Department being used as an arm of political retribution. It's my view that Attorney General Sessions and Rod Rosenstein have basically been keeping the barbarians at the gate.

And now with a political operative, basically, somebody who has expressed a desire and an interest that the special counsel could be fired, he said that publicly -- I think the president has somebody in place who potentially will use the department in a political way.

[20:10:06] COOPER: Laura Coates, Matt Whitaker had talked in the past about a biblical, I'm trying to get the right phrase, I think was a biblical view of justice. What does that actually mean to you? I mean, what does that exactly entail? Biblical view of justice was the correct term.


LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYS: I mean it means he fundamentally misconstrues and does not adhere to the First Amendment, which very clearly states that the government shall not endorsed a religion in any shape or form, and that we do actually have a secular purpose for the judicial branch and other branches of government. And so, for him to take that viewpoint, it actually shows, frankly, there's no other way to describe this as being an asinine and idiotic statement to make.

That in addition to the fact to have a biblical view also eliminates a lot of people whose religious viewpoints or the existence or absence of religious viewpoints would not be fit to serve on the bench, which is not how our society is run, not we believe, and not the reason why we actually have a separation of church and state.

So, I think he's grasping for straws and there's there to support it.

COOPER: Carrie, for those who forget high school civics, can you just explain what it means for the nation's top law enforcement official to disagree with Marbury versus Madison, which is actually, you know, it's a pretty big deal?

CORDERO: Yes. Well, it's a constitutional -- foundational constitutional case. And so, it says that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter in determining what the law is. So this is foundational place, and, you know, all of these issues, his views on whether or not there is a biblical requirement for judges, his views on Marbury and Madison, his views on potentially as your story reported, his office when he was the U.S. attorney in bringing a politically motivated case, all of those are the types of issues that would be explored in a confirmation hearing, if he actually would have gone through a confirmation hearing for a senior position in the Justice Department.

And that's why you're seeing in part so many lawyers across the political spectrum over the last 24 hours raise really serious concerns about the fact that he's been elevated to the position of attorney general, having not gone through that confirmation process for service in this administration.

COOPER: You know, Laura, it's interesting to hear -- you know, you heard the president on Fox, you know, a month or so ago or several months ago saying he knows Matt Whitaker and praising him. Now, today, saying he doesn't know him reminds me of when Carter Page was announced by the president on confidential call during the campaign as being one of the foreign policy advisers. He was praised by the president and later on it turns out they never actually even met. The president didn't know anything about him.

Same thing with, you know, the president used to claim a relationship when he was a civilian with Vladimir Putin. And, you know, it turns out they never met until he had become president.

So, it's just odd that the president whether, you know, all the reporting he had met Matt Whitaker or talked to him on the phone, but either way, he's lying.

COATES: Well, convenient amnesia is the president's M.O. You could have gone onto include George Papadopoulos. You could have gone on to include Michael Cohen at one point in time who he had a feigned absence of recollection of who he was and why he was important in his life. Michael did you say in some way? This is the president's M.O. of trying to establish a 10-foot pole between himself and people who are controversial. Now, the irony here is that the reason that Matthew Whitaker is now controversial is by the president's own actions. And as Carrie was alluding to, the fact that Matthew Whitaker has essentially leapfrogged not only out of respect for people who were more senior than him, but also the rank and file and out of the chain of command and out of the line of succession is the president's own doing.

I mean, you think about this, this would be the equivalent, Anderson, of all a sudden the president himself were incapacitated. Instead of having the vice president take the reins of the ship or reins of the horse, he instead said, I think I'll have Stephen Miller do it, I think I'll have General Kelly be in charge of it country instead. There was an order of succession. He went around that and saying I don't know why anyone's blaming me, I hardly know the person.

That's the point. That's the argument people are making. And the people and the Senate don't know who that person is, and he shouldn't be in that role until they do.

COOPER: Laura Coates, Carrie Cordero, appreciate it. Thanks.

Up next, more lies from the president, unfortunately. New reporting from "The Wall Street Journal" about how involved the president actually was in those hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, despite years of denials. We're keeping them honest next.

And the latest on three wildfires roaring through California. At least five people have died so far. Thousands of structures have been destroyed and thousands of people are fleeing. Some praying as they drive away through the flames.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heavenly Father, please help us. Please help us to be safe.



[20:19:12] COOPER: New reporting in "The Wall Street Journal" tonight that despite years of denials from the president and the White House and surrogates for president in television, the president was involved nearly every step of the way in payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels to keep them quiet about their alleged sexual encounters with President Trump. The report says it's evidence that the president may have violated federal campaign finance laws, and we'll hear from a "Wall Street Journal" reporter about what they found in a moment.

But, first, keeping them honest about those denials. As you may recall, the president himself has spoken on camera once about the $130,000 hush money payment to Stormy Daniels. It happened on Air Force One back in April.


REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No, no. What else?

REPORTER: Then why -- why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: Well, you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

[20:20:01] Michael Cohen is my attorney, and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: I don't know. No.


COOPER: By the way, subsequently he's downplayed Michael Cohen's relationship with him and the fact that he was his attorney. Pretty clear denial there from the president, saying that flat out, he didn't know about the payment. It was after Sarah Sanders also said point- blank from the White House the president didn't know.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was no knowledge of any payments from the president, and he's denied all of these allegations.


COOPER: And for the next couple of months, Sanders kept up the same line about the payments, right up until Rudy Giuliani admitted he reimbursed the payments for Stormy Daniels.


REPORTER: Specifically can I ask, did the president approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his long time lawyer and advisor Michael Cohen?

SANDERS: Look, the president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. I've addressed this as far as I can go.

REPORTER: Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.

REPORTER: You haven't answered the subsequent question of whether the president was aware of $130,000 payment that was made on an agreement in which he is explicitly named to keep Stormy Daniels silent. Can you answer that question? You were asked threes weeks ago and today you weren't aware. Are you aware now?

SANDERS: Look, the president has denied these allegations. We've spoken about this issue extensively and I don't have anything else to add beyond that. Anything beyond that, I would refer you to the outside counsel.

REPORTER: Can I ask a follow on? You said on March 7th, there was no knowledge of any payment from the president and he's denied all of these allegations. Were you lying to us at the time or were in the dark?

SANDERS: The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim. And again I've given the best information I had at the time.


COOPER: Best information she had at the time. It wasn't very good information.

Keeping them honest, in August as part of his guilty plea, Cohen admitted that he made payments, quote, at the direction of a candidate to influence the election. Now, according to "The Wall Street Journal", the president was involved in or briefed on on every step of those hush money agreements. "Wall Street Journal" reporter Michael Rothfeld has one of the bylines on today's new reporting. He joins us now.

Thanks for being with us.

Just extraordinary reporting as always.

According to it, this actually goes way back to August of 2015 and a meeting at Trump Tower between Trump and David Pecker, who's a chief executive at American Media Incorporated, which the company that owns the "National Enquirer", among others.

MICHAEL ROTHFELD, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: That's right. And when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August, the prosecutors in their filing mentioned there was an agreement in August 2015. What we report today is that that agreement actually happened when David Pecker went to Trump's office.

And Trump said to him the campaign was two months old, what can you do help my campaign? And Pecker said, if stories come out about women from your past, allegations of affairs, I can help you kill him just I've done for others in the past, by buying their stories. And I'll alert Michael Cohen, and we'll take care of it.

COOPER: And based on all the reporting, that's exactly what the "National Enquirer" did.

ROTHFELD: That's right. In the following June, Karen McDougal, Playmate of the Year 1998, was looking to sell her story, and her lawyer contacted Dylan Howard, the chief content officer of American Media, and Howard called Cohen, Cohen told Trump and then Trump called Pecker and said, hey, can you help me out with this? And there were some negotiations. They didn't immediately buy it, but after she started talking with ABC News investigative reporters, AMI went back and they paid $130,000 in coordination with Michael Cohen and with Donald Trump to buy her story and silence her.

COOPER: And you also learned more details about where the money came from to pay Stormy Daniels.

ROTHFELD: That's right. We know the money ultimately came from Michael Cohen's home equity line. But there was a discussion among Michael Cohen and Trump, and Allen Weisselberg, according to what Cohen has told prosecutors, the CFO of the Trump Organization, about how to route the money to Stormy Daniels without having Trump's fingerprints on it, that they discussed potentially routing it through a Trump owned property, but ultimately they couldn't figure it out. That's why as we previously reported, Cohen missed deadlines to pay Stormy Daniels. She merely backed out, and finally he was just like, all right, I've got to pay it myself out of my home equity loan.

COOPER: And Cohen actually made money off the deal? Is that right?

ROTHFELD: He did because he was reimbursed through the Trump Organization CFO, the money came from Trump, but he did get a $60,000 bonus for doing this. And the money was grossed up to take care of his income taxes because they characterized it as legal fees.

COOPER: So according to your reporting, the past essentially two years of denials from the president about any knowledge of paying hush money to these women and all the surrogates and Sara Sanders is just a lie?

ROTHFELD: Pretty much, because they -- initially, when we reported the Karen McDougal deal four days before the presidential election, we reported today that Hope Hicks, Trump's campaign spokesman, went to Trump and asked him about it.

[20:25:10] And she came back after speaking to him based on what she was told and said we have no knowledge of any of this.

But just in the last couple of months, we heard the secret tape that Michael Cohen made in which he's talking to President Trump about actually buying the rights to Karen McDougal's story in 2016, like just right before we reported that. So, I mean, there's evidence beyond our reporting today based on three dozen people we spoke to that Trump actually knew about it even though he denied it.

COOPER: Also, if my memory serves me correctly, that Michael Cohen tape, Trump and Cohen were talking about basically buying the file from David Pecker about all of Trump's alleged indiscretions and all the stories had been killed because Trump was concerned, you know, if David Pecker got hit by a truck -- yes, a truck, you don't know what's going to happen to the file.

ROTHFELD: Yes, that's what he said on the tape that Cohen made. And there was some discussions about that. They thought maybe there was some source files about, you know, because Pecker had been covering up for Trump in terms of killing stories, bad stories about him for many years, and so they wanted to do that.

COOPER: Well, it's remarkable reporting from "The Wall Street Journal." Michael Rothfeld, thank you very much.

ROTHFELD: Thank you.

COOPER: With me now, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, what's the significance of this reporting?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I would say two things. One, that the president has been lying about this to the public over and over again. I mean, about his knowledge, his involvement --

COOPER: And probably lying to Sarah Sanders and Hope Hicks and anyone who's around him.

TOOBIN: Correct. That he's been lying about this as soon as the questions arose.

The more complicated question is whether the president is implicated in a crime, because that rests on the question of does -- were these payments to these women campaign contributions, which, of course, were not reported and not handled in the appropriate way, he could be accused of campaign finance violations if he used these payments coordinated with, conspired with the American Media and AMI in violation of the campaign finance laws.

That's a harder legal question. I don't know the answer to that. But the lying is quite clear.

COOPER: Preet, is that the significance? A campaign finance violation, traditionally, a monetary fine, correct? Is that really a big deal?

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Yes, it can be. And it also can be a criminal violation. And with respect to reason why the lies are important, if the president was being notified of all these things, and as "The Wall Street Journal" reporting that's very expensive and thorough suggests he was in on it at every phase of the process, what was in his mind?

And even though the lying that went on with respect to the public is not in itself a crime, it is often able to be used as evidence later to suggest, well, what was the reason for the lying? What was the thing you were trying to hide? Now, there's an argument you could make and John Edwards made in a similar case brought by the Justice Department was the reason this lying was taking place and the reason this obfuscation was taking place was not to avoid the campaign finance laws primarily but to avoid embarrassment within his own family.

That argument seemed to prevail in the John Edwards case. These are not identical, Jeff as appreciates. TOOBIN: Yes, yes.

BHARARA: They're not the same case at all. But there's an element at issue here that we don't know because the reporting doesn't go quite that far.

TOOBIN: Just what makes the Trump case stronger against Trump is that the money in the John Edwards case came from an elderly supporter who just wanted to help John Edwards. This is a business, American Media, "The National Enquirer". Why would they spend this money other than to help Donald Trump get elected president? I mean, what is -- why are they so worried about Donald Trump's marriage?

They have an interest in preserving relationships with the guy who's about to get elected president of the United States --

COOPER: Or other personal friendly reasons or because they have -- you know, to have an advantage, something to hold over the president of the United States for a future business dealing.

TOOBIN: Correct. So I think it's a stronger case than the John Edwards case, but I don't want to give any impression it's any sort of a slam dunk.

COOPER: Because that is what's so interesting about this. I mean, you know, people are focused on was the president compromised by Russia, by Vladimir Putin. If American Media has a file with all these stories that they have owned the rights to, that they never published as a favor to Donald Trump who's now president of the United States, that is a lot of stuff to have hanging over the president of the United States in a private corporation that could, you know, turn on the president.

BHARARA: Look, that's why it's very believable. Even before this article came out, common sense tells you that the president cared about his reputation. He cared about how he looked in connection with the campaign. Even though he didn't think he was going to win, he wanted to win, most people think.

And that, naturally, he would take an interest in how these payments were being made, what the process was.

[20:30:03] You know, we don't have corroboration for all the statements that in the "Wall Street Journal" article where they say that Michael Cohen according to their sources spoke to the President about X, Y, Z, et cetera, but we do have a couple of recordings. So to me the interesting thing will be the next shoe to drop.

I mean, what is the corroboration for the testimony that it appears Michael Cohen is giving to the government, my former office prosecutors, as to how you corroborate what he says the President knew (ph) was involved in.

TOOBIN: But the, you know, that's why this great "Wall Street Journal" story is shocking but it's not surprise.


TOOBIN: You know, it's like why -- of course Donald Trump would know that these financial transactions were going on because they were offering his bank --

COOPER: I just think, you know, for -- you talk about Russian compromise, this is compromising stuff that gives the head of this company, the head of the national enquirer great leverage over the President if he's the person who wants to choose to use it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's American compromise.

COOPER: American compromise, exactly. Frit (ph), thank you very much. Jeff Toobin -- Jeff is going to stay with us. I'm going to get Jeff's stake on the number ending Florida elections, two races tightening, legal moves on all sides. Questions, will we see recounts? The latest in the moment.


COOPER: Millions watched on television as the 2018 midterms played out like a lot of sporting event, but all of the results are not yet official. Take Arizona for instance where the Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema, now has a slight lead over the Republican, Martha McSally, about 20,000 votes ahead with 84 percent reporting.

[20:35:00] In Georgia, the Republican Brian Kemp still leads Democrat Stacey Abrams, but it is getting closer. Democrats are hoping that Kemp's total falls below 50, which would trigger a run off.

And two races in Florida could be headed to a recount, both the race for governor and for Senate. The Senate race between ongoing -- excuse me, outgoing Republican Governor Rick Scott and the Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson is tightening. Scott is ahead by less than 15,000 votes to this point.

Same for the race for governor, Republican Ron DeSantis leads Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum, but the margin maybe tighten up to trigger an automatic recount under Florida state law.

There are charges and counter charges between both sides in Florida that have been flying all day long. And before he left for Paris, President Trump weighed in as well saying, "You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia, but the election was on Tuesday? Let's blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin."

He also posted this, "Rick Scott was up by 50,000 votes -- plus votes on Election Day, now they found many votes and he is only up by 15,000 votes. The Broward effect. How come they never find Republican votes?"

Joining me now to discuss is David Gergen, adviser to four presidents. I'm welcoming back Jeffrey Toobin who quite literally wrote the book on that 2000 election, "Too Close to Call." Jeff, I mean, what is up with Florida? TOOBIN: Well, I think it's important to point out this is not a recount yet. They are simply just counting the votes and that's a bit -- those are very different things. Florida has had a terrible history in figuring out how to count its votes. They have terrible technology. It's not Chad. It's not the punch cards ballots anymore, but it's still a very inferior system.

Arizona and California, which are still counting votes, are actually in a different situation and actually are much more confident because they allow people to mail in their ballots on Election Day.

So the fact that they haven't gotten all the votes in, it's a reflection of them allowing people to vote, it is not a flaw in the system, so I don't think you can argue that anything is really going wrong in Arizona or California. Florida is a mess, but it's certainly there's no evidence as far as I can see, that there's any actual fraud going on.

COOPER: David, I mean, we certainly seen this before, the President claiming election fraud. And so this is now for races where he's not even on the ballot. What kind of effect do you think this has on the public faith and the integrity of elections and -- which is obviously, you know, a vital part, I think, of our democracy.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's terribly damaging. It's certainly damaged the reputation of Florida. You know, we've seen this now three times in Florida in the last 18 years starting with the infamous case of the year 2000.

And I agree with everything Jeffrey just said, but I would add to it, it does seem to me that it's not just a question within the technology right and there are articles -- scanners today that are using far that are better than counting the Chads from 2000. But the fact is we still leave the supervision of these elections in state after state, especially raw in Florida.

We leave the supervision in the hands of partisans. And what that means is that one side thinks it has the advantage having that partisan there, but the other side suspects fraud rights from the get- go. And when it gets close like this both sides feel like they're being acrid (ph) in one way or another. And I think that really has quite damages public respect for the integrity of the outcome.

TOOBIN: Which makes -- I mean, Georgia is the classic example of that because the Republican candidate in that very close election is the secretary of state. He -- I mean, he stepped down a couple of days ago, but he is the one responsible for running the election and he's the candidate. It's just an absurd system.

COOPER: So if there is -- I mean, how likely do you think there is for a recount in Florida?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it's very likely. However, I do think it's important to point out that, you know, if the recount starts with Scott ahead by 15,000 votes and DeSantis ahead by 30,000, there is almost no way a recount will turn that around. Remember -- COOPER: Why is that?

TOOBIN: -- because it's just too many votes. Recounts don't shift that many votes. The Bush-Gore recount in Florida, the margin was 535 votes. That's very different from 15,000.

Now, what's unclear is whether they will set when they count the votes for the first time and that the margin keeps shrinking. If the margin goes down to 1,000 votes, then the recount might actually matter. But at this point, I am unaware of any recount that is shifted 15,000 votes.

COOPER: You know, David, it's interesting to hear the President why is it they were finding more Democratic votes. It never goes in favor of the Republican, which is -- I mean, not really the case.

But it's also the same President who said that there were millions of illegal immigrants voting for -- or undocumented workers voting for Hillary Clinton in California which is why she won the popular vote. And he's, you know, vaunt -- much vaunted commission which ended up disbanded found nothing.

GERGEN: Anderson, you know, when we get the President in the middle of this, the question of people having suspicions about how it's being tipped one way the other, (INAUDIBLE).

[20:40:07] In this program alone we started with a story about Whitaker and how the President has been lying about whether he knows Whitaker, doesn't know Whitaker, the Justice Department. And we move to a story about what he knew about Stormy Daniels, it turns out he was lying about that in a continuing basis. Why should we now think that he has anything other than partisan interest and how it comes out in Broward?

I do -- one of the irony, Anderson, which I find really interesting, when you leave elections in the hands of partisans who are also not very competent, it can come back to bite you. And in Broward, one of the problems -- you know, I'd love to hear Jeffrey on this, one of the problem is the ballot itself was designed in such a way in Broward County that it was very hard for voters to find the spot where the two senator -- senatorial candidates were competing.

And so to make the choice, it was down at the bottom of the page after a long list of, you know, really boring instructions. And then the real -- the rest of the ballot looked like you would expect you would find all the things very easily. But as a result of that, apparently, the -- Nelson, the Democrat incumbent may well have lost his election based on under count in Broward that was based in turn on a bad design which really is the responsibility of the woman and the person who is overseeing this election.

TOOBIN: Just like Al Gore certainly lost the 2000 election because in Palm Beach County, the so-called butterfly ballot, was so poorly designed that a lot of people who wanted to vote for Al Gore voted for Pat Buchanan. Partisan hacks can also often be incompetent.

COOPER: David Gergen, Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.

Up next, the one thing former First Lady Michelle Obama cannot forgive President Trump for, she's speaking about that. Also tonight, the raging wide fires in California, parts of one community left in ruins. We have the latest from the front lines.


[20:45:36] COOPER: Former First Lady Michelle Obama is calling out President Trump in her memoir. "The Washington Post" reports Mrs. Obama shares her thoughts about President Trump's role in pushing the birther lie, questioning whether her husband, the first African- American president, was born in Africa.

She writes, "What if someone when an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos was putting my family safety at risk. And for this I'll never forgive him."

Here's the President's reaction to that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She got paid a lot of money to write a book and they always insist that you come up with controversial. Well, I'll give you a little controversy back. I'll never forgive him for what he did to our United States Military by not funding it properly. It was depleted. Everything was old and tired and I came in and I had to fix it.


COOPER: Let's just quickly look at the facts. Here are some numbers. President Trump is spending more on the military than President Obama. And for a few years during Obama's presidency, military spending dropped, it went back up. And the drop happened when Republicans, mostly two party Republicans, were pushing President Obama to bring the deficit under control, which was a bipartisan agreement, both parties responsible. Those are the facts.

President Trump also had more to say at the press conference, a lot of not so nice things. Take a look.


TRUMP: I think Jim Acosta is a very unprofessional man. He does this with everybody. He gets paid to do that, you know. He gets paid to burst in. He's a very unprofessional guy. I don't think he's a smart person, but he's got a loud voice.

The same thing with April Ryan, I watch her get up. I mean, you talk about somebody that's a loser. She doesn't know what the hell she's doing. She's very nasty and shouldn't be. She shouldn't be.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Do you want him to rein in Robert Mueller? TRUMP: What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot, you ask a lot of stupid questions.


COOPER: That was Abby Phillip of CNN. Joining me now is CNN Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers, and former Trump campaign aide, Michael Caputo.

Kirsten, I'm just, you know, watching the President there. You know, April Ryan who's obviously African-American, Abby Phillip is as well. Earlier he -- I think it was on Wednesday at the press conference that he spoke to an African-American reporter saying her question was racist. You know, some have said that there's a racial component to this, the President's willingness to call African-Americans stupid. Do you see that?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I do. And, you know, he plays on racial troupes that go all the way back to the beginning of this country. And the idea that black people aren't as smart as white people, you know, we -- in our past have literacy tests for black people in order to vote and I don't think it's a coincidence that he talks about, you know, whether it's Don Lemon having a low IQ, or Maxine Waters has a low IQ, or Lebron James has a low IQ, or now we're supposed to believe, you know, Abby Phillip is asking a stupid question. There is a constant theme here and it's frankly it's right out of the white supremacist play book. I mean, this is classic white supremacy.

COOPER: Michael, do you believe that?

MICHAEL CAPUTO, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: Of course not, I don't. I think the President is an equal opportunity abuser when it comes to the media. I don't believe the President is anti-black or a white supremacist anymore than I believe that Jim Acosta is anti-woman because he's mean to Sarah Sanders and treated a white house intern with disrespect during the press conference.

You know, Jim Acosta is actually treats everybody in the White House the same way, just like the President treats all media the same way, especially those who attack him incessantly.

You know, the President was, you know, grew up and grew of age, came of age in the New York City media market and that's brutal place. He's always been punching back at reporters for decades and I think this is the idea that its white supremacy or that he's a racist is just another troupe.

POWERS: Who's he punching back at? I mean, Abby Phillip just asked a question. This idea that that's out of bounds for a reporter to ask a question, I mean, the response that the President had to her was so out of line and so kind of out of nowhere and that's why I think there is a racial component to it.

There's the contempt that he spoke to her with when she is a reporter who is just a straight shooter. I think anybody who watches her, she's thoughtful, she's careful, she's fair.

[20:50:04] This is -- it just is so disproportionate to the question that was asked. It really there's -- I don't know how you can't see this.

CAPUTO: You know, I don't disagree it either. I don't -- I didn't like the President's answer that question. There was an answer to the question. It wasn't the way that he answered it. I thought that that was really out of line, but I don't think it had anything to do with race.

The President is angry with the media. The media treats him with disrespect. I don't think that the reporters during the Reagan era or the George H.W. Bush era who spent their time in the White House press room would even recognize that place anymore. It's just a place with -- you know, there is so much disrespect in the air.

You know, the President treats a white --

COOPER: But I do recall -- sorry. I do recall -- I mean, I was, you know, in high school or college during this time so I do recall there was a lot of criticism with Sam Donaldson for yelling questions to --


CAPUTO: Yes, I was going to bring that up. I was actually going to bring that up. And I do -- I was actually about to bring that up. You know, Sam was criticized a lot and I worked in the House Radio and Television Gallery shortly after his stint in the White House and I remember a lot of reporters network anchors, network on air folks and producers who didn't like the way that Sam operated.

It's seems like everybody in the press room now, there are a lot of people in the press room now, are Sam Donaldson. Things have really changed. I don't like the way that it's become.

COOPER: Kirsten?

POWERS: I just don't see that. I think people are asking questions and they're not getting answers and they're pressing for the answers. But in the situations we're talking about right here whether it's with Abby Phillip or whether it's, you know, Yamiche Alcindor at PBS, these are women journalists who are eminently qualified professional asking normal questions and being treated with -- you want to talk about lack of respect. They're the one who are being treated with lack of respect.

And this President has a history of doing this to black people. If we want to -- you know, I guess we don't have enough time to go through the list, but he has a long history of treating black people this way.

COOPER: Kirsten Powers, Michael Caputo, I appreciate. Thank you.

Let's check in with Chris and see what he's working on for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris? CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: We have a new segment tonight that I think people are going to like, it's called "Don't Be a Sucker." And it will be at end of the show where we point out some things that should be obvious to everybody. We're going to spend the bulk of our time getting deep into Florida, Anderson, and what's going on. We're going to test the legal cases of both sides and talk about the eventualities.

COOPER: All right, Chris, thanks very much. Its 7.5 minutes from now. We'll you see then.

Breaking news, the death toll is rising at the California wildfires. This picture is just unbelievable, one of several burning tonight. Devastation is widespread. We'll give you a live update ahead.


[20:56:58] COOPER: Breaking news now from California. Six people now dead in a destructive wildfire in Northern California, it's one of three major fires in the state tonight. The remarkable video -- take a look at this video we're going to show you. It's a woman describing what it's like driving through a deadly fire near the small down of Paradise and praying they get through it.


BRYNN PARROTT CHATFIELD, WILDFIRE SURVIVOR: Heavenly Father, please help us. Please help us to be safe. Many people were (INAUDIBLE) to be brave.


COOPER: That woman, Brynn Chatfield and her family are all thankfully safe. CNN Dan Simon joins us now with more.

So you're in Paradise, California. It's already done a tremendous amount of damage. What's the latest?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is a community of 27,000 residents and it is gone. This just gives you a tiny fraction of what we're seeing in Paradise. This is the business district. You can see these buildings that have been leveled. You can see the fire still smoldering in places.

But when you drive around, and we're talking about 31 square miles, you just see utter devastation. We've talked to police officers and firefighters and everybody has the same reaction, no one can believe what they are seeing. We're talking about homes, businesses, businesses like restaurants and motels, churches, schools, all of it is gone. It's nothing like I've ever seen, Anderson.

COOPER: And what about containment so far?

SIMON: The fire at this point is just 5 percent contained. But, you know, when you talk to the mayor, he says there's really nothing left to burn in the town of Paradise. The fire has swept through. So right now crews are really interested in the town of Chico, that southwest of here, they're doing their best to protect that community. So far the fire has not gotten up to the town and so they're thankful for that, but at this just 5 percent containment.

COOPER: And about -- I mean, there are three fires that have been -- that are going on. What about the ones torching Southern California?

SIMON: Same conditions there. The fire here in Paradise was driven by wind. And in Southern California, you're also talking about extremely windy conditions. Right now the fire is in Malibu and we've seen mass evacuations there. And that community, Malibu, under a mandatory evacuation order.

We've seen dozens of very large hillside homes go up in smoke. And of course, as we're talking about Malibu, numerous celebrities have evacuated, everyone from Lady Gaga, to Barbra Streisand, to Sher (ph). They're all tweeting about leaving their homes.

And so crews are doing their best they can to try to contain the flames in Malibu, but when you're talking about windy conditions like you're seeing there Southern California, there's only so much they can do, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, these pictures are just incredible, Dan. I mean to see that devastation behind you, I mean it just looks like it's all basically ash at this point. I appreciate you being there. Thoughts certainly are with all those firefighters trying to battle the flames at this hour.

That's it for us. The news continues. I want to hand it over to Chris. "Cuomo Prime Time" starts now. Chris?