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President Donald Trump accused former president Barack Obama of wiretapping his phone at Trump Tower; Sergey Kislyak at the center of the scandal that's taken down one of President Trump's advisers; President Donald Trump taking off for Florida this weekend; President Trump is expected to push for school vouchers program; Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 4, 2017 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:10] PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm Pamela Brown in Washington on this Saturday.

And this just into CNN. We are hearing now, finally, some details from the Trump White House, after an entire day of silence. Details that might shed some light on a bizarre set of statements from the President that are making even the most seasoned political operatives scratch their heads. Outright accusations, not hints or innuendo, but pointed charges from the President that his predecessor, Barack Obama, ordered the telephones at Trump tower tapped in the weeks leading up to Election Day. It's a shocking and very serious charge that the President failed to support with any sourcing, any evidence, or anything to back up those claims.

With me now, senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

So Jim, what can you tell me?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (on the phone): Yes, Pamela, that's right. We can tell you that President Trump was very frustrated with his senior staff and communications team on Friday morning, just before he departed for Mar-a-Lago, according to one source that I spoke to.

Quote "nobody has seen him that upset," end quote. The feeling being inside the oval office, and we had a camera there that was rolling, where you could see officials having a heated conversation with one another, the feeling inside the oval office, according to source we are talking to, is that the communications team, the press team of the White House had allowed the news of Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Trump campaign/Russia investigation had sort of overtaken the narrative of the week. They were feeling very enthusiastic after the President's performance at that speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. And from what wen are hearing from sources, the President was very upset that Sessions had even recused himself from the case. That was something, according to one source, that the President thought was hasty and overkill. He was hot. He was exasperated over this, because he felt that basically they were just giving their adversaries up on Capitol Hill more ammunition by having Jeff Sessions recuse himself. The other thing that we are hearing from sources close to all of this

is that Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, and Steven Bannon, the chief strategist for the President were both scheduled to go down with the President yesterday, but those plans, those travel plans, abruptly changed. Now, we should point out, while Priebus did not make the trip, Steve Bannon did go down today and he is having dinner right now along with other top officials, with the President, there at Mar-a-Lago. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, homeland security secretary Kelly, and so on.

But Pamela, no question about it, this breaking news that we saw late in the week, where Jeff Sessions recused himself, because he did not accurately talk about his having met with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and that entire story just infuriated the President. And in the words of one source they talk to, the President basically told his team that the staff fumbled on all of this, Pamela.

BROWN: Great reporting there, Jim Acosta. So I'm curious, you said that he wasn't happy about the fact that the attorney general recused himself that he said it was hastily done. Was he frustrated at all that the attorney general hadn't disclosed his meetings with Russia's ambassador to the U.S.? I mean, that is really what prompted "the Washington Post" to report that these meetings and the fact that he didn't disclose them, and then that's, you know, then the next day he recused himself. Did he talk about that at all and his frustration surrounding that?

ACOSTA: Well, I think to some extent, from what we are hearing in talking to sources is that the President does feel a bit blindsided by all of this. I was with the President on air force one, traveled with him on Thursday, when he went down to that aircraft carrier in Newport News and I even asked him at time, do you think that the attorney general should have been more forthcoming about his contacts with the Russian ambassador? And at that time, the President said to me, I think he probably was. Well, it turns out later that night, the White House puts out a statement from the President himself on all of this, and in that statement, the President says, well, I think that attorney general Sessions could have used better language, more clear language, in talking about all of this.

Now, I have talked to a source very close to the west wing who said earlier today that much of the President's the frustration lies with what he believes to be a sort of botched process inside his White House press communications team, that essentially allowed this Sessions/Russian ambassador story to sort of mushroom over the last 48 to 72 hours, to the point where the attorney general himself had to recuse himself from that case. That is essentially where the President is very, very frustrated and disappointed because he feels like on Tuesday night, to a joint session of Congress, and you talk to a lot of officials around the White House. They really felt like he hit a home run. And then once again, by the end of the week, these Russia questions returned to the scene, returned to dominate the discussion. And so the President is just extremely frustrated by all of this. As I said, in the words of one source close to this west wing that I talked to earlier today, familiar with these discussions that are going on in the oval office, that got very heated the Friday morning. Quote "nobody has seen him that upset." That is how deeply frustrated and disappointed the President was about all of this, Pamela.

[19:05:35] BROWN: Let me just ask you this, Jim, before I let you go. I mean, it's clear from your reporting the President was junior unhappy with the headlines involving Jeff Sessions and his meeting with Russia and how that overshadowed his state of the union address. Is there any indication from the sources you have been speaking with that his tweets this morning with these unsubstantiated allegations that President Obama, you know, wiretapped his phone, is there any indication that was an attempt by President Trump to change the dialogue and to sort of create a distraction from those headlines he didn't like?

ACOSTA: No, not at this point. We do know that the staff folks that we've been talking to in the White House, they were a bit caught off guard by the President's tweets this morning, when he was accusing the former President, Barack Obama, of having orchestrated some sort of wiretapping scheme to do surveillance on the then-candidate Trump or then-President-elect Trump over at Trump tower in New York City.

According to sources we talked to inside the White House, top staff people were just not aware that the President was going to tweet this. And so I think that that gives you some indication, Pamela, that this is a President who has gone and gotten more and more frustrated, increasingly frustrated as the days went on, at the end of this week, because of this Russia issue, that has dogged the President for so many weeks and months now, has flared up once again.

BROWN: All right. Jim Acosta, thank you so much for your reporting there. Do appreciate it. And I want to bring in CNN senior political analyst, David Gergen joins me live.

So David, you have served as a White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. What is your reaction to this latest news from Jim Acosta?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Jim's reporting, as always, is excellent. I must tell you that the fact that the President was so frustrated because he -- the Sessions story distracted from his speech and the power of his speech, makes it all the more puzzling, mystifying, why he would then go on this tweet rant today, which is only amplified the coverage and the questions about the Russian story, about what was going on in Trump tower.

You know, he has created a whole new set of problems for himself, so at the end of the week, the speech seemed long ago and we are into new territory with new controversies. So, I find it just totally mystifying how the two things are connected. I thought you asked Jim Acosta exactly the right question. Well, if he was so frustrated, why did he do this? And I do think, maybe he thinks it's a distraction. But the fact is that this charge against President Obama that he wiretapped -- that he wiretapped Donald Trump's phones is a smear. And either Mr. Trump, President Trump should come forward with truth or he owes an apology to President Obama, and frankly to the country. You can't smear a former President in this way and not expect to have

a lot of blowback. Where the hell's the proof? What are you talking about?

Now, Pamela, it is possible, and a couple of Obama aides have been putting this word out, Jon Favreau among them, it is possible that the FBI, on its own, back in the fall, went to a court, one of these so- called FISA courts, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, empowers a court to give the government authority to go wiretap somebody's phone. But if a FISA court did that, they very likely didn't go against President Trump. They very likely went against someone else like Paul Manafort who might be around at Trump tower or someone like that. We don't know enough. But there is zero evidence, zero evidence that President Trump wiretapped Donald Trump's phone.

BROWN: Right. I mean, there are checks and balances in place to prohibit a President from ordering someone's phone to be wiretapped.

GERGEN: Absolutely.

BROWN: The FBI independently would go to a judge and would have to show probable cause in order to get that warrant approved by the judge.

Let me just ask you this because he tweets about President Obama ordering this wiretap on his phone. And then shortly after, he tweets about "Celebrity Apprentice" and saying that Arnold Schwarzenegger was fired and so forth. In that context, do you think the President understood the enormity of the allegations he was making against the former President?

[19:10:00] GERGEN: That's a very good question, Pamela. I have to believe he may not have fully appreciated at 6:30 in the morning just how much of an explosion he was going to cause by making those allegations. But I would point out, in the very speech the White House has been Trumpeting, think that speech was very successful, as a political argument. It was very, very successful. But it was in that same speech, only a few days ago, that he said, the time for trivial arguments is over. And, yet, now we have, we're back into him calling names and talking about "Celebrity Apprentice"? You have got to have it one way or the other. You can't keep having it both ways.

BROWN: So, obviously, you have been in many White Houses with different Presidents. How unusual is it for a President to get really angry like this at his staff for letting a news story overshadow something that he, you know, they feel like shouldn't be overshadowed? How common is this, just for context?

GERGEN: It is quite common for Presidents to be angry. The best Presidents get over it pretty quickly. I have seen Presidents who, you know, will erupt like Mt. Vasuvius. And it goes on for well, you know, Bill Clinton had a temper, for example. But he got over it very quickly and they don't carry around these grudges and resentments, except for Richard Nixon. He bore resentments for a long time, had an enemies list and all the rest. But I also think - I must tell you, Pamela. It seems to me that the

anger here is misdirected at his communications staff. You know, the anger really ought to be what happened with Jeff Sessions? What about his legal team? Why weren't they talking to the White House legal team? How do they get to be caught so flatfooted on this question of the testimony? And then the communications team at the White House did not decide, I can guarantee you this, that Jeff Sessions would recuse himself. That would be a decision Jeff Sessions would work out with the chief of staff of the White House and the general counsel at the White House, not with the communications staff.

So I think he is firing at the wrong targets. He has been firing at Obama. He has been firing his own staff. You know, maybe he ought to back up and think for a moment, maybe some of it's coming from him.

BROWN: Well, that's why I was asking Jim, because it struck me that he was so upset with his staff, letting this story sort of overshadowing his speech and he was upset that Jeff Sessions recused himself right after the story broke, but it seemed like he wasn't as angry about what Jeff Sessions did that led to this, which was not disclosed during the confirmation hearing, that he had met with Russians. And not only that, but didn't disclosed it in the weeks after, until it was released in the press.

GERGEN: Right, right. It's, you know, it's once again, you know, the enemy press has once again forced the White House to make an acknowledgement or say something that didn't apparently find the one to say. But that's not a fault of his communications team. He has got some internal issues. I understand why he is frustrated.

Listen, I think he put a lot of himself, a lot of his time and effort into that speech this week. And it was a successful speech. So to have it all change on him so quickly must be frustrating. I'm sympathetic with Presidents who go through that.

Having said that, you know, it's -- there are lessons there about maybe you ought to reorganize your White House staff in a way that it can handle issues like this. And with more internal communications, more checking with him. You know, obviously, Sessions must have recused himself without the President's knowledge that he was going to do that. That's surprising in and of itself.

BROWN: Yes. I'm just curious, given all of your experience, I mean, you know, we are a little over a month into his administration. What do you think some of the tough lessons he is learning right now are beyond what you just stated?

GERGEN: Well, you know, I think one of the tough you have lessons he is learning, Pamela, when he was very successful at his business, but he was running a private company. And what that meant was, he did not have a board that he reported to. And he did not have shareholders, in effect, that he reported to. And I think he's finding that the free-wheeling style that he could use as a -- in a private business is very different than governing a hugely complex institution with lots of constitutional checks and balances as well as traditional normative tradition checks and balances. And it's hard work. It is hard to govern. You have to be organized.

You cannot wing it. You have to have a great team around you. You have to have people with experience around you. And you have to listen and be deliberative. He took time out to prepare well for that speech. That's the same kind of preparation that went into that, that went into the Gorsuch nomination process, which also paid off very well has got to go into every day of governing in order to be successful.

BROWN: All right. David Gergen, thank you, as always, for your analysis.

GERGEN: Thank you. Take care.

BROWN: We appreciate it.

And still to come right here in the CNN NEWSROOM on this Saturday, more on President Trump making explosive allegations against his predecessor, accusing former President Obama of wiretapping Trump tower and even suggesting he could be mentally ill. That's coming up right after this break.


[19:19:16] BROWN: Unsubstantiated allegations from President Trump sending shock waves throughout Washington and beyond even within Trump's own administration. Without presenting any evidence, he is accusing former President Obama of wiretapping his phones at Trump tower. The President tweeted, how low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon Watergate, bad or sick guy.

A spokesman for former President Obama strongly denies those claims, saying this. A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the department of justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.

Joining me now is CNN crime and justice producer, Shimon Prokupecz.

So Shimon, you have been speaking with a former senior law enforcement official. What have you learned?

[19:20:12] SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: So flat denials all around, Pamela, from this senior former U.S. official who would have direct knowledge of the investigation, of the FBI investigation, of the department of justice investigation.

Let me just read for you quickly what this person said to me. Quote "this didn't happen. It is made up, false, wrong," is what this person said.

I have to also say, our colleague, Jim Sciutto, had talked to some people in the administration and a former senior intelligence official who also said that this was nonsense. And I have since talked to other U.S. officials and really everyone is puzzled as to what he is talking about because they have not been able to find anything that indicates that his phone was wiretapped during the election, during -- in the months of October, November, before then. And, you know, based on what this former senior official with direct knowledge says, it just seems like this never happened, Pamela.

BROWN: And the President, as we know, can't just order someone's phone to be wiretapped, which is what Donald Trump seemed to be saying in his tweet. Walk us through the process in order for someone's phone to be wiretapped.

PROKUPECZ: So there's two things that, you know, can happen. Certainly, in Donald Trump's case, it could have been a criminal investigation. So there would have to be belief on the part of government that some kind of crime had occurred. That he was involved in some sort of criminal activity. And they then -- maybe an FBI agent or some form of law enforcement would go to the department of justice and an attorney at the department of justice and say, we would like to request a judge to allow us, we would like authorization to listen in on Donald Trump's phone calls. And then that would then have to be presented to a judge and a judge would make a decision.

Now, on a national security investigation, where, perhaps, there's some belief that maybe Donald Trump, you know, and all this talk about the Russian collusion was working on behalf of the Russian or there was some sort of foreign interest involved. The department of justice would then have to go before a FISA court and seek a warrant. That is a secret court that we would never know about. And basically, we would ask for this warrant to listen in on his conversations.

BROWN: And as you were told by officials, that simply did not happen.

Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your experience with us.

And I want to dig in a little bit deeper with Tom Fuentes, former FBI assistant director and CNN law enforcement analyst.

Tom, how significant would it be for the FBI to have a wiretap warrant issued by the court for then Presidential candidate Trump's phone?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Pamela, that would be extremely significant to do that. And really, when it comes to FISA wires or even other criminal wiretaps, it's kind of a sliding scale. The more sensitive the subject, the more is going to be required to justify doing a wire. And so if you're looking for -- if you're the FBI and looking for a wiretap of a Presidential candidate, this close to the actual election, that's at the highest level of sensitivity. This is not like some jihadist that crossed the border and, you know, made allegations that he's going to do a bomb or something. This is something very, very extreme. And, you know, so it would require a very great deal of justification for that wire.

Now, I can also add that the level of sensitivity would be such that it would be very close hold. Very few people within an FBI office would be aware of it. Very few people at the department of justice, and then it would be a secret submission to the FISA court for the secret wiretap.

So, it's possible that former officials at the White House, let's say, in particular, might not be aware of it or officials even within the department of justice or the FBI itself might not be aware if something like that was going on because it would be so close hold.

BROWN: But now that he is President, I mean, what kind of paper trail or what kind of evidence could he see to support his claims today that his phone was wiretapped? Because as far as we know, Tom, he was basing this on allegations that were in a Breitbart article about radio host Mark Levin's comments that President Obama worked to undermine his campaign. So, beyond that, I mean, what could the President see or look at to prove his claim?

FUENTES: Well, we don't know. I mean, that's going to be up to him to reveal his source of it. You know, and he's been talking about sources and the media and fake news outlets and the like. So, you know, is that something that he's been subjected to now, hearing a report that might not be true? Or is there some other basis for what he is saying? We don't know. And I think that's something that's going to have to come out.

But it's not necessarily going to come out. And that's the other thing. You know, the FBI is not going to confirm that they had this wiretap. They are not going to have a press conference to say, by the way, we did this. These are very secret proceedings and very -- held very closely within the agency.

BROWN: And confirming a FISA warrant, I mean, that could be a felony. You could go to jail for that. So let me just ask you, within the FBI, what do you expect the reaction to be among agents to all of this? Have you spoken to folks? What's the reaction been?

FUENTES: No, most agents have no idea whether it happened or it didn't, nor would they.

BROWN: But to the President's tweets, I'm just curious?

FUENTES: Well, same thing. They don't know what the basis is, so they don't want to condemn him, not knowing that he may have some real basis for saying this. And on the other hand, no one really knows that there is a basis for it. So there is that question mark. And, you know, --

BROWN: But we do know, Tom, there's no basis for saying the president, the former President could order a wiretap on his phone, right?

FUENTES: That's true. There's no basis for that, either. And had the President, President Obama, at the time, attempted to do such a thing, he would be committing a felony, if there was no real basis to justify the warrant. Now, if there was a basis, it would be, you know, perfectly legitimate to go ahead and have the FBI request FISA coverage on something very, very sensitive. But it would take a lot to justify that. And I think it would be -- it would take so much that you would probably hear about it from other sources, not even within the FBI or department of justice.

BROWN: All right. Tom Fuentes, thank you, as always. We do appreciate it.

And we will be right back.


[19:31:08] BROWN: Well, he is the man at the center of the scandal that's taken down one of President Trump's advisers. And just put another in the hot seat. His name, Sergey Kislyak. He is the Russian ambassador who spent nearly a decade in the U.S., mingling with Washington's most powerful people. And he serves as the eyes and ears for Vladimir Putin. But top U.S. intelligence officials say he's more than just a diplomat.

Here's CNN's Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Sergey Kislyak is a 66-year-old veteran of both soviet and Russian diplomacy. He spent many years in the United States, but has been ambassador in Washington for nearly a decade.

SERGEY KISLYAK, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Our job is to understand. To know people. I personally have been working on the United States so long, that I know almost everybody.

ROBERTSON: Current and former top officials say U.S. intelligence consider him one of Russia's top spy and spy recruiters in Washington. But Russian officials scoff at the idea he is a spy master.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESWOMAN: Please, stop spreading lie and false news.

ROBERTSON: Trained as an engineer, Kislyak cut his diplomatic teeth in the cold war and his first posting to the U.S. came as Mikhail Gorbachev tried to reform the soviet system. During his four decades as a diplomat, Kislyak held several key positions serving as the first Russian representative at NATO and the Russian deputy foreign minister. He became Moscow's man in Washington months before President Obama took office and the attempt to reset U.S./Russia relations.

An excerpt in the complex world of arms control, Kislyak helped negotiate an arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia during Obama's tenure. Speaking at Stanford University, Kislyak sounded gloomy about the relationship.

KISLYAK: At most, probably, we are leading through the worst point in our relations at the end of the cold war.

ROBERTSON: And has often blamed the party's atmosphere in the U.S. KISLYAK: We have become kind of collateral damage between the two

parties here.

ROBERTSON: But recently, Kislyak actively engaged the Trump team, sitting in the front row at an invite-only foreign policy speech given by Trump in April. And just this week, attending the President's address to Congress.


And that was Nic Robertson reporting there. Thanks to him.

Up next, a U.S. congressman, the former Republican governor of Florida, says President Trump must shake up his cabinet now. Congressman Charlie Crist, now a Democrat, and saying the attorney general has to go. He is with me up next. And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go away.


[19:38:02] BROWN: This just into CNN.

Police had a break up at a fight at a rally in support of the President in St. Paul, Minnesota, today. This after about 50 anti- Trump protesters confronted a larger group of Trump supporters at the Minnesota state capitol. That's according to Minnesota state police. A spokeswoman also told CNN, it appeared part of the anti-Trump group instigated this violence. Six people, all in the anti-Trump group were arrested and charged with rioting and disorderly conduct.

And tonight, the President is dining at his Florida resort with embattled attorney general, Jeff Sessions. The two men conferring after this week's explosive controversy about Sessions not revealing his true pre-election meetings with the Russian ambassador. Now, Sessions and Trump talk in Florida, let's turn now to a politician who was once the most powerful Republican in the sunshine state.

One little catch, Charlie Chris Crist is not a Republican anymore. Florida's former governor and attorney general switched parties and became a Democrat in 2012.

Congressman Crist, thank you so much for coming on. You say --

REP. CHRIS CRIST (D), FLORIDA (on the phone): Thank you, Pamela. It's a -- yes?

BROWN: Well, I want to quickly go to this video and get your reaction. You say that the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, must resign. Watch.


CRIST: It is the attorney general of the United States of America who has now been exposed for lying to the United States Congress, for perjuring himself, while under oath, obviously, and that's it. You recuse yourself from the investigation and everything is OK? He should resign or Mr. Trump should fire him. And it's unbelievable and conscionable, as far as I'm concerned, that this man would stay in office.


BROWN: So, congressman, is there enough evidence to support a perjury charge, proof that Sessions willfully intended to mislead?

CRIST: Well, it certainly looks like it and it acts like it and it smells like it, so I think it's it. And all you have to do is look at the script from Senator Franken, the question that he posed. And really when you look at the answer that the attorney general gave, he sort of went into the place that makes it a lie. And he said, there was no contact with Russians. And last time I checked, the ambassador of Russia is a Russian.

And so, when you put those two facts together or those two statements together, rather, they are incongruent. They are inconsistent. They do not match up. And therefore, it is an inaccurate statement to be kind, and a lie, to be more blunt. And I don't know how else you would define it other than that.

BROWN: But let me just say this, because the attorney general, during his press conference, said that he was sort of caught off guard, because Senator Franken was presenting a CNN news report that was just breaking. He asked Sessions a hypothetical question. So, Congressman, wouldn't that be considered fundamentally ambiguous, so any answers might be insufficient to support a perjury conviction?

CRIST: I don't understand how he can make that statement and go down some kind of a slippery slope where he says he was caught off guard. Either he did have, you know, contact with Russian officials or you did not. It's not really a complicated question, where you can say, I was caught off guard, you know? They asked me if I had contact with the Russians, and I was -- that caught me off guard, you know. And so I can't give an honest answer. I have never heard of that defense before.

So, you know, as a former attorney general of the state of Florida, we are now the third largest state in the country. You know, that kind of an explanation doesn't really hold water. But I would like to make the point, Pamela, that if the problem here is not taking our eye off the ball. It is important what the attorney general said and what the attorney general, you know, did, when he was under oath. And the fact that he did what he did, he should resign.

Having said that, the real story here, I think, has more to do with who was dealing with the Russians, what statements did they make to them? Did the Russians actually hack into our system? Did they use cyberattacks in order to alter or attempt to article the outcome of the United States Presidential election? That's the real story here.

You know, it's almost like the attorney general's a bit player to it. Although we don't know exactly what his conversations with the ambassador were. Once we're able to find that's why, I think it's fundamentally important that an independent commission be appointed, with somebody who has such gravitas and respect, such as General Colin Powell, for example, a former secretary of state, serving Republican Presidents. Highly respected by everyone in the United States and the world, for that matter, to head such a commission and get to the truth of what happened here and get to the bottom of what's going on because what's at stake, and this is important, is the fundamental foundation that our democracy rests upon, the foundation of which is free, open, and fair elections. If those free, open, and fair elections are put into jeopardy, we can't have confidence in them anymore, and the election of a President of the United States. That's the real issue, I think.

BROWN: And let me ask you this, Congressman because you mentioned the investigations. Do you think the Senate and house Intel committees can oversee thorough, impartial investigations?

CRIST: I think they would certainly attempt to. There's no question about that. There are good people in both bodies. And we know of them. But I think an independent commission is what's mandatory here. You know, in order for the American people to be able to have, you know, faith and confidence, it's probably far better that it not be somebody who is a quote/unquote "a politician," but rather, you know, somebody like I said, earlier, general Colin Powell, who was beyond reproach. He has such, you know, respect and credibility.

And the people, you know, need sort of a modern-day George Washington to oversee this investigation, to make sure the credibility is at hand, that they can have trust and confidence in the outcome of such an investigation, and it must be done. It must be done well. It must be done, you know, comprehensively. And it must be done fairly.

I mean, no conclusion can be reached here, as a former attorney general, as I stated earlier, you know, people are innocent until proven guilty. And you have to respect that. And the rule of law. And due process. All of those guarantees that our constitution provides must be respected. And that's why I think that an independent commission is absolutely the right way to go, like we had for the 9/11 situation.

BROWN: All right. Congressman Crist, thank you very much for coming on the show.

CRIST: Thank you, Pamela.

BROWN: And coming up on this Saturday, rustic hideaway versus oceanfront resort. How Mar-a-Lago is already eclipsing the more traditional Camp David, as the Presidential retreat of choice.


[19:45:58] BROWN: Well, President Trump is spending another weekend at the so-called winter White House in Palm Beach, Florida. And if you are keeping score, that's Mar-a-Lago, four visits, Camp David, zero. The President has shown he prefers the glamour of his Florida estate over the traditional and more woodsy Presidential retreat in Maryland. But at what cost?

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Donald Trump taking off for Florida this weekend, first for a visit at an Orlando school, then on to his Mar-a-Lago resort.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we get a lot of work done. Now, believe me, there's not rest at the southern White House. It's all work.

MALVEAUX: His fancy Florida estate, his go-to for getting business done outside the White House and hosting world leaders like Japan's prime minister. But President Trump's weekends at Mar-a-Lago are costing U.S. taxpayers big money from firing up air force one to fly to Florida with traveling staff to securing the beachfront property with coast guard patrols,

"The Washington Post" estimates the trips, so far, have cost up to $10 million in just five weeks. And at the same time, taxpayers are also putting the bill to operate Camp David, the secluded presidential retreat less than 70 miles from the White House, set aside for presidential downtime and diplomacy. Even doormat, it cost an estimated $8 million a year to run. Trump has express little interest in using the cheaper alternative describing the retreat to reporter as very rustic, saying it's nice. You will like it. You know how long you would like it, for about 30 minutes.

ANITA MCBRIDE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LAURA BUSH: It doesn't fit everybody. President Obama, you know, he is a city guy. This is remote location. I don't think initially President Clinton was crazy about it either. But then came to ever love it. Remember Jimmy Carter also thought about getting rid of it. And thankfully he did it.

MALVEAUX: Famously Carter brokered the historic 1978 peace core between Egypt and Israel at Camp David. Anita McBride who worked in both Bush White Houses says for them, it was a sanctuary.

MCBRIDE: George W. and Laura Bush had an exceptionalizing (ph) sort of relationship with Camp David still the only Presidential family that's been 12 Christmases at Camp David.

MALVEAUX: The private secure location also enable some world leaders to go close as Bush revealed what he discovered after hosting British prime minister Tony Blare.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You're going to how you did that.

MALVEAUX: President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it "Shangri-La." His doctor believe the cooler mountain air helped Roosevelt sinuses. President Reagan visited a record of 150-plus times often to ride his horse. President Clinton failed to get a peace deal after sequestering the Israeli-Palestinian leaders there two weeks. And President Obama hosted African and G8 leaders at a summit early in the presidency but rarely returned spending most weekend at the White House.

Whether Trump continues to use Mar-a-Lago as a so-called winter White House, Camp David remain opens. Because not only is it a retreat, it is a military installation doubling as a bunker to assure continuity of government in times of crisis as was the case on 9/11.

Susan Malveaux, CNN Washington.


BROWN: Thanks for Susan Malveaux.

And coming up right here in the NEWSROOM on this Saturday, a helping hand or an unfair advantage, the politically charged fight over school vouchers and who benefits most from them. Up next.


[19:56:47] BROWN: When it comes to educating America's kids President Trump is expected to push for school vouchers program. The president toured the Florida school that uses vouchers yesterday on his way to his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Now Florida implemented one of the first voucher program 16 years ago and it has survived the series of legal disputes and political battle.

Boris Sanchez has the story.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 7-year-old Lana Montealegre going to public school was miserable. She had trouble making friends. Didn't get enough attention from teacher and even hated the food. Her grandparents say that almost every day ended in tears.

ANA MONTEALEGRE, GRANDMOTHER: I said why are you crying? I don't like it here. I don't like it.

SANCHEZ: So Ana and Anibal brought their second grader here to Kingdom Academy just outside of Miami where Lana has flourished.

LANA MONTEALEGRE, STUDENT: I think it's better here.

SANCHEZ: But Lana can only attend the school because of her controversial voucher program, one that has been at the center of a heated political battle in Florida for 16 years. Instead of paying taxes to the state corporation get dollar for dollar tax credits by donating money to organization like step up for students which gave many of the 98,000 scholarships to lower income students, enabling them to go to private schools statewide.

DOUG TOHILL, PRESIDENT, STEP UP FOR STUDENTS: I don't think that low income children should have less opportunities than more (INAUDIBLE) children. You know, kids don't get to choose their parents. They don't get to choose, you know, the environment that they grow up in. Why do we have all these opportunities for more affluent family and don't have the same opportunities for lower income families.

SANCHEZ: But opponents of the voucher program say it's leaving many students behind.

KALEBRA JACOBS-REED, TEACHER: We are at the point now where we don't have enough books for each kids to take home.

SANCHEZ: French teacher Kalebra Jacobs-Reed says that by not paying taxes corporations are robbing public schools of funding.

JACOBS-REED: If the money that went to vouchers were to really reinvested into the schools we would have the school that parents are looking for. And wouldn't have the need for vouchers. By funneling this money away it really hurts the kids.

SANCHEZ: Program supporters say there have been eight different independent reports and several court decision that show the program does not cost public schools money. Still Fredrick Ingram with the state teachers union disagrees.

FREDRICK INGRAM, VICE PRESIDENT, PARENTS-TEACHERS ASSOCIATION: You go to many of the school in the state of Florida you see the lack of programming, the lack of band classes, the lack of art classes, fewer vocational classes. You see teacher that are not paid what they need to be paid for doing the work that they do.

SANCHEZ: Despite the politics, the parents at Kingdom Academy, there is no debate.

FRANCES LEWIS, MOTHER: If I did not have a choice, I would have to move to a place where I was able to choose. Like I said when it comes to my children, there's skies the limit. I will do whatever I need to, to relocate, to do whatever it need just to make that their needs are accommodated.

SANCHEZ: Boris Sanchez, CNN Miami.


BROWN: Are you live in CNN NEWSROOM on Saturday. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Nice to have you along with us. \

Well, tonight, silence from the White House after bombshell allegations from President Trump that shock even his own top aides.