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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Colorado Senator Cory Gardner; North Korea Missile Launch; Bannon Out at National Security Council; President Trump Reacts to Syria Attack; Trump Defends FOX News' O'Reilly and Sexual Harassment Scandal; Melania Trump's Rare Public Outing With Jordan's Queen. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 5, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: "My responsibility." President Trump suggests he might take un unilateral action in response to the deadly chemical attack in Syria. Is he willing to get tough on Bashar al-Assad and Assad's ally Vladimir Putin?
Taking sides. Mr. Trump offers stunning judgments from the Oval Office claiming former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime, while defending FOX News anchor Bill O'Reilly as a good person in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal.
Bannon fodder. The president's chief strategist is removed from a controversial role on the National Security Council. We will take you inside the shakeup and what it means for the balance of power in Mr. Trump's inner circle.
And the queen and the lady. A rare public outing for Melania Trump, visiting a school with the queen of Jordan, this as the first lady and the first daughter face new flaps over what they said and what they wore.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, President Trump declares he has a responsibility to respond to the horrific chemical attack that killed dozens of innocent Syrians.
Mr. Trump blaming Bashar Assad, saying the attack changed his attitude toward the Syrian strongman. The president would not say what action he might take or spell out whether he now believes Assad must go, a past U.S. position he was in the process of abandoning.
He also failed to mention Russia's role in Syria, in stark contrast to his United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, offering an impassioned public condemnation of Russia for protecting the Bashar al-Assad regime. It was rare rebuke of Moscow by an administration official at a time when the Trump camp's Russia ties are under investigation. Also breaking, the president levels a stunning new accusation, telling
"The New York Times" that former National Security Adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime, Mr. Trump declining to offer any specifics or any evidence a day after Rice flatly denied GOP allegations that she used intelligence for political purposes.
Also tonight, the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has been ousted from a permanent seat on the National Security Council. Sources suggest Bannon's oversight is no longer needed now that H.R. McMaster has taken over for the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
I will talk about that and much more with Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles first with more on the president's response to the Syria attack.
Ryan, update our viewers on the very latest.
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Trump said the attack in Syria changed his view on the war there, and while he didn't explain what he would do to respond, he said the attack crossed a line for him and he announced that he holds the responsibility for the U.S. response.
We want to warn you, this story contains graphic images that some viewers may find difficult to watch.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It crossed a lot of lines for me.
NOBLES (voice-over): At a Rose Garden press conference, standing next to the king of Jordan, President Trump made it clear he was angry about what appears to be a gruesome chemical gas attack in Syria.
TRUMP: When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, and people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red lines, many, many lines.
NOBLES: And despite blaming his predecessor Barack Obama for the current situation, he now says this problem is his.
TRUMP: I now have responsibility and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly. I will tell you that.
NOBLES: His promise, however, did not include a plan to take swift and direct action to solve the crisis.
TRUMP: I'm not saying I'm doing anything one way or the other, but I'm certainly not going to be telling you. NOBLES: The Trump administration's hands-off policy in Syria echoes
the president's pledge to not get the U.S. embroiled in unending conflicts.
TRUMP: I'm not and I don't want to be the president of the world. I'm the president of the United States. And from now on, it's going to be America first.
NOBLES: But as Syria festers, the White House is taking a much different approach with North Korea. The president himself promising to handle the problem of North Korea's weapons program with or without the strategic support of the most powerful country in the region, China.
TRUMP: That's another responsibility we have and that's called the country of North Korea. We have a big problem. We have somebody that is not doing the right thing. And that's going to be my responsibility.
NOBLES: This as his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson addressed the latest North Korean attempt to test a missile launch with a 23-word statement that ended with -- quote -- "We have no further comment."
The inconsistency abroad has led to questions from Republicans worried about the president's foreign policy vision.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't see any doctrine right now. I do have great confidence in the national security team around the president and I hope that they will develop a strategy, stand up and give the president the advice and counsel that I believe he needs and he could get from that team.
NOBLES: Still, Trump remained confident that he could meet the growing foreign policy challenges he now faces.
TRUMP: The world is a mess. I inherited a mess, whether it's the Middle East, whether it's North Korea, whether it's so many other things, whether it's in our country, horrible trade deals. I inherited a mess. We're going to fix it.
NOBLES: And many of these foreign policy challenges will serve as the backdrop to the president's very important summit with the president of China, which begins tomorrow at the president's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ryan, thank you, Ryan Nobles reporting.
Let's dig deeper into the president's Syria strategy and the ramifications of that brutal chemical weapons attack.
And now let's turn to the brutal chemical weapons attack.
Let's bring in our senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.
Michelle, the president says what happened in Syria changed his views.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.
Those pictures and details out of Syria are resonating powerfully all over the world and including with the president. What we heard from him today was not something scripted. So now the world watches and waits for the response and the U.S. has gone from first off blaming the Obama administration to now a much harder line, today loudly calling out Syrian President Assad and loudly calling out Russia and Iran and calling for some kind of action.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): The world right now seeing these pictures of what many are calling another war crime in Syria by the Assad regime against its own people, the worst chemical weapons attack in years killing dozens, families and children left gasping for breath and dying. The president clearly moved.
TRUMP: That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. A big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I have been watching it and seeing it and it doesn't get any worse than that. My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.
KOSINSKI: But in a stark departure from Obama, President Trump doesn't call for Assad to go. The administration says it's for the Syrian people to decide.
As for action, in 2013, Trump was tweeting that President Obama's red line against chemical weapons was "very dumb. Do not attack Syria. There's no upside and tremendous downside. Save your powder for another and more important day."
Now President Trump must plan his own response. Today, he blamed Assad. When asked about it, he again blamed Obama's policies, but did not mention Russia, backer of the Assad regime and who was supposed to guarantee that chemical weapons were gone from Syria. Secretary of State Tillerson, though, in a rare moment taking a question from the press, did address Russia's role.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We think it's time that the Russians really need to think carefully about their continued support of the Assad regime.
KOSINSKI: But at an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council today, an emotional showdown between Russia and the United States, the Russian representative angrily shouting about what it calls fake reports on the gas attacks, claiming the Syrian rescue group the White Helmets were spreading lies, prompting the U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, who brought photos of the murdered children, to unleash on Russia.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: They made an unconscionable choice. They chose to close their eyes to the barbarity. They defied the conscience of the world. There's an obvious truth here that must be spoken. The truth is that Assad, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace. How many more children have to die before Russia cares?
KOSINSKI: The U.N. Security Council tried to take action against Syria for its repeated chemical attacks at the end of February with sanctions. Russia and China blocked them. Haley now says after this latest atrocity, the time has come.
HALEY: There are times when we are compelled to take collective action. I will now add this. When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action.
KOSINSKI: And hearing from top military experts today through CNN's Barbara Starr, they talked about if there were to be an American military response, what that might look like.
One option could be to send a message or a warning, taking out some Syrian command-and-control, some key airfields. The second stronger option would be to try to target the regime's ability to deliver. That would be hitting things like storage sites, artillery and aircraft -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski over at the State Department, thank you very much.
Let's get some perspective now on Syria and President Trump's policy.
Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is joining us.
Christiane, you know this region as well as anyone. Take us through the president's comments today. From your perspective, are they a departure, a serious departure as far as the future of Assad is concerned?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's certainly a serious departure.
The president said it himself. He practically did a 180 on Syria and on Assad and he absolutely said that he had been horrified by what had happened and painted a portrait of what had happened in very dramatic and very vivid language, referring to the babies, referring to the civilians who had been slaughtered by that attack.
You can see that the president, along with his U.N. ambassador, along with his secretary of state, are piling on the pressure and actually blaming Assad. The secretary of state saying there's no doubt, they believe, that Assad conducted that chemical weapons attack.
And so I think that that was a big departure and that's how it's being viewed in the rest of the world. Internationally, it's being viewed as a big departure. When the president himself said in response to a question that this crosses many lines, he said, way beyond even a red line, well, then everybody internationally certainly pricks up their ears, because that generally is the kind of talk, both from the president and from what we heard inside the U.N. Security Council, that we haven't actually heard that for a very, very long time.
People at the Security Council even saying that what Nikki Haley was saying today was reminiscent of talk by the United States in the lead- up to the Iraq War.
BLITZER: Yes, she was very, very powerful.
What could the president's comments mean, Christiane, when it comes to real action in Syria?
AMANPOUR: Well, and here's the thing. After laying down his own red line, so to speak, describing it as having crossed many red lines, that it was an inhuman act, then people will expect some kind of reaction, some kind of punitive strike, because if again the United States declares this beyond the pale and doesn't do anything about it, then obviously this administration and the president took full responsibility in his own words for Syria, then this administration also looks like it has laid down a line and has failed to cross it.
So what could action look like? Well, it can go from increasing sanctions and squeezing Syria's revenue, for instance, its oil exports that it continues to do, or indeed take some punitive military action.
Now, that is slightly more complicated because of the Russian involvement and because Russia is there. But there are ways to be able to conduct kind of limited military action that's punitive and that is responsive to this attack, for instance, the airfields that Michelle was mentioning.
That has been posited many, many times in the past. Why don't you take out the airfields? Don't let these planes fly. These are the only planes that fly with the barrel bombs. The Russians do other things.
The Syrian air force are the planes with the barrel bombs that have also, according to witnesses, now carried this poison gas. So the Israelis, for instance, over the years have taken their own punitive action with airstrikes and other such targeted strikes against Syria when they think Hezbollah is getting too involved or doing things that threaten Israel.
So there are many things that can be done short of a full-scale attack, any kind of invasion or that kind of thing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nikki Haley, Christiane, you heard her powerful remarks at the U.N. Security Council. She not only went after Bashar al-Assad. She went after the Russians as well, the main allies of the Assad regime.
We heard the president's strong words, but we heard no mention of Russia from the president. What do you make of that?
AMANPOUR: Well, it's a very complicated relationship, isn't it?
You're all reporting it. The Russia-Trump administration relationship is quite complex at the moment and is under investigation. Certainly, the U.N. ambassador was very, very angry and did take on the Russian ambassador.
And the question now remains, what are they going to do, really? Because the Russians, the Chinese have vetoed and have stopped, even as you saw today, just a basic condemnation of this violation of international humanitarian law.
We know the use of chemical weapons is against international law. So I think this is a very important moment, to see whether the U.S. will do something that doesn't involve Russia, that doesn't threaten Russia, that takes some kind of punitive measure against Assad, because here's the problem.
A couple of days or a day before this attack, Nikki Haley and the rest of the administration were sort of coalescing their public remarks about, actually, yes, Assad is a problem, but we are not here right now to focus on taking him out.
So the messages have been slightly mixed, but that, of course, was before this massive attack with chemical weapons. Nobody is talking about regime change right now, but people are wondering whether there will be some kind of strong measure from the United States to make it clear to Assad that he can no longer continue these kinds of attacks.
BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour in London for us, Christiane, thank you very much.
Let's get some more on all of this.
Senator Cory Gardner is joining us. He's a Republican who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: I want to pick up with where we left off with Christiane.
Yesterday, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the Bashar al-Assad regime is a political reality, his words. Today, we heard President Trump say that his attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much following the sarin gas attack against all these civilians and all these children.
What sort of policy shift do you think we could see as a result of this?
GARDNER: Well, I think you heard today from Nikki Haley and you heard from Secretary Tillerson and others a reset by an act of barbarism, caused by an act of barbarism.
It's clear that Assad is a depraved dictator. And for those regimes like Russia, those regimes like Iran that have been propping up this dictator, I think a time has come where the world has to condemn their actions in the strongest possible ways. And the Trump administration I believe has an obligation to act.
BLITZER: The U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, she hinted that the U.S. could take unilateral action, assuming the U.N. does not act collectively because of that Russian and Chinese veto at the U.N. Security Council.
But President Trump so far has refused to provide any details. Is that lack of clarity sustainable as commander in chief?
GARDNER: I think you heard Nikki Haley very clearly call out Russia for their involvement with the Assad regime. There is blood on Russia's hands.
You will see Congress I believe on the coming days call on the United Nations to act, to condemn in the strongest terms possible the activities of the Assad regime, the murderous activities of the Assad regime. We will be calling on the Assad regime to be accountable, to hold the Assad regime accountable for their crimes against humanity.
This is a despicable act. And this administration, administrations around the world cannot sit idly by and do nothing.
BLITZER: Listen to these strong words from Nikki Haley at the U.N. earlier today, Senator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. In fact, if Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility, there would not even be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use.
Assad has no incentive to stop using chemical weapons, as long as Russia continues to provide his regime from consequences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator, how do you explain her tough condemnation of Russia and its support for Bashar al-Assad, as opposed to the president's silence when it comes to Russia? He doesn't even mention Russia's involvement in Syria.
GARDNER: Well, Nikki Haley is the president's ambassador to the United Nations.
What I think is clear is that Nikki Haley, the administration is calling on the United Nations to act, to hold Russia accountable, that Russia, China, other members of the Security Council should act in the strongest terms possible to build a coalition that can actually protect the people, innocent people of Syria who are being murdered in the most hideous of ways. BLITZER: But with all due respect to Nikki Haley, she's the U.S.
ambassador to the U.N. If the president spoke out like her, it would have a far greater impact potentially, don't you agree?
GARDNER: Congress is going to speak. I believe the president will continue to address this issue. And he should continue to address this issue.
Assad must go. And I think that realization has donned on everyone who was on the sidelines, anybody who had sort of an impartial view of this. It's clear now through this act, through this murderous act that he has to go and that the world has an obligation to protect the people of Syria from the depraved acts of this man.
BLITZER: We will see if the president does break his silence as far as condemning Russia. He's had plenty of opportunities, so far refuses to do so personally, although his U.N. ambassador, in very strong words, did exactly that.
Senator, we have a lot more to discuss. I want to take a quick break. We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with Republican Senator Cory Gardner.
And we're following breaking news, President Trump now telling "The New York Times" that former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice may have committed a crime.
Senator, is it appropriate for the president of the United States to level an accusation like this against the former national security adviser without providing any evidence at all for the charge?
GARDNER: I think this is another one of those issues that is going to be considered by Congress in the investigations that are taking place.
I think it's important that Congress be allowed to execute, the Senate Intelligence Committee be allowed to carry out that investigation, and we will get to the bottom of this. And so I think that's -- what we have to do in Congress is to fully execute the investigation so that we can show the results.
BLITZER: But, Senator, the president, for all practical purposes, as this investigation is under way -- and I agree with you, there's a detailed investigation in the House and Senate. The FBI is investigating as well.
But, for all practical purposes, the president has just convicted her of committing a crime.
GARDNER: Well, I think, again, there's a couple of texts and tweets that I wouldn't have sent if I were the president. That's why I believe we should leave it to Congress, this investigation. Let's see the results.
BLITZER: Why does he do that? A month ago, he convicted President Obama of ordering illegal wiretaps of Trump Tower, committing a felony. Now he's making these accusations against Susan Rice without providing any evidence at all. Why do you think he does that?
GARDNER: I think a lot of people are wondering the same question.
But here's what I would say. I don't speak for the White House and I don't know that answer. But here's what I think we need to do. And that is get to the bottom of what happened with Susan Rice and the question of an unmasking. And if it was done in an unlawful manner, that will be determined through this investigation. And I have full faith in the committee to do this.
BLITZER: Which is a fair question to ask. But, once again, the president has already made up his mind. He thinks she has committed a crime, even as this investigation is only beginning.
Let's talk about Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist's removal today from the National Security Council. What does that suggest to you as far as the future direction of the Trump administration on national security?
GARDNER: I think as McMaster gets involved in the National Security Council and starts putting in place his team, it shows that they are moving forward with the construction of a committee that they -- the council that they are hoping to achieve.
And McMaster is putting his own people in the committee. I think he's got the trust of the president. And that's why you're seeing the changes today.
BLITZER: Let's talk about North Korea. I know it's a critically important issue.
The administration now dealing with the North Korean missile launch, the latest one that occurred just ahead of the president's meeting tomorrow with the Chinese leader in Palm Beach. Secretary Tillerson's statement on this included three sentences. Let me read it to you.
"North Korea launched another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."
What's the strategy, do you believe, behind that statement?
GARDNER: Well, I think you have heard the president talk about how he doesn't want to telegraph his actions in a region when it comes to foreign policy, that he's hesitant to let our enemies know exactly what we're up to.
It's clear that North Korea has come to a point in time where we have to act in a way that actually works to denuclearize the peninsula. Our policy of strategic patience has failed.
I was glad to see Secretary Tillerson say that publicly and express that in South Korea, that the past eight years of strategic patience has been a failure. It's emboldened the North Korean regime.
But I hope at Mar-a-Lago, at the summit this weekend, that they will actually move North Korea to the top of the agenda. Obviously, it's going to be adjoined by the issues that took place in Syria, happening in Syria today and yesterday.
But I hope that what we can get from President Xi through President Trump is a commitment from China that they will actually lay out a plan to bring an end to the madness in Pyongyang, that China will step up to the regime.
China controls 90 percent of the economy in North Korea. It's time that they take responsibility as a global power and act to stop North Korea, instead of sitting idly by and just watching the United States and Korea try to deal with this from afar.
BLITZER: Yes. If President Trump could convince President Xi of that, that would be a major step forward.
Senator Gardner, thanks for joining us.
GARDNER: Thanks for having me. Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we heard the president's very tough words, but what kind of action is he willing to take against Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad?
And as Melania Trump returns to the spotlight, we are going to take a closer look at some of the new criticism of the first lady. Did she undermine the president's America first message?
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news out of the White House. A rather surprising "New York Times" interview granted by the president in the Oval Office.
[18:33:35] Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House correspondent.
Jeff, the president, he charged that Obama's national security advisor, Susan Rice, may have committed a crime without providing any evidence to back that up. Pretty shocking development.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very explosive claim there the president is making now. A bit of context, if you will, here.
The president and others here at the White House have accused Susan Rice, who was the national security advisor in the Obama administration, of intentionally unmasking or essentially identifying the names of some Trump associates in intelligence reports. So he had an interview with Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush of "The
New York Times" in the Oval Office, a very brief interview. And he wanted to make this, essentially, accusation public.
And this is what he said. Let's take a look at "The New York Times" report right here, Wolf. He said, "'It's such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.' He declined to say if he had personally reviewed new intelligence to bolster his claim," "The Times" writes, "but pledged to explain himself, quote, 'at the right time.' When asked if Ms. Rice had committed a crime, the president said, 'Do I think? Yes, I think'."
But again, Wolf, important to point out, the reporters pressed the president on what evidence he would have of doing this, because both Republican and Democratic national security officials from previous administrations have said this is simply a course of ordinary business for a national security adviser to find out some names of people in these reports.
[18:35:05] Now, it would be a different story if -- if those names were leaked. Dr. Rice has said she did not leak any names at all. But this is certainly not the end of this.
But a spokeswoman for Dr. Rice said this of this report, Wolf. She said, "I'm not going to dignify the president's ludicrous charge with a comment." But Wolf, this could very well end up on Capitol Hill. Both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee have expressed some interest in learning more from Susan Rice.
BLITZER: Another surprising development today. What are you finding out about Steve Bannon's removal from his seat at the National Security Council?
ZELENY: Wolf, it is certainly a demotion. There's just no other way to explain it. It is a diminishing of Steve Bannon's powerful role here in the West Wing.
He essentially had a wide portfolio, could do, you know, anything, really, he wanted from domestic to foreign policy. And he was named to this principals committee of the National Security Council in the opening days of the administration. And that sort of put him alongside, you know, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, other high-ranking people.
Well, you know, this shows that the emerging power of the new national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster here, essentially is getting the national security advisers he wants. He, I'm told, has had some exchanges, has some disagreements, if you will, with Steve Bannon. But in this case, General McMaster prevailed here. So Steve Bannon can still attend these meetings as a top advisor to the president, but he's not on that principals committee, and that is a big, big difference here, Wolf.
But they are -- are adding the chairman of the joints chief of staff, as well as the director of national of intelligence back to this principals committee, so essentially leaving it as it had always been, this traditional structure. But there's no question Steve Bannon tonight still powerful in this White House, Wolf, but not as big of a portfolio at all.
BLITZER: Very interesting development, indeed. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks very much.
We're joined now by our political and national security experts. And Phil Mudd, let me start with you. I want your reaction. The president in this "New York Times" interview, without providing any evidence, says he thinks President Obama's former national security adviser, Susan Rice, committed a crime. What are the repercussions of a president even saying that?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, look, you know, if it weren't so serious, this would be Comedy Central. We have the president's own advisers, including his former national security adviser, asking for immunity from the government, because they don't want to admit in public what presumably was collusion with the Russians. This is his people, who are under investigation for violating the law.
Meanwhile, in the past few weeks, he's accused President Obama of violating the law and forcing the FBI director to humiliate the president in public by saying, "That's nonsense," and now he doubles down on this. I think when you step back, you have to ask why the president is spending energy and capital to accuse people of violating the law when that's not even the purview of the executive branch he manages. That's the Judicial Branch, last I checked.
BLITZER: Let me check with Bianna Golodryga. What do you think, Bianna? When you heard the president's remarks in this "New York Times" interview?
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, it does come across, Wolf, as some sort of red herring. I mean, look, you'd had this mad chase to find validation for what the president had tweeted almost exactly one month ago, that his predecessor had wiretapped Trump Tower.
At first, they were blaming British intelligence. Then there was Elizabeth Farkas last week. This week, it's Susan Rice. She's catnip for Republicans, obviously, following Benghazi.
And yet, still there's no proof whatsoever, regardless of the information that we have found. First of all, whether or not Susan Rice had committed a crime. There's no proof of that. But also, there's still no validation as to the president's initial claim. I mean, this is a president who says he knows things. This takes being prescient to a whole other level.
BLITZER: And it does suggest, Dana Bash, that the charge against the president, he's simply trying to change the subject.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A hundred percent. There's no question about it. You know, Phil Mudd just said that, if this wasn't so serious, it
would be like Comedy Central. I mean, it kind of is, except for the fact that it's somewhere in between Comedy Central and kind of -- I think it's, effectively, the old Jon Stewart show, where you're watching about politics and you're thinking, "Is this real? Is this not real?"
Because what the president did is -- was so overtly political, trying to say that Susan Rice committed a crime. I mean, it's not as explosive as his tweet, you know, a month ago, I guess, at this point, Saturday morning, 6:30 in the morning, saying that the president himself wiretapped; but it's pretty close.
Now, at the end of the day, you know, we know now that on Capitol Hill especially, they are going to now look into how all of these identities came to end up in the public -- public arena and whether there was any culpability inside the National Security Council, inside the White House at all. But we don't know that.
And, again, going back to several things that the president said in that interview in "The New York Times," now we're almost 100 days in. We know that he's not going to change, but we also know, based on the restructuring that he did at the NSC today, based on the comments he made about Syria today, that he is learning.
And this is one very, very important thing that he has not learned. You've got to be careful, even if you think it's good politics. The campaign is over. You're president of the United States.
BLITZER: That's a good point.
Phil Mudd, the National Security Council, the chief strategist of the White House, Steve Bannon, is now off. The CIA director -- guess what? -- he's now in. Chairman of the joint chiefs now in. Your reaction to this development?
MUDD: This is even more significant than it was portrayed today, Wolf. Let me explain how huge this is.
When you work in Washington, D.C., Steve Bannon is what we call big hat, no cattle. That is, he's got some ideas; he's got a big title; but he has neither money nor people. When you've got money or people -- that is the CIA director, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state -- you've got to do things. You've got to negotiate with the Russians; you've got to deploy forces; you've got to run clandestine operations overseas if you're the CIA.
At a certain point, the president has to step back and say, "If I want to do stuff, it's the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the CIA director, the guys with money and people who have to do stuff." The big idea guys, we saw what happened to them today. This guy got his ass handed to him.
BLITZER: Bianna, what do you think?
GOLODRYGA: I agree with what Phil Mudd just said. I think -- I think if this had been any other news day in this administration, this would have been the biggest story and the biggest headline. Obviously, there are other events happening, both domestically; and, obviously, abroad a real international crisis unfolding in Syria.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Dana.
BASH: I was just going to say, I was -- I was told tonight that, by a source familiar with working for the NSC, that this is something that General McMaster, the national security adviser, has been working on for a long time. And this something being, getting Steve Bannon off of the principals committee.
But also, as Jeff Zeleny reported earlier, returning the National Security Council to a traditional structure, one that just in terms of the inner workings of the White House and then the broader national security community in the government, worked during the eight years of the Obama administration, just in terms of information flow and access to the president. And that's what he did today with Steve Bannon but a couple of other changes, as well.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody stick around. We have a lot more coming up.
Was it appropriate for the president to weigh in today on Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment scandal and claim the FOX News anchor didn't do anything wrong?
And Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump under more intense scrutiny tonight as the first lady makes a relatively rare public appearance. Are they helping the president?
[18:47:27] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In his "New York Times" interview today, President Trump went out of his way to defend FOX News host Bill O'Reilly. Dozens of O'Reilly's sponsors have now pulled their ads from his program in the wake of revelations that millions of dollars were paid to settle sexual harassment claims.
We're back with our analysts.
I was pretty surprised, Dana, to hear what the president said in this "New York Times" interview. "I don't think Bill did anything wrong. I think he shouldn't have settled personally. I think he shouldn't have settled."
He's now weighing in on this issue.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He sure is. I don't think he has had any consultation with Bill O'Reilly's lawyers or anything else about this case and even if he did, he's the president of the United States. He's not just a loyal friend, as he has been, clearly, to Bill O'Reilly. I mean, I think that the two of them historically went to Yankees games and sipped Slurpee, or something, a Big Gulp, something along those lines. But it's not those years anymore. It's just not. And the fact that
he went there and he didn't say what he should have done as no comment, it is an example of the fact that as much as he tries to, you know, get his sea legs and be the president and learn on the job understandably, he's still Donald Trump and he still can't help himself on issues that -- you know, one thing when he was a private citizen tweeting in Trump Tower, it's a whole different thing when he's president of the United States.
BLITZER: It certainly is.
Bianna, let me talk about this U.S.-Russian relationship a little bit. The president is trying to navigate. You had a chance to do a report for Yahoo News and you went out and spoke with Russian-Americans about how he's doing so far.
Let me play this little clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We love him because my parents live in Russia and we think he's going to do better, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My family and my husband and I, we work for Trump. We like him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's a businessman. He's a little bit not --
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS AND FINANCE ANCHOR: Out of his element?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Maybe not educated enough for politics but, you know, let's give him a chance.
GOLODRYGA: What do you think about U.S./Russia relations and the fact that they are strained now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it should be better. It will get better because the United States and Russia are neighbors. We are neighbors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alaska, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Fascinating, Bianna. Were you surprised about the reaction that you were getting?
GOLODRYGA: Not really because I heard anecdotally that many Russians were in fact supporting -- Russian-Americans were supporting Donald Trump throughout the campaign.
[18:50:04] I spent many weekends with my family out in Brighton Beach, and so, I decided to go to a store that I spent a lot of time at and talk to people of different generations. Some people who came here more recently and some people have been here for many decades. And all of them, across the board, as you've heard at that sample,
really spoke very highly of President Trump and asked them about Russia's role in the U.S. elections, in trying to hack into the U.S. elections and fake news and what-have-you, they just didn't buy it. There is a great sense of support for President Trump. They would think that he is a strong leader and that he shares a lot of characteristic that President Putin has as well. I asked somebody about President Putin, and one woman said with a straight face, you know, he stole all of the money that he needed and now he can get to work and focus on what needs to be done in Russia. So, I mean --
BLITZER: What did they say to you, Bianna, about Putin?
GOLODRYGA: They think that Putin is a strong leader. I asked them about the recent protest. They said, listen, it's a free country, so people can go out and protest as much as they like. I think a lot of people, a lot of dissidents would beg to differ with that.
I think they believe that he restored a lot of the country's pride and the fact that we're talking about Russia on a day to day basis is something that they take a lot of pride in, and these are people who didn't feel much pride in their home country, and I think they think they get that from Vladimir Putin. What you don't see in there incidentally is a few minutes later in fact, I ran into a distant cousin of mine at that grocery store, he was not interviewed on camera.
BLITZER: All right. We'll get that word later, Bianna.
Everybody, stay with us.
Just ahead, Melania Trump visits a school as she's learning new lessons about life in the White House fishbowl, where every word, every move, every wardrobe is scrutinized.
[18:56:16] BLITZER: Tonight, First Lady Melania Trump rubbing elbows with royalty as she and the president host the king and queen of Jordan.
We've seen a bit more of Mrs. Trump in recent days and that's led to more intense scrutiny, something the first daughter, Ivanka Trump, also knows a thing or two about.
Our White House reporter Kate Bennett is with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM with more on the First Family.
What are you learning, Kate?
KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, Ivanka Trump went a bit deeper today into her relationship with her father and her role as his adviser. But today was also about Melania Trump stepping out publicly once again, getting more comfortable with her place in the spotlight.
BENNETT (voice-over): First Lady Melania Trump back at the White House to greet Rania of Jordan, the wife of King Abdullah, meeting with President Trump today.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just wanted to thank our friends, our great friends.
BENNETT: The two women had a private lunch in the White House residence, attended the Rose Garden news conference, and made a stop the Excel Academy, a public charter school for girls.
For Queen Rania, a popular and outspoken female in Jordan with millions of followers on social media and a spot on the international best dressed list, the visit today was a high profile role she's comfortable with. Melania Trump is, after all, the fourth first lady the queen has spent time with since her husband came into power nearly 20 years ago.
But for Melania, the visit is yet more practice at being in the public eye. Her official first lady portrait was also released this week, wearing a black suit by Italian designers Dolce & Gabbana, Mrs. Trump was photographed in the west hall of the White House private residence.
Meanwhile, it was also a big week for Ivanka Trump, spotted today at the White House, and front row at the press conference, alongside her husband, Jared Kushner. The first daughter discussing her new role and defending herself against critics, even a "Saturday Night Live" parody.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who could stop all this but won't. Also available in a cologne for Jared.
IVANKA TRUMP, FIRST DAUGHTER: If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I'm complicit. I don't know that the critics who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in would do any differently than I'm doing.
BENNETT: And while Ivanka also said she frequently voices concerns about policy to her father, she neglected to get specific on which issues the two part ways.
IVANKA TRUMP: For me, this isn't about promoting my viewpoints. I wasn't elected by the American people to be president. I think my father is going to do a tremendous job and I want to help him do that.
BENNETT: And while Ivanka intensifies her role and her importance in the West Wing, Melania will have another chance to play hostess on a global stage, this time with the wife of China's Xi Jinping starting tomorrow at Mar-a-Lago.
BLITZER: Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, they both, the Trumps -- they feel very comfortable down there.
BENNETT: Very much so.
BLITZER: I'm sure she feels more comfortable there because she's familiar with it than she necessarily feels at the White House.
BENNETT: Looks that way.
BLITZER: All right. Kate Bennett, good report, thanks very much for joining us.
And that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. Have a wonderful weekend.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.