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Reince Priebus Out, General John Kelly In As White House Chief of Staff. Aired 8-8:30p ET

Aired July 28, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:07] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Welcome to the end of President Trump's American Heroes Week. And just when you thought it was safe to go into happy hour, there's more breaking news tonight.

About 24 hours after it was revealed the new White House communications director called him an F-ing paranoid schizophrenic and accused him of being a leaker, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is out as chief of staff. General John Kelly is in.

Now, before we get into the details of how this all happened, let's just for a moment take a look at all the frankly bizarre things that have gone on this week.

On Monday, Jared Kushner appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It seems like a year ago, admitting he had four meetings with Russians. On the same day, the president gave a speech in front of thousands of cheering and chanting Boy Scouts, a speech the Boy Scouts later had to apologize for. In the same vein, the Suffolk County Police Department today distanced itself from a speech the president gave in which he encouraged officers to be rougher with people they arrest.

Back to the timeline of the week, Tuesday, the president said on camera what he had been saying on Twitter, that he was disappointed in Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself for the Russian investigation.

The president followed that up bright and early Wednesday, announcing on Twitter that transgender people are banned from serving in the military, an announcement the military said the next day means nothing for now.

And yesterday, we heard more than we ever thought we would hear about White House dysfunction from the mouth of Anthony Scaramucci, which brings us to today. Reince Priebus out. It turns out he resigned yesterday, he says, after the name-calling and allegations of leaking against him. We didn't find out about it until late today.

Here's part of what Scaramucci said about Reince Priebus in a phone call to CNN yesterday, insisting they were bros. Not tight bros like Scaramucci says he and the president are, but bros in a more biblical sense.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: As you know from the Italian expression, the fish stinks from the head down. But I can tell you, two fish that don't stink, OK? And that's me and the president.

I don't like the activity that's going on in the White House. I don't like what they're doing to my friend, I don't like what they're and doing to the president of the United States or their fellow colleagues in the West Wing.

Now, if you want to talk about the chief of staff, we have had odds, we have had differences. When I said we were brothers from the podium, that's because we're rough on each other. Some brothers are like Cain and Abel.


COOPER: Now, if you're not up on your bible stories, Cain actually killed Abel. Happy American Heroes Week.

Oh, yes, I nearly forgot to mention, in the early morning hours of today, the Senate voted against the bill to repeal parts of Obamacare. We'll get to all the details of that stunning development tonight.

But, first, a short time ago, Reince Priebus spoke with Wolf Blitzer. Take a look.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST. Why did you make that important decision to resign?

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, it wasn't -- it was something that I have always talked to the president about, which is -- and I have always said to him, and he always agreed with me. Any time either one of us think that we need to make a change or move in a different direction, let's just talk about it and get it done.

And, so, I think the president thought about that and we talked about it yesterday. And I resigned and he accepted my resignation.

But this is about the president. It's about moving his agenda forward. I think he made a smart decision with General Kelly, and I think he's going to do a great job.

BLITZER: But why did you resign? I'm still trying to understand. I understand that you told the president you wanted to resign. He accepted your resignation yesterday.

But why? Were there a series of issues? Was there one thing that came up --

PRIEBUS: No, I don't -- listen --

BLITZER: -- and you decided, you know what, I no longer can do this? PRIEBUS: No, look, I think the president wanted to go a different

direction. I support him in that. And like I said a couple weeks ago, I said the president has a right to change directions. A president has a right to hit a reset button.

I think it's a good time to hit the reset button. I think he was right to hit the reset button, and I think it was something that I think the White House needs. I think it's healthy. And I support him in it.

BLITZER: Was he not happy with the direction you were setting?

PRIEBUS: Well, but, look, I mean, I think bringing in fresh face, I think bringing in fresh people is a good thing. So, look, he has the best political instincts. He's -- hang on a second.


PRIEBUS: He knows, I think, intuitively when things need to change. I've seen it now for a year and a half on this wild ride with the president that I loved being a part of. But he intuitively determined that it was time to do something differently. And I think he's right.

BLITZER: But it's only been six months, not very long. When you say he wanted to do things differently, tell us precisely what he said to you, why he wants to do things differently and why you concluded that didn't include you.

PRIEBUS: No, look, I'm not going to get into that personal stuff. The president is a professional, and I'm a professional and professional people don't discuss private conversations in public.

[20:05:05] BLITZER: What was the impact -- the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, you saw the interview he granted Ryan Lizza in "The New Yorker" magazine. He called you some awful things, including a paranoid schizophrenic. He said your days were numbers. He said you were about to leave.

At one point, he said Reince Priebus would resign soon and that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him.

What was your reaction when you saw that interview?

PRIEBUS: No reaction because -- I'm not going to respond to it. I'm not going to get into the mud on those sorts of things.

Look, the president and I had an understanding. We've talked about this many times. And we ultimately decided that yesterday was a good day and that we would work together. And I think that General Kelly is a great pick.

So, I'm not going to get into the weeds on that. I support what the president did. And obviously I think it's a good thing for the White House.

BLITZER: But why were you opposed to Anthony Scaramucci even getting a job in the White House? You saw how bitter -- bitter he was, how angry he was at you in that interview?

PRIEBUS: I'm not -- I'm not getting into that, Wolf. Look, it's over. I'm moving on. Support the president, and I support John Kelly and the president's agenda.

So, that's all you're going to get from me on that. I'm not going to get into the individual personal stuff.

BLITZER: He was also very angry at Steve Bannon, the White House chief strategist. I can't even read the words he uttered to Ryan Lizza about Steve Bannon. But do you think he can stay in the White House with Scaramucci now the communications director?

PRIEBUS: That's going to be up to John Kelly. But I will say that Steve is doing a great job. He is a brilliant guy who only cares about the president's agenda. He thinks about it 24 hours a day. Never quits.

He's a great asset to this president. And, so -- and a dear friend. So, my hat is off to Steve Bannon.

BLITZER: Can you just clear up the other charge? It was a very bitter charge that Scaramucci leveled against you, that you are a leaker and that you're really not that loyal to the president. You've got your own agenda. He made some bitter accusations against you, specifically the leaking.

Are you the leaker in the White House?

PRIEBUS: That's ridiculous, Wolf. Come on. Give me a break. I'm not going to get into his acquisitions --

BLITZER: Why not? Why not respond to him?

PRIEBUS: Because I'm not going to because it doesn't honor the president. I'm going to honor the president every day. I'm going to honor his agenda and I'm going to honor our country, and I'm not going to get into all of this personal stuff.


COOPER: Reince Priebus a short time ago. New details what went on from Sara Murray and Jeff Zeleny, reporting from the White House, on a very busy Friday night.

Sara, let's start with you. What are your sources saying about how everything went down? Was this really a mutual decision?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think something like this can be mutual when we're talking about the president deciding to replace his chief of staff. Now, you heard Reince Priebus offer his version of events there. He also said that he gave the president his resignation yesterday.

But what we have been hearing is that the president and also people close to him have just been growing frustrated with Reince Priebus in the chief of staff role. They believed that Priebus was no longer serving the best interests of the president, that he wasn't bringing order to the West Wing, but that he also wasn't being very effective in shepherding the president's agenda on Capitol Hill. That's one of the reasons they brought Priebus into the White House, was Trump was convinced by people around him that he needed an old Washington hand, someone who knew Washington to be able to guide him through the beginning of his administration.

But people, including the president's own family members, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, came to believe that Reince Priebus wasn't filling that role. So, sure, it may have been a somewhat amicable split there at the end. I think we saw Reince Priebus handle it graciously. But, certainly, it was a decision by the president that he wanted to go a different direction and he wanted to choose a general for that role.

COOPER: Right. Talk about being gracious, Priebus didn't want to, you know, address Scaramucci's comments for obvious reasons.

Do we know how much Scaramucci and his -- I mean, not just his comments but stuff he's done since he's got there in his very arrival, how much that played into Priebus' departure?

MURRAY: Well, it seems like it forced everyone's hands in terms of the timing of this. Now, we do know that General Kelly's names have been in the works for a while. There have, you know, been some conversations about replacing the chief of staff obviously that have extended for months, but have really grown more heated in recent weeks and in recent days.

One of the things that I think was telling about the things that Anthony Scaramucci has said about Reince Priebus on our air, for instance, just yesterday, he said that those comments were sanctioned by President Trump, that he spoke with the president before he went on CNN and essentially accused Reince Priebus of being a leaker and said the chief of staff could speak for himself.

So, I think in some ways, what we saw from Anthony Scaramucci has really forced these divisions into public.

[20:10:00] And remember, Scaramucci and Reince Priebus had their own fraught history going into this. And as soon as he was brought on, everyone was sort of waiting for these tensions to bubble over. I think people may have been surprised it all happened this quickly.

COOPER: Sara, thanks very much.

Let's go now to Jeff Zeleny.

So, Priebus was on Air Force One with the president today. Was there any indication that Priebus had already resigned at that point?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPODENT: Anderson, there was no indication of that at all. In fact, throughout the day, you know, supporters and close allies of the chief of staff were saying that there is nothing to these rumors. There is nothing factual about this at all. He's going to remain as chief of staff.

And there is a lot of reason to believe that Reince Priebus actually thought that when the day went out. He had not informed any of his allies. He did not tell Speaker Paul Ryan, anyone that this was on the verge of happening.

So, there is a sense of, you know, the moment that this was revealed about 5:00 or so, when the president announced this, the -- suddenly then some allies of Reince Priebus who were telling us all day long nothing is happening, like oh, he resigned last night.

So, Anderson, I've talked to several officials who are skeptical of that version of events. They believe that Reince Priebus was trying to hold on. They believe that he was trying to remain in this position. They thought he could weather this storm in the view of one, but simply that was not to be.

And now, as they sort of look back at it, they believe, at least some of Reince Priebus' allies believe, that Anthony Scaramucci was brought in to be sort of a hit man, if you will, to put all of this in public, as Sara was saying, and he wanted him out. It's only been a week since Anthony Scaramucci has been here. So, certainly, a big change in seven days.

COOPER: I mean, that's fascinating, the idea that he was brought in to be a hit man, in your words. I mean, Reince Priebus, from all the reporting, tried to stop Anthony Scaramucci from getting a job in the White House. I mean, he was supposed to have a role much earlier on, and I guess maybe that was some of the bad blood.

But the idea that Reince Priebus was brought in to kind of clear the decks, it sounds like there may be more firings to come. Excuse me, Scaramucci.

ZELENY: I think that -- I think there maybe in terms of people who are aligned with the RNC crowd. That's the Republican National Committee, you know, staffers and others who Reince Priebus brought into this White House, there's always been a Washington and a New York divide. Well, it's actually a Trump loyalist and an RNC divide here. So, I think you may see some other people leaving.

But, Anderson, I was truck today just thinking back on all this. One of the reasons I think Reince Priebus had such a tough job, and you talk to former chiefs of staff, they will agree he had a tough job, because the chief of staff's office is in the West Wing corner, not far from the Oval Office. It's intended to be within about a ten second office to the oval office to keep an eye who goes in, to be the ultimate gate keeper.

Reince Priebus could not be that gatekeeper. He learned that early on. The president was talking to everyone on the phone. He had, you know, this -- everyone had his ear and he had everyone else's ear. So, he realized early on it was difficult to do that.

And at the end, Anderson, for months now, I'm told, the president viewed the chief of staff as weak, someone he did not even want to be in the same room with him at times. So, it became untenable. In many respects, it's kind of amazing it lasted this long, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, Jeff Zeleny, fascinating. Thanks.

Certainly, a lot to talk about. Joining me now, Gloria Borger, David Axelrod, David Chalian and Ryan Lizza.

Gloria, I want to start with you. I understand you have some new reporting, news about Steve Bannon. What do you know??

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, you know, I've been told that the president has been seriously considering whether he wants to keep Steve Bannon over at the White House, Anderson, and that he has spoken, one of the things that has saved Steve Bannon is that he spoke to conservatives who said to him, don't do it. Don't get rid of Steve Bannon because it's going to hurt you with your base.

And so, now, we have a situation where both Bannon and Reince, who were in alliance, Reince is gone, Bannon remains. And the question remains about how Scaramucci and Bannon are going to make peace with each other and how they're going to deal with each other and whether they'll be able to work well together because Reince and Bannon ended up working well together and lots of people outside were kind of surprised by that.

But the president, you know, has been expressing some unhappiness with Steve Bannon as well. We know his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has also been expressing some unhappiness. But for now, it seems that Bannon will remain.

COOPER: David Chalian, you know, Reince Priebus kept saying tonight to Wolf that, you know, the president wants to go in a different direction but couldn't describe what this different direction is. It doesn't -- I mean, for all we know, there is no new direction, it's just simply a dissatisfaction with Reince Priebus.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: And it's at odds with the notion that the direction that they had been going for six months is as successful as Reince or the president was trying to describe it. I mean, that line stuck out to me too, Anderson.

We don't know what direction it is. And this is why at the -- you laid it out perfectly at the beginning what this week was all about. And it really was about exposing a White House that seems incapacitated, that totally is dysfunctional, not able to sort of execute on an agenda, because of all the various items you mentioned, just in this week.

[20:15:11] And I think what we saw today in the culmination with the change in the White House chief of staff, that may go some distance when John Kelly gets this there to calm some of the waters underneath. But this is all about the person sitting in the Oval Office. He is -- he's proven himself to be impulsive. He's not likely to change his behavior, being on Twitter, as Jeff Zeleny was just saying, taking tons of streams of information and talking to as many people as possible.

That is going to be the biggest challenge for John Kelly. Not running the White House or bringing discipline there, but you're dealing with the very same person in the Oval Office who doesn't seem inclined to change his behavior.

COOPER: Yes, David Axelrod, I mean, you know, Anthony Scaramucci, you know, said that the fish stinks from the head, although it became like three different fishes with different heads. But, you know, to David's point, John Kelly comes in. He's a marine general, obviously a good organizer.

But is that enough in this White House where the organization is disorganization? I mean, it's intentionally, you know --


COOPER: -- all these kids of the president have and in-laws have the direct ear of the president. It's unlike any organization of any White House in recent history.

AXELROD: Right. Look, as has been pointed out, this was a catastrophic week that capped off a turbulent six months. And the problem is that the president is the author of a lot of that turbulence, through his tweets, through his statements.

And you wonder how General Kelly -- it seems like a culture clash, because General Kelly is coming from the military. He's used to a hierarchy, he's used to order. And it makes sense in certain ways after all of this chaos and, frankly, failure that they want to bring in someone who will bring some order to chaos. But can he if the president doesn't cooperate?

You know, the president just this week, as I think you pointed out, issued a significant order relative to the military on transgender service people. And the military chiefs did not know about it.

Is that going to stop under General Kelly? Is he going to be aware of what the president is tweeting at 6:00 and 7:00 in the morning? Or is it going to be more of the same? And how will he tolerate that?

Second, will he have absolute control over the White House staff? You know, Scaramucci said that he didn't report to the chief of staff, that he reported only to the president. If that's the case, I think it's going to be very uncomfortable for General Kelly.

No White House works -- I had a long standing relationship with Barack Obama before he became president to have United States. I had many conversations with him, but there was never any doubt that when I was there in those two years I was there, Rahm Emanuel was the chief of staff, and he was ultimately the authority in the White House. That is not the case here, and without that, it's very hard to bring order to chaos -- order to the chaos.

COOPER: David Axelrod, how do you see Scaramucci's role? I mean, as -- you know, is it -- is it as a hit man as was talked about earlier to clear the decks? I mean, it does seem it's -- you know, he fired another guy who was linked to the RNC earlier, a lower level guy in the communications department, Sean Spicer is gone.

Is it basically now getting to be kind of cabal of just Trump loyalists?

AXELROD: Look, I think Scaramucci understands what the president wants. The president wants a pugnacious person out there, who's slugging away for him. And on the things he cares, on things like leaks. And Scaramucci just -- you know, he picked that right up and he went, and he was slugging away.

And there's no indication that the president was unhappy about that. The president hasn't expressed at all on that, nor have his spokespeople. So, you have to believe that he embraces.

Now, it may be that if he comes to believe that Scaramucci is a liability, that he will on his own mind revamp his thinking, and Scaramucci will have problems. But right now, it seems to me that he more than anybody there has doped out what disturbs the president and he's decided to go out and be the pugnacious champion that the president feels he's lacked.

COOPER: Although, Ryan, as we've seen also in this White House, if people get -- people other than the president get too much attention, that is something the president doesn't like.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's true. But I think what we witnessed in the last 48 hours is, you had two people at war with each other. They've been at war with each other for months, but now they're both working in the White House.

One went out and completely mowed down the other in public. And a day later, the guy that got mowed down in public in pretty crude ways has been fired.

[20:20:01] So, what lessons does that teach you about working for President Trump, about going public against your enemies, adopting a sort of Trump-like style? If you're Anthony Scaramucci, you're feeling pretty good tonight. You just won -- you know, you've won the war without barely firing a shot.

Reince is on the way out, and, you know, you have a confidence that your job is secure. And by the way, it's being reported tonight that there's no change in his status. He'll continue to report to the president. So, pretty good for him.

You know, there's a reason someone is called the chief of staff, right? It comes from -- it's borrowed from the military. Eisenhower instituted the sort of, you know, military style structure in the White House, and most successful presidents have had that strong chief of staff to channel all of the, you know, the information and to make decisions about staffing.

And as David Axelrod pointed out, I think it was little modest about his relationship with Barack Obama, but even Barack Obama's longest serving political adviser still reported through the chief of staff. Same thing with Karl Rove and George W. Bush, he reported through the chief of staff. And presidents that have used this kind of ad hoc, multi-power center style of staffing usually get into trouble.

Now, that probably put too much blame on simple structural staffing issues. At the end of the day, the dysfunction in the White House is about Donald Trump and his style, his management style and personal style. And, you know, color me skeptical -- I'm a little skeptical, bringing in any single staffer can fix what's wrong over there.

BORGER: Well, you know, we don't know what the chain of command is going to be. But you have to assume that General Kelly would have asked about it. And would have asked about who reports to whom, because after all, he is a general. And so you would think that he would.

And if we have learned anything about Donald Trump, we've learned that he doesn't like people whom he considers to be weak. And Jeff Zeleny talked earlier that he thought Reince Priebus was weak.

One of the reasons he's been so angry at Jeff Sessions is he recused himself, and he thought that recusal was weak. So he's looking at the general as kind of a strong person, and perhaps even, and this is what he hasn't had in the White House, perhaps even someone he regards as a peer, somebody that he might be able to go to for advice and take that advice, which perhaps he doesn't feel like he's had in this White House.

So, you know, will he listen to him? Who knows? Obviously --

COOPER: It's so interesting. I mean, David Axelrod, the definition of what strength and weakness is in this White House is fascinating. I mean, the idea that being bombastic is strength, but a guy like Reince Priebus who has offered multiple opportunities to badmouth, you know, respond with fire or harsh words to Anthony Scaramucci, you know, just chooses not to do that, and, you know, tries to leave in an elegant way, that's viewed as weakness.

One wonders if Reince Priebus had called in to CNN, right after Anthony Scaramucci had called in and, you know, bashed back, if the president viewed that as strength.

AXELROD: Yes, maybe so. It's interesting. The president brought in a general and Reince left as a good soldier.

But I have to say -- I think that we all know that Donald Trump is a very narcissistic guy, and I think that strength is something that he sees in himself, and his style is very much replicate -- I call Scaramucci mini me. He's another version of Trump. And Trump probably likes that reflection.

I just want to make one point, Anderson, on Gloria's reporting. You know, it would be very, very dangerous for the president, at a time when the right is very unhappy with him about his treatment of Jeff Sessions, to dispatch Steve Bannon. That would look like a total capitulation, in their minds, to the sort of Wall Street, New York Republicans and over the populist Republicans. I would think they would want to think twice about that.

COOPER: David Chalian, also, I mean, there were some -- I saw some people discussing earlier today, and may be it's more of just kind of a hypothetical, but the idea of, is this a chance for the president to move Jeff Sessions over to the Department of Homeland Security and put in somebody else as attorney general?

CHALIAN: Yes, I think that is in the realm of hypothetical, but it is a theory that is out there right now. Is it a way of sort of getting rid of Sessions from the DOJ without having to fire him? Because as David Axelrod was just saying, I do think that one of the reasons this week was so significant, Anderson, is because I do think it was the first time we really saw some significant cracks emerge between the president and some of his base, some of his cohorts, some of the base of support.

[20:25:14] I don't mean necessarily in polling. I just mean in the way that conservative media and conservatives on the Hill pushed back on what he was doing with Jeff Sessions, in the way we saw some Republicans break with him on health care. There were moments throughout this week where it was emerging that way.

And so, to get rid of Bannon in a time like that would be tough. But perhaps the opening at DHS, he can play a little chess game there. To me, that seems almost too cute by half. But we'll see if Donald Trump avails himself.

There's going to be a cabinet meeting on Monday. It will be interesting to see Chief of Staff Kelly handle that cabinet meeting at his first day on the job, and if Jeff Sessions is sitting there and the relationship between him and the president.

COOPER: Ryan, Priebus said he offered his resignation yesterday. What we don't know is what time yesterday, if in fact it was yesterday. Do you have any idea how much your reporting yesterday that Scaramucci referred to Priebus as an F-ing paranoid schizophrenic and, you know, to leaker, did or didn't play into this?

LIZZA: I don't. And when I learned that tonight that it was yesterday, I was a little bit surprised because -- well, two reasons.

One, yesterday, some people close to Reince were telling me that frankly the political fallout from the Scaramucci interview this week may have saved Reince some time. One person said maybe it bought him six more months. That obviously was incorrect.

The second thing that's surprising about is Reince, you know, and people around Reince were priding themselves on staying above the fray, not going public with these fights because they were trying to get this health care bill passed through the Senate. And, of course, that bill met its fate at 2:30 in the morning. So, this means that he resigned before he knew the outcome.

It would make more sense to me that health care failing made Reince decide, OK, my big project failed, the president needs someone else. So, I feel like we don't have the full story about the final events here but --


COOPER: Go ahead, David.

AXELROD: I was just going to say, I don't understand why there's all this sort of bewilderment as to why Priebus resigned. You read that story that Ryan wrote, and you hear that interview that Scaramucci did with Chris Cuomo, and they might have as well just rolled up hand carts and the Acme Movers to Reince Priebus' office. You don't have to be a genius to read the hand writing on the wall.

When the health care bill went down, I think that certainly sealed his fate.

BORGER: Yes, it may have sealed it, but, obviously, this was in the works, you know, for quite some time. And, you know, I think that when you look at what's happened here, you have Sean Spicer gone. You have Katie Walsh gone, who was the -- Reince's deputy. And you have Reince gone.

So, you have that whole wing of the -- you know, as Jeff Zeleny calls it, the Republican national committee wing, now pretty much depleted there. And what you have is Scaramucci, who is mini me, and Steve Bannon left, who -- and I think the dynamic is going to be here is the Bannon/Scaramucci dynamic, and who really speaks on behalf of the president and who, you know -- and how those two work it out or do they become competing power centers.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: And the family, of course, remains no matter what.

COOPER: Yes, untouchable.

LIZZA: Just to give you a sense of how divided and ugly this is, tonight at the Trump Hotel, people on team Scaramucci, Scaramucci himself was not in Washington I believe, but people that supported Scaramucci and opposed Priebus will be celebrating Priebus' demise at the Trump hotel bar. That's how --

AXELROD: I hope they'll get a discount.

LIZZA: That's how kind of ugly and messy this thing has gotten.

BORGER: And maybe Kelly can fix that, because, you know, that's something that shouldn't be tolerated if you're a chief of staff. And, David, you can talk about this more.

But remember, it wasn't long ago when the president said to Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, boys, work it out. Remember that? They were feuding publicly and he told them to work it out. Well, that is what a chief of staff needs to be doing right now in this White House.

COOPER: We've got to take a break. Up next, what we know about the new White House chief of staff, retired Marine Corps General John Kelly. Since January, he served as secretary of homeland security. The question tonight, can he unite the West Wing and stop the drama?


[20:33:34] COOPER: With Reince Priebus out and John Kelly in as White House Chief of Staff, we wanted to spend few minutes filling you in on who he is. Kelly will start in the job on Monday taking in a new role in the administration.

President Trump gave a hint of what was about to happen when he went out of his way praising Kelly earlier today in a speech on long island.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to congratulate John Kelly, who has done an incredible job of Secretary of Homeland Security. Incredible.


One of our real stars. Truly, one of our stars. John Kelly is one of our great stars.


COOPER: That was before it was announced that Priebus was out. In fact, John Kelly is a Four Star Retired Marine General.

Barbara Starr joins us from the Pentagon with more insight on him. You reported on the Pentagon for years and have a lot of experience with General Kelly. Explain his background and his experience?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Four-star marine, Anderson. Close for decades to Defense Secretary James Mattis, also a retired four start marine. And the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dunford, also a currently serving four start marine. So Kelly knows National Security, even before he went to Homeland Security.

This is a guy who knows how to run a large organization. He served in Iraq in combat out in Western Iraq, in Anbar, in Fallujah. So he's seen very tough times. You know, Donald Trump likes his generals, but will the generals like Kelly really be able to adapt to President Trump's, shall we say, flexible management style certain days of the week. He is coming into an organization at the White House that may be very different than what he's used to. And he will have to adapt to that to a large extent.

[20:35:15] COOPER: And beyond the loyalty that comes with being a cabinet secretary, Kelly is a true believer in both -- or is he a true believer in both the President and the President's agenda?

STARR: Absolutely is. Anyone you talk to, anyone who has watched him operate for the last several years, he is very tough and has been, even when he was in the military on border security, on his concerns about terrorists coming across the southern border. Something the Pentagon disagreed with him on about. He was very much in favor of the laptop ban to protect aviation security. These are all matters. He has been deeply involved with.

There's something also, there's a very human side that has shaped a lot of General Kelly in recent years. In 2010, his son, First Lieutenant Robert Kelly, was killed in action in Afghanistan. It was a tremendously difficult time, as one can only imagine, for the Kelly family. Many people who know him and have known him will tell you it was something, of course, when you lose a child, he is never gotten over, and it is something that has shaped him very much in recent years. Anderson?

COOPER: Barbara Starr, thanks very much. Back with the panel. Joining us as well, Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, CNN Military Analyst, he knows Kelly well, he worked in combat operations in Iraq together, here's a photo of them Hertling, the young officers on the left, Kelly the marine is on the right.

So General Hurtling, let's start with you. What about -- what is Kelly's leadership style like and how do you think he'll take to this role, which is probably anything like he's had before?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: He's very disciplined, Anderson, he is straightforward. He is straight shooter. We did -- he was in Western Iraq when I had Northern Iraq. He was in Fallujah, I had my headquarters in Tikrit.

We had a seam between us, a border between us, so we would work combat operations together along that border to get after the enemy in places where they didn't think we'd get after them. So he's very meticulous in the way he approaches things. He is very discipline. He's got a great sense of humor, and he -- I found him to be fun to work with, because he's common sense and pragmatic.

You know, I was listening to you earlier, half hour engagement with the rest of the panel, and it's interesting, because I think John is going to get in there, and he will not put up with some of the B.S. that's been going on in the White House. So he will exude a management style. He will help the President, I believe, and get some things under control that we all know have been completely out of control since the President took office.

And he'll put a lot of discipline into the operation. He won't take the crap from some of the people that have been dishing it out. You know, I just -- I kind of see a picture of him and Mr. Scaramucci together. I think he will melt him with his eyes in any kind of a meeting when Mr. Scaramucci goes off the radar and gets kind of crazy. That's just the kind of guy he is. He's a marine! What can i say?

And he's a very good one, and he knows his business. And beyond all that, you know Barbara said he's very loyal to Mr. Trump. He is also very patriotic. This is a guy who loves his country dearly. He's fought for it for 45 years. And I think thoughtfully he will be a very good addition to the White House to get things under control.

COOPER: General Hertling, I mean, the job, also beyond organization, I guess there's two part of the question, one, organizationally he's run the Department of Homeland Security. Obviously he was a top marine. The structure of those organizations, very different than the White House --


COOPER: -- which seems to have, in this White House, multiple power centers with people reporting directly to the President, having the President's ear. So A, there's the challenge of dealing with that. And there's the politics of the job. I mean, it's not just an organizational job, it's also a very political job in figuring out the politics in Washington.

HERTLING: Yes. Well, two things, Anderson. I'd say, first of all, we make a big deal out of John and combat and losing a son. But he was also the executive to the Defense Chief, Mr. Gates. So he learned politics in the Pentagon under a pretty good tutor.

The second thing, his last job in the army was the Southern Command Commander. So he had responsibility for everything south of the American border. There's a lot of politics that go on there, and not only briefing Congress and making sure you have the interaction with the interagency but also the X number of governments that make up the countries of South America.

So he knows what he's doing in politics and he seems quiet at times, but I think he'll be able to get the job done. And when you look across history, and I'm a history buff, when you look at people who have held the job of White House Chief of Staff before, not many of them had experience moving in. I would say John Kelly has got a lot of experience in government that he can apply. Certainly, it's different but I think he'll be a good fit, and he's very much need, as we've all been talking about.

[20:39:58] COOPER: Yes, David Axelrod, Axios is reporting that Secretary Kelly will be given full authority and that everyone goes through him now, meaning no wondering in and out of the Oval Office without him. A, do you think that's really going to hold? I mean, when you -- Anthony Scaramucci probably have direct access to the President, and the President's daughter and son-in-law seem to. And do you think the President will actually listen to him?

AXELROD: Well, I think that second question is the key one. It's a good rule, unless the President decides to violate it. And the President hasn't shown that kind of discipline in the past. You know, I heard the General -- and by the way, anyone who served in the White House would say, generals who serve in the Pentagon and serve at high levels in the military tend to be quite politically proficient. I have no doubts about that. The question is, not whether he's going to take B.S. from the staff. It's what he's willing to take from the President.


AXELROD: And whether the President is willing to listen to him. And I think that is a very open question. And that's a frustration he may feel. And generals are used to responding to Presidents. This President needs a general who is going to tell him the facts of life.

BORGER: And that's the question. That's the question. Will he speak truth to power?


COOPER: I just want to briefly bring in Josh Green, who has just written the book "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump & the Storming of the Presidency." Josh you spent a lot of time reporting on the inner workings of this White House. What do you make of Priebus' resignation?

JOSH GREEN, AUTHOR, "DEVIL'S BARGAIN": Well, I don't think Priebus ever really had the trust of the President. But he served an important function for Trump at several key points during his rise as a candidate, then as a nominee. Priebus was the guy who came out after President Trump on the Indiana primary last May and kind of blew the whistle on the GOP nomination. He sent out a tweet that functional ended the Republican movement to try to stop Trump, which was important. Then he became an emissary for Trump with a Republican establishment.

And when I interviewed Trump last May, he actually told me he just came up with a new nickname for Priebus. He called him Mr. Switzerland, because Trump thought he was a neutral broker who could unify the party. But when he was -- when he was named as a Chief of Staff job, he was never granted the power that traditionally comes with a job.

If you remember in the press release the Trump sit out Steve Bannon's name was listed above Priebus', which was a clue that Priebus wasn't going to have the kind of power you would ordinarily expect the Chief of Staff to have.

COOPER: And, just Gloria Borger earlier was reporting that President Trump was considering pushing out Steve Bannon as well or had discussed it. What do you think the impact of that would be and how likely do you think that is?

GREEN: You know, it's not clear to me. I think Trump is always thinking about different adviser status and who he might push out and who he might not push out. I haven't done a lot of reporting to suggest that Bannon is in jeopardy. However, Bannon and Priebus have been allies. I mean, they've begun the administration as enemies. Bannon to this national staff thought that Priebus was part of the D.C. swamp. But they wound up striking an alliance of convenience, because both of them were really under attack from other factions in the White House. And even as recently as last week, the two of them tried to team up to stop Anthony Scaramucci from becoming a White House Communications Director. But of course, they failed.

COOPER: Gloria, I mean, David Gergen was tweeting tonight that the best Chiefs of Staff in history were not only good organizers but also masters in politics as we were talking with General Hertling. Do you think he'll be successful in this job as a non-politician? BORGER: You know, look, the President's a non-politician. So you have a bit of a different dynamic here. I think it depends, as David was saying, Axelrod was saying earlier, how much authority the President gives him and whether he listens to him. I mean, the President is a 71-year-old man who gets up in the morning and tweets multiple times every day, and sometimes changes the news flow as a result.

And generals don't like surprises. Nobody does, to a degree. But the question is whether he's going to have any impact on the impulsiveness of this President.

COOPER: Right.

BORGER: And I don't, you know, honestly I have no way of knowing the answer to that, and also how he's going to have his command chain, how he is going to deal with the other power centers in the White House. Will he deal with McMaster differently? Will he deal with Jared differently? Will he -- you know, Jared Kushner differently? And how will he deal with Steve Bannon? And -- because I think Steve Bannon is there, and will remain. And so I think he's got to navigate this, and I think the President has to listen to him sometimes. And I just can't answer whether the President will or won't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I would imagine, Anderson --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- that the -- I would imagine that the President feels less restrained than he ever has now with this move as well. Remember, this was such an awkward marriage between Donald Trump and Reince Priebus. Two years ago Reince Priebus came up as RNC Chair with a loyalty ledge, all to try to box Donald Trump in from not running as an independent. And they went through that drama. Then the whole issue during the general election, and telling him maybe he should drop out after the "Access Hollywood" tape.

[20:45:24] This has never been -- this is exactly the kind of person that Donald Trump believes his candidacy was about rejecting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was the Jeb Bush wing of the party. And so never having -- now being free, no Spicer, no Priebus, none of these people that the party put on me, now it's just going to be me and my people that does not suggest to me that President Trump may be heading down a road of a more disciplined approach.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: Yes, we're going to have more on the relationship between Priebus and President Trump coming up. More on the White House shakeup as well, what President Trump said about Priebus after he tweeted that he was out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: More on our breaks news tonight, just after President Trump tweeted the news of his West Wing shakeup, he spoke to group of reporters on the Tormach (ph) outside Air Force One. Here's what he said.

TRUMP: Reince is a good man. John Kelley will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star. Done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody. A great, great American. Reince Priebus, a good man. Thank you very much.


[20:50:03] COOPER: Priebus only lasted six months as Chief of Staff. His history with the President goes back further than that obviously join the campaign. CNN Randi Kaye has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Responsibility --

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (Voice-over): Their relationship was rocky from the start. During the Republican primary Donald Trump insisting the vote was rigged. And that Reince Priebus should be ashamed of himself because he knew what was going on. After Trump became the nominee, there was more friction. Trump heard bragging that he could grope women without consent on this leaked Access Hollywood tape.

TRUMP: Grab them by the [bleep]. You can do anything.

KAYE: Priebus had heard enough, pleading with the billionaire to drop out of the race. Priebus then abruptly canceled all of his Sunday morning television appearances. Trump refused to step down. But despite that, the two men seemed to find a way to mend fences.

PRIEBUS: Ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States, Donald Trump.

TRUMP: Reince is a star, and he's the hardest working guy.

KAYE: For months Priebus had the President's back, like when questions were asked about a potential conflict of interest between President Trump and his businesses.

PRIEBUS: So I can assure you and everyone out there that all these things will be followed and will be done properly.

KAYE: Priebus also fending off questions regularly about why the President still hadn't released his tax returns.

PRIEBUS: And President Trump, one in the most historic presidential victories in the history of our country -- the only people asking me this question are people like you.

KAYE (on camera): But Trump's victory didn't end the drama. Soon after taking office, Priebus found himself unable to contain a laundry list of controversies. Like the immigration ban rollout, the Russia investigation, and the failure of the Senate's plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Still, Priebus kept up a brave face.

PRIEBUS: I'm not in any trouble. I've got a great relationship with the President. We talk all the time. In fact, just before coming on the set, he gave me a call.

KAYE (voice-over): Reince Priebus who was never an outside and always a Republican Party guy lost an important ally when Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned. And now just days later he, too, is out of the Trump White House. Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


COOPER: Joining me now is Jeffrey Lord, Paul Begala, Alice Stewart and Doug Heye. Jeff, does this decision getting rid of Priebus, and bringing in Kelley, does it solve any of the dysfunction in the White House?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it may. I think it may. Anderson, I don't want to do it. A news bulletin here, but you may have heard that I'm a fan of President Reagan's?

COOPER: I head that. Yes.

LORD: Yes, well, I have to tell you, I was there in the Iran contra situation in which President Reagan fired Donald Regan as his Chief of Staff. I got to tell you, that was ugly, really ugly. Donald Regan heard it in his office from CNN, and dictated immediately an angry one-sentence note that said Mr. President, I hereby resign as Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. Signed Donald T. Regan and left the building and never returned and was bitter forever about this. This is not what's happened here. President Trump's situation is infinitely better than this.

COOPER: But wait a minute. Jeff, you have the director of the White House communications team go on CNN and call the Chief of Staff --

LORD: I understand.

COOPER: An f-ing sociopath -- paranoid schizophrenic.

LORD: I understand but you just had Reince Priebus on. I assure you, you know, in the day Donald Regan would never have been has classy as Reince Priebus, period. I mean, it's that -- I mean, I don't mean to disaccord Donald T. Regan but that was a very ugly situation which carried forever. He went out and immediate wrote a book.

COOPER: Right, but the point is Donald T. Regan is different than Reince Priebus. Reince Priebus was the classy and --

LORD: I'm just saying --

COOPER: -- and standing up a not firing back at Scaramucci --


LORD: I'm just saying --

COOPER: OK, Paul, will having someone like Secretary Kelly who know how to run a tight ship and doesn't put up with infighting or disorganization brings some order to the administration?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. No, and Anthony is General Kelly's impressive man, I think he's a fine chose and I think it's terrific that he's willing to serve this President, but that's the problem is this President.

How many have we gone through? We have A chief of staff, who is going to -- deputy chief of staff, a communications director, national security advisor, deputy national security advisor, press secretary, deputy press secretary. I say this every time, Anderson. It's not the monkeys. It's the organ grinder. The President needs three people. The only three people who can set his administration right? The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. OK, it needs a miracle and I admire General Kelly, but he cannot fix what is wrong with our President, our President is impulsive, he is deceitful, he is autocratic, he is narcissistic, General Kelly can't fix that with a better organizational chart.

[20:55:05] COOPER: Alice I mean, the President, no matter how much organization I mean to Paul's point, and I'm not going to use the adjectives that he used but no matter how well he organizes things and has reporting through him which seems like a big victory if he is able to do that. The President is still the President and he's not going to change tweeting at 6:00 a.m. in the morning, surprises that Kelly probably doesn't know about.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And I think that will be the big unknown here moving forward. But look, what we already have seen there's positive energy coming from those in the White House. They're encouraged by the changes with regard to the general coming in. They say he will bring certainly bring about respectability and discipline in the White House but also he'll create unity. And here's one thing moving forward. Look, this is not just about changing the chess pieces on the board insanities during the same thing over and over again.

Another thing he must do moving forward, working with Scaramucci and the Trump's team to not only define the message but help to execute it. And that's not only is just the general and the comm shop but working with the President to try and do fewer tweets, stay on message and execute their game plan. Because that's been one of the biggest challenges with this administration, I feel, is that while they haven't been able to achieve any executive and legislative accomplishments because they're so busy with distractions. So hopefully the General can create unity, and loyalty and execute their legislative achievements.

COOPER: Doug, do you believe that Kelly, I mean for all his talent, can do that with this White House? DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think he's about as good a hire as Trump could make. But let me tell you about my last conversation face to face with Reince Priebus about six weeks ago. He asked me, what am I hearing? I said, it's not really good. He said is that a staff thing. And I said Reince, no, there's one problem and there's only one problem, and no change in staff can change that one problem.

Now, we know that Trump acolyte will say, glorious leader is amazing, every day is better than the day before it. But the reality is here on planet earth which a lot of the Trump acolytes don't leave on. On planet earth, we know that this Trump administration is wrapped in a coon of Armageddon of its own constant creation. General Kelly is great. He can do some good things but it doesn't change the one fundamental problem.

COOPER: Which is the President, you're saying?

HEYE: Absolutely.

COOPER: Jeff, what about that? How do you respond to Doug?

LORD: To which I will respond to my friend Doug and say it's exactly the opposite. I mean we've listened and I'm not picking on Doug here. But to Republican establishment members, some of whom still out there doing this and they were wrong every single time. Donald Trump is the President of the United States and he is the President of the United States in part precisely because he didn't listen to the Republican establishment.

COOPER: Right. But Jeff do you think things are going well for him?

LORD: No. I think there's a problem here. There's no question. But, you know, again, as I said to you in the past, Anderson, I went back and looked, literally looked, and every administration going back from Obama to Reagan. There was chaos in the White House stories.

COOPER: But I just want to stick in modern times. Just for -- with this White House.

LORD: Obama was just six months ago.

COOPER: No, no let's just stick with modern times. I mean the health care which the President ran on, repeal and replace was going to be so easy. That has failed other than getting Neil Gorsuch on, which was a victory for the President.

LORD: Right.

COOPER: You know, he signed a lot of bills which he --

LORD: Right, right. In fairness to the President here, I mean, the problem with the Obamacare repeal lies in the hands of the Republican Congress. I mean I have said to you I am just appalled that they -- I mean after seven years, I mean Donald Trump wasn't anywhere close to the White House seven years ago when he was saying we were going to repeal and replace. They had nothing ready to go.

COOPER: Sorry, go ahead. Doug, go ahead.

HEYE: I can give you chapter and verse from my own experiences as working with GOP where Congress has failed on Obamacare replacement. But let's be clear, Barrack Obama spent a year and half working history tail off to pass that bill. Donald Trump made a few phone calls, gave a speech or two, come of which wasn't great in front of the boy scouts for instance. He did not work this. We need the Trump White House to work hand and glove with Congress. And that didn't happen this time.

COOPER: Paul, we've seen two major establishments figure from Spicer, Reince Priebus purged from the White House. This is that guys that have long standing relationship with the Members of Congress. Is there anybody left who can fill that role?

BEGALA: Well, there is the Vice President Mike Pence who is absurd on the Hill. He's a highly regarded guy up there. We haven't heard much from him or seen him. He was there late this morning actually just this morning in case they needed his vote.

But what -- the problem is the President. Let me give concrete suggestions seriously to General Kelly. The day before you take the job, doing -- they're trying to (INAUDIBLE) is your day of maximum leverage. And what he needs are three things, real things. I would say, sir, I got honored to serve, but I got have three commitments from you. First, everyone reports to me. If I say they're hired, they're hired, if I say they're fired, they're fired. I'm the chief of the staff, so all the staff works for me. Number one, so I don't care whether Mr. Scaramucci has a problem with Steve Bannon tooting his own horn or whatever what he said, neither it be about self- promotion.

[21:00:03] Number two, you've to get off Twitter, period. You're done. Your twittering days are done. Twitter goes through me or through staff.