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Reince Priebus Out, Gen. John Kelly In; Washington Reaction to Resignation of Priebus; Source: Kelly Will "Bring Order" to White House; Trump Tells Police "Don't Be Too Nice" to Suspects; McCain Joins Collins, Murkowski & Democrats to Defeat Obamacare Repeal; Alabama Voters Shaken By Trump's Shaming of Sessions; 19 A.G.s Ask Congress to Block Trumps Transgender Ban. Aired 1-2 ET
Aired July 29, 2017 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. And thanks for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
Reince Priebus out, General John Kelly in. A whirlwind week for the White House ends with a dramatic resignation from the president's chief of staff. Priebus is the sixth member of the Trump administration to resign or be fired since February.
Priebus tells CNN his resignation could bring a fresh start for the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The 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 that it was something that I think the White House needs. I think it's healthy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: I'm joined by CNN White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins, who is live for us on the North Lawn of the White House.
Kaitlan, what more are you learning about the Priebus resignation?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We've learned a lot of details in the past 24 hours. This resignation has been long coming and rumored for months but it came to a fever pitch this week with the new communications director making pretty serious allegation against Reince Priebus saying he was leaking information to reporters.
And Reince Priebus was actually asked about this during his interview with Wolf Blitzer last night. It was his first interview since he resigned. So let's take a listen to what Reince Priebus had to say to Wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, WOLF: 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 accusations.
BLITZER: Why not respond to --
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. So --
BLITZER: Is there a leaking problem in the White House based on what you've seen?
PRIEBUS: Yes. I think that General Kelly should see if he can get to the bottom of it and figure it out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: As you can see there, Fred, Reince Priebus was downplaying these tensions between him and Scaramucci and between him and the president. But these were clearly things were on everyone's mind this week.
What will be the focus next week when John Kelly takes the corner office in the West Wing on Monday and gets sworn in? There's going to be a cabinet meeting immediately after. People are going to be questioning if the order and the hierarchy in this West Wing is really going to change. Most White House staffers report to the chief of staff who then is in charge of determining what information gets to the president and who sees him and who talks to him. But in this White House, many people report directly to Donald Trump. That includes Jared Kushner, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon, even the newly minted communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. So people are expecting that John Kelly will come in and really be able to instill a sense of order in this West Wing. But that's still to be determined because nothing else is changing beside John Kelly. It's still the same White House and still the same Donald Trump.
WHITFIELD: All right. Good points.
Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much from the White House.
Priebus is widely respected in the Republican Party and has many connections within the Washington establishment.
CNN correspondent, Boris Sanchez, joining me now for more on how the rest of Washington is reacting to all of this -- Boris?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Fred. Yes, certainly the most heartfelt statement coming about the resignation of Reince Priebus is from also someone from Wisconsin, House Speaker Paul Ryan. Someone who's a very close friend of Reince Priebus. The two men go back very many years. And Ryan writes, quote, "Reince Priebus has left it all out on the field for our party and country. Here's a guy from Kenosha, Wisconsin, who revitalized the Republican National Committee and became White House chief of staff. He served the president and the American people capably and passionately. He's achieved so much and done it all with class. I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend."
He goes on congratulations Secretary John Kelly on his appointment, saying that he looks forward to working with him to advance the agenda.
Here's an important point, Fred. Democrats are pouncing on this in part because there's now a vacancy at the Department of Homeland Security with John Kelly moving to the White House.
One of them, Representative Bennie Thompson, of the state of Mississippi, the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security, writes, quote, "Unfortunately, as with most major decisions in this administration, it is clear that this was rushed and not well thought out. The president and Republicans insisted the DHS secretary be confirmed on day one, but now the president leaves this critical national security cabinet post vacant. The timing could not be worse."
Thompson went on to say that the new head of DHS likely to be Elaine Duke, Kelly's current deputy. Probably won't be confirmed until at least the fall -- Fred?
WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez, thanks.
So while John Kelly faces a number of challenges in his new role as chief of staff, a source close to Kelly says the veteran Marine general will help bring order to the White House.
Here's CNN's Dianne Gallagher.
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was another major announcement made over Twitter.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news. President Trump just announcing a new White House chief of staff.
[13:05:05] GALLAGHER: The president tapping Homeland Security Secretary, General John Kelly, to replace Reince Priebus as his new chief of staff.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job.
GALLAGHER: Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general with nearly five decades of military service, has served many roles, the latest, Homeland Security chief, where he's earned high marks from the president for defending and enforcing the White House immigration policy. Earlier in his career, Kelly served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His son, Robert Michael Kelly, was killed during combat in Afghanistan in 2010. President Trump and General Kelly visited his son's grave on Memorial Day earlier this year.
Starting Monday, General Kelly enters a new arena, White House politics.
JOHN KELLY, NEWLY-APPOINTED WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: What I never saw on the military side was the level of toxic kind of politics that are associated with what I do now.
GALLAGHER: The question now is, can General Kelly unite the West Wing, where sharp elbow, staff infighting, and loose lips have distracted from the president's agenda.
WHITFIELD: Our thanks to CNN's Dianne Gallagher for that.
Let's discuss the White House shake-up with our panel. Joining me now, Julian Zelizer, CNN political analyst and a Princeton University historian and professor. Page Pate, CNN legal analyst and a constitutional attorney. And CNN contributor and "Washington Examiner" reporter, Salena Zito.
Good to see all of you.
Salena, let me begin with you.
Priebus is a Washington insider. Now, he's out. Retired General Kelly is in. 45 years as a Marine. So how is it this military leader can help end the chaos and the drama in this White House?
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think we have to look at it from sort of different angles. So if we look at it through the eyes of the prism of people that support Donald Trump, that, you know, thought he was the guy that should be president, they're going to like this. You know, I find it interesting always that they look at Priebus as someone who is establishment and not part of their sort of populist bent. But Priebus was very instrumental in putting the Republicans in the office down ballot since 2012 or 2011, you know, sort of switching over 1,100 seats underneath the presidency from Democrat to Republican. They're going to look at Kelly as something of strength and someone who will not take a load of guff. And probably that was Priebus' fault line with the president. The president values two things, loyalty and strength. And I think there was no doubt that there was loyalty from Priebus, but from the president's point of view, he probably didn't think he was strong enough. And that's based on the amount of leaks that came out. Not saying it's Priebus' fault, but it's sort of the illusion that, you know, the chief of staff is not able to keep things in check.
WHITFIELD: One has to wonder if the measurements of strength and weakness will be different for Kelly versus Priebus because the president considered Priebus weak because he couldn't wrangle more support on Capitol Hill. But that's not likely to be the strength of say a Kelly.
I want you to listen to what CNN counterterrorism analyst, Phil Mudd, had to say about bringing in another general to the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: We bring in General McMaster and he's sidelined at the National Security Council. We bring in General Mattis. On the transgender issue over the past 48 to 72 hours, you know what the Pentagon told the president? Gives us an implementation plan on limiting transgenders in the military. You know what that message is from General Mattis? We ain't doing it. What happened with General Flynn? A few weeks in, after we said he can bring discipline to the White House, he's a general, he was with the president during campaign, he's bounced because he lied to the vice president. Who are we trying to fool? The president runs an Oval Office and a White House that is unimaginable. Another four-star general ain't going to change it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So, Julian, why will President Trump listen to this general?
JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think he will. The source of disorder is the president. And so given he is still the president, I'm not sure Kelly will be able to rein him in. And so the metric for success in this case can't be does the base like the appointment. It has to be will it make this a more effective Oval Office. And I think Kelly within a few weeks if not a few 30s is going to be just as frustrated as everyone else is right now. And at the same time, he's going to undermine President Trump's ability to really massage relations with members of Congress. Republicans were very upset with what's happening. And so on both fronts I think he has a really difficult task ahead.
[13:10:12] WHITFIELD: Many Republicans who really like Reince Priebus. After all, he was the head of the RNC.
Page, let me ask you about Jeff Sessions, because the president spent the week publicly criticizing him for recusing himself from investigations as it relates to Russia. And so this sends a very potentially powerful message to the ongoing investigation. I mean, the demise of Jeff Sessions, or perhaps even it sends a resonating message to the Department of Justice, too.
PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think so. I mean, you could have I guess in the White House a situation where you hit the reset button, you play musical chairs, have all this chaos. That does not work at the Department of Justice. We have prosecutors across the country who are trying to implement the very policies that the attorney general has put into place, but they're not sure if the attorney general is going to be there next week. So that causes a lot of uncertainty and confusion. Certainly, with the special counsel's investigation, if there's the possibility that the president can appoint an attorney general, remove Jeff Sessions, put somebody else in there who's going to cut this will investigation, obviously, that affects their job as well.
WHITFIELD: Julian, that new potential A.G. would also have to win the approval of the Senate. And if the Senate feels like, you know, the removal of one is to impact that White House Russia investigation, wouldn't that make confirmation very difficult?
ZELIZER: It would be extraordinarily difficult and it would have to be a pretty remarkable person who would be able to win that confirmation. If the president took this step, you would hear a lot of yelling and screaming, not from the Democrats but also from the Republicans as well. Especially coming after the health care debacle. So I think the president needs to be very careful not to essentially re-create the Saturday Night Massacre but, in fact, to start to alleviate the concerns that exist on the Hill about how he's handling the investigation.
WHITFIELD: Salena, it seems like the president can do no wrong in the eyes of his base. At what point does the president have to appeal to more than that?
ZITO: I think it's really important to broaden his support. He won it, won narrowly, and all presidents should work on expanding their base, right? And, you know, it's going to take as you said a while to dislodge his voters from supporting him. But, you know, that doesn't mean it's not without frustration. I was in Youngstown last week with, you know, 20,000 very excited people to see him. But, you know, I had one voter say to me, I'm a little bit exhausted by the drama. I'd like to see, you know, like a General Patton come in there and, you know, herd all the cats and make things a little more organized, a little more professional. So, you know, he has to expand his base, yes, but he also has to be mindful of what his voters want from him, which is results.
WHITFIELD: Page, this kind of unrest in the White House, you know, fuel the ongoing investigations, Mueller's, the special counsel investigation? Does it start to raise the eyebrow like really what is going on if you have all this chaos? Does it, you know, spur new questions about the investigation and direction?
PATE: Well, it can. I mean, obviously, these people that are leaving the White House, they'll be interviewed by Bob Mueller's office, they'll talk about what's going on in the White House. As I tell every client who's a target or potential suspect in the criminal investigation, what you do during the investigation can become critically important. You can commit a crime by obstructing the investigation, destroying documents, telling people what to say. So how the White House conducts itself during the investigation is almost as important as what they did before the investigation started.
WHITFIELD: It changes the freedom of what can be said, too.
PATE: It could.
WHITFIELD: If you're leaving the White House and no longer sworn -- a sworn-in member, if that's what your position was, you might have a greater willingness to say or reveal what you learned while working? PATE: You certainly could.
PATE: Presumably, you no longer have that same fear of losing your job. You've already lost your job. You may have less loyalty to the president at that point. More importantly, you'll have to go hire your own lawyer now, become possibly a witness in a criminal case. So just move thing chairs around, moving people around within the White House has a lot of consequences for investigation and for other departments in our government.
Page, thank you so much.
Julian, Selena, thank you so much. See you very soon. We'll talk later in the hour.
Coming up, President Trump under fire for telling police officers not to worry about injuring suspects during arrests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, thrown in, rough, I said please don't be too nice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:15:08] WHITFIELD: Why some are concerned about what this means for future of policing, next.
WHITFIELD: President Trump's tough talk on how police should handle suspects is causing some controversy. The president's comments came yesterday during a speech to police on Long Island about gang violence. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, thrown in, rough, I said please don't be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put your hand -- like don't hit their head and they've just killed somebody, don't hit their head. I said you can take the hand away, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:19:56] WHITFIELD: So these remarks come at a time when police face intense scrutiny over the use of excessive force.
CNN correspondent, Polo Sandoval, is joining me from New York.
Polo, there was seemingly applause, even laughter. What has been the reaction now officially from some police agencies about this?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suffolk County, New York, too, Fred. We were there yesterday and, not long after the president wrapped up those remarks, the police department there issuing a statement that essentially distances itself from some of those remarks made by the commander-in-chief.
I want to read you that specific statement that was released by the Suffolk County Police Department. If we can put that up. The police department saying it "has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners and violations of those rules and procedures are treated extremely seriously. As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up prisoners."
That statement obviously referring to the portion of those presidential remarks in which the president told those officers, "don't be too nice."
There are other police departments responding in a similar way including in New York City. NYPD releasing a statement in the last few second here. I want to read that portion of a statement for you. The police commissioner of the NYPD, James O'Neill, saying "To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional, and also sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public."
The statement being released by NYPD a few moments ago.
Gainesville, Florida, also releasing a statement as well, saying that, "The president of the United States has no business endorsing or condoning cops being rough with arrestees and suggesting we should slam their head onto the car while putting them in."
Again, these are statements being issued by law enforcement agencies. Lawmakers also reacting, including the Congressional Black Caution, yesterday via Twitter, addressing a statement to Donald Trump saying, "Your racially coded call for police violence is," quote, "shameful."
We have to remember, too, that just this past Thursday, Fred, the Boy Scouts of America apologized to the scouting community after what was called political rhetoric was inserted into a speech earlier this week.
Again, we are seeing more organizations begin to distance themselves from certain aspects of the commander-in-chief's statements.
WHITFIELD: Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.
SANDOVAL: Thank you. WHITFIELD: Coming up, it was the thumbs-down vote that rocked
Washington and killed the GOP's effort to repeal Obamacare. The history-making moment that has the Republican Party searching for its next move.
[13:26:57] WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
The Republican Party is still reeling from a devastating defeat in their push to repeal Obamacare. The stunning "no" votes from these three Republican Senators killed the best chance the GOP had at a repeal.
McCain's maverick moment was perhaps the most shocking moment of the night. Senator McCain was not present on the Senate floor when his name was called. CNN would later learn that he stepped out of the chamber to take a phone call with President Trump. And because votes are cast alphabetically, McCain returned to the chamber as the clerk had reached Senator Gary Peters, and what happens in the next few seconds made history.
Here now is CNN's Brooke Baldwin with a breakdown.
BALDWIN (voice-over): 1:29 a.m., Senator McCain reenters the chamber. Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, stands at the front of the room like he had most of the night. The grin on his face, though, quickly disappears.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Peters.
SEN. GARY PETERS, (D), MICHIGAN: No.
BALDWIN: Senator Bernie Sanders appears to nudge Senator Jeanne Shaheen as if to say, watch this.
McCain waves his hand to get the attention of the Senate clerk, pauses for just a moment, and gives a dramatic thumbs-down.
BALDWIN: Audible gasp on the Senate floor and then commotion.
BALDWIN: Some Democrats can't contain their excitement. Senator Elizabeth Warren leans in to get a better look and breaks into applause. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a single assertive clap. Senator Sherrod Brown slams his hand on the desk in affirmation. While some Republicans, like Senator Marco Rubio, stare in disbelief. Senator Bill Cassidy drops his head. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer turns and waves his arms, apparently, trying to quiet them. Senator John McCain turns around and walks back to his chamber desk all alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Reed.
WHITFIELD: I want to bring back my panel now, historian, Julian Zelizer, and reporter, Salena Zito.
Julian, I want to get your reaction to that historic moment by John McCain. How does this compare with really history of moments, really defining his moniker as the maverick?
ZELIZER: Well, this is a defining moment. People have different opinions of Senator McCain and his voting record, his political record, but in this case, that very dramatic moment -- and I love the play by play of congressional proceedings -- really was decisive. And I think this is what he will be remembered for in addition to his presidential campaign and push for campaign finance. He was the decisive vote. And he offered the weight of a pretty mainstream Republican at this point, not as much of a maverick of people think, in killing this legislation for now.
[13:30:00] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Salena, could McCain's vote backfire in any way down the line?
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't know, politically, for him that it will. He's 80 years old. He just won re-election last year. Other Senators have gone on to run and win -- Strom Thurmond comes to mind -- after that age. I suspect, politically, there's no consequence for him. He has always been his own person, much to the consternation of both parties. I think he just continued doing what he always does.
I think with all the political drama, one of the things we really need to think about is this health care bill still does negatively impact a lot of people. But I think there's six counties, I think six, in the country that don't even have any insurers in their market. Some states only have one and the costs are set to go up. I think the onus is on both parties to get in there and do something about it. There's financial, economic, and health concerns that people are being impacted by on a daily basis.
WHITFIELD: Julian, we heard it from McCain and others who were hoping for a more bipartisan effort. He said so even before that thumbs down. Is this the impetus for a real coming together on both sides to try to make a health care policy work for the American people?
JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The odds are still low. The roots of partisan polarization run deep in American politics. And even moments like this don't necessarily have the capacity to push the parties to deal with each other.
But I do think, look, Republicans are incredibly frustrated with how this unfolded. There's some sentiment we need to do something where we will own the problems from ACA. They won't simply be pinned to President Obama. And I think Senator Schumer has tried to offer indications that if the legislation is about fixing the program, rather than just repealing it, the Democrats are game for discussion. So there is a possibility, even if it's a slim one.
WHITFIELD: Salena, what does this defeat say about the president's influence? He's still tweeting that something needs to be done, but this defeat also sends a resounding message, does it not, that some lawmakers Republicans or otherwise are not really valuing the president's input?
ZITO: It's unclear how much he was part of the discussions. You hear that he was and that he wasn't. I think he would have been better served to use Twitter as a platform, not as a negotiating platform, but as a platform to know that it's important to reach out to your Senators, Republicans and Democrats, let them know how it impacts your lives, using it in that way and in an effective way. It's unclear here, whether he was part of the process or not, if that would have made a difference.
WHITFIELD: Julian, when the president says let Obamacare implode, let it fail, and he's talking about the ownership being on someone else, is that the case? Won't he own the failure?
ZELIZER: Let me say it's more than let it fail. He can proactively try to undercut the program. He cannot enforce the individual mandate. He can hold back on subsidies. He can keep creating a sense of instability, which is exactly why a lot of insurance companies are pulling out, not because of the program itself. So that's a real threat. But at the same time, if this collapses, many people will say, why did this collapse, and they're going to look at the perp in the White House. And so Republicans can easily shoulder the blame if he comes through with that threat.
WHITFIELD: All right, Salena, Julian, good to see you. Thank you so much.
ZELIZER: Thank you.
[13:34:16] WHITFIELD: Coming up, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeatedly this week, calling him weak, in fact. How do voters in Sessions' home state, who happen to be big Trump supporters, feel about the public shaping?
WHITFIELD: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is speaking out after the public shaming campaign by President Trump. In an interview with FOX News, Sessions said the president's criticism over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation was hurtful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's kind of hurtful, but the president of the United States is a strong leader. I serve at the pleasure of the president. If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so. And I would be glad to yield to that circumstance, no doubt about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: Sessions insists he made the right decision.
Meanwhile, back in Sessions' home state of Alabama, some Trump voters are torn between their love for Trump and their loyalty to a man they view as a homegrown hero.
Here now is Martin Savidge.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Alabama, it's not political. It's personal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm extremely disappointment with what's gone on here lately.
SAVIDGE: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is from Alabama. Voters electing him four times to the U.S. Senate, the last time he was unopposed.
(on camera): He's pretty well liked here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he is.
SAVIDGE: Loved, maybe?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Sessions was the first Senator to endorse Candidate Trump and political insiders here say that turned millions of conservative skeptics into Trump voters.
[13:20:06] SESSIONS: Make America great again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His endorsement of Donald Trump made he pause and take back and say, hey, do I need to give this guy another look.
SAVIDGE: Alabama voted overwhelmingly, 62.7 percent for President Trump. That's the highest percentage of any southern state.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unbelievable!
SAVIDGE: So Trump making Sessions attorney general wasn't just here as reward, but right.
RUSS JORDAN, LOCAL ATTORNEY: As attorney general of the United States, you want integrity. That's the bottom line.
TRUMP: I'm very disappointed with the attorney general.
SAVIDGE: The president's sudden about-face and unprecedented public attacks on their native son has many Trump voters here shocked.
KELLY PAUL (ph), TRUMP VOTER: I don't think it's right. More like drama. He could do better. There's more things to be worried about than little things like this.
SAVIDGE (on camera): Is he turning people away from the president in any way sup wort-wise?
TERRY LATHAN, ALABAMA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIR: There's going to be some people that probably will. I have no polling data that shows me that.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Some in Alabama have heard enough. Congressman Mo Brooks is running for Jeff Sessions' old Senate seat. He issued a statement saying, in part, "I support President Trump's policies, but this public waterboarding of one of the greatest people Alabama has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting to the people of Alabama."
But despite the anger or insult, nothing here suggests that Trump voters are abandoning the president in large numbers.
LATHAN: President Trump, he is so popular in this state.
SAVIDGE (on camera): Still?
LATHAN: Still. Very still, so much so.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): At Dick Russ' barbecue in Sessions' hometown of Mobile, breakfast and politics come in generous portions. And Matt Waltman is struggling.
MATT WALTMAN, TRUMP VOTER: I'm not trying to jump off the Trump train.
SAVIDGE: He's torn between his support of the president and the attorney general home-state hero.
WALTMAN: I am extremely discouraged with it. I hope that these two -- I hope these two offices can squash this and move forward, and especially don't need it being put all over damn Twitter.
SAVIDGE: The president has put many of his Alabama supporters in a political quandary, unsure of which side to choose, hoping they won't have to.
Martin Savidge, CNN.
WHITFIELD: Coming up later on in the NEWSROOM, the president's Joint Chiefs of Staff are blindsided by his tweets banning transgender troops from serving in the U.S. military. Now 19 state attorneys general are urging Congress to block the move. Our legal panel weighing in, next.
[13:46:48] WHITFIELD: "Appalled and blindsided," the words from the president's top military officials after the president's tweets banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. The president tweeted, "After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military."
For now, no directions have been given as to how or when the ban could take effect.
I want to bring in our legal guys to discuss the potential legal ramifications surrounding this ban.
Always good to see you.
Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor in Cleveland, and Richard Herman, a criminal defense attorney and law professor, joining us from Las Vegas.
Good to see you.
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Hey, Fred.
RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & LAW PROFESSOR: Good to see you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: Avery, right now, 19 state attorneys general are reportedly calling on Congress to block President Trump from implementing a ban on transgender troops. How could that happen?
FRIEDMAN: Well, it can happen by executive order, frankly. He's commander-in-chief under Article II, has broad power. But I feel like we've just been there over the last couple months. If we're going to see something coming out of the White House, something like this that doesn't have any factual foundation, no rational basis, it's blip on the military budget. The federal courts are going to be revisiting what the president is doing and the chance of anything like barring transgenders, who are combat ready in the military, counting on their military service in the armed forces to go onto college or stay in the military, will ultimately wind up in federal court. The survival chance isn't any better than Sonny Corleone in a tollbooth.
WHITFIELD: So you're saying the president would have to prove -- there has to be some rationale.
WHITFIELD: And it would have to be an argument based on security or fairness or something to be able to substantiate that ban?
WHITFIELD: So, Richard, the president says he consulted generals. Yet, as far as we know, many generals said they were blind-sided by this. What kind of potential legal protections could transgender troops have if, indeed, the president were able to order they no longer be able to serve? What kind of legal recourse could these troops take?
HERMAN: Well, Fred, first of all, it's just yet another blatant embarrassment this week by the White House. This tweet by the president filled with lies and more lies from this administration and a complete utter disregard for the Constitution of the -- the man's never read or understood the Constitution, never been trained or educated about the U.S. Constitution, Fred. This is just hypothetical right now. This was a ridiculous tweet, obviously, to divert attention from the Russia investigation and from the devastation in the health care crisis this week. It has no basis in reality. It's just a tweet by the president. It's not an executive order. It's not an order. It's not in place. Mattis was completely blindsided, as was the other military. So the administration lied when they said the president received direction from the military.
HERMAN: There have been studies commissioned, Fred, to show that the approximate -- transgenders in the military from the last year have had no adverse effect on troop readiness, have had no adverse effect on morale. These are some of the issues the president would have to prove as a rational basis. It just doesn't exist.
HERMAN: It's all hypothetical. It's never going to happen, Fred.
[13:50:46] WHITFIELD: Avery, it's not just troops. It's servicemembers, period. I mean, we're talking about all branches here.
WHITFIELD: Even if it hasn't -- this idea from the president that was tweeted out hasn't been executed, hasn't there already been some damage done? I mean, talk about some pain and suffering that is now launched for many people who are wondering, well, where am I? Am I accepted? Am I considered, you know, equal, that of my fellow servicemembers or not? So is there already some damage done
WHITFIELD: -- even if people have not been, yes, unwelcomed, you know, on duty?
FRIEDMAN: Right. That's a wonderful question. Those are the damages issues. But ultimately, on the legal issues, which I think is what you're asking us, under the Fifth Amendment, there is no way that the White House or the Justice Department, if this tweet turns into policy, will ever happen, there is no doubt that the impacts on morale. And that's going to be something that the generals are going to have to deal with, given that the commander-in-chief has come up with that. But under the Constitution, Fredricka, there is no basis for this proposed policy, if it comes to that. And believe me, you're going to see more attorneys general joining in other military. And believe me, those who represent armed forces, the actual men and women in service, are going to be outraged and express their feelings. And that's a tough thing to do in the military, but you're going to see it.
WHITFIELD: And, Richard, last word?
HERMAN: Yes. This is about some 6,000 or 7,000 transgenders in the active military service since the last year. These are brave men and women fighting to represent this country.
FRIEDMAN: That's right.
HERMAN: And they've been blindsided. The generals have been blindsided. And the American people have been blindsided. So I agree with Avery. I don't believe this is going to go into effect, Fred. I think it was a diversion from everything else going on and just more lies in this White House.
FRIEDMAN: WHITFIELD: We'll see.
WHITFIELD: Richard Herman, Avery Friedman, always good to see and hear from you.
FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Thank you so much.
HERMAN: Nice to see you, Fred.
WHITFIELD: So much more straight ahead in CNN NEWSROOM.
But first, meet this weekend's "CNN Hero," a biologist in Malaysia, who's dedicated his life to saving the sun bear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED CNN HERO: Started 20 years ago, no one has ever studied sun bears. The more I learned about them, the more I care. The more I care, the more I worry. I have to help them. And this is why I want to be the voice for the sun bear, to fight for the sun bear, to ensure the survival of the sun bear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: If you want to see more of those adorable sun bears and find out how Wang is helping them, go to cnnheroes.com. And while you're there, you can nominate someone you think should be a "CNN Hero."
[13:58:04] WHITFIELD: All right. Don't miss an all-new episode of "Declassified" with Mike Rogers tonight, 9:00 eastern time. Here now is a sneak peek.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were able to have it confirmed that he did get on the flight. And then we were waiting for him upon arrival at Madrid Airport with the Spanish national police. So we're all waiting at the airport, everything was set up. The Spanish national police were supposed to observe him getting off the gate. We were watching Monjur (ph) walk into the baggage claim area and, all of a sudden, over the radio, we heard, "We've lost him." And we thought he had caught onto us and he had escaped out the side door. And then everybody got into a panic mode. Running around, nervous about where is he, where is he. And even the DEA agents were running around in the baggage claim area trying to locate him. John and I were going from point A to point B and, all of a sudden, here comes Monjur (ph). He walked out of the bathroom.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once he arrived in baggage claim, the fugitive squad at the Spanish national police put him under arrest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. "Declassified, Untold Stories of American Spies," tonight, 9:00 Eastern time, only on CNN.
The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.
Welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks so much for being with me.
So the president replaces his right-hand man. It's the second major staff shakeup in one week. White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, announced he is stepping down just 24 hours after new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, called him a "paranoid schizophrenic." He also accused Priebus of being the source of major media leaks.
But Priebus tells CNN this is not a sign of a rift in the West Wing. It is rather a reset.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The 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.