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Lawmakers React to News Trump Tried to Fire Mueller; Source: Trump "Deeply Irritated" by John Kelly; Nikki Haley Denies Rumors of Affair with Trump; Piers Morgan Asks Trump about Britain First Retweets. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 26, 2018 - 13:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[13:33:47] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Capitol Hill is reacting this hour to that bombshell new reporting that President Trump tried to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller last summer, something Democrats and Republicans have repeatedly said would be a red line.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raja, joining us from Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are lawmakers telling you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, several Senators are trying to renew a bipartisan push to move bills that would actually shield the special counsel from political interference, political pressure from the White House. They are competing bills in the Senate that have not moved but there are discussions ongoing, including by one Democratic Senator Cory Booker, who is part of this bipartisan effort to revive these bills. He's been on the phone all morning trying to get support. He believes there will be more support in the wake of these new reports.

I just caught up with Cory Booker. I asked him about this legislation and I asked him about these Democratic calls for impeachment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: How should Congress react now that there are these reports that the president tried to fire the special counsel last year?

SEN. CORY BOOKER, (D), NEW JERSEY: I think there was a very pragmatic reason to put forward legislation to try to check the president's power and potentially authoritarian tendencies to order the removal of the special counsel. It went from a pragmatic and important idea to what I now believe is a moral imperative.

[13:35:11] RAJU: Should Democrats be talking about impeachment at this point? Is it premature?

BOOKER: I don't think -- conversations are one thing. Clearly with the president, if you look at what's going on in terms of just the objective fact pattern, whether it's the firing of Mueller, whether it's the people in and around his senior circle that have met with Russians, Russian agents, who have been indicted for various behaviors, clearly there is smoke around the substance that would support impeachment. But we should not -- at least, I, as a United States Senator, elected by the people of New Jersey, I will play a controversial role. I want to see the evidence that comes out. I want to see the facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Interesting that a Democratic Senator here not ruling out the idea that eventually this could lead to his impeachment. Of course, that would require Republican support, too.

But the bill that he's been pushing, Wolf, I had a chance to talk to a Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, who considers this bill pertaining to the special counsel, Grassley told me early this morning that he is, quote, "seriously surely open to considering those bipartisan bills provided that they are reconciled first, provided they don't breach any constitutional concerns." He is not ruling out the idea of moving these in his committee. And, Wolf, Grassley also says that the president should not fire Robert Mueller. He said, quote, "Heavens, no, he shouldn't fire Robert Mueller." And he also said that the president should let Mueller do his job, let that investigation happen.

It shows you even some Republicans are concerned about the talk of the president moving down this road and firing Robert Mueller. Undoubtedly, he would get backlash from his own party if he did that -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Huge backlash.

Manu, thank you very much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

At the same time, frustration is mounting in the West Wing of the White House. The president seems to be deeply irritated with his White House chief of staff. Is another shake-up possible? That's next.

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[13:41:35] BLITZER: Sources tell CNN President Trump is increasingly at odds with his White House chief of staff, John Kelly. If history is our guide, Kelly potentially could soon be looking for a new job.

Let's bring in our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins. She's joining us right now.

Kaitlan, a lot of us notice that General Kelly at the last minute was pulled from the trip to Davos.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Wolf. And we're having increasing reports of tension between our freewheeling president and his very structured chief of staff. And while that's no surprise, it's certainly significant. And tensions really came to a head Wednesday night before the president left for Switzerland when John Kelly was briefing reporters in his office on upcoming immigration moves from the administration, and the president strode in, started taking questions from reporters and really upended the entire thing.

And then afterwards, one source close to the White House tells me and my colleagues here at CNN that the president put John Kelly in a box. Now, the president has increasingly felt like John Kelly is trying to undermine him, that he feels like he doesn't respect him. And the president upending that briefing was what one source described as a warning shot to Kelly because he wanted to remind him, Wolf, who is boss here. Because he feels like John Kelly is increasingly acting like he is protecting the country from the president, which is a stunning attitude for the chief of staff to have.

It's important to keep in mind here that this relationship isn't just because it's John Kelly and the president. It's any time the president and his chief of staff, who is there to help manage him, control things, keep the West Wing in check, is someone that the president is increasingly having so much friction with.

BLITZER: Very, very awkward situation.

There is another stunning development we're learning about Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Clearly a rising star on team Trump. She is angry. She is on the record denying rumors of an affair with the president. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS (voice-over): It is absolutely not true. It is highly offensive. And it's disgusting.

This isn't something that just happened as a cabinet member. I saw this as a legislator, I saw this when I was governor, I see it now.

People see lies for what it is. Do I like it? No. Is it right? No. Is it going to slow me down? Not at all. Any time this has happened, it only makes me fight harder. It only makes me work harder. And I do it for the sake of other women that are behind me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very powerful statement.

You know, it's interesting, Kaitlan. Give us the background why she felt it was so important to speak out so strongly on this issue.

COLLINS: Yes, certainly, a stunning accusation that the ambassador is having an affair with the president of the United States. And the reason this rumor is being talked about -- her denial actually drew a lot of attention to this rumor -- but it comes from Michael Wolff, the author of that new tell-all book, "Fire and Fury," that has a lot of things right about the West Wing and a lot of things wrong about the West Wing.

And in it, he doesn't out-right state that Nikki Haley and the president are having an affair, but he alludes to it. And separately in an interview he said, "That's what I was talking about." In the book, he says she spent a lot of time with the president on Air Force One, one on one. But Nikki Haley, in her denial, said that's absolutely not true, that she was only on Air Force One once, and when she was on there, there was several other people around, too.

Wolf, if you're going to make an accusation like this, you need to have the evidence to back it up. For right now, Nikki Haley clearly denying this, but it goes to show what kind of a news cycle we're in if this is at the top of it.

[13:45:12] BLITZER: Yes, very important.

Thank you very, very much, Kaitlan Collins, reporting for us.

Meanwhile, in Davos, President Trump addressing his widely criticized retweets of anti-Muslim videos last year.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm in the United States. So I didn't read much about it. Perhaps it was a big story in Britain, perhaps it was a big story in the U.K. In the United States, it wasn't a big story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It was a big story here in the United States. We're going to get the reaction to this latest interview. The president speaking out. We'll go live to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.

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[13:50:11] BLITZER: Despite all the controversies here at home, President Trump pressed ahead with his America First message abroad, touting achievements, tax cuts, regulatory reform, the stock market, as well as taking a familiar jab at the news media.

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TRUMP: Had the opposing party to me won, some of you whom you backed, some of the people in the room, instead of being up almost 50 percent, the stock market is up, since my election, almost 50 percent. Rather than that, I believe the stock market from that level, the initial level would have been down close to 50 percent.

And it wasn't until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be, as the cameras start going off in the back.

(BOOING)

TRUMP: But overall, I mean, the bottom line -- somebody said, well, they couldn't have been that bad because here we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Cameras clearly did not go off at the back.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, joining us from Davos.

What's been the reaction so far to the president's visit there?

JIM ACOSTA, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think, Wolf, he was very warmly received. If people are wondering whether Trumpism could mix with globalism, they got the answer here. The president came in and touted his economic record, talking about the tax cuts he got passed end of last year and deregulation. All that have will sound good, obviously, to a very business-friendly crowd here in Davos.

But a couple of things about the comments you just played, Wolf. The president did just make those comments about how he feels like he's the victim of fake news media. It was interesting to note when he made that remark in the audience, I was in the room, there were boos and hisses when he said that. That comment was not warmly received by everyone in the crowd. Although, it was interesting to note that Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, seemed to back up the president's comments. Before the president started speaking, he said the president had essentially been a victim of biased interpretations. He all but used the term fake news. That also was met with boos and hisses. He's the founder of the World Economic Forum. Those were controversial remarks. But all in all, Wolf, he was greeted pretty warmly here in Davos.

BLITZER: Also in Davos, Jim, the British broadcaster, Piers Morgan, of ITV, previously of CNN, he interviewed President Trump. Piers pressed the president repeatedly on the issue of those very divisive tweets that the president had retweeted from that very small minority, right-wing British Nationalist Party, called Britain First. And it outraged the prime minister, so many others in Britain, indeed, here in the United States, and around the world.

Listen to how Piers had to repeatedly question the president and press and press and press to finally get a sort of an apology. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, BRITISH BROACASTER, ITV: I do just want to get one thing out of you.

TRUMP: Go ahead.

MORGAN: Given the amount of offences, do you regret those retweets, and do you wish, in hindsight, you hadn't done it?

TRUMP: Look, it is done because I am a big believer in fighting radical Islamic terror. This was a depiction of radical Islamic terror.

MORGAN: They were unverified videotapes. At least one of them was not what it seemed. TRUMP: Yes. They are. But I didn't do it. I didn't go out -- I did

a retweet. It was a big story where you are, but it was not a big story where I am.

MORGAN: I get it. I get it.

TRUMP: So you're telling me something --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: This is airing in Britain. I want them to get to the real you.

TRUMP: I'll tell you, the real me is somebody that loves Britain, loves the U.K. I love Scotland. I wish -- one of the biggest problems I have in winning, I won't be able to get back there so often. I would love to go there. As you know, before this happened, I would be there a lot. Very special people and a very special place. So, I don't want to cause any difficulty for your country. That, I can tell you.

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Can I get an apology out of you just for the retweets?

TRUMP: Well, if you're telling me --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: I think it would go a long way.

TRUMP: Here is what's fair. If you're telling me that the horrible people, horrible racist people, I would certainly apologize if you would like me to do that. I know nothing about that.

MORGAN: You dis-involve yourself of people like that?

TRUMP: I don't want to be involved with these people. You're telling me that these people --

MORGAN: Yes.

TRUMP: Because I know nothing about these people.

MORGAN: Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Thank you.

MORGAN: That means a lot to people in Britain.

TRUMP: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Jim, so those comments going to satisfy folks in the U.K., indeed, around the world, who were understandably outraged that the president would give publicity to his 40-plus million followers on Twitter to those outrageous tweets?

[13:54:57] ACOSTA: Well, Wolf, for all the president's cries and complaints about fake news, he essentially acknowledged in that interview with Piers Morgan that he was retweeting videos from groups that he did not know were fully about. He admitted during that interview that he did not know who Britain First was when he retweeted those videos. That's one thing.

Wolf, my sense of it is, during this trip to Davos, the president was doing a lot of fence mending, answering about those anti-Muslim videos he retweeted. And he was also asked earlier today about his remarks about African countries, people coming from African countries and the vulgar slur he used earlier this year. On and on the president had to dodge and explain some of his past behavior and comments.

Moving forward, it's a big question whether or not people fully will, you know, consider what he has said now and let all of that be water under the bridge. My sense of it, Wolf, is that there's still a lot of deep skepticism about the president's leadership on the world stage. He may have addressed some of that while he was in Davos, but not all of it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, in Davos for us, thank you very much.

Lots more news coming up. Stay with us. CNN will be right back.

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