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Trump Examines Border Wall Prototypes in California; President Trump Fires Rex Tillerson. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired March 13, 2018 - 3:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: His trip is certainly being overshadowed by his own doing, his firing of his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson learned via the president's Twitter account first thing this morning that he would no longer be America's top diplomat.
And in his speech from State just moments ago, Tillerson thanked his staffers and thanked co-workers and the American people for the honor of serving. But one person he did not mention and certainly then obviously not thank, President Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during the time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges.
As such, effective at the end of the day, I'm delegating all responsibilities of the office of the secretary to Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan. My commission as secretary of state will terminate at midnight March the 31st.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Before leaving for California, the president talked about dismissing Tillerson and replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Pompeo's number two, Gina Haspel, who we were just talking about, she is expected to become the first female to lead the CIA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Rex and I have been talking about this for quite some time. We got along, actually, quite well. But we disagreed on things, when you look at the Iran deal. I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was OK.
I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So, we were not really thinking the same. With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it's going to go very well. Rex is a very good man. I like Rex a lot. I really appreciate his
commitment to the service. And I will be speaking to Rex over a long period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's take you now to California to San Diego, where our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, is standing by, traveling with the president.
Jim Acosta, what should we be seeing and hearing from the president there in California today?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, Brooke, hopefully, we're going to see the president here not too long from now, inspecting these prototypes of the wall.
And then he's going to be coming over here to the Miramar Marine Air Base here in Southern California to talk to these Marines. It will probably be a lot like we hear from the president on these occasions when he tries to fire up the military crowd. He will get a good receptive response, I can imagine.
But this is so far removed, this almost feels like a vacation from the reality TV-style turmoil that is churning back in Washington. The president may be wondering why he didn't come to California sooner. This is his first trip out here.
Because of everything that he has left behind, this chaos unfolding back in Washington, Brooke, is extraordinary, because it seems over the last couple of weeks we have had one high-profile administration official after another departing, the latest being Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state.
I'm told by a White House official that the chief of staff, John Kelly, informed Rex Tillerson that he was on his way out last Friday, then made clear again to Rex Tillerson once again that this was happening on Saturday. And then we saw all the events unfold this morning with the tweet and official statements and so on.
This obviously is coming at a critical time for the president. I'm told by a source close to the White House that the president simply wanted to have the right team in place for these high-stakes talks that he's about to have with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean dictator, if, in fact, they happen.
Of course, we should underline and caution that they may not, indeed, happen if things don't work out the way the White House says that they want them to work out. But make no mistake, this is obviously just one of many potential departures to come in the coming weeks, Brooke.
I talked to a source close to the White House this morning who said the winds of change, the -- quote -- "winds of change" are in the air, an indication that there may be other high-profile departures from this administration coming. It's just another indication of this turmoil that this president seems
to be in the middle of one week to the next and one, Brooke, that he seems to thrive on. You could see that on the president's face this morning when he was departing the White House, that he seems to really welcome this chaos, welcome this turmoil, because he feels, perhaps, deep down that it results in the right kind of team being in place and, in the end, the right policies being in place.
But, Brooke, we came out here to California thinking the president is stopping and looking at prototypes of the wall would be the towering image of the day. That's really nothing in comparison to his secretary of state being out the door so quickly after all of them came into office -- Brooke.
That and congressional district -- 18th District over in Pennsylvania, and that huge, huge piece of news, not talking about as much about that, because, again, of the president's doing. He said last week he likes conflict. There you go.
Jim Acosta, we will see you in just a little bit along with the president of the United States.
ACOSTA: You bet.
BALDWIN: On Rex Tillerson here, it is important to note how the timeline of how the now outgoing secretary of state learned that he was out. Here you go.
Thursday morning, Secretary Tillerson public said that the U.S. is -- quote, unquote -- "a long way" from talks with North Korea. Hours later, the South Koreans announced that President Trump has agreed to talks, and not just any talks, talks specifically with Kim Jong-un.
Flash forward to Friday. Tillerson is woken up in the middle of the night to a phone call from Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly, who essentially gives him a heads-up that he will be replaced, but doesn't specify when.
And then Saturday, Tillerson calls out sick on his trip to Africa. Monday, the secretary strongly condemns Russia for the poisoning of this former Russian spy living in the U.K. and his daughter, going at the time much further than the White House was willing to do.
And now, this morning, President Trump fires Tillerson by tweet, just so we're all on the same page of how this whole thing went down.
Phil Mudd is with me, CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA and FBI official. Also with us, Ambassador Tim Roemer, former congressman and ambassador to India under President Obama.
Gentlemen, my goodness. My apologies for the slow news day. I kid. Ambassador Roemer, seriously, though, first just on Secretary
Tillerson, and listening to him speak, I heard two of our correspondents, one of whom was in the room saying he was visually trembling as he was speaking, not once mentioning in his thanks President Trump.
What did you make of his words just a little while ago?
TIMOTHY ROEMER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO INDIA: Brooke, I'm still scratching my head at the chaos, and disruption and the tumultuous nature of our politics today.
Three quick things. One, when the president fires our secretary of state by tweet, and then our secretary of state fails to mention even the president's name in his farewell, respect is eviscerated in our political system.
And I was just saying to Phil in the green room respect is so fundamental as an American character. And when that evaporates from our political system, even across the party lines, we're in trouble.
Secondly, on our foreign policy, what does chaos mean in our foreign policy? It mean many of our allies, who I have worked for over the years, they don't know what to expect next from the United States. And that inconsistency from the United States and this turnover and this inconsistency in our policy, and the State Department and the White House having different messages, that creates a vacuum in the world that Russia is moving into very quickly and China is moving into in Asia.
That's not good for our policy overseas. And, lastly, for the State Department, we have five ambassadors in key positions that have not been appointed yet. We have a great American success story to tell around the world that can help us promote jobs in America, sing our values of democracy around the world.
We don't have an ambassador to South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia. That creates this great instability, when we have wonderful people at the State Department that can sell this message. And I guarantee you, Brooke, the Chinese ambassador is over there, the Russian ambassador is over there in South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
And they're talking about what they're doing. We need a State Department that's fully engaged and not being gutted at 30 percent.
BALDWIN: We will look ahead at State and potentially Pompeo in a second.
But, Phil -- and, Ambassador, I'm listening to you very, very carefully.
But I also made this list, Phil, of looking back over a brief history of time and where Tillerson certainly didn't see, shall we say, eye to eye with the president? First, you have what happened in Charlottesville, right, where Tillerson said, well, the president speaks for himself. Then you have, which, by the way, Tillerson never has ever denied that
he called the president a moron, disagreed with the president both on the Israeli Embassy move and Paris climate accord, and then of course the biggie being North Korea.
Is it -- isn't it, Phil, just sort of untenable to have the head of an agency where you have to have people who are confident in you from all around the world you're speaking and you're on the same page with the president, not on page with the president?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You can't have that over time.
But, look, there's a different perspective on that. And that is, the president just recently told us he likes conflict, he likes to see people play out differences at the table, so that he can decide what to do in the future, I assume educated by those differences at the table.
But every time you turn around, he's taking out people from the picture who have a different perspective of his own. I the big question today, when you look at the stability, the sort of maturity that Tillerson brought to conversations on Iran and North Korea, it's pretty simple.
Who is going to come to the table willing to tell the president that they have a different perspective than his?
There is one minor point I have to lay on the table.
MUDD: This is classless. You took Jim Comey off without telling him, and sent a messenger over? You identified the former chairman of ExxonMobil by tweet?
I don't care if you're at Microsoft of whether you're president. You can't do this. This is classless.
BALDWIN: Gentlemen, stay with me. I have more for you.
We are waiting for pictures of the president, who, by the way, is on the opposite coast in California, about to tour prototypes for his border wall.
Much more to ask the ambassador and Phil about, about Tillerson's departure and his replacement, the current CIA chief, Mike Pompeo.
BALDWIN: Ambassador Tim Roemer still with me and PHIL MUDD, as we talk about this Tillerson exit from the State Department. And, Ambassador, to you.
Listen, we can't sit here and read all the tea leaves. I certainly don't have all the answers. But when it comes to this timeline and the timing, here you had yesterday Rex Tillerson, he actually was the sole voice who at the time broke with the White House, made it clear that he believed it was Russia who was behind that nerve gas attack, right, with that former Russian spy and his daughter over in the U.K.
Do you have any idea -- do you think that that was out of, at all, frustration with the White House and the refusal to ever criticize Russia? Will we ever know?
ROEMER: I don't think we will ever know, Brooke.
I do think that you saw in Secretary Tillerson's farewell statement there that the one area on policy that he picked out was Russia and that, if Russia continues to do the kind of things they're doing, whether that be threatening our democracy directly in our elections, targeting states and their software programs, having zombie bot farms in St. Petersburg coming after our elections, poisoning people in London -- it looks like their fingerprints are all over that -- that trajectory is going to get more and more difficult.
And I think that was -- those were wise words coming from Secretary Tillerson on that front.
BALDWIN: Phil, to you, two questions looking ahead at the CIA, right?
The CIA director right now, Director Pompeo, he's the one who Trump wants for the State job. What do you think of him? Do you think he will fly through the process?
MUDD: I think he will. There's going to be one basic question here. And that is, if you look at Secretary Tillerson's responses, cautious responses on Iran and North Korea, in particular on Iran, former CIA Director Pompeo was very aggressive.
For a president who wanted no intervention, are we going to be more aggressive on Iran, more aggressive North Korea or less? I think that's a critical question going forward here with the nominee for secretary of state, Pompeo. But I think he will fly through.
BALDWIN: What about if, in fact, he does fly through -- fly through? Easy for me to say. Gets the job. Then Gina Haspel will step up, be the first woman to helm the CIA.
You know her.
BALDWIN: Can you just tell me a little bit more about her? And should her tenure at the CIA overseeing for that period of time the controversial torture program, should that be a black mark on her as she tries to move forward?
She's not the first woman to run the CIA -- I mean, technically, she was terrific. She's -- forget about woman. Forget about glass ceilings.
Judgment, sort of experience, respect within the organization, I sat next her to years. Never sweated. She has got a sense of humor.
Look, I know this will be debated about the interrogation techniques the CIA used. But the American people in 2002, including congressional members I spoke with, were in a different place than they are in 2018.
Please don't tell me you want to judge one CIA officer for what every American thought was OK 16 years ago. She was terrific.
BALDWIN: Phil Mudd, Ambassador Roemer, thank you, gentlemen, so very much.
Got to say goodbye to you, because we are about to see the president. We're moments away from seeing the president there in the San Diego area. He is in California today, the first time since he became president.
He is checking out potential prototypes for the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Stand by for that.
We are also following this second stunning departure from President Trump's inner circle. His personal assistant has been this week escorted out of the White House. And sources tell CNN it's because he's under investigation for serious financial crimes. Who is this guy? Where is he going next?
We have those details next.
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN.
Here's the breaking news. We've got eyes on the president here. He's near the U.S.-Mexico border. He is being presented right now with these eight different prototypes of his long promised border wall along that border near San Diego.
But only, of course, one will be chosen and one will be built along the border. These prototypes fall into two different categories. Four are designed to be 30-foot concrete walls and four are made of other materials.
There you go. These are the potential choices. The designs have been tested on whether they can withstand breaches, prevent climbing, digging, their ability to slow down and stop border traffic and whether they're safe for Border Patrol agents.
CNN today has crews on both sides of the border as the president is there.
Leyla Santiago is in Tijuana.
But we begin with Miguel Marquez on the U.S. side of the border.
And, so, Miguel, walk me through some of these prototypes that the president is checking out today.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Look, I mean, to be perfectly clear, it is a long way off from any of these prototypes being built anywhere along the border. And even if they were built, they probably wouldn't go in California. They might go in places in Texas and Arizona and other locations where there is a greater need at the moment for some sort of border protection.
The different walls that he is viewing, they are prototypes that the president, out of his campaign, ordered up, wanted to see what they might look like. And, as you say, they are made of different materials. And they have been tested over the last couple of months in a different facility.
The president is seeing the finished walls and what they might look like along the borders. He is not expected to choose one of those walls. But certainly on both sides of the border, it is raising, if not curiosity, concern about what the president is doing.
I want to show you where we are right now. It is a protest/rally against the president and against the walls here on the San Diego side, right near the San Ysidro border that is already heavily fenced off and has a heavy border.
The message here, if you can see this big sign, they're hoping to catch the president as he flies over. It says "Bridges, not walls," along here.
MARQUEZ: And this is something that we have heard from many people along this area of the border.
Despite the upset with the president being here, the crowds here on both the rallies for the president and those against have been respectful of each other, stayed out of each other's ways, and tried to basically go about their business of expressing their views without getting into it amongst themselves -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: OK, Miguel, thank you.
Just over to Tijuana.
And, Leyla, to you. How are folks in Mexico responding to the president's presence? LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm actually going to step
out of the way, Brooke, so that you can see with your very own signs that they have put up on this side of the border just minutes ago.
I will translate for you. One of them says, "Trump (SPEAKING SPANISH)." That means, "Trump, we will not pay for your wall." Another one says, "Trump, (SPEAKING SPANISH)." That means, "Trump, we want these mass deportations to stop."
You can see from this side of the border these eight prototypes can be seen clearly, each with its own characteristics. As I was here yesterday, I spoke to several people who actually told me -- and I was surprised by this -- they said, look, these designs, they're nice. They're pretty. They're an improvement to what we see right now, but they will not stop crossings from Mexico into the United States.
That's something that has been repeated over and over again, that these designs may look nicer, but they don't believe that, A, it will actually ever be built, and, B, that it will actually solve the problem that President Trump said is the need behind this wall.
So, as we have been here, talking to people, yes, there's been a lot of curiosity as to when will the president arrive? The protesters actually brought a pinata of President Trump, said that they were going to burn that pinata, and then said, no, we have changed our minds. We want to make sure they know that we are coming in peace. We simply want him to know that this will not solve the problem. Mexico will not pay for the wall, and we believe in bridges, not walls, on the border here between Tijuana and San Diego -- Brooke.
So, we get a sense on one side of the border and then the other as we look at the president here speaking to Border Patrol agents, talking about these potential wall prototypes.
What about the politics of all of this?
Let me bring in another voice, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings, who was a former special assistant to President George W. Bush.
In terms of the politics, Scott, this is obviously potentially a campaign promise fulfilled, right? But this is all overshadowed today by the president's own doing. We have spent the entire practically two hours talking about the outgoing secretary of state, and not this.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, this is a campaign promise that I think was really central to not just his winning in the Republican primary, but also his winning the general election.
This is something that has created a lot of passion among his supporters. There's obviously more to immigration than just building the wall. Obviously, there are policy issues that he's also been pushing for. There's the issue of sanctuary cities, which the White House has been pushing out information about today. This whole topic really is what animated the Trump presidency. So,
that's why he's doing it. But, of course, there's a lot of other stuff in the water today, so the message may get diluted.
However, I would say that the visual impact of seeing these eight prototypes really does give you a sense that, well, maybe this is possible. And then you start to ask questions like, how is it possible? Well, it's funding.
And that's what we've not gotten yet from the United States Congress. They have not yet signed off on the funding mechanism by which these walls or the one that he chooses would be built. So, that's really the next step for the president, is to get the Congress to agree to give the money necessary to build this much wall.
BALDWIN: Scott Jennings, thank you.
Leyla and Miguel, thank you. Quick break. We're back in a moment.