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Interview with Representative Chris Stewart; Russian Hackers Penetrated U.S. Power Plants; President Trump Said to be Ready to Replace National Security Adviser; Overwhelmingly Likely Vladimir Putin Ordered Use of Nerve Agent; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Also says they tried to help Bernie Sanders at some point. They did try to help other candidates. And you bring up a question that I think is a great illustration. This thing just isn't one side of a coin. There's lot of dimensions to this.


STEWART: Going to trying to help Mr. Sanders, for example, is that because they wanted to hurt Hillary or did they actually support Mr. Sanders? I don't think most people think, yes, they wanted Mr. Sanders to be the next president.

BERMAN: All right.

Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, always a pleasure to speak to you.


BERMAN: We do appreciate you coming on. Look forward to speaking to you again soon.

STEWART: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. This message not just the elections that Americans need to worry about, what else Russia might be meddling in?


[10:35:07] BERMAN: Well, we do have some breaking news from the Russia front. The Trump administration now says that Russian cyber attacks have targeted U.S. power plants and could have shut the plants down at will.

Our Barbara Starr at the Pentagon with the latest on this.

Barbara, what's going on here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, when you go home tonight, and if the lights flicker, is Moscow behind it all? You might ask yourself that question. What we do know is that as part of the sanctions unveiled by the Trump administration against Russia, they are detailing now what they say were attempts by Russia to basically crack into the U.S. energy infrastructure, U.S. power plants and other facilities as part of their overall cyber hacking campaign.

Let's go through a couple of the items that the U.S. is saying the Russians were trying to get into. And what the U.S. is listing is energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors, all things the U.S. now contends the Russians have been trying to hack into since March of 2016, all against the backdrop of this hacking, meddling in the U.S. election through cyber activity.

The U.S. Department of Energy putting out a statement about it, saying that they worked very hard to stop the Russians before they could get into any of this. Not entirely clear whether there were any credible verifiable examples of the Russians being successful in their efforts. But it very much continues to lift that veil on what U.S. experts say the Russians have been up to for the last couple of years and no indication, absolutely no indication, that the Russians are letting up on it -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Barbara Starr, an important warning there, appreciate it.

So who is in, who is out? We'll have the very latest on the West Wing turmoil ahead.


[10:42:05] BERMAN: All right, it is 10:42 on the East Coast, also at the White House, where they might be asking this question, do you know where your job is?

Joining me now, CNN political analyst and White House reporter for the "Washington Post," Josh Dawsey.

Josh, I want to do a dramatic reading from your Twitter account from just moments ago. "Senior White House person messages something is going to happen today, I just don't think anyone knows what it is."

What does that mean?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Reading my Twitter might be dangerous. No. There are lots of people whose job do not seem safe in the White House. Several members of the Cabinet, David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs, to Ben Carson, to Ryan Zinke, all sorts of members of the Cabinet we've written about who the president is frustrated with.

HR McMaster, the president we reported last night, has decided to push his National Security adviser out, though there is no timetable defined on that. And there's been a lot of speculation on Chief of Staff John Kelly and whether he is safe for the long-term.

The president right now is in a time of upheaval. Obviously on Tuesday, he fired his secretary of State via tweet. His personal aide was walked out of the building, well, actually escorted out of the building by the Secret Service and pushed out. His communications director left recently, his top economic adviser quit over tariffs and frustration with the president.

It's a time of great upheaval in the White House. And I sense from talking to people in the building and close to the building is that there is more of that to come.

BERMAN: So, Josh Dawsey, your specific reporting in the "Washington Post," and I think this is important, the verbiage is the president has decided to push out HR McMaster, the National Security adviser. And no one at the White House disputed that, did they?

DAWSEY: No, we took our reporting to the White House hours before it was published, told them what we plan to report, how we would describe it. There was no pushback from the White House. Then after the story was published last night, you saw a tweet from Sarah Sanders where she didn't directly contradict the story but she said they have a good working relationship and no changes are expected for now.

We still are under all impressions that the president wants to remove his National Security adviser and that has not changed.

BERMAN: And lovers of the "Washington Post" history will know that Sarah Sanders issued what is called a non-denial denial about your story last night. You said the president has decided to remove HR McMaster, never denied that.

One other quote from inside your story very quickly that I want you to comment on, the mood inside the White House in recent days verged on mania. What does that mean?

DAWSEY: Well, when you see, like on Tuesday, the president decides to fire his secretary of State via Twitter, if you're a senior White House official, how do you handle that? You know, it's a top diplomatic post on the government, one of the highest ranking jobs in the United States government, and he decided to just push a tweet out, firing them.

You have the Mueller investigation that's going to hone in on the White House, a lot of frustration there. You have a lot of personnel changes and you have a president who has decided he's going to do things his own way for now and is not listening to those around him.

[10:45:06] So there's kind of a mix in the White House of some just resignation to this is what the reality is for now. The president is doing a bit of a reshuffling, a bit of a reset or maybe doing things entirely differently and just not telling anyone. I mean, this is a perfect example, earlier this week, we reported Larry Kudlow was going to be his new economic adviser, the president later confirmed that. But he gave the job to Kudlow before he told others on the staff what he was doing that.

BERMAN: Right.

DAWSEY: He's kind of a one-man band at times.

BERMAN: I get the sense, Josh, you're not going to get very far from your keyboard today. Get ready to keep on working. Appreciate it. Josh Dawsey, thanks so much.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: So did Vladimir Putin call for that nerve agent attack? Did he personally call for it? The UK thinks so. Stay with us.


[10:50:13] BERMAN: New reaction from Russia this morning after the British Foreign minister said it was overwhelmingly likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally gave the order to use a nerve agent to attack a former spy. Meanwhile, this is new video of investigators gathering additional information and sampling materials on the site of that attack in Salisbury.

Our Nic Robertson live in London with the details here.

Nic, good morning.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, good morning, John. I mean, the fact that we're seeing the investigative team there back at the site where the two people were found, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found Sunday two weeks ago, so this is now 12 days and they're still back searching around that same park bench, really gives you an idea of just the intensity and the scale and the scope of what's going on.

We're told some of the business premises that they visited, a pizza restaurant and a pub, may remain closed to the public for months because of apparent contamination concerns. That coming today as we heard from the British Foreign secretary saying that he believes and I think we have to understand that he's probably had briefings from British security officials, but he believes that the order for this attack could have come all the way from the top, Vladimir Putin.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Our quarrel is with Putin's Kremlin and with his decision and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.


ROBERTSON: Well, Boris Johnson has a bit of a track record in the UK for tossing diplomatic hand grenades and that's what that appears to be. That's certainly the way that the Kremlin is responding to it.

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin calling this shocking and unpardonable, diplomatic misconduct. That has to be taken on balance with what the British, the White House, the French and the Germans are saying, is that actually Russia was responsible for the unconscionable use of chemical weapons on the streets of Britain. But the narrative here at the moment is that the Kremlin has slowed

things down, Putin has not yet expelled any British diplomats as the Foreign Ministry said that they might, and still no response to those sanctions coming from the United States.

Putin has things where he seems to want it, slowing it all down -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Nic Robertson, we'll be watching it very closely. Thanks so much, Nic.

Shock and heartbreak kick off the first full day of March Madness. That's next.


[10:57:24] BERMAN: The first day of March Madness in the books and brackets already busted. Coy Wire has more.

Hey, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you, John. 13 seed Buffalo playing four seed Arizona, the PAC-12 champs, and head coach Sean Miller has several future NBA players on his roster including a potential number one overall pick.

Buffalo might not have any future NBA players, but the Bulls' heart and spirit stopped Arizona's talent. It was the school's first ever NCAA tournament win. No more PAC-12 teams remaining in the tourney. All three of them eliminated by teams from upstate New York. There it is. Buffalo, baby. The players, they let a certain former president know that they saw who he picked in his bracket.


CJ MASSINBURG, BUFFALO GUARD: I seen that President Barack -- I mean, President Barack Obama, he picked Arizona to beat us. And I just want to say, President Obama, I'm sorry, but I had to.


MASSINBURG: Should have chosen handsome guys.


WIRE: Looking good, guys. The cold in Buffalo didn't stop fans from celebrating. Smashing tables for the Bulls, just like they do. Bills mafia for the Buffalo Bills.

Favorite story of the day here, 98-year-old Sister Jean, team chaplain for underdogs Loyola Chicago for over two decades, praying with the team before their matchup with six seed Miami. Some people had them going all the way to the elite eight, John Berman. But a buzzer beater for Loyola, Chicago Daunte Ingraham, a prayer thrown up, backed up by a lot of faith and a lot of hard work from those kids from Loyola, prayers were answered. Miami and the entire sports world in disbelief but showing respect for

that competitive greatness of Loyola Chicago. And for Sister Jean as well who may just be the early pick for tournament MVP.


SISTER JEAN, LOYOLA CHICAGO TEAM CHAPLAIN: When we were in the locker room ahead of the game, we just knew that we would do this. Our team is so great. And they don't care who makes the points as long as we win the game. And I said we want to win the big -- get the big W up there and we did.


WIRE: How sweet is she? And how sweet a victory for Chicagoans everywhere celebrating the big win, just like the folks at the student center on campus. Or at the bar, standing on top of pool tables, even former President Obama tweeting his love for the team and Sister Jean saying that he had faith in his pick. That was their first tournament game in over 30 years, John.

BERMAN: You know, I don't care. I didn't have that game. Sister Jean, she's the best.

All right. Coy Wire, thanks very much. You know, Buffalo, by the way, hasn't had much to celebrate since you left the Bills. So I'm happy for them as well.


WIRE: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, Coy.

All right. And thank you all so much for joining us today. A lot of news. That's it for us. "AT THIS HOUR" picks up right now.