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More White House Staff Shakeups Expected; White House Daily Briefing. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Listening to Sarah Sanders, she said it's, "Nothing more than an administration having different priorities at different times."

But a source close to the White House told Jeff Zeleny, everyone loves a good season finale.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You wonder if Trump still thinks he's still on "The Apprentice." And he thinks the point is to have lots of fighting and backstabbing until there's only one employee left at the end. Because it seems like that's the direction we're heading at this point.

BALDWIN: Rob, can you help us understand. Reportedly, the president is sitting back and loving watching all of the, who could be out, who may be changing, who is on the outs. He said it the other week, he loves conflict. Should he really be enjoying this?

ROB ASTORINO, (R), FORMER NEW YORK GUBANATORIAL CANDIDATE: Who knows if he's enjoying it or not.

BALDWIN: Reportedly, is he.

ASTORINO: Who knows? I mean, I do think --


BALDWIN: But reportedly, he is.


ASTORINO: But, again, who knows?


BALDWIN: He said he liked conflict.

ASTORINO: He does like chaos. We know that. But chaos is defined in different ways. I think, if you have a bus, you have to get the right people on the bus but also in the right seat. If they're not performing, you either move their seat or get them off the bus. It's been a year and a half now, and he's figuring out who should be --


ASTORINO: -- and who should not be.


SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: But it's not one or two people. I mean, it's the number. We've lost count. I mean --


RAMPELL: Yes, it's like three times as many people in senior positions have left so far --


RAMPELL: -- as had left in comparable positions in the first two years of Obama's presidency.

ASTORINO: The previous people were all politicians. They all went through the system. They all had to pull from the system. Trump was not. And so --


KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I can believe it. Wait, wait, wait. Trump said he was going to hire the best people. Clearly, he did not. If he did, he wouldn't have to continue rearranging his staff.

AZARI: Right. There would be a revolving door, yes

BOYKIN: Secondly, he said the White House is operating as a fine- tuned machine. He denies there is chaos. Clearly, there is chaos, when we have every week a new person resigning or threatening to resign. And the president himself is threatening --


RAMPELL: Or being fired.


BOYKIN: Or fired.

RAMPELL: Allegedly.

BOYKIN: And the president is threatening people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is his hand-picked person. So you can say that somehow the Democrats are responsible or he didn't have experience or something like that. He led America to believe he had unique experience to select the right people and he did not.

ASTORINO: Like Tillerson, for instance, OK, a unique pick. It was out of the box. That didn't work out.

BALDWIN: A couple of businessmen.

(CROSSTALK) ASTORINO: Yes. So that didn't work out. So should he just stay with him to create calm or get rid of him at a time when he --


BALDWIN: Wait. Let me --


BALDWIN: Someone being considered if H.R. McMaster goes, John Bolton is being considered. And so --

ASTORINO: More conventional.

BALDWIN: Conventional.


BOYKIN: I don't think so.


BALDWIN: -- for bombing North Korea and Iraq.


BOYKIN: He's more controversial but he has experience.

BALDWIN: Extraordinarily controversial. I'm wondering how the national security community responds to someone who said some of the things that he has. Your answer?

ASTORINO: What I'm saying is he's more conventional. He's been in the administration. He has been in politics.

BALDWIN: A TV personality.

ASTORINO: Yes, and the channel that he watches. It's part of bringing back into the fold people who have already done it.


RAMPELL: I think it's bringing people out of green rooms.

BOYKIN: Exactly. Exactly.

RAMPELL: Look at who he is hiring. I mean, not to denigrate --


BALDWIN: -- green rooms --

RAMPELL: Not to denigrate people who appear on TV.

BOYKIN: Larry Kudlow. RAMPELL: Present company included. That's where he's looking for

expertise. He's not even Googling people, as far as we can tell, to see who knows about the stuff that he's interested in pursuing because he doesn't know what his own policies are. He just saying, that guy is good on TV, I think I want him in my administration.

ASTROINO: Any one of us could be the next pick.

RAMPELL: Exactly.

BALDWIN: There you go.


BALDWIN: You never know.


BALDWIN: We're waiting for Sarah Sanders to step behind podium at the White House briefing which is under way and answer some of these questions we're discussing about potential people under the president, will they go, will they stay.

And also the latest top headlines on Stormy Daniels.

A quick break. We're back in just a moment.


[14:37:00] QUESTION: Yeah. Sarah, an attorney for the porn star known as Stormy Daniels said this morning on -- in a television interview, that she was physically threatened to stay silent about her affair with President Trump.

I'm wondering if you've talked to the president about that, if he knows who might have threatened her. And more generally, if he has any concerns about women accusers being threatened in that way.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously, we take the safety and security of any person seriously. Certainly would condemn anyone threatening any individual. But I have no knowledge of that situation, and would refer you to the president's outside personal attorneys.

QUESTION: Did the president have anything to say about it?

SANDERS: I -- I haven't spoken with him about that specifically.

Katherine (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, we're hearing a lot from staff behind the scenes, saying they're on edge, people are worried, they don't know what's happening in terms of staffing, exits, firings. Has -- has the president or the chief of staff made any kind of assurances to staffers, today, about what's to come? SANDERS: The (inaudible) staff actually spoke to a number of staff this morning, reassuring them that there were personnel changes -- no immediate personnel changes at this time. And that people shouldn't be concerned.

We should do exactly what we do every day, and that's come to work and then do the very best job that we can. And that's exactly what we're doing. That's exactly what we're focused on. And many of us have relayed that to other staffers that weren't part of that meeting.

And we're going to continue to focus on having record success in the second year as we had in our first year, and we fully expect to do that and we expect to do that as a staff and as a team.


QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah. Life sentences for drug dealers as part of the effort to fight opioid abuse and distribution. I'm just curious about the president's plan with respect to that, and his thoughts on that.

I know that you don't want to get ahead of what he may about to announce. But broadly speaking, is the ultimate penalty something that should be on the table when it comes to dealing with drug dealers and opioid abuse?

SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead, as you've said, of any potential policy rollouts that we may or may not have here at the White House. I can tell you the president is headed to New Hampshire on Monday, to reinforce the administration's commitment to combating the opioid crisis.

This builds on some of the previous action that the administration has taken, and we're going to continue to look for ways that we can combat that crisis. But in terms of specifics on a rollout, I don't have that.

[14:45:00] What I can tell you are some of the things that we have done, particularly with the president's budget, where it included $10 billion for HHS to combat the opioid epidemic by preventing opioid abuse, and helping those who are addicted get access to overdose reversal drugs, treatment and recovery support services; also, empowered Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and he has announced the establishment of a team to help federal enforcement disrupt online illicit opioid sales.

The Department of Veterans Affairs became the first hospital system to release opioid prescribing rates, and President Trump also signed the Interdict Act, which authorizes the appropriation of $9 million to U.S. Customs and Border Protection to prevent, detect and interdict the unlawful importation of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids.

Those are some things and steps that the administration has taken. In terms of additional things and policies that we may roll out, I'm not going to get ahead of any potential announcements that may or may not happen next week. Judy (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you. Sarah, you took to Twitter last night to ensure the public that McMaster's job was safe. But has the president spoken directly to either McMaster, Carson, Shulkin to tell them that their jobs are, in fact, safe?

SANDERS: I -- again, like I said last night, and I'll echo it again, I spoke directly to the president last night. He asked me to -- to pass that message along to General McMaster. I know the two of them have been in meetings today. Whether or not that came up, I don't know. But again, our focus is not on a lot of the news stories that you guys would like us to be focused on. But we're actually focused on what the American people want us to do, and that's to come here and do our jobs.

General McMaster is a dedicated public servant, and he is here, not focused on the news stories that many of you are writing, but on some really big issues, things like North Korea, things like Russia, things like Iran. That's what he's doing, and that's what we're going to continue to be focused on every single day that we show up for work.

QUESTION: As Secretary Short just pointed out, there is an issue, when you look at the number of people that you're hoping to confirm. So to look at the people in these top positions that continue to change, just wanting to know if the president gave assurances to Carson, to Shulkin, as well as McMaster, that their jobs are, in fact, safe.

SANDERS: Look, we aren't making any, as I just said -- We're not -- we don't have any personnel changes at this time. But the president shouldn't be bound because Democrats in -- in the Senate can't do their job. If the president wants to be able to make a change because he feels like it's the right thing for the American people, his hands shouldn't be tied because Democrats failed to do what they were elected to do.

This president was elected to put forward policies, and push those policies forward with the team that he selects, not the team that the Democrats think he should have. That's not how the system works, and just because they don't want the president to have his full team, that doesn't mean if he decided to make changes, he shouldn't be able to.

Peter (ph)?

QUESTION: Sarah, just for clarity on this, though, I know you said that this is something that the media wants to talk about right now. But frankly, it's the president who's repeatedly sort of stoked this vacuolation. Just yesterday, he said, "I think you want to see change." Earlier this week, he said, "I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want."

So isn't it the president himself who's sort of creating this aura of, some use the word "chaos", but simply put, turmoil, or a potential upheaval within the West Wing, and frankly, across the administration? SANDERS: Taking two sentences out of the thousands of remarks that the president makes, and trying to make it look like that's the entire focus of his administration is -- is (inaudible).

QUESTION: Sarah, the president said, "I'm at a point where we're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things I want. There will always be change. I think you want to see change." Those aren't my words. They're his words.

SANDERS: Yeah, and he just nominated -- yeah, he just nominated two new people to be part of his cabinet, so we are getting close. We'd liked those two individuals to be quickly confirmed, quickly put through that process so that they can take a seat at the table, so that they can continue to engage with the president on big issues that actually matter to the American people.

[14:51:51] BALDWIN: OK, here's the headlines I heard. First, on chaos and the comings and goings at the White House, the headline from Sarah was, "No immediate personnel changes at this time, people should not be concerned."

She was asked about Stormy Daniels. Of course, she was saying the White House would always condemn any threat of violence, and I have no knowledge of the situation and I refer you to outside counsel.

Couple of questions, too, on what's the deal with this Kim Jong- Un/Trump meeting, and a lot of, "I can't tell you. I don't have the details."

So those are my takeaways.

I've got the panel next to me.

Catherine, let me start with you on the comings and goings. Juxtapose what we heard, "No immediate personnel changes at this time, people shouldn't be concerned," with the line we got from Jim Acosta, our White House chief correspondent, from folks over at the White House, "Everyone love a season finale." How do you interpret what she says?

RAMPELL: I think she's talking out of both sides of her mouth at this point. If she wants to say, oh, of course there's a need for turnover. But on the other hand, there isn't really that much turnover, when the data suggests otherwise. The headlines suggest otherwise when you're having a cabinet member fired by tweet, when you're having lots of other rumors about various other cabinet members that could be on the chopping block. Clearly, there's a lot turmoil in this White House right now. And they want it both ways. They want to claim there isn't much turmoil, but then say, if there is turmoil, it's all for the best.

BALDWIN: Different priorities, different people come and go. That's what I heard from her yesterday and also today.

To you, Sara, on Stormy, the whole -- we heard it before and heard it again. Probably the right answer for her to refer the questions to the outside counsel. AZARI: It is, of course. It begs the question, where is outside

counsel? Why have we not heard from him?

BALDWIN: Michael Cohen?

AZARI: I believe that's Michael Cohen. The first time I heard anything on his behalf was on last night on "Anderson," when he sent his friend, his buddy, also a lawyer, to speak for him. But where is that outside counsel because every time it's brought up in a press conference, it's referred to outside counsel. A correct response but, you know, it raises that question.


And then to you two gentlemen, between Stormy and the Russia probe and the -- from a couple of weeks ago, it feels like an eternity ago -- and the Porter scandal, we hear a lot of, "I can't comment," or "I'll refer you to X." What can she answer?

BOYKIN: Clearly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders does not know what President Trump is thinking. When she speaks, she's speaking as -- she doesn't have as much information as I do, it seems, about what Trump will do, because I don't think anyone in the White House knows what he will do. We're in the position now -- we were talking about this during the break -- the president is going into this important meeting with Kim Jong-Un in North Korea. He has no ambassador to South Korea, no secretary of state, and he has more than 200 appointments where he hasn't even nominated someone for.

BALDWIN: And it's his daughter today --


BOYKIN: His daughter --

BALDWIN: -- with the South Korean envoy.

BOYKIN: His daughter, Ivanka, is meeting with the South Korean envoy. I don't know how Rob is going to spin this, but it sounds like chaos to me.


BALDWIN: Rob, you get the last word.

ASTORINO: OK, so, let me see.

BALDWIN: Here we go.

ASTORINO: First of all, I think what Sarah said is very true. At some point, the outside counsel has to speak and stop some of the bleeding. It shouldn't come from the White House. It should not come from the president. Look, I agree, there needs to be a point person, a real designated, "everyone knows who it is," point person for the upcoming talks with North Korea. Right now, we don't have that, and I think that is problematic. [14:55:13] BALDWIN: OK. Thank you all very much.


BALDWIN: Thank you.

And we'll be right back.


[14:59:45] BALDWIN: You are watching CNN on this Friday afternoon. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Moments ago, we heard Sarah Sanders at that White House briefing. She tried to quell these reports of a major turnover to come at the White House. A White House official says that the president told his staff today that Chief of Staff John Kelly is, quote, unquote, "100 percent safe." But that doesn't necessarily settle rumblings about others, specifically national security advisor, H.R. McMaster. Here was Sarah Sanders just a moment ago.