Return to Transcripts main page


Sources: Trump to Remove National Security Advisor; Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization in Russia Probe; At Least Six Killed in Miami Bridge Collapse. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president has made the decision to remove H.R. McMaster.

[05:59:08] DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There will always be change. I want to see different ideas.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Someone who bragged about "I hire only the best people" he can't seem to keep people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm looking forward to the president having the cabinet that he deserves.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The special counsel is looking now into Trump businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Investigation 101 to follow the money.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes very strongly there is no collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no individual in the United States who is above the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sounded like a bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mostly, cars are just squished.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all want to do our best to try to find out exactly what happened here.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, March 16, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

Sources tell CNN that the turmoil inside the Trump administration is nothing short of total disarray. CNN reporting that President Trump is ready to oust his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, and is considering even more changes to his embattled cabinet.

A major development, as well, in the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed business documents from the Trump Organization. Is Mueller crossing Donald Trump's red line by investigating the Trump Organization?

CUOMO: Now a key component about the information with these subpoenas is whether or not they stem is from the counterterrorism aspect of this investigation or what they call the "arises from" provision of the special counsel's purview. What do those terms mean? We're going to tell you, because they make a critical difference in what this could mean for the investigation.

In other news, the Trump administration is finally imposing new sanctions on Russia for its election interference, seven months after they were passed by a huge margin in Congress. Now the Kremlin is retaliating against the U.S. sanctions, and the U.K., as well, after they expelled diplomats over that nerve agent attack.

And we have breaking details on that deadly pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami. What authorities now say may have caused that footbridge to be reduced to rubble in just seconds.

Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Abby Phillip live at the White House -- Ab.

ABBY PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Chris.

President Trump is one year into office, and he is feeling more self- assured, a source tells CNN. That means he's looking to make some changes, and the first one could be H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser.

Even though the White House denies that he's on his way out the door, sources tell CNN it could happen as soon as today.

Meanwhile, the special counsel probe is appearing to heat up.


PHILLIP (voice-over): Multiple sources tell CNN that, after months of tension, President Trump has made the decision to fire national security adviser H.R. McMaster. The president now weighing potential replacements, aiming to have a new adviser in place ahead of his historic meeting with North Korea's dictator, which could happen soon.

Among the names under consideration, former U.N. ambassador and FOX News contributor John Bolton. But late Thursday, press secretary Sarah Sanders again insisting that the president and McMaster have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the National Security Council.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: General McMaster is not going anywhere. As the president said in the Oval Office to a number of the people, he thinks he's doing a great job. PHILLIP: But a source tells CNN that McMaster and Mr. Trump have

never gotten along and that the president feels McMaster has a condescending briefing style.

"The New York Times" reports that chief of staff John Kelly is strongly pushing for McMaster's firing and has become increasingly angry at what he views as General McMaster's prolonged effort to undermine outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

TRUMP: There will always be change. And I think you want to see change. And I want to also see different ideas.

PHILLIP: The turmoil in the West Wing coming as Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation widens. A sources tells CNN that Mueller has subpoenaed the president's family business, an area Mr. Trump has indicated could cross a red line.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": If Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yes. I would say yes.

PHILLIP: "The New York Times" reports that some of the documents Mueller has requested are related to Russia and that investigators have been asking witnesses recently about a possible Trump real-estate deal in Moscow.

A lawyer for the Trump Organization responding, "This is old news, and our assistance and cooperation with the various investigations remains the same today."

News that the subpoena coming after the administration announced it had finally imposed sanctions on Russia for election meddling that were overwhelmingly passed by Congress last August. It comes as the Department of Homeland Security accuses Russia of trying to penetrate the U.S. energy grid.

Still, the White House stopping short of declaring Russia an enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is Putin a friend or a foe of the United States?

SANDERS: I think that's something that Russia's going to have to make that determination. They're going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor.


PHILLIP: So it is still unclear exactly what the breadth of this new Mueller -- Mueller subpoena is. And "The New York Times" reports that the subpoena is something that they did even though they could have simply asked for these documents. But a source tells CNN that it would be that what Mueller is trying to

do here is clean up, meaning preventing people or warning people not to destroy or perhaps withhold any documents that they might need for this investigation -- Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much for setting all of that up for us.

Let's bring in CNN political analysts Alex Burns and David Drucker. Great to have both of you in studio.

What did H.R. McMaster do wrong? Why is he on the chopping block today?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's been on the chopping block for a while. And we find ourselves actually getting to the point of his likely dismissal, because as my colleagues have reported, John Kelly is really fed up with him. He is seen is as having been a bad actor in the whole Rex Tillerson saga. But really --

[06:05:10] CAMEROTA: But let me dive into this. So John Kelly wanted Rex Tillerson to stay, and H.R. McMaster prodded for him to leave. And that made him get in the cross-hairs of John Kelly?

BURNS: No, it's not as straightforward as just Kelly was fighting for Tillerson to stay. But that McMaster was seen as a bad actor who was actively undermining the secretary of state in a way that's not collegial, not the way Kelly wanted business to be done.

But more broadly, and probably more importantly, when it comes to McMaster's fate, this has been an ongoing issue for months. Trump complained to people that he thinks McMaster is condescending to him, that their personalities never clicked. If there's one thing that we know about the president, it is that personality comes first.

CUOMO: And deference. This is a little bit of the same beef that Trump had with Flynn. Was that, you know, "Wow, he knows a lot. I'm very impressed by him. I don't like the way he talks to me. He talks -- he seems to talk down to me, like he knows more than I do." Which of course, both of these gentlemen do, by a large margin.

So you get into this issue, Brother Drucker, about the difference between healthy change and chaos, right? The president says, "You always see change. Change is good." Yes, on his TV show. But when you change important people like McMaster, the heads of agencies, you do not have continuity of purpose or of process. And that winds up leaving you nowhere in government. Isn't that a fair assessment?

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a fair assessment that it makes it very hard to get things done and to bring people along with you to lead a country when they think that everything is all over the place.

But the president's base is going to look at this as him shaking up Washington and fighting an establishment.

CAMEROTA: But he's shaking up his own cabinet. It's not shaking up Washington.

DRUCKER: But to them, it is shaking up the political professionals. But the point here is -- is that the president himself doesn't --

CUOMO: Hold on one second. All right. So these are his people that he put in place that he said were the best. OK? None is a political professional.

DRUCKER: Yes, but you're talking --

CUOMO: I get that they think that.

DRUCKER: You're talking --

CUOMO: But that's like saying, "Well, I think that this is actually a real building that we're inside of and these brick walls are true."

CAMEROTA: This is a real building.

CUOMO: This is not true. This is a prop. These bricks are not real.

CAMEROTA: Don't tell people that.

DRUCKER: Chris, we -- Chris, we understand this. But I think it's important to look at the different ways in which the country will interpret this. But it's also important to understand why this is always going to be the case.

The president himself does not have an ideological core. And it is hard to have continuity of policy when the man leading that policy is always going to change his mind. And it makes it hard to have continuity of staff, because he will make a hire based on what he feels today about a particular policy, whether it's foreign policy or economic policy. Six months later, he feels differently and thinks that he needs different personnel to reflect that.

He's also, as Alisyn has discussed, very interested in personality and the superficiality of whether or not you look great on television. Only to discover later, you know, maybe we didn't get along.

H.R. McMaster looks like a general, because he's a very tough general. That's his -- that's been his profession. But the president after a while says, "You look great. We don't get along. We don't agree."

So this is always going to be a situation where anybody who's hired is eventually going to be on a chopping block, because the president himself is inconsistent in how he looks at both policy and how he feels about the people he hires.

CAMEROTA: He's fickle. I mean, he changes his mind. He does sour on people.

But Sarah Sanders doesn't see it that way. She said -- I mean, this was a pretty full-throated endorsement of McMaster. She said, "Just spoke to the president," she tweeted, "and General H.R. McMaster. Contrary to report that they -- contrary to reports," comma, "they have a good working relationship, and there are no changes at the NSC." That's unequivocal for that hour.

BURNS: Well -- for that hour, right. That I could say to you, "I'm not eating breakfast," and I'm not literally currently eating breakfast but I'm going to at some point, right?

CAMEROTA: What's the point of her putting that out? If he's being ousted today, what's the point of putting that out?

BURNS: Well, we'll see if he's ousted today. And it is -- it is -- I mean, it is important to step back. And the president does have a habit of throwing out these ideas. "And maybe I'll get rid of somebody. I'll probably get rid of somebody. I'm going to get rid of somebody." Then it gets reported in the press. And suddenly he pulls back from it.

CUOMO: Let's go over NPR tweet, which is making a very similar point to Alex, just so you can see some context, OK? "If he" -- this is Steve Inskeep, OK? -- "If he floats his own stories of what he will or could do, and the story amounts to a reality show cliffhanger to keep you until after the commercial." And that's the answer to your question.

Look, Sarah Sanders plays her part in this fiction about what is fact and what is fiction. OK? And she's going to say this today. And if it changes, they'll have a reason for it, and she'll have the same straight face. And it's why people don't know what to believe and not believe anymore.

BURNS: And in many of these situations, the president will eventually do what he is talking about doing. That if every day there's a 25 percent chance that he fires H.R. McMaster, eventually, that chance will come up. Right? And we'll see if today is the day. But it's part of why you have to sort of just view every possible change.

[06:10:11] CUOMO: The problem is he hears Alex Burns. He says, "I'm not crazy about the unshaven look, but he's a smart guy. I'll look bad if I get rid of him today. I'm not doing it today." That can influence what happens in there. I can't tell you how many times. This had to happen to you guys, too. Where they tell you something. "This is going to happen." Good sources. Real people. Still there making a difference. And then it doesn't happen. And they say, "I don't know what happened."

DRUCKER: It's because the president's opinions are very ephemeral and fleeting. So you know, most politicians that we are used to covering, for whatever the B.S. is that they spin us from time to time, they actually do have an ideological center that sort of governs the general direction they head in and who they surround themselves with.

For this his president is controlling the media. What to him amounts to the power of the presidency is the ability for us to be talking about what he might or might not do.

And the consequence of that, on the one hand, are people that really enjoy that and, in a sense for them, it's very cathartic. And you have this other half of the country that finds it to be very exhausting and very worrisome, because they never know where he's headed.

And I think what a lot of people want in a government, at least some of the time, is some stability. But president Trump, when he was private citizen Trump, was not stable. And he's not going to be stable as a president, especially as -- you know, as we are learning, he's been sowing his oats and now really feeling as though he can do whatever he wants without consequences.

CAMEROTA: David Drucker, Alex Burns, thank you very much for all of that insight.

We are following some breaking news right now. Because police in Miami say that at least six people are dead after that pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University. The search-and- rescue operation is now a recovery effort.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live at the scene with all of the breaking details. What's the latest there, Rosa?


The painstaking task at this hour is the removal of 950 tons of concrete, all while removing bodies and preserving evidence. Now, the cruel irony here is that this bridge was built, it was designed for the safety of FIU students.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was super loud. It sounded like the world was ending.

FLORES (voice-over): Shocking new video obtained by "The Miami Herald" captures the sudden collapse of a new pedestrian bridge at Florida International University in Miami.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My friend's sister called me. Her brother, my childhood friend, he was crossing as the bridge was coming down, and it hit him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know how he's doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I don't know. He was rushed to the hospital. I don't know. I'm just so worried.

FLORES: Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeting that cables that suspended the bridge had loosened and were being tightened when the structure gave way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via phone): Multiple workers were on top of the bridge. And we have a report of several people injured at this time.

FLORES: Authorities announcing that the frantic effort to rescue people trapped in the rubble is now a recovery operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via phone): The cars were completely crushed under. You could see some of the front of the car and just a lot of debris everywhere.

FLORES: Emergency crews working desperately into the night to recover victims trapped in eight flattened vehicles, digging through debris, using search-and-rescue dogs to look for signs of life.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: We all want to do our best to try to find out exactly what happened here, and if anybody has done anything wrong, we'll hold them -- hold them accountable.

FLORES: The 950-ton bridge was designed to give students a safe way to cross the busy highway below after the death of a student last year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being under that bridge we were like, "Oh, my God. This is so scary, because it weighs so much." But we had trust that the people who had built it, like there was no, like, fault or anything.

FLORES: The structure was just installed last Saturday when University President Mark Rosenberg touted the project.

MARK ROSENBERG, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: This new bridge is critical for student safety. We're thrilled that they can now have a much safer passage.

FLORES: The bridge was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and was slated to open next year.


FLORES: Now, this investigation, of course, continues. And rest assured, it will be well-investigated, both by local, state, and federal agencies. Homicide detectives already on scene, as are FBI, NTSB and OSHA investigators as well -- Chris.

CUOMO: And it's a little bit different than the typical investigations about, you know, how long, had it been properly maintained. You know, the considerations we have with a lot of infrastructure in the country. This had just been put up.

Rosa, thank you very much. Let us know what develops.

So Bob Mueller issuing subpoenas, this time to the Trump Organization, asking for documents in the Russia probe. What is he looking for? Why is he looking for them? And does this cross the president's red line? We dig deeper, next.


CAMEROTA: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has now subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents related to the Russia investigation. Does that move cross President Trump's red line, as he suggested in this "New York Times" interview last summer?


SCHMIDT: If Mueller is looking at your finances or your family's finances, unrelated to Russia, is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yes. Yes, I would say yes.


CAMEROTA: OK, let's bring back Alex Burns to talk about this. Joining us also, CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.

CUOMO: Another hunch.

CAMEROTA: Well, hold on a second. This one wasn't a hunch. This was -- Carrie, he was asked this by Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times." Excuse me. So this wasn't sort of an original thought that he introduced, the president, into the conversation. They asked him, "If Mueller was looking at your family's finances, would it be a red line?" And he sort of thought about it and said, "Yes, I think that would be crossing the red line."

But -- but going into the Trump Organization and looking for any Russian connection, isn't that different? Is that a different category in your mind?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, from my perspective, it is still -- falls within the scope of what the special counsel has given -- been given a mandate to do under the regulations. Because the special counsel can look into the Russian meddling issue and any other matters that arise in the course of that investigation.

[06:20:06] And then the deputy attorney general is conducting oversight to make sure that he's comfortable with -- in whatever direction the special counsel goes.

So in my mind, it could mean one of two things. Either the subpoena is intended to further the investigation on the issue of actual Russian meddling and whether the Trump Organization had any communications, contacts, reasons, motivations, financial entanglements with Russian government-related organizations or Russian government surrogates or oligarchs that would have given them a motivation to cooperate in some way or what we sort of call in lay terms collude.

Or the investigation has taken them in a direction that is unrelated to that but has revealed unrelated money laundering activity on behalf of the Trump Organization more along the lines of the type of activity that we saw in the Manafort and Gates indictment. It could be either one of those or it could be exploring both of those angles at the same time.

CUOMO: Right. So there wind up being two relevant aspects. All right? One could be a suggestion of timing. And Carrie, jump in if I'm wrong. Which is that if this is an extension of the counterintelligence coordination, this could show that, all right, people are right. This is one of the buttoning up aspects of this.

However, if it's part of the "arises out of," then it could show that they still have a lot of avenues and duration of investigating to do.

Now of course, the president can draw any red line he wants. It doesn't matter to the investigators. He can talk all he wants about whether or not he wants it to end, Carrie. You've never heard of somebody in that -- his kind of situation saying, "I'll sit down if you end your investigation in a week." It's now how it works.


CUOMO: You can say it. It sounds good politically. But --

CORDERO: And a subpoena is a basic investigative technique. A subpoena is a relatively low standard to obtain from the grand jury. It's not probable cause like a search warrant or surveillance or wiretapping requires. It's a low standard. It's a basic investigative technique.

And so what it requires is once it's served, it requires the receiving organization, in this case the Trump Organization, to preserve all relevant information. So they can't delete any e-mails now. They can't destroy any documents. They have to hold onto any information that would be relevant to the investigation.

CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Alex.

BURNS: I will say, just as a political matter, this does seem to at least open the door to a debate over the investigation that is maybe the most complicated one for the White House and for Republicans to untangle. That every indictment so far, you have had the White House defend itself by saying "Either this person has nothing to do with us or this activity has nothing to do with the campaign." Right? Paul Manafort, he's indicted for money laundering. "That's not our deal."

If this ends with some kind of charge touching the president or his family that isn't about the campaign but does get at unlawful behavior by them directly, that's a much, much tougher one for them to defend. And I actually -- that's the one where, to me, there's the biggest question mark about how Congress and Washington more broadly would defend it.

Clearly, if there is some kind of smoking gun collusion, that's a Watergate-level event. If there is some kind of financial crime that isn't related to election interference, that to me is the biggest question mark about how Washington reacts.

CAMEROTA: Very, very quickly, Carrie. Why are they subpoenaing the documents? I mean, we had heard -- our reporting was that the Trump Organization was cooperating and handing over documents. So what does it tell you that there's a subpoena?

CORDERO: Well, the subpoena, again, it's a basic investigative technique. It really -- if they're looking at anything that the Trump Organization was doing, it makes sense that they would issue a subpoena. The subpoena is a tool of grand jury. So it means that the grand jury has considered information. And what it means is that they have to hold onto the information. So the special counsel isn't saying, "Can I have this information,

pretty please?" They're saying, "You are required, Trump Organization, to hold onto this information and to produce it."

CUOMO: Right. It's also different than when they issue a subpoena for you to appear. You know, that's the one that is -- is a more coercive instrument. Not legally but in terms of the optics, where "You have to come talk to me." That is a scarier proposition than "Just make sure you're not getting rid of anything that could be germane to us."

CAMEROTA: OK. So let's talk about sanctions. The Trump administration has now issued sanctions against Russians. These are some of the same who were indicted by Robert Mueller. This is delayed after Congress asked them or, I guess, insisted, whatever, enforced that they instill these sanctions. So how do you see the timing here that now it's happening?

BURNS: I think you have to see it as part of sort of an attempt to let some of the steam out of an ongoing standoff between the executive branch and the Congress about how to handle Russia.

A lot of folks, especially Democrats but hawkish members of the Republican party, as well, want to see the administration much, much tougher on Russia. And if they were to basically do nothing, that's the point at which, you know, hawks on the Hill kind of take matters into their own hands.

[06:25:00] It's not clear that these sanctions that the administration issued are meaningful punishment for these people. Because many of them are under sanctions already or facing similar legal consequence that are sort of duplicative of what the administration just did.

But it sends a signal. It shows people in Washington that, no, they're not completely letting the Russians off the hook. And by the way, it makes the president look considerably tougher than he has actually been in his own words in reaction to the events in London over the last week.

CAMEROTA: There you go. Alex Burns, Carrie Cordero, thank you very much for all the information.

All right. So an 11-000-mile odyssey for a German Shepherd mistakenly flown to Japan by United Airlines. Ten-year-old Irgo finally arriving back home in Kansas. We'll show you the happy reunion, ahead.


CAMEROTA: Authorities releasing surveillance video that captures the school resource officer, Scot Peterson, standing outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school during the massacre.