Return to Transcripts main page

NEW DAY

CNN Sources: Trump to Fire National Security Advisor McMaster; Rescuers Searching Through Rubble in Bridge Disaster; 7 U.S. Servicemen Killed in Iraq Helicopter Crash. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The decision to remove H.R. McMaster isn't made by the president.

[07:00:06] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and General McMaster are continuing to work together.

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This president is also looking at other people in this administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just utter chaos, and it's not a recipe for moving forward.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: It looks like that the Mueller team is following Donald Trump's money.

SANDERS: We're going to continue to cooperate with the special counsel, and we look forward to them concluding soon.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There are a lot of dots to connect here, but so many of them seem to be pointing to Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard a loud bang. We looked back, and the bridge had completely collapsed. The cars were completely crushed under. There was a lot of debris everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're feeling uncontrollable sadness, and our hearts go out to all those affected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. The turmoil inside the Trump administration. Look, you can't see it as anything except disarray. Sources tell CNN President Trump is ready to oust his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster. This comes as the president is weighing who else to fire in his embattled cabinet.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: And there's a major development in the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has subpoenaed documents from Trump's family business, the Trump Organization. Does that cross Donald Trump's red line of investigating his personal finances?

All of this as the Trump administration finally imposes new sanctions on Russia for its election interference.

So let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. What's the latest this morning, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Alisyn.

The Russia investigation is ongoing. But it is H.R. McMaster, the president's national security adviser, that is the big story this morning. Sources tell CNN that he could be out as soon as today, even though the White House denies that he is on his way out the door.

Meanwhile, Robert Mueller's investigation continues, and it appears to be picking up steam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

SANDERS: 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 source 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's 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. 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: "The New York Times" is reporting that the scope of the Mueller subpoena is something that they did even though they could have simply asked for these documents. But a source tells CNN that it could be an act of clean-up, that Mueller wants to make sure that all documents are actually turned over in the course of the investigation -- Chris and Alisyn.

CUOMO: All right, Ab. Thanks.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Abby.

Joining us now is "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman.

So Maggie, in your reporting, where did H.R. McMaster go wrong as national security advisor?

HABERMAN: Taking the job. I mean, in all seriousness, look. In all seriousness, they have never quite clicked. The way that he was given the job was all very strange. And it was all surrounding the ouster of Flynn. The president was essentially auditioning.

[07:05:07] He literally, as I understand it, was upset the first time he met H.R. McMaster, because H.R. McMaster was wearing a suit and was not wearing his uniform. And he wanted him to wear his uniform. This is a big thing for the president, as we know, is the military displays.

Stylistically, they have never gotten along. The president has never enjoyed H.R. McMaster's briefings. He doesn't get the president's humor. The president likes to do things like interrupt H.R. McMaster when he's talking and sort of make a joke. And add in some levity. And McMaster just continues on as if that hasn't happened, and that's usually not the way to win with this particular president.

I think that -- and I think that there are a couple of issues where H.R. McMaster was at odds with the president that had not been in his favor.

But I think that what has been more problematic for H.R. McMaster of late is who he is against around the president.

CAMEROTA: John Kelly.

HABERMAN: Well, so they have never gotten along in any meaningful way.

McMaster has been seen by Kelly -- and I have this from four people in the administration, as being part of sort of a broader group of people who were agitating against Tillerson.

But he was seen by Kelly -- and I have this from four people in the administration -- as being part of sort of a broader group of people who were agitating against Tillerson. I do not believe that H.R. McMaster would ever directly agitate against Tillerson in a pointed way with the president, and I don't think the president would ever take advice on staff from H.R. McMaster.

But he was seen by Kelly as being undermining in an attenuated way towards Rex Tillerson. Kelly is very upset about the Rex Tillerson firing. He has been very vocal about that with people all week in the administration.

The people that I spoke with believe that the stories last night, particularly the "Washington Post" story, which was very pointed about H.R. McMaster, were largely generated by Kelly and people around Kelly. Now, that doesn't mean that it won't be right at some point in the near future. It will be. But we have known for some time that the president is done with H.R. McMaster.

H.R. McMaster, I'm told, is also essentially done with the job. I mean, it's not that he wouldn't stay if the conditions were better. But who wants to get up and be -- get a phone call every day from a media outlet, asking when you're going to get fired?

CUOMO: That's the problem, right? It would almost be better if all of this is true --

HABERMAN: That's right.

CUOMO: -- that it happens --

HABERMAN: That's right. CUOMO: -- because you don't have policy --

HABERMAN: That's right.

CUOMO: -- continuation and consistency.

HABERMAN: That's right.

CUOMO: That's what's lost in all of this. You know, what is billed as healthy, you know, disputes and battles of ideas and changeover for fresh blood, none of that is actually accurate, right --

HABERMAN: That's right.

CUOMO: -- in terms of the dynamic. It's not healthy exchange of ideas. I

HABERMAN: No.

CUOMO: It's all cloak-and-dagger subterfuge that's going on.

HABERMAN: No, it's --

CUOMO: And it's not healthy change. It's firing people and people wondering if they're next.

HABERMAN: But it isn't even firing people. I mean, it's -- A, it's rival gangs. B, it's the president -- all of this whole "The president's going to fire this one" makes it sound much more decisive than he actually is in these situations. It is very -- I mean, what was so striking about Comey was that -- or frankly, when he dispatched with Reince Priebus, he's very rarely that decisive in these situations. He usually lets these things fester for months and months and months and months.

In the case of Priebus, he did. His adult children had tired of Priebus. A lot of his other advisors had tired of Priebus. Priebus was seen as a toxic force.

Bannon, Steve Bannon was seen as a toxic force. At that point, he moved to get rid of him. But again, the president didn't directly confront Steve Bannon. John Kelly dealt with it.

And she president sort of likes watching the show. And one of his advisers once said to me, "He can either do the job or he can watch the show. And he almost every single time chooses to watch the show."

CAMEROTA: NPR's Steve Inskeep tweeted you to that effect last night.

HABERMAN: Right.

CAMEROTA: He said, "If he floats his own stories," meaning the president, "of what he will or could do, then the story amounts to a reality show cliffhanger to keep you until after the commercial."

And what I think plays into that is press secretary Sarah Sanders who quite definitively said that, no, this isn't happening. Here's what she tweeted yesterday: "Just spoke to the president and General H.R. McMaster. Contrary to reports, they have a good working relationship, and there are no changes at the National Security Council."

HABERMAN: And that will be a tweet for which she is going to get pummeled. And honestly, I cannot imagine having a worse job than she has in that situation. Because you are working for a president who likes to stoke his own gossip. And you are never going to get the truth. He loves even -- in fairness to the "Washington Post," a lot of people inside the White House were also saying McMaster could be gone as soon as today. I do not believe it is going to be today, to be clear, in terms of him, and I don't believe it's going to be today or any time in the coming days about John Kelly departing.

But the president will change his mind just to be contrarian after a news account. This is also part of his decision-making process. And that's a really important thing to bear in mind. But it is also why we all face risks, and I have fallen into this trap many times myself, of when we report something definitively, unless he is on the record saying it's happened --

CUOMO: Right.

HABERMAN: -- Hope Hicks's departure, Rex Tillerson's departure, Gary Cohn's departure -- you run the risk that he's then going to turn around and say it's not good. Or not accurate.

CUOMO: Well, he could be watching you right now. And if you go too far in terms of "This is what it is," he could not make it happen so he can say that your reporting is fake.

HABERMAN: Exactly. Correct.

CUOMO: But they can't do it today.

HABERMAN: Right.

CUOMO: Because if they were to do it today --

HABERMAN: No, that's right.

CUOMO: -- now as I fall into the same trap. If they do it today --

HABERMAN: Welcome to the tribe.

CUOMO: -- he has really made it almost impossible for Sarah Huckabee Sanders to continue doing the job. She would have no credibility. She's struggling there anyway with the media. She would have no credibility. If it happens today, you will know that either she just lies to promote whatever the agenda is of that day, or she doesn't know what's going on.

HABERMAN: I think that taking it away from any one specific person, and I do -- you know, I've said this before, but I think that two people who get attacked most are Sarah Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, and I don't think it's fair. I think that this all stems from the president. And that just -- that just is where this is coming from.

I think that when you are dealing with somebody who enjoys this level of chaos and enjoys stoking this kind of thing, we have -- we have seen a version of this over and over with him for three years. And we have lived through the campaign. His behavior is no different as president. If anything, what we are seeing is he is becoming bolder about his own behavior.

What was striking about what he said in that audio that "The Washington Post" got, and good on them for getting it --

CAMEROTA: In a closed-door climate.

HABERMAN: -- at a closed-door fundraiser in Missouri the other night, was not that he allegedly lied to an ally, to Justin Trudeau of Canada. It was that he was bragging that he had lied. It used to be that was the kind of a thing he would privately say to friends. He would never even admit that he lied; he wouldn't even acknowledge that he had told an untruth.

This is a difference. Openly saying on a campaign rally stage that he wants to give death penalty to drug dealers, that is new. This is all him saying the inside part out loud. And so for whatever reason, he is feeling more comfortable doing --

CUOMO: That's fine. But one thing. I agree with what you're saying, period. But when it comes to Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, they make their own choices about what they say and what they don't. I'm sure they're getting heavy pressure. "This is what we want to put it out. This is how we put it out. This is what we like and what we don't like." They make the choice whether or not to echo things.

CAMEROTA: But I'm with Maggie. I think that they get more criticism from the public. I hear it, too.

HABERMAN: Far more.

CAMEROTA: Than the guys who go out --

HABERMAN: Correct.

CAMEROTA: -- and also say falsehoods and untruths.

CUOMO: But like who? I mean, because these are main players. Kellyanne is highly empowered.

CAMEROTA: Scaramucci.

CUOMO: Sebastian Gorka.

HABERMAN: Look at any -- look at any --

CUOMO: He was completely maligned. We beat him up on this show like he was a --

CAMEROTA: Sebastian Gorka, Scaramucci. Not a household name that -- HABERMAN: Sebastian Gorka's not -- look at any cabinet secretary on any Sunday show. And they are all having to go out there and say things that they are being told to say.

Now, look. This is not compulsory work. They could all quit. There is no question. But when you choose to work there, it should not continue to be a surprise that they are saying things that they are being told by their boss, who is the president, to say. And I do think that there has been a difference over and over and over in how the women have been treated versus the men. It's just reality.

CUOMO: He's also got two women that are uniquely empowered right now, right? Cause in Sanders and Kellyanne, I mean, I think that Kellyanne knows what's in his head at a very high level.

HABERMAN: Right. Right.

CUOMO: And that's not always a given.

HABERMAN: I think that that's true. But I think that the level of the savagery in some of the attacks.

COMO: Especially the -- especially the lookism stuff. You know, "Saturday Night Live," when they first went after Sarah Huckabee Sanders it was about how she looked and how she dressed. It was obnoxious. And that happens to Kellyanne all the time when she goes on. That's wrong, too, no question about it.

CAMEROTA: Thank you, Maggie.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CUOMO: All right. We have breaking news for you this morning, as well. The death toll is rising in that pedestrian bridge collapse in Miami. Emergency crews using search-and-rescue dogs to find victims right now buried in the rubble. CNN's Rosa Flores live at the scene with the breaking details.

We know they've been out there overnight, Rosa.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, you know, Chris, the tough details for some of the families waking up this morning is that they have lost their loved ones. As you mentioned, the death toll increasing to six.

What is going on right now is the painstaking task of removing 950 tons of very unstable concrete. That's what engineers and investigators are doing at this hour behind me.

The cruel irony here is this bridge was designed, it was built for the safety of FIU students.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 MALE: 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 suspend 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 that -- 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 car and just a lot of debris everywhere.

[07:15:10] 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FLORES: And rest assured, this tragedy will be investigated to the fullest extent of the law. We have learned that this investigation involves local, state, and federal officials.

Alisyn, there are homicide detectives working side by side with engineers, with members of the FBI, OSHA and NTSB.

CAMEROTA: That's interesting, Rosa. Thank you very much for all the developments from that tragic scene.

We have more breaking news for you. A U.S. military official tells CNN that seven military members have been killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq. CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon with all of the breaking news for us.

What have you learned, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.

The news we never want to report for American military families. We are now told that all seven members aboard a U.S. military helicopter that crashed yesterday in western Iraq are deceased.

Now the initial reports, the indications from the field, this helicopter did not go down due to hostile fire. There was another helicopter flying alongside as they always do. And that second crew reported no signs of hostile fire.

Crews, military personnel went to the scene very quickly to secure it and to try and recover the remains. And of course, sadly, what we know now is the routine will take place. There will be teams that will fan out to the families of all seven fallen, notify them in the coming hours of the fate of their loved ones. And then after that at some point, we the public will learn their names and learn what they were doing in Iraq.

It only underscores the war is a deadly business for all of those in it. This was not a combat mission by all accounts. A terrible accident in western Iraq -- Chris.

CUOMO: Just a reminder, though, that the involvement isn't over. The sacrifice is great, not just for the men and women in the service but their families, as well.

Barbara, thank you very much for giving us the information.

So one of the questions we're dealing with this morning is, is Vladimir Putin a friend or foe to America? The White House cannot say. What does that mean? We ask former director of national intelligence Jim Clapper next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[07:22:21] CAMEROTA: Sources tell CNN that President Trump is ready to replace his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster. Earlier this week, the president told reporters he was close to having the cabinet he wants. So what does all of this mean for national security?

Let's discuss with CNN national security analyst and former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Director Clapper, thank you very much for being here. So let's start with H.R. McMaster. Given everything that's happening with Russia, given the plans being made for President Trump to sit down with Kim Jong-un in or around May, what do you think of H.R. McMaster's precarious position?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it's -- first of all, I think, Alisyn, he's -- he's been in a tough place to start with, because I just think it's a really tough situation for an active-duty military officer in this very highly charged environment. So that's point one.

And of course, conventionally, with everything that's going on, you wouldn't want to make a change like that with this forthcoming summit in May with North Korea. So --

CAMEROTA: And why not? I mean, why not make a change now? What -- what is at stake if he changes his national security adviser before meeting with North Korea?

CLAPPER: Well, you'd like to have as much preparation time for something as momentous as this is, potentially. And the bench on Korean expertise right now is, as far as I can tell, a little thin with the special envoy just having retired. And we don't have an ambassador in Seoul yet.

And so -- now, having said that, I think now Director of CIA Pompeo can certainly be -- you know, forge that continuity. Of course, I don't know that he'll be in place as secretary of state, because we shouldn't take for granted the confirmation process. And I do wonder whether confirmation fatigue is going to set in in the Senate with his constant turnover.

CAMEROTA: And does any of this worry you on a national security level? Beyond the politics of it, beyond the chaos, are there national security concerns?

CLAPPER: Well, there are, I think, in just this turmoil and turbulence in the national security apparatus. That's why, you know, I think the continued presence and continued tenure of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is so crucial.

[07:25:05] But having been in that apparatus myself for a long time, it is disruptive when you have the constant turmoil and turnover. And even when you don't, wondering what's the next tweet going to say about showing somebody the door in a pretty rapid manner. And that -- just that sense of the unknown, what's going to happen, cannot be good for -- particularly at the working level, just good for national security. It's too distracting.

CAMEROTA: OK. That leads us to our next question, Russia. Friend or foe, what's the answer to that? CLAPPER: Well, yes. Well, if you ask me, there's no doubt about that

they are a foe.

Russia, first of all, is -- poses the greatest existential threat to this country. And just evidenced by Putin's recent speech in which he rolled out five strategic weapons systems of varying degrees of maturity which are designed for only one adversary, and that's the United States.

And I think the other dimension, of course, is the information warfare that the Russians are waging and have been for some time. Which are designed specifically to undermine us, undermine our system. And this all stems from personal animus that Putin has for this country and our system. And it looks like we're going to have at least six more years of him.

So in my view, no question they're a foe. And I continue to worry about the ambiguity displayed by this administration with respect to Russia.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask about this new development that we've learned about Russia. Because now the Trump administration has sanctioned Russia for election meddling. OK. Some would say finally. Some would say it was belated. But they have followed Congress's recommendations and done so.

And in so doing, the Department of Homeland Security came out and revealed something that at least we in the public didn't know before, and that was that -- Russia's attempt at this cyber-attack to our energy grid. OK? Including energy, aviation, nuclear, water, and commercial sectors. How troubled should everyone be about that?

CLAPPER: Well, they should be very troubled about it. And actually, there has been public pronouncements about this before. Just not -- just didn't get the attention.

And the danger here is Russian cyber reconnoitering, I'll call it, where they reconnoiter and understand our networks and then plant imbeds to disrupt them at a time of their choosing. And that's why this is so serious. And it's a good thing that this has, you know, come out. But this is a great concern.

And I'm in the camp that says, gee, it's about time. The last sanctions imposed were by the last administration on the 29th of December of 2016. So now it's been 15 months. And it was October when the Congress almost unanimously, on a bipartisan basis, passed legislation imposing more sanctions on the Russians. So finally.

CAMEROTA: OK. Director James Clapper, thank you very much for your expertise.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Chris.

CUOMO: Perfect segue. Guess who we have this morning? Russian-born businessman Felix Sater. You know that name. He has been swirling around in all of the intrigue about the Trump Organization and contacts with Russia. Is he part of Robert Mueller's probe? We're going to ask him about everything that is relevant, next.

And now I'm going to keep reading. I was waiting for you to come back, but we'll watch. National security adviser H.R. McMaster could be the next casualty as President Trump makes changes to his administration. How is the White House upheaval playing on the world stage? Christiane Amanpour -- oh, what a treat for you on a Friday -- next.

CAMEROTA: She's also going to talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)