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Trump hires lawyer who pushed theory DOJ framed Trump; Serial bomber on loose after 4th explosion rocks Austin; "NY Mag": Trump apologized to Hicks when she resigned. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on this Monday afternoon. We do have some breaking news right this very moment.

We have just learned that the president has just hired a new lawyer who has been peddling conspiracy theories that the Department of Justice and the FBI were out to frame him.

This is just the latest in a very public battle where lines are being drawn in this Russia investigation. For the first time, President Trump called out the man investigating his campaign by name, launching a Twitter attack on Special Counsel Bob Mueller saying, "The Mueller probe should never have been started, in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a fake dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC and used improperly used in FISA court for surveillance of my campaign - and then in big capital letters - WITCH HUNT."

That is just one of several tweets. Look at it for yourself. Attacking the basis of this investigation and the multiple people involved.

These tweets leaving rank and file Republicans to warn the president to keep his hands off Mueller and forcing the president's own attorneys into cleanup mode. Issuing a new statement overnight that the president has no plans to try to fire Bob Mueller after all.

Let's go straight to the White House to our senior correspondent there, Jeff Zeleny. Jeff, tell us a little bit more about who this new lawyer is and this conspiracy theory that he's been peddling.

JEFFREY ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this certainly underscores the fact that the president is looking for more aggressive strategy.

It's certainly - we saw his mood over the weekend as he was venting quite publicly there. And the hiring of Joe DiGenova, a pretty prominent Republican lawyer here in Washington.

It seems that he got the president's attention the best way most people on the outside can, by going on "Fox News" and talking about various theories. Now, this is exactly what he did back in January.

He was talking about a framing that the president was being framed by a rogue group of FBI agents as well as people at the Department of Justice.

Brooke, he said this in one context in January. He said there was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton if she didn't win the election and then to frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.

He went to say, make no mistake about it, a group of FBI and DOJ people - Department of Justice - were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime.

So, of course, we don't believe he has anything to back that up. But, of course, that would be music to the ears of the president who believes all of this has been a witch hunt. So, certainly, an interesting development here, hiring this lawyer.

Now, the president had a lot to say over the weekend as you showed there, Brooke, online on social media. He had very little to say here at the White House. We tried to ask him questions as he was leaving a short time ago to fly to New Hampshire. Would not answer any of our questions about Bob Mueller or the special counsel's investigation.

But, Brooke, this is clear that he wants to take a different approach, a more aggressive approach. All this is coming as it's getting closer and closer to a possible sit-down interview with this president and the special counsel's team.


BALDWIN: Jeff, thank you so much. Jeff Zeleny. And we have sound as we're learning who this Joe DiGenova is, this lawyer who the president has now hired to join his team.

This was him speaking on "Fox" back in January.


JOE DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton. And if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely-created crime. Everything that we have seen from these texts and from all the facts developing shows that the FBI and senior DOJ officials conspired to violate the law and to deny Donald Trump his civil rights.


BALDWIN: And, of course, that was "Fox News". Jamie Gangel is with me, CNN special correspondent, and Garrett Graff is with us, CNN contributor and the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Mueller's FBI".

Jamie Gangel, Joe DiGenova, you know him.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: For more than 30 years. And Jeff Zeleny used exactly the right word - aggressive. Joe is a fierce advocate for his clients.

He is also more than that, though, because he's a former US attorney in District of Columbia. He knows his way around Washington.

[14:05:07] He has served as counsel on many Capitol Hill committees. I think Senate Rules Committee. So, he really knows how it works.

He also is a bulldog. And he's on television a lot. And I think we will see him out there very publicly doing exactly what you just saw in that sound. He's going to be very aggressive, pushing Trump's agenda.

BALDWIN: Speaking of the president, shall we listen in just really quickly? Here he is before he speaks publicly about opioids. Tell me again, Eric? No, OK. We'll take the president when he speaks officially. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you very much. And I'm honored to have the president here and the first lady to kind of recognize the good work that we are doing in Manchester. Safe Station is just one of those things.

BALDWIN: All right. So, we should see the president in about 30, 35 minutes for that speech on opioid abuse. So, we'll take that.

In the meantime, let's just continue this conversation. Garrett Graff, to you, looking at the president's tweets over the weekend, maybe there are some explanations as to what sort of got his goat, if I may, to take on Mueller directly which flies in the face of what his lawyers advised him not to do.

But with this hiring of Joe DiGenova, do the dots start to connect for you?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, we certainly have some sense of perhaps why the president was so worked up over the course of the weekend.

We received word late last week that the special counsel's office has subpoenaed the first business records from the Trump Organization directly, which the president has always previously said would be a red line.

Of course, he doesn't really get to choose where that line is. He's just laid that down as a marker that would concern him.

But remember - and Jamie sort of touched on this. These are incredibly small circles in the elite levels of the Justice Department. Joe DiGenova, Bob Mueller go back decades.

DiGenova, I have spoken with him actually extensively in the past about Mueller. He has deep respect for the special counsel and has been a close follower of Bob Mueller's career ever since they sort of overlapped in that US attorney's office in the District of Columbia a quarter century ago.

So, these are two people who know each other very well, have a good sense of each other's strengths. And certainly, I think even if they go at each other aggressively, understand each other's histories. BALDWIN: Jamie, looking at the president's tweets, though, and talking about Mueller and his team is full of Democrats, which isn't accurate, and a couple other points he makes, what do you think his strategy is? Is he trying to drag this through the court of public opinion to try to disparage Mueller publicly? Or -?

GANGEL: I think we are seeing a couple of things here. What do we know about Donald Trump? He's unpredictable. He's impulsive. He does not shy away from throwing a punch. He likes to do that.

And really, I wonder whether we are seeing a change, in one year into his presidency, Donald Trump even more unleashed than he normally is.

John Kelly tried to constrain him. Hope Hicks was seen as a moderating force. Gary Cohn. But it seems to me what we saw this weekend is this is Trump doing what he wants to do.

A friend of his once said to me, he only trusts his own instincts. And his instinct here is he wants to throw a punch at Mueller. And he did that.

BALDWIN: He's throwing one. Garrett, what do you think? Same question. What's Trump's strategy with all these tweets?

GRAFF: I think Jamie is exactly right. This is a new chapter where he wants to go very directly at the special counsel. He's feeling like this investigation has gone on for quite some time, that this Russia mess is an albatross around his presidency.

BALDWIN: He's over it.

GRAFF: And he's over it. He's over it. And we have seen these staff changes over the last couple of weeks at the White House that sort of one by one appear to be, as Jamie says, sort of Trump more unleashed, Trump more unplugged than he ever has been before.

Now, I think the challenge is the instincts that worked so well in the New York real estate world are quite different than going up against a dedicated, hard-working federal investigation. And that is a new court of public opinion. And that is not a territory where Donald Trump actually has a lot of experience.

[14:10:06] And that, it is a new playing field for him and not necessarily one where he understands the rules very well.

BALDWIN: But, Garrett, explain this to me. We are talking about a man, the president of the United States. He has access at his fingertips to the world's best intelligence, to the truth. Right?

And yet, he relies on conspiracy theories, he just hired this lawyer who is this bulldog, who was on "Fox News" who peddles them. It just makes you wonder, does the president have something to hide.

GRAFF: And I think you can sort of see that in almost every aspect of this investigation. The lies have been consistent from Trump officials at all levels around the Russia investigation. The president has refused to take strong action time and again against Russia and Vladimir Putin despite renewed aggression like the poisoning of the spy in the UK.

You really have to begin to wonder what is the White House trying to hide here?

BALDWIN: Garrett - do you want to add anything quickly?

GANGEL: I just want to say, what does he feel so threatened by? To borrow the sentiment of Trey Gowdy, the Republican, if you are innocent, act like it.

BALDWIN: Yes. Jamie, thank you. Garrett, thank you. Let's move on. We have some other news out of Austin, Texas today.

Folks there on high alert after another explosion. Police say there have been now four similar bombings in the area. Coming up next, I'll talk with the mayor of Austin, Texas about what officials are asking people who live there to do.

And a fascinating read, if you haven't seen it, in the "New York Magazine". She's been called the Trump whisperer. My next guest has remarkable insight into Hope Hicks's unique role in the White House, the impact her resignation is having on the president and will there be a tell-all book about Hope's experience?

And breaking news out of Wall Street. The Dow tumbling more than 400 points here as Facebook comes under intense scrutiny over privacy and user security and how that may have played into the 2016 presidential election.

It is Monday afternoon and we've got a lot going on. I'm Brooke Baldwin and this is CNN.


BALDWIN: We are back with the breaking news out of Austin, Texas here on high alert. Folks who live there are told to stay inside this afternoon because police are hunting down who they refer to as a serial bomber.

This order follows yet another explosion that happened last night along a neighborhood street. Two people just walking nearby were injured and had to be rushed to the hospital.

But this is the fourth explosion in Austin, Texas in just two weeks. It happened only 11 miles away from the last one that critically injured a Latino woman. The first two people killed, two African- American men.

Police say this latest blast was likely set off by a trip wire and that the device used is similar to ones from other explosions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN MANLEY, AUSTIN POLICE CHIEF: The belief that we are now dealing with someone who's using trip wires shows a higher level of sophistication, a higher level of skill, and so now what we are imploring the community to do, if you see any suspicious object or item that looks out of place, do not even approach it. But, instead, call 911 and report that to the police department.


BALDWIN: That was the police chief. Now, we have the Austin Mayor Steve Adler. Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for taking a minute with us.

Listening to the police chief talking about the situation requiring a community response, you lead this community. What are you telling people in Austin?

STEVE ADLER, MAYOR OF AUSTIN: We are telling the people two things. The first is that these are horrific events. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims.

But we've gone through tough events before. We need to pull together as a community. And what we really need people to do now is to be really vigilant. We have widened the warning. We don't want people to go near anything that looks suspicious.

What we are telling people is that if there is any doubt in your mind, you're deciding whether or not it's suspicious, the answer to that question is yes. We want people to call 911 and let the law enforcement people handle it.

And the second thing that I'm making sure that people know is that there is an army of law enforcement folks on the scene right now. They are getting all of the resources that they need.

This is a group that is very determined and very focused. And I am confident that we are going to find whoever is responsible for this and then we're going to stop it.

BALDWIN: Let's hope so. And let's hope that happens very, very soon. But listening to the chief talking about how this latest explosion was set off by a trip wire, how that suggested to him that this was more sophisticated, what are you hearing about that?

ADLER: We're hearing that same thing. At this point in the investigation, the law enforcement folks aren't ruling out anything because, if they did that, they might not ask the right questions or they might not notice what it is that they need to see.

There are a lot of people here doing a lot of work. We have over 100 people on the ground that are looking at this right now. There are probably 300 folks all around the country working on this, including the forensic lab in Quantico.

So, at this point, they are gathering information, gathering the evidence, so that they can get to answers. BALDWIN: When we were covering this last week, we were talking initially about the victims. African-Americans. Then Hispanic. And now, we know this latest explosion, the victims were white. The blast happened in a predominantly white and affluent part of town.

[14:20:05] So, can you begin to connect any sort of dots? What does that even tell you?

ADLER: I'm not sure what it tells us at this point other than we are not at a place where we can jump to any kind of conclusions. At this point, the law enforcement folks are gathering all of the evidence and are trying to keep their minds open for any possibility at this point.

BALDWIN: The police chief said he's not ready to call this domestic terrorism. Mayor Adler, do you think this is domestic terrorism?

ADLER: I can certainly tell you that I'm in a community that's feeling a lot of terror right now. But I think that, when he uses that word, he's talking about more of a legal or specialty meaning. And we don't know at this point which is why the investigation has to continue.

And In this period of time, we need the community to help. We really do need people that are not - that are keeping their eyes open, that are not approaching anything that looks in anyway suspicious and that they are calling 911.

BALDWIN: We want you all to find these folks responsible as soon as possible. I can't imagine what it feels like in Austin right now. Mayor Adler, thank you very much for your time. And good luck.

ADLER: Brooke, thank you.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

ADLER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up here on CNN, we take you behind the scenes of Hope Hicks and her surprise resignation recently from the West Wing, including why President Trump actually uttered two words we don't often hear him say - I'm sorry. And what we're learning about her complicated love life within the walls of the White House.


BALDWIN: She was a constant, if not reclusive figure, in the Trump White House. And less than a month after Hope Hicks' surprising exit, we are getting an extraordinary view of the woman so many people refer to as the Trump whisperer.

A just released profile piece in the "New York Magazine" paints Hicks as a 29-year-old Trump confidante, turned White House communications director, adjusting to her new life in Washington and quickly realizing the worst aspects of a presidential campaign would follow her into the White House.

Less than a year after Donald Trump won, Hicks was already hesitant to stay, opting only to sign a short-term lease on her D.C. apartment.

In mid-February, she found herself at the center of this growing White House scandal involving Rob Porter. And that very same month, one day after getting grilled for hours by congressional investigators looking into Russian election meddling, she walked right into the president's office and told him she was resigning.

Olivia Nuzzi wrote that piece for "New York Magazine" and joins me now. Olivia, nice to have you back. My goodness. Anyone who reads this piece knows you clearly had access and conversations with Hope Hicks.

I mean, she never goes on the record. But it reads almost like this first-person account. How did you pull this off?

OLIVIA NUZZI, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE" WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Just luck, I guess. I mean, a lot of things didn't materialize that I wanted to materialize. I wanted to interview the president. And that didn't happen. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told me he was too busy.

But I think it was just a combination of being in the right place at the right time and having established trust with a source previously. And so, while Hope Hicks did not go on the record, I think I have a pretty good idea of what she thinks about a lot of things that have been happening over the last three years.

And that's not to say that this is a first-person account. As you said, it sometimes reads like, but I think it is a more insightful account than some of the stories I have read about her. And that's partially why when she did resign, I was already in the middle of reporting this. But that's why I really wanted to make sure I reported it fully and tried to do a comprehensive story about everything that had happened recently.

BALDWIN: You are being modest. But I'll just say, I know you talked to at least 30 former or current men and women in the White House, people very close to the president, folks who were on the campaign. So, you have your sourcing and it's obvious.

I mean, you have this incredible color on her relationship with a number of people in the White House. But I just want to start with the relationship she had with President Trump.

Her office was in what you describe as a broom closet, yet feet from the Oval Office and about how she acted, to quote you, almost as an embodiment of the faculties that Trump lacked like memory. Tell me about that.

NUZZI: Right. Thinking about how he's going to be without her there, I think I said it was going to be like an amputation. I mean, he really does rely on her for just basic functions in the Oval Office as he did on the campaign and before that in Trump Tower before they were on the road all the time.

And her office is, like, ten feet from the Oval Office. It shares a wall with the Oval Office. You could hear him when you are inside of there yelling or calling for her and she will interrupt phone calls. Like, she'll have to hang up the phone if he does that.

So, they have worked in very, very close proximity to one another. And that is - I don't get into this too much. I didn't want to hit it over the head, but that's partially why she's of such great interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and then the other investigations into potential collusion in the 2016 election.

I mean, she has heard and seen more than anybody else besides the president himself. And the president, although he says he's got the world's greatest memory, does not. And Hope Hicks does.

I mean, her memory is nearly photographic. As I reported, she keeps multiple notebooks. They are these black leather notebooks that say Trump in gold on the front because, of course.