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Porn Star, Playmate, "Apprentice" Star Up Pressure on Trump; Trump & Kelly Livid over Leaks; GOP Lashes Out Against Trump Congratulating Putin; Rep. Louie Gohmert: Mueller Should Be Fired; As Zuckerberg Remains Silent, Academic Behind Facebook Data Breach: "I'm a Scapegoat"; Israel Admits to 2007 Strike on Syrian Nuclear Facility. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But again, you're talking about Donald Trump. I don't know that there's a political impact. I think the thing, if it's a constant story, there's certainly people who would find it unseemly. If it gets into the realm of the legal jeopardy, that becomes something else.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. That's really the key. Even the woman who won in a court, the ability to pursue a case against the president, we'd heard her name before, she made the allegations during the campaign. The question now, if she does proceed with the legal case, how does that bring the president into a very unwanted web, and questioning in various cases and various scenarios under oath potentially.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: It's a serious problem.

All right, everybody, stick around.

A White House in rage. The president and his chief of staff are fuming, we're told, after a leak over his call with President Putin. One White House official calling it a fireable offense.

Plus, "he needs to go." That's what Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert wants to see happen as far as the Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He wants Mueller fired. You'll hear him make his case when we come back.


[13:35:27] BLITZER: Right now, the president infuriated, the White House chief of staff livid over a leak to "The Washington Post." The newspaper reporting the president's national security advisers warned him in his briefing notes, in all capital letters, "Do not congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his election victory." The president did it anyway.

CNN national security analyst, Samantha Vinograd, is joining us right now, a former senior adviser to the national security advisor under the Obama administration.

Sam, you've prepared these kinds of briefs. What is your take? SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, my take

is under any scenario, this was a presidential process foul. Either the president didn't understand his brief or chose to ignore it, and either way, that's advantage Russia.

Let's look at how this process works. The NSC, at the front end of any call, likes to sit down and identify goals so that the United States gets something out of it and the other side isn't calling all the shots. The National Security Council team then drafts talking points. And typically, you have a lot of cooks in the kitchen on this one, working on various parts of the briefing memo like arms control or Syria or North Korea. That's all put together and put into a package that goes together with a leader profile from the intelligence community that talks about where, for example, Vladimir Putin is coming from on this kind of call. That's physically put together by something called the executive secretary and given to the staff secretary -- Rob Porter used to have this job -- to physically deliver to the president.

And it's worth noting, Wolf, not all talking points are created equal. At the top of any briefing memo, you often have the points you want the president to proactively raise. Because of the importance of how to acknowledge Vladimir Putin's re-election, I would bet that specific language on the election would have been front and center, this "do not congratulate" talking point. Under that, you often have raised points. These are talking points for items that Putin may raise that you don't want the president to be caught off guard on. You never want the president to feel like he has to ad lib. So you give him more material in case Putin springs something on him.

Finally, if time permits, you include other topics that may be worth mentioning.

There's a final gut check before every call, and that's a pre-brief. Normally, this includes the chief of staff, John Kelly, the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, and the senior staffer covering country you're speaking with. In this case, it would be the senior director for Russia.

Now, presidents digest materials in all different ways, so it's possible that President Trump doesn't like to read and prefers oral briefings. A pre-brief would have been, thereby, an opportunity to walk through the briefing memo verbally and make sure the president understood the strategy and agreed with it. It looks like that didn't happen. So if the president did not agree with his team or had questions, he should have raised that at least during the pre-brief so that it didn't come out during the call with President Putin.

BLITZER: Yes, he's clearly upset right now that there was this leak. Only minutes after we learned about this phone call.

Thanks very much, Samantha Vinograd, for that analysis.

The president's congratulatory call with Russia's leader isn't sitting well with many members of the president's own party, including the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, (R-IA), CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think Putin's a criminal. What he did in Georgia, what he did in Ukraine, what he's done in the Baltics, what he's done


GRASSLEY: -- what he's done in London, poisoning people with that nerve gas, that's criminal activity. I wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal.


BLITZER: Wow. Let's discuss this and more. Our political analyst, David Gregory still with us, and our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.

He's very tough, Senator Grassley, but you don't hear him blasting the president personally.

BASH: No, but I think the message was pretty clear. It wasn't just from Chuck Grassley. It was even a rare distancing, even in his way, a hand slapping from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, saying he wouldn't have done it.

BLITZER: John McCain was very tough.

BASH: John McCain was very direct, particularly on this issue because of Putin's encroachment in Georgia and Ukraine, places that have been trying to get up and running with their own democracies, has been a big issue with him for a long time. The fact he's home sick in Arizona, saw that statement, and blasted him immediately tells you a lot.

Having said that -- and David was talking about this, knows more about this than I do -- it's not the first time a president, U.S. President, has praised Vladimir Putin for winning an election.

[13:40:11] BLITZER: Yes, and all of us have covered the White House so we all know there are leak. We all know there are advisers who disagree with the president on certain issues and are not reluctant to go ahead and brief you or you or me or whatever on that. But this time, it happened so quickly.

GREGORY: Right. So the leaking piece, if I were the president, I'd be very mad about that. It could have come from the NSC staff, people clearly upset this happened. It could be the State Department, and of course, beyond that, the Department of Defense. These kinds of things happen where you have competing views about how the president's approaching an issue as difficult, as delicate, and as serious as Russia.

I think the president's mind -- let's look across the board here. The process is not something he cares about. Maybe he didn't even read the brief. Maybe he doesn't. Maybe he likes to freelance a little bit. He's clearly trying to feel out his way with relationships with foreign leaders, and that includes Putin. He certainly doesn't want to give into all the scrutiny of him that he's going to be tough on Putin. If anything, he's so mad about that that he'll keep him a little closer just to get people in fits even though the administration has levied sanctions. He hasn't spoken out about the apparent murder of a former spy by Putin's Russia.

What's critical is the president doesn't think about this in terms of the presidency, in terms of U.S. goals and morals. In that way, he's not -- he's giving much too much room and warmth to a guy who is clearly a tyrant.


BLITZER: Attempted murder. The former spy still alive.


BASH: Other people have died at Putin's hands in the past.

BLITZER: Yes. No doubt about that.

I want you to listen to Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert, of Texas, a conservative. He was very precise in saying what needs to be done as far as the overall Russia probe is concerned.


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT, (R), TEXAS: I think Mueller should be fired. He should be. He should never have been -- he should never have been appointed, and he should never have accepted. He should be fired. And the only reason that I think he should not be in actuality fired is because we have some establishment Republicans in the House and Senate that say, oh, gee, if he were to fire Mueller, we might need to impeach the president. Even one Senator saying that may be an impeachable offense. No, it's not. But because we have so many people that have not bothered to do their homework on who Robert Mueller is and the damage he's done, especially to the FBI, as director, the thousands of years of experience he ran off that may have helped guide some of these wayward FBI agents away from the path they took. But he's done enough damage. He needs to go.


BLITZER: What do you think?

BASH: I think if the -- I'm just going to try to say this as respectfully as I can. If the Republican leadership listened to Louie Gohmert ever, it would be a problem. But, frankly, they think of him as somebody who's fringe in many ways. Not that he doesn't represent a core constituency in his home state of Texas and a base that agrees with that, all over the country in many congressional districts. But that's Louie Gohmert's opinion. I can tell you with a lot of confidence it's not shared by the Republican leadership and even many and most in the Republican rank-and-file. BLITZER: And it follows the president's tweet this morning, with

Louie Gohmert, said, "When the president was quoting Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, now retired, the special council was told to find out whether a crime existed or not, I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be special counsel. I am still opposed to it."

The president was quoting Alan Dershowitz, but he's making it clear he probably supports Alan Dershowitz, what he's saying.

GREGORY: Well, Professor Dershowitz was not involved in the decision to hire the special counsel, and Rod Rosenstein was, who the president had enough confidence in to rely on him to give a legal basis to fire the FBI director because he didn't like the investigation that he was conducting.

I think the danger in all of this is not just that it's patently stupid for the president to get whipped up about firing the special prosecutor, is that he's really going overboard and suggesting that elements of our government were involved in some kind of conspiracy. That's going to do lasting damage. For the rest of it, he should be keeping his head down and not making his problems worse, which seems to be something he's unable to do.

BASH: You're absolutely right, but he's doing it on purpose.


BASH: Nobody around him thinks, at this point, that he's actually going to fire Robert Mueller. Could change tomorrow. But what he's intentionally trying to do is whip up the people who like Louie Gohmert and who believe Louie Gohmert and that 38 percent and keep churning and muddying the waters. That is what he's trying to do.

[13:45:13] GREGORY: I think it the longer it goes on, it goes beyond the core base. I think there's plenty of people who look and say, there's been nothing to any of this, can't we just move on. He could lead the way in moving on, on some other issues. He hasn't.


BLITZER: As soon as I saw that tweet this morning from the president quoting Alan Dershowitz, I said to myself, I wonder if the president is going to invite Alan Dershowitz to join his legal team.


BASH: It's kind of amazing he hasn't already.

BLITZER: Maybe he has. Maybe Alan Dershowitz declined. We'll ask him.


GREGORY: Dershowitz comes in at the end of some big high-profile situations. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Knowing Alan Dershowitz, knowing the president of the United States --


BLITZER: -- I suspect he may be joining the legal team at some point. We'll see.

Guys, thanks very much.

There's more news. Facebook in crisis over the alleged misuse of users' private data. Investors are suing, lawmakers are demanding answers, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg remains silent. There's new CNN reporting when we come back.


[13:50:33] BLITZER: The academic at the heart of the Facebook scandal claims he's being used as a scapegoat. Alexander Kogan says he thought everything was legal and that he had no idea that information would be used to help Donald Trump's 2016 campaign. In the meantime, investors are suing Facebook in the wake of the scandal, sending the company's stock plunging almost $50 billion this week alone.

Let's bring in CNN's Sara Murray.

Sara, how important was this data, the firm, Cambridge Analytica, to the Trump campaign?

SARA MURRAY, CNN REPORTER: Wolf, there are conflicting accounts to this. We've obviously seen all of these undercover videos where you see the Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix taking credit for the Trump campaign victory. That all came from Channel 4 News in the U.K. But I talked to a number of former campaign aides who say, look, we never bought a notion into this psychographic method, all of this Facebook data for. Instead, we would use them for polling, to create models, to help us decide where to send President Trump for rallies. These were not the key data players in our campaign. That was the Republican National Committee.

BLITZER: Facebook is facing a lot of questions on how they protect users' privacy. What are they saying about that?

MURRAY: Not a lot. They said they would look into this. They suspended this researcher from their platform. That's part of the reason he feels he's being scapegoated. We've not heard from Mark Zuckerberg about this.

You can understand why Facebook users may be perturbed about that and may want to hear from the CEO. People are willing to give their information if it's being used for academic purposes. But if it's so easy for people to snap up tens of millions of people's information and pass that on for commercial use or potentially for something like influencing the way Americans might vote in a presidential election that, of course, is cause for concern.

BLITZER: They need to do some explaining and Zuckerberg personally needs to do it. I suspect, at some point he will.

MURRAY: I suspect.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Sara, for that.

We're following new developments in Israel right now. After a decade of not saying anything about it publicly, the nation now admits to bombing a Syrian nuclear facility. We will go live to Jerusalem with details.


[13:55:58] BLITZER: For the first time ever, Israel has now officially and publicly admitted to bombing a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007. While the strike was never a secret, the circumstances surrounding it were secret. More than a decade later, Israeli security censors have released never-before-seen footage of the strike with very strict media guidelines.

Our international correspondent, Oren Libermann, is joining us now from Jerusalem.

Oren, tensions in the region are still very high. Why has Israel decided to release this footage and publicly acknowledge its role in destroying that nuclear facility?

OREN LIEBERMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Middle East today is different than it was back then. It doesn't seem to be a message for Syria, a fractured, war-torn country. On top of that, everyone here and most people around the world knew it was an Israeli strike, that it was the Air Force here that carried out that strike. So, given that, it is a question of, who is the target audience. That, it seems clear, is Iran. That was the early speculation, it was intended as a message to Iran, that Israel is willing to carry out a strike if it feels an enemy is developing or weaponizing nuclear capabilities, especially as Israel has been waging an all-out lobbying campaign against Iran. Then, when the censorship was lifted, we got statements from politicians, and that became very clear. Netanyahu said this say message for any enemy to try to develop a nuclear weapon. Some other politicians have been much clearer, saying this is directly a message to Iran.

Wolf, if there's a second country this is intended for, that would probably be Russia, the strategic presence in the region. Israel and Russia have strategic coordination over Syria, but this could very well be a message to President Vladimir Putin that, if Israel feels the need to act, it will act.

BLITZER: It follows, what, a week after Prime Minister Netanyahu met with President Trump at the White House, and it comes more than a month before President Trump has to decide whether to rip up the U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal. Is there any sense you're getting in Jerusalem that the release of this information by the Israelis is connected to that?

LIEBERMANN: Certainly, the expectation is here, indirectly, if not directly. Netanyahu has waged a campaign against Iran, pushed for Trump to fix or nix, in his words, the nuclear deal. This could very well be part of it. If the deal isn't fixed or nixed, Israel will carry out the strike if no one else is willing to. That 2007 strike, though the U.S. knew about it, wasn't done with U.S. permission. This may be another way for Netanyahu and Israel to say, if we feel Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon, we will carry out our own strike, even if that's far more difficult logistically because of the distances involved, the countries covered, than that strike in Syria 11 years ago.

BLITZER: The Israelis have confirmed that the North Koreans were involved in helping the Syrians develop that nuclear facility. They wanted the Bush administration to bomb it, and President Bush decided not to, at which point, the Israeli government said they had no choice.

Oren Liebermann, in Jerusalem, thanks very much for joining us.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.

The news continues right now.

[14:00:13] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you so much.

Good to be with you --