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Trump: I am Considering Vetoing the Spending Bill; Trump Names Third National Security Adviser in 14 Months; Trump Lead Attorney in Russia Probe John Dowd Resigns; Ex-Playmate Speaks Out on Alleged Affair with Trump. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone, John Berman here.

We have breaking news out of the White House. President Trump is now threatening to veto the $1.3 trillion spending bill that Congress passed overnight. This is a move that will cause the government shutdown in just 14 hours. But we should warn you, this likely means nothing. He's almost definitely just saying things.

An official statement the president wrote, "I am considering a veto of the omnibus spending bill based on the fact that the 800,000 plus DACA recipients have been abandoned by the Democrats (not even mentioned in the bill) and the border wall, which is desperately needed for our national defense, is not fully funded."

Again, the president just wrote this, the spending bill passed overnight with bipartisan support and until this morning, both Houses of Congress, even the White House budget director said that it did have the president's support.

Want to go to Capitol Hill right now. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is there. What reaction are you getting from lawmakers, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the Republican leadership has yet to formally respond to the president's latest tweet, but some aides that I did talk to are quite stunned with this development. I've been walking the halls as well here and the offices are empty because many members of Congress have already gone home for their two-week recess. So you can imagine here kind of the surprise, the shock and perhaps a little bit of caution whether or not this is really going to develop into anything, but uncertainty in the process here.

There are those who say, look, this is not a popular spending bill that it took a lot of arm twisting to get there. And those who publicly are against it are feeling vindicated this morning, reacting via Twitter.

Bob Corker, the outgoing retiring senator from Tennessee tweeting this, saying, "Please do, Mr. President," as in veto, "I am just down the street and will bring you a pen. The spending levels without any offsets are grotesque, throwing all of our children under the bus. Totally irresponsible."

Democrats as well, lawmakers coming forward also tweeting, we heard from Ted Lieu talking about, again, the $1.3 trillion bill with over the 2,300 pages that lawmakers had to digest within 24 hours or less. We saw that developing overnight as people were talking about it. They really didn't know exactly what was in this mammoth bill. But it was just yesterday -- as recently as yesterday they felt that they had something in their hands. The Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney reassuring the caucuses that yes, they had those votes. Even House Speaker Paul Ryan saying that the president told him personally that they had gotten over the line.


MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Is the president going to sign the bill? The answer is yes. Why? Because it funds his priorities. We have talked for the last, I don't know, three, four, five, six months about trying to get the president's priorities funded, and this omnibus bill does that.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president supports this bill, there's no two ways about it.


MALVEAUX: And, John, you should know that the president is not pleased with what ultimately he got, even if he did say that this was OK because the start of negotiation process was a three year extension for DACA recipients in return for $25 billion for this border wall. Ultimately that fell apart. The president getting $1.6 billion, one year deposit if you will, for some border fencing, some security measures and nothing for DACA recipients, John.

BERMAN: Look, he may not love the bill, you can find people in Washington who don't love the bill, plenty of them, but the White House has made clear that he is going to sign it, so this veto threat, this morning, Suzanne, it really just seems like he's making things up. -- Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill - yes, a little bit. Thanks so much, Suzanne. Appreciate it.

Let's go to the White House now, CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. And Kaitlan, you have some new insight to these shenanigans this morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: John, we do. The president is fuming this morning according to one official here in the White House, telling my colleague Jeff Zeleny he's venting about this bill this morning. Obviously we saw that on Twitter. But he's also doing so privately as well.

But to be clear here, it is highly unlikely that the president is actually going to veto this bill. But this is a way for him to change the optics, to say that it was Congress who didn't allow him to follow through on his pledge to have -- build that border wall, to have $25 billion. But the president here is clearly frustrated by the coverage on channels like CNN that say that this bill is not going to allow him to fully follow through on all of those immigration priorities that he has. So he is venting. He is fuming about this bill, but this is also a way for him to change the optics here, to allow it to seem like it is Congress that is not letting him follow through on this pledge, even though he fought to follow through on it.

But to be clear here, my colleague, my other colleague, Jeremy Diamond, just ran into the Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short in the hallways of the West Wing and he expressed confidence.

[10:05:07] He thinks they're going to be OK. So what we're seeing from the president here, John, is just some good old-fashioned venting about a process that he was hardly engaged in.

BERMAN: To make clear, Marc Short, senior staffer at the White House, doesn't believe the president's veto threat here. Maybe he's trying to change the prism of coverage. Maybe he's trying to change the focus away from Karen McDougal who said last night on CNN that she had an affair with the president. Maybe he's trying to change the focus major shakeups at the White House including the announcement of incoming National Security adviser. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes, John. You're seeing how hard it is for people to speak on behalf of the president and just why they're so hesitant to do so, because as my colleague Suzanne Malveaux just showed, White House officials on camera yesterday saying that the president was going to sign this bill today. Now the president is threatening to veto it. Just a week ago the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was saying that the president had confidence in his National Security adviser, H.R. McMaster, that there were no changes happening on the National Security Council.

And then of course, yesterday, John Bolton strode down this driveway right here behind me. He walked out with a top National Security job. So what we take away from all of this is not only John Bolton, a very new dramatic face in -- at the NSA as the National Security adviser, instead of McMaster, but we're seeing just how difficult it is for these White House officials to speak on behalf of the president who says one thing to someone else and one thing to another person, John.

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thank you very, very much.

Joining me now, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, a former spokesperson of the Pentagon and State Department. Admiral, great to have you with us. Ambassador John Bolton, the incoming National Security adviser, a man with substance, a man with a substantial record. We know how he feels on many, many issues here. Bringing him in is significant and could have major consequences, correct?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Oh, yes, no question. I mean this is one of the most important jobs in any White House and now you have a guy, like you said, with a very strong record, a very public vocal record on a lot of key National Security issues of the day. And so those views matter. And we should take a look at what he's written and what he's said.

We also have to consider, though, John, that what you say as a commentator and a columnist may not be the kind of advice you give to the president of the United States. And I do think we need to, you know consider the fact that the president deserves a National Security adviser that he wants. Somebody who shares his world view and I think Bolton certainly does. There is a sort of a selfish national interest way that Bolton looks at the world, very bilateral, very binary, not very multilateral, and that echoes what the president's view is as well.

So I'm concerned obviously about some of those views, particularly on preemptive action in North Korea. He takes a very cavalier approach to that. I'm concerned about his views about the Iran deal. But president gets to surround himself with advisers that he's comfortable with, and clearly he's comfortable with Mr. Bolton.

BERMAN: Yes. His position on North Korea very clear, very bellicose, favoring in some cases military action over negotiation with North Korea. As far as Iran goes, wants the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal. It seems that may be a foregone conclusion now. The president, take Iran for instance here. Doesn't the president have a right to put people around him who agree with him? He wants out of the Iran deal. He should hire people who want out.

KIRBY: Of course. He deserves to have people around him that share his world view. And frankly, John, the American people elected him, so they elected his world view and that's the way cabinets are formed. I totally understand that. And he has every right to be surrounded by people he's comfortable with, nothing wrong with that.

That said, I mean I think we all can agree that in Iran with a nuclear weapon doesn't make any problem in the Middle East any safer. And even the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the previous Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have admitted that the Iran deal is working. Frankly, so have many four star generals and admirals at the Pentagon. So I hope that they approach this with care and caution.

BERMAN: Let me just ask you, the job of the National Security adviser, though, not just to, you know, perpetrate his or her views. It is to be the filter. It is to present the many views in the National Security community. And that could be a concern with John Bolton. We just don't know if that's something he will do.

KIRBY: That's right. It is a job that is a facilitator. Your job is to help engender debate and discussion inside the agency, tee up options for the president and help him or her make decisions about the best way forward. He is not really had to do that. Even as U.N. ambassador, he was the ambassador. He was the voice of foreign policy and reported to Condoleezza Rice. So this is going to be a different role for him. And that's why I think even though I'm troubled by many of his views, I do think we need to give the guy a chance to get in the job and see where it goes and see how it goes. I think he's going to find that being an adviser, a staffer, is a lot different than being a U.N. ambassador and certainly different than being a TV commentator.

BERMAN: Admiral, there are some breaking news and I'm going to try to read this to you, because I'm just digesting it myself. The Trump administration, the Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, is announcing right now that Iranian government linked hackers broke into the accounts of thousands of U.S. professors, universities and businesses.

[10:10:10] Roughly 8,000 professors and hundreds of U.S. and foreign universities, again, these are Iranian government linked hackers here. And the Justice Department is announcing, you know, this action against them. As far as Iran, as an international actor in the cyberespionage field, do they have a record here? Is this something that's been on your radar?

KIRBY: Yes, we have known for a long time that they definitely participate in cyber intrusion, cyber hacking and cyberspace -- you know, warfare, if you will. So we're -- I think everybody is mindful of their capabilities on that. They're not as adept or at least not known for being as adept as countries like Russia and China. But clearly, they're bad actors on the stage. And this is one more example of why we need to keep pressure up on Iran and their malicious activities in the region around the world. Just because they're abiding by the Iran deal, and they are, and that does eliminate one major flashpoint in the Middle East. It doesn't mean the pressure can be taken off completely. This is a very troublesome report.

BERMAN: Admiral John Kirby, great to have you with us. Thanks so much.

KIRBY: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: So who is in charge now? We're talking about the president's Russia investigation, defense team, the president's lead lawyer on that matter is out. What does this mean for his legal strategy?

Plus, the playmate who says she was one of Donald Trump's -- that she had an affair with Donald Trump for months breaks her silence.


KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: When you're in a relationship, do you count how many times you have sex? No. However, I can tell you we saw each other a minimum five times a month.



[10:15:50] BERMAN: The president's personal attorney, John Dowd, who was leading the legal team in response to the Russia investigation, has resigned. This move raises all kinds of legal questions, also questions about what's going on inside the president's mind as it pertains to the Russia investigation.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. Just the broad significance of John Dowd, who has been leading the president's efforts here going. What does that tell you?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That nobody is in charge any longer as outside counsel. We have Ty Cobb as inside counsel. But outside, you now have essentially two communications lawyers, Joe DiGenova who is quite experienced previously as a U.S. attorney, et cetera, but he mostly will be doing media stuff, in my estimation, unless he brings in other people. And then you got Jay Sekulow, who's got no criminal law background. So you got two media guys, an in-house guy, but nobody who really faces up against Mueller.

BERMAN: It is a huge vacuum right now. Dowd is out. The president has been trying to hire someone new including, you know, Ted Olson among other people, all these people have said no. What does that tell you?

ZELDIN: That Donald Trump is not the client that you want as a lawyer because he doesn't listen to you. John Dowd didn't know that Joe DiGenova was coming in. John Dowd tried to counsel the president to cooperate, even though it took a little bit longer than the president had hoped. It was still moving toward, you know, a resolution it seemed. But the president wasn't listening and wanted to be his own lawyer. And Dowd can't work under those circumstances, so he quits and leaves this vacuum.

BERMAN: Last week, CNN reported that the president's legal team had been told by the Special Counsel's Office the broad range of subjects they wanted to ask about and they included the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. They concluded, you know, the response to that, the firing of James Comey, the firing of Michael Flynn. But one thing they all had in common was they directly pertained to the president's own actions, right? So CNN learned that. The president went off over the weekend, mentioning Robert Mueller for the first time by name. Now he breaks up with his lawyer. Is it a fair assumption looking at this to say the president doesn't like where this case is going.

ZELDIN: That I think is a fair assumption. It seems to me that what the president found was that his lawyers were telling him this case is going to end sooner than later, and it turned out to be later than sooner. And he lost patience with that. And essentially has decided to represent himself theoretically. He's not a lawyer, but he's going to drive strategy and that strategy looks like it is going to be more contentious than cooperative.

I think in the end that's a losing strategy for him because Mueller holds the grand jury subpoena card and the U.S. versus Nixon and cases that follow it seem to say that the president is not above the law and must cooperate by giving testimony. So I'm not exactly sure where this strategy takes the president other than it may feel good for him at the moment.

BERMAN: And what happens if John Dowd, who's been the guy negotiating with the Special Counsel's Office, he's gone. So what happens to that level of negotiation and those discussions, they have to start at square one?

ZELDIN: Right. I spoke to a lawyer recently who said if you think of this as -- in terms of a football game, your offensive team, the Trump team is, you know, somewhere in the red zone and now they're back at the 40 yard line. They have to start all over. They have to bring in a new team. They got to negotiate with Mueller. The parameters of this interview and it lead you to remember the Abraham Lincoln quote that says, "He who represents himself has a fool for a client." This is I think what they have done. They have shot themselves in the foot again. And now they're further back than where they want to be and this is going to stretch out even longer than it would have had they just moved forward with Dowd in this cooperative way is my legal explanation for events.

BERMAN: Watching very closely. Michael Zeldin, thank you very, very much.

[10:20:00] Coming up, a playmate who says she had an affair with President Trump years ago, breaks her silence in a big way. How this relationship started and what she has to say about the porn star who also says she was with Donald Trump around the same time.


BERMAN: Somebody's lying and I can tell you it's not me. That's what Karen McDougal said as she broke her silence to CNN about what she says was a 10 month sexual affair with President Trump before he was president. The former playmate told Anderson Cooper she mad Donald Trump at 2006 at an event - for Trump show, "The Apprentice." His son was just a few months old at that time. She says the first time they were intimate was on Donald Trump's birthday during their first date. Here is what she says happened next.

[10:25:09] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCDOUGAL: After we had been intimate, he tried to pay me. And I actually did not take that.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Did he actually try to hand you money?

MCDOUGAL: He did. He did. I said, I mean, I just had this look of -- just -- I don't know, just -- I don't even know how to describe it. The look on my face must have been so sad because I had never been offered money like that before, number one. But, number two, I thought, does he think that I'm in this for money or why I'm here tonight or is this a normal thing? I didn't know. But I looked at him and I said, that's not me. I'm not that kind of girl. And he said, oh. And he said, you're really special. And I was like, thank you.

So I left. I actually got into the car for Keith to take me home and I started crying. I was really sad. And it really hurt me. But, I went back.

COOPER: Can you estimate how many times you actually saw him?

MCDOUGAL: Again, when you're in a relationship, do you count how many times you have sex? No. However, I can tell you we saw each other a minimum five times a month, up to bigger numbers per month. So, we --

COOPER: Over the course of how long?

MCDOUGAL: Over the course of 2006 through I think I ended the relationship April 2007. So, we were together 10 months before I chose to end it. So, we saw each other quite frequently. COOPER: Would you always see him just in Los Angeles?

MCDOUGAL: No. No, I wouldn't.

I actually went to a golf tournament with him in Lake Tahoe. I went to his golf course in California. I went to his golf course home in New Jersey. I went to his home in New York.

COOPER: Did he ever use protection?

MCDOUGAL: No. He didn't.

COOPER: Was that something you thought about or it didn't concern you at the time?

MCDOUGAL: You know we talked about it right beforehand. He was starting to and then he's like, I don't like these things. And you know we discussed things. Did you do, blah, blah. We were just honest with each other and we didn't use any.

COOPER: Do you have any text messages, photographs, videos, anything that would dispute the Hope Hicks' statement that this never happened?

MCDOUGAL: Let me just say this. If you're in a loving relationship, do you try and collect evidence?

COOPER: That's not what you were thinking about.

MCDOUGAL: No, not at all.


BERMAN: The White House as Anderson just noted there has said that the president denies this affair. He also denies an affair with the porn star Stormy Daniels and several other accusations of sexual misconduct. Here's more from Karen McDougal.


COOPER: When you heard the stories of Stormy Daniels who has come forward who said that she was at the Tahoe Club as well and others who said that they were there, you didn't know about that at the time.

MCDOUGAL: No, I did not know.

COOPER: Does it -- what do you think when you heard that?

MCDOUGAL: My first thought was how could she have been with him when I was with him? The only time we weren't together on that particular trip was when I -- he was on the golf course golfing. I didn't go, clearly, but I went to every event, every after thing, parties, daytime things, I was there. That's why I can't understand.

Now, I do remember him saying, he came in one day and said, oh, there are a bunch of porn stars out there. They were wanting pictures of me. And I'm like, oh, that's funny, you know, that's cute, whatever. I do remember him saying that, but I can't imagine when he found the time except for maybe the day I left.

COOPER: When you heard that "Access Hollywood" tape come out, just on a personal level, I'm wondering what you felt.

MCDOUGAL: You know what, I was disgusted. I had not seen that in him at all. Like when our relationship was going on, I didn't see that side of him at all. Like I said, he was very respectful. He was a gentleman.

COOPER: When you heard other women coming forward alleging inappropriate touching, inappropriate behavior, I'm wondering what you thought.

MCDOUGAL: Again, I was kind of mortified. I was like, wow, is he capable of that? Because I didn't see that.

COOPER: Who ended the relationship?



MCDOUGAL: I was just feeling so guilty. It was just digging inside me. I think the excitement of it took over for a while, and I did care about the man. I'm not going to lie. So, that made it hard to end it.

But I think I just started feeling so bad about myself, like how could I do this to, A., myself, to B, to a family?


BERMAN: So how will this interview change the atmosphere within the White House? How will this interview change the perception of the president? What questions does it raise legally and politically? That's next.