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Trump Reluctantly Signs $1.3 Trillion Spending Bill While Slamming It; CNN: Role Of New Trump Lawyer Joe DiGenova In Flux; Trump Names John Bolton As New National Security Adviser; Ex-Playmate Details Alleged Affair with Trump. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 14:00   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Here we go, back on the breaking news on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin here in Washington, D.C.

The news is this that we just heard from the president. He's just now signed this $1.3 trillion spending bill into law. He did it very begrudgingly. I think he called it a ridiculous situation, right? All those pages that were stacked up at the White House.

This happened just hours after he raised the threat of a government shutdown by saying he was considering vetoing the legislation. That was the tweet that everyone woke up to.

So, he called this impromptu press briefing to sign this bill while simultaneously complaining about it, and saying that he will not be signing another bill like this ever again.

It was an extraordinary moment that started when the president tapped the towering bill and called it ridiculous.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a matter of national security. I've signed this omnibus budget bill. There are a lot of things that I'm unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things that we shouldn't have had in this bill, but we were, in a sense, forced if we want to build our military. We were forced to have. There are some things that we should have in the bill.

But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I'm not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It's only hours old. Some people don't even know what - $1.3 trillion. It's the second largest ever. President Obama signed one that was actually larger, which I'm sure he wasn't too happy with either.


BALDWIN: Also worth mentioning here how candid the president is being with the whole process, saying no one read it, including himself. The president adding this before he left the room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: We looked at a veto. I looked very seriously at the veto. I was thinking about doing the veto, but because of the incredible gains that we've been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking.


BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny is with me, our senior White House correspondent there. Jeff Zeleny, what did you make of what we just watched?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, the president certainly venting, but didn't go through with the veto.

The reality here is the president did not take any responsibility for his role in this entire omnibus spending bill. He did say he would never accept a bill like this again.

But the reality here, Brooke, is this White House and the president himself has not been all that involved in it in a hands-on way. He campaigned on changing Washington. This is very much business as usual.

An omnibus spending bill is a giant throw-everything-in, and that's exactly what that bill was. But the reason he didn't veto it was because of the military spending.

The president threatened it this morning. Not that many people were really taking that threat seriously. But, Brooke, this is an unpredictable place here. So, it is the president saying he's thinking about vetoing it.

Of course, he didn't veto it. But he was trying to place the blame on everyone except him for his role in this $1.3 trillion spending bill.

Fiscal conservatives are outraged about the spending in this. The deficit is ballooning already here. So, the president, I think, wanted to show some anger to look like he wasn't simply assigning this with a smile on his face.

But sign this bill, he did, as we all expected. He made things interesting for a couple of hours, Brooke. But this is certainly the outcome we expected. He did not want a government shutdown on his watch.

Speaking of watch, he's flying down to Florida in a couple of hours. If there was a government shutdown, Brooke, hard to spend the weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

BALDWIN: At Mar-a-Lago. You are so right. Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

Welcome to Friday in Washington with this curveball of a press conference and now the signing. I've got a great panel with me. You know these guys. Let me just bring them all in.

And, Dana and Manu, turning to you first on what we just saw, and I jotted down what the president said when he was looking at the stack of papers, which you have said over and over, who really read it? I mean, is the president really wrong there? When he said this is a ridiculous situation that took place over the last week, does he have a point, to either of you?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Because this was a bill that was unveiled on Thursday night. It was a product of negotiations by Hill leaders, a handful of them, and also White House officials who work for the president of the United States and who presumably would be briefing the president of the United States about what was happening over weeks and weeks of negotiations. And it was unveiled Thursday night. The vote happened in the afternoon on Friday, passed the Senate Friday night.

The president had - he said he was forced to sign this. If he had concerns about what was happening here, he could have put the brakes on much earlier in this process, demanded Congress pass a short-term continuing resolution and instead have them - do something more to his liking. He didn't do that.

He voiced had his objections today after he gave assurances both privately to leaders of Congress, to his staff who then put out public statements, saying they support it and then changed his mind today. Really undercuts his argument today that he had no choice.

[14:05:13] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that this is a very dangerous thing for his leadership. I mean, take out the specifics of this. He's getting attacked on all sides, particularly from conservatives because of the size of this spending bill.

Because, like Manu said, he's acting as if he's just a passive observer in this. He is the president of the United States. It's a basic that legislation is passed by the House and Senate and then it comes to the president and he signs it or vetoes it.

But it's not like presidents just sit back and wait to see what bills get to their desk. They're active participants. Like Manu was saying, White House aides were involved.

But the question is, knowing that and being assertive about it are two different things. When I say that this is a big - this is problematic for his leadership, it's because this is exactly what he campaigned on not doing. He campaigned on changing things in Washington, not having big bills that people aren't going to read, making sure that he gets deals - because he can cut deals.

He wasn't involved in this at all. I mean, there was a lot going on, much of it to his making in terms of turnover at the White House and everything. This has been a very upfront process, an important process going on in the Hill for weeks and weeks and weeks, even longer.

BALDWIN: Right. People kept talking about how Bush 43 and all the spending then. That's sort of like -

BASH: That's why the tea party was born.

BALDWIN: Compared to the number we're talking about today. A lot of emphasis, though - Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon, a lot of emphasis, though, on military. I had to sign this because of our brave men and women in uniform, we need to be the best, we will be the best. He said he's giving the troops the largest pay increase they've seen in a decade. We saw Gen. Mattis saying this is the largest military budget in history. Correct?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is certainly one of the largest seen in some time.

Look, they had to make the case here that this bill was about national security, was about funding the military. Mattis has basically staked his credibility and the credibility of the Pentagon on being able to get significant increases in military spending - $654 billion, some $33 billion alone, the president spelled out, for ships and new fighter jets. A lot of this was already in the works, a lot of it being added in.

But, now, the hard questions really are going to begin. How do you really spend that money? Can the US Military, can the Pentagon absorb billions of dollars in increased spending and spend it wisely, spend it smartly? Can they actually contract out for that much money in a relatively short period of time?

Experience would say no. I mean, we've seen years and years of problems in military contracting, haven't we? And a lot of people worry this is a setup for repeat of that history.

Perhaps more importantly, the question is, are these actually going to be the weapons that the US Military needs, given current threats? If you believe that ISIS is almost defeated, if you believe that Russia and China, as the Pentagon says, are the new current threats, what you need then, many experts will tell you, is a real ability to counter Russia's new class of high-speed weapons, new ballistic missiles, counter China's efforts to become a great power at sea, counter the North Koreans.

You need a lot more specifically tailored for those threats. There will be real questions about whether this bill does just that.

BALDWIN: You mentioned China. We'll talk about the threats from China in a little bit. But Evan Perez is with me. And just totally turning the page on this conversation, you have some breaking news on - we talked a lot yesterday about John Dowd, who is this chief attorney who left the Trump team.

And it's my understanding, part of the reasoning was, he didn't want to be co-counsel with this conspiracy theorist lawyer, Joe DiGenova, who you have news on. Which is what?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so the announcement was made on Monday that Joe DiGenova was going to join the legal team. And, obviously, there's been a lot of reaction to that.

But, apparently, the president is maybe tapping the brakes a little bit on this announcement.

BALDWIN: How so?

PEREZ: There was a meeting yesterday with Joe DiGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, came to meet the president. And like a lot of things with this president, it's like a casting call, right? You come in, you sort of tell him what you're doing and, apparently, he liked what they were saying. He liked their message. Obviously, he has seen them on "Fox News". He knows that they're big supporter, they're big conservatives, but he's not exactly sure, it appears, that this is the direction he wants to go.

Obviously, he likes what they're saying on television about the Mueller investigation that it's a witch hunt and all this. They agree with him.

[14:10:05] But perhaps he wants a bigger name. And so, there's still this look - they're still looking around Washington for a big law firm, some big legal name who is going to come in and be the leader of this legal team.

We've got John Dowd, obviously, who is out the door. Jay Sekulow who is right now helping to manage all of this. He is the one that brought in Joe DiGenova.

BALDWIN: So, after all this hubbub, he may not be in?

PEREZ: We're told that it's in flux. Joe DiGenova, obviously, has already been announced. We also have been told that Victoria Toensing is in discussions to join the legal team. That's his wife. That's Joe DiGenova's wife and they have a very small law firm.

She's even gone through the steps to getting waivers from some of her clients to allow this because of potential conflicts.

Look, again, like a big TV production, he brings these people in. They do their song and dance and then he's like, wait a minute -

BALDWIN: You laugh on the casting call line, but is he wrong?

BASH: No. Of course, you're not wrong.

BALDWIN: It's a casting call.

BASH: And, look, it's not an accident that Joe DiGenova and his wife, to a lesser extent, but certainly Joe DiGenova is a TV personality.

Now, look, he has a lot of experience in law. You know this better than I. And has experience with investigations from the other side. But, yes, that's how -

PEREZ: Brooke, here is what's going on also. Behind the scenes, all of this is pointing to a new direction for Trump.

The president, I think, everybody agree, has decided that the way John Dowd was doing this, which was to play nice with Robert Mueller and the investigation, turn over documents, that everything was going to be fine and it will be wrapped up, that is not going to work.

If he wants to go to war, Joe DiGenova was supposed to be part of that. He's going to be on television making the case for the president. So, we're still expecting that that change of direction is coming. The president is going to do something big and we don't know what it is yet, but he is going to do something big to essentially declare war on the Mueller investigation.

Michael Allen, I want to get you in on a second. But on this whole changing direction, revolving door beat, the other piece of news today, national security adviser H.R. McMaster out, John Bolton in. What does this mean for foreign policy, what does this mean for this upcoming meeting between Kim Jong-un and President Trump, what does it mean for the Iran Nuclear Deal? Much to discuss.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.




But our biggest national security crisis is Barack Obama.

I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.


BALDWIN: All right. So, that's a little look at who is now becoming the national security adviser, replacing Gen. H.R. McMaster with John Bolton.

This is a man, according to our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins, who says in negotiating this job with the president, he said he would not - he promised not to start any wars.

So, I'm bringing my panel back in. Michael Allen, starting with you, because you, from your former - your Bush 43 days over at the White House, you know all about Bolton. We were talking in commercial break about how he was held up for months and months. You heard the mash- up. Tell me about the man.

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MEMBER, BUSH NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, I think the mash-up there was illustrative of everything the Democrats threw at him when he was nominated to be UN ambassador for President Bush. They threw the kitchen sink at him.

This was the original unmasking crisis. This individual, this nominee request too much information. Did he have the comportment to be an ambassador?

And what it resulted in were Republicans getting cold feet and him being unable to be confirmed as UN ambassador. And so, I think the Democrats are implacable foes of John Bolton and I

think he probably revels in that.

BALDWIN: He has been a hawk on North Korea. He has talked about preemptive war, right, being the only way to stop Pyongyang from being capable of actually having a nuclear missile to hit the US.

He also said this.


STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: And if Gen. Kelly at any time does decide to leave the president, decides it's time for him to move on, I don't believe there will be another chief of staff. I think there will be five or six direct reports like there was in Trump Tower. I think the president is a very hands-on manager and he feels more comfortable with that. I think the structure and process that General Kelly put in was probably too much.


BALDWIN: Are you going to cross roll it? OK. Forgive me. Just talking to the control room there.

That was, obviously, not John Bolton. Guys, do we have the sound of him talking about North Korea? If we do, can we roll it? OK. Forgive me. That was, I guess, part of what we just played.


BOLTON: But our biggest national security crisis is Barack Obama.

I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.


BALDWIN: What do you think this means for this upcoming Kim Jong- un/Trump meeting and all things North Korea?

BASH: You did play Steve Bannon there. I was at that event with him yesterday and he said very clearly that he does not think that's ever going to happen. Now, he's not in the White House anymore. He's certainly not the president's national security adviser, but he also understands the president and understands these processes. So, we'll see.

There's no question that John Bolton is about as hawkish and aggressive as they come in dealing with North Korea.

There's also no question that before this overture came from Kim Jong- un, the president was gearing up for a potential conventional war to stop the nuclearization of North Korea, meaning the ability to hit the US with a nuclear warhead.

[14:20:07] So, weirdly, they're not that off. But the question is, how sort of into the idea of the president doing something that is unprecedented in meeting with a dictator like Kim Jong-un? And we'll see if he tries to stop it.

RAJU: And the ultimate question with all of these advisers, how much do they ultimately effect a man who very clearly makes his own decisions and does not listen to his advisers as we saw with the whole episode with the spending bill, we saw the way that he's dealt with his cabinet secretaries and the like.

John Bolton may come from a different point of view than H.R. McMaster, but, ultimately, this is the president - if this meeting does take place, the sitting down from Kim Jong-un, his message may be much different than what John Bolton was saying.

PEREZ: It is clear the ones that survive are the ones end up bending to the president's will. You can see why.

ALLEN: If there's one thing that's defined John Bolton's career, it is not engaging in frivolous negotiations with dictatorships. I think he is going to try and kill off this idea of a -

BALDWIN: Meeting?

ALLEN: - summit with Kim Jong-un by raising the stakes and asking for things that Kim Jong-un will find to be impossible to deliver.

By the way, I think he's also going to do that on Iran. There's a May 12th deadline for a recertification.


ALLEN: I think very quickly, we will see that our asks of the Europeans and the Iranians are going to go sky high and then we're going to be out.

BALDWIN: Before we let you go, there's a lot of comparisons with these two hawks, the incoming potentially, pending confirmation, Mike Pompeo, former chief of the CIA, would be secretary of state, lumping these two together.

Your quote was, I don't think Pompeo is the evil twin of Bolton. You don't.

ALLEN: That's right. I don't. I think the media this morning started conflating the two. Hey, you know what, we have two smart hawks here. Everybody look out.

John Bolton, first of all, didn't serve in the military, whereas Mr. Pompeo did. And Mr. Pompeo, more importantly, came up through the political side of the House and then was a member of Congress. They're different people. They have different life experiences.

I think they're both highly competent, efficient and effective, by the way. And they do trend hawkish. But the idea that these are conjoined twins just makes no sense. RAJU: It will be interesting to see what Mike Pompeo says in this confirmation hearings which will happen before this Kim summit actually may take place.

BALDWIN: If it ever takes place.

ALLEN: If it ever.

BALDWIN: All right, everyone. Thank you so much. I appreciate the conversation.

Coming up here on CNN, a CNN exclusive, former playboy model, Karen McDougal speaking out, detailing what she says was a ten-month long affair with Donald Trump. She says she loved him and then he loved her as well.

This, just days before the highly anticipated Stormy Daniels' sit-down with Anderson Cooper this Sunday for "60 Minutes." All of this as Melania Trump is holding an event as I speak here in Washington over at the State Department and people are wondering how is she feeling? How might she respond? Back in just a moment.


[14:27:34] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

To this CNN exclusive, former playboy model Karen McDougal breaking her silence on this alleged ten-month affair she said she had with Donald Trump that she says began just after Trump's wife, Melania, gave birth to the couple's son, Baron. This was in 2006.

McDougal says that she was in love, that it was an intimate, loving relationship with Donald Trump. The two exchanging, I love yous and secretly visiting one another dozens of times across the country, including a trip to Trump's home that he shares with Melania in Trump Tower.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What was it like going to Trump Tower?

KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER "PLAYBOY" MODEL: I didn't know I was at Trump Tower. We went in the back entrance. So, I had no idea where we were actually going. The back entrance, as you know, probably is more discrete. It's a like a nothing hallway versus like when you walk into the grand - right?

So, we went into the back entrance. And then, at that time, I realized where we were going and I said aren't you afraid to bring me here? He was like, they won't say anything. I was like, OK.

So, we went upstairs and looked around.

COOPER: To his office or to his apartment?

MCDOUGAL: His apartment. He showed me around.

COOPER: What did you think of the apartment?

MCDOUGAL: It's very gold. No, actually, it's quite pretty. The views were amazing. It's a beautiful apartment. They have great taste.

COOPER: He showed you around the apartment?


COOPER: Did he reference Melania at that point?

MCDOUGAL: He did. We passed a room. And he said, this is Melania's room. She likes to have her alone time or to get away to read or something like that.

I'm like, oh, OK. That's when I kind of thought maybe - maybe they're having issues. I didn't ask. It's not my business at that point.

COOPER: How did you feel being in his apartment?

MCDOUGAL: Guilty. Very guilty.

COOPER: Do you have any regrets about the relationship that you say you had with him?

MCDOUGAL: Back then?


MCDOUGAL: The only regret I have about the relationship that I had with Donald was the fact that he was married. If he weren't married, I wouldn't have any regrets because he treated me very kind. He was very respectful. As I told you, it was a good relationship while it happened.

Now, had I known at the time there were supposedly all these other women, no, I wouldn't have been in the relationship, but I didn't know that at the time.

No, no regrets except the fact that he was married.

COOPER: If Melania Trump is watching this, what would you want her to know?

MCDOUGAL: It's a tough one.

COOPER: Or say to her.

MCDOUGAL: Yes. What can you say except I'm sorry -