Return to Transcripts main page
Did Russian Operative Work With Trump Campaign?; Trump Backs Down From Veto Threat, Signs Spending Bill; Ex-Playmate Details Alleged Affair With Trump. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired March 23, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And it almost sounded like, from the tone of the president, you know, he was -- called it -- called it this whole ridiculous situation, mentioned the 2,200-plus pages. No one read it, he said, including himself, but, you know -- and that he was almost forced to sign it.
But, hello? He's the president.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brooke. He doesn't have to sign this. But he did so, begrudgingly, at that.
And he said this was going to be a news conference, but he called the press in for what was more like a venting session for the president, where he spent 30 minutes going over what he didn't like in this bill and how he didn't want to sign it, and how he thought the process to get there was ridiculous.
But yet he did walk away having signed that bill before he entered the room here, Brooke. But his biggest frustration here was that this bill does not include enough funding for his border wall, a very small percentage of what the White House actually asked for to build that wall, the wall that, as you remember, during the campaign the president said time and time again Mexico was going to pay for.
But he was very critical of that, also very critical of Democrats, saying that they opposed funding the military, and also being critical of the fact that there was no legislation in here to fix, to help those dreamers who have benefited from that DACA program, the program that the president ended last fall and that he has also failed to reach a deal with on Democrats in order to give them legislation to protect their status while they are here.
But it was really just a venting session for the president, where he lamented this bill. He went over it. And that comes just four hours after the president said he was considering vetoing the bill, which was 24 hours after his own White House officials, including his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, were on camera here in the Briefing Room with reporters saying, yes, he is going to sign this bill.
Now, though his tweet set off a scramble inside the White House this morning, certainly, on Capitol Hill, White House officials, they did express confidence that the bill would still be signed today, essentially calling the president's bluff this morning on Twitter.
But what we were told by sources is that the president was growing more and more frustrated as he watched cable news coverage of this bill, saying that it wasn't going to fund his immigration priorities in any sense of the way. And you could see the president's frustration with that, not just in private, but also he made it very clear on Twitter and very clear during that venting session there at the White House.
But, Brooke, it was really a perfect way to end a very chaotic week here at the White House, where there have been staff hirings, staff firings, all this back and forth. It was very appropriate, to say the least.
BALDWIN: We are going to talk more about the hirings and firings in a second.
Kaitlan, thank you very much.
I have got a panel with me, Jamie Weinstein, beginning with you here on this move, moving away from the spending bill and on to out with General H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and in with John Bolton, someone who has been described as a hawk with a capital H and confrontational on foreign policy and watch out what may happen with the Iran nuclear and deal and North Korea.
But you have interviewed him a gazillion times.
JAMIE WEINSTEIN, "THE JAMIE WEINSTEIN SHOW": Yes, I have interviewed him a lot over the years. I have covered him even longer, and some caricatures out there that are just not true. For instance, he's not a neoconservative.
To those who actually understand what that means, he is not someone who believes in spreading democracy abroad through military force or otherwise. He would be just as happy if Afghanistan turned into a pro-American dictatorship as he would be if it was a pro-American democracy.
He is more Ted Cruz than John McCain if you want to put it in current political terms. But he's very skeptical of dealing with dictators. He doesn't think they are going to follow agreements. He won't trust him. That will apply very harshly in the sense of dealing with North Korea and Iran.
But he's also in several areas kind of surprising. He told me back in 2010, 2011 that he's not opposed to eliminating don't ask, don't tell. That was before it was actually eliminated. He told me back then when Donald Trump, right before the 2012 election was considering running at that time, he thought his birtherism was almost disqualifying and not entirely rational.
He is a very smart guy. Joe Biden once said he opposed him for a nomination not because he didn't think he was smart, that he was too competent, he would get his ideology done, he knows the levers of power and he knows how to work that Washington and bureaucracy. He's a very interesting figure. Not quite the caricature that some...
BALDWIN: Would you agree with Joe Biden in saying he's too competent, Van Jones?
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's dangerous. He's dangerous.
BALDWIN: Why is he dangerous?
JONES: Part of the problem that the liberals have had is that every tweet is the end of the world.
Since the guy came down the escalator, everything that happens is the end of the world. This is a very dangerous appointment. This is somebody who is much -- when you say hawkish, hawkish is what liberals and conservatives say on television.
He is a warmonger. He has no problem thinking about starting a war and getting a lot of Americans possibly in trouble. And we have now exhausted ourselves, we've exhausted adjectives, so when something really bad like this happens, we don't have the vocabulary.
This is probably the most disturbing thing that's happened, because McMaster at least was somebody who could think about these things carefully and was trying. This is not somebody who thinks about things carefully.
And to the extent that you tried to give us some comfort, so he basically isn't a bigot against gay people. That's good. That's good. I'm not sleeping any better tonight.
WEINSTEIN: I'm not necessarily giving confidence. I'm going to give a nuance.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But it doesn't matter, because he went to the president. The president said, are you going to do what I tell you to do?
And the president didn't like, in the most recent incarnation, was against the Iraq War. And the president said to him, are you going to listen to me? Because this is what this is all about. He doesn't want any people who say no to him anymore.
And Bolton saluted and said, yes, sir, I will. So, whether it's talking to North Korea, or whether it's getting into a war, or whether it's sending troops, or whether -- I think the president wouldn't have hired him if he thought he was going to speak his mind, to be honest.
BALDWIN: Iran nuclear deal deadline around the corner in May. BORGER: Yes.
BALDWIN: We've got General Hertling also here.
General Hertling, not only with Iran, and with North Korea and what he said about preemptive strikes, right, before North Korea could get any sort of missile to hit the U.S. mainland. These are the other examples. Listen to this and some of the opinions he has had.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I think the only diplomatic option left is to end the regime in North Korea by effectively having the South take it over.
There's an all-purpose joke here. Question, how do you know that the North Korean regime is lying? Answer, their lips are moving.
What I would recommend to him if I were there is to get out of the deal completely, to abrogate it, to withdraw the United States, to bring back all the sanctions. Russia, China, Syria, Iran, North Korea, these are regimes that make agreements and lie about them.
The response needs to be such that we begin to create in Vladimir Putin's mind deterrence theories, that he will understand if he undertakes this again, the cost that Moscow will bear will be significantly greater. That's how deterrence works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: So, General, this is a man who has taken the spot of someone you spoke very highly of many times, General H.R. McMaster.
What do you make of this move? And how do you think it will change, perhaps, this face-to-face that the president says he's having with the leader of North Korea?
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Brooke, for the last almost year, H.R. has taken a dysfunctional National Security Council that he inherited from Mike Flynn and he's established processes and systems.
He helped write the national security strategy, which is supposed to interface and synchronize all the elements of government to defend our country, both internal to the country and abroad. And that system has all been put in place.
I think I would also remind whoever leads the National Security Council, the NSA, General McMaster in the past and Ambassador Bolton in the future, is not a singular person. He has several hundred people. Some are from other agencies throughout the government that are working for him, to include the Intelligence Committee, so that they can determine the best way to serve the president.
Each national security adviser is used differently. And I'm sure McMaster was used to set the processes and systems up and now Ambassador Bolton is going to be used to do the will of Donald Trump.
And certainly if you look at Ambassador Bolton's past, there is a reason to be a little bit concerned, because he has a checkered past and some strange characteristics and some thoughts and ideologies about the world around him. Now, he says he has forgotten all those, that he is just going to serve the president.
But, truthfully, you can't disconnect the person and character of the person and their ideologies for how they serve the president. President Trump should be using this body to provide him with options. But in fact it appears like the president is going to be more dictatorial in nature in terms of telling the Security Council what he wants and then doing what he wants anyway.
This is particularly important because we no longer right now have a secretary of state. We have a brand-new National Security Council leader. And the president is just getting steam. So, I'm sure not only internal to our country, where a lot of people are concerned about this, but our allies are very concerned, because they were just getting used to talking to Secretary Tillerson and McMaster, McMaster, who in the Munich security conference and tamping down some of the concerns.
Now he's gone. Our allies, I'm telling you, Brooke, are very concerned about what they seeing, not just internal, but external to our country.
BALDWIN: Jamie, just I want to respond to that and also his point a second about how -- with the president surrounding himself by yes-men and general's point about the president being more dictatorial.
Does John Bolton still try to yank that meeting away with Kim Jong-un or no?
WEINSTEIN: Keep in mind, and I think your point earlier was key, General McMaster was a highly, big -- a big skeptic of the talks with North Korea.
He, himself, when they came in and presented this offer to meet with Kim Jong-un, General McMaster wasn't telling President Trump to say yes. Trump himself, the president, decided to say yes.
WEINSTEIN: There's a possibility -- and, again, this is Trump playing 4-D chess. Never turns out to be the case. That by having someone as hawkish, as openly hawkish as John Bolton now a national security adviser, it might scare North Korea a little bit to at least a little bit more open to compromise.
The alternative to that is that if these talks break down, it might be more likely there will be some type of strike, which could be catastrophic. But the president again is his own man. And, sometimes, that's for good and a lot of time that's for bad. So, I think he -- John Bolton is just be another voice at the table.
Speaking of another voice who may or may not be at the table, Joe diGenova. Everybody was all a flutter with, wow, he has really brought on as a lawyer to this Trump team. But you have new reporting maybe otherwise.
BORGER: Right. Yes.
Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and I are reporting today that Joe diGenova's role is now in flux. On Monday, Jay Sekulow, who is counsel to the president, said that Joe diGenova is going to join the legal team and you know that John Dowd up and quit, who was on the legal team.
And today we're learning that the president met with Joe diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, who might also join the legal team, yesterday. And one source said that while the president liked their message, he's not convinced that they're right for the legal jobs.
BALDWIN: Not a done deal necessarily.
BORGER: Not a done deal. And there are questions not only about whether they're right for the legal jobs, we know that diGenova was always being thought of as a spokesperson kind of job.
But also there are conflicts. And that was one of the things that John Dowd raised before he quit, because they happen to represent people a couple of people who may be witnesses against the president in the Russia investigation.
Ding, ding, ding. That could be a problem. And so now we're just not sure. And, again, add it to what we have been talking about here, which is the uncertainty about everything we're seeing in this White House, which is that the president is deciding everything and met with these two people yesterday and came away with, well, OK, I'm not so sure. What are we going to do?
And they do have the help wanted sign out for other attorneys in Washington.
BALDWIN: Several of whom, as we reported yesterday, have said thanks, but no thanks.
BORGER: And it's kind of amazing to think that, in Washington, D.C. it's hard to find a lawyer, but to be continued.
Thank you so much.
And I should remind everyone, you, sir, you, my friend, I'm joining you tomorrow. I'm working on Saturday.
JONES: Yes. BALDWIN: Van Jones, don't miss this. He's live. He's live tomorrow
night. He will be speaking to people on both sides of the gun debate issue during the March for Our Lives, 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN.
BALDWIN: I look forward to it.
BALDWIN: Thank you very much.
Coming up, a CNN exclusive. Former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal spilling the secrets of what she says was a 10-month affair with Donald Trump back in '06. What her story and the upcoming interview with Stormy Daniels mean for Trump legally.
Also, Steve Bannon suggesting that Donald Trump wants to be his own chief of staff. A man who wrote the book on that White House job joins me now live to discuss what that would look like.
And later, speaking of this march here in Washington tomorrow, I sat with 11 incredible people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, all the way from Columbine, Parkland, Vegas, their emotional messages and why they feel hopeful actually, coming up.
BALDWIN: We are back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
To this CNN exclusive here. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal is sharing all kinds of details in this alleged 10-month relationship she says she had with Donald Trump.
She says it all began just after Trump's wife, Melania, gave birth to the couple's son back in 2006.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: This was an ongoing sexual relationship?
KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: Absolutely.
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: So, dozens of times you were together.
MCDOUGAL: Many dozens of times, yes.
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 is 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: You believe, though, that he had real feelings for you?
MCDOUGAL: Of course he did, yes. I know he did.
COOPER: He would say that?
MCDOUGAL: He did.
COOPER: Were you in love with him?
MCDOUGAL: I was, yes.
COOPER: And do you think he was in love with you?
MCDOUGAL: He was, yes.
COOPER: Did Donald Trump ever say to you that he loved you?
MCDOUGAL: All the time. He always told me he loved me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
The president has denied the affair. And so far, Melania has remained silent.
So, with me now, CNN's chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and former U.S. assistant attorney Kim Wehle.
Beginning with you, talking about how you stayed up to the wee hours of the morning watching this entire interview.
BORGER: I did.
BALDWIN: Here we have -- just big-picture this for us for a second.
Like, we're talking about the president of the United States -- and, granted, I realize this was years ago, but talking about details of his sex life and love. And she seemed pretty believable.
I mean, she made him seem more human in a way than I have ever heard him described. But she was also describing a man who was not only cheating on his wife, but he was cheating on his mistress at the same time.
And so it was a remarkable story. And, look, I have covered presidents that have cheated on their wives. I have covered Bill Clinton. OK? We have been there. We have been down that road before.
But it's kind of remarkable, the level of detail that is coming out from these women, because we are living in a different time now than we were during the Clinton days.
BORGER: And so now it's just -- it's all coming out there. And, at some point, the president is going to have to talk about it, either in court or to the American public.
BALDWIN: Like voluntarily or via deposition.
BALDWIN: While that was happening last night, let me -- let's get the tweet up on the screen.
And, Kim, I wanted to ask you about Stormy Daniels' attorney tweeted out last night: "If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many words is this worth?"
And it's some kind of disc, C.D., #60Minutes, teasing ahead to the interview on Sunday. What did you think that's about?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I think probably the information with respect to both of these women is going to come out one way or the other. You mentioned depositions in a civil trial or subpoenaing documents or people that talk to these women at the time they had these affairs.
And I think that this should come out. He is president of the United States. You mentioned Bill Clinton. I worked on the Whitewater investigation. He was impeached. Of course, that was for a relationship he had while he was in office.
But these hush money deals took place around the time of the campaign, and there's some potential legal liability here with respect to the campaign finance laws. So, this is beyond just the sordid details, which is really debasing the presidency, kind of on a sort of more historic level. But it also has legal implications for this president that just compounds the problems he has, in light of the Mueller investigation.
BALDWIN: I'm just left wondering -- and I know Anderson was asking her about the first lady. There she was. She talks about going in the apartment, describes the gold, said it was beautiful in Melania's apartment.
We are looking to see Melania in just a little while head down to Mar- a-Lago with her husband. And everyone will be watching the body language. Can you imagine?
BALDWIN: She must be humiliated and...
BORGER: Humiliated, and also she has a young child. And you sort of worry about Barron.
And this is a woman who on one hand she made her deal with Donald Trump. She knew who she was marrying when she married him, I have to believe. And I don't know if they had an arrangement or didn't have an arrangement. I mean, she's a smart woman.
I don't think that -- I'm sure maybe details come as a surprise, but I think a lot of this may not, because she knows Donald Trump. But now she is the first lady. And she has carried herself with an awful lot of decorum in her job.
BORGER: And I think that she knows the world is watching her.
BALDWIN: That's the part that she may not have been bargaining for.
BORGER: Absolutely did not bargain for it.
You remember, she was late in coming to Washington. We know they have had their problems. We all saw her when she shooed away his hand that day, when she wouldn't hold his hand. So, there are issues. But it just must be excruciating. And everybody is waiting to see, well, what does she do?
Because I would argue that Hillary Clinton, going out and defending her husband saved him. And if she hadn't saved him, she might have been president herself. So, I don't know what Melania will do. Maybe she will do nothing.
BALDWIN: We don't know.
Gloria and Kim, thank you so much.
We watch the first lady again leaving for Mar-a-Lago in just a little while.
Meantime, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, he's looking into a new issue. And it all has to do with a Russian operative who was in touch with WikiLeaks and one of Trump's closest advisers. The Daily Beast reporter who broke that story joins me live to explain what that means for this Russia investigation.
BALDWIN: U.S. investigators now believe the hacker who claims to have provided stolen Democratic National Committee e-mails is a Russian intelligence operative based in Moscow.
The Daily Beast with this story today that U.S. investigators have confirmed the online persona known as Guccifer 2.0 is an officer in Russia's main intelligence directorate.
The report also indicates that special counsel Bob Mueller has taken over the probe and the FBI agents who tracked down this operative are now part of the special counsel's team.
So, with me now, Spencer Ackerman, a senior national security for The Daily Beast and the one who broke this story.
So, Spencer, thank you so much for talking to me today.