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Is a Presidential Run Behind Biden Threats to Trump; Democrats Call Out Hillary Clinton for Comments on Trump Voters; Haley Berates Russia over Syria; Trump Floats Idea of Rob Porter Return to White House; Retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens Says Repeal 2nd Amendment. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The former vice president, Joe Biden, he has some tough talk to President Trump. He repeated a line from speeches he said before that he said if they were both teenagers, he would take President Trump behind the school and beat him up. The president took the bait and fired right back that he would be the winner in that fight. What's behind this? Specifically, is it all about 2020?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR UNDER BARACK OBAMA & FORMER PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR HILLARY CLINTON & AUTHOR: I think Joe Biden always speaks what's on his mind, and I don't know that -- so I don't know that I would draw broader conclusions about that. You know, it's something that a lot of, you know -- I understand the impulse to want to say that. I also know that the vice president, unlike -- Vice President Biden, unlike Trump, says if I was in high school, I would feel this way but knows it's not what you expect of actual leaders.

BLITZER: Do you think the former vice president is going to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020?

PALMIERI: He might. I don't have any true insight into what his thinking is but, if he did, he would be a very serious contender.

BLITZER: A lot of people agree with you on that.

Let's get to Hillary Clinton. You worked for her for a long time in various capacities. In a recent speech, Hillary Clinton said that Trump voters were attracted by a "backwards-looking message" and "came from less productive parts of the country."

That certainly didn't sit well with some Democrats who were up for reelection, like Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill. Listen to this.

Well, let me read to you what she said: "I don't think that's the way you should talk about any voter, especially ones in my state."

North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp also up for reelection. She's a Democrat. She said in a radio interview that, "Hillary Clinton can't disappear soon enough."

What do you think of that reaction from these Democrats to what Hillary Clinton is now saying?

PALMIERI: I think Senator McCaskill has a point when she says we need to show respect for all voters, whether they vote for you or not. One thing I talk about in the book is I think that this is a problem, and it's a mistake that in my role in politics that I also own, there is a tendency to only talk to voters who are going to vote for you and not worry about speaking with or, even worse, listening to the people who are not. And I think it's partly why there are so many divisions in the country. And going forward, what I think you need from leaders are leaders that are going to listen to everyone in America, whether they're going to vote for you or not. So everybody knows that they belong here, that they are heard, that they have a place in America regardless of whether you vote for a particular president or not. And I think as we look past 2016 going forward, that's what we need from leaders and it's certainly what I'm trying to do.

BLITZER: Let's talk about your new book, "Dear Madam President." Hillary Clinton still talks about what she thinks cost her the election, but you're there on the inside. What do you think as we're on the second year of the Trump administration. What is your assessment, the major reason why she lost?

PALMIERI: When you have -- when you lose by so little, any one factor could attribute to that, to a loss. But what my book -- what my book does is it's looking forward to what women can do now. I think I have -- and I'll tell you, you'll see it's not a normal political book, it's not a campaign book. I wrote it with young girls and young women in mind. I had to experience this. One was seeing what happens with a woman candidate running for president and the other is having worked 26 years in pretty high levels in politics, pretty male-dominated field.

So in the campaign for Hillary Clinton, I saw the obstacles women still face, but I've also seen women exceed past these obstacles. The book gives you ways in which you can succeed regardless. And I don't think that -- one observation I have in the book about Hillary's campaign is I realized at one point what we had done was make her a female facsimile of what we think of a female president. When I realized that, I thought that was a fundamental flaw in the design. That probably robbed her of her own humanity. But I also thought, I don't know of any other way, because the only way there has been for women in politics, and this is true for women in all professions, is you have to show you can do the job just as a man can. Hillary did that, and many didn't think she was capable of doing the job. It wasn't enough. After we lost, and after Trump won, myself, a lot of women in the country were pretty devastated, but we decided that, in the end, we were going to feel empowered in the moment, because what her loss showed us well beyond politics was women had plateaued. We've been playing by a certain set of rules and they were modelled after how men had lived, and that world wasn't built for us. And it doesn't mean that everybody -- this is a world we inherited, men and women both. It's just the models that we know.

[13:35:35] BLITZER: Right.

PALMIERI: It doesn't mean everybody that didn't like Hillary was sexist, it doesn't mean they didn't like her, but it does mean we have models for young girls and you women coming up in the world now to look at for how to lead, and that's what the book imagines.

BLITZER: I'm sure a lot of young women will be anxious to read your book.

Jennifer Palmieri, thanks so much for joining us.

PALMIERI: Thanks for having me on.

BLITZER: It's called "Dear Madam President." It is out today.

And congratulations on writing this book.

PALMIERI: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

PALMIERI: Thank you.

BLITZER: He's the former Trump aide denied clearance, resigning from leaving the White House after being accused of domestic abuse with two former wives. So why is the president still getting his advice?

And just in, Defense Secretary James Mattis address reports that he was against the hiring of John Bolton as the president's national security adviser. You'll hear his pretty blunt response. That's coming up next.


[13:41:04] BLITZER: President Trump's controversial pick to lead the CIA, Gina Haspel, she's been on a behind-the-scenes mission to win over lawmakers and ease concerns inside the White House, according to multiple sources.

CNN senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is here.

What else have you learned, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, behind the scenes, Gina Haspel moving to mount off questions about her past role during the Bush administration when things like waterboarding and harsh interrogations tactics were commonplace.

A little bit of background here. During the Bush administration, she had overseen one of the CIA black sites in Thailand where harsh interrogation tactics did take place. She was also chief of staff of the director of the national clandestine service in 2005 when the CIA tapes of interrogations of suspects were destroyed, and that became a major controversy at the time. Now, according to sources familiar with her discussions with Senators -- she was nominated earlier this month -- and she's made it quite clear that that was a different time. In her words, it was a post-9/11 mindset, it was a different CIA then, and she noted the laws were different. In 2015, Congress passed legislation to outlaw torture across the government. She told Senators, Wolf, she will follow the law, and noted very clearly that waterboarding is not permissible under current law.

In addition to that, Wolf, she has told Senators that that 2005 destruction of tapes were ordered not by her but by her supervisor at the time. That supervisor's name is Jose Rodriguez, who has publicly revealed that he asked her to prepare a cable granting permission to destroy the tapes, but he made the decision, he said. And she did reiterate that to Senators in these private meetings -- Wolf?

BLITZER: This is something she'll have to deal with during the Senate confirmation process.

What are the chance, Manu, that she gets confirmed by the Senate at this point?

RAJU: It's too early to tell, Wolf, but it could be a very close vote. We know one Republican Senator, Rand Paul, opposes her confirmation, and John McCain also has been very critical and, of course, he's been absent as he's battling brain cancer. Where does leave them at, at 49 to 50. If all Democrats vote no, then McCain isn't present, and that's not enough to win confirmation.

Now sources are telling our colleagues, Jenna McLaughlin and Jeremy Heard (ph), there is concern within the Trump administration that they may have to find a replacement if she were to stumble in her confirmation hearings. This has a subject of a recent discussion of the National Security Council as well.

But right now, Wolf, some vulnerable Democrats up for reelection have signaled an openness to supporting her nomination. And that comes even as Mitch McConnell has privately warned the president that confirming anyone in this political environment will be a heavy lift, and her nomination could be a heavy lift as well -- Wolf?

BLITZER: But she has been getting nice praise from former CIA Director Leon Panetta, for example, and James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, and others who served during the Obama administration. We'll see if that has a huge impact on some Democrats, moderate Democrats, who might be inclined to confirm her down the road. You'll need some of those Democrats to go forward.

Appreciate it very much, Manu. We'll continue to watch this confirmation process. Thank you.

[13:44:18] Coming up, Ambassador Nikki Haley berates Russia at the United Nations. So what's behind the renewed tough talk when it comes to Russia? And why is the president of the United States personally still staying quiet?


BLITZER: A day after expelling 60 Russian diplomats from the U.S. over a nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom, the U.S. is keeping the pressure on Russia, also over Syria. Just a little white ago, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, chastised Russia over the death of civilians in Syria.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We cannot take these actions because Russia will stop at nothing to use its permanent seat on this council to shield its ally, Bashar al Assad, from even the faintest criticism. And we cannot take these actions because, instead of calling out how Assad, Russia and Iran made a mockery of calls for a ceasefire, too many members of this council wanted to wait. This is a travesty. This is the ugly reality on the ground in Syria today. Cynical accusations of bad faith from Russia will not stop us from speaking out. And their blatantly false narratives will not keep us from telling the world about Russia's central role in bombing the Syrian people into submission.


[13:50:08] BLITZER: Very strong words, indeed.

Joining us, Jeff Mason, the White House correspondent for Reuters.

Jeff, thanks for coming in.

She's very, very tough, outspoken on Russia, in contrast to her boss, the president of the United States, who lets others around him do all that tough talk.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: That's right. There's that contrast that's so interesting. He has been reluctant himself to be critical of Russia. He was reluctant to be critical in his direct talks with Putin. But people in his administration, high- level people, like Nikki Haley, have been. And that comes on the heels of a decision yesterday to expel these Russian officials as well.

BLITZER: He hasn't tweeted about it, or spoken about it, even though the secretary of defense, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. have been very, very outspoken. This decision is a significant decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats. You would think the president would at least tweet about it and say something.

MASON: That's just it. When you compare how he deals with other countries, countries he is upset about, Mexico, Canada, in terms of trade, European Union countries, who are very close allies of the United States, he's very happy to be critical of in public and on Twitter and is reluctant to do that when it comes to Russia.

BLITZER: What do you make of reports that former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, who was removed and resigned in the face of allegations of marital abuse of two ex-wives, that the president still stays in touch with him, consults with him, and may eventually, at some point down the road, would like to bring him back to the West Wing, even though he couldn't get security clearance?

MASON: One of the ironies of President Trump and the fact that he gets rid of people from his White House so quickly, he does not get rid of them from his orbit.

BLITZER: Why is that?

MASON: He likes to stay in touch, have that feedback. And he had a good relationship with Porter. They have spoken to a White House official today who said, yes, they have spoken, confirming what "The New York Times" reported, but he's not seriously considering bringing him back to the White House. If he did, that would create a lot of controversy, for sure, because of the allegations of spousal abuse.

BLITZER: The secretary of defense, James Mattis, says he's looking forward to meeting John Bolton -- never met with him -- new national security adviser. He says he has no reservations. Do you think they're a good fit?

MASON: That might be a tricky thing. He was asked about it and gave his reply, saying he could work with an American. Bolton, obviously, is an American and has history from the Bush administration, but a lot of people see him potentially as tricky in this role.

BLITZER: Could be a tricky situation but we'll watch it closely.

Jeff Mason, thanks for coming in.

MASON: My pleasure.

BLITZER: We're standing by for the White House press briefing as Stormy Daniels sues President Trump's personal lawyer for defamation. And six attorneys are reportedly refusing to join the president's legal team. We'll go live to the White House. That's coming up.


[13:57:05] BLITZER: Retired United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens says the Second Amendment should be repealed, calling it a relic of the 18th century. In a "New York Times" op-ed today, the former justice says, "It would be easy to overturn the amendment and would do more to stop the problem of gun violence here in the United States than anything else. He also calls on the March for Our Lives movement to demand a full repeal of the amendment.

Let's discuss with CNN's Supreme Court analyst, Joan Biskupic.

Joan, thanks very much.

It's amazing. If you read the article, almost 98 years old, and still has some pretty sharp views.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SUPREME COURT ANALYST: He does. He left the court in 2010 and has remained a relative vital presence. The Second Amendment is one of them. His main message is think back to what the Second Amendment really stood for. He dissented in 2008 when the Supreme Court first declared an individual right for people to bear arms. He's still strung by that. He's saying, here is something to do. Repeal the Second Amendment. For two reasons. One, he says it would undercut the NRA, which has so much power to fight things legislatively. But he also uses the word "simple." But it won't be simple. Not at all. BLITZER: It's not simple to repeal an amendment. Tell our viewers

how hard it would be.

BISKUPIC: It's very hard. It's very hard. It only happened once in history. It takes two-thirds of both chambers of Congress to even put the amendment to the people, and three-fifths of the states, 38, to make it go. And as I was saying to you earlier, John Paul Stevens actually witnessed the one appeal back in the Prohibition era when Prohibition was repealed through an amendment. But it's very, very hard, almost impossible.

BLITZER: Let's say it were to happen. It's very hard. Almost certainly won't happen. Let's say it were to happen, would gun owners in the United States have to give up their guns?

BISKUPIC: No, not necessarily. The way the Supreme Court has interpreted it is it's a floor of protection. But states could still protect people in different ways. It's not that all legislation would be out the window. It's just that the NRA and gun owners wouldn't be able to rely on a Constitution amendment the way it's been interpreted by the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: This article will generate a lot of discussion, shall we say.

BISKUPIC: I think it will. I just heard so many people respond to it today. First of all, to find out he's still writing after retiring in 2010, has something important to say, and people are talking about it.

BLITZER: Certainly are. A lot of buzz without there. Again, he's 97, almost 98 years old. Good for him.

Joan, thanks for coming in.

BISKUPIC: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

In the meantime, the news on CNN continues right now.

[14:00:05] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we'll take it.

Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thanks for being with me.

We are waiting for the White House press briefing to begin. Live pictures inside the briefing room. That should begin momentarily.