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CNN: White House Aides Puzzled By President Trump Saying U.S. Will Exit Syria; The President's Shrinking Circle; Mueller Pushed for Rick Gates' Help on Collusion; Did Cambridge Analytica Use Military Strategies to War Culture War on Unsuspecting Americans; Independent Autopsy: Stephon Clark Shot 8 Times in Back; Trump Stuns Own Administration with Plans to Exit Syria. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 30, 2018 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:08] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Advisors, who needs advisors?

Good evening. Jim Sciutto here sitting in tonight for Anderson.

At home and overseas from Nashville security to his own legal defense, the president increasingly seems to be doing it his way and going it alone. One recent item in "Vanity Fair" put it this way, quote: for the better part of the last month Donald Trump has been winging it.

Tonight, we'll look closer at whether in fact that is the case. And if so, what the impact could be of doing the world's toughest job more or less solo.

Right now, the Pentagon and State Department are scrambling to respond to the latest example. The president's surprise announcement yesterday in Ohio during a speech billed as being about infrastructure. As he's done many times before, he departed from prepared remarks, talking about everything from North Korea to "Roseanne's" ratings to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS will be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon, very soon, we're coming out. We're going to have a hundred percent of the caliphate as they call it, sometimes referred to as land, taking it all back quickly, quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon.


SCIUTTO: And with those words, the head-scratching began. Nobody knew what he meant, because apparently nobody saw it coming. And even a day later, nobody seems to know what to make of it.

A senior administration official tells CNN's Jim Acosta who joins us momentarily, quote: We were still trying to figure out what he meant about Syria yesterday. A National Security Council spokesperson responding to questions

saying, again, I'm quoting here, the president's comments speak for themselves. OK, now, you can make a perfectly good national security case for pulling out of Syria or for staying or even for upping the ante and escalating, keeping them honest though it sure seems like the president spoke before any such case was even made to him one way or the other.

There's a reason after all that these decisions usually come after a whole lot of knowledgeable people give the president their advice, a whole lot of lives are at stake in Syria and neighboring countries and so as America's standing the region. But let's take the NSC spokespersons advice here about the president's statements speaking for themselves.

When President Trump said, quote, let the other people take care of it, did he know that these other people are likely to be Iran and Russia and Bashar al-Assad? We don't know. And when the president said that will be coming out quote very soon, had anyone reminded him that this is precisely, exactly almost literally the kind of telegraphing of plans and timetables that he himself railed against on the campaign trail, and boasted that he would never do?


TRUMP: I don't want to tell the enemy how I am thinking. Does that make sense?

Surprise, remember they used to call it the element of surprise.

I keep saying, whatever happened to the element of surprise?

You know, I've been saying the element of surprise.

We're too predictable.

We need to be unpredictable. We have to be unpredictable.

We want to be unpredictable, folks. We want to be unpredictable.

I'm not going to tell you anything about what response I do. I don't talk about military response. I don't want to be one of these guys that say, yes, here's what we're going to do. I don't have to do that, you know why, because they shouldn't know.


SCIUTTO: And yet here we are.

Now, just like you can make a case for or against involvement in Syria, you can also make a case for and against strategic surprise. Sometimes it is better to send clear signals, sometimes it is not. But it is ever a good idea for your own inner circle to be out of the loop as well.

The issue here isn't whether the president is disregarding advice, presidents get the final say. It is however whether he is even listening because not only does a president get the last word, a president also has the ultimate responsibility. We'll ask some experts tonight about this and other instances where this president has gone it alone on other big national security issues, cabinet choices, even his own legal defense.

First, though, CNN's Jim Acosta joining us with more insight into who is advising the president and who if anyone he is listening to.

So, Jim, aides in the White House, they admitted. They said it flat- out, they were taken by surprise by the president's comments. What more can you tell about what you're hearing there?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, simply that. They're trying to figure out what the president was saying yesterday when he said in Ohio that, you know, the United States is going to be getting out of Syria very soon. And as you were mentioned just a few moments ago, senior administration official earlier today said to me that they're just trying to figure out what the president meant when he said that.

My sense of it, Jim, is that the president essentially announced a change in policy in Syria yesterday, unless the White House wants to come out and say that that's not what he did.

[20:05:05] He indicated that he would like to wrap up a U.S. involvement in Syria sometime soon. Now, of course, he didn't put a timetable to that, but it is an indication of the president trying to move in the direction of where he was during the campaign which is being somewhat cautious about being involved in any kind of protracted military conflicts in the Middle East. He went after George W. Bush repeatedly on that note.

But as you mentioned and that wind up there, Jim, he said repeatedly throughout the campaign and he said it while being president the United States that he doesn't like to telegraph his moves. He obviously contradicted himself yesterday when he did that. But in addition to that, Jim, he also savaged Barack Obama in the latter months of the campaign, accusing Barack Obama of essentially being the founder of ISIS because he pulled U.S. troops out of Iraq too quickly, creating a vacuum there.

We talked to a senior administration official not too long ago, Jim, who said that a sudden withdrawal from Syria would essentially create the same kind of scenario and it's one that they'd like to avoid. So, it's not surprising that administration officials are perplexed about what the president had to say.

SCIUTTO: Well, apparently, the Defense Department perplexed as well. What are we hearing from the Pentagon?

SCIUTTO: Well, that's right. And as you know, Jim, in the last 24 hours, it's been reported that U.S. service member and a British service member both on an ISIS -- a counter ISIS operation in Syria lost their lives. They were killed when their vehicle hit an IED, reminiscent of the deaths that occurred in Iraq for so many years in the 2000s.

Pentagon spokesman Dana White saying in response to that that, you know, there is still much more important work that needs to be done in Syria. That essentially means that, according to the Pentagon, it's not mission accomplished yet. They're not there yet, and so, you have to wonder if the left hand knows what the right hand is doing in this administration when it comes to Syria.

And it is such a critical issue as you know, Jim, covering these issues so closely as you do that it would be something else for the president of the United States having criticized Barack Obama so much during the campaign for pulling out of Iraq too quickly to do the very same thing in Syria -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Right, and leaving it to America's adversaries there, Russia and Syria.

Jim Acosta, thanks very much covering with the president.

Perspective now on the president calling an audible you might say on Syria, North Korea, as well as the larger notion of a chief executive who seems to be making a habit of making gut decisions without much advice or even in spite of that advice. Joining us tonight, CNN military analyst, retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. Also CNN military and diplomatic analyst, and retired rear admiral, John Kirby, who served as spokesmen for both the State Department and the Pentagon during the Obama administration.

Admiral Kirby, if I could begin with you -- it's not the first time that the president has had a very public difference on a very key national security issue, with his closest advisors, with his cabinet secretaries, how do foreign leaders receive this information?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I think it's confusing them, it's confusing the interagency and it's confusing our international partners and people that are actually trying to help us get better outcomes. Syria is one of those places.

You saw today, this -- the Saudis are now urging publicly that he not pull our troops out of Syria. So, you know, they have to take this seriously, even though there may be some in the inner circle that don't, that don't react to his tweets, our international partners and friends don't have that luxury because they have to go by what the president says.

So, it's certainly rendering the execution of foreign policy chaotic and frenetic and much harder for our allies and partners to want to be able to come to our help.

SCIUTTO: So, General Hertling, you've commanded forces in Iraq. Let's imagine you're a military commander in Syria where U.S. forces as we know are fighting and dying just in the last 24 hours, and you hear the president say, by the way, we're going to be out of there very soon even as a American forces are still spilling blood on the battlefield there.

What does that do to military planning on the ground?

MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It affects it, Jim. And I'm going to reinforce what Admiral Kirby, my good friend, has just said from the standpoint of what's going on in Washington and what's going on in allied headquarters and allied governments, but also what's going on in the government of foes like Russia, Iran and Turkey right now. And I'd put those in the foes category because they are countering some of our moves in Syria.

But that's all been discussed, I'm going to talk about it from the standpoint of the soldiers on the ground, the people who are a part of the special operations forces who are -- they get this kind of information, Jim. You well know this. They get information in terms of what our political leaders say.

And when there is this kind of disconnect between what they see the mission is being and what they're doing on the ground with Kurdish allies, with Syrian defense forces and they hear the president contradicting both the State Department and the Department of Defense of what they're attempting to achieve in terms of their objectives, it really causes some churn and some angst.

[20:10:11] And then you're going to have the allied forces on the ground, the Syrian defense forces, the Kurdish forces, coming up to all of those commanders, guys like General Votel, General Thomas who are the key elements in this theater saying, what the heck is going on, are you with us or not? Are we going to continue this action or you're going to pull out?

When they hear the president say something like this it causes a great deal of angst within the forces that are our allies.

SCIUTTO: They got to start making plans for the possibility that the U.S. soldiers won't be shoulders shoulder with them.

John Kirby, the president said in that speech -- well, we'll leave it to others. Who are the others in Syria?

KIRBY: Yes, right. The other figure to worry about or Russia and Iran for sure, not to mention Bashar al-Assad and his brutal regime. And, of course, the Turks would like nothing better than to have the United States out of Syria right now, so that they can, you know, do what they need to do what they feel they need to do against the Kurds. Those are the others that we have to worry about.

But, Jim, it's important to remember that the military presence era was not about solving the civil war. Even under President Obama, it wasn't. It was about going after ISIS. And that fights not over yet.

As Jim Acosta reported to everybody right there, you know, we lost a soldier today.


KIRBY: That fight is not gone. And so, pulling out would render what's left of that fight moot. It would also then cede all whatever influence that we have in Syria would see all that to Russia and Iran who are inimical to our greater interests in the Middle East and in the region.


General Hertling, does it make any sense to you that the president said the U.S. will be coming out of Syria very soon considering that he has consistently said that he doesn't like to telegraph future military decisions, and in fact on the campaign trail made a very big deal of accusing President Obama of doing just that?

HERTLING: Yes, there seems to be a disconnect, doesn't it, Jim? And what's interesting is as John just said, these kind of signals sent by our president and our other elected leaders will cause things to happen in other societies and other government. I mean, anyone who's interested in history knows that just a miss read of a signal by Saddam Hussein in 1990 caused the approach of what we later had to fight in terms of Desert Storm when Saddam took over Kuwait.

So, these kind of diplomatic signals telegraph by our president, seemingly a disconnect with the State Department will cause other governments and other militaries to do things that we don't want them to do and again as you just said, the president throughout the campaign said he wasn't going to telegraph -- boy, he just got on a megaphone and said what he thought was going to happen and other people are listening and it's unfortunate.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and clarity matters to the allies and adversaries.

Admiral Kirby, President Trump's incoming national security adviser, of course, Ambassador John Bolton. He tweeted in October the following, quote: The caliphate in Syria and Iraq is gone, but ISIS's terrorist activities will continue and Iran is becoming a bigger player in the region, which is not exactly the president's position here.

So, you have a John Bolton coming in who seems to be echoing some of the criticism I'm hearing from you --


SCIUTTO: -- and General Hertling, is he going to be the kind of guy who's going to go to the president say, hey, listen, you know, I know -- I know you said that, but that's not -- not something we should do.

KIRBY: I certainly hope so. I mean, that's the job of the national security adviser is to tee up options, to present a maybe a dissenting view or a different perspective from what the president might have. He will be joined in that effort by Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense. I'm sure. I don't know where Pompeo is on this, but the State Department in general, as General Hertling has made very clear, they have been in favor of a continued presence there in Syria.

So, I hope that Bolton will take that case to the president. You know, Bolton's no isolationist. I mean, you know, he doesn't want us, you know, over involved but he also is not bashful about saying we should be involved where our interests are safe.

And clearly --

SCIUTTO: Back the Iraq mission (ph).

KIRBY: Exactly. And clearly, the fight against ISIS is in our national interest. I mean, if we just cede the ground to them and we let them reconstitute themselves in Syria, they will reconstitute again in Iraq as well and we'll be facing the same place we were you know two years ago. So, I hope that he is able to have that kind of candid forthright discussion with his new boss.


SCIUTTO: Admiral Kirby, General Hertling, thanks.

Well, quick final thought before we go.

HERTLING: Yes, if I can just add, John is exactly right you know there are a lot of comments about ISIS is finished we've defeated the caliphate, yes, that's not the ideology. There is a lot more to go in this fight against ISIS to defeat that ideology just because they don't have a caliphate doesn't mean they're defeated.

SCIUTTO: Remember, those words: al Qaeda is on the run.

Thanks to both of you as always on this Good Friday.

Next, another aspect of this, the president's shrinking inner circle, the possibility that he may decide he doesn't even need a chief of staff and questions about some of the people that he's hiring.

Later, a potentially key new development for the families seeking answers in the police shooting that took the life of a young African- American man. It has now touched off protests. We're going to bring you the breaking news. That's ahead on 360.


[20:18:49] SCIUTTO: Just before the break we talked about a president increasingly going it alone, confident it seems in his own gut level decision-making. Compounding that process, his shrinking inner circle and arguably the departure of people who know what they're actually doing or at least know how to work with someone who is by nearly all accounts a rather unique boss.

Today was the president's first full day in office without Hope Hicks, his longtime adviser and close confidant, unknown who will replace her as communications director or if anyone will in fact. Unclear if anyone can replace her as someone the president truly listens to, which as we've been discussing is vital, as is being qualified for the job -- which gets straight to Mr. Trump's latest personnel move a surprise.

Wednesday, he fired V.A. Secretary David Shulkin and replaced him with someone he is said to be personally close to and impressed with but who also has no experience running large organizations, let alone departments as massive as the V.A. Until now, he was best known for this.


REAR ADM. RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: I think he remained fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he's elected.

[20:20:01] REPORTER: Can you explain to me how a guy who eats McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chickens and all those Diet Cokes and never exercises is in as good a shape as you say he's in?

JACKSON: It's called genetics, I don't know. It's some people have you know just great genes. I would say the answer your question is he has incredibly good genes and it's just so god made him.


SCIUTTO: So, back to the shrinking circle, add Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, someone who is widely respected as a doctor but who will now be responsible for 370,000 employees and providing health care and benefits to more than 20 million veterans.

Also, replace a three-star combat tested General H.R. McMaster is national security advisor with John Bolton, who despite having been U.N. ambassador in the George W. Bush administration is more widely known these days as a TV pundit.

On top of that, subtract nearly every member of his legal team with the exception of Ty Cobb and TV lawyer Jay Sekulow. Then there's Chief of Staff John Kelly, will the president fire or keep him? No one seems to know.

But CNN has learned that the president is weighing a White House without any chief of staff at all, and who you might ask is telling him it's a good idea to shrink his shrinking White House further?

Someone familiar with the conversation says it is coming from the president's outside advisors. And who are they? Who knows? We should say that a president can take advice from anyone he wants. That's really not the question here. The question is, is it a good idea?

Two views now from CNN political analyst David Gergen and Gloria Borger.

So, David, all we're hearing about Trump's West Wing, right, is that it's -- it's getting smaller in terms of advisors. It seems he's choosing more agreeable advisors as well, you might even say picking loyalty over qualifications. You've advised numerous presidents. Is this a good healthy and productive way to structure an administration?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is very healthy for a president to have a good friend, someone who can look him in the eye and tell him what's going right, but also what's going wrong, to give candid advice and not be as intimidated by the office and by the man himself because you know the roots go way back. That's healthy.

What is not so healthy and what is odd and unprecedented is to have your daughter, your son-in-law, your pilot, your physician, and, you know, you can go down the list and may have them all have jobs around you. I think that reflects what is at -- what is that the bottom of a lot of what we see with this president and that is, there's a personal insecurity there, and he wants to have people around him that he trusts and trusts for has trusted for a long time.

SCIUTTO: Now, Gloria, I know you speak to people close to the president, people who speak to him advise to him advise him, do anything express concern even amongst that group that it's getting too small too tight?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, yes, I -- they do. And, you know, they say to me quite often that he's reverting back to the way he ran the Trump Organization for decades, which is what he's really comfortable with.

I keep being reminded that while he was the chief, there were an awful lot of vice presidents and hardly anybody in between because Donald Trump trusts his own instincts. And now, he believes he -- he's figured out how to run the White House, then maybe he doesn't need a chief of staff, that maybe he can -- he can do all this by himself.

He didn't like the way General Kelly kind of isolates him from people and that he's decided that loyalty is more important than anything else, and he wants people around him who agree with him, which I think is the most dangerous thing of all because -- and David knows this better than I do but when you're in a White House, you want a variety of opinions and you want people not who just flatter you, but who are able to say to you, you know, Mr. President, I think you're wrong about this.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you mentioned flattery. I mean, it's CNN's reporting that Ronny Jackson, one of the chief reasons he was chosen as the V.A. secretary is because he gave such a glowing review of Donald Trump's health.

David, you heard Gloria talk about a chief of staff list White House, Steve Bannon raised that prospect last week as well. Can the White House in the modern age run without a chief of staff?

GERGEN: No, it would be a serious mistake to go without a chief of staff. You know, there was a time a very early time, when Democrats tend to tend not to have very strong chief of staff and Republicans like the pyramidal system with a strong chief of staff at the top. Now, in four years, going all the way back to the Reagan years, every president has wanted a strong, effective chief of staff.

The job is just so complicated that the president cannot do it by himself and he cannot have eight or nine people reporting to him and coming in through side doors. It just gets very complicated. So, I think this talk of not going with a chief of staff is really misguided and it is not good for them and for that -- much less for the country.


Gloria, thrown into this mix now, this smaller group of advisers. You know have John Bolton, very strong personality as national security adviser, a senior defense official told CNN this week that the Pentagon does not expect conflict between Bolton and Mattis, that they see Bolton more as an aggregator than a policy advisor. That description struck me because that's not how I think many people see John Bolton.

BORGER: No, not at all. He's an opinionator, not an aggregator. And he's going to have to have amnesia to forget all of the things that he said, for example, about sitting down at the table with North Korea, about the Russians et cetera, et cetera.

And I think he understands probably intellectually that that's what the job is. But even McMaster who you could argue served as an aggregator, got fired, and the reason he got fired was because the president didn't like the way he briefed him, because it was too rat- a-tat-tat and because they disagreed on certain things.

So, I think if Bolton wants to survive, perhaps he has to have amnesia. But I think that's really difficult when you've spent your entire life developing serious policy positions, some of which are very different from the ones the president has.

SCIUTTO: Suppose the test is how much can you swallow?

BORGER: Or the secretary of defense has, yes.

SCIUTTO: Well, Gloria Borger, David Gergen, thanks very much as always for your astute analysis.

GERGEN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, just ahead, a look into the background a former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates. The special counsel team has been getting his help as it looks into possible collusion. They have allegedly linked him to a person with ties to Russian intelligence. More on that and what else we know about Mr. Gates in just a moment.


[20:30:27] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Prosecutors on Robert Mueller's team are linking former Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, to a person with ties to Russian intelligence. All of this during the 2016 presidential election campaign. It is a key new development as the special counsel investigates possible collusion. So, just who is Rick Gates and how did he become so close to Candidate Trump?

Here is "360's" Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rick Gates now at the forefront of the Russian investigation. The 45-year-old father of four, who was once a senior aide to Donald Trump's campaign entered Trump's orbit through Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman. Gates and Manafort met in the 1980s when Gates interned at Manafort's lobbying firm. Gates teamed up with his old boss again in 2006 at Manafort's new firm to do business in the Ukraine as lobbyists and political consultants. A decade later, in 2016, Manafort joined the Trump campaign and brought his trusted deputy along with him.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Paul Manafort has done a fantastic job.


TRUMP: And all of his Paul's team, Paul brought on. We really do, we have a great staff of talented people.

KAYE: Eventually, Manafort took over the campaign and Gates became his number two. Together they oversaw Trump's vice-presidential pick and devised a general-election strategy.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR AIDE TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I have to credit Manafort and Gates for putting so much of that together before we arrived.

KAYE: Gates got caught up in controversy earlier on. Sources say Gates oversaw the process of putting together the plagiarized speech Melania Trump gave at the Republican National Convention, which he denied.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNTIED STATES: The only limit to the height of your achievement is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work hard for them.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: The only limit to your achievement is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

KAYE (on camera): Things only got worse. In October of last year, Gates surrendered after being indicted by a federal grand jury. Court filings exposed what prosecutors described as an 11-year scheme in which Gates and Manafort laundered tens of millions of dollars they made doing foreign lobbying work. Prosecutors say the two funneled $75 million through offshore accounts. Among the charges, conspiracy to launder money and failing to report foreign bank accounts.

(voice-over): Manafort pleaded not guilty, and so did Gates, initially. In February of this year, Gates struck a deal, admitting guilt on two counts, conspiracy to fraud the U.S. and making false statement.

The White House quickly tried to distance itself from him.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, I think those are issues that took place long before they were involved with the president.

KAYE: Turned out, Gates, who has a reputation for being a low-key guy, may have lied about his assets. "The Washington Post" reports, in 2011, he listed his network as just over $2 million. But later filed a credit application claiming he was worth $25 million, and his wife was worth $30 million. Prosecutors say Gates controlled as many as 30 bank accounts, including one in Cypress, which contained more than $10 million.

Gates is not facing any charges that connect him to Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. But just this week, Mueller's team alleged in court filings that Gates was in contact during the campaign with a friend of Manafort's, who was a Russian intelligence officer. Prosecutors call the details of Gates' contract with that officer "pertinent" to the Russia investigation.

Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


SCIUTTO: I am joined by John Dean, former Nixon White House council, and CNN legal analyst, Laura Coates.

John, if I could begin with you, the narrative throughout had been that Manafort and Gates, really the Mueller investigation was about their business dealing, et cetera, and that Gates' plea deal was an effort to get at Manafort for his financial crimes. Now we know that Mueller is zeroing on contacts with Russia during the campaign. Does that change the calculus for the president and his legal team?

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL: I would think it certainly does. It indicates that there was some sort of liaison in October and November of 2016 -- excuse me, September and October of 2016, that this was lied about. And why Alex van der Zwaan had got in trouble with withholding that information from the special counsel. And he failed to mention that he had talked to Gates and this Russian at that period of time. So there is a direct link into the Russian -- a former high intelligence officer in Russian intelligence.

[20:35:15] SCIUTTO: Van der Zwaan, another target of the Mueller investigation.

Laura, the White House has repeatedly tried to say that any legal issues Gates is facing stem from a time before he was involved with the president. Hey, that's their stuff, they were doing business over there in Russia, we know nothing about it. But this contradicts that.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is. It is a nice pivot at first to change the narrative. At some point in time, before Gates had become a cooperator, we may have been able to think, well, maybe there's a benefit of the doubt worthy of that. But as more and more information comes out, it's very difficult for the White House and the Trump campaign, which Gates was a part of, even long after Manafort left, to say it had nothing to do with us. It's true, part of the things Gates was indicted for prior to his guilty plea involved things prior to him being part of the campaign. At this point in time, it is clear that the idea he was just there to flip on Manafort is not true. It is about the links to the Trump campaign while he was a part of the campaign, and that can be a problem to the White House in the long run. SCIUTTO: This is a big deal, is it not, John Dean, because it shows

some of the hardest evidence we have so far that Mueller is looking into those Russian contacts during the campaign between senior Trump campaign officials and Russians. In this case, someone who is a former Russian intelligence agent. That would indicate the question of collusion or at least what the meaning was of these contacts is still an open question was for the special counsel.

DEAN: Indeed. The sentencing memo in which this arose in the contacts of Alex van der Zwaan, the government's is very brief. There is a 30-page memo filed by van der Zwaan himself that is much more detailed and explains that he did have a relationship with this intelligence officer, Gates, and he failed to report it. He was more worried about his job at the time, and that is why he says he lied because he recorded conversations not only with this Russian and Gates, but also one of the partners. And this is what provoked him to lie.

But this looks -- and it is serious because this is exactly what the special counsel was looking for and was being withheld. That is why they charged him, obviously.

SCIUTTO: Laura, so you have Rick Gates cooperating with the special counsel. Before he was cooperating, he was charged with crimes that would set him behind bars for a number of years. He has young kids and an enormous incentive to cooperate. But again, the special council doesn't give this stuff easily. So if he is cooperating, the special counsel has in fact ceded this potential time in prison and we know he's zeroing in on these contacts with Russians. That shows he expects to get something, does it not? You don't give that up unless you're getting something.

COATES: Mueller and Gates are hoping for reciprocity. If you're Mueller and his investigative team, your goal is to get information that they could not have or be privy to anywhere else. Remember, there is no incentive. If they have access to the information or they have evidence about motive and intent, which is all part of the issue of whether it was witting or unwitting collusion or any other involvement in that respect, you need that evidence from somebody who is in the game, somebody who has skin in the game, and somebody who may know. And if you are Mueller's team, you have that. You are holding and dangling in front of him the carrot still of I can always go back, and I can still file charges against you once again, I can up the ante once against if you are not cooperative. If you are Gates, what you're looking for is you will not do that thing if I do cooperate. Both have some skin in the game. Mueller has far more leverage.

[20:39:06] SCIUTTO: Laura Coates, John Dean, thanks very much. You know these issues well.

Coming up, a look at the company called Cambridge Analytica. And how one of its former employees said in 2016 Trump aide, Steve Bannon helped wage a cultural war on an unsuspecting America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCIUTTO: By now, you may have heard of a London-based data collection company called Cambridge Analytica. The Trump campaign hired the firm in 2016 and Facebook now acknowledges the firm gained access to private information on more than 50 million of its users. All part of a massive data collection effort to help then-Candidate Trump. A key player back then was Steve Bannon, now banished from the White House, but during the election, an important cog in the Trump machine.

CNN's senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, went to London to dig further about the group's methods and practices.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Cambridge Analytica was born out of Steve Bannon's Alt-Right vision for America.

He had produced propaganda-inspired films, add run the ultra- conservative "Breitbart News."

But in 2014, he was looking for another tool in his arsenal, and he found it by creating Cambridge Analytica.


Former Cambridge Analytica employee, Christopher Wylie, said from his first meeting with Bannon, it was clear the goal, not to push a single campaign or candidate, but to fundamentally change America.

WYLIE: He sees this as warfare. He is going to use as aggressive techniques that he is going to get away with.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Do you realize what you're saying? You're talking about warfare on the American citizens.

WYLIE: This is Steve Bannon and Robert Mercer using a foreign military contractor to use some of the same techniques that the military used to fight ISIS on the American electorate, and that is what they wanted and that's what they got.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Cambridge Analytica is a subsidiary of the British SCL group. For 25 years, the military contractor has worked with 60 countries, including British and American governments, helping battle crime, drugs, terrorists by changing the opinions of foreign populations.

[20:45:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: SCL's sales pitch was, look, we go into foreign countries and we use our tools, our psycho-graphic profiling to manipulate public opinion. That is what Bannon wanted to do in the United States. He wanted to manipulate public opinion.

GRIFFIN: So Bannon created SCL's American arm, Cambridge Analytica with $15 million from conservative donor, Robert Mercer, and his daughter, Rebecca. Wylie says, using psycho-graphic data gathered from a Facebook app,

Cambridge Analytica targeted specific groups of people trying to influence them and push them to the right.

WYLIE: It wouldn't always look like a campaign ad. It would not always say, I'm a candidate and I approve this message. You are not necessarily aware that what you are seeing is content that has been created and targeted at you to make you perceive an issue differently.

GRIFFIN: The company worked on the 2014 midterms. Amidst all the data analytics, the questionable use of psycho-analysis, the micro- targeting that the technology allowed, Bannon's goal was bigger than that according to Wylie.

WYLIE: He wanted to change people's perceptions of what was happening in America to make them open to an Alt-Right movement.

GRIFFIN: Part of that included developing and testing messages that would resonate with voters, imagery of walls, the deep state, increasing paranoia about government spying, and this.

WYLIE: We had tested "drain the swam."

GRIFFIN (on camera): In 2014?

WYLIE: In 2014.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Bannon had worked for two years to refine his messaging. In 2015, the perfect candidate came along to blast those messages to American voters.

TRUMP: It's crazy. Drain the swamp.

WYLIE: A lot of the narratives of the Trump campaign were what we were testing in 2014.

GRIFFIN: Cambridge Analytica is now down-playing its work for the Trump campaign, insisting it did not use controversial Facebook data on it, and saying elections are won and lost by candidates, not data science.

As for Steve Bannon, he wouldn't respond to CNN but recently told a business forum his techniques were used in the past by Democrats and said no one complained until a conservative did what progressives have been doing for years.


SCIUTTO: Drew, we learned earlier this week that Cambridge Analytica may have violated election laws by sending foreign workers to work on and with U.S. election campaigns. If that's true, is this firm in legal trouble?

GRIFFIN: Jim, it is true. And we have talked to several former Cambridge employees who say they were not U.S. citizens. And they worked on U.S. Senate and congressional campaign during the 2014 election cycle. Not clear to what extent foreign workers were used on the Trump campaign. Keep in mind, this is a subsidiary of a London- based military contractor. Much of the work the company did was done in London and many workers who were sent to work in the U.S. elections were U.K. and Canadian citizens. There have been calls for an investigation. We don't have any confirmation if one is taking place -- Jim?

SCIUTTO: Drew Griffin, thanks very much for following this.

Coming up, new developments in the police shooting case that has led to days of protests in Sacramento. A new autopsy shows how many times gunfire from police hit 22-year-old Stephon Clark and where.


[20:52:39] SCIUTTO: Attorneys for the family of Stephon Clark say new autopsy results are raising more questions about how Sacramento police killed the 22-year-old man. The killing set off days of protests. Police killed him in his mother's -- grandmother's backyard after pursuing him over a call that a man was breaking car windows.


UNIDENTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER: Show me your hands. Drop your gun!



SCIUTTO: Police said they thought he had a gun. Only a cell phone, however, was found at the scene.

Ryan Young joins us from Sacramento with the latest on the results of this new autopsy.

Ryan, what does this autopsy show about the number of shots, and how does it line up with the police department's narrative?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN REPORTER: Jim, you know that initial police narrative from the Sacramento Police Department, according to the family, is that Stephon Clark was charging toward the officers. Well, the new narrative is different in terms of where the lawyers are coming from. They believe with their pathologists that he was actually shot right here on the side and that turned his body. Then he received six more shots to his back area and then one in the leg. They believe that directly contradicts what the police department has been saying. And of course, we even reached out to the police department to see what they were saying about this. They said, right now, with this investigation ongoing, they're not going to comment, going back to the lawyers. In that room where this news conference was, and the pathologist talked about Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old father of two getting hurt several times, we heard several people in the crowd saying, "murder, murder, murder." We're minutes away from another protest. Protesters have been walking through the streets, sharing their concerns with what's going on in this community. But today, with this new evidence, at least from the family attorney, a lot of people are questioning what the Sacramento Police Department has said over the last few days.

SCIUTTO: No question. I understand there's an event scheduled for later tonight that's hosted by Black Lives Matter?

YOUNG: Right. So there's going to be several different events over the next two days. This first event today with Black Lives Matter is going to be a connection with the Kings. They're going to go down and talk about ways to enrich children's lives in this area. The Sacramento Kings have definitely been affected by the protests because protesters stepped in front of that NBA arena over the last few days to stop people from going in. Last night was one of the first games they did not block the arena. In fact, the family asked them not to block the arena. There is a game tomorrow. We're told there will be another rally around noon tomorrow here where people will gather once again to have another conversation about this shooting.

[20:55:11] SCIUTTO: We've seen scenes like that so many times before.

Ryan Young, thanks so much for covering the story.

Coming up, does the president have a plan for getting U.S. troops out of Syria that no one else knows about, including the Pentagon? He told a crowd in Ohio the troops would be getting out very soon. A defense official says it is not clear exactly what he meant. The latest is next.


SCIUTTO: The president is at Mar-a-Lago this Good Friday, and officials in Washington are scratching their heads after what you might call a baffling Thursday. The president, out of the blue it seems, during a speech on infrastructure in Ohio, declaring that the U.S. is pulling out of Syria.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And by the way, we're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon we're coming out. We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it, sometimes referred to as land. We're talking it all back quickly, quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon.


SCIUTTO: To call that a surprise doesn't begin to describe it. It was a surprise to his own staff. And tonight, the confusion it caused remains.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joins us now not far from Mar-a-Lago with more.