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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Autopsy Released in Stephon Clark Shooting; President Trump Confuses Own Administration With Syria Comments; New Arms Race?; Interview with Congressman John Garamendi, Democrat of California; Dan Scavino May Be Hick' Successor as Trump Confidant. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired March 30, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Vladimir Putin shows that he has Satan on his side.
THE LEAD starts right now.
Russia shows off a missile that can fly some 4,000 miles per hour and carry 15 nuclear warheads. Did President Trump just get himself into an arms race?
Hope is gone. It's first day, the first firing Friday without the Trump whisperer, Hope Hicks, in the White House, as anxiety sets in inside the West Wing.
Plus, a disturbing Facebook memo leaked suggests bullying, even enabling terrorism. Are both worth the cost of growth? How is Mark Zuckerberg going to explain that?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake today.
We begin the world lead.
Moscow is sending a menacing message to the world, releasing video of a test launch of its intercontinental ballistic missile, nicknamed, if you can believe it, Satan 2, which according to Russian state media is capable of devastating an area the size of Texas.
It comes as the Kremlin is upping the tit for tat today, announcing it is expelling even more diplomats, this after more than 20 countries said they would throw out Russian diplomats.
This following the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter on British soil with a nerve agent, an attack the U.S. has condemned.
That said, President Trump has declined to personally call out Putin.
CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon for us.
Barbara, the State Department says the U.S. was not given any advance notice of this missile test. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim.
Well, a bit of a reality check all around here. Now, U.S. officials are telling us, the Russia test was actually so preliminary, such an early stage of this missile, they weren't required to notify. But make no mistake, U.S. spy satellites and radars tracked that missile all the way.
STARR (voice-over): Russia claims this is a test of their new state- of-the-art intercontinental ballistic missile nicknamed Satan 2. According to the Russian state news agency, it is the second successful test.
It comes after this recent Russia test-firing of what it says is an airborne high-speed ICBM. Just weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered a flashy display of weaponry, including the Satan 2.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): This new system has virtually no limitations on distance. And as you can see from the video, it is capable of attacking targets via both the North and South Pole.
STARR: One Russian video animation even showing airborne attacking Florida. Nobody missing the implication that Russia could reach President Trump's Mar-a-Lago home.
The top U.S. commander in charge of America's nuclear arsenal is watching closely.
GEN. JOHN HYTEN, COMMANDER, U.S. STRATEGIC COMMAND: Well, nothing he said surprises me. Once again, we have very good intelligence capabilities and we watch very closely. So, nothing he said surprised me.
STARR: But the new missile launch comes less than 24 hours after U.S. diplomats were expelled from Russia in retaliation for the U.S. kicking Russians out as part of a global response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter.
Even if there is no link in timing, a former top U.S. diplomat says it is time for everyone to be careful.
THOMAS PICKERING, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Any linkage of nuclear deterrence with the current spat is an upgrade that I think one needs to be careful about. I worry about accident and miscommunication. It is hard to know whether we're close or far away from that. But the mere notion that there's a minor chance of something going awry on the nuclear side should disturb us all.
STARR: President Trump says he is prepared to discuss all of this with President Putin face to face, even though he didn't bring up the poisoning or election meddling in their last phone call.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can discuss the arms race. As you know, he made a statement that being in an arms race is not a great thing. And that was right after the election, one of the first statements he made. And we are spending $700 billion this year on our military. And a lot of it is that we are going on remain stronger than any other nation in the world by far.
STARR: Most of these new Russian weapons may be years away from being operational. But once they are, the big question, what then, Jim?
SCIUTTO: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
My political panel with me here.
Now, Jen, you have worked of course at the White House and in the State Department. Deliberate provocation by Russia with this test?
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think you have to remember Putin's own domestic politics.
And a couple of weeks ago, before the Russian elections, he gave a speech that I think was surprising to people around that world, probably yourself and others who are other experts in the area, that was very forward and very aggressive about their capabilities.
This seems to be a follow-up to that. When he is being threatened by the global community and the global community is coming together, as they did this past week more than they have in a long time, his safe place for him is to show his military power and show the Russian people that he is very capable on the global stage.
SCIUTTO: Well, it's interesting. You mentioned that big, glitzy ceremony he had during election where those glitzy videos include what appeared to be U.S. cities in the targets.
And, again, this one, Jackie, you see the state of Florida apparently the target again in what is a computer representation. But, of course, it happens to be where the president has his vacation home.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, right.
And this is a president who has said he will punch back if someone throws a punch. And it seems like, according to "The Washington Post," that his advisers, he really listened to their advice. And they talked him into expelling these Russian diplomats through a multiday process.
And they had kind of a light, medium and high in terms of the responses that he could choose. And it seems like he chose between medium and high. Would you agree with that?
PSAKI: Probably medium, I think.
(CROSSTALK) KUCINICH: It's like medium high.
But, again, it is noteworthy, because this president did respond to Russia. And even U.S. allies were surprised that did he this, because it is more normal I think than what we have been used to with the president's policy toward Russia.
SCIUTTO: And now he as a national security adviser, in John Bolton, who is very much a Russia hawk, and will arguably push even harder for reactions like that.
Well, in response to these diplomatic expulsions, the Russian foreign minister saying today that the U.S. attempted to recruit these diplomats, these Russian diplomats as they were leaving the country.
Pretty remarkable here. Here's the statement.
"The U.S. secret services have been undertaking feverish attempts to enter into contact with the staff of Russia's diplomatic missions in recent days. In a series of appalling episodes, those forced by Washington to leave the U.S. were offered assistance at the cost of entering into covert relations of mutual benefit. The ploy is not working, but their behavior is cynical and distasteful, as if Washington has stepped completely beyond the bounds of common decency."
Quite an accusation, also maybe some smart tradecraft there, as these Russians walk out the door. You see if you could, I don't know, net a new double agent.
KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Certainly.
I don't, one, look at the Russian foreign minister as a terribly reliable source of information. But, on the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me if our intelligence services were trying to cultivate relationships with those that might be able to provide with us good information.
SOLTIS ANDERSON: Look, whether it comes to President Trump choosing the medium or the high intensity actions against Russia, what I think has just been a consistent theme in this administration is, there's all this talk about Trump being sort of cozy with Putin and saying nice things to Putin.
And yet the actual policy actions that this administration has taken, whether it is the expulsion of the diplomats, whether it's bombing an airfield in Syria where we know Russian forces are engaged in trying support Bashar al-Assad, the actions of the administration have not only been tough on Russia, but tougher on Russia than past administrations.
SCIUTTO: It's a fair point.
But even, for instance, Jen Psaki, having served in the past administration, this administration did something the Obama administration did not, which is to give offensive weapons to Ukraine fighting Russian-backed forces there.
Do you give credit to Trump, despite his public comments for moving forward?
Look, there are areas where many people I worked with in the Obama administration have applauded the Trump administration steps. Certainly, arming Ukrainians was something that many people in the Obama administration wanted to do. Taking some limited military strikes in Syria was something some people wanted to do as well.
I think, though, if we look at the full context here, it is a significant step, what the U.S. did this week, in coordination with a number of our global partners. Trump seems to be a little bit have been dragged to this by his advisers. That's OK.
Not sure his heart is entirely in it just because he hasn't communicated it in the way that the president typically would. And the question really is, where do we go from here?
In order for diplomacy to work, it needs to be sustained and there needs to be a coordinated effort. Are you going to fully implement the sanctions? Are there going to be additional economic steps that are taken by the global community that target the corruption in Russia?
These are big questions that will impact whether this is successful.
SCIUTTO: It is almost a simple question here, because it's happening during some turmoil in the administration, which we've grown used to.
But you have Rex Tillerson going out, Mike Pompeo coming in. You have a new national security adviser. And, again, you have the president, the administration taking these tough steps, but the president not speaking in tough terms about Russia the way he has no hesitation to do with a whole host of individuals, celebrities here in the U.S.
Is there a clear U.S. policy with Russia?
KUCINICH: I don't know that there is right now.
And also there's no clear policy between sometimes with the president's advisers and these heads of the Cabinets and the president himself, because he can come out and completely undo anything they have done. He's done it several times in the past.
You mentioned the sanctions. I think one of the things that is clouding what the Russia policy could be is that, yes, they finally implemented these sanctions, but after they lobbied against them on the Hill. The president still hasn't really done anything when it comes to the
election meddling in the 2016 elections. I'm not trying to be a broken record here. Or what is going to be done to protect the 2018 elections.
That's where it doesn't really seem that there is sort of a Russia doctrine with this administration.
SCIUTTO: The point you're making, yes, many Democrats have made that point about election interference.
But the president's own appointees to the intelligence agencies have said they have been given no direction by the president himself to stand up to Russian election meddling.
In the midst of that, Syria came up, somewhat to a surprise, it seemed, to the president's own advisers. The president not mentioning Russia yesterday in that speech, but he did say this on Syria.
Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We 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.
TRUMP: We're going to have 100 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So that statement surprised the president's own advisers. We are going to be leaving Syria very soon.
We learned just before we went to air Barbara Starr reporting that the Pentagon has said, Defense Department officials have said they have been given no new guidance on withdrawal from Syria, something that a commander in chief might tell his military commanders before announcing publicly.
What is happening there?
SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think this is the president of the United States giving a speech that has nothing to do with foreign policy, discovering that there's an applause line that the audience likes quite a bit when talking about a region of the world where he feels that he's scored a big success.
It is true that the territory held by ISIS has been dramatically rolled back since he took office. And I think the idea of being able to bring our troops home is also something voters really like hearing about. I also think that, in that moment, sometimes, policy statements are
getting made up on the fly. And I think the difference again between foreign and domestic policy in many ways is that what the president says on the stump is more concretely the policy of the United States in foreign and domestic policy, which is what makes this a little bit more troubling.
SCIUTTO: Wasn't there a previous president of a different party that this president criticized for withdrawing troops from a Middle Eastern country?
PSAKI: There's probably a tweet for that.
SCIUTTO: That was -- the concern with Iraq was that the U.S. got out too soon.
PSAKI: And the prediction of setting a timeline or setting about what you were going to do moving forward.
But that certainly has been a criticism. He also -- if you ask any military leader who is still serving, they will tell you that the reason he's been successful at pushing back ISIL is because there's been a playbook under way for several years that goes back to the Obama administration.
I don't expect him to give credit for that, but many presidents would say, this is a continuation of the work of my predecessor. That hasn't taken place.
SCIUTTO: All right, please stick around. There's much more to talk about.
Breaking news in the controversial and deadly police shooting in California. The results of an independent autopsy have been released -- what they say about Stephon Clark's death. That's coming up.
[16:17:21] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.
Some House Republicans and, of course, the president have declared that there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia but appears that special counsel Robert Mueller may not be convinced or at least is still investigating. Last year, Mueller's team pressed former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates to reveal anything he knew about contact between the Trump campaign and Russians, with a particular focus on former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his ties to a man who they knew worked for a Russian intelligence agency.
Gates has, of course, made a deal with the Mueller team and it's not known yet what details he might have revealed about that connection. Joining me now to talk more about the investigation, Congressman John Garamendi. He's a Democrat of California, a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks very much for taking time on this Good Friday.
REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D), CALIFORNIA: Happy to be with you.
SCIUTTO: So, we know this based on these court documents that Trump campaign senior officials were in touch with and knew they were in touch with a former member of the Russian intelligence services, and during the campaign. Is that acceptable in your view for senior campaign officials?
GARAMENDI: Absolutely not. In fact, it's most unusual. You can go back through convention after convention, you didn't see Russians hanging around. But you surely saw him hanging around this campaign and it's been shown over and over again, multiple documents, multiple indictments actually, all of which indicate that Russia is most definitely involved in the 2016 campaign.
And we're finding more and more information every day that the Trump campaign is being closer and closer identified in a collusion with the Russians to influence the outcome of the election. Now, the evidence isn't exactly clear yet, but I must tell you it is one thing after another and it's coming to the point where, yes, there is collusion.
SCIUTTO: But what do you base that on? How do you -- how are you confident that there is collusion beyond -- I mean, you -- there are more innocent explanations for these contacts. These communications with Russians, whether you believe them or not, there were there are potential more innocent explanations.
GARAMENDI: Well, you're using a very interesting word, aren't you? Innocent. Really? Really innocent?
After what the Russians were doing, hacking into the DNC, hacking into John Podesta, hacking into other people and then weaponizing that information, using it through WikiLeaks to influence the campaign and at the same time officials from the campaign actively involved in innocent? Really? Innocent contact with the Russians? Come on. That's not believable.
[16:20:00] What is believable is that they were working with the Russians to somehow influence the outcome of the campaign. I think we're going to find the proof of it, and I think the man that will find that proof is Mueller. And that's why there's so much talk about getting rid of him, somehow firing him, firing the people that could fire him so that new people would put it in that could fire him.
This has got to be a major problem for America. We need to know what happens so that we can write the legislation to make sure that ever happens again.
SCIUTTO: Do you believe that Mueller's job is in danger today? GARAMENDI: There's certainly a lot of evidence. You listen to the Republicans in Congress. You listen to my colleagues who have repeatedly gone after the FBI, gone after the Justice Department. What does all this talk about a special investigator, a special prosecutor to go after the Justice Department, what's that all about?
It is to weaken the Justice Department, so that when the day comes that there'll be testimony in court about what took place, they'll be able to somehow say, well, the Justice Department can't be trusted in this matter. The FBI can't be trusted.
This is a very concerted effort it goes through many, many different phases. But all of it is designed to somehow recognize that the president's campaign was colluding with the Russians, working with the Russians in multiple ways.
And the money's going to be shown. We know that there was money that was passed around. Now, we see that -- that money -- where is it coming from? Well --
SCIUTTO: We'll see --
GARAMENDI: We're going to find out.
SCIUTTO: We'll see what evidence the special counsel finds, if he does find out evidence.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. In your last interview on CNN, you suggested that the president should be impeached if he does not adequately protect the U.S. against the Russia threat, including meddling in the election. Since then, you've seen the president's decision to expel these 60 Russian diplomats. You've seen decisions for instance to send offensive weapons to Ukraine.
Do you look at these steps as this president, this administration getting tough on Russia?
GARAMENDI: What I was specifically talking about is the fact, the fact that the Russians have hacked into critical infrastructure in the United States, into our electrical grid, into our power plants and position themselves in such a way that they could weaponize that in -- that situation and shut down the power systems, disabled critical infrastructure and power plants, all of which is a direct threat to the United States. And the word used by the homeland security folks was "act of war". That's what I'm referring to.
And what I have not seen from this part is any indication whatsoever that he is willing to use the instruments of power that we have, for example, in the Department of Defense, we have an organization called CyberCom, specifically tasked to defend this nation and when necessary and useful take offensive action.
Yes, there have been offensive weapons now authorized for the Ukraine. They -- that sat on the president's desk for more than 60 days before he finally signed off on it.
GARAMENDI: And yes, he did do what is normal and that is to expel -- every president has expelled Russians at one time or another.
SCIUTTO: But you're saying on -- specifically on the cyber threat, you have not seen -- you have not seen the action you expect.
Congressman John Garamendi --
GARAMENDI: That's correct.
SCIUTTO: And I should say we noted earlier that even that the head of a Cyber Command, as well as the NSA, Admiral Mike Rogers has said he has not received a direct order from the president to counter those efforts.
Congressman, we appreciate --
GARAMENDI: Precisely my point.
SCIUTTO: Understood. We appreciate your thoughts on this.
GARAMENDI: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Please don't go anywhere.
How did President Trump spent his first hours without Hope Hicks by his side? Asking anyone who would listen, one very important question. That's next.
[16:28:10] SCIUTTO: There's some breaking news now in our politics lead. We're learning more about who will fill one of the roles former White House communications director Hope Hicks left behind. Apart from her official job duty, she was really one of the presidents most trusted and loyal confidants.
I want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins.
So, Kaitlan, there's an heir apparent for the Trump whisperer?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, that's certainly it. Not communications director, but certainly someone the president can confide in, someone he can complain to, boast to, and that person had been Hope Hicks, and now people are increasingly wondering who's going to fill that void. Even the president himself here, Jim, wondering who's going to fill that void now that Hope Hicks has officially left the West Wing after announcing her departure several weeks ago.
And one of those potential replacements is Dan Scavino. This is someone who went from being the president's golf caddie to a club manager to now his social media director at the White House. And to give you a sense of how much the president trusts him, Dan Scavino is one of the only other people who has regular, unfettered access to the president's Twitter account and uses it to post tweets regularly, sometimes tweets that the president dictates to him. But he can also emulate the president on a level that most other people cannot. And it just goes to show, my sources say, just how much the president does trust Dan Scavino here.
Now, it's not a sense that he will necessarily fill the communications director role that Hope Hicks held, that title. But it's certainly a sense that he is one of the very few members of the president's inner circle that is left in the west wing, one of those people who knew the trunk decades before he actually decided to run for president and Dan Scavino has certainly become one of those people here, Jim.
And it also comes at a time when the president is increasingly surrounding himself with people that he feels comfortable with, because as we reported today, he dined with those former campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie at the White House earlier this week.
Now, Dan Scavino is one of the very few aides that the president has in this White House that he truly feels has his back, because as we've reported before, there are certainly -- some people in the White House that the president doesn't think -- doesn't trust entirely or thinks are trying to undermine him.