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More Russians Questioned by Mueller's Team; Trump Administration to Slap Tough Sanctions on Russian Oligarchs Close To Putin; CNN Sources: Trump Gets Testy As National Security Team Warns Of Risks Of Syria Withdrawal; President Trump Ramps Up His Twitter Attacks. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired April 4, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's all the time we have tonight. Thanks for watching. Time to hand it over to Don Lemon. CNN TONIGHT starts now. See you tomorrow.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
We have breaking news on a number of big stories. The Trump administration about to slap sanctions on a number of Russian oligarchs, members of Vladimir Putin's inner circle. Those sanctions, well, their response to election interference.
Sources telling CNN the action is likely to happen in the next day or two, raising the question whether Putin will retaliate.
And do you know who else has his eye on wealthy Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin? Well, that's Robert Mueller, the man you're looking at right there.
CNN has learned exclusively that several Russian oligarchs have been stopped and questioned by Mueller's team in a twist that sounds like it comes right out of a spy thriller, at least one had his electronic devices searched when his private jet landed in New York. Apparently, an effort to ensure that he couldn't wipe his phone before investigators got to look at it.
Well, sources are telling CNN that Mueller wants to find out whether those Russians illegally funneled cash into Donald Trump's campaign. That's more evidence his team is digging deep in the potential flow of money from Russia into the 2016 election.
You know what they say, follow the money. And that's exactly what Robert Mueller is doing.
We're also learning more tonight about President Trump's suddenly announced plan to send National Guard troops to the border. The president signing the memorandum just tonight after his own administration spent the day ducking questions about how many troops when they'll arrive, where exactly they'll be deployed, and what they'll be expected to do. All questions this administration ought to be able to answer but they either can't or they won't. And then there is the president's insistence that he wants to withdraw
U.S. troops from Syria, in his words, "very soon."
Well, sources telling CNN the meeting between the president and top military brass turned tense when they argue against immediate action in spite of his annoyance. The president eventually agreed to hold off on immediately pulling troops from Syria. But one source says he demands troops finish their mission against ISIS within six months.
So is this a president who is determined to go his own way to trust his gut no matter what his advisors say? We'll discuss all of that. We have a lot to get to.
I want to bring in now CNN chief national security correspondent, that's Mr. Jim Sciutto, national -- CNN national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem, Jack Quinn who was a Clinton White House counsel and chief -- and Keith Whittington, I should say, the author of "Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech."
So good to have all of you on. Thank you for joining this evening. Jim, you first. CNN has learned that the special counsel Robert Mueller is questioning at least two Russian oligarchs submitted a request to interview a third oligarch. What more can you tell us, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I think, you know, big picture this is a signal that we should dispense with any idea that any important line of inquiry in this investigation has been closed off. Right? You heard from Trump you heard from the supporters that the question of collusion is closed, the question of where the money came from is closed.
Clearly by the witnesses that Mueller is calling, it just doesn't seem that that's true. And this is a fairly unusual step. This is a U.S. special counsel stopping and demanding information from foreign nationals, in this case Russian oligarchs, stopping them as you mentioned, Don, one coming in on the private plane, boarding his plane, going into his private phone his cell phone while he was on that plane to get information from it.
Another Russian oligarch stopped as he arrive at the airport as well and zeroing in on information about whether they helped or were involved in any way in sending money from Russia to the Trump campaign through intermediaries, through PAC, political action committees, finding even the possibility of straw donors, you know, fake donors that they could funnel money from Russia directly to the Trump campaign.
It doesn't mean that they found hard evidence of that. But it's at least very much a line of inquiry that is open here and again, raises that bigger picture question as to what the relationship was between the Trump campaign and Russia, particularly a financial relationship.
LEMON: Right. Before I bring the rest of the panel, Jim I want to ask you, is there likely to be some diplomatic fallout from Mueller questioning this powerful people? SCIUTTO: Listen, I mean, the U.S. Relationship with Russia right now
is not in a good place. Earlier you had diplomats kicked out and not just from the U.S. but from a number of western countries in response to the poisoning with the nerve agent of a former Russian spy in the U.K. You know, something of a rare unified message to Russia this will not be tolerated.
[22:05:02] You had a signal earlier today from the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats that there would be other measures to follow. And now we're learning with those other measures would be which would be additional financial sanctions on significant Russian players, folks close to the Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Again, hitting them in their pocketbook which is when you speak to officials and diplomats and others involved in this case, they say listen, to really have an impact on Russia, you have to get them where the money is, right? And, you know, that appears to be what they're trying to do here.
So will there be diplomatic fallout? I mean, the thin is Russia cannot really penalize the U.S. economically in the same way because the U.S. doesn't have interest there the way Russians have here. And U.S. business people or at least most do not have interest there the way Russians have here so there is something of an imbalance but it doesn't mean that Russia will not respond. They've certainly shown no hesitation to respond to other U.S. measures.
LEMON: I've got Jack and Jim, I saw both of you -- Juliette, I should say, Jack and Juliette, so both of you nodding in agreement when Jim said, listen, we don't know where the line of questioning is going and nothing is out there. Some people say that, you know, collusion and all that that's off the table. He said we don't know. You're agreeing, Jack, why is that?
JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, at least as of the time of this, you know, accosting the Russian in New York is pretty clear this line of inquiry is still open.
Let's remember that the primary, primary objective of the special counsel's mandate is to determine whether there was cooperation between any Russian officials, employees, or agents with the Trump campaign.
And so it's significant that they're look for this still and it suggest that that inquiry at least again, at least as of the time that they confronted this man on his plane that that line of inquiry is not, is still wide open.
LEMON: Juliette, what do you think Mueller is looking for and his team? What are they looking for?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think exactly what Jim is saying, sort of any direct ties or attempts to influence the election. So just taking a step back. We understand that Putin didn't want Hillary Clinton to win. But why would he want Trump to win? You have to ask yourself, how does Putin sort of stay in power? One is, he's a horrible human being and he poisons people and he kills
people and we understand that. The other is that there's a lot of people around him who might otherwise be his enemies who have got fabulously rich under his leadership. I mean fabulously. And they not only have money here, they have money in the west. They have money in the Middle East. They send their kids to school here. They have their babies here. They use, you know, the medical facilities. That will hurt the leader of Russia if that is closed off.
And so by wanting to grease the runway for Trump, and I'm putting it in a best lie possible, was, in other words, was a way to protect his own power. And to protect the people who were benefiting or who might benefit from someone much more cooperative with Russia in the Oval Office than Hillary Clinton would have been.
LEMON: All right, Keith--
QUINN: Can I suggest one other possibility along with that? I don't disagree with anything Juliette just said. But I think it's also important and I'm not suggesting that this is the case. It's important that Mr. Mueller close out the question whether there might have been a quid pro quo in the form of providing some kind of campaign assistance in the form of either illegal contributions or, you know, leaked e-mails in return for some official action on the part of the United States government like, for example, the lifting of sanctions.
LEMON: Keith, you know, we're also learning tonight that the Trump administration is announcing targeted sanctions, as he mentioned against oligarchs closed to Putin, what do you make of the timing of this announcement?
KEITH WHITTINGTON, PROFESSOR OF POLITICS, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Well, I don't know the timing is all that surprising. It's ongoing developing story. It's how the United States is dealing with Russia and dealing with various kinds of sanctions. The administration has gradually ruled out a set of sanctions across time. So it's possible that the administration wants to move up some things given current news cycles but you wouldn't necessarily think so.
LEMON: Sources are telling CNN that one of the areas investigators are scrutinizing is investments and contributions that these Russians made to companies and think tanks, right, with political action committees.
I mean, Jim, you spoke a little bit about that earlier, especially those who donated to the Trump campaign. Do you have any more information about what they're looking for or why they're looking into that specifically?
SCIUTTO: Well, the question is, did in effect Russian oligarchs and others use cutouts as you'll hear from U.S. intelligence, use middle men in effect to funnel money from Russia to the Trump campaign. Funnel it through whether it be a think tank, a political action committee or a straw donor, put it in their name but in effect the money was coming from Russia which then raises the question that Jack raised was, you know, what there a quid pro quo offered here?
[22:10:11] In other words, we're going to send you this money because we expect friendlier treatment from Russia. I mean, this is, you know, you got to look at this in the bigger picture because it fits into the larger picture of this investigation. Because you have numerous communications between Trump campaign officials and Russians during the campaign, and at particular times that at a minimum raise questions, right?
You know, the Roger Stone news today, for instance. The idea that he sends an e-mail saying he was having dinner with Julian Assange, you know, the same day that he makes a public comment that I hear that there are going to be a big embarrassing document dump from the Clinton campaign. What did that mean? Did that mean that he got some sort of signal from--
LEMON: Then it happened.
SCIUTTO: We don't know. But you have a lot of single -- signals like this that certainly raise that question. And the fact that Mueller is looking into these questions shows that he's, you know, he's taking that question seriously. Will he find hard evidence that ties them together? You know, that makes them more than coincidences. We don't know.
But from all the signals, the people he's talking to, including these Russian oligarchs, you know that he is at least taking the questions seriously.
LEMON: Hey, Keith, you know, we're just getting a sense of how broad the special counsel's investigation is and the scope of the authority granted by the deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein after a court filing came out earlier today -- earlier this morning or yesterday morning I should say.
Although it's illegal for foreign nationals to make political donations to American candidates, it doesn't seem like it would be the main focus of Mueller's investigation. Do you see this playing into the investigation?
WHITTINGTON: Well, I think the investigation wants to be very thorough and this is complicated, right? There is a lot of issues surrounding the campaign itself initially, and the special counsel is given a pretty long leash to investigate all those kind of questions that might come out of Russian meddling with the campaign and with the presidential elections.
I don't think it's surprising that the special counsel assembled a team that's trying to be as thorough as possible, trying to track down all the leads that they can, ultimately, he wants to make sure that there aren't any significant lingering questions once the investigation is all done.
LEMON: All right. Jim, thank you. We're going to let Jim go. We're going to keep Juliette, Jack, and Keith, so make sure you guys stick around.
When we come back, what did Roger Stone know and whether did he know it? What the shadowy Trump campaign adviser said about WikiLeaks and what he predicted would be devastating disclosures about the Clinton Foundation.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So Roger Stone has been cagey about his interactions with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and the run-up to the 2016 elections. But a new CNN investigation has Roger Stone claiming to know about upcoming WikiLeaks disclosures.
Let's bring in now Andrew Kaczynski, he's a CNN senior editor for the K Files. Thank you for joining us.
ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN SENIOR EDITOR: Good to be with you.
LEMON: Good to have you on. So you've been digging into the past comments made Trump cabinet and Roger Stone, what did you find?
KACZYNSKI: So Roger Stone went on the Alex Jones radio show on August 4th, 2016. And in that, now this is actually the same day he had sent that e-mail that the Wall Street Journal first reported where he said he dined with Roger -- with Julian Assange the night before. Now what is interesting is in this interview he claims that devastating WikiLeaks are going to be exposed and also claims he had spoken with Donald Trump.
KACZYNSKI: And I think we have a clip of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROGER STONE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The Clinton campaign narrative that the Russians favor Donald Trump and the Russians are leaking this information, this is inoculation because as you said earlier, they know what is coming and it is devastating.
Let's remember that their defense, in all of the Clinton Foundation scandals has been not that we didn't do it, has been you have no proof. Yes, but you have no proof. Well, I think Julian Assange has that proof and I think he's going to furnish it to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Explain the significance of those comments and what else does it tell you about Roger Stone's dealings with WikiLeaks?
KACZYNSKI: So it's actually very significant because we had made this time line basically of Roger Stone speaking with WikiLeaks and what we had found was on August 10th, Stone had claimed that he communicated with Assange. Now this date, August 4th, pegs it almost an entirely -- an entire week earlier and coincidently comes with him saying those comments on the same time that he e-mailed that he had dined with Assange.
LEMON: And the same things he said came to fruition?
KACZYNSKI: Yes, in about early October, right around when the Access Hollywood tape dropped. That's when the WikiLeaks first started coming out.
LEMON: Yes. What else Stone -- is Stone saying anything about this?
KACZYNSKI: So I e-mailed a little bit with Stone. He claimed that he was in -- flying from L.A. to Miami so he couldn't have dined with Stone or dined with Assange. And he basically claims that, you know, that it is a made up story.
LEMON: Andrew, thank you. I appreciate you coming on. Thanks for your reporting.
Back with me now to discuss Roger Stone and the ongoing Russian investigation, Juliette Kayyem, Jack Quinn, and Keith Whittington. So you guys heard the sound bite there and you heard the reporting. Great reporting, Juliette, by Andrew and his team. How do you think Roger Stone will fit into Mueller's investigation?
KAYYEM: I think he's quite relevant. One theory of the case, just to be clear, there's multiple theories of Mueller's investigation and this is one, which is what were the contacts between people close to or in the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks or the Russians or access to the Clinton e-mails that then become, you know, sort of a release and favorable.
And Andrew just said something that we have to remember the timing here because it's often forgotten. The day of the Access Hollywood tapes is the day coincidence that WikiLeaks decides to release the e- mails. It is also ironically the same day that the intelligence community under Obama began to make its first public assessments that the Russians were sort of playing around with our election.
So, I don't believe in coincidences anymore. And sometimes I think we try too hard to put the pieces together. Roger Stone says he met with Assange. Roger Stone predicts that the e-mails are released. He says he meets with Trump and the e-mails are released and Trump, remember is also hinting that e-mails are going to be released.
[22:20:04] And sometimes I think we try too hard. It's just right there. And this is what Mueller is looking at. I'm not -- I'm not staying up late at night wondering, you know, whether Roger Stone is being misunderstood. He knew exactly what he was saying.
LEMON: I think if people are just kind of perplexed at it and it would actually happen to this level. You know, not that they don't like, really?
LEMON: Is it that -- are you going to be that obvious and maybe that's the best way to hide something is do it right in front of people.
LEMON: Keith, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that Mueller is looking into whether Stone met with Julian Assange in the final months before the 2016 election. What he is looking for, Keith?
WHITTINGTON: Well, ultimately, you want to know whether or not Assange is an important go between Russia and the kind of access it's getting to e-mails and other things that they want to try to leak to the media and ultimately possibly to the Trump campaign or members of the Trump campaign.
It's worth remembering they're both legal and political issues here. So partially there are questions about whether laws are violated as part of that process. But we also politically, we want to know how just far is Russia going to meddle in American political campaigns and what are the tools they're using in order to do that?
And this investigation is part of that larger process, they're trying to understand exactly how Russia is approaching these issues and ultimately we would hope there are policy responses to that.
LEMON: So Jack, you know, we now know that the president's legal team has told -- was told when they met with the special counsel that the president is a subject, not a criminal target of this investigation. I want you to listen to the White House. This is the press -- the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders is her reaction today about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is working in conjunction with his legal team and making a determination, I refer you to them on anything specific regarding that matter.
We're continuing to be fully cooperative with the office of the special counsel. And we'll continue driving the same message that we've been driving for over a year that there was no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Jack, do you think the president will ultimately agree to meet with Mueller?
QUINN: I think the president certainly should. I think it'll serve him not to do so. I mean, look, as pretty much everything we've talked about in this hour suggests, Bob Mueller is, you know, a man of duty. He's going to cross his T's, dot his I's, he's going to do a thorough investigation.
And among other things, that is why he wants to sit down with the president because, for example, on the issue of obstruction, it's hard for him to come to a conclusion without a conversation with the president, without getting his testimony. Because obstruction requires corrupt intent on the part of the person you're looking into. And I think it would really serve the president's best interests to have that conversation with Bob Mueller and explain why the pattern of things in which he engaged from trying to get Jim Comey to go lightly on General Flynn to questioning those on his staff who were witnesses before the special counsel and then a host of other things that you talked about for weeks and weeks and weeks and why all those things don't amount to obstruction.
The president should hear from the president on those things and as I've suggested before, having litigated this issue for a different president at the end of the day, I believe that refusing to provide testimony or other evidence will be a fruitless exercise. It will do the president no good. It will make him look like he has something to hide.
And eventually he will be forced by the courts to provide that evidence and if he refuses, he'll be in contempt or, you know, be in a position of having to take the Fifth Amendment.
LEMON: But he can always say that, you know, this is a witch hunt. I didn't want to walk into. Come on, folks, I don't want to go into that trap. You know they're out to get me. It's a witch hunt. It's fake news. A fake investigation. And his base will believe him. I got -- look, in the essence of time here, I have to ask you, Keith, why do you think that impeachment is still President Trump's biggest threat?
WHITTINGTON: I think the odds of Mueller thinking he ought to try to indict the president are very low. The Department of Justice own opinion suggests the sitting president can't be indicted. It will be legally very aggressive to try to indict the president.
So I think he'll be reluctant if he wants to do that which suggests then that ultimately what Trump really has to worry about personally is the possibility of impeachment and how embarrassing might the facts that get revealed by the investigation be and does it feed into general concern that maybe this is worth impeachment hearings.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you all. That's got to be the last word. I appreciate it.
[22:25:00] When we come back, more on our top story tonight. Robert Mueller's investigators snagging oligarchs just as their private jets touched down to question them. That as the Trump administration is expected to sanction several wealthy Russians over election interference. I'm going to ask a member of the House judiciary committee what he thinks about all this. That's next.
LEMON: So here's the breaking news tonight. Senior Trump administration officials telling CNN that the U.S. -- the U.S. is planning to impose new sanctions on Russia targeting oligarchs who have ties to Vladimir Putin.
Let's talk about this and more with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He is a New York Democrat who sits on the judiciary committee. So good to have you on, sir. Thank you for coming in.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Good to see you, Don.
LEMON: We're just learning tonight the U.S. plans to sanction Russian oligarchs close to Putin by the end of the week for election interference. Is this coming just after the Trump administration kicked out dozens of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a British spy on British soil?
And then just last week, Trump departing national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that he have not -- we have not been tough enough on Russia. Is this encouraging you any of these steps at all?
[22:30:03] JEFFRIES: Well, it's potentially a step in the right direction. But we'll see whether these words are actually followed by action. I mean, what we've seen up to this point is that Donald Trump has expressed the continuing willingness to essentially play footsie with Vladimir Putin.
Not to say a negative word by him, or even anything that Russia did in attacking our democracy as confirmed by 17 different intelligence agencies.
Congress as you know, Don, gave this administration the power to sanction Russian oligarchs in a bipartisan, near unanimous fashion months ago, and yet Donald Trump and his administration have done nothing.
Hopefully, we'll now see some measure of accountability directed at Vladimir Putin, and his allies for attacking our democracy in such an extraordinary fashion.
LEMON: As an elected official, I'm sure you're looking ahead to the mid terms, right? And as we look ahead to the mid terms, what do you think the -- what do you want the administration to do to prevent interference this time from Russia?
JEFFRIES: Well, I think, one, we have to have a full understanding and accounting of what took place. Congress is engaged in that effort to some degree. But the administration has to acknowledge starting at the highest level of government, Donald Trump, that Russia did attack our democracy.
They have attacked other democracies across Europe and the western world, and they're going to continue to do so. As some of his administration officials have publicly acknowledged in testimony before Congress.
If we know they're going to attack us in advance of our elections and fundamentally undermine what makes us a democratic republic, free and fair elections, the American people can decide government of the people, by the people, and for the people, then obviously, we have given him resources that can be spent at the Department of Homeland Security, and through other entities to put into place measure working with State Election Board to stop from happening, we haven't that so far.
LEMON: So let's talk about the -- you know, what's happening with the oligarchs, because CNN has learned exclusively that three Russian oligarchs were stopped as they landed on U.S. soil, questioned by Mueller's investigators. One of them had his cellphone searched. What does this tell you about the scope of Mueller's investigation?
JEFFRIES: Well, first of all, the more we learn about this investigation, the worse it gets for Donald Trump, and for all of the President's men. We know that one thing Bob Mueller has done is to undertake a really full, fair, and thorough investigation.
And I think it's covering three different aspects of what could have taken place here. One, there is the money laundering that may have occurred prior to the campaign.
Donald Trump as businessman, a lot of shady things appeared to have occurred while Bob Mueller is investigating that, is the conspiracy, which many of us believe took place during the campaign, to work and collude with Russian spies to sell out our democracy, and obviously Bob Mueller is investigating that aspect.
And then there is the obstruction of justice that likely occurred with Donald Trump as president after the fact. And so I think the oligarch aspect of the investigation is still the initial trigger.
Was there money laundering that occurred in advance and perhaps provided a motive, or a quid pro quo in connection with the undermining of the American democracy that occurred with Russian assistance during the campaign?
LEMON: So I have to ask you -- I mean, you mentioned all of that stuff. But Mueller's team told the President's lawyers -- informed the President's lawyers that he is not a criminal target of the investigation.
He's a subject in this investigation. But you can look at this two ways, the President can look at this and say, you know, I'm cleared of all this. Or it could be Mueller, you know, trying to give the President a false sense of security. How do you see it?
JEFFRIES: Well, one, I think it's a distinction without a difference in the context of Donald Trump being able to effectively do his job on behalf of the American people. And what we've seen is chaos, crisis, and confusion, nothing but distraction.
All brought upon the Trump administration by the actions that they engaged in during the campaign that Bob Mueller is investigating. And I think ultimately, any prosecutor, and Bob Mueller certainly a top flight one, works his way up to the top of the food chain.
And so while Donald Trump may not be a so-called target at this point, obviously he was the presidential candidate. He was very involved in all of the decisions that were taking place.
Several of his closest allies have already plead guilty, or have been indicted for criminal activity, including his campaign chairman for conspiring against the United States of America with perhaps business dealings with close friends of Vladimir Putin.
This is all one big mess that Bob Mueller is unraveling. And meanwhile, we're unable to focus is the Democrats want to on trying to create the better jobs, better wages, better future for the American people because of the mess that Donald Trump has gotten us into.
LEMON: Well, I have to say, we still have a long way to go whether it comes to race relations in this country. You know, this is the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
[22:35:00] And I don't think that you go unnoticed that two men of color are sitting here on international television analyzing, and critiquing the policies, and actions of the President of the United States. That is indeed an accomplishment, don't you think?
JEFFRIES: That is tremendous progress. We have come a long way.
JEFFRIES: We still have a long way to good, but I'm confident that we'll get there.
LEMON: Thank you, sir, always a pleasure. When we come back, the President and his national security adviser clashing over his call to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, we're going to take you inside the testing meeting that left advisers decide for themselves over President Trump's plan.
LEMON: Reports tonight of a clash, which means President Trump and his national security team, including top military brass over the issue of withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria.
Let's talk about this now with CNN Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott, Military and Diplomatic Analyst Rear Admiral John Kirby, and National Security Analyst Matthew Rosenberg, a correspondent for The New York Times.
Good evening and welcome to the program, everyone. Elise, talk to me about your new reporting. What happened behind closed doors between the President and his national security team over Syria?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well essentially, Don, it was a very tense meeting between President Trump, and his national security team, and military advisors.
[22:40:03] He really surprised everybody in recent days saying that the U.S. is going to pull out of Syria soon. Earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had laid out a strategy in which the U.S. would stay for a while, and not only finish the job for ISIS, but also counter Iran, and really stay for a while.
So essentially in this meeting, President Trump said he wants to get U.S. troops out. He gave a time line of about, you know, four to six months. His advisors said that isn't advisable, that the job against ISIS is not finished, the President Trump had promised an enduring victory in which ISIS wouldn't come back.
And there wasn't real give and take between President Trump and his officials, and the military advisors say we can't do the job in that amount of time. And President Trump essentially said get it done.
LEMON: Get it done, all right. Admiral Kirby, I want to play something that we heard from President Trump during the campaign. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: More about ISIS than the generals do, believe me. I mean, that was during the campaign. But now, we're seeing those words in action possibly.
RET. REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, a little bit. I mean, he has always felt that he knows more than just about anybody around him.
But I also think that this -- that this meeting today, and his comments the other day about getting out of Syria really point to two things.
One, his just visceral dislike of American intervention abroad, particularly whether it's an intervention that he himself didn't plan and execute, and as you know, Don, our presence in Syria really begun under President Obama. And just other things with Obama, I think really irritate him.
And number two, that he actually does not like multilateral efforts. He believes that America get fleeced whenever we're involved in multilateral efforts, but other people are not paying their fair share, and not contributing as much as they should. And that really sticks in his crawl.
What he doesn't understand is that when he says let other countries deal with it now, which is what he said about Syria, that there are 74 other partners in this anti-ISIS coalition that the United States put together, and then the United States leaves.
And they are all contributing what they can. No, it's not to the degree that we are. But let's remember that one of those soldiers killed last week was a British soldier.
There are 9,000 troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria in this coalition helping us defeat ISIS, and as Elise pointed out, that fight is not over. So I think this just points to a fundamental disregard that he has for multilateral efforts, particularly ones he didn't lead, and that is really troubling.
LEMON: Do you think that John Bolton have any effect on this? I mean he's new. Did he change anything with the President in this calculus, what to do with Syria?
KIRBY: Is that for me?
LEMON: Yes, that's for you.
KIRBY: Oh, I don't know. I don't know that Bolton was consulted on this or where he is. If you read Bolton's previous comments, and things he's written, Don, it wouldn't appear that he would be in favor of a precipitous withdraw.
He had talked before about how Iran needs to be confronted in Syria, and that our military presence is important for the fight against ISIS. So on the face of it, I would say it's doubtful that Bolton had much of an impact here.
LEMON: OK, Matthew, I want to bring you in. Because Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic said this -- she tweeted this, she said, during the campaign, people kept asking, why does Putin favor Trump? Today, Putin met with a Foreign Minister of Turkey and Iran to discuss the future of Syria just as Trump announced a pullout. That's why. What is your reaction, Matthew?
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, I think she's got a point there that -- you know, you don't -- President Trump doesn't have to be in Russia's pocket or some kind of Russian stooge.
But Putin to look in and say this is a guy who is not going to really do much in the Middle East. He keeps talking that he wants to go home, and doesn't want to have troops there isn't really want to lead. And if you're Putin, and you're trying to reassert Russia's role in the Middle East, an American pullout is a great thing for you.
It opens the door, and paves the way for you to walk in there, and restore a dominant role in the Middle East that probably hasn't existed since the Soviet Union existed.
You know, I think this is another case we're seeing where the President kind of hastily tweets out what he is feeling at the moment. And then officials have to scramble to kind of make a policy out of it.
LEMON: Yes. Or says it -- or says it to the podium, and then the folks behind the scene are scrambling to sort of make policy around what he is saying, Matthew.
ROSENBERG: Yes. It's one thing when you do it on a domestic policy issue. Your allies still control both Houses of Congress. You can work with them behind the scenes.
You do it internationally, you've got those allies who you're not consulting with, who are always going to go along with what you want, and you've got rivals which are saying I can take advantage of this.
ROSENBERG: It's a much more complicated and more powerless kind of way of governing.
LEMON: Yes, Elise, you would know about this because the President will tweet something out and say it, you know, walking to, you know, marine one, or behind a table at some sort of meeting, or something, and then they have to scramble behind the scenes and figure out what to do.
LABOTT: And that's often the case, for instance, what the sending troops to the border with Mexico, Don.
[22:45:04] But I mean, if you look at -- you know, actually he did surprise a lot of people with these Syria comments. But if you look back over the last month or so, President Trump has been kind of talking about getting out of Syria soon.
His comments last week were not the first comments. He started comments in February. I understand Secretary Tillerson's comments again on really got in his claw in some articles and the paper stood out, you know, a lot of money that is being spent.
This is very -- what President Trump has said in the meeting is that he told his supporters, his voters he would get out. He doesn't want to spend money, as John said, on these adventures in the Middle East.
A lot of this was about why the Gulf States aren't spending much more money. He wants other countries to take up some of the burden, which is something that he said with NATO, with other military complexes.
And so I think this is something that President Trump did promise during the campaign. You know, I think -- also, I think what some of his supporters say is he might not be as rigid as he kind of seems in that meeting.
This is the President Trump way to browbeat people, to get them moving fast. But in the end, he seems to have backed down a little bit in terms of an immediate withdraw. He does want to see some plans.
But I think as he spoke to foreign leaders, he spoke to French President Macron, today he spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I won't say he backed away from it. But he does seem to be reluctantly agreeing that U.S. will stay to get the job done against ISIS.
Can we do that in six months? I'm not really sure that military advisors think that they can. But at least people think that he's kind of putting a fire under them to, you know, not stay forever. The job is ISIS, not Iran, not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
LEMON: All right. Thank you. I promise more time next time Admiral Kirby.
KIRBY: No problem. LEMON: Thank you very much. That all the time, but it's got to be the last. I appreciate it. When we come back, President Trump lashing out and complaining about everything from China to Amazon, to the media, what is behind his bad mood? Frank Bruni is here. He is going to weigh in, that's next.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: So the President is ramping up his Twitter attacks this week using some very unpresidential language. Let's discuss, CNN Contributor Frank Bruni, a columnist for "The New York Times" is here.
It's got to be ground hog's day, Frank, because I feel like I just had this conversation with you earlier in the week. But it seems to be ramping up now.
In recent you see, you know, excessive aim for him, venting about everything. Here it is, Amazon, Democrats, media, Mexico, cheating Obama, the FBI, the DOJ. Why is he throwing such a fit?
FRANK BRUNI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He is in a bad mood, Don. He is in a very bad mood. You know, I think we zoomed past it because so many news events came between, but I don't think you can overestimate how much he hated signing that big spending bill two weeks ago.
Hated it because it cast him in the role of exactly the kind of Washington figure he promised not to be on the campaign trail. It was the kind of spending bill that Obama might have signed or Bush before him.
And I think even more hating signing it, he hated the reaction to it. A lot of his most fervent supporters, the people who really cheer led for him through the campaign, turned on him, warns him, Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter.
I think he got very worried about his relationship with his base. I think you are hearing and seeing that frustration. And a lot of this venting is an attempt to show, no, I'm still the potent guy that I said I was. I can take on these various things that I vilified during the campaign. He is trying to kind of refine his muscularity.
LEMON: Yes, thus, one of the main reasons if not the main reason for the National Guard down at the border. Listen, sources close to the President saying that he is increasingly turning his attention now to the midterm elections, Frank.
LEMON: In a very real sense, is he doing all of this just to play to his base you think -- all of it?
BRUNI: Well, you know, it does seem that way. And it also seems whenever he is feeling nervous and unsettled, or when he's left to his own devices, he goes back to the relationship with the base.
And if you look at the last couple of days, almost everything he has done that's making headlines is bringing him back to campaign trail Donald Trump. You know, campaign trail Donald Trump said that we are not going to be, you know, meddling on foreign soil to the extent that we were.
Thus he is saying let's get out of Syria. Campaign trail Donald Trump promised whole new trade relationships, and now he is taking on China, also puffing up his chest for saying he is going to take on China.
Campaign trail Donald Trump Said I'm going to secure the border. I'm going to build a wall. And now we have him first saying he is going to send military, then realizing no, wait, maybe it's just the National Guard. All of this is bringing him back to the campaign trail and to the people who came to him first, and stood by him the most steadily.
LEMON: So, listen, I know you want to talk about this. You want to talk about tariffs. So let's talk about it. China slapping $3 billion worth of tariffs on 128 U.S. products in retaliation for President Trump's -- or at least they are considering it -- in retaliation for President Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
I just want to take a look at this. China is being strategic about which sectors of the U.S. economy that they -- they will target. It's primarily America's Heartland. How could this hurt President Trump politically?
BRUNI: Well, I mean they're targeting states that President -- they're targeting products and things that are going to have an economic affect or could in states where Donald Trump had a lot of support.
It's sort of a way to get into -- you know, get under his skin but also it is a way to eat away at where Republicans have support. You know, you mentioned the mid-terms before, Don, and I think the President is playing a dangerous game.
Because he has -- he has always put himself forward first and foremost as a steward of the economy, someone who is going to, you know, translate his own personal riches into great riches for the country.
The Republicans in doing the tax cut were confident or at least hoping that voters would go to the polls feeling like they had more money in their pockets, feeling good about the economy.
If we get into a trade war, if the market drops to the extent that it has during periods of recent days, I don't know any that Republican is going to get a benefit from that tax cut -- from the tax cuts that they championed because I don't know that voters are going to be feeling the least, but secure about their spending power, about jobs, or about the economy.
LEMON: Well, he is not backing down today tweeting this, Frank. He said, we are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish or incompetent people who represented the U.S. [22:55:05] Now we have a trade deficit of $500 billion a year with
intellectual property theft of another $300 billion. We cannot let this continue. What are your thoughts?
BRUNI: Well, he is -- I mean, we have to give the President credit for the following. Many people across many parts of the political spectrum, conservative, liberal, et cetera, they would acknowledge that our trade relationship with China is not ideal, that China has absolutely taken advantage of the United States.
And when Donald Trump talked about that on the campaign trail more vigorously, you know, more of serious than other candidates did, I think it was a wise thing. And I think it was a justified thing.
But the way this is happening now feels very impulsive, it feels very spasmodic. And I'm not confident that it's going to workout to our advantage. Because I'm not confident in the way that Donald Trump governs.
LEMON: Yes. Well let's hope it does. Frank Bruni, thank you. Enjoy Austin. We'll see you back here in New York soon.
BRUNI: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: When we come back the President and his cabinet don't seem to be on the same page about much of anything lately. So how can this administration get anything done?