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Couple Changed Locks on Pruitt' to Get Him Out; Death Toll Rises from Israeli-Palestinian Violence; Ex-Russia Spy No Longer Critical After Nerve Agent Attack; Aired 6-7a ET

Aired April 7, 2018 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:00:14]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: One hundred percent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The president has begun preparing for a possible interview with Robert Mueller.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should the president ever sit down with the special counsel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it is very dangerous for the president to do so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott Pruitt has actually been accomplishing the president's agenda, and that has some on the opposing political side upset.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No one other than the president has the authority to hire and fire members of his cabinet. It's a decision that he'll make.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This deployment has begun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is planning to secure the border with up to 4,000 National Guard soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People here tell me that they are fleeing violence or just trying to find a better life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Dianne Gallagher in this morning for Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Happy Saturday to you. President Trump is spending this weekend at the White House. He has a lot to think about.

GALLAGHER: A White House official tells CNN exclusively that the president's lawyers are prepping him for a potential interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

BLACKWELL: While the president publicly says that he's open to sitting down with Mueller's team, advisers think this could expose him to perjury charges.

CNN's Dan Merica is following the story for us. Dan, what kind of preparations are happening right now?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yes, we're told exclusively that President Trump is working with his advisers inside the White House to prepare for a possible interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

That's according to a White House official and a person familiar with the plan. It's worth noting that this is in its infancy stages according to one person, and President Trump hasn't even agreed to sit down with Mueller in the first place.

But all of this prep signals that the debate within the White House and within President Trump's orbit is intensifying about whether it is prudent for the president to sit down with the special counsel.

Now we're told that the prep has been informal, brief, but it's a significant step in all of this because President Trump as we have noted in the past, and his advisers have noted, President Trump is a man who is prone to hyperbole.

And he could get himself into trouble if he sits down with the special counsel even if he's not under oath when he speaks to Robert Mueller. Now the reason many people have begun talking about whether President Trump is preparing for this interview is because there have been gaps in his schedule at certain times leading many in Washington to believe he was at some time preparing for that interview.

The president does not have a lot on his schedule today, as well. He's at the White House, as you correctly note. And weekends are certainly the time that he is generally either at his club in Mar-a- Lago or at a golf course nearby. He has nothing of that on his schedule. He has spent 139 days as president at one of the properties that he owns -- Victor.

GALLAGHER: OK, so Dan, the president, we heard him, said publicly that he wants to sit down with Mueller, but are we hearing the same thing from him in private?

MERICA: Yes. There's a noticeable split, we're told, between what he says in public in front of cameras and with reporters and how he is in private when talking about a possible sit down with Robert Mueller.

Take a listen to all that he has said about talking with Robert Mueller in public to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you. I would like to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of --

PRESIDENT TRUMP: One hundred percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm looking forward to it actually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To reach a higher standard, you would do it under oath, correct?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would do it under oath.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MERICA: We're told in private, though, he equivocates a little bit more about whether he's going to sit down with Mueller, depending on who he's talking to and really what is going on that day. That split clearly shows the high stakes nature of any interviews the president were to do with Robert Mueller.

GALLAGHER: Dan Merica, thank you so much from Washington.

BLACKWELL: All right. Joining us now Errol Louis, CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, and Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst and criminal defense attorney.

Gentlemen, good morning to you. And Joey, let me start with you. What could these preparations even in their infancy look like?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, let me say this, Victor -- good morning to you. Good morning, Errol. You know, if I'm advising the president, there would be no preparations because my client wouldn't go anywhere near the special counsel.

I mean, it's a bad move in general. So, before we get to preparations, my preparation of him would say, Mr. President, stay far away. This is a president who repeatedly puffing, repeatedly -- I don't know, call it what you will, telling tall tales, fraud, misrepresentation, whatever you say.

I mean, he's a guy who's known, and I'm trying to be as objective as I possibly could, believe it or not, in saying that, but just not to tell the truth.

[06:05:05] And you can sit down and prep your client all day and all night about the special counsel and about Russia or in contacts in your campaign, who was involved and where were you and who did you speak to, and who if any did you meet. But you know, he's not a disciplined person. He goes off the rails. The other day we saw he threw a speech up in the air and started talking about, you know, election fraud in California, millions not voting, millions of people coming from tombs.

I mean, he's just not a client that I would have any trust in going. This little thing, victor, called perjury. That little thing called perjury can lead to a lot of trouble. So, you could sit down with him and you could prepare him day and night and give him specific questions and drill him.

And what we do in law is we say we moot our client. We moot them. We talk to them and we pretend that we're the other side, kind of like preparing for a debate. But I just don't think that it's -- it's an area that he needs to tread in.

BLACKWELL: So, let me bring that to you, Errol, Dan in his report said the debate is intensifying within the White House. Is it intensifying or is the debate over? I mean, when Hope Hicks left, the reporting was that the president was going to take more control. He was going to be his own legal strategist in some ways. Is that what we're seeing, the president who is putting away the advice of John Dowd, former attorney, who is now out the door?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, it was always clear that Donald Trump was not going to be managed very easily. As Joey properly suggests, he's sort of a nightmare client, if you deal with law or communications. He thinks he's his best strategist, spokesperson, and legal defender.

That's why he doesn't have professionals around him. That's why people are walking out the door. He exposes himself, however, to a great deal of danger by simply deciding to go in and wing it, which has been the style that has worked so well for him.

It worked for him in politics. It worked for him in commerce. It worked for him in Hollywood. This, though, is kind of the end of the line because as we've seen in endless numbers of cases, all the FBI has to do is kind of stop you on the street or stop you anywhere, have a conversation with you.

And if they can figure out that you knowingly told them something that is not true, they've kind of got you and you're already in legal trouble. So, that I think it can get much worse for the president than he personally may suspect. He also may not be able to talk his way out of this one.

And again, not jumping to any conclusions about what collusion may or may not exist, it's actually easier for the special prosecutor to figure out when he's just misrepresenting, not telling the truth.

That you can prove right on the spot without getting into all kinds of overseas connections and other kind of complicated proof.

BLACKWELL: Errol, you mentioned the president's propensity for just winging it, going in and literally tossing the script and just going off the top of his head. But with these preparations, even in their infancy suggest that he understands that this is different?

BLACKWELL: This is different. I mean, look, he has probably heard from his attorneys, not all of whom are on his team at this point, that he had an open question about whether or not to wage a pitched battle about whether or not he should talk to the special prosecutor at all.

That part is apparently over. Now that he has, I guess, concluded that he's going to have to have some kind of contact with the special counsel, the only question becomes to what extent and when and whether or not you fight to the last minute about whether or not you're going to limit what he can talk about.

But the president himself I think what we're seeing, the clip that you played, our Donald Trump. That's him wanting to sort of get in there, mix it up, clear his name, and get on with his presidency.

BLACKWELL: Joey, let me ask you this, Michael Zeldin, who worked with Mueller for a period raised an interesting point that potentially these preparations are not primarily to prepare the president for a discussion with Mueller's team, but to expose him to at least acknowledge all of the potential pitfalls that he could experience in an interview and get him on board to say, no, I shouldn't speak with Mueller's team. What's the likelihood of that?

JACKSON: I think it's an excellent point and I think we as lawyers do that all the time. OK, you want to testify? Sit down, let's have a discussion about it. Would it be fair to say and then you launch into questions, and the client is befuddled and they say, oh, maybe you're right.

But there's no wins in sitting down with a prosecutor for the following reason -- I mean, they know, it's sort of like lawyers. Don't ask a question that you don't know the answer to already. The special prosecutors have a wealth of information.

They've spoken to a number of people, vetted information. They know what the real deal is. When you're talking to them, they already have a sense and understanding of what information is factual and what is fictional.

[06:10:08] And so that becomes the problem, and so to the extent that the president's people, Victor, can move him as I say and get him to understand that this is different from a campaign trail, a campaign speech, you know, speaking to your supporters in any type of forum.

This is whether you're under oath or not the real deal and it could expose your presidency to the end. If we could convince him of that, we know he doesn't listen, but maybe he will listen in that instance.

BLACKWELL: We'll see if these preparations in their infancy actually lead to a conversation with Mueller's team. Of course, we'll continue to follow it. Joey Jackson, Errol Louis, thank you, both.

GALLAGHER: The head of the National Guard says that some 500 troops will be deployed immediately as part of President Trump's plan to shore up the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Now officials in the state of Texas say that their soldiers are going to be ready.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGADIER GENERAL TRACY NOMS, ASSISTANT DEPUTY ADJUTANT GENERAL, TEXAS MILITARY DEPARTMENT: As early as tomorrow, notifications will go to soldiers who will be called up as part of the follow-on phase. This notification will allow guardsmen, soldiers, and airmen to notify their families and employers in the preparation to report as early as next week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: All right. CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us now. Polo, Defense Secretary Mattis signed an order for up to 4,000 National Guard members to be deployed through the end of September. But here's the thing -- National Guard is kind of limited. What exactly are they going to do down there?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dianne, it's important to point out they're basically going to fill support roles as they've done during previous deployments. They will help and assist state and federal law enforcement who are responsible for patrolling that border.

The way we heard yesterday in Texas during that press event that you put up a short while ago, they will be, quote, "observing and reporting movement along the border." You see the first wave there of some of those aerial assets that have been deployed from Austin down south, about six hours south here.

At this point, we understand about 250 troops now have their marching orders. They will, in essence, be the latest wave of what they expect will be a large group of men and women in uniform from California and potentially down to Texas here, Arizona, also expecting about 150 additional troops come next week, as well.

And in -- when everything is said and done here, we could see up to 4,000 National Guardsmen up and down the border, according to the White House here. Reaction along this border has certainly been mixed here from California to Texas.

There have been critics here who are concerned that this sends the wrong message to the rest of the world, potentially militarizing this border. At the same time, there is also support for this.

I spoke to a South Texas ranger earlier this week who says he has allowed National Guardsmen to be on his property during previous deployments. He says is more than happy to allow them on his property again if it means stopping the flow of illegal drugs constantly on his 600 acres.

So, definitely mixed reaction here as we continue see here the first wave of National Guardsmen in place helping local, state, and federal law enforcement on the ground -- guys.

GALLAGHER: Polo, thank you so much. Now, look, all of this follows a week of anti-immigration rhetoric from President Trump. He cited a so-called care vain of migrants from Mexico to back up this claim of a, quote, "crisis" that's happening along the border.

But look, we've got to note, this is an annual event. It's one that the main goal is to raise awareness about the plight of the migrants and desperate conditions that they face back at home. CNN's Leyla Santiago spoke with one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She's from Guatemala. She says because of the delinquency and violence she left Guatemala. So, she is going to stay here in Mexico. She says that she's going to Tijuana, and from there -- gracias -- she wants to stay there, make money, and send that back to Guatemala to help her children that she left behind there.

This is actually not the first time I've heard a story like this. The people here tell me that they are fleeing violence from either Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras. They are fleeing corrupt government or just trying to find a better life because they can't find a job in their own country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: Now look, we want to give a fact check here on the U.S.- Mexico border. The Department of Homeland Security said this week that while the arrest of people trying to cross illegally did increase exponentially in the month of march compared to this time last year. Overall, they've been trending down since the year 2000. They actually hit a 46-year low last year.

BLACKWELL: All right. Breaking news now, 14 people are dead after a bus carrying a junior league hockey team crashed in Canada. The bus collided with a tractor-trailer in Saskatchewan Providence last night. The coaches and players for the Humboldt Broncos team were on board. They were on their way to a junior league playoff game.

Witnesses say it took hours to pull the victims out of that mangled wreckage. Most of the team's players were in their late teens. Fourteen others were also injured in this accident.

GALLAGHER: All right. Coming up, exclusive new details about another adviser to President Trump that tried to get their hands on dirt about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. We have more on that ahead.

BLACKWELL: Plus, EPA Head Scott Pruitt is staying in his position but being forced out of his condo. One couple says Pruitt could not take the hint.

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[06:20:07]

GALLAGHER: So, we have exclusive new details. This morning, sources are telling CNN that another adviser to President Trump tried to expose damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

BLACKWELL: Yes, his name is Joseph Schmitz, was a -- was a pentagon inspector general in George W. Bush's administration. He approached the FBI and other government agencies to review emails that were pulled from the dark web. He believed them to be Hillary Clinton's missing emails from her private server.

CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto has more for us.

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JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned that a Trump campaign adviser played a key role in an effort to find Hillary Clinton's 30,000 deleted emails on the dark web -- and reveal any damaging information contained within them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not easy be a whistleblower.

SCIUTTO: Joseph Schmitz, a former Department of Defense inspector general, was a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. Seen here at the table with then-Candidate Trump in 2016 meeting with officials at the FBI, State Department, and the intelligence community's inspector general, he told them a source he called "Patriot" had discovered what he believed were the deleted emails on the dark web.

Schmitz then pushed for the government to review and declassify the material, so he and others could review it without jeopardizing Schmitz's security clearance. This according to multiple sources with direct knowledge.

Officials at the State Department and inspector general briefly interviewed Schmitz, but they declined to review or accept the information. The FBI also interviewed him as part of its ongoing criminal investigation into Clinton's emails.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They did investigate.

SCIUTTO: Schmitz then took his information to the House Intelligence Committee. This is the latest example of Trump advisers mixed up in efforts to find dirt on Clinton. Fired chief strategist, Steve Bannon, told the House Intelligence Committee in February that Trump campaign staff were repeatedly contacted by outsiders suggesting ways to get the Clinton emails, this according to a source familiar with Bannon's testimony.

A Trump campaign official tells CNN, quote, "The campaign does not comment on matters of interest to the special counsel or the congressional committees." The material was never verified. Cybersecurity expert who also saw the material on the dark web told CNN it appeared to be fake based on what he read and where it was posted.

"I'm pretty sure they were posted on the dark web equivalent of Reddit," he said. Schmitz reached by CNN in person and via e-mail declined to comment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: And that was Jim Sciutto reporting. So, here with me now is to discuss, commentary writer for "The Washington Examiner," Philip Wegmann, and Errol Louis, political anchor at New York 1 and CNN contributor back with us right now.

So, let's get right into this, fired chief strategist, Steve Bannon, he told the House Intelligence Committee back in February that members of the Trump campaign kept getting approached by outsiders.

They were suggesting ways to get Hillary Clinton's emails. So, this new reporting supports that testimony considering that info came from an unidentified contractor. But I mean, so was this a case of just the Trump campaign couldn't -- they're victims of everybody else trying to sabotage Hillary Clinton, they were just there for it -- Errol.

LOUIS: Well, no. In this case just from Jim's excellent reporting, it looks as if an adviser to the campaign, a significant adviser, man of some substance, with an impressive background, went out of his way and tried to interest anybody he could get to listen in this muck, this material that he claims to have dredged up from some whistleblower.

It was a focus of the campaign at the highest levels. The photo proves it. Everything we know about past meetings about Donald Trump Jr., sort of reacting when the Russians start to pedal dirt. This was a fundamental campaign strategy, as far as we can tell, to try to find information that could be used to smear Hillary Clinton.

And lest anybody get the wrong impression that this goes on in campaigns all the time, I've covered a lot of campaigns. This is not the norm to have advisers out there scouring the dark web looking for anything they can find, trying to peddle it to the State Department, FBI, congressional committees. This was a highly unusual strategy they undertook.

GALLAGHER: Schmitz was relentless really in trying to get anybody officially to look at this that he could. Phillip, I think that's sort of it, right? The State Department he told, the inspector general, they briefly interviewed him, they didn't review the information, they didn't accept it.

But, I mean, there's been criticism in the past of other Trump campaign members. They didn't go to law enforcement with information they received. That's one of the things that was criticized by Don Jr. and that infamous meeting in Trump Tower. So, whatever his motives may have been, he at least seemed to take the proper steps here.

[06:25:00] PHILIP WEGMANN, COMMENTARY WRITER, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Yes, first of all, two things, Errol is right. This shows a fundamental obsession on the part of the Trump campaign to find these emails. This is something that back in 2016 -- it seems like ancient history that we were focused on this because it was something Trump regularly talked about the campaign trail.

Like you said, though, Joseph Schmitz, you know, while the e-mails appear to be false and were found on the dark web's equivalent of reddit, it seems that Schmitz took the right step and approached the FBI with this information.

We would be having a completely, a fundamentally different discussion in Washington, D.C., right now. I think the entire landscape would be different if Donald Trump Jr., perhaps when he had been approached by the Russians after that meeting at the Trump hotel, if he would have approached the FBI, if he would have gone to law enforcement.

So, Schmitz here, it seems like he did the right thing, but it's going to be interesting to see what is going to come out of this going further, and if this also plays into what happens with the special counsel.

GALLAGHER: Well, I mean, look, there are people in Schmitz's direct circle that are currently working with the president, with the White House right now. So, he's not that far separated still even though he just worked through the election, Errol. He's still there in the orbit of President Trump.

LOUIS: Well, that's right. I mean, look, the questions that have to be raised, and this is why we have the special counsel and congressional committees looking into it is what was the mindset during the campaign, what -- what were people prepared to do with this information.

What kind of sources were throwing them information, and what kind of vetting went on. And of course, as Phillip suggests, you know, did any of this make its way to the proper snorts when you hear some of this stuff that's coming including from foreign sources, you're supposed to say, "thank you for the information, then hang up the phone," and pick up the phone and call the FBI.

And tell them that there's something unusual and possibly illegal that is going on. So, I think everybody's going to try and get their stories straight, everyone's going to try and make themselves look good. But this campaign still, I think, collectively has to answer some questions about what they were doing and why.

GALLAGHER: Errol Louis, Philip Wegmann, thank you so much. Guys, don't go anywhere. We've got some more questions coming up.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we'll talk about EPA Head Scott Pruitt. He has survived a harsh week of controversies and tough headlines, but will he still have his job this time next week?

GALLAGHER: Plus, a former Russian spy is no longer in critical condition after being poisoned during a nerve agent attack in the U.K. last month.

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[06:32:018] DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Dianne Gallagher in for Christi Paul this morning.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt apparently overstayed his welcome. CNN has confirmed the couple that rented out a room to Pruitt, forced him out by changing the code on their locks. This arrangement was already under scrutiny.

GALLAGHER: Reports say that Pruitt leased the room for below market value from a couple whose firm lobbied the EPA on behalf of an Oklahoma energy company. Now President Trump is still backing Pruitt despite the controversy and a call from 64 Democrats demanding the EPA head be dismissed.

BLACKWELL: Let's discuss this and bring back Errol Lewis and Philip Wegmann.

Philip, let me start with you. And, you know, we've got a copy of the lease, and we just want to put this up on the screen because this is where energy lobbyist Steve Hart's name was there and was scratched out, and then just kind of scribbled in Vicki Hart, his wife's name there.

I mean, when this broke, Steve Hart said that he had no ownership stake in this condo. This story is just getting worse and worse for Pruitt.

PHILIP WEGMANN, COMMENTARY WRITER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, there have been rumors that Pruitt wasn't going to survive the night. That he was going to be fired at midnight. For now he seems to have, you know, survived that, but that's the question. How much longer can he hold on? Because on one hand, Pruitt is probably the most effective member of the Trump administration currently. On the other, when President Trump looks at, you know, leases like that, the fact that he was -- he was renting a room from a lobbyist whose own organization was petitioning the EPA, that's the sort of swamp monster activities that -- the president promised to end.

So this is, you know, off brand, very embarrassing, and puts the White House in a very difficult position.

BLACKWELL: And for $50 a night no less. I mean, it's tough to get two good drinks in D.C. for $50 a night.

(LAUGHTER)

BLACKWELL: Errol, let me come to you with this letter signed by 63 Democratic members of the House but also put up on the screen here the three Republicans who were calling for the president to either fire Pruitt or for Pruitt to resign.

What's the effectiveness here, maybe not so much of the 63 Democrats because that could be just put into a partisan lens, but a few members here of the president's own party saying it's time for Pruitt to go? ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, all three of those

Republicans who did sign it under -- are in swing districts. They're under a fair amount of pressure and they're trying, I think, not only to preserve their own political positions but not to give the Democrats one more issue to beat up on Republicans over because this is very, very damning.

The damage is going to go beyond the Trump administration, and to see Republicans signing on to this suggests that there's -- at least the perception of a branding problem, that others who are running on the Democratic ticket in these midterm elections are going to suffer from the misdeeds of the Scott Pruitts of the world.

[06:35:09] He's got his own sort of political future. It's a mixed and interesting one where he's got some real political prospects not only back in Oklahoma but possibly on the national stage. We shouldn't write him off by any means. He apparently is very talented and has a fair amount of support from very conservative organizations and political forces. But for anybody who's not in his particular corner of the political world, this is a complete disaster.

BLACKWELL: Errol, let's talk about what the expectation was going into this week after that news of the condo broke following the soundproof booth and following the air travel. Based on the experience with this administration, Tom Price, former secretary of Health and Human Services, was forced out after the reporting showed that his noncommercial flights, the costs were above a million dollars.

I want to play for you what the president said back in September about Tom Price before he was fired and then follow that up with what we heard from the president about Scott Pruitt just this week on Air Force One.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He spent a lot on that charter plane. Is that cool?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was looking into it and I will look into it, and I will tell you personally I'm not happy about it. I am not happy about.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Should you fire him?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What are you going to do about it, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I'm going to look at it. I am not happy about it and I'll let him know it.

Scott has done a fantastic job. I think he's a fantastic person. I just left coal and energy country, but they love Scott Pruitt.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: So effectiveness, yes, because, you know, Scott Pruitt is pushing through some of the regulatory changes that the president likes. Tom Price didn't get the Obamacare overhaul through. But also speak to constituency that it appears that Pruitt has that maybe Tom Price did not.

LOUIS: Well, that is the big difference. Pruitt is pushing in a direction that a lot of people -- and we're not just talking about the gigantic agribusiness companies, the gigantic chemical firms, but really all the way down to sort of midsize and even smaller firms who feel that there's too much regulation. He has been Johnny on the spot in dialing it back, rolling it back, talking bad about it, suing the EPA multiple times. He's their guy. And so he's been very effective for the president at a time when the president's been distracted with a lot of different issues. He could look at this as a campaign promise being fulfilled every single day.

BLACKWELL: Philip, quickly to you, we know that Chief of Staff John Kelly, according to a reporting, is urging the president to fire Pruitt. He has not done so. What does that say about his effectiveness in this White House?

WEGMANN: Well, I think what this shows is that when it comes to Trump administration officials, as far as good government conservative types, they're very happy with the policy results of what Pruitt has been doing. But they're unhappy with the personal decisions that he has made. So if you're Kelly, someone who came into the White House to sort of, you know, right the ship, this is the sort of thing that you are taking a closer look at because you had to know that these Trump officials were going to have a target on their backs because of some of the things that they were going to be doing. This is, in Kelly's estimation, probably needless risk, and he can't be happy with Pruitt now.

BLACKWELL: All right. It is an early Saturday morning, and Twitter is always open. So we'll see if anything changes.

Philip Wegmann, Errol Louis, thank you both.

LOUIS: Thank you, Victor.

GALLAGHER: Embattled Texas Republican Representative Blake Farenthold has resigned from Congress. This is amid of months-long controversy. He was accused of using taxpayer dollars to settle a former aide's sexual harassment claims against him.

Now the National Republican Congressional Committee is requesting all nearly $85,000 to be paid back that he used. Farenthold first announced in December that he planned to repay the money and would not be seeking re-election. No payments have been made as of last month.

BLACKWELL: All right. Still ahead, confrontations between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces are escalating. We'll have a live report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:44:01] BLACKWELL: Welcome back. More people have been killed in the violence on the Israeli-Gaza border.

GALLAGHER: Yes. At least nine Palestinians killed when Israeli troops opened fire along the border fence there.

CNN international correspondent Ian Lee is in Jerusalem.

And, Ian, this escalating death toll here, what is happening?

IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and if you tally the death toll, Dianne, from the last two weeks, that now stands at 31 people. They call this the "March of Return." Palestinians say they want to cross the border from Gaza into Israel, going back to lands that were lost in the 1948 war.

For its part, Israel says that's a red line. They're not going to let anyone breach their sovereignty. And so you have this mixture of friction that creates this violence on both sides, neither side willing to back down. Israel blaming Hamas for this current violence.

We're also watching this because this just the first two weeks. We have five weekends to go. And there's a lot of concern that a single incident could create this from protest into a war.

[06:45:08] And neither side says that they want a war at this time. But the one thing we're also watching is just how many people have been going out there. You know, even with the threat of being shot or this violence, people say they're still going to continue. And so this really does create this volatile situation on the border between Gaza and Israel.

GALLAGHER: All right, Ian Lee in Jerusalem. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Well, Russia says there will be a harsh response after the U.S. slaps new sanctions over the country's meddling in the 2016 election. A live report from Moscow is ahead.

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BLACKWELL: The head of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, is prepared to testify before Congress next week. This is coming as his company is rolling out big changes designed to fight election meddling.

[06:50:04] Now Facebook will start labeling all political ads and reveal who paid for them. The company is also going to require political advertisers to verify their identity and location.

GALLAGHER: So this decision comes as Facebook is, well, under fire for failing to crack down on fake news and propaganda on its Web site. Facebook says that the new labeling is going to appear in ads and that's going to start a little bit later this spring.

BLACKWELL: All right. We've got some new information about that former Russian spy whose poisoning last month sparked an international backlash against Russia. His name is Sergei Skripal, and he is no longer in critical condition after he and his daughter suffered a nerve agent attack in the UK.

GALLAGHER: So Russia denied any involvement but some 20 countries including the United States expelled Russian diplomats in response to that. And now the U.S. is taking action against Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. They unveiled a new round of sanctions that target Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is in Moscow.

And, Nic, we're going to get to the sanctions in just a second, but first tell us a little bit about Sergei Skripal's recovery. This sounds miraculous.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, it follows the news last week or earlier in the week that his daughter Yulia was out of critical condition. Now the hospital treating him says that he is out of critical condition, that he is improving rapidly. That he is responding well to the treatment.

It all sounds like a very rosy picture. But I think, you know, when we heard from the British Foreign Office speaking about this, they said, you know, congratulations on support for all the health care professionals that have been taking care of the Skripals in hospital, but the last line kind of gave you the clue there. It said both of them are expected to need ongoing medical care. It didn't say for how long, so, although he's out of critical, although he's improving, although he's responding well, the implication is he is still going to require some amount of medical treatment.

BLACKWELL: About the new sanctions the U.S. has slapped on Russia focusing on a slew of wealthy Russians have ties to Vladimir Putin. Russia says there will be a response and it will be harsh.

ROBERTSON: That's what we've heard from the Foreign Ministry. They've vowed a harsh response so they've said that these sanctions that were in effect taking away business, taking away money from people. And in their mind, that's robbery. They haven't said what those sanctions were. This is Easter weekend here in Russia. So perhaps we won't learn more until Monday.

The item only got about 30 seconds on the state news last night which his kind of an indication there that the government hasn't made up its mind precisely what it will do. But the Trade minister said that people that are affected will be supported.

There's been talk about compensation possibly. But one of the -- one of the companies that's been hit by these sanctions, a big arms exporter in Russia, who said this just exposes what the United States is trying to do which is deny them the opportunity to get the international arms market, you know, just to the advantage of the United States. Of course, this is precisely the pressure the United States is trying to communicate through to President Putin here -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: We will watch for the response.

Nic Robertson in Moscow. Thank you.

GALLAGHER: All right. Rain is in the forecast heading into round three of the Masters. But Andy Scholes still has the best gig in town, live in Augusta with this preview for the Masters today.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Tiger Woods staying alive for the weekend here at the Masters. But he won't be winning his fifth green jacket this weekend. And coming up, we'll hear what Tiger had to say about his Masters performance thus far.

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[06:58:08] BLACKWELL: It was tees off at the Masters, after struggling to make the cut, bad weather is expected in Augusta this morning, too.

GALLAGHER: Yes. But Andy Scholes is still live in Augusta with the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Andy. Always good to be in Augusta.

SCHOLES: Always. Rain or shine, it's always great to be here for the Masters. And I tell you what, guys, it was like heaven the first two rounds here at Augusta National Golf Course. But we're in for a rainy one here today. The forecast calling for about 90 percent chance of rain throughout the afternoon. Play scheduled to get started at 10:00 Eastern. And Tiger Woods will be out there on the course early. He really struggled in round two. And for a while out there on the course, it looked like he might not even make the cut.

For the second straight day, Tiger hit the ball into the water on hole number 12. He's not going to be winning his fifth green jacket this year at the Masters. But after his round, Tiger, he spoke about where he thinks his comeback is right now.

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TIGER WOODS, GOLF CHAMPION: Six months ago, I didn't know if I'd be playing golf. And, you know, forget playing at the tour level. I didn't know if I'd be able to play again. But it's incredible to have the opportunity again just to be able to come out here and play this golf course now. I know I'm up on the weekend, even though I'm a lot behind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Now your leader heading into the weekend is Texas native Patrick Reed. The 27-year-old just came out on fire yesterday starting with three straight birdies. Now Reed, who's known as Captain America for his heroics at the Ryder Cup, has never won a major before. He has a two-shot lead over Australian Mark Leishman, heading into round three. Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth both five shots back. And yesterday I asked Spieth how he thinks all the rain will affect play today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JORDAN SPIETH, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: It becomes a tactical golf course when the conditions get tougher or you're presented with kind of tough breaks like that. And I think that's an advantage for me. This weekend, you know, in contention at the Masters, is nothing new to me. And therefore I won't be extremely --