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NEW DAY SATURDAY

Trump Prepping For Possible Mueller Interview; EPA Head Clings To Job Despite Week Of Controversies; GOP Representative Farenthold Resigns Amid Sex Scandal; Migrant Asylum Seekers Make Trek Through Mexico; Trump Sends Troops To Border After Week Of Tweets. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 7, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


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(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 for Christi Paul this Saturday. BLACKWELL: And I'm Victor Blackwell. Good morning to you. Let's start with live pictures of the White House this morning. President Trump is spending the weekend, as a lot going on there 37.

GALLAGHER: Yes, White House officials telling CNN exclusively that the president's lawyers are now prepping him for a potential interview with Robert Mueller.

BLACKWELL: Although the president's advisors think this could expose him to perjury charges, the president has said many times that he wants to sit down with the special counsel.

(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)

GALLAGHER: All right. CNN's Dan Merica is following the story. And Dan, what exactly preparations are under way for this interview?

DAN MERICA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Good morning. President Trump is preparing for a possible interview with Robert Mueller according to one White House official and a source familiar with the preparations. CNN is able to exclusively report.

Now, one person says that the preparations are in their infancy and it's worth noting as well that President Trump hasn't even officially agreed to sit down with Mueller, but the fact that the preparations are happening show how the deliberations inside of Trump's orbit are intensifying to decide whether or not it is worth to sit down with Mueller.

It's going to worry a host of people outside of the White House if he eventually does sit down with the special counsel because the president is known as somebody who uses hyperbole often.

That works for him in the business setting, certainly on TV during "The Apprentice." It is less likely to work out well for him when he sits down with Mueller and could expose him to significant legal risk.

Now Sarah Sanders would not really comment on whether President Trump agreed to sit down with Mueller yet. Take a listen to what she said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is working in conjunction with his legal team and making a determination 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)

MERICA: We are also able to report that while President Trump as you showed in the intro is telling reporters publicly he would like to sit down with Mueller, behind the scenes he is equivocating a little bit more depending on who he is talking to and what's going on during that day.

So, while he is telling reporters, yes, I would like to sit down with Mueller, he is not as certain behind the scenes. That also signals that the president may be aware of how high stakes this sit down could be -- Dianne, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Dan Merica for us at the White House. Dan, thank you very much.

GALLAGHER: All right. Let's talk about this. Joining me now, Paul Callan, CNN legal analyst and former New York homicide prosecutor, Phil Mudd, CNN counter terrorism analyst and former FBI senior intelligence officer, and Kelly Jane Torrance, deputy managing editor at "The Weekly Standard." Let's start with you, should President Trump sit down with Mueller?

KELLY JANE TORRANCE, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": It's a great question, Dianne. The fact that even he himself is not sure and that apparently five high-powered law firms have turned down the invitation to join his legal team. I mean, that is kind of unheard of.

Lawyers love publicity, publicity equals dollar. So, clearly, there's something that they are worried. Now I personally doubt that there was collusion on Donald Trump's part, but the fact he is focusing on that is silly because that is not what Robert Mueller's team wants to talk to him about.

They want to talk to him about what he did as president in terms of did he fire people and why? And the fact that he is a little nervous about that says that he is worried about getting in trouble.

GALLAGHER: So, Paul, President Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone might agree with Kelly Jane, he had this to say last night about Trump potentially talking to Mueller. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:05:11] ROGER STONE, LONGTIME TRUMP ALLY: I thought it was a perjury trap, that there is every possibility the special counsel is looking at some process related crime that doesn't relate to Russia. I obviously believe the special counsel has a political bias as demonstrated by the FBI text messages and e-mails that have surfaced and political nature of this investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GALLAGHER: So, Paul, do you agree with that? I mean, the president has said that -- publicly at least he totally would testify under oath.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I know that that is what he says publicly, but frankly, I think it would be a catastrophic move for Trump to testify. And all you have to do is look at how Trump handles for instance these speeches when he's out talking to the base.

He wanders around from subject to subject. He is not specific about anything. Now, put that in the context of an interview with a totally prepped prosecutor, he is under oath. He's trying to be -- the prosecutor is forcing him to be specific.

The president has trouble being specific about anything. I was looking before today at a deposition where he was accused later of lying 30 times under oath in a deposition because they were actually documents contradicting things that he said. I think it would be a huge error for the president to subject himself to cross examination by prosecutors.

GALLAGHER: OK. Phil Mudd, some of the topics the Mueller team has said they may discuss, the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions involvement in that firing and whether or not the president knew about the phone calls that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn made to the Russian ambassador back in late 2016. So, could answering any of those questions backfire for the president? It seems like no one thinks that the president should do this interview here.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Sure. Let me agree with Mr. Callan, one of the things I've learned on CNN is never disagree with that lawyer in New York. He is pretty good but let me tell you what is going to happen here. Yes, any of those could get him in trouble for a couple reasons.

First is that the personality reason. You saw it in West Virginia this week. The president doesn't do detail and he doesn't do scripts. You will go into a conversation with prosecutors who have now spent nearly a couple years gathering data not only on from interviews, but from financial records, text messages, e-mails.

So, when they ask the president a question about what he did with Michael Flynn, what happened during the campaign, what he knew about his son's meeting with that Russian lawyer a year and a half ago, they will know a ton of detail.

And if I were the president's lawyers, I'd be concerned that not only would he not know the detail, but that he will say things that are diametrically opposed to what other witnesses have said. I agree with the consensus here, if he walks into the room for let's say a four- hour conversation with prosecutors, he will be in trouble.

GALLAGHER: So, Kelly Jane, then why does the president put this on publicly that he totally wants to? Is it just putting on air is because he feels like it makes him look as if he is not associated with what is going on in this investigation, he has nothing to hide?

TORRANCE: Yes, you know, he is a businessman and we could argue about whether he is a good one or not, but a good businessman knows that confidence is everything. You want your opponent to think that you are confident and feeling good about things. And that is exactly what Donald Trump is doing here.

But you know, listen, apparently the White House lawyers are trying to get the questions in advance. I have to say even if they did that, everyone if Trump knows what they will ask him and if I were them I wouldn't give them every detail, you know, remember this past week he threw his notes in the air on tax reform, you know, here I am, these are boring note, I'm throwing them off.

I mean, you know what this guy will do. So, even if he goes in knowing what they will ask, you know, he just can't help himself. He loves drama and he can't focus. He really does not have a long attention span. He does not read books or even news stories.

GALLAGHER: So, Paul, you know, Kelly Jane made the point even earlier that President Trump's legal team is waning. He only has two lawyers left. Ty Cobb, Jay Sekulow and other law firm haven't wanted to join the team after John Dowd resigned. So, if the president does decide to speak to Mueller, does having this lean legal team make a difference?

CALLAN: It does make a difference because if you are prepping properly for deposition or particularly for grand jury testimony, you have to sit down with lawyers for hours at a time, go over lots of documents. That are going to come up in a deposition and he has to strip down legal staff now. I don't know that they have the manpower do it.

Now, remember, he set up huge public record with tweets and other depositions in civil cases. He's even gone so far to say on the public record this is one of my favorite Trump acronyms or lines.

[08:10:10] And that he believes in truthful hyperbole, that is his phrase. That is how he defines a lie. So, he admits in the past he's lied numerous times, but he says when he says it, it is truthful hyperbole. So, try truthful hyperbole on Mueller and you will be impeached and subsequently taken away in handcuffs.

GALLAGHER: And Phil, last question here to you, I mean, even if the president doesn't testify under oath, if he uses some of this to borrow the phrase truthful hyperbole or is inaccurate in some way exaggerating, that is still a crime.

MUDD: That's right. These are federal officials who are interviewing him. There's been a lot of conversation about oath, under oath. If you lie to an investigator during an investigation, that is a federal violation. It's called a thousand one violation. It's common.

And you've seen these violations in the Mueller investigation already. So, whether or not the president is under oath, he is still at risk.

NOBLES: All right. Paul Callan, Kelly Jane Torrance, and Phil Mudd, thank you all for your expertise.

BLACKWELL: Well, some people watching this White House pretty closely speculated that EPA Head Scott Pruitt would not make it through the night, but this morning he is still on the job.

GALLAGHER: That's right. This is despite of a list of controversies that he has racked up over the last week. The president did meet with Pruitt on Friday while some White House aides and dozens of Democrats have called for Pruitt's dismissal. Evangelical leader, Tony Perkins, defended the embattled EPA head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY PERKINS, EVANGELICAL LEADER: Here's what we know about Scott Pruitt. He has been accomplishing the president's agenda in more probably so than any other agency. And that has some on the opposing political side upset, the fact that he worked to get us out of the Paris Accord.

The president likes him. It's been good for business. Yes, the left is upset, and they will find everything that can. And if there is anything there, I believe that it will come out, but I don't think there is anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: One of the latest controversies involves the room Pruitt rented from a lobbyist couple in Washington. CNN confirmed that when the couple could not get him to leave, they were forced to change the locks.

NOBLES: All right. Over to another political figure in hot water, embattled Texas Republican Representative Blake Farenthold resigning from Congress amid a month's long controversy. This happened on Friday. Farenthold is accused of using taxpayer dollars to settle a former aide's sexual harassment claims against him. Now the National Republican Congressional Committee is requesting he still pay back the $84,000 that he paid as of last month has still hasn't paid.

BLACKWELL: The annual trip that brings migrants through Mexico is moving toward the U.S. border. We will go there to hear why they are coming and what steps the White House is taking to stop them.

GALLAGHER: Plus, we have exclusive new details about another adviser to President Trump trying to expose damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. We have more on that just ahead.

BLACKWELL: Also, he barely made the cut for this weekend, but to know Tiger Woods is to know not to count him out. Can he make a comeback? Is it possible he could his fifth green jacket? We'll talk about that.

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[08:17:21]

BLACKWELL: We're following breaking news overnight. Fourteen people are dead after a bus carrying a Junior League hockey team crashed in Canada. The bus collided with a tractor trailer in Saskatchewan Province Friday night. Coaches and players for the Humboldt Broncos team were on bond. 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 that fatal accident. Authorities have not identified those victims.

GALLAGHER: In Mexico, asylum seekers are making their way across the country as they flee corruption, violence, and poverty back home.

BLACKWELL: You may have heard that President Trump has warned about this group earlier in the week, a so-called caravan that he says poses a threat to the United States. But we wanted to do a reality check on the president's comments.

First, about 200 or so migrants are expected to continue to the U.S., much smaller than the original group. It was organized by "People Without Borders" and they want to raise awareness about the dangers of the journey and this year's event is the largest ever with more than 1,100 participants. CNN's Leyla Santiago is traveling with them.

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LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the caravan at the center of some of Trump's tweets. It is a caravan started on the southern part of Mexico and it's heading north. When they started, they were about 1,000 to 1,200 people and now a much smaller crowd. This is about a total of 500 Central Americans, again, making their way north.

Now, President Trump has said that this is a dangerous caravan. So, I want to show you the volunteers here in Puebla have really sort of welcomed them providing meals for many of them. The priests and Catholic churches have provided shelter and some of the shelters have also taken in some of the Central Americans who are heading north.

Again, this is an annual event. Every year it starts off big and then they break off into smaller groups. President Trump has said that the group has dispersed. And while it has gotten smaller, you can see behind me, there are still hundreds.

She's from Guatemala. She says because of the delinquency and the 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.

[08:20:12] 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.

Now, what is the next step for them. These Central Americans say that they will -- some of them -- again stay here in Mexico, some of them will head to the U.S./Mexico border. From Mexico City, the organizers say that many will break off into smaller crowds, again some they say about 200 according to organizers will be making to the U.S./Mexico border, but we'll have to see exactly how many make it there, and if they will be able to seek asylum. Leyla Santiago, CNN, Puebla, Mexico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLACKWELL: And that migrant group is moving on as National Guard troops are heading to the U.S.-Mexico border. This was the scene in Austin, Texas where state officials say 250 service men and airmen will be deployed in the next 72 hours.

GALLAGHER: And while President Trump is touting his work on the issue, we have to point out here this has been done before at least twice. From 2006 to July 2008, President Bush sent some 6,000 National Guardsmen to the border. A few years later, President Obama stationed more than a thousand troops there.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Polo Sandoval is joins us now. Texas is mobilizing the National Guard quickly, but what, if anything, are we learning about what their responsibilities will be and what they will not do on the border?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Diane and Victor, they will be filling those roles that they have during previous deployments. That is to basically be the eyes and ear for state and federal agencies that are patrolling that 2,000-mile border from California to Texas.

Meaning that they will essentially be supporting law enforcement because they are unable or really, they can't enforce certain laws, which means that they won't be taking any immigration actions during their potential encounters with undocumented people along that border.

Yesterday, the state of Texas announcing that they are sending their first wave about 250 that left Austin yesterday heading down to the southwest border. Many ever these will be planning logistics, will be figuring out where some of these air and ground assets will be located along the border.

And also, yesterday in answer to a very important question that many people have been asking, will these troops carry weapons? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIGADIER GENERAL TRACY NORRIS, TEXAS MILITARY DEPARTMENT: So, depending on the mission set, a soldier will be armed for self- defense. But again, it will depend on the mission set and what the requirements are through the Department of Homeland Security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANDOVAL: And this is just the first of many as we have heard from the White House, up to 4,000 National Guard troops are expected to be positioned along the border. Reaction has certainly been mixed here.

We have heard from critics who are concerned that this could potentially send a message to the rest of the country or world that this administration has been militarizing the border even though it has been done before.

But then, there's, also, of course, people who support this. This week, I had the opportunity speak to a rancher in Stark County, Texas, who says that he welcomes this. He has actually had troops on his 600-acres before during previous deployments. Now he expects to do it yet again here, Dianne and Victor.

So, this is clearly something that we have seen before. But just as previous cases, this is certainly a controversial move on behalf of the administration.

BLACKWELL: All right. Polo Sandoval for us. Polo, thank you.

GALLAGHER: All right. Still to come, another adviser to President Trump trying to get dirt on Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, this time though using information that was found on the dark web. Those exclusive details just ahead.

BLACKWELL: Plus, after being poisoned, a former Russian spy is making some incredible progress.

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[08:28:53]

GALLAGHER: Welcome back. I'm Dianne Gallagher in for Christi Paul this morning.

BLACKWELL: Good morning. I'm Victor Blackwell.

GALLAGHER: We have some exclusive new details. Sources telling CNN that another adviser to President Trump tried to expose damaging information about Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

BLACKWELL: Joseph Schmidt is the former Pentagon inspector general in George W. Bush's administration, approached the FBI, and other government agencies to remove e-mails from the dark web. He believed that they were Hillary Clinton's missing e-mails from a private server. Jim Sciutto has details. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 e-mails on the dark web -- and reveal any damaging information within them.

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

SCIUTTO: Joseph Schmidt is a former Department of Department inspector general, was a foreign policy adviser to the campaign. Seen here seated at a table with then-Candidate Trump in March 2016. Meeting with officials at the FBI, State Department and the intelligence communities, he told them a source he called "Patriot" had discovered what he believed were the deleted e-mails 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. All 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 e-mails.

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 e-mails. 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. Cyber security 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. Schmitz reached by CNN in person and via e-mail declined to comment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Our thanks to Jim Sciutto for that report. We're joined now by CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd and CNN political analyst Amy Parnes.

Ladies, good morning to you. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good morning.

BLACKWELL: Samantha, let me start with you. And of course all this happens with and in some context considering what we know about efforts on behalf of WikiLeaks and others to try to get information and e-mails and dirt to the Trump campaign. Could it be simply coincidental that these potentially fake e-mails got from the dark Web to one of -- this gentleman's clients and then potentially to these officials?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It seems like a little bit too much of a coincidence that all this legal material just coincidentally made its way to various members of the Trump campaign at different junctures. We know that Schmitz somehow had access to this material from the dark Web from what we think was a client. We know that Don Jr. was contacted about the material. And we also know that Papadopoulos was contacted by a Russian professor purporting to have the material.

So I think we're seeing a real pattern emerge and Steve Bannon alluded to this in his testimony before Congress, people knew that members of the Trump campaign were looking for and are open to receiving illegal content. So it wasn't a secret that they were open to receiving this kind of dirt and actively pursuing it.

So, Victor, what that makes me wonder is why were these the kind of guys that were staffing Donald Trump on the campaign? This was certainly not the A team and why would you want these kind of people around you running your policy?

BLACKWELL: So, Amy, does it matter that this was potentially fake? I mean, is that what you attribute to the rejection from all of these agencies who wanted nothing to do with it?

AMY PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, it matters. And I think what's really interesting here is that he tried again and again and again through his contacts in government, you know, then he took it to the House to see if he could, you know, expose this in some way and he was relentless. And that was really -- I think that's kind of what's key here that he, you know, really wanted to make this something. You know, and he wanted -- he thought that this was something.

And the fact that he is sort of into conspiracy theories I think probably raised some red flags with some people who have dealt with him in the past. So I think that was also another noteworthy element here.

BLACKWELL: But, Amy, this is not a man without government experience, right?

PARNES: Right.

BLACKWELL: Being the inspector general there at the Pentagon before joining this Trump advisory team, that was during the Bush administration. So this is a man who in some ways is different than the other members of this foreign policy team that we know was thrown together during the campaign.

PARNES: Exactly, Victor. And I think that's why they had to take him seriously that he was -- you know, he did have his Pentagon experience and that's why he was able to kind of make these contacts with government officials and they have to sort of take it seriously in the beginning. But I think, you know, because that they were tracking it, because they knew that this was sort of the equivalent of what you could find on Reddit, you know, they kind of dismissed it because they didn't think that it had, you know, much -- they didn't think there was much there. So I think that's why they had to.

BLACKWELL: So what do you make, Samantha, of his going to the FBI, the State Department, intelligence community, inspector general, House Intelligence Committee. This was just an effort to verify, potentially to use this as dirt?

VINOGRAD: I don't think we really know. My gut is telling me that he went to these authorities because he wanted the material to be declassified so that he wouldn't lose his security clearance.

[08:35:06] But there is also the possibility and we just don't know the details that he went to the appropriate authorities so that he didn't access it in a way that was illegal. So I think that that's still an outstanding question, but based upon what we know about the campaign again my gut is that there was just such a desire to get access to this dirt on Secretary Clinton and to put these e-mails that were potentially an embarrassment out into the public space to further discredit her and to use that as a political strategy for winning the election.

BLACKWELL: We know that Papadopoulos has already pleaded guilty, Amy, as part of this probe by Robert Mueller. We expect that Joseph Schmitz will be called in to answer some questions.

PARNES: I would think so. This is part of the larger bucket of rainwater, I think. This is another grip in that bucket. And so I think, yes, this leads to a bigger trail of things. And you know, what's key here is that they all had contact with Russian officials allegedly. We saw that with Papadopoulos, with the professor. We're seeing that again with this individual. We think that, you know, he -- we know that his firm obviously represents a Russian airline. So there was -- there were you know, ways that Russians were trying to contact them allegedly here and I think that's what's clear.

BLACKWELL: Exclusive reporting. We'll see where it goes.

Amy Parnes, Samantha Vinograd, thank you both.

PARNES: Thank you.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Still ahead, he is the former Russian spy who's believed to have been poisoned by his own country. And now Sergei Skripal is making a miraculous recovery. BLACKWELL: Plus Russia vows to respond harshly as the U.S. issues new

sanctions on wealthy Russians among others as punishment for election meddling.

We're live in Moscow next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:41:11] BLACKWELL: A former Russian spy who along with his daughter was poisoned in a nerve agent attack in the UK last month is no longer in critical condition. That's according to the hospital that is treating Sergei Skripal.

GALLAGHER: So the brazen incident turned up the spotlight on Russia's activities in the West. It caused dozens of Russian diplomats to be expelled across the world and now the U.S. is taking aim at members of Vladimir Putin's inner circle in the form of some new sanctions.

We want to bring in CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson. He is in Moscow now.

Nic, let's talk about the former spy first. What can you tell us about this recovery that he is experiencing?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Sure. What the hospital is saying right now is that he is out of critical condition. Of course his daughter Yulia was registered by the hospital as coming out of critical condition about a week ago. What does critical condition mean, you know, when the hospital says this? We've asked them that question. They say it means that the patient can talk. Doesn't necessarily mean to say Sergei Skripal is sitting up in bed and talking. But it does seem to imply that there is a level of communication going on that there wasn't there before.

Out of critical, improving rapidly, responding well. So all these indications are very positive indications for Sergei Skripal. His daughter has been doing well over the past week. We're told she has been, you know, talking with medical staff at the hospital. But I think underlying this, if we look at the statement coming from the British Foreign Office about Sergei Skripal and Yulia and that medical condition, the Foreign Office, the British Foreign Office, makes it very clear that both of them are likely to continue to need medical assessments and help for some time to come. So getting better, yes. Situation improving, yes. But clearly not fully recovered and maybe a long way from it still.

BLACKWELL: At least able to speak.

GALLAGHER: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Doesn't say that he's conversational in any way.

Let's talk now about the new sanctions from the U.S. on these wealthy Russians close to Putin. The government there is talking about resources for those who are facing these sanctions and a response to them. What are you learning? ROBERTSON: Yes, the Foreign Ministry here is saying that they are

going to have a harsh response to these sanctions. They haven't outlined what they are yet. It's the weekend here, Easter weekend on top of that so perhaps we wouldn't get more clarity on it. And if you look at state media last night, main news broadcast, spent about 30 seconds on this subject. It is a big issue. So I think the very fact that it's not getting sort of a leading role in the news broadcast indicates that the government hasn't figured out precisely what they're going to say, precisely what their position is. Precisely how they're going to respond.

But the Trade minister has said yes, the government will support those that are affected, that they will be able to find ways to work around these sanctions. It's not clear what kind of impact they're going to have. Some of the oligarchs involved have criticized them and have complained and said, I haven't done anything wrong, why me?

One major company, an arms exporter here that has been targeted who said that this is just manipulation by -- essentially by the United States to stop them being able to sell their Russian weapons on the international arms market and therefore this puts the United States in a very advantageous position. So potentially this could be the type of narrative we hear coming from the government when they push back. The precise nature, we're yet to find out.

GALLAGHER: All right. Nic Robertson, thank you so much.

Still coming in, Tiger Woods, all come back to the game of golf after a series of personal struggles. He barely made the cut yesterday at the Masters, but how is going to be fair on moving day? Today's third round? We'll have to see. Andy Scholes.

[08:45:01]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLACKWELL: One of the most well-known pro golfers of all-time, Tiger Woods, barely made the cut as he enters round three of the Masters today.

GALLAGHER: Yes. So Tiger has taken home the coveted green jacket four times before, but this year is different for the athlete. He recently bounced back from a series of -- let's call them turbulent years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIGER WOODS, PRO-GOLFER: Six months ago I didn't know if I'd be able to play in golf. And, you know, forget playing at the tour level. I didn't know if I'd be able to play again. But it is incredible to have the opportunity again just to be able to come out here and play this golf course now. And I'm up on the weekend, even though I'm a lot behind, if I play a special weekend, shoot two rounds in the mid- 60s, you never know.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLACKWELL: All right. Joining us now is Jeff Benedict, co-author of the book "Tiger Woods."

Jeff, good to have you.

JEFF BENEDICT, AUTHOR, "TIGER WOODS": Good morning.

[08:50:01] BLACKWELL: So we know that it's almost I wouldn't say impossible, but unlikely that Tiger would go home with his fifth green jacket this weekend, but talk about just making this cut now going to the third round. How remarkable it is considering the arc of his life and career over the last few years.

BENEDICT: Yes, I think if you put this in perspective a year ago he had spinal fusion. Didn't know if he'd ever swing a club again or play even recreationally. Ten months ago, he was found slumped over the wheel on the side of the road in Florida in the middle of the night with a lot of pain prescription pills in his system. Couldn't pass a simple field sobriety test.

If you look at where he was just a short time ago and where he is now, it's amazing that he is even in the tournament and that he is competing the way he is. I mean, I think what you're seeing is an incredible turnaround and more of a personal triumph, frankly, than a golf triumph. I mean, this is a guy who's been through an amazing series of events off the course, outside the ropes, to battle back from all that and to be playing over at the weekend at the Masters is pretty amazing.

GALLAGHER: Do you think people are taking that into consideration, though, Jeff? I mean, there's a lot of people wondering what's going on. Why is -- it's third round, why is he so far behind at this point? You know, that he can't win that fifth green jacket. Should they cut him some slack a little?

BENEDICT: Dating back to when Tiger was 2 years old, there have always been great expectations put on his back starting with his dad who put these burdens on him that seemed impossible. Some of them were impossible. But Tiger has lived with that kind of thing all through childhood, all through his amateur years and college and through his pros.

There's been these expectations that he will do something that has never been done because he always has. I think there's some of that going on now. But probably what's more important here is the expectations he's placed on himself. For the first time in his life, I think he's sort of taken control of his own narrative and I think he is more measured in what he expects himself right now and it's more incremental.

He's talking about being happy that he is playing, that he is competing and that little by little he is getting better and better.

BLACKWELL: You know, Jeff, I remember when I was working back in Florida and the organizer of the players championship a few years back when Tiger announced that he would be playing that year, almost came to tears being able to say that Tiger will be playing this year because he is so good for business for these tournaments. We're seeing ticket prices rise now that Tiger is back out there and doing pretty well.

BENEDICT: There is no question that he moves the needle more than anyone else in golf. I would say he moves the needle more than anyone else in sports in general. The whole sports world got excited when he made his comeback in January and returned to Torrey Pines and he was playing on the PGA Tour again for the first time in a long time.

There were athletes around the world that were weighing in on Twitter about how exciting that was. For the networks it's huge because he draws more eyeballs than anyone. For the tournaments it's great because more people buy ticket and come out to see him. The fact is, is that he is the biggest draw in golf and in sports. He always has been and he still is.

BLACKWELL: Jeff Benedict, good conversation. Good to have you this morning.

BENEDICT: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right. So with all the turmoil in the White House, is the president's wardrobe an issue really? Really?

GALLAGHER: Well, Victor, some are asking. They want to know what's going on with the commander-in-chief's pants. And you know, instead of us weighing in, I think we're going to let Jeanne Moos explain.

BLACKWELL: Really.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would have taken about two minutes but --

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's got a big personality. He's got big hair. And now he's got big pants?

"Vanity Fair" asked the pressing question -- what is going on with Trump's pant legs? On a couple of recent occasions the president has been photographed with what the magazine calls enormous pant legs, "the circumference of a healthy toddler's head. Is something changing"?

RONNY JACKSON, WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN: Height 75 inches, weight 239 pounds.

MOOS: Is the President gaining weight or losing height or just in need of a tailor? In Trump's "Think Like a Billionaire" he wrote, "I wear Brioni suits which I buy off the rack."

Remember the last flap over presidential pants?

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Your husband wore these on the pitcher's mound. The -- MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: The mom jeans?

FALLON: Yes. Oh no, sorry but --

OBAMA: The jeans.

FALLON: But if you're not a mom then you're --

OBAMA: Dad jeans.

MOOS: Dad jeans, mom jeans, whatever you call them, they're not President Trump's problem.

JACKSON: He has incredibly good genes and it's just the way God made him.

MOOS: But there's one guy with a leg up on President Trump. Forget nuclear button size. Look at these babies. One Twitter user launched the dear leader with the caption, "Final inflation test for the new Kim Jong balloon." His massive pant legs have inspired a British journalist to create #KimJongUnTrouserWatch.

[08:55:07] Another commenter likened his limbs to a pair of those inflatable wind dancers. Forget the arms race, we're talking a legs race. One President Trump would probably rather lose. At least when the PolitiFact pants on fire meter lights up over the president's latest untruth, he'll have more pants to burn. And if it's money you want to burn, his jogging pants will set you back 50 bucks.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER: You can find anything on the Internet.

BLACKWELL: You sure can. Really.

All right. That's it for us. We'll see you back here at 10:00 Eastern for an hour of NEWSROOM.

GALLAGHER: Don't go anywhere, though. "SMERCONISH" starts right after this short break.

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