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Chemical Attack Killed Dozens And Injured Hundreds Of Men, Women And Children In Syria; President Trump To Go After Vladimir Putin By Name, The Russian President On The Horrific Suspected Chemical Attack In Syria; About 250 Texas National Guard Troops To Be On The U.S.-Mexico Border; Comedian Jimmy Kimmel Apologizing For His Jabs As Fox News Host Sean Hannity; President Meets With His EPA Chief Amid Multiple Scandals From Private Jets To Controversial Pay Raises; Brand New Episode Of "American Dynasties: The Kennedys;" Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 8, 2018 - 19:00   ET


[19:00:05] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

We have heartbreaking breaking news. A big price to pay, horrific suspected chemical attack in Syria prompting President Trump to go after Vladimir Putin by name, the Russian President. Trump threatening Russia for backing the Syrian President he now refers to as quote "animal Assad." And tonight Russia is firing back, warning of the most serious consequences if the U.S. takes military action in Syria. And while these two nuclear superpowers duke it out at the heart of everything is the Syrian people. And we want to warn you the images we are about to show you are incredibly disturbing and graphic, but they drive home the relentless suffering women and children continued to endure now seven years into their civil war.

Activists say Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with toxic gas, suffocating some and sending others in convulsions. You can see the chaos at hospitals overwhelmed with injured people. At least 48 people are dead and hundreds more have symptoms of exposure. Doctors desperately try to wash the skin and the hair of young children. Their cries only quieted by gasps for air.


CABRERA: CNN cannot independently verify these videos which were taken by anti-government activists and doctors, but we have live team coverage for you tonight stretching from Syria to the White House as well as a panel of experts standing by.

And I want to bring in CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. He is the only western reporter in Damascus.

And Fred, Syrian officials we know are saying the rebels carried out this attack. Is anyone in the rest of the world buying that explanation?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly we haven't heard anybody that's buying that explanation as of so far, Ana. But it certainly seems to be quite a chaotic situation and very difficult to find out what exactly happened there late last night.

Now, we have been able to piece together so far is that apparently all of this happened at around 20 minutes past 8:00 p.m. last night. It is a local Syrian time. And several opposition groups have been saying that these helicopters all of a sudden showed up over the area of Duma which is towards the east of Damascus, the last rebel enslave that is still out there. They then apparently dropped canisters. And then all of a sudden people became very ill, had respiratory problems and then many people obviously died as well.

The numbers are still very difficult to put together. There currently seems to be over 40 people who were killed. But again, the situation there still somewhat in flux and so very difficult to say how many people actually succumbed to this.

Now you are absolutely right. The Syrian government says it was not behind these attacks and had hinted that it might have been the rebels themselves. However, what they were also saying is they didn't need any sort of chemical weapons in their offensive that they had going on at that point in time. They said they were making big headway against the last holdout that the rebels had, of course, supported by power from the air as well. And so they are saying they didn't need to use any gas to make that headway.

But you have these accusations that are flying back and forth. But one of the things that we have seen time and again, I think we have reported on it very well, Ana, is that in the end it's the Syrian civilians, they really suffering the most. And we can see that by the horrible images that we have had to show, unfortunately, throughout the past two days, Ana.

CABRERA: Fred, what can you tell us about what's happening in Duma today to help those people and to move forward in this situation?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know, one of the remarkable things that has actually happened over the past 24 hours or so is that essentially, the Assad government has won that district back, Duma. What's going on right now as we speak is that there are buses that are exiting that place with rebel fighters in them and their families as well that are being taken to other parts of Syria.

At the same time there are also some prisoners that were held by the rebel pro-government people who are being bussed to here to the government rebel-held areas of Damascus. So essentially, what's going on is that this area has been won back by the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad with a lot of help from the Russians -- Ana.

CABRERA: Fred Pleitgen, thank you, reporting live from Damascus tonight.

Let's go to the White House now. CNN's Abby Phillip is there live for us.

Abby, the President is blaming animal Assad and Vladimir Putin for his attack as well as his predecessor Barack Obama and he is promising there will be a quote "big price to pay." Any indication what that price will be?

[19:05:11] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ana. The President once again appears to be horrified by reports of a chemical weapons attack in Syria, but it's very unclear this time, perhaps more so than even the last time around, what exactly he will do about it.

A year ago almost to it the day President Trump authorized tomahawk missiles to strike at airfields operated by the Assad forces, in retaliation for a similar attack, but this time around President Trump is coming into this event having said that he wants to pull the United States out.

But on twitter he had really harsh words for Assad, for Vladimir Putin, for Iran and also for President Obama who he pinpointed as the person responsible for putting him and the United States in this position.

Here's what he said about President Obama specifically. He said if President Obama had crossed his stated red line in the sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago. Animal Assad would have been history.

Now, of course, President Trump promising that there will be a big price to pay. He appears to be drawing his own line in the sand. His national -- his homeland security adviser Tom Bossert are saying all options are on the table for this administration, Ana.

CABRERA: All right. Abby Phillip, at the White House, thank you.

Some Republicans on Capitol Hill say the President's choice is clear. Fire back or look weak.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CALIFORNIA: Well, it's a defining moment in his presidency because he has challenged Assad in the past not to use chemical weapons. We had a one and done missile attack, so Assad's at it again. They see us our resolve breaking. They see our determination to stay in Syria waning, and this is no accident that they used chemical weapons. If he doesn't follow through and live up to that tweet he is going to look weak in the eyes of Russia and Iran. So this is a defining moment, Mr. President. You need to follow through with that tweet, show resolve that Obama never did to get this right.


CABRERA: Joining us now, CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali and CNN national security analyst and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

So Elise, the President's tweets this morning and even this afternoon seem to be battling his America first instincts to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't know if we will even see a wholesale change of his policy towards Syria, Ana. I think he has made pretty clear that the, you know, immediate threat and enemy is ISIS. He wants that job done. I don't think that precludes him answering and responding to this particular attack and doing things that will hamper President Assad from doing something like this in the future, using chemical weapons. And I think it's also interesting, if you remember from last year he did when he launched that strike, he said it was to send Russia message. So I think he could do something like that again. I don't think that is going to change his idea that the U.S. is not there to state through the civil war, to nation builds and be there as a buffer against Iran.

CABRERA: The National Security Council is set to meet tomorrow with new national security adviser John Bolton leading those deliberations.

Elise, I know you have been talking to your sources close to Bolton. What can we expect?

LABOTT: Well, I mean, I think this is what they call a principal small group meeting. And it's just the President's really top national security advisers. So it will be led by John Bolton, but it will include the acting secretary of state John Sullivan because Mike Pompeo hasn't been confirmed yet as secretary of state, but he will be there as the director of the CIA, and it will also include James Mattis, probably the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff general Dunford, and they will be talking about the kind of options to present to the President of what he can do.

I think if you listen to President Trump this morning, there will be some type of response. What is that going to be? Whether it's going to be a qualitative response that will change the equation on the ground, I don't really know, but I think talking to diplomats and hearing from President Trump himself and the state department who is holding Russia kind of squarely responsible, I think you are definitely going to see some type of response. And the U.N. Security Council is also meeting tomorrow to discuss. So I think this is going to be a real international effort.

CABRERA: Tim, as we were listening to Abby Phillip reading the President's tweets from this morning I saw you shaking your head. What stood out?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, all Presidents blame their predecessors for inherited conflicts, but a certain point in your presidency it becomes the President's conflict.

1969 Nixon gives the silent majority speech. Vietnam becomes his war.

Barack Obama, November 2009, decides for the surge in Afghanistan, it becomes his war.

In April of last year, President Trump sent a missile strike, launched a missile strike against Syrian targets, and at that point the Syrian conflict became his problem. Clearly the Russians didn't hear the message and Assad didn't hear the

message. Now the United Nations investigated that chemical attack last year and said that it was done by the Syrian government.

So we know that Assad is a war criminal. So the question is now are we just going to launch missiles again, which, of course, Assad and the Russians will ignore, or is the United States prepared to deal with the fact that there's a war criminal who is running Syria?

I don't know if President Trump has the understanding of foreign policy to deal with this kind of problem.

[19:10:33] CABRERA: He is pointing fingers at Russia though. He is tweeting Russian President Putin's name condemning him directly. That is a change.

NAFTALI: That's a change, but what's the follow-through? I mean, it's really important that we stand up to Russia. But here is the challenge. Look at what we have been saying about Russia for a year. We send the missiles in to say to Russia, don't do this with Assad. Don't let him do this. And then our President talks about Putin as if he is a good -- he is a good man, as if we shouldn't be worried about him.

Only lately has the U.S. government been able to put pressure on Russia. The fact of the matter is all the authoritarians around the world aren't believing us, because they look at our President and they see that basically our President is not standing up for human rights abroad. He is not asking for authoritarians to allow for democracy. All the signals he is sending about democracy are contrary to what you would expect of the United States of America. So no wonder Assad and no wonder Putin ignore us. And they will do it again if all we do is launch a missile strike.

CABRERA: Gayle, I want you to listen to the President last year after Assad launched a chemical weapons attack.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies, their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.


CABRERA: Senator John McCain today says Trump's more recent talk of withdrawing emboldened Assad and the President must now attack again. Do you think the President is in a box here? Did he draw his own red line?

GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think that the President is in a new box. I think the President is in the same box that the Obama administration faced. You know, this really is a moment of truth, a moment of crisis that is

seven years in the making. And this was all entirely predictable because when you have this access of impunity in the Assad regime with its Russian and Iranian backers which truly fear there is no norm it cannot trample, no standard it cannot break. You get absolute horrors as the one we are now witnessing.

And so, you saw President Obama try to navigate what this meant in 2012 and 2013 and then you have seen now the Trump administration really try to face the same set of questions. But there's no question, you know, the international community has largely been neutered by the Syrian conflict. It is a horror that has extinguished really the power of adjectives to describe how awful it truly is. And I think, you know, you see the international community with all the teeth of an inflatable guard dog at this point and an Assad regime that knows it.

CABRERA: And Russia clearly still backing that Assad regime, issuing this stern warning to the United States. I quote. "Using far-fetched and fabricated pretext for a military intervention in Syria where Russian servicemen are deployed at the request of the legitimate government is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to the most serious consequences.

Gayle, what would be the consequences, do you think, of a U.S. strike in Syria this time, especially if Russia troops were caught up in the damage?

LEMMON: Listen, you know, it's so fascinating because for years since the ISIS fight started, de-confliction has been the norm between the United States and Russia. They have gone out of their way on the military side to truly avoid any direct engagement. And now you see the situation where it is nearly unavoidable, right. You have the President really calling out the Russian regime -- the Russian President by name saying that they back the Assad regime to the nth degree and show no signs of backing down and they will be held responsible for it. So the question we now see is will de-confliction give way to direct engagement between these two powers?

CABRERA: Elise, you mentioned this emergency U.N. Security Council meeting that was called. Should we expect a different outcome this time around?

LABOTT: I don't think so, Ana. I mean, look, the Russians are a permanent member of the U.N. security council with a veto. And not only have they not accepted resolutions criticizing the Assad regime all along, they are certainly not going to take something that criticized themselves.

You might see some kind of watered down statement, a Presidential statement coming out. I think that there is more really of a way for, you know, countries to speak out tomorrow. You'll have U.N. ambassador, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in the chair who hasn't pulled her punches on the Assad regime or Russia. So I think that that will be a very kind of tough moment on behalf of the administration. But, you know, in addition to the U.N. Security Council, you also have

the U.S. working with its allies, talking to the brits today, talking to the French. I think if you see some action, I don't know if you will see something by the U.S. alone. You could you see something from some other countries because, you know, the pictures are just horrible, and I don't think the world is going to stand by this time.

[19:15:42] CABRERA: Elise, Tim, Gayle, thank you all for the thoughtful discussion.

Coming cup, a former national security adviser weighs in on Trump's threat as well as Trump's criticism of former President Barack Obama's strategy.

And also ahead, if you would like to learn more about how you can help the Syrian people survive the ongoing conflict in their country, you can log on to any time.

We will be right back.


[19:20:55] CABRERA: Our breaking news. John Bolton just got a big assignment for his first day as Trump's national security adviser. He will lead the national security council in a meeting on Syria tomorrow just a day after the President called out Russia's Vladimir Putin by name for backing Bashar al-Assad after a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria. The President is now warning of a big price to pay.

What that big price is we don't yet know. And that brings us to your weekend Presidential brief, a segment we have been bringing you every Sunday night with the President's most pressing foreign policy issues.

And here to bring it to you is CNN national security analyst and former national security council adviser Sam Vinograd. She spent two years helping prep for the president's daily brief in the Obama administration.

And so, we normally cover several topics in this segment but because of the gravity of the situation in Syria, Sam, we anticipate that will be the focus of the Presidential brief tomorrow so let's stay there.

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Exactly, Ana. And I think at the oval tomorrow, we are going to have intelligence assessments on different pieces of this horrific puzzle. I think the briefing would probably start with the context. Chemical weapons have been used in Syria since at least 2012. And each time these attacks happen, the regime denies responsibility. They did this again today. Russia supports some I think Russia called it fake news a few hours ago. They blame the rebels even. And then they try to restrict access to the sites of the attacks so that medical professionals and relief workers can't gather any evidence on what happened. That's exactly what we are seeing play out right now.

Intel professionals would also want to provide some more information on anything new that we have learned about this specific attack, for example, what kind of chemical agent was used? Where is it being stored? How is it being transported? And is there any communication between Syria and Russia, for example, about any further attacks?

CABRERA: I'm trying to understand still why Russia and Iran are standing behind Bashar al-Assad and allowing essentially the suffering of these people to continue. What exactly are they doing to prop up the Assad government?

VINOGRAD: Well, Ana, to the road to Damascus leads through Moscow and it leads to Tehran. Assad is a war criminal. He would not have been able to kill hundreds of thousands of people without support from Russia and Iran.

Russia, we know, for example, has provided military support, logistical support and diplomatic cover. We had treasury sanctions that came out last week against various Russian officials that were solely focused on their support for the regime.

And it's interesting, Ana, you and I have talked about potential military intervention. The very presence of Russian troops on the ground in Syria is a deterrent in some ways for more direct military action by the United States because the administration is worried about direct confrontation between U.S. forces and the Russians.

CABRERA: So we saw the President look back and go after President Barack Obama and his lack of action. Some have called tin action, but when it came to a military decision he held back. Given the criticism President Trump is putting in that direction, do you think Assad is worried?

VINOGRAD: I think Assad is worried, and it's true that President Trump did take a very important military strike about a year ago. But Ana, the time to point fingers will come after the violence has stopped. The war is still ongoing. So I was hugely disappointed by the President's tweet on that.

I do think in the NSC briefing tomorrow John Bolton will walk through a series of options to deter further CW attacks. One of those would be diplomatic, try to get more international condemnations. We tried that. It hasn't work. Another would be financial, more sanctions against Russia and Iran. Again, we have tried that. That hasn't work.

The final two options would be in the military space and in the covert space. Military-wise President Trump could decide to apply more ground forces in Syria. Right now we have forces there, but they are solely focused on countering ISIS. And President Trump could also meet with his team tomorrow and try to discuss getting more countries on board like Saudi Arabia, like the emirates to counter the threat in Syria. And finally there are covert options which we can't discuss as much here, but those are always on the table.

[19:25:01] CABRERA: All right. Sam Vinograd, as always, thank you so much.

Coming up, special report from the border, for the President wants thousands of troops to bolster security until he gets his wall.


[19:29:37] CABRERA: By this time tomorrow, the plan is for about 250 Texas National Guard troops to be on the U.S.-Mexico border. They are the first of as many as 4,000 troops ordered by the Pentagon to help beef up security there responding to what President Trump called a drastic surge of illegal activity on the southern border.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is in south Texas where people who live there say sending U.S. troops to the border won't solve anything.


CABRERA: So forgive us. We ran the wrong version. Obviously, that one was in Spanish. We will work to get the right version for you in English.

Also ahead here in the NEWSROOM, the on-air feud that has Jimmy Kimmel apologizing to FOX's Sean Hannity tonight. Stay right there.


[19:34:50] CABRERA: Welcome back. Our continuing coverage of the President sending National Guard troops to the border to stop illegal immigration. Our Ed Lavandera spoke to people who live along the border.

Here's his report.


[19:35:04] ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When night falls in Loredo, Texas, Priscilla Villarreal hits the streets, documenting prime scenes to her Facebook page entitled LaGardiloca which translates to the crazy fat lady.

PRISCILLA VILLARREAL LOREDO, TEXAS RESIDENT; I mean, I would lie if I said it's the safest city in the world but it's not.

LAVANDERA: She is irreverent, outspoken and rarely startled by anything she sees in this bothered town.

VILLARREAL: As you can see we have our border patrol agents. We are at the corner of Louisiana and Napoleon.

LAVANDERA: Like this high speed chase that ended in a dramatic crash in the middle of a neighborhood.

VILLARREAL: Several people were transported to a local hospital. It's being said that they were all undocumented people.

LAVANDERA: When President Trump says that he needs to send troops down to the border because it's a lawless place, how do you react to that? VILLARREAL: I think it -- I think he is wrong. I mean, we have

enough authority in town to cover whatever is happening in our town. I mean, I don't think sending troops is going to solve anything.

LAVANDERA: Despite what Villarreal sees most nights, border towns consistently rank as having some of the lowest crime rates in the country. So the idea of bringing in the National Guard isn't popular among most residents.

President Trump says 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard soldiers will be sent to the border until the wall is built. In the past, these soldiers have worked in supporting roles, not here on the front lines like the banks of the Rio Grande. National border control council spokesman Hector Garza says the border patrol force is 2,000 agents short of being fully staffed. National Guard soldiers can fill the void.

HECTOR GARZA, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: This is about saving American lives, saving our border patrol agents' lives so they don't get assaulted or they don't get killed so they don't get injured.

LAVANDERA: We can see up to five miles, is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Up to my files.

LAVANDERA: Webb County sheriff Martin Cuellar says the better way to boost border security is through technology. His department currently only has one camera today capturing the movements of an unsuspecting rancher two miles inside Mexico. He is lobbying lawmakers to invest in a $92 million plan that would equip local law enforcement agencies with drones, censors and more cameras.

SHERIFF MARTIN CUELLAR, WEBB COUNTY, TEXAS: This is a force multiplier. This is only the camera system. We are talking about we are missing drones and missing the sensors and missing all those technology that could, you know, be deployed and better secure the border.

LAVANDERA: So you would much rather have the federal money for your technology instead of troops?

CUELLAR: Absolutely, without you a doubt.

VILLARREAL: Can't they do the job themselves?

LAVANDERA: Priscilla Villarreal says bothered towns are now used to the intense presence of law enforcement, border patrol, state troopers, local police who can all descend on any crime scene. It's the new way of life on the border.

VILLARREAL: I have been living in the city for many, many years, and you get used to everything that happens in this city. It's just normal for us. It's normal.

LAVANDERA: Ed Lavandera, CNN, Loredo, Texas.


CABRERA: Our thanks to Ed.

New tonight, comedian Jimmy Kimmel apologizing for his jabs as FOX News host Sean Hannity. Kimmel offering to end their feud over his own recent joke about first lady Melania Trump. First, here's a reminder of how this feud got started. Watch.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE: Hannity apparently took issue with a joke I made on the show on Monday night, and this is what he had to say about that.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: This is brutal. Liberal Jimmy Kimmel making fun of the first lady of the United States and her involvement in the White House Easter egg roll even her accent. Jimmy, you are a despicable disgrace. Take a look.

KIMMEL: OK. Before we take a look -- I want to recap what I said, according to him is brutal, and here's why I'm a despicable disgrace.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Be clever and curious just like a cat. Ask lots of questions about this and that.

KIMMEL: About this and that.

HANNITY: Ask clown Kimmel. I'm going to tell you something. What a disgrace. Hey, Mr. Kimmel, that's her fifth language. How many do you speak?

KIMMEL: Six. I speak six languages, exactly one more than Melania.


CABRERA: OK. And now here is Kimmel's apology on twitter. Quote "while I admit I had fun back and forth, after the thought I realize the level of vitriol from all sides, mine and me included does nothing good for anyone and in fact is harmful to our country."

Let's talk it over with CNN's Brian Stelter, our senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

So Brian, what is your take on Kimmel's apology? Is he sincere and why now?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Somehow, he is trying to push his car on to the high road, take the high road in this case, and let this be over with, you know, to end this tit for tat that went on for days.

It certainly provided farther (ph) for both men's shows. Both men's shows are a form of entertainment. But Kimmel is right that this is not helpful to anybody. It does nothing but caution damage, you know, in terms of the country's discourse. So let's see if Kimmel's fans side with him. I know Hannity's fans

are going to continue to side with Hannity on this one. And Hannity is not accepting the apology, at least not yet. And said he is teasing his show Monday night. So in other words, this is going to keep going for a while longer.

[19:40:24] CABRERA: Do you think there's any risk in Kimmel apologizing given that a lot of his fans have drawn to him has he has turned his show more political, particularly on healthcare?

STELTER: Right. He definitely has. But he is essentially still calling Hannity a hypocrite in not so many words and he is still taking at his shots at President Trump. So Kimmel is having both ways here by still poking fun at the President. It seems to be taking the temperature down a little bit but not all together, you know. So we will see how Hannity takes it on.

I do think Kimmel felt he needed to respond to some of the criticism. He was being called homophobic for some of the things he said a couple days ago. So he came out and expressly apologized to the gay community for any comments that people may have been offended by.

So Kimmel, you know, like I said, trying to take the high road on this. But he is making one important point that's not funny at all and that is that Sean Hannity shows a lot of deference to the President. That it is best of to think of Hannity as an informal adviser to the President at this point.

You know, you were talking about the border, this sudden decision of deploying troops to the National Guard to the Mexican border. What was Trump was doing this time last week? He was having dinner with Sean Hannity at Mar-a-Lago. Hannity has been explicit about immigration for many years, wanting to see more action on the border and border wall. So it's interesting to me that this entire week of tension around the border and around sending the National Guard, it may have all started with Sean Hannity at Mar-a-Lago whispering in the President's ear.

So I think Kimmel was making an important point about the President Trump and Hannity alliance through all of these jokes.

CABRERA: And Sean Hannity, used to somebody of high profile as Kimmel apologizing to him. Where do you think he goes with this?

STELTER: It is a good point. He is not. But I think for Hannity, any attention is positive attention. He will try to keep this going tomorrow. Kimmel, I think he will focus on punching up towards President Trump. But there you see Hannity teasing into tomorrow, you know. That's TV 101, right, to try to get people to stay tuned. But Kimmel, I think he will focus on the President.

CABRERA: All right. Thanks so much. Brian Stelter, good to see you as always.

Don't forget Brian's show is at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday on "RELIABLE SOURCES" here on CNN. Coming up, the President meets with his EPA chief amid multiple

scandals from private jets to controversial pay raises. Can Scott Pruitt survive much longer?


[19:47:00] CABRERA: Welcome back.

It looks like EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's job is safe, at least for now. President Trump telling the world this weekend quote "while security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean water and air while saving USA billions of dollars. Rent was about market rate. Travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job."

We have learned though that losing favor with President Trump can happen quickly.

CNN's Sara Ganim has a look at all the scandals stacking up against Pruitt.


SARA GANIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As scathing headlines about EPA administrator Scott Pruitt pile up, a rift is deepening inside the agency. Sources tell CNN that multiple senior officials, many of them fellow Republicans who pushed back against Pruitt's management and lavish spending, have been demoted, reassigned or iced out for raising flags.

One was the lead agent on Pruitt's security detail who was reassigned when sources say he refused to drive Pruitt through town with lights and sirens to help him avoid Washington, D.C. traffic and get to meetings and the airport on time. Another was a top Trump aide.

TRUMP: This guy is a champ. He is tough as hell. Whenever there's a problem he's not -- he runs right in like full blast. Runs it. He is a wild man.

GANIM: That man, Kevin Chmielewski is a former Trump campaign staffer who served as Pruitt's deputy chief of staff for operations but was stripped of his duties, the exact reasons are unknown.

But there were many extravagances that rubbed some staffers the wrong way, including a proposed $100,000 a month membership to a private jet company, two, proposed desks with a $70,000 price tag, that was bulletproof. Frequent and expensive trips to his home in Oklahoma and several international trips that cost taxpayers thousands of dollars and included a lot of leisure time.

Two sources tell the "Washington Post" that Pruitt endorsed the idea last month of giving big raises to two staffers, but Pruitt wouldn't say who was to blame for a raise in a Wednesday interview.


SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: There will be some accountability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A career person or political person?

PRUITT: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know. You run the agency? You don't know who did this?

PRUITT: I found out about this yesterday and I corrected the action. So we are in the process of finding out how it took place and correcting it.

GANIM: All of this has some White House officials losing confidence in Pruitt, including chief of staff John Kelly who has advocated for his firing.

But Pruitt has also been a good soldier carrying out Trump's agenda to roll back hundreds of Obama era environmental regulations, earning him friends in industry, on Capitol Hill and with one very important supporter, the President who met with Pruitt at the White House today.


CABRERA: That was Sara Ganim reporting.

And coming up in the NEWSROOM, you know the dates in November, but you don't know the whole story about the days after the death of a president. A preview of tonight's brand new episode of "American dynasties: the Kennedys" is next.


[19:54:31] CABRERA: On tonight's brand new episode of "American dynasties: the Kennedys" the story you don't know about the days after JFK's assassination, including the internal struggle for his brother Bobby to be the family's next political hope.

Here is a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jackie Kennedy travels from the hospital to air force one to accompany her husband's body back to Washington. Lyndon Johnson is waiting on the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jackie goes back do what had been her and Jack's bedroom on air force one and slayed on the bed feet up on it is this big Texan Lyndon Johnson. In that moment, made apparent to her in a way that the Kennedys would tend to resent Johnson for forever, that he had taken over and that Jackie was yesterday's first lady.

[19:55:23] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eager to be sworn in, LBJ calls attorney general Bobby Kennedy for the precise wording of the oath of office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wants to seize the reins of power and show the world he Is in charge. To Bobby, this is hasty to the point of on scene.


CABRERA: Joining us now is Evan Thomas. He is a historian, journalist and author of "Robert Kennedy, his life."

Thanks for joining us, Evans. This episode, it really focuses on how JFK's death impacted Bobby in a profound way. He lost his brother and as attorney general he lost the President he served so closely. What went through his mind in that period right after his brother's death?

EVAN THOMAS, AUTHOR, ROBERT KENNEDY, HIS LIFE: Well, he was worried that he had gotten his brother killed. As attorney general, Bobby, they are going after the law and Castro in Cuba, (INAUDIBLE). And he was worried about blowback that this assassination was somehow a reaction to that. So he was fearful that he had gotten his brother killed.

On a grander scale, he has to wonder right away does he step in and pick up his brother's mantle. Does he become a successor? Does he try to carry the Kennedy family name into politics?

CABRERA: And so, as he faced this pressure to carry on the family's role in politics, how did he respond to that pressure and eventually make the decision to run for President himself?

THOMAS: Well, slowly and in agonized way. I mean, it took him years because his basic nature was not to be the leader. He wasn't the front man. He worked behind the scenes, propping up his brother, helping his brother. Now his brother is gone. So does he become the leader? It was a very -- it was an agonizing thing for him. Now he got there by the time he is running for President in 1968, he has stepped into that role. But it took a long time.

CABRERA: Do you think he felt like he had stepped out of the shadow of his brother?

THOMAS: Well, he wasn't born -- the natural role for the older Kennedys, Joe and Kick and Jack was to be out front. Bobby was a runt as a little guy and was insecure and didn't have his father's approval. And just never been in that position of being the front guy. He had certainly worked hard for the family. But this was just all new. He wasn't confident. His voice was tinny. He wasn't cool like Jack. He was much hotter, more complex figure.

CABRERA: We also saw how Jackie Kennedy was despite her grief focused on shaping her husband's legacy. She took some very strategic steps, in fact, to ensure his presidency would be remembered a certain way. Tell us a little bit about that.

THOMAS: Well, one thing she did she got the number one journalist Teddy White then for "Life" magazine which was a big deal in those days and spun this myth of Camelot and it -- like all myths there was some truth to it. But she made it seem a little bit more romantic than it actually was. I don't think actually that Jack Kennedy did spend a lot of time listening to the music of the Broadway show "Camelot." But right away, she wanted to establish this imagery that was very, very powerful and she was a great PR person. She really knew what she was doing.

CABRERA: Do you think she was successful ultimately?

THOMAS: Yes. I mean, here we are. We are the country's fascinated with the Kennedys. Now this myth has been eroded, of course it has. We know more now and it is not as pure. It is more sully. But of course, the legend of King Arthur had plenty of adultery and rivalry, too. So the Kennedys have become like king Arthur's myth or Shakespeare or the ancient Greeks. They are the America's version of this great timeless tragedy.

CABRERA: Evan Thomas, good to talk with you. Thank you so much for joining us.

THOMAS: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: And a reminder, it is a big night here on CNN.

Up next, it is an encore presentation of "the Kennedys: Family Secrets" followed by the brand new episode, "Legend of Camelot" at 9:00 and then at 10:00 tune in for "Pope, the most powerful man in history."

That's going to do it for me. Thank you so much for spending part of your weekend with us here at CNN. I'm Ana Cabrera. Have a great night and a great week ahead.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American people have entrusted the power of the White House to John F. Kennedy. Since then, there has been one political disaster after another. And JFK's troubles are far from over. Scandal threatens his marriage. The struggle for civil rights engulfs the south and the world faces nuclear annihilation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aggressive conduct, all of it, they lead to war.