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House Speaker Paul Ryan Announces He Will Not Seek Re-Election; Interview with Sen. Ben Cardin (D), Maryland; Trump Tells Russia to "Get Ready" for Missile Strikes in Syria. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 10:30   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question. I think he left out one of the most important elements of why his speakership is important from an electoral perspective. And that's just fundraising. And I think the reality is, over the course of the last 15 months if you just look at the numbers that he's put up with his own fundraising committee, with the super PAC that's aligned with him, that he's transferred over to the NRCC.

Republicans -- you can ask any top Republican operative and lawmaker, they make it very clear, we need all the money we can get. We understand the headwinds that we're facing. And nobody, not even close, raised money like Speaker Paul Ryan.

So while the idea that he would be a referendum and maybe advertisements in tight districts for voters, I don't necessarily disagree with them on that one, that maybe he's not going to have a huge impact. He does have an impact on the money side of things.

I will note, though, him saying that he's going to stay as speaker, I'm not sure how tenable that is at this point, but pushing off what would likely be a rather nasty and divisive leadership fight that could split the conference. I think long term that would likely be helpful, but I am just very intrigued to see how that's going to go over the next couple of months.

BERMAN: Right. And then one noticed, as we're talking about the policy of Paul Ryan here, he also has cared deeply about budget deficits, he leaves with a greater deficit than, you know, when he began this term at least which is notable.

Dana, Phil, David, stand by if you will. I want to bring in Democratic Senator Ben Cardin. He's on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Cardin, thank you so much for being with us. There's so much news today and I know you came in to talk about a variety of things and I'll try to get a number of them very quickly but first can I get your reaction to the imminent retirement of Speaker Ryan?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: I served with Speaker Ryan when I was in the House Ways and Means Committee. He's an honorable person, he's in public service for the right reason. I listened to his announcement today I know it's heartfelt. So we appreciate his public service. The two of us have agreed on many issues, but I respect his approach to public service and what he did as a congressman and speaker.

BERMAN: Let me ask you about the foreign policy news today, Senator. The president announced on Twitter that the United States will strike Syria with a missile attack and presumably soon. Let me read you what he wrote. "Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired in Syria. Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming nice and new ands smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas-killing animal who kills his people and enjoy it."

Your reaction to that?

CARDIN: Well, you know, clearly what has happened in Syria requires an international response and it requires U.S. leadership. Clearly what Russia has done in facilitating President Assad of Syria, they need to be held accountable as well and we should engage the international community.

What I don't appreciate about the way the president goes about this, he was very critical of President Obama for announcing intentions giving warning before action is taken. President Trump is doing exactly what he blamed President Obama for doing, and then secondly, it needs to be a comprehensive strategy. We need to get President Assad before a war crimes tribunal for the war crimes that he's committed.

We need to also work with other partners so that we can take action against Russia through sanctions that could really change the equation of Russia facilitating President Assad. All that needs to be part of the package and the president does not articulate that.

BERMAN: You know, on the one hand, he is tough on Russia in this statement, and also in his past actions over the last several days, and in his statements over the last several days. On the other hand, he put out another statement on Twitter this morning, and I want your reaction to that because I think this cannot be overlooked. He says, "Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the fake and corrupt Russia investigation headed up by all the Democrat loyalists or people that worked for Obama. Mueller is most conflicted of all, except Rosenstein who signed FISA and Comey letter. No collusion so they go crazy."

He seems to be blaming the U.S. conflict with Russia on this election meddling investigation. Is that tethered to reality?

CARDIN: Not in the least. He's basically taking aim at our rule of law system, our judiciary, our prosecutors. In fact, all these individuals were appointed are Republican, but that's not the point. The point is that they're professionals carrying out their constitutional responsibility. No one is above the law. This is not about one person. No one is above the law, and I think President Trump is reacting in his own self-defense rather than recognizing the importance of these investigations to the credibility of our democratic system. BERMAN: No, it seems -- hang on one second, Senator Cardin, if you

can. Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, on the floor right now speaking. Let's listen.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: His generational accomplishment would secure the speaker's legacy as a transformational conservative leader, but of course it's far from the only fruit of his speakership. His leadership was vital to securing everything from the largest year-on-year increase in Defense funding in 15 years to the remaking of the way we treat and find cures for rare diseases.

[10:35:04] What's more, Paul has paired that ambitious agenda with an infectious good cheer and an unflagging commitment to serve all Americans.

Amidst all the stresses and pressures of leadership, Paul's optimism and energy never faded. It's been a sincere pleasure and a real inspiration to work alongside this humble servant and happy warrior. I'm glad we can count on his continued leadership through the rest of the year because our work together is far from finished.

I look forward to collaborating closely these next months to implement more of the inclusive pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda the American people are counting on us to keep advancing.

Now on another matter, yesterday the Senate confirmed the first of six nominees slated for consideration this week --

BERMAN: You're listening to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell there praising the outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, talking about how much they believe they accomplished working together in Congress.

Again, the major breaking news today Paul Ryan announcing that he will not run for re-election.

I want to thank Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland who we were speaking to before. He had to run. Got a lot of breaking news to cover. We'll be right back.


[10:40:26] BERMAN: We've got a lot of breaking news this morning, major national security developments. The president announced on Twitter that the United States will strike Syria with missiles and presumably soon. At the same time he blamed that the U.S. bad blood with Russia on the Mueller investigation.

Our Kaitlan Collins at the White House with the very latest -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, I think this is the first time a missile strike has ever been announced on Twitter and the president saying this morning in response to Russia vowing to shoot down any missiles, commenting on that, saying, "Get ready, Russia, because they will be coming nice, and new and smart. You shouldn't be partners with a gas-killing animal," referring to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, "who kills his own people and enjoys it."

And then he followed up with that with a very different tone, saying, "Our relationship with Russia is worse now than has ever been and that includes the Cold War." He said, "There is no reason for this. Russia needs U.S. help -- us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race."

But that first tweet there, John, from the president is quite remarkable because this is the president as you recalled during the campaign often criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for what he said was telegraphing his military moves but that seems to be exactly what the president is doing on Twitter this morning and even last year when there were those air strikes in Syria the president said he was not going to say what he was going to do beforehand.

And of course, he was in Mar-a-Lago at the time of that, but this comes as the president has been meeting with military leaders, essentially signaling that a military move could happen but now we do have an explicit statement from the president saying that that should be happening any day now here -- John.

BERMAN: They will be coming. That seems like an official announcement.

Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thank you very much.

With me, CNN Military analyst, Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

General, thanks so much for being with us. In addition to announcing those missiles will be coming, the president says they are nice and new and smart, in quotation marks, which really does mean something specific. What does Russia see there?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: They see it as smart missiles, smart technologies which most of our weapons systems are that are fired from afar. All of that is interesting, John, but it's nothing new and it just shows, I think in this case, that the president really doesn't understand the operational requirements of confidentiality, and I tell you, from an analyst perspective, I had to shake my head when I read this tweet, but I then placed myself back in a military commander's perspective being in combat and it caused me to face plant.

I just can't believe that the commander-in-chief would say something like this on a device like Twitter, or a communication platform like Twitter. Just doesn't make any sense. And as John Kirby says, it's very cavalier. I would use harsher terms than that. It's almost irresponsible and reckless, and it shows that the president really doesn't understand this isn't a video game. This is the potential for life and death in a lot of people, and truthfully, with Russia's involvement in Syria, they have in place air defense systems which are now given a greater warning than they otherwise would have been that nice, new smart weapons are coming their way. It just doesn't make sense to me as a military man. BERMAN: Sophisticated. Sophisticated air defense systems.

General, one other thing we've been told overnight is that the White House might want this response to be greater than the one last year, 59 missiles fired last year.


BERMAN: What do you think that would mean?

HERTLING: John, I think last year's warning was exactly that. It was a warning even though it was costly, there were 59 missiles, it hit a specific target. It was the equivalent of the 21st century shot across the bow, knock it off. You know, don't use chemical weapons. Well, the Assad regime supported by Russia did use chemical weapons again, so in my view that would require a much larger, greater, more precise and more non-tit-for-tat response.

It tells me that he is going to go after more than potentially military targets. There might be some societal targets, specifically headquarters, places where Assad is or -- that he has used. It isn't going to be in my view directed just that, an airfield or a few helicopters or jets that transported the weapons system.

BERMAN: General, we have to let you go in just a second here. In addition to announcing this missile strike on Twitter, which you take issue with, the president also said that a lot of the bad blood between the United States and Russia is due to the Russian election meddling investigation which he called corrupt and fake.

[10:45:07] Is that the basis for a bad relationship with this country?

HERTLING: Absolutely not, John. I was, as you know, commander in Europe in the early 2010 state time frame and I would tell you there has been bad blood with Russia since their invasion of Georgia, their invasion of Ukraine, their taking a sovereign territory, their attempts to interfere with other nations' elections, their constant disruption of Western institutions to include cyber attacks.

So, yes, this investigation is not at any means something that has contributed to the bad blood. Only in the minds of the president that it's become all about him. This is a pariah nation state that has increasingly become worse since about the 2004 timeframe.

BERMAN: General Mark Hertling, thank you very much for being with us. Appreciate it.

HERTLING: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: Is the man overseeing the Russia investigation the next to go? Sources tell CNN the president is considering firing the deputy attorney general. So what does that mean? What would Congress do about that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:50:18] BERMAN: All right. President Trump is attacking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein by name. He did it inside the White House. He did it on Twitter this morning and this comes as CNN has learned the president is considering firing the deputy attorney general.

Joining me now is Kristen Soltis Anderson, columnist for the "Washington Examiner," a Republican strategist, and Patti Solis Doyle, CNN political commentator.

There's like 85 million things that have happened in the last two hours that I could ask you about but I do want to focus on Ron Rosenstein because this is a very important issue here, Kristen. What do you think would happen if the president fired Rosenstein? What would the reaction be most importantly among Republicans on Capitol Hill?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": I think if Donald Trump fires Rod Rosenstein there are -- there's both political and legal trouble that could be coming his way, or rather he thinks that if he does this it will help clear up legal problems, that he would have no political backlash.

On the legal side, I'm not a lawyer so I can't weigh in on how it would change things for him in terms of the investigation, but in terms of the politics of it, you've got a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill who I think are not interested in getting into a fight with the president.

When Donald Trump came to Washington, he said, look, the swamp is going to reject me. I'm going there to drain the swamp. There's going to be friction and resistance and I'm ready for it and that's what Republican voters think. That's what a lot of these Republican members of Congress are hearing from their voters when they go back to their district, and so standing up to President Trump is not something that endears them to their own base and really puts them in a difficult position.

BERMAN: No. And he sees that. Look, there is an ad that was put out by this group, Republicans for the Rule of Law. Bill Kristol is among the people who did it, saying, keep Bob Mueller in charge of the investigation, and you have had a number of lawmakers come out, suggesting that Mueller should be fired. Rod Rosenstein, though, is a different matter. It might be more subtle and maybe, as you say, Republicans will want to stand up to the president on that.

Patti, you look at this and you see the possibility that the public, the American people would be outraged by this.

PATTI SOLIS DOYLE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. I mean, there's no question that if President Trump fired Mueller, Rosenstein or even Sessions, he would set in motion a constitutional crisis, but more importantly, I think there will be riots in the streets. He ostensibly, by doing this, President Trump is saying I am above the law, and that goes directly at our democracy and the foundation on what our country was based on, that no one is above the law. I think that the resistance, energy and intensity would pale in

comparison. I think there would be protests, marches, town halls, they would call members of Congress, and I think that not just Democrats, but independents and probably even some of Trump's base would see that a Democratic Congress is the only real checks and balance on President Trump if he fires Mueller.

So I think, you know, the Republicans are in big trouble politically, and it probably would behoove them to pass this bipartisan legislation to save the special counsel.

BERMAN: I've been looking at that and I've been wondering, Kristen, maybe you can address this, it seems to me that it would protect Republicans more than Democrats if they went ahead pass this legislation that now is being merged together, the Chris Coons-Cory Booker-Tom Tillis-Lindsey Graham legislation, all being put forward by one. The leadership is not supporting it, but doesn't it give Republican members cover?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think doing it before President Trump takes any action is certainly the better approach because then you're drawing the line in the sand rather than, you know, creating a conflict after the fact, but I do want to push back just a little bit on the idea that if Donald Trump does this that it's going to cause independent voters to flee the Republican Party.

What I hear in focus groups when I go around the country is that independent voters want to see issues tackled, they want to see problems solved, and if Democrats take control of Congress you know, there's going to be a ton more in terms of investigation. There's going to be a lot of gridlock. You know, checks and balances is a nice, friendly way to put it, but gridlock is really what it means.

And I think there are a lot of voters that they don't -- they want to let Mueller have his investigation. They don't want to see him get fired but these are issues that are not as high on the priority list as they are for sort of the resistance Democrats who view this as their sort of core cause.

So I think for these independent voters, I don't think they would support Trump taking these actions. But I'm also not convinced that that would be the thing that would make or break their vote for Congress in November.

BERMAN: Patti, we have 30 seconds left. We heard House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing his retirement. Your reaction?

SOLIS DOYLE: Look, I respect his decision. I do think that Republicans are facing a very tough midterm election.

[10:55:05] And we've just seen Speaker Ryan who is ostensibly the one, you know, responsible for his -- you know, his caucus's re-election saying, I'm out, and I think they'll see that damage most prominently in the fundraising.

BERMAN: All right. Patti Solis Doyle, Kristen Soltis Anderson, thank you so much for being with us today and watching this remarkable two hours of breaking news here this morning.

As we mentioned, House Speaker Paul Ryan says he will not seek re- election. The president announces that the United States will conduct a missile strike on Syria. We've heard outrage from retired military leaders on that and we will hear from the president we think any minute from now. Stay with us.