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Final Decision Hadn't Been Made When Trump Teased Strike; Trump Considering Firing Rosenstein to Rein in Mueller; Cohen Raid Sought Information on "Access Hollywood" Tape. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Has President Trump made a decision on whether the U.S. will be striking Syria in the wake of that apparent chemical attack. What we've just learned behind the scenes at the White House and the Russia investigation. All of this growing speculation that Trump is looking to fire the special counsel or the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Stay right here.


BALDWIN: Breaking news out of the White House that a final decision had not been made on Syria when President Trump promised military action this morning. So, let's go to Elise Labott. Elise, we know that, you know, not only were some of her -- his members of staff, U.S. allies were surprised by this. What more are you learning?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, as you said, I mean, listen, the President was you know, kind of speaking I think in general terms about the idea that he's made some kind of decision that he wants to retaliate. But although he's received many briefings from his top commander, had many meetings with his national security advisor and the Pentagon has supplied him with options. Officials tell us that the President has not made up his mind what kind of action he would do when he made that tweet this morning.

Defense secretary, Jim Mattis, said as much earlier when he spoke to reporters saying that they haven't fully assessed the intelligence that would, you know, conclusively prove that the Assad regime was responsible. They're working on that. But that the Pentagon stands ready to supply the president with options as he asked for.

The State Department spokesman, Heather Nauert, for her part though, just really called out the Syrian regime on Twitter. Although she said that the attack in Douma, you suppose chemical attack, will be investigated by international investigators. She's pointed to the Assad regime's history of use of chemical weapon and really called them out for their barbarism.

BALDWIN: All right, Elise, thank you on that. Joining me now CNN's political commentator, Ana Navarro and Doug Heye. They are both Republicans. Ana, just first to you. Your reaction on this whole notion of taunting, teasing war, the President's tweet today.

[15:35:00] ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I'm reminded way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, and when we were in the midst of the campaign trail in 2016. One of the things that Donald Trump homed in on was Barack Obama telegraphing what we were going to do in Syria. And telegraphing our enemies and our foes what we were going to do. Well that's precisely what we are doing right now. What he is doing right now.

So, again it's just one more symbol of inconsistency in what Trump said and what Trump does. What Trump said on the campaign trail and what he does. You know, it's not something we should look at in a vacuum. In the midst of everything that's going on in Washington, all the firings and hiring, the revolving door that is this administration, it just adds to this narrative and this feeling of chaos and unruliness and disorganization and not singing from the same hymnal. I mean, it just feels -- the entire thing feels like a hot mess.

BALDWIN: She says hot mess. Doug Heye, how do you see it?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think there's a lot of hot mess there. But to take one of the things that Ana said. I almost hope that Donald Trump at least is telegraphing what he's doing here if so. If we go back to 2013 a lot of Republicans like myself, and probably like Ana, were very critical of President Obama for making a red line, drawing it in the sand and then ignoring it. In fact, when I worked in the House of Representatives, we backed the President on an authorization of military force with statements from then speaking, Boehner, and majority leader, Cantor, that the president walked away from.

So, if there is a red line out there at all, it's bombs are coming. So, now that he said that, this has to now be the red line. And I'd support such an action. But if he says bombs are coming and they do not, it means no one in the world, in the diplomacy stage is going to listen to anything the President says. He has to follow through now.

BALDWIN: Stay with me. Coming up next breaking news on two major fronts involving Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, including all his FBI agents reportedly looking for documents related to that "Access Hollywood" tape. When they raided his office, his hotel room and home earlier in the week. More on that next.


BALDWIN: All right. CNN has reported that the president is considering firing the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, in an effort to actually rein in Mueller and the scope of his probe. And now we've heard from Republican Congressman, Mark Meadows, who said this.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: It's members of congress who have a bigger problem with Rod Rosenstein, myself included, that he's not giving us the documents and he's not doing his job. And if he's not going to do the job, he needs to go and find one that he will do. And so, the frustration with the A.G. and the deputy A.G. is probably more a focus of Congress and it probably makes the president's dissatisfaction pale --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Should you hold them in contempt?

MEADOWS: Absolutely. I think at this particular point they have not complied with the subpoena. They should be held in contempt.


BALDWIN: So, you heard him, Doug Heye. Should be held in contempt. This is quickly becoming -- you know, he's got some -- the President has some political backing on this. But where are Republicans? They're all back up on The Hill. They got to jump in on this. Which way are they going to go?

HEYE: Well, I think a lot of them don't want to jump in on this. And that's why we've seen the loud voices be very loud and the quiet voices not only be quiet, but you see them sometimes putting on their track shoes to run away from it.

BALDWIN: Isn't that a problem?

HEYE: Sure, it's a problem. But it's a problem that's reflected in basically the congressional districts that they run in. If Donald Trump is at 87 percent approval with Republican primary voters, that's Mark Meadow's district. That is ever Republican district by and large with a few exceptions. And that's what they face when they go back home. That's who they hear from. They don't want to cross their voters just as much as they don't want to cross the President. That's why you don't hear so much.

BALDWIN: On the Republicans, Ana, we know that some Republican leaders, they're having dinner with the President tonight and the number two Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, has actually said today that he will not bring up any potential firings, ala Mueller/Rosenstein. To that you say what?

NAVARRO: I think it's irresponsible. And let me tell you, you know, I think John Cornyn is a very capable person and he understands the law. He is a responsible adult on Capitol Hill. They're running away from the issue and they're going to be thrown into the issue. Because if Donald Trump fires Rosenstein and, you know, aims for Mueller, what we're going to see in this country is massive walkouts. We're going to see massive protests. We're going to see a constitutional crisis and we are going to see Republicans pay an even higher price in the polls come November.

So I don't understand -- for the life of me -- I don't understand why instead of spending all the time they do on Sunday shows and cable shows warning Donald Trump not to take action against Mueller, they don't pass the legislation that has been drafted and in front of them for months now, the Graham/Booker legislation, bipartisan legislation to give an added layer of protection to Mueller being fired for no real cause. Because Donald Trump is throwing a tantrum and doesn't like the fact that he's stepping on his toes.

Look, if Republicans are serious about warning Donald Trump, then take the next step. Pass legislation. Move on that. Do I think Donald Trump would sign legislation? No. But it would send a very clear message to Donald Trump. We are serious. We're not just, you know, doing empty talking, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If you are Donald Trump right now, you think there is no cost to pay from Republicans for doing anything, for firing Mueller, for firing Comey, for firing anybody. Because for the last 18 months Republicans have been talking and talking and talking but really not extolling any costs from Trump when he abuses his power.

[15:45:00] And that's why Republicans need to be more serious about this, to prevent a constitutional crisis and to prevent an even further and greater election crisis for themselves. It is self- preservation what they should be doing.

BALDWIN: OK. I need to sneak a quick break in. Stand by, Doug and Ana. A quick break again. We're watching and waiting, live pictures inside a packed White House briefing room. Sand by for Sarah Sanders any moment now. Be right back.


BALDWIN: All right, any moment now the White House briefing will begin. And as we have breaking news on several fronts here on this Wednesday afternoon, let me bring in Dana Bash and Anna Navarro to just hang with me as we wait for the briefing.

And Dana, I want to hear from you first on the news from "The New York Times" where they have learned -- those FBI agents who raided the hotel and home and office of the president's personal attorney Michael Cohen this week, they were looking also -- who knows what they were all looking for. But what we do know is that reportedly part of that was any sort of records relating to that "Access Hollywood" tape that dropped the month before the election. And so, I want you to just take a moment and remind everyone the context of that October 2016 when this thing came out.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was of course a huge bombshell right before or not long before election day for -- as we all remember seeing the bus and hearing those words from the now president. Talking about what he would do to women. And at the time many people around him and I think it is fair to say most people around him and certainly in the Republican sort of world, said he was done. And that he should -- even some people said he should step down and at the end of the day, not only was he not done, he won.

And so that is the context and the sort of lens through which the president now sees his ability to overcome things like this. This was just talk as far as we know. What the search warrant shows, and CNN has been able to confirm much of what the "Times" is reporting. That it is not just the talk, it is the actions that the president had engaged in. More importantly, the potential cover-up. And how Michael Cohen is involved in that and what documents and some communications and anything else that he might have to go along with that. Why would that matter? Well it could be campaign violations or worse. It just -- we just don't know the answer to that. So, that is certainly the context of "Access Hollywood." BALDWIN: The facts, Ana Navarro, that this, you know, this video is

back in the national conversation, does that -- how does that make you feel?

NAVARRO: Too little, too late. Look, every time I think back to that October and the release of those "Access Hollywood" tapes. And it is interesting because as Dana was speaking, one of the Republicans who came out and said it is time for him to quit and I'm not going to be part of this was precisely Paul Ryan. Who then we saw made up with him and reconcile with him and work with him once he became elected.

But every time this issue comes back up, you know, I go back to thinking, I can't believe this guy was a nominee of my party. I can't believe Christian Evangelicals voted for this guy. I can't believe this guy got elected president with everything that he did. And if what we're reading into this is true -- and that is an if. If what we are reading into this is true there was some effort to tamp those down and cover all this up, it really is amazing. Because it means that they were possibly covering up Karen McDougal, Stormy Daniels and the "Access Hollywood" tapes. That's the three we know so far, basically in the same time frame.

That is a lot of balls to be juggling at the same time in the middle of presidential campaign. And you know, again, I just can't believe that the Republican Party that went so far and so hard against people like Bill Clinton for his issues and his infidelity and his lack of moral compass could then have embraced and even more so after he won, a guy like Donald Trump. And this reminds us of the kind of, you know, person that we elected.

BASH: And the irony --

NAVARRO: Because I didn't vote for him.

BASH: You didn't --

I'm just kidding.

The irony here is that if the Trump orbit went to such great lengths to spend $130,000 to try to silence Stormy Daniels and who knows what to do with other women, that this is actually a guy who probably could have still gotten the Republican nomination and maybe even elected even with those women coming out. That perhaps those payoffs and the hush money didn't even need to be spent because he was viewed through such a different prism, even and especially by the Evangelical conservative base than anybody ever thought a politician of any ilk could.

NAVARRO: You know, that's a big if. I mean, I think that it is a question that we're never going to get answered.

BASH: No, we won't.

NAVARRO: And I don't know if the last part of the Republican primary when maybe it was just him against Ted Cruz who is somebody that Christian Evangelicals trust. If they had been faced with all of this evidence that we are seeing now. You know, hearing him, seeing the -- you know, the women come out. If they had been confronted with all of that, I'm not sure that the outcome would have been the same. We really will never know the answer.

BASH: No, we won't.

NAVARRO: -- the answer to that question. And you know, it is part of the reason why they went through these machinations for this coverup.

BALDWIN: What's interesting to me -- just to put a button on it and then I want to move on. Is just talking to some smart legal minds in the last two hours saying, if there is potential criminality with whatever they found in the raids, then could they use that as leverage over Michael Cohen to then get him to fold and actually start talking to Bob Mueller as it all eventually could come back around to that.

I digress. Dana, I wanted to ask you about this other piece of news that just came out. About the California governor, Jerry Brown, who says that, yes, he will send these National Guard troops, you know, along his state's border with Mexico. But he said, he will not build the wall. So, we'll send the men, won't build the wall. What's the calculation here?

BASH: I have to say I'm surprised. You know, when we talked about the President and the administration's decision to sort of federalize and send the National Guard down to the border, the open question was what Jerry Brown the lone Democratic governor of the border states would do. And the only sort of piece of -- the only data point that we had was him criticizing the Texas governor for doing that on the same issue.

The fact that Jerry Brown is saying that he will send troops down just to fight crime. Not to build the wall. Not to round up women and children as he said in his statement. Gives you a sense of how powerful the argument of boarder security is, even for somebody as liberal as Jerry Brown, governing a largely blue state like California.

BALDWIN: Ana, what do you think?

NAVARRO: I agree with Dana. I think it talks to the -- to how effective Donald Trump is in shaping public opinion and influencing the narrative and what we are covering and talking about. He made such a big deal about this caravan of migrants coming up from Central America. And you know, it's really more of anything a symbolic kind of P.R. move by the migrants who want to talk about and want to bring light to the lack of rule of law and the human rights violations that occur in Central America. The conditions they are fleeing from. I mean, I think there's probably less people in that caravan now than there are in a basketball team. And yet we made them into this geopolitical foe that we had to move everything and everyone to the border to go protect from this impending threat that was about to come down on us. And I think it talks about just how effective Donald Trump is in shaping public opinion even to the point of influencing somebody as liberal as Jerry Brown. BALDWIN: Ladies, thank you both so much. Dana and Ana, good to see

both the you. We're going to send it to Washington. I know Jake Scott a big interview coming up here. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.