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Pompeo Confirmation Hearing Wraps Up; Rosenstein Meets with Trump at White House; Another Trump Catch-and-Kill Story by "National Enquirer"; Trump's Mixed Messages on Syria. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 12, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Senator, I believe that he has the authority. I don't believe we need a new AUMF for the president to engage in the activity you described. I think I said earlier, if confirmed, I'm looking forward to working with you. I do believe it is important that we refresh the AUMF, that we bring it forward. And we have current members serving who have supported the policies of the United States with respect to the use of force.

SEN. COREY BOOKER, (D), NEW JERSEY: Let me say in closing. because I was very grateful for our conversation privately, but I want it said out there in the public, myself and Senator Flake, and especially I would consider a specialist on our committee, Senator Coons, our focus on our issues in Africa, down to Zimbabwe.


BOOKER: The feeling I got from my trip was a feeling of neglect, not just in foreign countries, but in many ways, a yearning for more engagement from our State Department. Clearly, there are existential interests there. Clearly, the Chinese activities are something I know you find concerning. I just want to make sure for the record, what you told me privately, that this will be a priority for you, that you will invest your time and attention to in a significant way, not only boosting morale, filling positions, but also putting forth a real strategy to deal with everything from the humanitarian crises in Sudan and Congo to the political crises and challenges we see in places we see like Zimbabwe and South Africa.

POMPEO: Sir, I think I confirmed that for you yesterday. I'm happy to confirm it here as well, full scale, right from humanitarian needs to all the elements of U.S. diplomatic power.

BOOKER: Thank you, sir.

SEN. BOB CORKER, (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Before moving to Senator Markey, the refreshing of the AMF you're talking about was the 01-02?

POMPEO: Yes. Correct.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We're going to take another quick break. But our special coverage of this confirmation hearing and all the day's important news will continue right after this.


[14:36:10] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We will pick up coverage from here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

After days of the president venting his rage about the course of Robert Mueller's investigation, a tweet sent out a little while ago takes a new and calmer tone. Let me read it for you. This is from President Trump. "I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (unlike the Clintons!) I have full confidence in Ty Cobb, my special counsel, and have been fully advised throughout each phase of this process."

Now Trump's affirmation of Cobb is notable in the wake of what we read about Steve Bannon. The former White House chief strategist had a major falling out with President Trump. Now, according to "The Washington Post," Steve Bannon is still strategizing. He is telling Trump allies that the president should fire Mueller's boss, the deputy attorney general here, Rod Rosenstein, and also fire Ty Cobb. We'll talk more about Bannon's proposition here in just a second.

First, let's go to the White House to Kaitlan Collins who has breaking news regarding Rod Rosenstein, who apparently just met with the president in the building behind you. What do you know?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Brooke. Rod Rosenstein pulled up to the White House around noon today. He left a little around 1:00. We saw him exit the West Wing, get into his SUV and drive off.

Now, a White House official did confirm he did meet with President Trump today. They say they were discussing routine Justice Department business. And another Justice Department official tells my colleague that they were here to discuss a congressional document request.

But, Brooke, of course, it was all interesting because Rod Rosenstein is certainly somebody who has been in the president's line of fire in recent weeks, more so than he has in the past. And the president has considered firing him as recently as two days ago in an effort to check the special counsel Robert Mueller, someone who Rod Rosenstein said should continue his investigation into Russian collusion and whether the president had anything to do with that.

The president has been complaining about him in recent weeks. It resurfaced, his anger has resurfaced after that photo of Rod Rosenstein and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions having dinner together at a very popular Washington restaurant, something that frustrated the president.

Based on our reporting, the president is very frustrated with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Robert Mueller. It seems like if he fired anybody of them, it would be deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, certainly his allies have been advocating on. But for right now, Brooke, he just left the White House. It seems his

job is safe for right now. I'm only going to say right now as in right this moment. Based on my reporting, I don't feel more confident than going any further than right now.

BALDWIN: Right this very second in this moment. I got you. Routine Justice Department business, that's what you have right now.

Kaitlan, thank you. If you learn anything else, we'll get you back on TV.

Meantime, we have all kinds of new details about how Trump allies stopped people from talking in the days before the presidential election. The biggest bombshell is another possible payoff for unflattering stories about then-Candidate Donald Trump. It once again involved the "National Enquirer" allegedly paying out $30,000 to catch-and-kill a salacious story from one of Trump's doormen at Trump's building. The doorman said he was told after the "National Enquirer" bought the story, the story would never run. AMI is the parent company of the "National Enquirer." They deny that Trump had a single thing to do with killing the story.

With me on this is CNN national political reporter, M.J. Lee.

Let's walk back a second. What are the reports you've got?

[14:40:04] M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: This appears to be one more story, one more effort, as example to kill a damaging story about Donald Trump. The Associated Press and "The New Yorker" report, in 2015, there was a story they paid $30,000 to one of the doormen at one of Trump's building who claimed to have a salacious story about Donald Trump. The story is he claims that Donald Trump had a secret child with one of his former employees at the Trump Organization. I want to be very emphatic that CNN has not independently confirmed whether this transaction with AMI happened, whether there is any truth to what this doorman is claiming.

I will say a very important angle is David Pecker, the man that is a publisher at AMI. We know he's a very big supporter of Donald Trump and very close to Donald Trump. And he's viewed as someone who would have incentive to help kill a story about someone running for president. He's denying all of this took place.

I want to read a part of his statement -- or a statement from AMI. It says, "AMI categorically denies Donald Trump or Michael Cohen had anything to do with its decision not to pursue a story about a love child that it determined it was not credible. The suggestion that David Pecker has ever used company funds to shut down this investigation or any investigation is not true."

Categorically denying this catch-and-kill happened.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me keep you here.

To have a broader conversation with me now, CNN political director, David Chalian, and white collar criminal defense attorney, Sara Azari. David, you first.

Starting to connect some dots, we were sitting here this time yesterday talking about the initial report saying that the investigators wanted to raid Michael Cohen's hotel, home, office because they wanted record related to "Access Hollywood." Before that there was Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougall and now the doorman. Shall we call this a pattern?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: We shall. It is a pattern. And here's why I find it so fascinating and why I think Michael Cohen may find himself more exposed to potential legal jeopardy, even though he's conducting the same behavior he's conducted for years. He takes actions to protect Donald Trump. That's what he does. It one thing to do that when Donald Trump is the CEO of the Trump Organization. It another thing when Donald Trump changes the context by becoming a presidential candidate. Maybe the behaviors that Michael Cohen employed to protect Donald Trump in the private sector all of a sudden run into campaign finance violations in the context of doing those very same things to protect Donald Trump when he's a presidential candidate.

BALDWIN: Sara, he mentioned potential campaign finance violations. Let start on the microlevel, which is you have these investigators and they're scrounging through whatever they can find on -- what are they looking for?

SARA AZARI, WHITE COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The campaign violations are the smarter part of this. There's bank fraud, wire fraud, possibly tax fraud and then a conspiracy. Because you've got different people involved here, which is Michael Cohen, who seems to be the common denominator and the communications he had with Trump and possibly other aides in the Trump campaign. When you're dealing with these multiple players, to the extent there is a crime that occurs, this becomes a conspiracy case. So there's a charge of conspiracy and that's followed by conspiracy to commit X, Y and Z. So I think ultimately if in fact the campaign finance violations occurred, that's going to be just a small part of this. The bigger part of this, and what Cohen could face a lot of time for, is the bigger crimes here.

BALDWIN: Which is to take it a step further from the micro to the macro, this was the southern district of New York, right?

AZARI: Right.

BALDWIN: It could come back potentially with Mueller because depending what they find Cohen, they could dangle this depending on what we find, you could go away for a long time, unless you flip on Trump.

AZARI: Absolutely. During the course of the investigation, if evidence of other crimes are discovered, they won't turn a blind eye. They will go ahead to prosecuting those crimes. There's a lot going on here. This is just, you know, just the beginning of a big deal.

BALDWIN: But, M.J., Michael Cohen, there have been quotes from him, "I would take a bullet for Trump," "I would jump out of a window for Trump". What's to say he would even flip?

[14:45:01] LEE: Right. Donald Trump is a man we know is obsessed with the idea of loyalty. I think we potentially are going to see that tested with Michael Cohen, who is a long-time friend, a long-time attorney and who has been so loyal to Donald Trump that he claims he executed them out of loyalty to Donald Trump because he cared about his friendship with Donald Trump and not even in his capacity as a lawyer. Keep in mind, just a few days ago he had this very upsetting experience of the FBI agents coming into his hotel room, going to his office, and raiding these spaces and his family is watching this as well, right? So he has his family to consider. He has probably huge legal bills that he is now having to pay. At some point, you wonder, this man who knows everything and everything about Donald Trump, if he has any skeletons in the closet, Michael Cohen would be the man to know. Is that pressure too much?

BALDWIN: David Chalian, back over to you, what's your biggest question on this?

CHALIAN: My biggest question is where you ended with M.J., which is it's a two-way public display. We've seen Donald Trump having dinner with Michael Cohen. How long does that continue? She's right, Michael Cohen is experiencing the glare of the spotlight in ways he's never experienced before. I'm looking for signals on either side. If President Trump is getting nervous that Michael Cohen might flip, does he end the loyalty from his side of the equation as well? Any cracks in that relationship, which lately has been publicly on display as we're still a team together, is going to change this story dramatically.

BALDWIN: We're going to leave it there.

David, thank you.

Sara and M.J., appreciate you as well.

Coming up on CNN, get ready or not. The president sending a different message after shocking the world with a tweet that a missile strike on Syria is coming.

Plus, a CNN exclusive on the links of where the Republican Party is going to discredit the fired FBI Director James Comey. This comes as Comey is preparing to go on this mega media tour for his tell-all book.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.


[14:51:49] BALDWIN: The president's national security team is arriving this hour for a meeting at the White House about Syria, specifically. We know Defense Secretary James Mattis walked in a couple minutes ago. President Trump says we should expect a decision on Syria, quote unquote, "fairly soon."

Here he was a short while ago. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're looking very, very closely at that situation. We'll see what happens, folks. We'll see what happens.


BALDWIN: Up until this point, the president said he would never telegraph military moves before they happen. He's now walking back a tweet where he did that. This morning, he tweeted, "Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all. In any event, the U.S. and my administration have done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our "Thank you, America?"

But for about 24 hours prior, the president warned Russia to, "Get ready for nice, new and smart missiles" heading to Syria." The warning was so sudden, it caught his aides in the Pentagon and some of the U.S. allies off guard.

Let's go straight to Syria to our senior correspondent there, Nick Paton Walsh.

Nick, let talk about what we know. We know the U.S. secretary of defense said he believes there was a chemical attack in Syria. French President Macron says they have proof, the French have proof that chemical weapons were used. What more do you know?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's important to know the French and America are going to be comparing notes here. The French president said he has proof. It's hard to know how you will get samples of the area around the siege on a Syria battlefield and get them to a testing lab to have a Western stamp of approval on it a short period of time. But Macron went on to say they believe chemical weapons were used and at least it was chlorine. That was also referenced by Jim Mattis. Though he did suggest they were still looking at the nature of the evidence here. But he also talked about how they wanted not to escalate matters here.

It depends so much about the kind of the gas that was used. In the past, the international community has rallied around and expressed outrage and the use of military action after the use of a nerve agent called sarin. That was the case in 2013 and April last year. And that caused Donald Trump to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles.

This time, there appears, according to U.N. observers, to be muscular twitches in the reactions shown by the victims in the horrible videos, which suggests a nerve agent. Aid workers reported smelling chlorine that, according to one analyst, could result in 40-plus deaths. It seems like a mixture may have been deployed here.

The question is, what kind of evidence is the U.S. willing to present. That is something the Syrian government says they're in Lebanon on their way to Syria, they have said nothing about their movements. They expect to start work on Saturday. You have a very tight window, if the U.S. wants to take action before the inspectors are on the ground when they'll be at risk and they're interrupted by military operations to do something.

Donald Trump has long telegraphed his desire to do that. He risks falling into the trap of Barack Obama in 2013. Obama had a red line. It was crossed. He didn't act. He waited. He went for approval and the process dragged out for weeks until his allies began to get cold feet. He'll have that in mind as he declares himself as the polar opposite of his predecessor.

We have a national security meeting under way right now. There's a strong possibility of something tonight and, if not tonight, then possibly a longer game we're looking at here -- Brooke?

[14:55:46] BALDWIN: We're live in Syria with Nick and crew.

Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

Staying on this story, what would a strike on Syria even look like? What are the U.S. resources in the area in terms of weapons, aircraft carriers, submarines? And what happens if Russia tries to shoot done one of our missiles, as they have threatened to do?

So much more to discuss. We're back in just a moment.


[15:00:12] BALDWIN: We continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.