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Lawmakers Grill Trump's Secretary of State Pick; Former Trump Doorman Confirms Details of Leaked Story; U.S. Firepower Options in Syria; Trump Judicial Pick Won't Endorse Desegregation Ruling. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 12, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: After nearly five hours in the hot seat, former CIA director, Mike Pompeo, may not have enough votes to boost his Secretary of State nomination. Senator Tim Kane, Democrat, tells CNN he has serious doubts about Pompeo. Also expressing concern Republican Rand Paul and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. If these three vote no, Pompeo will not get the thumbs up that he needs from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

This hearing today became contentious early on when questions arose about his allegiance to the President and to the Russian probe.


SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D) NEW JERSEY: This account strongly suggests that the President asked you -- what did President Trump say to you and Director Coates to interfere with then FBI director Comey's investigations into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia. What did President Trump say to you and Director Coates in that meeting?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Senator, I'm not going to talk about the conversations the President and I had. I think it's in this setting appropriate for a president to have an opportunity to talk with his senior leaders. I'll do that throughout the day. But I will tell you this. The article's suggestion that he asked me to do anything improper is false. I'm happy to talk about this administration's work on Russia. I'm happy to talk about our work on sanctions if that's what question is.

MENENDEZ: Let me ask you this. Did President Trump ever discuss the FBI's or special counsel Russia's investigation with you?

POMPEO: Senator, again, I'm not going to talk about private conversations I've had with the President.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: My question is pretty simple. We're running very close to a deadline on certification? What is your view, is it better to pull out of an agreement that Iran is in compliance with if we can't fix it or is it better to stay in the agreement?

POMPEO: Senator --

CARDIN: Yes or no?

POMPEO: Senator, it's not a yes or no question because it's a hypothetical. We're not at that point.

CARDIN: Are you in favor of regime change in North Korea?

POMPEO: Senator, my mission is -- and I've articulated my own personal views on this. We have a responsibility to achieve a condition where Kim Jong-un is unable to threaten the United States of America with a nuclear weapon.

CARDIN: I understand that. So, are you saying now you don't favor regime change?

POMPEO: Senator, I have never advocated for regime change. I have all along --

CARDIN: It's a simple question.

POMPEO: The story is I'm a hawk, I'm a hardliner. You know, I read that and there's no one, as you just heard in what I described, there's no one like someone who served in uniform who understands the value of diplomacy and terror and tragedy that is war, like someone who served in uniform. It the last resort and must always be so. I intend to work to achieve the president's policies with diplomacy rather by sending our young men and women to war.


BALDWIN: Elise Labott is with us. Our CNN global affairs correspondent over at the State Department. And that is just a snippet of the hours we saw. Tell me more.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, look, he was really grilled particularly by the Democrats in terms of this Russia probe.

[15:35:00] The Senators really tried to pin him down on whether he agreed with the president that the Russian investigation of special counsel, Robert Mueller, was, you know, an act of treason against the country. Whether it was against the constitution and such. And he just wouldn't go there. He did confirm, however, that he spoke to Robert Mueller as part of the investigation. He wouldn't go into details.

But when asked whether he would resign if the president fired Mueller or his boss, deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. He said no, I wouldn't. You know, the Democrats were saying that this is against the rule of law and would he resign to make a point? He said, no, I wouldn't because I think in times of political chaos it's important to stay the course and he would side with the President -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you about this, Elise, a group of senators who met with the President are telling CNN he is now rethinking the Transpacific Partnership. That Trump may reenter TPP.

LABOTT: That's right. A group of Republican senators met with the President. And I think as you see a couple of things going on. The President is kind of moving towards maybe a trade war with China, imposing those tariffs on steel and aluminum. And you also have, you know, the President wanting to counter China. And you have these 11 other countries of the TPP joining together. So now the President is saying he might take a look at it. Those 11 countries have already formed a common position. It might be easier for the U.S. to kind of try and negotiate now and that could help the U.S. And I think that was the original intent of the Obama administration when they went about the TPP, is to counter China. Not just on the economic front but also China's growing influence in the region.

So, President Trump has asked the head of his national economic council, Larry Kudlow, to take a look at it again and will see whether the President can come to more favorable terms. You know, Senators are saying that he's willing to take another look.

BALDWIN: All right, Elise, thank you so much. Elise Labott for us at the State Department.

As President Trump meets with his national security team right now, one huge question is what would a U.S. strike on Syria look like? Next, a closer look at resources in the region, weapons, aircraft carriers, submarines and which allies are willing to get involved?


BALDWIN: We've got some more breaking news for you on this afternoon. New details of how the President's allies stopped people from talking in the days before the election. The biggest bombshell this hour, another possible payoff for very unflattering stories about then candidate Trump, once again involving the "National Enquirer" allegedly paying $30,000 to catch and kill a salacious story from this former doorman of one of Trump's building here in New York. That doorman had said after the "Enquirer" bought his story, that he was told it would never run. AMI is the parent company of the magazine. They categorically deny that Trump had anything to do with this decision to yank the story. And our CNN national political reporter, MJ Lee, is back here with me onset because the doorman speaks.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: The doorman speaks, but I don't know if we have the full statement. I just want to read it out loud. The doorman says, today I awoke to learn that a confidential agreement that I had with AMI, "The National Enquirer," with regard to a story about President Trump was leaked to the press. I can confirm that while working at Trump World Tower, I was instructed not to criticize President Trump's former housekeeper due to a prior relationship she had with President Trump, which produced a child.

So, now we are learning from the doorman some details about what he was allegedly trying to claim in his interview with AMI. And we have some interesting reporting from my colleague, Sonia Moghe, a little more about just the agreement and what the ramifications for this doorman are.

A source who was in touch with both AMI and this doorman says that according to the agreement, he can speak about the story itself. So, the story being that Donald Trump had this love child, but what he cannot do is speak about the agreement with AMI and any money that he may have received as a part of that agreement. Now, I think we really need to be emphatic here that CNN has not verified whether there is any truth to the story that this doorman was trying to sell. And also, worth noting that Ronan Farrell, who wrote the article in the "New Yorker." He has called this story salacious and unconfirmed. So, a lot of sort of red flags pointing to, you know, the story that he is trying to tell. And of course, AMI itself is saying that they were not able to verify that there was any truth to the story in the statement that they released earlier today. They were very emphatic they did not find this to be a credible story and that is why they killed it and didn't run it.

BALDWIN: But again, just quickly, why it's significant just through line is this story and other stories. This MO, this pattern of Trump and people in his orbit with these, you know, potentially damaging story, true or not, paying them off to keep them quiet.

Lee: Right, I mean, if three make the pattern, we have three. We have this Trump doorman. We have Karen McDougal, the former playboy model. And of course, we have Stormy Daniels. All of them sort of different versions of agreements and payoffs and, you know, this effort to try to keep them quiet. But all of them are now wanting to speak out and they all say that they were paid so that they wouldn't tell their stories leading up to the 2016 election.

[15:40:00] BALDWIN: MJ, thank you so much.

More breaking news. President Trump is meeting with his national security team right this very moment to discuss options on what to do with Syria. Earlier he told reporters to expect a decision, quote, fairly soon.

[15:45:00] So, what exactly could the president be considering? Let's go to our CNN diplomatic analyst, our retired Rear Admiral, John Kirby. He's a former State Department spokesman and former Pentagon press secretary. So, Admiral, I see you're at the big wall. Walk us through options.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, let's take a look at some the fire power that President Trump will have available to him in the region. The first is the tomahawk missile, as you know, Brooke, 59 of these missiles were launched again Syria almost exactly a year ago in the wake of an Assad chemical attack back then. I would expect that this would be the weapon of choice as well if the president considers whether to strike. It's a sea launched cruise missile to be fired from navy destroyers, as well as navy submarines. It has a 1,000-pound warhead, a very long range. Depending on the variance that he uses, it could be a range of up to 1,500 miles. So, it allows you a great standoff distance between the platform that fires it and any air defense systems that the Russians may have in place in and around those targets.

The other great thing about a tomahawk is it flies low to the ground at a subsonic speed, very difficult for air defense systems and any radar to pick up. So, very effective. I would be looking for the tomahawk missile to be heavily used if he decides to strike. What about in the air? We do have air assets in the region. The F-22

fighter jets, they are based in Qatar. They have been used extensively in the counter ISIS fight in northern Syria. Largely to deconflict the airspace with the Russians. But also, to drop air to ground precision guided munitions. Very capable fifth-generation single seat aircraft, very stealthy. Obviously, a work horse for the U.S. Air Force. Probably less likely to be involved in any kind of strike against Syrian targets in this particular case. Because the precision guided munitions that it drops are relatively small compared to the tomahawk in terms of potency, but also because they don't have that standoff range. Probably about 15 miles from the target is about how far you can go accurately out there. That would put these aircraft at risk of more capable air defense systems that the Russians have in place. You're probably not going to see the F-22s.

That said, from the air the United States can launch these. These are called JASSM Missiles, Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missiles. Kind of akin to the tomahawk but launched from aircraft. Very long range, 650 miles, very accurate, GPS enabled, it has infrared homing and it has something called automatic target recognition software. So, it actually can dynamically change targets in the very terminal phases of the launch. So, it's a very, very attractive weapon I would think. Again, with that 650-mile range, standoff range, you could launch this from very far out and not have to worry too much about air defense systems that the Russians and Syrians have in place.

It also can be launched from several different kinds of U.S. Air Force aircraft. Not just bombers but even some fighters, so a very attractive choice for a mission like this.

Now what about allied assets? We are talking now about the French and the British may be playing a role. How can they do that? Well, the British, primarily through submarines. They have two classes of submarines, the Astute-class and the Trafalgar-class which are equipment and capable of launching tomahawk missiles. So, you could easily see British submarines perhaps playing in this mission. And I would think that if the Brits do decide to participate it would be using Astute or Trafalgar-class submarines to do that. Again, giving them that great standoff range.

The French also have aircraft in the region based in Jordan and the UAE. These are Rafale strike fighter aircraft. A very, very capable planes, but what's different about them from the F-22, is they have their own version of a long-range cruise missile that they can fly. It's called the Storm Shadow and has a range of 300 miles. Also, very capable and very accurate. Would give them again that standoff distance to beat and not be worried about Russian air defenses in and around targets. So, these are very, very capable planes. If the French to participate you could see these flying. Ultimately, though, Brooke, the questions come down for the President as he considers the strike three things, targets timing and teamwork. What's he going to hit? Wednesday going to hit it? And who is going to help him hit those targets?

BALDWIN: Admiral, that was impressive. That was impressive and the capabilities obviously very and range as we wait. We wait to see what comes out of the White House on this commander-in-chief. Admiral Kirby, thank you so much for walking us through those options.

KIRBY: My pleasure.

BALDWIN: Coming up here, it is one of the most significant Supreme Court rulings in our history. Brown versus the Board of Education. One of President Trump's federal judge nominees was actually asked if she agrees with it. Wait until you hear her response.


BALDWIN: Another one of President Trump's judicial nominees is causing a bit of a stir. Wendy Vitter is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the eastern district of Louisiana. At her confirmation hearing yesterday she was asked specifically to comment on the Supreme Court's landmark ruling, Brown versus the Board of Education, which desegregated public schools. This is her response.


WENDY VITTER, TRUMP'S JUDICIAL NOMINEE, EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA: I think I get into a difficult -- a difficult area when I start commenting on SUPREME COURT decisions.

[15:50:00] Which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with. Again, my personal political or religious views I would set aside. That is Supreme Court precedent. It is binding. If I were honored to be confirmed I would be bound by it, and of course, I would up hold it.


BALDWIN: Ariane de Vogue, she is getting all kinds of criticized. Why is that a tough question to answer?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, you know, look. This is that landmark 1954 opinion, racial segregation in public schools. The liberals really seized on this.

[15:55:00] They said, look, we understand that as a judge you don't want to show that you're impartial. You want to avoid giving your personal opinion. But here really, they feel like this is really settled law. And she should have been able to come up with an answer here. And she didn't. And other judges and justices they have been asked this question. For instance, Justice Neil Gorsuch, he answered it, Chief Justice John Roberts. But she was taking the tact saying a judge should be impartial. If I'm confirmed, I will be -- I'll listen to precedent, but I don't want to give my personal opinion. That's what really set off the liberals.

BALDWIN: Definitely did. Ariane, thank you so much. We just wanted to make sure to get that in. Quick break. We are back after this.


BALDWIN: Before we go, special programming note. Jake Tapper is set to interview former FBI director, James Comey, on "THE LEAD." A must- see interview. Definitely tune in to CNN. It's on his show next Thursday at 4:00 eastern right here on CNN. And speaking of, let's send it to Jake, "THE LEAD" starts right now.