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Report: FBI Agent Peter Strzok Fired Over Antitrust Texts; Trump Blasts Omarosa As Not Smart; Omarosa Changes Her Story; Conway Struggles to Name A Top African-American In the White House. Aired 2- 2:30p ET.

Aired August 13, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN on this Monday. Thanks for being with me. Here's the breaking news I have for you.

The FBI has fired the agent who sent the anti-Trump text messages during the 2016 campaign. Once that revelation came to light Peter Strzok was removed from Robert Mueller's Russia investigation and he was reassigned within the FBI. Still, President Trump and his Republican allies have tried to use Strzok's involvement on the special counsel's team to discredit the entire investigation. Last month, Strzok was grilled during a ten-hour congressional hearing. Here's a reminder of the fiery exchange.


REP. TREY GOWDY, (R) CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: I don't give a damn what you appreciate, agent Strzok. I don't appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations in 2016.

PETER STRZOK, FIRED FBI AGENT: I think it's important when you look at those texts that you understand the context in which they were made and the things that were going on across America. In terms of the texts that we will stop it, you need to understand that was written late at night, off the cuff and it was in response to series of events that included then candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero. And my presumption based on that horrible, disgusting behavior, that the American population would not elect somebody demonstrating that behavior to be president of the United States.


BALDWIN: Yes. Remember that? Shimon Prokupesz, our crime and justice reporter is here to discuss this firing. Do we know, was the firing the direct result from those text messages?

SHIMON PROKUPESZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: We don't know, Brooke. Because the FBI essentially is not commenting on this. It is a question that certainly we have, certainly his lawyers are asking as to why he was fired and why he was fired on Friday. According to his attorney, according to Pete Strzok's attorney, the Office Of Professional Responsibility which has been investigating Peter Strzok did not recommend that he be fired. In fact, they said that a 60-day suspension and a demotion was what was appropriate in this case. His lawyers taking issue with the deputy director, the deputy FBI director, excuse me, who essentially fired him. He made the decision. He went ahead and fired Peter Strzok. Now Peter Strzok's lawyers have issued a statement saying, quote, the decision to fire special agent Strzok is not only departure from typical bureau practice but also contradicts direct race testimony to Congress and his assurance that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters. It goes on to say, this decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans.

No doubt, Brooke, his attorneys, Peter Strzok's attorneys feeling this was political, that perhaps the FBI caved to the pressure from the president. Because, as we know, he has been attacking Peter Strzok for quite some time. Also, important to know, this is now the third person, really when you think of this -- three people now that have been fired as a result this entire investigation. You have the former FBI director. You have the former deputy director, Andrew McCabe. And now Peter Strzok. Who knows who else will succumb. Lisa Page certainly has been under investigation. She has been to the hill, met with congress members. Certainly, think about the impact of this entire investigation on the personnel moves and the personnel of the FBI.

BALDWIN: You make great points, we are going to put them to my next guest. With me now CNN law enforcement analyst, Josh Campbell, a former FBI supervisory special agent. Listening in, do you think the FBI caved? Do you think the texts were fireable offense?

JOSH CAMPBELL, A FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Two parts. Let's start with the second. Was this a fireable offense? In a sense it was. What it takes to be removed, there is two aspects, performance and conduct. Nobody is saying Strzok was a bad FBI agent throughout his career. I know he had a reputation he was someone who was an excellent investigator. And then there is misconduct, a fireable offense. It is hard to say it is not a fireable offense. With respect to whether or not the FBI caved I don't think they did, I know the people that sit up there on the seventh floor and make those decisions specifically Dave Bowditch. I know him to be a man of the utmost integrity. He doesn't serve at the pleasure of the president. He is a career employee. I think he weighed the facts and how they impacted the operations at the FBI.

BALDWIN: Strzok was demoted, taken off of the Mueller investigation. 60-day suspension. Could it be as simple as the investigation had ended and simply, they fired him.

[14:05:00] CAMPBELL: It could be. I mentioned knowing the person who made this decision. It would be unfair for me to say trust me, I know this man, he made a tough call. He is a good person. But let's put ourselves in his shoes. On one hand, you have allegations of serious misconduct. You talk about the text messages, talk about someone opening themselves up to this scrutiny by this conduct that was taking place. That's on one hand. Then the person making the decision has the figure out how that's going to impact the investigation and what kind of message that signals to the troops. Then you have to look at the recommendation were the internal affairs division of the FBI which as you mentioned didn't recommend firing. They recommended a demotion. Nevertheless, if you are the person in the top seat that is simply a recommend days ago. You have to look and say what do I think is the gravity of these allegations. It is not a great day for the FBI. It's tough for peter Strzok but it is a page being turned on the road to rebuilding confidence in the public in the FBI.

BALDWIN: "Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI," Trump tweets, "finally the list of bad layers in the DOJ and FBI gets longer and longer. Based that Strzok was in charge of the witch hunt, will it be dropped? No collusion, I just fight back."

You were saying actually the president's tweets could help Strzok if he tries to appeal his firing. Tell me why.

CAMPBELL: Absolutely. Once the word first came out that Strzok had been fired I looked at my watch and knew it was only a matter of minutes before the president would weigh in and overplay his hand. Obviously, he has done this. We were expecting nothing less. This has been an unprecedented action in the history of the country where the president of the United States is actively going after a career civil servient. It's not only unprecedented. It's disgusting of it's destroying a norm that has been long held that the employees have the civil service protection, should remain outside of politics.

But I think it helps Strzok because if he does appeal, and I'm sure the decision makers at the FBI who decided to terminate had no question there would be some type of appeal. He being Peter Strzok will be able to look at the president's tweets did and say look the deck was stacked against me. You had the president of the United States, the commander in chief, who oversees the director of the FBI weighing in and saying nasty thing about me. How could I have gotten a fair shake here? I think that's what we can expect.

BALDWIN: Josh Campbell, thank you. Good to see you.

From service as an adviser to the person holding the highest office in the land to being called a low life by Trump, former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman is out with another recording this time, she captured the president himself on tape. She released the audio ahead of the debut of her new salacious mostly unverified book. Omarosa told NBC the clip is from 2017 and it appears the president is unaware his chief of staff John Kelly has just fired her. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Omarosa what's going on? I just saw on the news that you are leaving what happened.

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE STAFFER: General Kelly came to me and said that you guys wanted me to leave.

TRUMP: Nobody even told me about it. You know they run a big operation. But I didn't know it. I didn't know it.

NEWMAN: Yes. TRUMP: Goddamn it. I don't love you leaving at all.


BALDWIN: Just one day after another bombshell release of a recording of the chief of staff, John Kelly, the general's words are not as shocking as the fact that Omarosa recorded him from the situation room in the White House, a room the White House describes as the nerve center for the president, a hub of intelligence gathering. It is within that room that Omarosa recorded this.


NEWMAN: Can I ask you a couple of questions? Is the president aware of what's going on?

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Let's not go down the road. This is a non-negotiable discussion.

NEWMAN: I don't want to negotiate. I never had the chance to talk to you General Kelly. This is my departure. I like to have at least an opportunity to understand --

KELLY: We can talk at another time. It has serious violation. I'll let it go at that. The staff and everyone on the staff works for me, not the president.


[14:10:00] BALDWIN: After the president called her a low life over the weekend, the president repeated the insult today as he explained the reasons he hired and then fired his former assistance who earned $180,000 a year according to public records. This is what the president tweeted, "wacky Omarosa who got fired three times on the apprentice now got fired for the last time. She never made it. Never will. She begged me for a job, tears in her eyes. I said OK. People in the White House hated her. She was vicious but not smart. I would rarely see her but heard really bad things. Nasty to people and would constantly miss meetings and work. When General Kelly came on board he told me she was a loser and nothing but problems. I told him to try working it out if possible because she only said great things about me until she got fired. While I know it's quote not presidential to take on a low life like Omarosa and while I would rather not be doing so this is a modern-day form of communication and I know the fake news media will be working overtime to make even wacky Omarosa look as legitimate as possible. Sorry.

BALDWIN: So that is the confirmation that Omarosa was not among the, quote, unquote, best people that the president promised to bring on during the campaign trial. Remember that line?


TRUMP: We are going to make America great again. We are going to use our best people.

I'm going to use the best people.

We don't want people that are B level C level D level. We have to get our absolute best.


BALDWIN: So, there is a lot to talk through on this one. Chris Cillizza, I want to start with you, our CNN politics reporter and editor at large. And on the whole best people line, talk to me about the best people he hired.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: As you played, great clip there, Donald Trump loved to talk about the best people, a list, he could bring people in that no one else could. Oops. He rightly notes Omarosa has been fired by Donald Trump either in reality TV or in the White House multiple times. But he fails to note that Omarosa was hired by Donald Trump multiple times. It's not as though he didn't know what he was getting into. This guy blanked -- wow, nothing there. What that was supposed to be was a picture of Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, Brooke. What that tells you is Donald Trump -- he called him beleaguered, called him weak, called him ineffective.

Now, this is amazing, over the weekend it got overblown by the Omarosa story. "I have never seen anything, our AG is scared stiff and missing in action."

Scared stiff and missing in action. He calls it the department of "Justice." Jeff Sessions and Omarosa are far from the only people who Donald Trump has grown disgruntled with or have resigned or been fired. Seven cabinet secretaries have left under duress or under their own power. George W. Bush, by comparison, four cabinet secretaries. Remember, Donald Trump has been president for 18 months, 57 percent -- these aren't my numbers. These are the Brookings Institute a think tank down here in DC, 57 percent of Donald Trump's top staff, including cabinet officials have turned over already, 18 months into this.

I want to show a picture, because this really speaks to it. Let's quickly run through what we are looking at. Corey Lewandowski. If you don't know Scaramucci, his glasses should have their own twitter feed, Sebastian Gorka, and in the background, that's Rob Porter the former staff secretary. How many of these people -- these people were all working at the White House when this picture was taken? How many of them work at the White House now, Brooke?

BALDWIN: Zero. Zero.

CILLIZZA: Zero. All of these people are gone. And I will tell you it's not just this picture, again, six in ten top level Trump staffers do not work at the White House anymore. 18 months. It's the kind of boss he is. He plays people against one another. He is willing to publicly shame people as he has done repeatedly with Sessions, that's six and 10 number, Brooke, that does not include Sessions, who continues to be the attorney general tide despite being scared stiff and beleaguered and weak. It is a remarkable thing, it is not normal piece of the presidency that has redefined not normal to be a president means. Back to you.

BALDWIN: You are one of our best people for rolling through that. We appreciate that.

CILLIZZA: Always, not A, B or a C list person.

[14:15:00] BALDWIN: I got you. Chris Cillizza thank you so much. We have the security aspect of the whole thing that happened in the situation room. We have so much more. Including legitimate questions about Omarosa's credibility, what was her official role in the White House, what did she do in the last year half? Does anyone really know?

Also, in a major development in the stand your ground case out of Florida where a man was shot and killed in an argument over a parking spot. Almost a month later why charges are just now being filed.

And any moment now, speaking of the president, we waiting to get eyes on him in Fort Drum New York. This will be the most we seen from him in more than a week. He has been on vacation. He is back in Washington, taking a trip up to New York. We will monitor what he has to say in just a moment. You are watching CNN I'm Brooke Baldwin.



NEWMAN: Every critic. Every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It's everyone who has ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, whoever challenged him. It is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.


BALDWIN: That was Omarosa back in 2016. And now, in her new book, among the myriad negative claims, she says the president has problems correctly saying long words because of a declining mind. But Omarosa herself can't seem to keep her story straight. In the last two days she contradicted herself whether the president even knew she was going to be fired.


NEWMAN: No, I know he knows, because I have talked to him subsequently. And he said he delegated. I delegate it. He knew that John Kelly was going to take me into the situation room, lock me in there, threaten me and say things were going to get ugly.

He said he didn't know and they run a big operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is an honesty issue. You think the president lied --

NEWMAN: Wait, wait, wait. Who is the they. You can ask the question and then ask another question without my answer. You asked me, do you think he knows?

The answer is --


BALDWIN: We have Leah Wright Rigueur, assistant public policy professor at Harvard's Kennedy school of Government. She wrote the book, "The Loneliness of The Black Republican." Welcome back. Off of that last point it's almost like Omarosa day to day, hour by hour, this is a woman whose story continues to change. How can she even be taken credibly?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, ASSISTANT PUBLIC POLICY PROFESSOR AT HARVARD'S KENNEDY SCHOOL OF GOVERNMENT: Here's the interesting thing, Brooke, Omarosa has long been comfortable being American's villain or villainess. I think she is perfectly fine with that. And it is part of her opportunity to get her name in the press to get attention to really sell these books. On the other hand, a lot of the stuff that she's telling us isn't exactly news. Instead what we are seeing is confirmation of things that we already knew that we had already heard about. The whispers and the problems. And you know, who better to troll the reality TV president than a reality TV villainess. That's essentially what she's doing.

BALDWIN: You say -- I hear you. Maybe she wants to continue this 15- minutes-of-fame way longer than it should be. But I was going back to this older article in the "Cincinnati Herald" from when she was fired. And black Republicans are quote claiming that she blocked them from jobs in order to maintain her status as, as she puts it, her title, the one and only African-American woman senior staff and assistant to the president. One of the quotes in this piece, "the flood gates were open but Omarosa held all of us to a different standard. She had say over a lot of the black resumes."

Does that ring true from other black Republicans you have talked to?

RIGUEUR: Essentially, there has been bad blood between Omarosa and black Republicans outside of the White House for a very, very long time. Many of them looked at her and instead of a political appointee saw a social climber, a reality TV star, one of Trump's loyalist, someone who hadn't come up organically in black Republican ranks. The problem though is it doesn't necessarily matter who was put in the White House, Omarosa, Omarosa blocking people, what have you, the problem is it's still Donald Trump's White House and still a White House that has absolutely no interest in doing thing with the amount of power it has for people of color or more generally people.

BALDWIN: Is it at all even clear to you, Leah, what exactly she did during her time, the year and a half she served at the White House? Like what was her job?

RIGUEUR: From my understanding, I mean Donald Trump wanted to be surrounded by people who were loyal to him. Who better to put into a position of being a loyalist is Omarosa, someone who owed her entire career essentially to Donald Trump? There were some ideas or there was some talk about her being responsible for bringing in the HBCU presidents but we all know how that ended. In disaster. There is also some -- there was some talk, and I know Omarosa mentioned this but others in the White House said this behind closed doors is she lobbied for greater diversity both in gender and race in the hiring process but was stymied at every turn.

[14:25:00] The question we should be asking is she wanted a seat at the table because it was important for her to be there and represent. What good is that kind of power if you are doing nothing with it or if your boss is opposed to each the mildest of thing that you suggest.

BALDWIN: Sure. According to the Republicans if she kept them from having seat at the table and she had a seat at the table but didn't get far with it and now she's gone -- KellyAnne Conway was asked flat out, can you name the most prominent high-ranking member who is African-American on Trump's staff at the White House. And this was her response --ish.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the most prominent high-level adviser to the president on the west wing staff right now?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: African-American?


CONWAY: I would say that -- well first of all, you are totally not covering the fact that our secretary of housing and urban development and world renowned --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm asking but the White House staff, the people that the president is with every day.

CONWAY: Well, the president works with Secretary Carson every day. He's trying to break the back of the surge of --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is on the White House staff right now?

CONWAY: We have Jeron.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he have an office in the west wing?

CONWAY: He has an office in the EOP, the executive office of the president, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But not in the west wing?


BALDWIN: Jeron is Jeron Smith. We found a note he served as special assistant to the president for domestic policy. Previously served as urban affairs and revitalization policy advisor. But it took her a minute to get there. I don't know if Jeron is the most high-ranking African-American staff member at the White House, but the pointed being it took her a minute to even get there. What does that say about this White House? RIGUEUR: I think this White House has been perfectly clear that they

have no interest in diversity, racial or gender diversity but is instead interested in symbolic or token representations of diversity. Putting people in prominent places to speak out on behalf of the president when necessary, putting people in front. Those are powerful or influential positions. They are positioned defending the president. Essentially that's what Omarosa did for a very long time until she ended up being on the outs. With her gone, we really don't have a lot of people. Again, that's not surprising for a White House that isn't interested or committed to those kinds of things.

BALDWIN: Leah Wright Rigueur, thank you so much.

RIGUEUR: No problem, thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, Rudy Giuliani says there was never a conversation between President Trump and James Comey about the Michael Flynn investigation. The only problem with that is Giuliani said the exact opposite to CNN a month ago. Is this mass confusion strategy working?

What happens when former political rivals President Trump and John Kasich start trolling each other on Twitter? That's happening apparently with a clip now of Vladimir Putin. We'll be right back.