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Trump Answers Questions From Reporters; Statement from Tillerson's Office That He Was Not Notified; Trump Left Tillerson out of North Korean Discussion; McEntee Leaving White House. Aired 9:30- 10a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like Rex a lot. I really appreciate his commitment and his service. And I'll be speaking to Rex over a long period of time.

QUESTION: Mr. President (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: I can't hear you.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: No, I really didn't discuss it very much with him, honestly. I made that decision by myself. Rex wasn't, as you know, in out -- in this country. I made the North Korea decision with consultation from many people, but I made that decision by myself.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: I actually got along well with Rex. But, really, it was a different mindset. It was a different thinking.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: What?

QUESTION: Did you fire him because he (INAUDIBLE)?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: Say it again.

QUESTION: What is -- why is Pompeo the right man right now?

TRUMP: I respect his intellect. I respect the process that we've all gone through together. We have a very good relationship for whatever reason, chemistry, whatever it is. Why do people get along?

I've always, right from the beginning, from day one, I've gotten along well with Mike Pompeo. And, frankly, I get along well with Rex, too. And, you know, I wish Rex a lot of good things. I think he's going to do -- I think he's going to be very happy. I think Rex will be much happier now. But I really appreciate his service.

But with Mike, we've had a very good chemistry right from the beginning.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: Well, it sounds to me -- I'm speaking to Theresa May today. It sounds to me like it would be Russia, based on all of the evidence they have. I don't know if they've come to a conclusion. But she's calling me today.

As you know, now we're going to the wall. We're going out to the wall. We're going to be looking at the prototype, which is very important for our country.

But Theresa May is going to be speaking to me today. It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia. And I would certainly take that finding as fact.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you believe there should be a response from the United States? Do you believe there should be a response from the United States?

TRUMP: Yes, as soon as we get the facts straight, and we're going to be speaking with the British today. We're speaking with Theresa May today. And as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.

But I have not spoken to her. I'll speak to her sometime today.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: We're very happy with the decision by the House Intelligence Committee saying there was absolutely no collusion with respect to Russia. And it was a very powerful decision, a very strong decision backed up -- I understand they're going to be releasing hundreds of pages of proof and evidence. But we are very, very happy with that decision. It was a powerful decision that left no doubt.

So I want to thank the House Intelligence Committee and all of the people that (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I'm looking at Larry Kudlow very strongly. I've known him a long time. We don't agree on everything, but in this case I think that's good. I want to have a divergent opinion. We agree on most. He now has come around to believing in tariffs as also a negotiating point. You know, I'm renegotiating trade deals. And without tariffs, we wouldn't do nearly as well.

But Larry has been a friend of mine for a long time. He backed me very early in the campaign. I think the earliest. I think he was one of my original backers. He's a very, very talented man. A good man. And I think Larry Kudlow has a good chance.

I'm also speaking to many others. But I think Larry has a very good chance.

Thank you all. I'll see you -- I'll see you at the wall. I'll see you at the wall.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And there goes the president, headed to Marine One, headed to California today. I'll see you at the wall. He's going to tour some prototypes for what he wants to be the border wall with Mexico.

Speaking for the first time about his decision to oust the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, a man whom he says he has always gotten along with very well. The evidence to the contrary. And talking about Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, who will be nominated as secretary of state.

A couple of questions the president was not asked. Nothing about Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress suing the president right now, nor about the Pennsylvania special election, which could not go well for the president today.

[09:34:40] We have new developments on this major administration shakeup. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

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BERMAN: All right, this from just moments ago. President Trump getting out of Marine One. He's at Joint Base Andrews. He's about to get on board Air Force One and fly to California, where he will tour the border, look at some prototypes for a border wall.

The president making major news today with a huge shakeup of the national security apparatus. He has fired secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, nominating the director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, to replace him and nominating the deputy CIA director, Gina Haspel, to become the new director of the CIA.

I want to go to CNN's Michelle Kosinski in Washington for us.

And, Michelle, you have some remarkable on the record reporting about how the secretary of state was informed and, frankly, not informed about the fact that he's losing his job.

[09:40:02] MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, it's still unclear whether somebody from the White House did call him or when he caught wind that today would be the day that he was out.

But we do know he did not speak to the president at all about this. And in a statement that the State Department just put out -- in fact, they dictated it over the phone -- you get a sense of the scramble that is going on inside this building and the fact that people were taken off guard, possibly even Secretary Tillerson himself.

The statement says that he had every intention of staying because of progress he feels that he's helped make in national security. He says he'll miss his colleagues, this is according to an undersecretary of state, and that he's unaware of the reason why the president wanted him out now.

The statement goes on to say that he's grateful for the opportunity to serve and he wishes Secretary Designate Pompeo well.

And this is something that has been rumored for months. But today being the day, it seems that the secretary found out only recently about this, not from the president himself. And it's possible that he also found out just this morning, John.

BERMAN: All right, fascinating. Again, the president firing the secretary of state, not doing it over the phone or in person, sort of the diplomatic or political equivalent of a break-up text.

We're getting new information from the White House about how this went down, what the president's thinking is and some other developments at the White House as well. More shakeups. We'll be right back.

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[09:45:40] BERMAN: All right, we have a shocking development in the firing of Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, and exactly how and where he found out about it.

I'm joined now by our State Department reporter, Elise Labott.

Elise, he read it on Twitter? Can that be true?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, it's as shocking for me to say it as it is for you to hear it.

Undersecretary for public diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, that's really been the kind of conduit between Secretary Tillerson's office and the press, this morning said he was not notified by anyone on the president's staff, certainly not the president himself. Learned this morning by a presidential tweet about Mike Pompeo.

Now, listen, it is possible that Secretary Tillerson did get a call from someone kind of giving him a heads up. He might have had, you know, had an inkling that something was going on. But he was not officially notified by anyone in the administration and learned this morning of his firing.

Now, we know that Secretary Tillerson came back about a half a day early from a week-long trip to Africa. His aide said that he's been out two weeks. His father passed away about a week ago, and then went on this long trip to Africa. With all the news with North Korea, we've been reporting on this crisis of tariffs with allies. The secretary felt that he had a full schedule. Did most of the things he needed to do in Africa and came back early.

That launched a lot of suspicion that maybe he knew something was up. But several aides I've talked to this morning insist that he was not notified by the White House that he'd lost his job.

BERMAN: Not notified. Possible that he learned about it on Twitter. Although, as you say, perhaps he got word of it as early as Friday or that something was up as he was recalled, brought home earlier than expected from his overseas trip.

All right, Elise, thanks very much.

Let's go to Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House right now and the very latest from there.

Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, a lot of stunning comments from the president just there on the South Lawn.

But speaking about Rex Tillerson and his departure, the president repeatedly said that he was a good guy but focused and emphasized on how the two of them disagreed on many areas, including the Iran deal.

But what was the most striking was the president asserting that he left Rex Tillerson out of those diplomatic talks last week with North Korea and his decision to meet with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The president says he made that decision on his own and largely left the secretary of state out of those talks. And that is why we saw Tillerson last week saying comments like, we're a long ways off from negotiations with North Korea.

BERMAN: All right, and, Kaitlan, we understand there was another departure from the White House. What have we learned about that?

COLLINS: This is actually a very stunning departure. Rex Tillerson was not so surprising. We saw that coming for months. But we are now learning that the president's personal aide, Johnny McEntee, has been fired and was actually escorted from the White House grounds yesterday. And now there's not a lot of clarity on what exactly transpired, but we do know that it had something to do with his background check that happened that led to him being fired and escorted out of the White House.

And though Johnny McEntee is certainly not a household name, John, I cannot over emphasize just how close to the president and the president's family that he truly was. And people inside the West Wing are very stunned by his departure.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House with still more breaking news. We, again, have new developments coming in about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson fired, Mike Pompeo coming into the job. Much more next.

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[09:53:37] BERMAN: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been fired. The president removing him from his job. He'll be replaced by the current director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, assuming he is confirmed in the Senate.

We just learned that House Speaker Paul Ryan was informed of this move by telephone, which appears to be more than Rex Tillerson was given. We are told that he found out about this on Twitter, reading the president's tweet.

I'm joined again by Bob Baer to get a sense of what this all means, bigger picture.

And, Bob, we keep hearing from inside the White House that North Korea, the impending meeting between the president and Kim Jong-un, was a big part of this. We're told it made the president realize he just wanted someone who was more on his wave length in that job.

BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, John, Tillerson is right, meetings like this, summits like this with an enemy have to be carefully planned. You know, Nixon's trip to China was done by Kissinger months in advance. You lay the groundwork. And this came as a surprise to Tillerson. And Tillerson said, don't do it until we're prepared, and the president has decided on his own to go meet the North Korean leader, which is a very risky meeting. It could make things a lot worse.

But, John, I've got to say, the president's comments on Iran alarmed me. Tillerson clearly understands that that agreement with Iran was a good one. The Iranians were living up to it. But this president is determined to break it and confront Iran with Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Israel. And this is another very risky, dangerous policy. I just -- I, you know, I can see why he had to get rid of Tillerson if he's bound and determined to make his own foreign policy.

[09:55:18] BERMAN: The president on the South Lawn just moments ago, what Bob is referring to, said that he feels differently than Rex Tillerson does on the Iran deal. The president wants either the U.S. to pull out or to change it in a serious way. Rex Tillerson did not.

Bob Baer, thank you. Stick around. We're going to have much more to discuss. Again, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has been fired from his job. Apparently the reporting is he found out about it on Twitter.

We'll have much more. Stay with us.

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[10:00:6] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world.