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Russia Will Not Respond to British Prime Minister Unless It Gets Sample of Nerve Agent; John Kelly Told Rex Tillerson Friday He Could be Replaced; Republicans at House Intel Panel Ends Probe on Russia Collusion. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 10:30   ET

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


[10:30:00]

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JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, breaking news on the diplomatic front. Russia just giving Great Britain something of a Heisman right now, saying it will not respond in any way to British Prime Minister Theresa May who wants an explanation for how a former Russian spy was poisoned on British soil, again, Russia saying you're not getting any response from us.

Now, President Trump commented on this a few minutes ago. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, that's not going all the way with British prime minister -- with what the British prime minister has said, but the president saying more than he has in the past, the White House refused to even acknowledge that Russia was involved yesterday.

Let's go to London right now, our senior international correspondent Nick Paton Walsh live there with the very latest.

Russia saying there will be no response, Nick.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They will reply to the ultimatum, making it quite clear that, quote, "any threats of taking sanctions against the Russian Federation will not remain unanswered. This must be understood by the British side." So this midnight deadline we're expecting to pass with some drama tonight, now seems irrelevant, frankly. Russia was saying we're not interested.

This was the British government's time to give Russia a chance to explain how the military grade nerve agent Novichok ended up poisoning, leaving critically ill Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and the British police officer who rushed to their aid.

[10:35:12] Now I should give you, too, here, the reason I'm standing here outside the main police headquarters in London, New Scotland Yard, is because the man leading the investigation, head of counterterrorism police, Neil Basu, just giving us an update on how the investigation is progressing. And I have to say some of the key questions remain unanswered. Here is what they do know.

They say that they have established the timeline. This is key about working out where the possible poison may have been administered. They're talking about -- imagine this, a father and a daughter, she flew in on the Saturday from Moscow in the afternoon. The next day, they drive out in their car, a red BMW, they've given the number plate, and they're looking for that vehicle, people who saw them at this particular point as well.

They went to the pub, the Mill, then to the Italian pizza restaurant and then found themselves sick on the bench. They're saying now, too, the 38 people required hospital treatment after this nerve agent was delivered. All but four of them are fine. And those three -- three of those four include the Skripals, father and daughter, the police officer, and another individual saying they're now treating as, quote, "an outpatient."

The key point, though, is when asked, have you interviewed anybody as a person of interest in this, i.e., do you think somebody may have administered this poison in one of those three places? The answer is, we can't say at this stage. And that remains the primary focus of their investigation.

I got the feeling frankly they haven't. And they're still trying to work out quite where the poison was given to them. So a week since Scotland Yard took control of this, I think it's fair to say they still have some pretty large questions they need answering and that will of course lead many to speculate that we're dealing with perhaps a very professional operation here that purposefully choose -- chose to sort exactly where -- to hide exactly where it administered that particular poison.

But on a day of great diplomatic drama, we're also hearing how the investigation is progressing to some degree, but also struggling to answer some of the key questions -- John.

BERMAN: Look, pretty suspicious not just with the investigation but now with the reality that Russia will not respond and what will Great Britain do there, what will the UK do?

All right, Nick Paton Walsh, for us, thank you very, very much.

More on our breaking news, Rex Tillerson has been fired as secretary of State. We're getting new information about the timeline of this breakup. Our global affairs reporter Elise Labott now with some new insight.

Elise, what have you learned? ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I mean,

it's a real garble as to how Secretary of State Tillerson knew that he was being terminated. As you remember, he was in Africa last week.

We do understand that he got a call from the president's chief of staff, John Kelly. Maybe giving him a kind of heads up that something is coming down the pike. We don't know if Kelly delivered the official termination. I think Secretary of State Tillerson would say he did not consider that, you know, an official firing, but he was told to cut his trip short.

The secretary did cut his trip short, came back this morning at about 4:00 a.m. but his aides, including undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Steve Goldstein, saying that he believes he was officially terminated, learned about it in a tweet this morning.

Now he obviously knew that something was up over the weekend, but he certainly didn't come in this morning thinking that this was his last day at work -- John.

BERMAN: No. Again, may have had some word that this was pending, but it wasn't until this tweet, it appears, that he knew for sure. Not even a breakup text, a breakup tweet.

LABOTT: Not even a --

BERMAN: Elise Labott. Elise Labott in Washington, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Again, you can tell we're getting new information as it develops this morning. Secretary of State no longer is Rex Tillerson. Stay with us.

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[10:42:56] 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 by -- I understand they're 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 voted for Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That was President Trump moments ago commenting on the House Intelligence Committee which the Republicans on that committee have released a report saying that they have seen no evidence of collusion. Not only that, they say they see no evidence the Russians were even trying to help them candidate Donald Trump in his campaign for president.

Let's bring in CNN's legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, and CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

You know, I was listening, again, that's the second time I heard the president say it, he said decision four times. The House Intelligence Committee decision that there was no collusion. So does that settle it? Is it decided?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Hardly. This is an extremely partisan enterprise. The House Intelligence Committee has been deeply polarized. Devin Nunes, who's the chairman of the committee, who supposedly recused himself at one point, but then invited himself back in, you know, has operated as a cheerleader for the president, not as a serious investigator.

It is not surprising that the president has said this is a vindication, which it is in a way. But as a persuasive way of settling the controversy, it hardly works.

BERMAN: And again the surprising thing here, I think, Asha, is that the Intelligence Committee, the Republicans on it, didn't just say no collusion. I think it was crystal clear they were to come forward with that. But they went one step further. They said that they see no evidence that the Russians were trying to help then candidate Trump despite the fact that the Intelligence Community says it is so, despite the fact that Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his indictment of those 13 Russians just a few weeks ago said there is evidence that the Russians were trying to help Donald Trump.

[10:45:01] I mean, I pulled this right from the indictment, "By early to mid-2016, defendants' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaging Hillary Clinton." What do you make of it?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right, John. It's laid out in black and white in that indictment that the Russians were not only interfering, but that they were doing so on one particular side, that of President Trump. And Mueller has evidence to back that up. That's how he can actually issue that indictment. So it's clear to me that the conclusions of the House Intelligence Committee's report, the Republicans' report, isn't backed up by at least not the same evidence that Mueller has and he has more.

One silver lining, though, John, that we should think about, is that to the extent that they wanted to interfere with Mueller's investigation, it's kind of good that their -- the committee investigation has concluded, remember that in Iran contra there were conflicts because the congressional committee's granted immunity to some of the witnesses which later made it impossible to prosecute them or uphold their convictions.

So in some ways this kind of lessens some of the potential problems for Mueller if their investigation had continued.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, you raised your eyebrows because she's talking about you.

TOOBIN: Yes, exactly. Back in the old days, yes, I was one of the prosecutors, a very junior member of the team that prosecuted Oliver North and the case was sabotaged by the fact that he had been granted immunity by the special committee.

I do think it is really remarkable, though, here, that, you know, this -- the House Republicans could have said no collusion because that remains a real possibility. That issue I think is very much undecided. But the idea that they would go further and say that Russia was not trying to help Trump, it's just -- discredits their entire investigation.

Look at all the evidence that has come out, the 13 defendant case that you pointed out, the hacking of the DNC, the hacking of John Podesta's e-mails. The meeting in Trump Tower in June where -- that, you know, was very explicitly tied to the Russian government support for the Trump campaign. To ignore all of that, when it doesn't even help them politically, is just bizarre to me.

BERMAN: You know, Asha, we're hearing from Sam Nunberg, of course the former aide to the campaign of President Trump who was on TV a lot and his credibility has been called into question. But he has now testified not just to investigators but before a grand jury. And he's been saying that some of the questions he had been asked have been about, you know, women. Stories about women and the president. He's been asked directly about Michael Cohen in many different ways.

Does that surprise you? And what do you think that might mean in terms of where the special counsel is focused?

RANGAPPA: Well, it could be a few different angles. You know, Mueller is going to want to know about certain patterns of activity that might be true for the president or the people around him. If that includes, you know, covering up certain things so that he's not exposed for embarrassing situations, that can corroborate other things where he may be at risk of being exposed in other places.

If it's about campaign finance and misusing channels to get money to certain people, that could also be a pattern. So I think that it would be to kind of establish some link in the kind of behavior that he's engaged in with the things that he's investigating now.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Well, we got to --

TOOBIN: OK, we got to run. OK.

BERMAN: We're going to take a quick break. Asha Rangappa, Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much for being with us and for your brevity.

And, by the way, it is election day in parts of southwest Pennsylvania, a special election. The Democrats across the country hope it will be very, very special. Republicans want to hold this seat, the president was there. We're live in the 18th District after a break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [10:53:21] BERMAN: All right. The president has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson moments ago. We heard from the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker of Tennessee about how he found out and what he thinks of this dramatic move. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mike Pompeo this morning, can you walk us through that?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Sure, the president called, you know, 9:58 or so, to let me know what had happened. I talked to him on Friday night and talked to Tillerson on Thursday night last week, just about what was happening with North Korea, and had not talked to either one of them until this morning again.

Pompeo called and, you know, I think he's excited about his new role and -- or his designation. And I told him we would move through the confirmation process as quickly as we could. We've tried to reach Tillerson and we've had some, you know, just got in at 4:00 a.m. this morning. I think I know that. So I haven't had a chance to talk with him.

I've really enjoyed working with him also. And, again, I've heard good things about Pompeo and shared that with him. So he -- I think it is probably going to come over a little bit later this week and sit down and talk. We talked a little bit about some of the norms that were under way. Just to ensure to people that, you know, he himself wouldn't confirmed, if he's confirmed himself. So, anyway, there is not a lot more to share.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What did the president --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- nervous about Pompeo that we talked to this morning. Do you anticipate problems with him getting confirmed?

CORKER: I don't. I don't -- I've never really had much, if any dealings with him. I'm not sure we'd even met.

[10:55:02] I think we might have met once. I don't really know. I know he's had a distinguished -- I mean, he certainly is well-educated with West Point. Again, I've heard nothing but positive things about his background and that kind of thing. I just don't -- I don't -- I've not had any interaction.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, you said a lot more to say --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Senator, you said --

BERMAN: All right. You were watching the Senate Foreign Relations chair Bob Corker there reacting to the news that the president has fired the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He will be replaced by the director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo. We are getting more information about this dramatic move. More

reaction. New reaction coming in from around Washington and the country. We'll have much more right after a break.

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