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Democrats Blast Republicans for Shutting Down Trump-Russia Probe; Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; Trump Examines Border Wall Prototypes in California; President Trump Fires Rex Tillerson; Trump: "Something Very Positive Could Happen" With North Korea. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:01]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Are more heads about to roll?

Escorted out. The president's longtime personal aide also fired and promptly walked off White House grounds. CNN has learned that John McEntee is under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for serious financial crimes. What are they?

Russian money laundering. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say the Russia investigation was fundamentally incomplete and they're blasting the Republican decision to shut it down. Did the panel's GOP leaders ignore credible evidence of Moscow's illegal money moves?

And North Korean silence. The Kim Jong-un regime mysteriously mute since President Trump accepted the dictator's invitation to meet. But the Trump team appears understaffed and unprepared for such a high- stakes summit. Is the president playing right into Kim's hands?

BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight.

A new wave of upheaval within the Trump team and the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may be just the beginning.

Tonight, there's new leadership in line to take over both the State Department and the CIA after President Trump dismissed Tillerson in a tweet. And now a source is telling CNN that the president has grown irritated with the embattled Veterans Secretary David Shulkin and may replace him with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

We will talk about all of this with Congressman Eric Swalwell of the House Intelligence Committee. And our experts and analysts are standing by.

But, first, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, who is traveling with the president in Southern California. Jim, I understand there may be more turnover ahead for the Trump team.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It sure seems that way, Wolf.

President Trump just wrapped up his remarks to Marines here in Southern California. Perhaps it's because he's so close to Hollywood. At one point, he proposed militarizing space with a space force right out of "Star Wars."

Meanwhile, he's also spent the day defending his firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As one source close to the White House told us, there may be other staff shakeups on the horizon, saying the winds of change are blowing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump's reality TV-style revolving door keeps spinning. In this episode, it's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was voted off the island, with CIA Director Mike Pompeo voted to take his place.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have worked with Mike Pompeo now for quite some time. Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect. We're always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good, and that's what I need as secretary of state. I wish Rex Tillerson well.

ACOSTA: Sources tell CNN, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Tillerson he was out on Friday, then made that clear over the weekend. Tillerson's firing is just the latest in a slew of high-profile administration departures.

Before leaving for California, the president stated the obvious, that he and Tillerson didn't see eye to eye.

TRUMP: Rex and I have been talking about this for quite some time. We got along, actually, quite well. But we disagreed on things, when you look at the Iran deal. I think it's terrible. I guess he thought it was OK.

I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So, we were not really thinking the same.

ACOSTA: The president's claim he and Tillerson had been discussing this for a long time runs counter to what he tweeted last December, when he said: "Media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon. Fake news."

Tillerson, whose relationship with the president never really recovered after it was revealed that he had called Mr. Trump a moron last year, sounded ready to move on.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges. ACOSTA: Another thorn the president seems eager to remove is the

Russia investigation. Mr. Trump has latched on to House Republican findings dismissing much of the Russia probe, tweeting in all caps: "The House Intelligence Committee has after a 14-month-long in-depth investigation found no evidence of collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election."

But that presidents the president somewhat at odds with Pompeo, the man he wants leading the State Department.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: I am confident that the Russians meddled is this election, as is the entire intelligence community, and the one before that and the one before that. They have been at this a hell of a long time.

ACOSTA: Though the president is sounding a bit more hawkish on Russia after the British government finding that Moscow was behind the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy on U.K. soil.

TRUMP: It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia, and I would certainly take that finding as fact.

[18:05:01]

ACOSTA: But he says it's too soon to condemn Moscow.

TRUMP: As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.

ACOSTA: The president spent part of the day inspecting prototypes for the multibillion dollar wall he envisions for the border, the one he vowed Mexico would fully fund.

TRUMP: We have a lousy wall over here now, but at least it stops 90 percent, 95 percent. When we put up the real wall, we're going to stop 99 percent, maybe more than that.

ACOSTA: All this as Washington is bracing for more White House turmoil, as the president teased this season of "The Apprentice" is not over.

TRUMP: I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the president is reshuffling his national security team at a critical time. As we know, the president is racing toward what is perhaps a very high-stakes meeting with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

But as you heard in these remarks here in Miramar, Wolf, the president is also trashing the Iran nuclear deal. If he scraps that agreement, that would be even more work for Mike Pompeo, should he become the next secretary of state. And speaking of Pompeo, his replacement, Gina Haspel, she is not being

announced to rave reviews up on Capitol Hill. There are lawmakers in both parties, Wolf, who are raising questions about her role in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, also known as torture to a lot of critics, during the Bush administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good point.

Jim Acosta, thank you.

Let's get some more on the other shakeup that may be brewing within the Trump team.

We will go to our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins. She's working the story for us.

Kaitlan, what are you picking up about the Veterans Affairs secretary?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he could be the next on the chopping block after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson here, Wolf, because, as we are reporting, that President Trump has grown very frustrated with the embattled veterans affairs secretary over his handling of the agency.

And he's now looking to replace him, and he's even got some names that he's floating out there, like Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who the president had lunch with at the White House today. And sources tell me that they were discussing moving him over.

Now, back to Shulkin, the president has grown very frustrated with him in recent days. Of course, that agency has been under the spotlight a lot lately for several scandals, some including the secretary himself.

But it's not just the president that is frustrated with David Shulkin. It's also the chief of staff, John Kelly, who met with Shulkin here at the White House last week to discuss the state of affairs over at the VA and what they can do to move forward.

And Chief of Staff John Kelly grew very frustrated after that meeting because David Shulkin went straight to reporters essentially to tell them that during that meeting that he was essentially given the full confidence of the White House to fire any staffers that he feels are disloyal to him over at the Veterans Affairs.

Now, John Kelly is disputing that account, according to sources familiar with his thinking. He says it's not an accurate portrayal. And he was also frustrated that Shulkin's first move when he left that meeting was to tell reporters what had happened. So a lot of frustration growing there, Wolf, but it largely goes back to the president being very frustrated with him.

And what is clear that he wants him out at VA, and now he's looking for a replacement. And right now, Rick Perry is at the top of that list.

BLITZER: And, Kaitlan, there was another dramatic firing at the White House, a personal aide to the president. What can you tell us about that?

COLLINS: Yes, certainly not as recognizable of a name as Rex Tillerson or David Shulkin, but Johnny McEntee was a personal aide to the president who had been by his side for some time dating back to the campaign and then has been his personal aide here in the White House, traveling with him on nearly every single trip, a near constant presence in the West Wing.

He has been fired. He was escorted off the White House grounds yesterday. And today we have learned that he is actually under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for what a source says are serious financial crimes.

Now, we're told these crimes are not related to President Trump, but he is very much still in President Trump's orbit, Wolf, because just minutes after they announced that he had been fired, the Trump reelection campaign announced that he had been hired as a senior adviser to work for them, despite the fact that he's under investigation.

And I should also note that while all these security clearances have come under scrutiny lately here in the West Wing, Johnny McEntee did have a permanent security clearance before he was abruptly fired and escorted off the White House grounds on Friday here, Wolf.

But with all these comings and going, it makes you just wonder when they're going to put a now hiring sign outside of the White House.

BLITZER: Yes, very strange, indeed.

All right, Kaitlan, good reporting. Thanks very much.

Let's go over to the State Department right now, a lot of officials there reeling from the firing of Rex Tillerson.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, is on the scene for us.

Elise, what's the mood there tonight?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a lot of shock and disbelief.

There was no secret that there was a lot of tension between Secretary of State Tillerson and the president, but most of his senior staff and, indeed, most of the building thought that he had weathered the most of it, the worst of it.

[18:10:03]

And you remember we spoke with him just a few months ago, and he said he was going to stay the year, that he was starting to get his sea legs and get a lot done. So I think everybody is really shell-shocked and I think a little bit sad about the way this went down.

Despite the fact that there have been a lot of questions about Secretary Tillerson's leadership here, he was seen as a man of integrity, as a man of dignity, with ethics.

And they're a little bit sad about the way he was cut to the curb like this, hearing about it in a tweet. But I also will say there is a sense of relief. There was no love lost for Secretary Tillerson in this building because of his leadership style, because of the fact he hadn't built those constituencies.

And there was a feeling that he didn't appreciate the career diplomats. And they are looking to the next secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, to perhaps make the State Department relevant again. They think he will have a greater relationship with President Trump, he will have a much bigger voice in foreign policy, and they think that diplomacy hopefully could be back under Mike Pompeo.

BLITZER: Yes, Rex Tillerson, as you know, he's faced a lot of criticism for his management style over at the State Department, charges he left so many top positions unfilled.

What does it look like right now?

LABOTT: Well, Wolf, it's really a skeleton operation here at the State Department. You have 42 ambassadors that have not been confirmed. There are 42 countries that have no nominees for ambassadorships around the world, in key countries, in the Gulf, in Asia, South Korea, as the U.S. gets to have negotiations with North Korea, 20 assistant and undersecretaries, no confirmed nominee.

That's about half of the senior leadership here at the State Department. And that is on top of a lot of the top talent here at the State Department, career diplomats that have either been forced out or have left because they don't feel valued. There's a real sense that this department has been decimated.

It's such a bare-bones, skeleton operation. It's really going to be up to Mike Pompeo to come in, rally the troops, tell them that they matter and say that the State Department will get bigger and better, Wolf.

BLITZER: See how he does.

Thanks so much, Elise Labott, over at the State Department.

Let's get some more on all the breaking news.

Joining us, our experts and our analysts.

Gloria Borger, the dust has barely settled after the president fired his secretary of state via a tweet this morning, and now he's considering replacing his veterans affairs secretary with Rick Perry, who is currently the energy secretary. What message does all this send?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a clear message from the top, which is that the president is emboldened.

I think he's kind of wanting to rip the Band-Aid off here. And, you know, I was talking to somebody who's close to him who said that I think he now thinks he's got it. He doesn't need anybody. I can tell when he's concerned about things, and he's not.

So it seems to me that this is a president who believes at this point after more than a year in office he's figured out how to be president. He didn't like the fact that Rex Tillerson publicly disagreed with him on issues. I have been told that they had a difficult relationship, that the president considered him arrogant.

And so, therefore, he fired him in a tweet. I think with Shulkin, it's a different story. I think with Shulkin, it's, as it was with Secretary Price, he's embarrassing the president. And that's a cardinal sin. You don't make Donald Trump look bad, period.

And I think from talking to my sources that the president may be thinking it's better to get this all done at one time, get it all over with and then move on. And that may well be what he's doing.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

Phil Mudd, we know President Trump and Secretary Tillerson, they strongly disagreed on the path forward on North Korea, on the Iran nuclear deal. But this still came right after Secretary Tillerson spoke out forcefully against Russia and what the Russians are up to. So what message does that send?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Pretty straightforward. Just within the last week or so, you have heard the president say in response to questions about chaos at the White House that he likes conflict.

Well, in this case, he's had conflict with the secretary of state on issues like Iran and North Korea, where the secretary appears to have been and has been openly more sort of cautious than the president again.

Obviously, the secretary of state in the past day or so has been and in the past before that has been more aggressive on Russia. So while the president is talking about conflict with Cabinet advisers, which happens in every Cabinet, you want differences of opinion around the table, the message to people, including Secretary Pompeo, assuming he gets confirmed for the secretary of state position, is, he can talk about -- the president can talk about conflict in public.

But if you undercut him, if you say something different from him, if you conflict with him, he's going to fire you.

[18:15:02]

So what is it Wolf? Does he like conflict to get different ideas or does he can you if you disagree with something he says?

BLITZER: Phil, hold on a moment.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee, now speaking. (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The majority on the Intelligence Committee made the decision to prematurely shut down the Russia investigation, the only authorized investigation in the House of Representatives into what the Russians did in the last election, what the U.S. government response was, and the issue of any coordination or collusion with the Trump campaign.

That was a terrible disservice to the country and the American people and represented a reneging on the commitment that was made at the outset of the investigation to follow the facts wherever they lead.

Instead, what the majority on the Intelligence Committee did was go through the motions of an investigation, call in witnesses, but allow them to refuse to answer questions, allow them to invoke nonexistent privileges or simply decline to answer because the witness didn't deem the question relevant or because they would rather not say.

Documents that were necessary to obtain to determine whether witnesses were telling the truth would not be subpoenaed. This is no way to run investigation. It's only a way to go through the motions to give the pretense of trying to find the truth.

We are going to do our best to continue our work. There are individuals who want to cooperate with our committee and share information and will continue to do so. We will be putting together a report that will set out for the country what evidence we have seen to date, what evidence we have seen in terms of the Russian hacking and dumping operation, what evidence we have seen in terms of the Russian social media campaign, their paid media campaign, the, yes, issue of collusion with the Trump campaign.

There is significant evidence, much of it in the public domain, on the issue of collusion, the secret meetings with George Papadopoulos, the secret meeting at Trump Tower where the president's son and son-in-law and campaign chairman, the lies and dissembling about that meeting, the promises by Russia that were communicated to the highest levels of the campaign in the preview, in the run-up to that meeting, that this was part of the Russian government's effort to help Donald Trump by providing derogatory information on Hillary Clinton, and, of course, the secret investigations that then acting National Security Adviser or incoming National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had with the Russian ambassador to undermine the bipartisan policy of the United States.

Conversations that he lied about, that other transition officials were evidently aware of, that the vice president misrepresented unknowingly to the country, all of that bears on the issue of collusion. There are other facts outside of the public domain.

And, of course, one of the important parts of the investigation is putting the pieces together. But, still, there is work to be done on that issue and on others, work we have not been allowed to do.

Our committee, for example, has not even interviewed George Papadopoulos. But there are witnesses that were involved or knowledgeable about the Trump Tower meeting who have not been brought before our committee. There are text messages we have not sought to subpoena.

We are releasing this even a 22-page status report on the investigation that sets out some of the key witnesses that the majority has been unwilling to bring in, the key doctors they've been unwilling to ask for, the witnesses who have come before our committee and stonewalled on key questions, so that the public can see just how incomplete this effort was.

Sadly, from a very early point in the investigation, the chairman made the decision that his mission was not to find out what Russia did, not to determine the role of U.S. persons, but rather to endeavor to distract the public, to put the government on trial.

That problem persisted throughout our investigation and has led to its premature conclusion last night. But the work is too important to leave undone. In particular, the American people need the to know whether the Russians still have something they can hold over the president's head, the president of the United States.

So our work is far from done. And we will be submitting to the public a detailed account of what we have learned to date and the work that has to be done, if not by us, than by others, so that the country can be sure that its administration is acting in the best interest of the country and not because of leverage the Russians may have over the president of the United States.

And I would invite my colleagues to share their thoughts as well.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: The ranking member has well- elucidated the damage that will be done to the truth with respect to the Russian interference and possible U.S. person collusion.

[18:20:01]

Sadly, unless we're successful in continuing this investigation, it will be difficult for the country to ever know exactly what happened and therefore to respond with one voice.

I want to highlight just very briefly, however, some lasting damage that the premature ending of this investigation will do to Congress and to the separation of powers.

As many of you know, because the ranking member has detailed these issues over the course of the investigation, any number of witnesses have asserted historically broad and unprecedented exemptions for testifying to the United States Congress.

We saw in the case of several witnesses an expansive and historically unprecedented claim of executive privilege, the idea being that not only did they -- were they protected from discussing any conversations they had while they were in the White House, including with third parties that weren't the president, they claimed that transition periods somehow fell under executive privilege. So any conversation with anybody during the transition period were

conversations that were not made available to this committee, including by two of the people who are closest to the president of the United States, Hope Hicks and Steve Bannon.

Our financial witness, of course, asserted what I have come to call the I don't feel like answering it exemption when his attorney decided that he as the witness' attorney would determine what was relevant and what was not relevant to our investigation.

And so I highlight these facts because this is not a partisan issue. The power of the United States Congress in the future to undertake investigations will be forever compromised by the decision of the majority not to push back on these unprecedented claims of privilege against testifying to the United States Congress.

I would offer to my friends in the majority that, someday, probably not too far from now, they may seek testimony from a Democratic president or a Democratic administration. And they have now handed a historically unprecedented exemption, claim of privilege, to anybody that they seek to investigate in the future.

And that is something that not only damages the United States Congress, but actually erodes the important separation of powers in the United States.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: I think the ranking member did an excellent job of providing you with the backdrop.

Let me just suggest a few things. First of all, this is a gross dereliction of duty by the Republican majority to prematurely put out this report. The chair, Mr. Conaway, on FOX News last night referred to it as a wound.

And it struck me that that's how the president of the Republicans see as a wound that they don't want to have to continue to fester, so let's just put a Band-Aid on it and shut it down.

This has never been, in my view, an independent investigation. And I think this report once it becomes public will suggest to the American people that this is a playbook from the president that has been recalibrated to be a report from the Intelligence Committee.

This report was cooked before it was ever baked. And it's a truly desperate attempt, I think, by the majority to undermine what is a very important function.

Two other areas that they spend very little time on, the fact that the intelligence community knew in 2015 of Internet Research Agency, we have not spent a minute talking to the intelligence communities, doing our oversight in terms of why they did not act more deliberatively in dealing with that issue and bring it to our attention sooner.

And, secondly, the election equipment throughout this country, I think, is in shambles. We have a responsibility to investigate it, to determine to what extent hacking is feasible and to make sure we have a system that is truly independent and not subject to any kind of malfeasance.

BLITZER: All right, so there you have Jackie Speier, other members of the House Intelligence Committee, the Democrats reacting very angrily to the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee, their conclusion that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat, saying there is significant evidence of collusion both in the public domain, as well as facts outside the public domain, a significant difference, Gloria Borger.

BORGER: Yes, I think so.

Look, from listening to them it sounds like they think there was collusion between the Republicans on the committee and Donald Trump. I mean, you know, you just heard Congresswoman Speier say that it was cooked. They are now going to release their own 22-page status report, which I assume means a list of things that they have yet to do and questions that they believe still need to be answered.

So, you know, these are very upset Democrats who believe that the Republicans have whitewashed their investigation, and they're still going to try to get to the bottom of things.

[18:25:07]

But, Wolf, as you know, this is what control of the Congress is about. They don't control the committee. The Republicans control the committee, so all they can do right now is squawk about it.

BLITZER: Adam Schiff says the Republicans have done a terrible disservice to the country.

We are going to continue our special coverage of the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Breaking news: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee blasting Republicans for shutting down the Russia meddling investigation.

In a news conference just now, they promised to release a 22-page status report of the probe.

[18:30:13] There's also breaking news in that investigation, a possible new lead for the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Let's go to our political correspondent, Sara Murray, who's working the story for us. Sara, this has to do with what, the former Trump campaign adviser, Roger Stone?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. And look, just because the House Intelligence Committee has wrapped up their investigation into collusion, of course, that does not mean that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is doing the same. In fact, he may have a new lead when it comes to Roger Stone, who was an early campaign adviser to Donald Trump.

Obviously, we saw Sam Nunberg, who was an early staffer on the campaign to Trump, going out there and, after speaking to Mueller, after speaking to the grand jury, saying that they were interested in the ties between Roger Stone and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

And then a "Washington Post" report came out, saying that Roger Stone apparently told associates he had been in touch with Julian Assange and also want on to say that in the spring of 2016, Stone apparently was telling people that he knew that WikiLeaks had these stolen e- mails that were going to be a problem for top Democrats like John Podesta, who was then the campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton. Of course, this is before these e-mails came out publicly.

Now, Roger Stone responded in a statement, and here is a portion of what he says in denying wrongdoing, saying, "There is no evidence that I participated in or have any knowledge of any collusion with the Russians to affect the 2016 elections." Stone goes on to say, "I had no advanced notice of the content, source, or timing of the WikiLeaks publication of any material."

And, Wolf, we should also note that WikiLeaks has said it has never been in contact with Roger Stone, but obviously, this is something that Mueller is looking into.

BLITZER: Yes, he is. All right, Sara. Thank you.

Let's dig deeper into all of this with the former U.S. attorney, our CNN legal analyst; Preet Bharara is joining us right now.

Preet, how significant is this "Washington Post" report that Roger Stone told two people he knew Russia had hacked these e-mails?

PREET BHARARA, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, if it's true, then I think it could be, you know, highly significant. Obviously, at the heart of what Bob Mueller and others are looking at is the way in which Russia may have meddled in the election.

And at the heart of that is, among other things, the hacked e-mails of people like John Podesta and others. You know, it was a very dramatic way of trying to interfere with our election. And so obviously, they're going to want to know who knew about it, at what time they knew about it, and if anyone facilitated it.

So if Roger Stone, who is now denying that he knew anything in advance, even though he has said to various people, as reported in the "Washington Post" article that he did have advanced knowledge, I don't know what the truth is.

In some ways it's perverse when you have a person like Roger Stone, who I think is very well known for obfuscating, puffing, bluffing, sometimes lying, that you can then say that something that was an admission was actually just a joke or some kind of puffery. And I think Bob Mueller will get to the bottom of that.

BLITZER: How does this fit into the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians?

BHARARA: Well, I think you still have to answer a lot of questions. It's one thing that we knew, I think, before today that Roger Stone looked like he had some advanced knowledge generally about some of the meddling that went on in terms of the hacking.

If it is now true that he knew more specific information, for example, that John Podesta's e-mails in particular were hacked into and obtained by WikiLeaks, that takes you a step further.

And if it's true that he offered encouragement or he offered some inducement or he offered advice, you're getting closer, from the point of having just information and knowledge, to something bordering on collusion, potentially. But it depends on what the facts are and it depends on what the arrangement was. It depends on whether or not there was a meeting of the minds between someone like Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.

And also it depends on what the relationship at the time was between Roger Stone and Donald Trump and the Trump campaign. He was sort of, I think, in an informal capacity during the times we're talking about. But I don't think that matters if he was having direct communications -- although he denies it -- direct communications with the WikiLeaks people, had some knowledge and perhaps participation in the hacking of those e-mails or encouraging the hacking of those e-mails; and then the other end was having communications with people who were in the Trump campaign, you're getting a little bit closer.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff just said there is significant evidence, his words, to point to collusion. Said they there's still work to be done on that issue, other issues, work that he said -- and I'm quoting him now -- "we have not been allowed to do."

So what do you make of the committee Republicans concluding there was no collusion and that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, wasn't trying, necessarily, to help President Trump get elected?

BHARARA: Well, I think I agree with the folks who were on the screen earlier who were obviously upset that it's premature. It doesn't seem that they got a lot of cooperation from a lot of the witnesses. There were documents that they still needed to get ahold of.

And more importantly, I guess, there's still three other entities who are taking a look at various things, including in some measure, the intelligence community, including their own counterparts in the Senate that, you know, still are conducting themselves in a fairly bipartisan way, both Republicans and the Democrats on the Senate Intel Committee.

[18:35:13] And then most importantly what we've been talking about all along, the investigation by Bob Mueller himself. And so I think that will be the definitive answer to these questions.

And, you know, swirling around what the majority has done on the House Intel Committee headed by Devin Nunes is a degree to which it's been coordinated, the responses, their memos, their decisions to shut it down, the extent to which that has been coordinated with the White House.

And so there's an aura of lack of independence that I think Devin Nunes has brought upon himself because of the way this has been conducted all along.

BLITZER: On another sensitive issue, Preet, Stormy Daniels' lawyer now says the deal is dead and that the president's lawyer has proven -- and I'm quoting him now -- "they are more interested in silencing her than allowing her to exercise her First Amendment right."

Legally, do they have a case to argue she should be able to speak freely right now about this alleged affair?

BHARARA: Well, it looks like that's being litigated in a court in California. You know, people enter into an agreement. It looked like it was a binding agreement except that it's missing the signature from one of the important parties, Donald Trump. So I guess that will be -- that will be litigated.

This idea that the -- that Stormy Daniels' lawyer could say, you know, on a particular timeline she agrees to give the money back if you let her talk and, if that deadline passes, then we're going to assert our right to talk, it doesn't really work that way if there was a binding contract. You can't -- you can't buy a car from an auto dealer and drive away and then a week later, the auto dealer says, you know, "If we give you your money back we want the car back, because we think it's more valuable and we can sell it to someone else for more money."

It's, you know, not a particularly great analogy. But if you have a binding contract, you first have to prove that it's not binding. You just can't sort of offer to give money back and then speak.

BLITZER: The key is whether or not that was indeed a binding contract. There's a huge legal dispute over that.

Preet Bharara, thanks, as usual, for joining us.

BHARARA: Sure. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, there's more breaking news. President Trump fires Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, names CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement, saying they're on the same wavelength. Are more heads, though, about to roll?

And experts warn that the president's national security team is in chaos. Will North Korea try to take advantage ahead of the potential summit with Kim Jong-un?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:42:05] BLITZER: We're back with our experts and our analysts.

And Dana, let's take a look at how has actually now left the Trump administration in just the past 24 hours. Look at that. The president is considering now removing his Veterans Affairs secretary, putting his current energy secretary into that position. What does all this say, Dana, about the Trump presidency?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's head-spinning. I mean, it just is. And it's the new normal, at least for now. But if you take a step back -- and I'm glad that you showed that -- that's just, as you said, in the past 24 hours. Think about the turnover in his cabinet in general.

I mean, you have the HHS secretary who was fired for inappropriate flights, Tom Price. You have another one that was fired today and potentially, according to our Kaitlan Collins, a third at the V.A. who might go.

So this is -- this is massive turnover. This is not something that we are used to. But it also is the disruption, potentially, that Donald Trump promised when he was campaigning. He said he was going to do it, and he's doing it.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, the perception of this administration potentially could be summed up -- take a look at this "New Yorker" cartoon. We'll put it on the screen. Somebody comes in very happy. They're working together. But you see what happens on the conveyor belt as it goes to the end. That pattern, especially by the critic, seems to look familiar.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Except maybe the knives should be in the front and not in the back. Because you know, I think it's out there for everyone to see.

It's no secret that the president fired Rex Tillerson because he thought he was arrogant, they didn't get along, they disagreed on policy. And the president is really flexing his muscle now. I mean, according to a source I spoke with today, the president's feeling is like "I've got it now, OK? I get this job. I know how to run the show, and I'm going to do it."

And he's not being restrained by people. Maybe General Kelly was brought in there to do that, but that just isn't going to happen. And now he's kind of shuffling the deck here, firing the people that he wants to fire. It's like the old Trump of Trump Organization, or maybe I should say "The Apprentice." And I think that -- that this is Trump really deciding that he wants to take charge.

BLITZER: You know, David Swerdlick, the president clearly feels vindicated by the conclusions from the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee.

But we just heard the top Democrat on the committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, say that the Democrats believe facts not yet in the public domain will help build this case for collusion. He says there's significant evidence of collusion. Where do you think where this effort goes?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, when it comes to the Democrats in the House, I think they already said that they're going release a report. They can still work in some form or fashion with Democrats in the Senate, who have not closed their investigation or not issued a statement saying that they have findings yet.

And of course, there's still the special counsel investigation going on outside of Congress.

But, Wolf, this is the ultimate "elections have consequences" situation. Democrats don't control either House of Congress, so they don't control the chairmanships and they don't control subpoena power and that's why Democrats have limits to what they can do with respect to the Republican majority in the House Intelligence Committee.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You know, Phil Mudd, last hour, I spoke to Republican Congressman Will Hurd. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He also used to work at the CIA, he was an officer at the CIA.

But he said earlier today that the intelligence community relied on what he called substandard intelligence for its Russia meddling report that came out in January of last year.

What do you make of that?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well then lay it out, brother. Brother Hurd, we served, as CIA director (ph), you had one responsibility and you failed.

Let me summarize it in two sentences. What did the Russians do? You and the Democrats agreed that the Russians interfered.

Number two, did they put their finger on the pulse in favor of America, in favor of one candidate or another? Democrats and Republicans disagree. Who cares?

Question three, when did Republicans and Democrats sit down? They could have done this in 48 hours -- sit down and say regardless of how the Russians put their finger on the pulse of America, we know they interfered, what we owe the American people is 10, 12, 15 recommendations on what to do.

I tell Mr. Hurd get off the camera and get back in the room and give us the answer, not about what happened, that's Director Mueller, what are you going to do about it, dude? What's the answer? I want an answer.

BLITZER: You know, Phil, the president just spoke a little while ago at a speech out in California. I want you to listen to what he said about space.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My new national strategy for space recognizes that space is a war fighting domain just like the land, air, and sea. We may even have a space force, develop another one, space force.

We have the Air Force. We'll have the space force. We have the Army, the Navy. You know, I was saying it the other day because we're doing a

tremendous amount of work in space. I said, maybe we need a new force, we'll call it the space force, and I was not really serious and then I said what a great idea? Maybe we'll have to do that. That could happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think, Phil?

MUDD: Well, he's right. I mean, we already look at space as a potential instrument of war. If you look at the ability potentially in the future of delivering weapons from space, I know there are people who won't like it, but you have to acknowledge you wouldn't have been able to believe 150 years ago we'd need an Air Force.

You look at the language he uses, it's goofy at times but you look at the concept he's articulating, space, like it or not, will be in the 21st and 22nd century a place that the Chinese, the Russians, the Iranians and elsewhere look at a place where they place missiles. We've got to think about it, Wolf. He's right.

BLITZER: You know, Gloria, let's get back to the debate under way between the House Intelligence Committee Republicans versus the Democrats. You heard Adam Schiff flatly say he has no doubt there was collusion, there's in evidence the public domain and there's secret evidence as well.

This is going to be a huge fight.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is and it's going to continue in the Congress and it's not going get resolved. You know, there is no way that the Republicans and the Democrats in the house will see what happens in the Senate are going to resolve this. I mean, that's why you have a special counsel right now.

And if the Republicans were lax in deciding subpoenas on bank records, testimony from people, that's fine because -- it's not fine but the special counsel won't be lax. And so, what has happened here -- and I think what is tragic here is that the American public has not been able to really watch testimony of people talking about what occurred during the election. I mean, during Iran-Contra, the public -- and during Watergate, the public got to watch people come in, testify before committees and tell the story publicly to the American voters so they could see, understand, digest for themselves.

In this case, most interviews have been done behind closed doors because that's the way the Republican majority wanted it, and therefore, the story remains largely untold except for what the media has been able to glean through our own reporting. And now, we're going to have to wait for Bob Mueller. And I think it's kind of tragic because I do think that the American public deserved a better expect plan nation than they're getting

BLITZER: It's pretty amazing, Dana, those of us who have covered Congress, you've covered Congress for a long time, to see how divided this House Intelligence Committee has become.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is and it's something that we have become accustomed to as this investigation has gone on, that this committee splintered early on and it never recovered.

[18:50:09] I remember talking to a Republican on the committee early on who was eager to really get to the bottom of what happened and how this Congress can give recommendations for how to prevent it in the future. And it was early on very disheartened by the way that the committee has gone.

But, you know, that is the situation that we are in. Gloria is right, during Watergate, and even Iran Contra, it was a different situation, because a lot of it was out in the public. I think one of the differences is that here, you are talking about inherently a lot of secretive things. It's classified information when you're talking about what the Russians did.

However, I do believe that on both sides of the aisle, particularly the House, the Intelligence Committee, the Republicans there have taken advantage of the fact that they tend to meet in secret, and had witness after witness come who are not talking about classified information, but were still not allowed to be interviewed in public, which is a shame.

BLTIZER: Certainly.

All right. There is more breaking news we are following. What the president is saying tonight about North Korea and possible summit with Kim Jong-un.

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[18:56:02] BLITZER: There's more breaking news tonight. President Trump just speaking out about potential talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un saying, and I'm quoting him now, we always have to be prepared for anything but I really believe something very positive could happen.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, with all the chaos swirling around the Trump team right now, it seems unprepared for this kind of summit with the North Korean leader.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's what a lot of people are saying, Wolf. You know, even before Rex Tillerson was fired, we were hearing genuine concern from veteran diplomats that this summit that they proposed was just too impulsive, too hastily put together. Well, tonight, that concern has turned into outright warnings that the upheaval at the top of the Trump team is going to play right into the North Korean's hands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A source close to the White House tells CNN, President Trump's desire for a strong team to deal with Kim Jong-un's regime is a key reason why he's moved Rex Tillerson out as secretary of state and wants to bring Mike Pompeo in.

But tonight, former diplomats and national security veterans are warning there is chaos at the top of that team. A chaos that's dangerous, so close to potential summit between Trump and Kim.

LAURA ROSENBERGER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT, NSC OFFIICAL FOR ASIA: We don't have much time before it. Normally, you would see a lot more time in preparation, very methodical negotiations leading into kind of presidential summit. We're already operating on a very compressed timeline here. And stakes really couldn't be higher, because the president has already decided apparently that he's having this meeting.

TODD: Veteran diplomats say before a crucial summit, a top U.S. envoy needs to meet with the North Koreans or even Kim himself, take their measure, figure out what they want to get out of the negotiations.

But tonight, America has no envoy. Tillerson is out. Pompeo's confirmation isn't scheduled until April, just weeks before the proposed summit.

The top U.S. envoy to North Korea, Joseph Yun, just quit. There's no U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

The North Koreans have been completely silent since Trump announced he accepted Kim's invitation to meet. Analysts warned the shakeup of Trump's team could play right into Kim's hands.

ROSENBERGER: They are absolutely looking for any way they can take advantage of any chaos that they perceive. But even beyond chaos, any division within different people in the administration.

PATRICK CRONIN, CENTER FOR A NEW AMERICAN SECURITY: Presumably, Kim will be looking at trying to appeal directly to the White House. And see that as the natural place where they are playing a mind game with the president to some extent. They are gaming the president. They have done extensive preparation probably for thinking about how do we get into the head of Donald Trump.

TODD: But at the same time, experts say, Pompeo could slip seamlessly into Tillerson's job. A White House official told CNN Trump often asked Pompeo to stick around after national security meetings to speak with him one on one. And analysts say Pompeo won't have to be brought up to speed with North Korea.

CRONIN: From day one at the CIA, Mike Pompeo went into the agency asked, what do we know and don't we know about North Korea? He wasn't happy with what he heard. He started to reorganize and change the intelligence on North Korea to make sure that we fill gaps.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And Pompeo supporters say it was his clear eyed toughness on North Korea that became a big part of the Trump team's strategy for placing maximum pressure on Kim Jong-un regime, which is key reason why they say the North Koreans now even want to negotiate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Brian, Trump and Tillerson had a significant split though over North Korea, right?

TODD: Right, Wolf. Two people familiar with the matter have told CNN, Trump and Tillerson had major differences over how and when to hold talks with Kim Jong-un. The trump felt they were on different wavelength. These sources say the North Korea issue was the single biggest factor in Rex Tillerson's firing.

BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. Brian Todd, with that report, appreciate it very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUFRONT" starts right now.