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Trump Taps Larry Kudlow as Chief Economic Advisor; Warner: Senate Intel Supports Intelligence Community Findings on Putin Favoring Trump; Democrat Win in PA Stuns GOP. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired March 14, 2018 - 17:00 ET
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JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Last April, United faced major backlash after dragging a passenger off of a plane that they had overbooked.
[17:00:12] That's it for "THE LEAD." I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. White House cleaning. President Trump picks a cable television financial analyst as his chief economic adviser and after firing the secretary of state, the president hints at more Housecleaning as officials say he wants to purge the dead weight in his cabinet. Who will be next?
Russian expulsions. As Britain expels two dozen Russian diplomats believed to be intelligence operatives, the U.S. stands behind its ally, declaring that Russia is responsible for an attack on British soil using a military-grade nerve agent. Did President Trump approve that message?
Sacrificial candidate. After a Republican candidate's apparent stunning loss to Democrat Conor Lamb in a Pennsylvania special election, the White House is keeping its distance, claiming the Democrats embraced the president's policies. Was this a referendum on President Trump?
And standing up, walking out. Students across the country stand up for an end to gun violence, walking out of their classes and demanding change. Can this extraordinary show of solidarity make a difference?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news, another turn of the revolving door over at the White House. The president names a Wall Street veteran as his chief economic adviser as other cabinet secretaries look around nervously, waiting for the next move.
And as the Trump administration blames Russia for the nerve agent attack in Britain, lawmakers vow to push on with the investigation into Russian meddling.
I'll speak with Senator Ron Wyden of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and specialists, they're all standing by with full -- with full coverage. But first, House Republicans may have washed their hands of the Russia
investigation, but the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee says his panel has found no evidence to contradict the findings of the U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia favored Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju.
Manu, you spoke to Senator Mark Warner. He plans to push ahead. What's the latest?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. In fact this committee investigating the possibility of any conclusion that may have occurred with Russian officials and Trump officials in the 2016 election. That conclusion is still months away, according to Mark Warner. They are investigating that.
And it's very clear that Mark Warner has a much different assessment of the -- of what exactly happened in 2016 than the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, who concluded, as part of their report, there was no evidence to back the notion from the intelligence community that Russians were trying help Donald Trump become president. Mark Warner says the Intelligence Committee's [SIC] assessment is accurate.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: I believe in the intelligence community's assessment that they spent months working on, across the board saying that the Russians had a favorite candidate. That candidate was Mr. Trump. That candidate won. Let's face it: the Russians also released selected information that they hacked into on Hillary Clinton and on her campaign aides. That clearly was to hurt Clinton and to help Trump.
RAJU: Do you have evidence to substantiate the intelligence community's assessment that Putin tried to help Trump?
WARNER: We have been on this, for now, about 14 months. We have seen nothing that takes away from the unanimous intelligence community's assessment. The CIA, the FBI, the director of national intelligence, the National Security Administration, the NSA have all concluded that the Russians had a preferred candidate.
RAJU: One of the things that Richard Burr told me this week is that he has seen no evidence yet of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign. Do you agree with that?
WARNER: Listen, I have as many questions, if not more question today than I had six months ago. And what I've said throughout this whole investigation, I'm going to reserve my final judgment until the end of the investigation.
We continue to interview witnesses regularly. We have more scheduled next month. We have a lot of individuals that I'm going to, at least, want to have come back that were principles, because our interviews have all been done by staff.
RAJU: But in a sign, Wolf, of the partisan split even on this committee, Richard Burr, the chairman of that committee, did tell they me earlier this week that he had seen no evidence yet of collusion.
[17:05:03] And he also said that he has not seen evidence yet to substantiate that intelligence community assessment from January 2017 that Putin was trying to help Trump become elected president.
And moreover, Warner wants to bring back some of those Trump associates before the committee, including Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., to be questioned by senators. Richard Burr has yet to commit to that, as well.
First, they're going to issue a report about election security that may come out as soon as next week that will be agreed upon on a bipartisan basis. But those trickier issues that forced the House committee to break down, those issues are going to be punted until later on in the year. We'll see if the Senate investigation comes to any sort of consensus that has been elusive so far on Capitol Hill, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, it has. All right. Thanks so much. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
Also breaking right now, the president says, "You're fired" and fills a White House opening. But others are fearing more familiar words from Donald Trump. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
More musical chairs, I take it, Jeff.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it sure seems that way. And the president is heading back to Washington tonight from a stop in St. Louis. He does have a new chief economic adviser on board, but there are questions about which members of the cabinet may be shown the door. The president this week, Wolf, seems to be in a firing mood.
ZELENY (voice-over): Another day of churn at the White House. President Trump tapping longtime friend and TV financial analyst Larry Kudlow as his chief economic adviser, even as other top aides are on the hot seat tonight.
As a CNBC commentator, Kudlow has been sharply critical but always loyal to the president. Lately he's been outspoken in opposing the controversial trade policy.
LARRY KUDLOW, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISOR: My problem with these steel and aluminum tariffs, as they were originally announced, is that it might do harm to American users of steel and aluminum. I made that point on the air. I made to it him. I just don't like blanket tariffs.
ZELENY: But that's the specific issue that caused Gary Cohn to quit last week, raising questions of how comfortable the president is with dissenting points of view.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't agree one everything, but in this case I think that's good. I want to have a divergent opinion.
ZELENY: The president is rebuilding his team as Republicans are bracing for what many fear will be a brutal mid-term election following the outcome of the special congressional race Tuesday. After campaigning last week in Pennsylvania --
TRUMP: The world is watching. This -- I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick. They're all watching. Because I won this district, like, by 22 points.
ZELENY: But Republican Rick Saccone did not, running 600 votes behind moderate Democrat Conor Lamb, who declared victory in the deeply red district.
CONOR LAMB (D), PA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm a Pennsylvania Democrat. A proud Western Pennsylvania Democrat. This is the party of my grandfather.
ZELENY: A day after abruptly firing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CNN has learned the president is furious at the conduct and performance of other members of his cabinet, and more changes are likely coming.
TRUMP: We did -- we helped Wall Street. We helped Main Street. We helped everybody.
ZELENY: At a stop in St. Louis today, the president talking up the president's economic stability. But it's the stability of his administration that's raising questions in Washington and around the world.
Before leaving the White House on Tuesday, the president signaled he's still trying to put his team in order 14 months after taking office.
TRUMP: I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.
ZELENY: The president is or has been furious at many members of his cabinet. V.A. Secretary David Shulkin is in his crosshairs over poor management and misuse of taxpayer money; national security advisor H.R. McMaster over foreign policy differences; Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke over excessive spending on travel; EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over pricey hotels and first-class air fare; HUD Secretary Ben Carson over that $31,000 dining set; Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for a poor performance on 60 Minutes; Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the Russia investigation; and chief of staff John Kelly for exerting too much control over the West Wing.
The president, aides say, is disturbed by how his team has become a punch line.
STERLING K. BROWN, ACTOR: I'm scared.
LESLIE JONES, CAST MEMBER, NBC'S "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE": It's OK. You're going to make a great surgeon general.
BROWN: No, I run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
JONES: That's hilarious.
ZELENY: The president once praised Shulkin for his commitment to reforming the V.A.
TRUMP: But I have no doubt it will be properly implemented. Right, David? It better be, David. We'll never have to use those words.
ZELENY: Those words, of course, are ones he often said in his previous life on "The Apprentice," "You're fired."
TRUMP: We will never use those words on you, that's for sure.
ZELENY: The president's anger at odds with campaign promises of recruiting the best team.
TRUMP: The cabinet, we're going to have all the best people.
[17:10:04] We're going to have the best people in the world.
ZELENY: So, Wolf, it does seem like the president is re-evaluating some of his initial choices to be in the cabinet and could be making some substitutions, if you will, in the second year of his administration.
Of course, this is all up to him in terms of the timing. Most people here at the White House say the president has confidence in all of his cabinet members, until he doesn't -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good point. All right, Jeff Zeleny. Thanks very much.
Joining us now, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. He's a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senator, thanks so much for joining us.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you.
BLITZER: All right. I want to get to the chaos over at the White House in just a moment. But first, I want to get to what we just heard your colleague, Senator Warner say. Why do you believe House Republicans, do you believe, reject the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia was actually intervening in the U.S. presidential election to help Donald Trump win?
WYDEN: What the House Republicans did yesterday is just bizarre. They managed to dis the intelligence leadership of two administrations. Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration.
These intelligence professionals, they are not political people. They made judgments indicating that the Russians were meddling to help the president. And in effect, what the House Intel Committee did yesterday was dis intelligence probes of two administrations.
BLITZER: Because the intelligence community in January of last year concluded that had the Russians wanted to sow dissent in the United States, to undermine Hillary Clinton, and to wind up helping Donald Trump. And that was reaffirmed by the director of national intelligence in this administration.
On the issue of collusion, Senator, the chairman of your committee, Richard Burr, says he's seen no evidence yet of collusion. Have you?
WYDEN: Well, it's clear to me there was an intent to collude. I mean, Donald Trump Jr., when he was given the opportunity to talk about getting dirt from somebody who was quite close to Putin, basically said, "Terrific. Can't wait."
So there's a lot of work to do. I have focused on what are called the follow-the-money issues. The fact is, the intelligence Committee, our chief obligation is counter intelligence. The way you compromise people is through money. I think people like Michael Cohn and Jared Kushner ought to be up in front of open sessions at the committee.
BLITZER: Is intent to collude the same as collusion?
WYDEN: That's the point of having an inquiry. You know, what we know is that, in so many of these instances, what you've seen is prominent members of the Trump administration playing the Intelligence Committee.
What you saw with Jared Kushner is he said we don't rely on the Russians for our financing. And he got away with it because nobody said, have you taken money? Ever taken money? That's why we've got to get them back in public.
BLITZER: Senator burr said the investigation should wrap up by the fall. Are you comfortable with that time line?
WYDEN: I don't believe you wrap up an investigation until you follow the facts, and certainly, we continue to get additional information all the time. I have real questions about these Russian oligarchs.
Steve Mnuchin is kind of throwing the game with respect to the sanctions law. He's required to publish the names of the oligarchs. He won't do it. We've got oligarchs like Mr. Tortion (ph) where there's serious questions about money laundering and shell companies and the NRA's involvement in the election. If those allegations are true, I can tell you the Russians were not interested in promoting American skeet shooting.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Mike Pompeo, the CIA director. You voted against this confirmation as CIA director. Do you have similar concerns right now about his nomination to become the secretary of state?
WYDEN: I do. And my real concern is with the director is his priority going to be focusing on keeping America safe? Or is his priority going to be keeping the president of the United States happy?
You know, when you look at the people that the president really wants to have around him, it's people who agree with him. So Mike Pompeo has spent a lot of time with the president in the daily brief. There's no question that they've hit it off, you know, personally.
But what we really need is people, at a time when we're dealing with Iran and North Korea and cyber security, who are going to focus first and foremost on keeping the country safe. And that's more important than keeping the president happy.
BLITZER: What about the president's choice of Gina Haspel to become the next CIA director?
WYDEN: I think with respect to Ms. Haspel, in particular, the Trump administration is engaged in an out-and-out cover-up to keep the American people from knowing about her professional background.
[17:15:10] As you know, there have been many public stories linking her to torture. I'm a John McCain guy on these issues. John McCain says it's not right morally, and he points out it's not effective.
And the reality is the CIA has actually lied to the American people and to the Congress. They have claimed that torture stopped terrorist plots. There's no evidence of that.
So and I Senator Martin Heinrich have led the effort to get this nominee's background declassified. I can tell you, there is absolutely no reason why a significant amount of her background couldn't be declassified without harming America's national security.
BLITZER: So on this issue, you clearly disagree with Leon Panetta, the former CIA director. He was on CNN this morning praising -- praising her, saying she's outstanding, a career CIA officer. Yes, she was involved in -- back in 2002 after 9/11 in torture. The -- the -- that was going on at what was called a black site in Thailand. But it was a different time, a different era, right after 3,000 people were killed in that al Qaeda attack. What do you say to Leon Panetta?
WYDEN: He's a good man. I read the intelligence differently. That's why it ought to be declassified, so the American people can actually know the truth.
Some astounding things took place during those, you know, Bush years. We had people who were badly injured, and they were tortured. I already the false claims where the CIA -- this wasn't on Mr. Panetta's watch. This was on the previous watch. The CIA lied to the Congress and lied to the American people about how torture stopped terrorist plots.
Let's declassify this information. Bring the American people into this debate, and they'll make their own judgments.
BLITZER: She'll be coming before your committee. You'll be able to ask her all those questions during the confirmation process. Senator Wyden, thanks for joining us.
WYDEN: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: More breaking news coming up as the White House tries to explain a Democrat's apparent stunning upset in a heavily Republican congressional district. We have obtained GOP talking points. High up on the list, the words, "wake-up call."
BLITZER: The White House and national Republicans are trying to explain last night's apparent stunning upset by Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election in a heavily Republican congressional district.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.
All right. So Jim, what are you learning right now about this reaction?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, so far, Wolf, President Trump has not weighed in on this race. His silence is pretty stunning at this point, seeing how the president likes to weigh in on just about everything.
But the White House is clearly trying to put some distance between President Trump and Rick Saccone after the Republican candidate's disappointing showing in Pennsylvania.
We've obtained some talking points being circulated inside the Republican Party that indicates GOP leaders are getting very nervous about the fall midterms. Let's show you some of what's being shared internally as the GOP tries to spin their way out of this mess in Pennsylvania.
The talking points describe Saccone as a good man but -- and there's a big "but" here, Wolf. It says in these talking points, "However, this race shows that candidates and campaigns matter. This should be a wake-up call," these talking points on to say, to anyone running." And then they go on to say, "It's vital to aggressively raise the resources you need and define both your opponent and yourself. If those things had happened in this race, I think we would be looking at a very different outcome."
So a pretty brutal assessment of the Rick Saccone race over there in Pennsylvania.
One thing that's absent in these talking points is really any blame for President Trump. The White House said today that Democrat Conor Lamb was essentially running as a conservative, and he was to some extent, Wolf, running as a conservative Democrat. But consider that he also is a supporter of Obamacare. He's been critical of the Trump tax cuts. He hasn't exactly run as a Republican. All of this explains why Republicans are very antsy. As one top GOP
official put it to me last night, they are worried that these November midterms coming up in the fall could be a, quote, "blood bath" for the GOP. And a Democratic House of Representatives, Wolf, that of course, would clearly slam the brakes on the Trump agenda and perhaps reignite the Russia investigation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta reporting for us. Thanks very much.
Coming up, students across the United States, they're standing up for an end to gun violence, walking out of their classes and demanding change. Can this extraordinary show of solidarity make a difference?
And over at the United Nations, the U.S. publicly blames Russia for the nerve agent poisoning in Britain. Is the Trump administration now ready to put more pressure on Vladimir Putin?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
[17:28:49] BLITZER: President Trump is in Missouri where he touted the economy after touring a Boeing aircraft plant, then headed to a fundraiser. This comes as sources say the president is planning to purge more dead weight from his cabinet.
Let's bring in our analysts and our experts. And Gloria, he's bringing in Larry Kudlow, a financial analyst, the host over at CNBC to replace Gary Cohn. But both Cohn and Kudlow agree on the bad idea of tariffs being imposed --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
BLITZER: -- even though the president strongly supports that concept.
BORGER: Well, I spoke with someone today who's close to the president. And he said the difference is that he doesn't believe that Kudlow would quit over it. That he thinks that Kudlow would kind of salute and say, "OK. I disagree with you, but you're the president of the United States; and I'm not going to make -- make a big point of it."
And I think that the president now is finally feeling like he's in control. I mean, this person also said to me, "Look, he now feels 'I know how to be president, and I'm going to be president. And I'm done taking everyone's advice. And I'm going to put the people in the cabinet that I'm comfortable with'."
He's known Larry Kudlow for years. He's gone to him on economic matters. Kudlow was involved in the campaign and the transition on economic matters. 0 And he's also a TV celebrity, so he thinks that he can represent the president well on television.
BLITZER: What do you think about that? The fact that he is a CNBC host for many years, a financial analyst, a contributor on CBNC, Jeffrey? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Are you suggesting there's
something wrong with people who appear on TV? That -- that --
BLITZER: No. I think they're -- they're very impressive.
TOOBIN: Wolf -- Wolf, I am available. No. Look, I mean, you know, I don't really think most Americans care who the president's economic adviser is.
I mean, you know, yes, Larry Kudlow differs with the president somewhat on tariffs, although that's changed somewhat. All this business about who works in the White House, I really don't think it matters much. What matters is what the government is getting done, if anything.
And if you saw that incredibly botched rollout of the tariffs and the lack of political support that he got, that matters. But, you know, who works there, I really -- I just don't think it matters much to most people.
BORGER: Well, I think who works there makes you have a good rollout and a smart rollout. So in sense, it matters. Because people actually plan things when they work in the White House if they're good at their jobs, and you know, that rollout wasn't planned.
BLITZER: Yes. Assuming the president listens to those good people who have good ideas for rolling stuff out.
BORGER: Well, yes.
BLITZER: Sabrina, we're told the president now wants to get rid of what he calls the "dead weight," scourge (ph) the remaining dead weight in his cabinet, on his staff. Who do you think might be next to leave?
SABRINA SIDDIQUI, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, certainly, there's a lot of speculation over the future of David Shulkin, who's secretary of the V.A. He's been embroiled in this controversy over his use of taxpayer funds to bring his wife along for a trip to Europe, as well as, you know, reports of emerging distance between him and his senior staff.
There's also Ben Carson who, similarly, was caught up in an ethics- related matter with the purchase of a very expensive, $31,000 dining set to redecorate the Housing and Urban Development Department.
But I think that more importantly, with respect to all this, is that the president put in place people who did not have the relevant experience for a lot of these positions. He also assembled one of the wealthier cabinets in recent times. And so I think when you look at a lot of these taxpayer-funded controversies, you're seeing that manifest itself some way in the way that they treat taxpayer dollars.
Also you look at, for example, Betsy DeVos failing to answer certain questions about her department and public schools. And you're now seeing the culmination of a cabinet that broadly was not prepared for -- to serve in this administration, let alone to oversee some of the president's agenda.
BLITZER: I think it's fair to say we're going to see several more changes coming up in the days and weeks to come. I know David Chalian agrees with me on that.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I do.
BLITZER: Republican Senator Rand Paul, he's a Republican. He's been close to the president on some issues. He now says he will vigorously oppose the confirmation of both Mike Pompeo to become secretary of state and Gina Haspel to become director of central intelligence. So do you think these two nominations are in trouble?
CHALIAN: I don't know that we can say that they're in trouble yet. But let's do the simple math of how Senate confirmations work. Republicans have 51 Republicans. So you lose one and you're already in a place where you need everything else if you're not going to get a Democrat, just to get a tie-breaking vote from Mike Pence.
So it is significant for anybody to come out now, and especially in the president's own party, and say, "I'm not for that nominee."
Now, that being said, there were some statements issued yesterday when these nominations were made from Democrats like Bill Nelson in Florida, even Dianne Feinstein, who has really had a lot to do with this torture issue, touting her relationship with Gina Haspel over this time, and had some warm things to stay.
Remember also, Wolf, you've got those red-state Democrats running for office this year. Deep-red states like Claire McCaskill of Missouri, or John Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin in West Virginia. They're not just going to vote against the president in an election year when they're running in states that have big Trump wins in 2016. They're going to think about that. And think about maybe this is a way that they can show the folks back home that they can cross party lines. So this may not be a total party line vote, but what it is an indication of, it is no slam-dunk. There's going to be work to do.
BORGER: -- an invitation coming up from the president to Rand Paul to kind of settle this issue.
BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Well, what the heck is Dianne Feinstein thinking? I mean, she's got -- she's facing a primary from the left in her party. She seems to think it's, like, 1992, where you know, there's -- "Oh, we should all, like, get together." She spent years --
CHALIAN: She may come out ahead. She may come out ahead.
BORGER: She may.
TOOBIN: She spent years trying to investigate CIA torture, and she played a very honorable role. And now she's singing a hymn to this woman who was in charge of the torture of people? I mean, I just -- what's she thinking? I don't get that. BORGER: First of all, she hasn't done that yet. She's said she's keeping an open mind on this.
[17:35:03] But also, you have somebody like James Clapper coming out and being very positive about --
BLITZER: And Leon Panetta.
BORGER: And Leon Panetta coming out and being very positive. Because she is somebody who has a good reputation inside the CIA.
So like, I think the story has to be unspooled here, and we have to learn a little bit more about her role. And Jeffrey is right. It's controversial. I think it needs to be -- I think it needs to be covered and revealed, and I think they need to figure out where she is now in particular on the issue of torture.
CHALIAN: And she'll have courtesy visits on the Hill with a lot of these senators --
BORGER: Yes, yes.
CHALIAN: -- on the pertinent committee and we'll learn about how those meetings are going.
SIDDIQUI: I think what raises a lot of concerns among critics and advocates for civil liberties is that this president himself has expressed on a number of occasions support for -- for torture and for engaging in some of these extreme tactics. And so I think that, because he has not really distanced himself from extraordinary rendition and all of these torture-related matters, then people think that if he puts officials in these positions who might be more supportive of enforcing that agenda, then you could see that.
BLITZER: Jeffrey, I want you to --
TOOBIN: Let's quote Donald Trump --
BLITZER: Go ahead.
TOOBIN: Let's quote Donald Trump accurately. He wants waterboarding and worse. That's what he said. I mean, that's the kind of barbarism that he has supported when it comes to interrogation.
So I think Haspel, he's fine with her. The question is, I thought we had moved away from torture as American policy. I guess we'll see.
BORGER: Well, but his secretary of defense, James Mattis, has made it very clear he's opposed to torture, and he told the president that. And at some point, if I recall, the president said, "Well, you know, Mattis -- Mattis convinced me that he may be right."
BLITZER: Yes, well, the U.S. military --
BORGER: So maybe Trump has changed his mind, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: It could be.
BLITZER: The U.S. military has always had different rules for what they call enhanced interrogation than the CIA and other elements of the U.S. government.
All right. We're going to learn a lot more about this during her confirmation hearings and during Mike Pompeo's confirmation hearings.
Stick around. There's more news we're following. The dramatic confrontation at the United Nations, where Ambassador Nikki Haley declared the U.S. believes Russia is responsible for the brazen nerve- agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter.
Also, students across the United States walk out of their classes to demonstrate in favor of new gun laws. Is anyone on Capitol Hill listening?
[17:42:02] BLITZER: Across the country today, students walked out of classes and took part in rallies demanding stricter gun laws and an end to school massacres.
CNN's Ryan Nobles watching both the demonstrations, as well as the latest congressional attempt to do something about school safety. Ryan, are the protests making a difference?
RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there was some movement today on Capitol Hill on a piece of legislation that was specifically borne out of the Parkland tragedy. But the message was pretty clear from these demonstrations all around the country: it's not nearly enough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do we want?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gun control!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gun control!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gun control!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When do we want it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now!
NOBLES (voice-over): Enough is enough. That was the message from waves of high school students across the country today as they poured out of schools, across football fields and into the streets to demand action on gun violence.
In New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo participated in a die-in alongside local teens.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more? How many more?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many more? How many more?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many more? How many more?
NOBLES: To get the attention of national lawmakers, thousands more students skipped school, taking their message directly to Washington.
DAVID HOGG, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: We will accept nothing less than comprehensive gun control. And if it's what it takes, we will shame our national policy makers into protecting us.
NOBLES: This generation of students was born after the 1999 massacre at Columbine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think of my little brother and sister and how it could have been them and how it could be them if they don't change the law.
NOBLES: They participate in school shooting drills regularly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're starting to realize, wait, why is no one in Washington doing anything?
Whether you are on one side of the aisle or the other, all students want to live.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want change! We want change!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want change! We want change!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want change! We want change!
NOBLES: Despite the unified message from their youngest constituents just outside, senators inside the Capitol continued to question how shootings such as the one in Parkland, Florida, could have been prevented.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The man did everything but take an ad out in the paper, "I'm going to going to kill somebody." We tell our citizens that, if you see something, say something. Well, doesn't it become incumbent upon us as a society to do something?
NOBLES: The FBI admits it failed to follow up on tips it received about the Parkland shooter prior to the massacre. Today another admission.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has anyone been reprimanded? Has anyone been terminated?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As of today, no.
NOBLES: Meanwhile, on the House side --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The motion to reconsider is laid on the table.
NOBLES: -- lawmakers passed a bill designed to fund more security at schools across America, but the bill does nothing to address current gun laws.
Students who flooded the National Mall warned that won't be enough to silence them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give us concrete solutions. And for once, value our lives over your bank accounts. Or we will vote you out!
NOBLES: And while there's no doubt that this message from these students was directed at lawmakers at all levels of government, they wanted to make sure that the president of the United States specifically heard what they had to say.
Now, Donald Trump did not acknowledge the fact that these demonstrations were taking place all around the country. But his spokesmen, Raj Shah, did say that the president shares these students' concerns about school safety -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ryan Nobles reporting for us from Capitol Hill. Thank you.
Coming up, this afternoon's breaking news over at the U.N., where Ambassador Nikki Haley declared the U.S. believes Russia is behind the poisoning of an ex-spy. Will confronting President Vladimir Putin keep him from going after more of his enemies?
[17:50:03] BLITZER: We have breaking news at the United Nations. The U.S. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain and believes Russia is responsible for the poisoning of an ex-spy and his daughter using a military grade nerve agent.
Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd who's working the story for us.
The British are also hitting directly back at Russia, but there's some indication that Putin really doesn't care.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and that he may have more targets. That's a big concern tonight, Wolf.
Russian dissidents, Putin critics around the world, especially in Britain, are openly worried tonight that they could be next. The Russian President seems to have unchecked power to target these people and suffer almost laughable consequences.
TODD (voice-over): British authorities strike back at Vladimir Putin after concluding the Kremlin is responsible for the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Prime Minister Theresa May says the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats
will degrade Putin's intelligence capability in Britain.
THERESA MAY, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM: It is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.
TODD (voice-over): Tonight, there are serious concerns over who might be targeted next. Bill Browder believes it could be him.
Browder is an American-born financier who pushed through the passage of an American law that targeted Putin and his cronies for corruption and human rights violations. Browder has lived in Britain for several years under constant protection.
TODD (on camera): What are the security threats you have received?
WILLIAM BROWDER, FORMER EMPLOYER OF SERGEI MAGNITSKY: They've -- the Russian government has made numerous death threats against me. They want to kill me. They'd like to kidnap me. They'd like to have me arrested and sent back to Russia.
TODD (voice-over): Putin has got a long track record of allegedly targeting his opponents with poisonings. Vladimir Kara-Murza, an anti-Putin activist who's campaigned for more open elections in Russia, says he's been poisoned and sent into a coma twice.
The closest anyone has come to tracing a political murder directly to Vladimir Putin? The 2006 death of former Russian intelligence agent Alexander Litvinenko.
He'd been digging up information damaging to the Kremlin. In a Cold War-style operation, someone slipped the radioactive substance, polonium, into Litvinenko's tea in London. The British investigated.
ALEXANDER GOLDFARB, AUTHOR, "DEATH OF A DISSIDENT: THE POISONING OF ALEXANDER LITVINENKO AND THE RETURN OF THE KGB": There were all sides represented. There was tons of evidence. And on the basis of that evidence, British judge found that Mr. Putin is likely to have ordered this killing.
TODD (on camera): Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?
SARAH MENDELSON, FORMER UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL: It's fair to say that he has ordered killings, that he has enabled a system where opponents, journalists, activists have been killed.
TODD (voice-over): Experts say the chemical nerve agent used to injure Skripal and his daughter is up to 10 times more potent than V.X., the nerve agent used to kill Kim Jong-un's half-brother last year. If Putin is behind the Skripal attack, what signal is he sending?
MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE KENNAN INSTITUTE, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: This is the system signaling that when you betray us, you cannot escape. You're not safe anywhere in the world. The additional message from Putin and for Putin is, as I have told
you, the Russian people, we are in a conflict with the West. Note what the West is doing in response to this. They are seeking to punish us.
TODD: Vladimir Putin and his aides have denied any involvement in the Sergei Skripal attack, calling the accusations unfounded.
They have denied being behind the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko and the targeting of other Putin critics abroad. But some analysts say don't expect Vladimir Putin to stop this kind of behavior, that there simply aren't any consequences for him at home, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're also, Brian, getting some new information tonight about the chemical agent used in that recent attack in Britain. What are you learning about that?
TODD: That's right, Wolf. A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the intelligence on that attack in Britain is telling CNN that this agent called novichok is not commonly found. That it would take an advanced state actor to make it due to the complexity of making that material.
This official says in its purest form, that material should cause instant death. So that leaves some key questions tonight. Was this an assassination attempt that was bungled or did the attackers purposely not use a pure form of this agent with the intent to maybe just injure these people and send a signal?
BLITZER: It certainly sent a signal, we know -- there's no doubt about that. Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you very much.
Coming up, there's breaking news. The porn star Stormy Daniels turns to the public to help finance her lawsuit against President Trump as the first hearing date is now on the calendar.
And in an exclusive, CNN is there as the U.S. and its allies patrol the Arctic where Russia seeks to rule. We're going to take you inside a U.S. nuclear submarine.
[17:54:46] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Kudlow and chaos. President Trump picks a conservative cable T.V. financial analyst to be his next top economic advisor, even as a source says the President wants to purge -- I'm quoting now -- dead weight from his cabinet.
As one new staffer enters the White House, who is next in line for the exit?
Questions of collusion. The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee tells CNN there are growing questions about whether the Trump campaign worked with Russia despite the findings of Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. And he says he stands by the intelligence community's assessment that Vladimir Putin wanted Trump to win.
Under the Arctic. We go onboard with the U.S. and its allies as their nuclear submarines patrol the front lines of a growing conflict with Russia in the Arctic Sea where Moscow's military machine is seeking dominance. It's a CNN exclusive.
[18:00:03] And stormy day fund. Porn star Stormy Daniels is raising money for her lawsuit against President Trump.