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FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe Fired; British Ambassador Summoned to Russia; Trump Attorneys Want to Move Porn Star's Suit; Moscow Expelling U.K. Diplomats; Engineer Warned of Cracks in Bridge before Collapse; Toys 'R' Us Closing. Aired 4-5a ET
Aired March 17, 2018 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The U.S. president tweets, "It's a great day for democracy," jubilant that the former FBI deputy director has been fired. But Andrew McCabe not exactly going out quietly.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Stormy Daniels' lawyer says she just wants to tell her side of the story. Now President Trump's personal lawyers are joining the legal action.
HOWELL (voice-over): Plus the next chapter in the poisoning of an ex- Russian spy and his daughter. The British ambassador has just arrived at the Russian foreign ministry. More on Russia's retaliation for the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom.
ALLEN (voice-over): We'll have live reports from Moscow and England. These stories ahead this hour. Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. We are live in Atlanta. I'm Natalie Allen.
HOWELL (voice-over): I'm George Howell from CNN World Headquarters. NEWSROOM starts right now.
HOWELL: It's 4:00 am here on the U.S. East Coast. Fired just two days before his retirement, the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, the latest to get the ax. McCabe was let go Friday night by the U.S. attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who acted upon a review by the Justice Department's inspector general.
ALLEN: McCabe was fired after the Department of Justice determined he lacked candor with investigators reviewing the FBI's probe of The Clinton Foundation. McCabe denies any wrongdoing. CNN U.S. Justice reporter Laura Jarrett has more from Washington.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: For over a year, President Trump has used Andy McCabe as a political punching bag but McCabe is now firing back. In an interview with CNN and a blistering public statement, McCabe
saying in part, "I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey."
And just two hours after McCabe's firing late on Friday, a presidential tweet arrived with Trump calling it a great day for the hard-working men and women of the FBI, a great day for democracy.
Trump went on to say, "Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choir boy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels at the FBI."
But the backstory underlying McCabe's termination here is a bit more complicated. CNN had reported earlier this week that McCabe was the subject of a blistering internal review conducted by the Justice Department and the FBI about accusations that he misled investigators about his role in approving other FBI officials to talk to the press about an investigation back in 2016 into The Clinton Foundation.
Now McCabe says he'd never misled investigators and he did nothing wrong. But attorney general Jeff Sessions confirmed at least in part those internal reviews late on Friday saying those reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor, including under oath on multiple occasions.
As for McCabe, the loss at the chance of early retirement is perhaps the most serious blow. It's because he was fired on Friday when he was 49, he did not make it to 50 and that means he will lose out on at least a significant portion of his pension -- Laura Jarrett, CNN, Washington.
ALLEN: We are hearing more from McCabe. He's saying he was a target of an unrelenting assault to his reputation by the Trump administration and says, "The president's tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more than 20 years of service. And all along, we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about us."
HOWELL: And in an interview with CNN, he went on to say this, quote, "I think every time it becomes clear that I will likely play a significant role in whatever comes of the special counsel's efforts, immediately after that, I get targeted and attacked by the president and his Twitter account."
A lot to talk about. Let's break it all down with our political analyst also professor of political science at Cypress College, Peter Matthews, plus our CNN law enforcement contributor and retired supervisory special agent at the FBI, Steve Moore.
Gentlemen, good to have you both with us at this hour. What an hour it is, as these big stories tend to break on a Friday night, going into focus right here. The first question many -- [04:05:00]
HOWELL: -- people may wake up to ask, is this politically motivated or was this a fair move?
The President of the United States has chimed in on this on Twitter here within the last few hours. Let's read this quote from the president, where he says, "Andrew McCabe fired, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI, a great day for democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choir boy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI."
Steve, first to you, given that tweet, does this look to be fair or personal?
STEVE MOORE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT CORRESPONDENT: Leaving the tweet aside, it's kind of distasteful. But, as an FBI agent, this is the only thing that's made sense to me since this whole thing started, when Comey started talking about the Hillary Clinton e-mails.
From day one at the Academy, it is drummed into us that, if you ever lie, if you ever even have a shortfall of candor during an internal FBI investigation, you are gone. If you are going to rip us off, rip us off for $25 million not $25 because we'll fire you for either.
They fire dozens of agents a year for candor violations. And so he knew, you do not even shade the truth in an FBI investigation internally.
HOWELL: McCabe saying he was not misleading to investigators.
Peter, the same question to you, does this look to be fair or personal?
PETER MATTHEWS, CYPRESS COLLEGE: I think there's definitely a political side to it as well. I know what was said is fine, it's true about the shortfall of candor. But the political side is the president has never left McCabe alone for the last several months, even hammering him for a long time.
And that's interference. Political interference on a legal question, an issue of integrity at the FBI, it actually is not very good for the organization itself. You saw him, actually the president, slamming the FBI leadership.
That's not good for the United States and the people of America who look up to the FBI's integrity. That's so important. So we have to wait to see what the details of the report were. McCabe said once the report came out, once he actually finished the report and witnessing, then his testimony. Then what happened was it was indicated that he was going to corroborate Comey's testimony about it, Comey's claim that he was -- that he corroborated but not the President Trump was interfering.
So what was happening was it looked like the president wanted to put pressure on McCabe and on the FBI. So that's not good. We have to have law enforcement be independent of the political side of the president.
HOWELL: And all of this related, of course, to what happened, allegedly, in 2016 of October, McCabe allegedly authorizing information to be leaked to a reporter at "The Wall Street Journal." McCabe himself is speaking out. Here's what he had to say in a quote.
He says, "Here is the reality. I'm being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey."
But you know, we see McCabe, again, speaking freely here.
What difference will that make, Peter, first to you, what difference will it make with the overall investigation?
MATTHEWS: It will make a difference in the public perception of the investigation, the fairness of it, the politicization of it or the lack thereof. That's what's important with how the public perceives it as well because we do have elections coming up. And this is a big political act.
Unfortunately, as many of the FBI agents don't want to be political, nevertheless it has become political unfortunately and I think the president has a lot to blame here, his interferences. So I think it has to do with the public perception of this as well. I'll let the other gentleman deal with the legal aspect -- the FBI aspect of it.
HOWELL: All right, Steve, this question to you, you know that you can't speak publicly unless you are authorized to do so. We are seeing McCabe do that right now, make his points very clear.
What difference do you think it will make with the investigation?
MOORE: I agree, I think it will make only a public difference, it's not going to make a difference of opinion at all in the FBI. Again, I'm not saying there wasn't politics going on here and this wasn't -- that this might not have been a hit, whatever it was.
What I am saying is if you lie or don't even give the full truth in an internal FBI investigation, you are gone. Every agent knows that. So if they were after him, he certainly served himself up on a platter with this one.
And the agents are not going to feel too sorry for him, although, you know, Trump gloating over the body is really kind of -- really sad.
HOWELL: The allegation, again, that McCabe was not completely truthful with the information, that is front and center here and the reason for what is happening at this point. Let's talk about the optics.
Steve, I want to ask you this question. We are talking about a man who put in a great deal of time, his --
HOWELL: -- public service and now fired two days shy of his retirement. In fact, two days shy of his birthday, Steve.
The optics there?
MOORE: Yes, we all retire on our 50th birthday. I understand the optics are bad here. But, there are two sides to it. It is either in some people's eyes the view that Trump was going after this guy and wanted to get him before he got out the door.
The other view is, when an FBI agent of any level, any rank lies, if he had retired, there's really nothing you can do. It's the integrity of the Bureau to go after him, that's the other view.
So people are going to differ on this. All I want to tell the public out there is, regardless of what happened politically, if he did lie -- and by the way, Oprah -- I have done OPR investigations.
For them to believe he misled them intentionally, they really had to -- they know what it was going to cost him. They empathized but they went after him and they are not the president.
HOWELL: Peter, one other question to you, talking about McCabe, who has certainly been a lightning rod for the president on the Mueller investigation, the president tweeting about McCabe several times, one tweet asking why Sessions didn't replace McCabe sooner, as in this example.
You see "Why didn't Sessions replace acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got big dollars, $700,000 for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the swamp," says the president.
Peter, the question, as McCabe's star goes down for the moment, does Sessions' star rise?
MATTHEWS: Not necessarily. Depends on how this whole thing plays out in the end. The fact is, that it is true, McCabe's wife ran for state senate and received a lot of money from Terry McAuliffe, who is a very close Clinton confidant and the Virginia governor.
And this doesn't look good at all for dollar democracy, which I wrote my book about, the apparent corruption of money in politics. In this case, McCabe also had every right, his wife had a right to run for the state senate, despite the fact of who her husband was.
But there's a perception of this conflict of interest or some kind of untoward appearance which should have been avoided at any cost, if possible. And I'm not sure what McCabe could have done actually but maybe recuse himself from the whole situation. We'll have to look and see what happens in the end and see how the results turn out.
HOWELL: Peter Matthews and Steve Moore, thank you so much.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
ALLEN: We are following a story out of Moscow. This happened just moments ago. The British ambassador, Laurie Bristow, who was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry over the expulsion of those 23 Russian diplomats from the U.K., he spoke about his meeting just moments ago. Here he is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAURIE BRISTOW, U.K. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I just had a meeting in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack on the United Kingdom, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (INAUDIBLE) chemical weapons (INAUDIBLE).
Earlier this week, the prime minister set out to Parliament a number of measures that we took or we are taking to defend ourselves against this type of attack. We gave Russia the opportunity to explain how the material was (INAUDIBLE) and we asked Russia to declare that material, that capability to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Russia denied it. Therefore, we announced certain steps. Russia today has informed the of the steps that Russia will be taking to (INAUDIBLE). As our prime minister made clear in the Houses of Parliament, we have no dispute with the Russian people. But a very large part of the work of my embassy here in Russia has been -- is to (INAUDIBLE), including Russia and the United Kingdom.
But we always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort which is an attack not only on the United Kingdom, but (INAUDIBLE) international (INAUDIBLE) system which all countries, all countries including Russia, depend for their safety and security. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Laurie Bristow there, talking about his meeting with Moscow. He was summoned to talk about the ramifications, how Russia plans to retaliate for the incident where the U.K. kicked out many Russians for the nerve agent attack. And we will have a live report from Moscow and from England, where it took place, coming up in a few minutes.
HOWELL: Still ahead this hour, another case involving the U.S. president. Late developments --
HOWELL: -- in a porn actress' lawsuit against Mr. Trump. A new attorney has entered the case. We'll tell you why that is a big deal.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (HEADLINES)
ALLEN: For the first time, attorneys for President Trump have joined in a legal action in the Stormy Daniels case.
HOWELL: They filed a motion to move the adult film actress' lawsuit from California state court to federal court and they claim Daniels could owe as much as $20 million for violating a nondisclosure agreement.
ALLEN: Her lawsuit contends the non-disclosure agreement to silence her over the alleged affair with the now U.S. president is not valid. Daniels' attorney spoke earlier with our Anderson Cooper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Why would the President of the United States join in an effort for a document -- for a nondisclosure agreement that he, himself, didn't sign, which his attorney apparently just did on his own that had nothing to do with the president, for an act that he said he didn't commit?
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Well, I hate to repeat myself, but I'm going to in this instance. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we practice to deceive. Anderson, that's a very good question. It doesn't make any sense.
AVENATTI: We also now have the threat, and it's set forth in the papers, the position if you will, that if President Trump is going to seek in excess of $20 million in damages against my client.
This is truly remarkable. I don't know that there's ever been an instance in American history where you had a sitting president carrying out a personal vendetta and seeking in excess of $20 million against a private U.S. citizen, who is merely trying to tell her version of the facts.
The facts must indeed, Anderson, be very, very ugly for this president and Mr. Cohen because, if they were not ugly, he would have taken to the airwaves and defended himself and called her out and stated unequivocally that they were false.
And he would allow the American people to decide who's telling the truth and who's not telling the truth. But instead, he and his attorney, Mr. Cohen, and now others are seeking to gag and silence my client and keep the information from the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: CNN Legal analyst and author of "Make It Rain," Areva Martin, joins us from Los Angeles to talk about it.
Areva, thanks for joining us.
AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Thanks, Natalie.
ALLEN: This is the first time that attorneys for the U.S. president himself have joined a legal action regarding Stormy Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford.
What does this tell us?
MARTIN: Well, it tells us that the White House can no longer deny knowledge of the settlement and of the negotiations that happened with respect to Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels. We have seen this White House deny, deny, deny.
Deny that there was an affair. Deny that the president had any knowledge of the negotiations and the settlement agreement that Michael Cohen entered into with respect to the allegations that Stormy Daniels was making, that he and the Trump administration wanted to keep quiet.
The president is now a defendant in a lawsuit and Stormy Daniels is the plaintiff. So this also will move forward with both of them as parties and the White House at this point is pretty much all in.
ALLEN: And his attorneys are claiming she could owe as much as $20 million for violating a nondisclosure agreement. The initial complaint filed by Clifford's attorney in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Mr. Trump claims the nondisclosure agreement isn't valid because the lawyer for Mr. Trump, Mr. Cohen, signed it on behalf of Mr. Trump.
Is that a valid issue or is this a risky move by Ms. Clifford and her lawyer?
MARTIN: Well, that's the crux of the issue here, is was the settlement agreement entered into between Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, signed by both of them but not signed by Donald Trump, is that agreement valid?
Stormy Daniels' lawyers are taking the position that the absence of Trump's signature makes that agreement null and void. That's what they went into court; they filed an action in court, asking the court to basically issue an order saying that they were no longer bound by this nondisclosure agreement and essentially saying that the arbitration that was triggered by Mr. Cohen, that that also is invalid because of a lack of signature.
Now Trump's lawyers are claiming the liquid damages cost in that nondisclosure agreement, which pretty much obligated her to pay $1 million every time she disclosed what's in that nondisclosure agreement, and they are claiming that she made disclosures 20 times.
Now I've watched a lot of the broadcasting on this story and what I have heard her say is, I can't talk about it. So I'm not sure where they, you know, how the math is working out, where they are getting these 20 times that she allegedly disclosed information in the NDA. ALLEN: Right and she's been asked about it directly on late night TV, other interviews, an interview here on CNN. And she just goes mum.
But I want to ask you, why have Mr. Trump's lawyers moved to try this in federal court?
MARTIN: So federal courts and state courts have very different rules of procedure. They are governed very differently. Sometimes lawyers are just more familiar with the court procedures, with the rules of procedure in one court over the other.
Some lawyers like to be in federal court because the judges tend to be more strict. They tend enforce the rules more strictly than they do in state court. Also as we know, none of the parties here, Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, none of them live in Los Angeles County.
So in the federal system, when you have parties that are involved in a lawsuit and they're from different states, there's something called jurisdiction based on diversity because the parties are diverse in terms of their geographic locations.
So that gives the defendant in this case, Trump and his team, the right to go into federal court and say this matter shouldn't be heard by some local state court, this should be heard by a federal court.
And also defendants do this as a legal maneuver. They do it to disrupt the plan that the plaintiffs had because the plaintiffs picked what they thought to be a friendlier venue.
MARTIN: So we'll see if the plan of the Trump team to get this into federal court works to their advantage.
ALLEN: Meantime, her lawyer remains vigilant. He tweeted this, "How can President Donald Trump seek $20 million in damages against my client based on an agreement that he and Cohen claim Mr. Trump never was a party to and knew nothing about?
"The fact that a sitting president is pursuing over $20 million in bogus damages against a private citizen who was only trying to tell the public what really happened is remarkable, likely unprecedented in our history. We are not going away and we will not be intimidated."
What do you think about his comments?
MARTIN: That's been the claim from the beginning. Stormy Daniels' attorney has been claiming that this is all about intimidating her, harassing her and forbidding her from telling what he says is the truth about an affair that happened between her and Trump in 2006- 2007.
And from every account, this attorney is not going away. He is not backing down. He is on every cable station pretty much every day, telling the same story and what we now know is that Stormy Daniels herself has given an interview to "60 Minutes" that's scheduled to air probably March 25th, if it goes as planned where she is supposed sit down and tell the intimate details not only of the affair but efforts by the Trump's team to intimidate her, even what the lawyer says physically threaten her. So she has a lot to tell and she is prepared to do so, despite the NDA.
ALLEN: She is taking on a formidable opponent in Mr. Trump, who loves a good fight. We'll wait and see what happens next. We thank you so much, Areva Martin for us in Los Angeles.
MARTIN: Thanks, Natalie.
HOWELL: And the other big story we are following for those who will be waking up to this news, another high-profile firing in Washington. This time, this man, the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe. It happened less than two days before his official retirement, two days before his birthday. We'll have more details on that, ahead.
ALLEN: We go back live to Moscow as Russia summons the British ambassador in the dispute over the nerve agent attack. We'll get details hopefully on what that meeting was about.
ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm Natalie Allen.
HOWELL: I'm George Howell with the headlines this hour.
HOWELL: There has been a significant development in the aftermath of the poisoning of a former Russian spy. This happened just within the last hour. Britain's ambassador to Russia was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry.
The ambassador there was informed that Moscow would expel 23 British diplomatic staff from Russia. That mirrors the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom.
ALLEN: Relations between the two countries have been spiraling downward ever since the ex-Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned in Southern England. Here is what the British ambassador said as he left the foreign ministry earlier this hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRISTOW: It gave us the opportunity to explain how the material was (INAUDIBLE) and we asked Russia to declare that material, that capability to the organization (INAUDIBLE). Russia did neither. Therefore we announced the circumstance.
We have no dispute with the Russian people. And a very large part of the work of my embassy here in Russia has been -- is to (INAUDIBLE) Russia and the United Kingdom.
But we always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort which is an attack not only on the United Kingdom, but upon the international (INAUDIBLE) system, which all countries, all countries including Russia, depend for their safety and security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Let's talk more about these developments. CNN's Melissa Bell is covering the investigation for us in Salisbury, England. And CNN contributor and former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty is live in Moscow.
Jill, let's start with you since we just heard from the ambassador, talking about his meeting with the foreign ministry, announcing Russia's actions and holding firm with where the U.K. stands in all of this.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And that happened just -- he was at the foreign ministry just about a half an hour ago. And as you now know, they are, the Russians are taking steps, as they would call them, mirror image steps in response to what the British did.
So one of the first ones is to expel diplomats. And since the Brits expelled 23 Russians, Russia is going to expel 23 British -- I'm sorry, Russia will expel 23 British diplomats and it will also happen in the same timeframe, a week from now.
In a statement on the website of the foreign ministry, they call it "provocative actions" from the British side. They are making it very clear that, tit-for-tat, they will answer these, what they call provocative actions and unproven --
DOUGHERTY: -- accusations. Also, in that statement on the website, they say that apparently there was agreement previously that the British would be able to open up a general consulate in St. Petersburg. They are no longer going to allow that to happen.
And then, also, they say they can take further actions as warranted in reaction to the British side for these unfriendly actions.
So in sum, this is what you almost might expect, at least the first part, kicking out diplomats. I think, because they don't know, Moscow doesn't know precisely what the U.K. may do, going down the line in terms of some type of retaliation with the poisoning, that they are retaining their arsenal of diplomatic steps that they can take. But the tone of this is very angry, vituperative and very serious.
ALLEN: Jill, thank you so much. Let's go to Melissa now. She is in England for us covering the
Is there going to be word, Melissa, on definitively that Russia was behind this?
Where is the investigation headed in that regard?
MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the British authorities have really wasted no time, Natalie, in being absolutely clear about that. We have seen a ratcheting-up of rhetoric over the course of the week. It began last Monday with Theresa May speaking in the House of Commons and laying the blame squarely at the feet of Moscow.
Then that rhetoric was ratcheted up further on Wednesday. Then of course we heard Boris Johnson just yesterday say it is highly likely it was ordered by Vladimir Putin, himself. So laying this squarely at the feet of the Russian president.
The British authorities have really wasted no time in making it clear that they believe that Moscow is responsible. The point of the investigation is more to work out precisely where and how this poison was administered because nearly two weeks to the day, it will be tomorrow, it will two weeks when Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found on a bench just behind me here in Salisbury town center in a very bad way.
Of course they remain in a critical and life threatening condition two weeks on. They were found on that bench nearly two weeks ago. The investigation has yet to tell us, precisely, how that poison was ingested. At one point there's been plenty of speculation over the course of this two weeks at which point, whether it was in the restaurant behind me or perhaps on the car handle door that the poison was deposited.
The latest speculation is that perhaps Yulia Skripal, as she left Moscow the day before that lunch here in Salisbury town center with her father, it could have been planted in her suitcase. That remains the subject of speculation.
For now the authorities here in Britain are being very tight-lipped about what they may have learned about the details of how that poison was ingested. And you can understand that, Natalie. This is a very delicate investigation. Its results will be scrutinized not just by the people of Salisbury, not just by the British but of course by the entire world. It has very much been decided and invited to take sides in this dispute ever since it began a couple of weeks ago -- Natalie.
ALLEN: Absolutely. Melissa, thanks.
Let's go back to Jill and talk more about that.
Russia has been blamed for similar attacks in the past, Jill. And now as we just heard from Melissa, the U.K., or at least Mr. Johnson believes that this was a direct order from Vladimir Putin.
Where does this make the relationship between these countries?
Where does it stand?
We also know that other countries have backed the U.K. in condemning Russia.
DOUGHERTY: Yes, I mean you have the allies. You have the United States, France and Germany, who have backed up in a statement that was issued a few days ago what the British are saying and alleging.
Now the reaction here in Russia is furious, and especially furious as it touches on President Putin himself. And you have heard that very, very sternly. I think, you know, what they are -- this is a sensitive time, too, because, don't forget, tomorrow, today is Saturday, tomorrow is Sunday. That is the presidential election here in Russia.
There's great sensitivity about the timing of all of this. And some Russians, I would say probably quite a few Russians here believe that this was all a set-up to hurt President Putin, as he goes into this election. So the sensitivity of it is very great.
ALLEN: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Jill Dougherty for us and Melissa Bell. Thank you both -- George.
HOWELL: Natalie, thank you.
Turning now to the other lead story we are following this hour, the firing of the former deputy FBI director, Andrew McCabe. The U.S. president tweeted about McCabe just after midnight. Here is what he had to say generally.
"Andrew McCabe fired. A great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI and --
HOWELL: " -- a great day for democracy."
Let's bring in Inderjeet Parmar, who is joining us for analysis this hour here on CNN. Inderjeet, the professor of international politics at City University. Thanks for being with us.
So people will wake up to this news, Inderjeet. The question many people will have, is this an honest personnel issue based on allegations that McCabe was not as forthcoming as he should have been?
Or was this a personal issue coming from the top down?
In your view, what do you make of it?
INDERJEET PARMAR, CITY UNIVERSITY LONDON: I think it's probably both because there was an internal investigation by career FBI officials, who did find there were issues with the way in which Andrew McCabe behaved in regard to "The Wall Street Journal," for example.
But I would say the timing of it, two days before Mr. McCabe is due to retire and presumably get full pension rights, the timing of it suggests a degree of political motivation on the part of the Trump administration.
HOWELL: Let's talk about that. You bring this point up because there are really two parts to this, right?
The question as to whether McCabe misled investigators. And, in fact, if that did happen, what do you make of him being fired just two days shy of his birthday and retirement?
PARMAR: Well, it's quite clear that this is a part of a larger war. So Mr. McCabe, obviously is a part of a skirmish, which is reflective on a wider war which I suspect is pretty much unprecedented.
That is the intelligence community, the law enforcement community as director of the FBI, with a special prosecutor as well, special counsel, a kind of war with the White House and between them.
And that suggests that there's a kind of great deal of discontent with the character of the Trump presidency. He's unpredictable. He's erratic. He could have let Mr. McCabe go, retire and then do whatever he wishes. But he chose to make it a big issue by ordering this forced, this firing two days before. It suggests that President Trump is exactly who he said he was and has behaved throughout his campaign, that he wants to be in charge. He wants to set the agenda at every step of the way and he's willing to wage war with ferocity against all his enemies.
And now he's trying to take them out one by one and he's surrounding himself with people who, as he said, think a little bit more like him. It seems to be like a circling of the wagons as he believes his administration is besieged by various forces.
HOWELL: That leads into my next question, really, the political, right?
So the backdrop of all of this is the Russia investigation. McCabe has always been someone who's seen as a person who supports and could even corroborate the actions of his former boss, James Comey.
Comey, the former FBI director, who also was fired. What do you make of those who see this as targeting a key witness in this greater investigation that's at hand?
PARMAR: Well, it's quite clear that I think Mr. McCabe was probably going to cooperate. He gave some evidence to the House Intelligence Committee earlier and I suspect that he would have supported the Comey line about obstruction of justice and so on.
But as I said, the key thing about this is that there's a schism, if you like, within the American political establishment and that has kind of created this conflict between the White House and the intelligence and foreign policy establishment communities.
If you recall, during the summer of 2016, there was a declaration by many people who had served Republican and Democratic administrations, in intelligence positions and so on, who said that Mr. Trump was unfit for office and that he was a very poor candidate for the Republican Party and, effectively, they declared that he was untrustworthy.
He had taken positions which were at odds with the entire tenor of the America's global role and position in regard to the international system from 1945. And I think this more than effectively kind of carried on after his presidency in various kinds of investigations.
And to some extent, it aligned with the Democratic Party's own view, that the e-mails leaked from John Podesta's account were done by, with the Russian help or whatever, through WikiLeaks. And that explains their defeat. So what you have got is quite a part of the political elite declaring war on another part of the political elite.
And this sort of shows that the Grand Old Party, which thought they had got rid of its crisis after Trump's defeating all of its mainstream candidates is deeply mired in it because now they are in a war along the side of Donald Trump, against the FBI and other intelligence organizations.
Traditionally, they have been supportive of those kinds of organizations. And there, for fear of losing their seats, they have been backing President Trump.
PARMAR: But now he's beginning to be a electoral liability, perhaps, in the wake of Pennsylvania, it may well be that they begin to start deserting him before November 2018.
HOWELL: No doubt, another Friday night firing that has a lot of new questions that are being raised, Inderjeet Parmar, thank you for your time today.
PARMAR: Thank you very much.
ALLEN: In Florida, officials say someone tried to warn them about the bridge that collapsed Thursday but that message came too late. More about it right after this.
ALLEN: Investigators are scrambling to find answers about what happened to the deadly Florida bridge collapse that killed six people Thursday.
HOWELL: Our Kaylee Hartung has the update from Miami for you.
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're learning an engineer for the company that designed the pedestrian bridge that collapsed at Florida International University was aware at least two days before that collapse of cracks in the newly installed portion of the bridge.
The Florida Department of Transportation releasing a voicemail that that engineer left on one of their employee's landlines on Tuesday. That's two days before the collapse but that voicemail not heard until today. The state employee had been out of the office in the meantime.
Listen to what the engineer detailed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENNEY PATE, FIGG BRIDGE ENGINEERS: Hey, Tom. This is Denney Pate with FIGG Bridge Engineers. I was calling to share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that's been observed on the north end of the span, the pylon end of that span we moved this weekend.
So we've taken a look at it and, obviously, some repairs or whatever will have to be done. But from a safety perspective, we don't see that there is any issue there. So we're not concerned about it from that perspective, although obviously the cracking is not good and something is going to have to be, you know, done to repair that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: The engineer said very clearly there, he wasn't concerned about the cracks from a safety perspective.
HARTUNG: But this information released by the Florida Department of Transportation came out right as the NTSB chairman Robert Sunwalt was meeting with the media on Friday night.
And he said his organization was not aware of any such tips of cracks in the bridge, but that interviews would be done with all of those involved here over the course of their investigation.
We also learned more about what was happening at the moment of the bridge's collapse. The NTSB chairman saying that work was being done to strengthen the diagonal supports that connected the walkway of the bridge with the canopy of the bridge. That activity also on the north end. So why it may seem reasonable to draw conclusion here that work was being done on the north end of the bridge, the engineer was aware of cracks at the north end of the bridge. The NTSB says it is too early to draw such conclusions -- In Miami, Florida, Kaylee Hartung, CNN.
HOWELL: Kaylee, thank you.
The kid in you may not like this next story but the end of an era for Toys 'R' Us. Why the iconic store is closing down -- ahead.
ALLEN: Toys 'R' Us, sad to say, is closing its doors. The iconic toy store chain was facing massive debt.
HOWELL: Kind of sad about this story.
HOWELL: CNN's Clare Sebastian spoke to disappointed Toys 'R' Us fans in New York.
CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The last generation of Toys 'R' Us kids have spoken across the U.S. All of its stores will now close (INAUDIBLE) all of these people shopping at this Times Square store will have to find somewhere else to go.
A 31,000 jobs will now be lost. And that came in the same week that we found out Toys 'R' Us will also be closing all of its stores in the U.K. As for the customers, well, they were pretty upset about it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very sad because I love Toys 'R' Us.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now my youngest toddler is here. And he gets to play with all the toys. It's just an experience. It's an event. It's sad.
SEBASTIAN: So why were you guys going shop now that Toys 'R' Us is closing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Toys 'R' Us online.
SEBASTIAN: So what if it's not online (INAUDIBLE)?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then probably Amazon.
SEBASTIAN: Online reactions are also heartfelt. This dad posted a video on YouTube of how he broke the news to his kids while inside a Toys 'R' Us store.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Toys 'R' Us is going to be closing nationwide in the next week or two.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no. How are we going to get toys?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess go to Amazon. Amazon is putting everyone out of business.
SEBASTIAN: Amazon is part of it. Toys 'R' Us had been struggling for years against competition from big box stores like Walmart and Target and from Amazon, the e-commerce giant. But the real problem was debt.
When it was bought out in 2005, Toys 'R' Us was saddled with billions of dollars in debt and the repayments on that meant it couldn't make the necessary investments in its stores. It had hoped bankruptcy would help it turn around the business but after a miserable holiday season, it was clear the fun was over -- Clare Sebastian, CNNMoney, New York.
ALLEN: A sad chapter.
HOWELL: It is.
ALLEN: We have a lot of breaking news coming up. We'll have more of CNN NEWSROOM in a second. I'm Natalie Allen.
HOWELL: And I'm George Howell. More on the firing of deputy director Andrew McCabe as the news continues. Stay with us.