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Trump Replaces National Security Adviser; Interview with Congressman Ruben Gallego; Stormy Daniels' Attorney Demands Trump Preserve Documents; President Trump Announces Tariffs on China; Lead Trump Lawyer Quits. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 22, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Playmate speaks. Karen McDougal gives her first TV interview on her claim of a past affair with the president and her legal fight to make it public. It's a CNN exclusive, and Anderson Cooper is standing by with details.
And Stormy's demand. Porn star Stormy Daniels' legal war with the president is now reaching into the Trump Organization. We're going to tell you what her lawyers want and how it could help her case.
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: We're following breaking news on turnover and turmoil in the legal team representing the president in the Russia investigation.
Lead lawyer John Dowd is now out. And we're learning that other attorneys have refused offers to help defend the president.
I will get reaction from Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego. And our correspondents and analysts, they're all standing by.
First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, tell us about this new shake up in the Trump legal team.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
The president's lead lawyer in the Russia investigation, John Dowd, resigned today. This is coming after days of disagreements inside the president's legal team about how he should proceed going forward here. We do know, of course, he hired a new lawyer a couple of days ago. So this is just the outgrowth of that.
But when the president was in the diplomatic reception room earlier today, we asked him a key question. Would he like to testify still before Bob Mueller's special counsel?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, would you still like to testify to special counsel Robert Mueller, sir?
TRUMP: Thank you. I would like to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So the president there is saying directly, "I would like to," but, Wolf, that has been the subject of some of this disagreement here between some of the lawyers.
John Dowd, of course, the lead lawyer here, was not advising that. He was hoping the president would not testify. So now we will see how this more aggressive legal strategy is going to play out here, as this does come to a head at some point soon.
Now, of course, the president, oddly, did not say anything about the departure of John Dowd. John Dowd said he loves the president, wishes him well. The president would not answer our questions about John Dowd. But, Wolf, this is the latest sign of the revolving door, also extending to the legal team, as well as many other parts of this administration.
BLITZER: Jeff, the White House also announced that today new tariffs on China, and the markets clearly tanked, more than 700 points down. The White House says the move will help the U.S. economy, but there's a lot of concern there could be a trade war, which could result in prices for average Americans, for consumer goods going way up.
ZELENY: Wolf, this is certainly something that, you know, a major, you know, the most aggressive stance yet the president has taken against China.
And that's where the president was when we were asking him those questions. He was in the diplomatic reception room, signing that proclamation there. And he said, look, this is something that the U.S. should have done a long time ago. He talked about the billions of dollars. He said this would be a $60 billion deal.
But all the jobs that have been impacted by this as well. Of course, this is something the president campaigned upon. He said that China is raping the U.S. And now we have been wondering if he's going to follow through on that. We, of course, were in Beijing with the president late last year and, of course, being flattered and feted by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, here.
But he did follow through on that today. But it does raise a question about a potential trade war. The market, as you said, did not like it at all. The Dow dropping more than 700 points. Now, certainly, this is more viewed enthusiastically on Capitol Hill than certainly the tariffs were a couple of weeks ago.
But it does raise many questions about the protectionism stance that the United States now is taking, certainly overturning decades of open markets that has been something of a rule here. But the president says he is doing something other presidents should have done, have not. We will see what happens with the average price of goods, like you said. This is the beginning of something that we certainly don't know the end -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, the markets clearly were not happy. Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you.
We're also learning more right now about why John Dowd quit and how it figures into the president's overall legal strategy.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Pamela Brown.
Pamela, what's behind this dramatic departure?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is growing frustration on both sides, Wolf. We have learned, on John Dowd's side, the former lead attorney for the president in the Russia probe, he was just growing frustrated that the president wasn't listening to his advice.
Also, he felt slighted this week when Joe diGenova was added to the legal team. So all of this combined is what sort of led to John Dowd going to the president and saying he wanted to resign.
But on the president's side, he has been telling aides, according to sources, that he's been growing frustrated with Dowd, that he feels like the legal strategy is not working, this cooperative approach isn't the right way to go, and also the fact that the Russia probe is continuing on.
Even though the president was told by his lawyers late last year that it would be wrapped up soon, that is clearly not the case. So the president has been growing increasingly agitated. And I think with John Dowd gone now, this could be a signal, Wolf, that we're going to see a different legal strategy, that this whole cooperation mode is going to now turn into more of a confrontational type strategy from the lawyers of Donald Trump.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect that's going to happen.
Several other top Washington attorneys, very prominent attorneys, they have been approached by the Trump team to come in and get involved in the legal defense. But they have said no thanks. Why?
BROWN: That's right. Four prominent lawyers in Washington have turned down this offer.
And sources are telling my colleague Kaitlan Collins that there are a number of reasons, that, for one, they view this role as politically unpopular, that it could hurt their reputation, that the president won't even listen to their legal advice. And also, there's the conflict of interest issue.
So many law firms are representing people in the Russia probe, such as Facebook or Fusion GPS. This is making it difficult for the president to add to his legal team. In a sense, he really has nowhere to turn. But I am told by a source, despite that, they are still actively on the hunt to add more lawyers, as they lose now their lead attorney, because they're entering this critical phase, Wolf, of deciding whether or not the president should sit down with Robert Mueller and do an interview.
BLITZER: Good point. Thanks very much, Pamela, for that.
Tonight, President Trump has one less Russia investigation to worry about, after Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee formally shut down their inquiry, insisting there's no evidence of collusion.
Angry Democrats are accusing the GOP of a whitewash and vowing to continue the investigation on their own.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Manu Raju, is up on Capitol Hill.
Manu, the House Intelligence Committee's investigation is ending very, very ugly.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And this is the way it's gone for roughly a year, Wolf. Both sides accusing the other of not acting in good faith, as part of this investigation. Democrats saying a number of issues were just completely ignored by Republicans.
And Republicans turning back and saying that Democrats were trying to go on a fishing expedition, and they believe that they have come to that conclusion on their side that President Trump did nothing wrong and his campaign did nothing wrong in 2016.
But one Democratic congressman, Mike Quigley, said the Republicans lacked courage.
RAJU (voice-over): Republicans in the House are officially pulling the plug on the Russia probe, rejecting Democratic demands to reopen the investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are fishing expeditions available across the entire scope of things that we don't believe would be productive in getting to the answers that we needed. We're not running a criminal investigation.
RAJU: In a contentious private meeting today, Democrats called for about a dozen subpoenas and asked Republicans to hold former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in contempt for stonewalling the panel. Republicans voted down every Democratic motion.
(on camera): Why not hold Bannon in contempt, though?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it would be effective. And we held Eric Holder in contempt. He still doesn't appear to be too hampered by that. And so at this stage of the game, not sure what that would prove.
RAJU (voice-over): Instead, the committee voted along party lines to declassify a Republican report that gives the White House ammunition to push back against its critics. A summary of the GOP report released today concludes that it found no evidence of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians.
The Republicans also disputed key findings from the U.S. intelligence community that said Vladimir Putin meddled in the U.S. elections to help Trump win. And in a surprise, the GOP said there's no reason to believe Trump's pre-campaign business dealings would have led to Russian collusion, even though Republicans have previously said they did not investigate the finances of the Trump Organization.
Yet the report did say some Trump associates had numerous ill-advised contacts with WikiLeaks and that Republicans were concerned about an incomplete account of former campaign adviser Carter Page's activities in Moscow.
Democrats were quick to attack the report as a partisan attempt to protect the president.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: That's no way to conduct an investigation.
RAJU: Democrats do plan to continue their own probe and have already secured assistance from a Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower, the data firm which was employed by the Trump campaign that also accessed the private data of 50 million Facebook users.
But Democrats don't have subpoena power, so they're already planning to restart the probe if they take back the House in this year's midterms.
(on camera): How much harder is that going to be without subpoena power?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have subpoena power yet. If we can't complete our investigation by November or we don't see a complete investigation from the Senate and we win the majority, then we will do what it takes to protect our democracy in the ballot box, even if that means having to do this investigation over.
RAJU (voice-over): On Capitol Hill, questions continued over the president's warm words for Putin, including his phone call congratulating the Russian president for winning reelection in a campaign that was anything but free and fair.
Speaker Paul Ryan lashed out at Putin, but declined to say if Trump made the right call.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You know my thoughts about Vladimir Putin and Russia. They're a menace. Vladimir Putin does not respect democracy. He's trying to do everything he can to undermine democracies, not just ours, but all of our allies. I would not have kind words to say if I were speaking to him.
RAJU (on camera): Should the president have called him?
RAJU: Now, Wolf, Republicans in Paul Ryan's House have not finished their investigations altogether. In fact, there is an ongoing investigation into the FBI decisions in 2016 regarding the Clinton e- mail investigation.
And that's something that's being led by two committees. One committee chairman, Bob Goodlatte, just issued subpoenas, just moments ago, to the Justice Department asking for records related to decisions that were made about the Clinton e-mail investigation, related to issues involving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that the Republicans believe were abused, as well as they want more information about the firing of the former deputy director, Andy McCabe, exactly what happened there.
So the investigations continue on a separate path that the Republicans are pursuing, but the Russia investigation, at least in the House, done for now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, at least this partisan rift over there very, very ugly.
Manu, thanks for that report.
Let's talk a little bit more about the Russia investigation, the exit of the president's lead lawyer.
We're joined now by Congressman Ruben Gallego. He's a Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D), ARIZONA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: So what do these changes mean, from your perspective? Do you expect the president to take on the special counsel, Robert Mueller, more aggressively now?
GALLEGO: Well, he can try, but, for the most part, I think he understands, if he tries to fire Mueller...
BLITZER: If he tries to fire Mueller.
GALLEGO: If he tries to fire Mueller, that's an impeachable offense. That's a line that many of us are drawing. You have heard it from Democrats and Republicans. That's not an area that he should go down that road.
The fact that he has gotten rid of this lawyer and some of the top lawyers in the city have now joined him, it's largely because he's acting in such an unhinged and guilty manner. And he needs to deal with that. But if he believes that somehow that this gives him some free rein to
fire Mueller, then he is in for a rude awakening. That is a line he cannot cross.
BLITZER: Because I know a bunch of Democrats would clearly go for impeachment if he were to fire Mueller. Maybe I have heard a few Republicans say that. Most Republicans have either been silent or some Republicans, Louie Gohmert, among others, have said, go ahead and fire Mueller.
GALLEGO: Well, I hope they wouldn't be cowards. And we can't really depend on them to have any level of courage, but we have seen some senators, Republican senators, say that this is a line that they cannot cross.
BLITZER: But impeachment first goes to the House. Then the trial goes to the Senate.
GALLEGO: It's true. Now, at the same time, we have an election season, and I do believe that the American people would not stand for this type of obstruction of justice. And they would punish the Republican Caucus for being the cowards that they are.
BLITZER: What does all this mean for a potential sit-down, face-to- face interview between the president and Mueller?
GALLEGO: Well, if the president is not afraid of what he did, and he believes everything that he's done has correctly and has been honestly and legal, then he shouldn't be afraid to sit down with Mueller.
And he has so far, you know, hired some conspiracy theorist lawyers. He might go to Court TV and hire some more lawyers, whatever it is. So he can hire whoever he wants for his defense. But, by the end of the day, if he has nothing to hide, then he shouldn't have a problem meeting with Mueller.
BLITZER: Do you believe that these late developments in the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican majority now saying, it's over, no more investigation, no evidence of collusion will propel the president to take steps to fire Mueller?
The Republican House Intelligence Committee members are essentially engaging in a cover-up. They know that there were some things that were done there that were either illegal or at least questionable. But the fact that they haven't issued subpoenas, the fact that they haven't put any of these characters and actors that were involved with the Russian propaganda campaign, as well as the Trump campaign, under subpoena tells us that they're trying to either give cover to somebody or to give cover to the president, so he can act in whatever erratic manner he wants, or, more importantly, try to fire Mueller.
BLITZER: You're on the Armed Services Committee. Let me ask you quickly to react to the president's announcement today, $60 billion in new tariffs against China, against Chinese exports to the United States. I know there's fear of a trade war. The Dow dropped more than 700 points.
But what about the U.S. need for China to be helpful in the North Korea crisis right now? How does that impact that?
GALLEGO: Well, it doesn't help us. Certainly, we need them to have -- be strong with us in terms of standing against North Korea and making sure that we have a Korean Peninsula that is pacified and denuclearized.
But it also shows you how erratic and irresponsible this president is. Look, we do need to work on tariffs, but we don't have to do it in this manner. We have to focus on trying to do this with the least amount of impact on American workers. That's what matters here.
What the president is doing is more to fulfill his ego, not necessarily to help the American worker. He could have done this in a manner that I think would have been a lot more productive, with less disruption to the world economy and to our stock markets.
But, instead, in his usual manner, he just kind of threw something on the wall and hope it stuck. And the only people that are going to get stuck at the end of the day are going to be the American workers.
BLITZER: Let me ask you to react to the spending bill that just Housed the House of Representatives and now goes to the Senate. It didn't include any protection for the so-called dreamers.
Last night, the president tweeted this: "Democrats refuse to take care of DACA. Would have been so easy, but they just didn't care. I had to fight for military and start of wall."
How do you respond? What happens to the dreamers now? Protection for them was not included in this legislation.
GALLEGO: Luckily, we do have a court system that has given them protection in the meantime.
What the president was asking yesterday was for essentially us to give him money for his really dumb border wall, which is not going to actually give us any security, for people that are already protected.
And our counterargument was very simple. We will give you more, but we have to have more people protected with more assurances. And that has been the position of the Democratic Party, the Democratic Caucus, since the beginning of our negotiations.
The president has been all over the place. He's been listening to the xenophobes within his Cabinet such as Kelly and Miller. And at the end of the day, he can't figure out how to make a deal. He's a bad deal-maker and this is why he doesn't have any results here. We could cut a deal. The problem is, Trump is the problem when it comes to cutting a deal.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
GALLEGO: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead: breaking news in the porn star's case against the president. Stormy Daniels lawyer now turning up the heat on the Trump Organization.
And another woman who says she had a sexual real with Donald Trump is speaking out exclusively to CNN in her first TV interview. The Playboy model revealing what Mr. Trump did that made her cry.
Anderson Cooper, there you see him, he's standing by live. He will share details.
BLITZER: Breaking tonight, the first TV interview with a Playboy model who says she had an affair with Donald Trump and is now suing to get out of the agreement to keep quiet about it.
Karen McDougal spoke exclusively with CNN's Anderson Cooper just a little while ago.
Anderson is standing by. He's going to share details on what she said in just a moment.
But, right now, there's also breaking news in Stormy Daniels' legal battle with the president.
Our national correspondent, Sara Sidner, is following it all for us.
Sara, Daniels' lawyer is now demanding that the Trump Organization preserve documents.
SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Stormy Daniels and her attorney, Michael Avenatti, fighting with every legal tool they have so that she can tell her story about the president.
SIDNER (voice-over): Tonight, Stormy Daniels is not taking any chances in her battle with the president. In this new letter, Daniels' lawyer says he plans to subpoena the Trump Organization and demands the company preserve any documents related to the hush money agreement the porn star signed, along with Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Cohen has said he paid Daniels $130,000 of his own money. This prevented Daniels from talking publicly about allegations she had a sexual relationship with Donald Trump in 2006. But in this five-page letter to the executive vice president of the Trump Organization, Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, cites what he calls unmistakable links between Cohen and the Trump Organization, including Cohen's use of a Trump Organization e-mail account to move the money.
Avenatti is demanding the banks involved keep documents, too. As Daniels continues making money off her newfound publicity, including yet another show at a strip club tonight, her attorney is continuing to roll out allegations against the president and his legal team.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I think this is about engaging in thuggish behavior, threats, intimidation, and hiding the money trail.
SIDNER: Daniels has sued the president and the shell company Cohen created to hide the hush money deal in an attempt to end it.
But lawyers for Cohen and Trump want the deal enforced and they have threatened that Daniels may have to pay $20 million for allegedly violating the agreement.
AVENATTI: Individuals that are far more powerful than me, far more powerful than my client, they will ultimately determine whether those facts lead to something else, period.
SIDNER: All of this comes just days before "60 Minutes" is set to air Daniels' first sit-down interview with Anderson Cooper.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm not 100 percent sure on why you're doing this.
SIDNER: And, tonight, another woman is also speaking out about an alleged sexual relationship with Trump. Former Playboy playmate Karen McDougal is also talking to Cooper, exclusively on "A.C. 360."
McDougal says she was also intimidated into signing a deal to stay silent about a 10-month-long affair with Trump beginning in 2006. In her case, she says she agreed to take $150,000 from American Media, the publisher of "The National Enquirer," owned by Trump's friend David Pecker.
McDougal said she thought she was selling "The Enquirer" the exclusive rights to her story in exchange for the money and to be hired as a fitness columnist. But in a new lawsuit, McDougal's lawyer says the money was really part of a catch-and-kill deal, designed to bury McDougal's story, and that it was all secretly done at the behest of Trump's attorney, Cohen, to keep her from undermining Trump's presidential campaign.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, one thing I can say for sure is that a wide circle of sources at this company, AMI, which publishes "The National Enquirer," say that this was a de facto process, that they were aware that this was happening, and that it was happening specifically to appease Donald Trump.
SIDNER: In a statement, American Media tells CNN that McDougal has not been silenced, saying: "She can respond to media inquiries about her alleged affair."
SIDNER: Now, the president, through his attorneys, has denied that there were ever affairs with either of these women -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you, Sara Sidner reporting.
Let's bring in Anderson Cooper right now to share his exclusive interview with the former Playmate Karen McDougal.
Anderson, what did she tell you just a little while ago about her encounter with Mr. Trump?
COOPER: Well, far more than just one encounter. She says this was a relationship that went on for well over a year. I think she said about 15 months or so.
She has diaries in which she marked the days that she spent or saw or the evenings that she spent with Donald Trump. She would put a D.T. at the bottom of each diary entry.
There's also photographs of her with Donald Trump, even a photograph of her with Donald Trump, Melania Trump, and Ivanka Trump at an event, an "Apprentice"-related event at the Playboy Mansion.
She says this went on and that she had multiple sexual encounters, dozens and dozens of sexual encounters with Donald Trump over the course of their relationship. She says it was a real relationship, that she loved him, that he loved her.
I asked her about the first time that they actually had a date after they met at the Playboy Mansion. They talked, according to her, on the phone for several days after Mr. Trump had asked for her number. And this is what she said happened after their first sexual encounter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, what happened after you had been intimate?
KAREN MCDOUGAL, FORMER PLAYBOY PLAYMATE: Well, after we had been intimate, he -- he tried to pay me. And I actually didn't know how to take that.
COOPER: Did he actually try to hand you money?
MCDOUGAL: He did. He did.
And I said -- I mean, I just had this look of, I don't know, just -- I don't even know how to describe it. The look on my face must have been so sad, because I had never been offered money like that before, number one. But, number two, I thought, does he think that I'm in this for money or why I'm here tonight? Or is this a normal thing?
I didn't know, but I looked at him and said: "That's not me. I'm not that kind of girl." And he said, "Oh," and he said, "You're really special." And I was like, "Thank you."
So I left. I actually got into the car for Keith to take me home and I started crying. I was really sad. And it really hurt me. But I went back.
COOPER: Hurt you that he saw you in that way?
MCDOUGAL: Yes. Hurt me that he saw me in that light, and he obviously assumed that that's the kind of girl I was, maybe because I was a Playmate. I don't know. But...
COOPER: Even though you would had a night of conversation and days of conversation, it hurt you that it boiled down in the end to that?
MCDOUGAL: It did hurt me. It did hurt me. I was crying in the backseat of the car, like I said. I got home to my apartment and I cried for -- a lot. I felt really terrible about myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Did she know, Anderson, that Donald Trump was married and did she think that Melania Trump knew?
COOPER: She did know that Donald Trump was married, also that Donald Trump had recently -- that Melania Trump had recently given birth to Barron just a short time before they met. She said she felt very guilty about that. That's what actually led to her breaking up with him all those months later.
And I asked her what she would say to Melania Trump, and you will see that later tonight on "A.C. 360." She gets very emotional about what she would say to Melania Trump now.
BLITZER: We're looking forward to that interview. Anderson, thanks so much for doing this.
Anderson's interview with Karen McDougal airs later tonight on "A.C. 360," 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You will want to see it.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: All right. There's major breaking news that's unfolding right now.
I quickly want to go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, over at the White House, another major shakeup, Jeff.
Tell our viewers.
ZELENY: Wolf, indeed. Good evening.
President Trump is announcing that he is going to name a new national security adviser, of course, the highest ranking foreign policy adviser, essentially, inside his administration, announcing on Twitter just a few moments ago that General H.R. McMaster will be out and is going to be replaced in the next week or so with John Bolton.
Let's read this here, Wolf.
He says: "I am pleased to announce that, effective April 9 of 2018, Ambassador John Bolton will be my new national security adviser. I'm very thankful for the service of General H.R. McMaster, who has done an outstanding job and will always remain my friend. There will be an official contact handover on April 9."
Wolf, this, of course, is coming on the heels of a visit today in the Oval Office, in fact, just a couple of hours ago, with John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations. He was here meeting with the president. We saw him go into the West Wing, and then he left about an hour or so later.
Advisers and aides here said it was simply a routine meeting. He meets the president often. But, Wolf, what it was, was the final job interview with John Bolton and the president.
Now, Wolf, this is coming at a very critical time here. We have been reporting this for, I would say, the last two weeks or so, that H.R. McMaster is going to be the next high-ranking departure here. So this is simply confirming that.
[18:30:16] But it certainly is adding a much more conservative voice, a very different voice into this administration. Coming at a time when, of course, H.R. McMaster was very centrally involved in setting up the discussions for a potential meeting with President Trump and Kim Jong-un. He was central to all of those meetings with the South Korean diplomats. He was in San Francisco last weekend, planning for that.
So, Wolf, this is something that is going to certainly shake up that meeting. You know, I would argue that it, you know, could certainly change it from even potentially happening.
Now, we were asking senior officials all last week and earlier this week, is this going to happen? And the White House chief of staff and others said the president still has the confidence of H.R. McMaster.
But clearly, you wonder if something changed, perhaps earlier this week, that phone call with Vladimir Putin that the president made. There was a leak in this White House by, it's suspected at least, perhaps someone on the national security team, who said that he was advised to not congratulate Putin. He did that.
So it is a question here tonight, Wolf, if that set this into motion more aggressively. But we do know this is something that has been being discussed for quite some time here. And tonight now, it is official, in a couple weeks' time, H.R. McMaster out, John Bolton will be in.
BLITZER: Yes, it's interesting. A few weeks ago, we reported here on CNN that General McMaster would be out by the end of this month, by the end of March. Clearly, that happened.
We also reported that John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was one of the candidates being considered seriously by the president.
Jeff Zeleny, I want you to stand by. Let's bring in our panel and get some analysis. Samantha Vinograd, you used to work on the National Security Council during the Obama administration.
John Bolton, very well known. He's a FOX News contributor. He's a hardliner when it comes to North Korea, when it comes to Iran. I'm a little surprised, only a little surprised, because he was a major supporter of the war against Iraq and back in 2003, and of course, the first Gulf War. And the president, as you well know, says those wars were a disaster.
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: He does. But I think the real question here, Wolf, is whether President Trump is going to start listening to his national security adviser. McMaster has been a lame duck for weeks. There has been so many rumors about when he's going to be leaving. And so I don't think anyone was really taking him seriously.
We're now replacing a lame duck with potentially a loud hawk, John Bolton. He views regime change and military action as the preferred policy tool. But his going in is a red herring if President Trump doesn't start actually listening to his national security team. So that's the outstanding question to me. And only after we know that can we start dissecting what John Bolton is going to do, policy-wise.
BLITZER: Clearly, the president, Rebecca, liked what he heard from John Bolton, not only in his one-on-one meetings with him, but what he heard from him very often on FOX News.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, it helps, of course, in this administration to be a visible presence on FOX News. The president, as we know, gets many of his ideas, policy-wise, from what he watches on FOX News, sees on television. And he compliments lawmakers, other public figures who he sees on FOX News about their appearances. We know that. And so he likely did see John Bolton on FOX.
But he has also been an informal adviser to this president. So the president has been hearing from him directly. He's been hearing from him indirectly on FOX. Now he's going to be hearing from him directly every day as national security adviser.
BLITZER: Clearly, the president likes individuals who are TV personalities. At the same time, Larry Kudlow, a longtime contributor on CNBC, is going to be chief economic adviser to the president of the United States. He wants people who can go on television and make the case. And that's why he's bringing in, at least in part, John Bolton to be his national security adviser.
Barbara Starr is over at the Pentagon. Barbara, you know General McMaster well. He's -- I understand he's
going to retire. Three-star general, going to retire from the U.S. military right now. But what kind of relationship do you see emerging between the new national security adviser, Ambassador Bolton, and the secretary of defense, General Mattis?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: This is really the big question, Wolf. With Rex Tillerson leaving, who was very close to Mattis, they worked very closely together, and McMaster, where does this leave Jim Mattis in terms of his influence and his direct access to President Trump? As well as the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Joe Dunford?
Look, there was no love lost between Mattis and McMaster, but they did have respect for each other in their jobs. And what we do know is Mattis would team up with Tillerson. They would get their plan together. They would organize before they went into the White House. They would go through the national security process that was overseen by McMaster and, eventually, approach the president with the options on various issues that they wanted to present to him. No bigger issue being -- than being North Korea. Now -- and Iran.
[18:35:11] Bolton, a hardliner, if you will. So will he allow Mattis to have the access that he's used to having? Will Mattis be table to work with Pompeo, to work with Bolton and have that critical access to President Trump? He'd already lost his big ally, Tillerson, and we'll see where it goes.
But Mattis very much on the diplomacy page, as most military people are. They want to see diplomatic options work. They're not looking to start yet another war. So it will be a key issue, how Jim Mattis and the Pentagon fit into this overall new operation, essentially, that is being laid out.
And especially if one of Mattis' closest associates, John Kelly, also a former Marine Corps general, if Kelly goes in the coming weeks, this may leave Mattis somewhat alone in the whole process, just as we're coming up to the summit with the North Koreans. So the timing couldn't be more difficult for the defense secretary -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Barbara, stand by.
David Swerdlick, you've been watching all of this unfold. John Bolton, once again, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush administration. Now tapped to replace General McMaster as the president's national security adviser.
He's a hardliner, and he's a hardliner not only on North Korea and Iran, but on Russia, as well. And I wonder how that will fit into the president's refusal to be a hardliner when it comes to Russia. His refusal to say anything negative about Putin, for example.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, so in that case, I think they don't agree on every issue. But as Sam and Barbara already said, this is a president who likes someone who can make the case for whatever he's doing on TV, and I think he thinks that that's what Bolton can do.
In terms of North Korea, it is going to be interesting to see how the president changes horses, if you will, midstream, going to Ambassador Bolton right when he's in the middle of these sensitive negotiations with North Korea, especially when you have someone like Bolton who, when he was in the Bush administration, referred to Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un's father, as a tyrannical dictator. They're not going to have forgotten that, even though that was probably about 10 or 15 years ago.
BLITZER: You know, you worked on the National Security Council, Sam. You understand the role of the national security adviser. John Bolton does not need Senate confirmation to get this job. He just walks in; he gets the job. Describe to our viewers how important this job is.
VINOGRAD: Sure. And Wolf, it's worth mentioning, that Bolton couldn't get confirmed by the Senate under President Bush. I believe it was a recess appointment when he was appointed to the United Nations.
But the national security adviser is there to listen to every part of what we call the interagency. The State Department, the United Nations, the Defense Department, the intelligence community.
We know that John Bolton is going into this role with a distaste for diplomacy as a national security tool. He's made no secret that he views regime change as the most effective mechanism in North Korea and in Iran.
So if he wants to, for example, put only regime change options forward to the president, he can control what discussions happen in the situation room, what information gets to the president, and who has the president's ear. And that's really disturbing.
BLITZER: And it sort of reinforces, Sam, this notion that a month or so from now, the president has to make a decision whether to stick by the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated during the Obama administration, and you were there, whether to continue it or rip it up. We know that John Bolton wants to rip it up.
VINOGRAD: Indeed. And I just wonder how much the State Department or even general Mattis, who I think has been supportive of the Iran deal, are going to have a chance to make their case to the president if the national security adviser's views on this are already well known, and he doesn't believe that any of these diplomatic tools matter.
BLITZER: You know, Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon, he's got -- the president has a lot of national security issues on his plate right now. A potential meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Clearly, all the Russia-related material. The president making that congratulatory phone call to Putin the other day, for which he's received a lot of criticism.
But this Iran nuclear deal, they have to make a major decision very soon on that, don't they? STARR: They do, Wolf. And look, not even behind the scenes,
publicly, in the last two weeks, two of the most critical generals in the U.S. military have publicly come out in Congress in favor of keeping the Iran deal.
General John Hyten, head of Strategic Command, he runs the nuclear weapons program. He has said he thinks that Iran is in compliance and it helps him. It gives him insight into the Iranian nuclear program to keep that deal in place.
General Joe Votel, head of Central Command, overseas military operations in the Middle East, he's in favor of keeping the deal in place.
So this is going to be a situation on so many levels: on Iran, on North Korea, and, in fact, on Russia. The U.S. military taking a much harder line, actually, on what Russia is doing than the political side of the House. There's -- pardon me. There's a lot of concern about Russia putting new weapons in -- along Europe's western flank with the Russian regime. There is concern about new Russian weapons developments. There is concern about the Russians continuing to exert massive influence across the Middle East. The U.S. military has been sounding the alarm on this.
[18:40:42] General Votel, the head of Central Command, saying that the Russians are a fire accelerant in the Middle East right now, especially in the Syria operation.
So you have Jim Mattis advocating for diplomacy, very quietly, very firmly, still keeping the military ready. But you have generals now who are on the record with Congress, and it's going to be a very interesting couple of weeks now, because the question, of course, with Bolton now inside the White House, will President Trump go down a different road than his own generals are recommending -- Wolf?
BLITZER: And the president in his tweet said April 9 is the official first day of John Bolton on the job at the White House as the national security adviser to the president.
Jeff Zeleny, you're getting more information over at the White House. This will be the third national security adviser for the president. Michael Flynn, he lasted about a month. General H.R. McMaster, a three-star general, he's been there for about a year. Now John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., a FOX News contributor, will be coming in. What else are you hearing?
ZELENY: Wolf, there is no question here that H.R. McMaster, General McMaster, was brought in at a very turbulent moment to smooth things out and, indeed, to keep things sort of afloat.
If you'll remember back more than -- about a year or so ago, a very abrupt beginning to this administration with Michael Flynn. Of course, his abrupt firing after he was said to, you know, mislead the vice president. General McMaster came in and took the reins.
But as Barbara was saying, such a different foreign policy choice here for this president. Yet another example of a much harder line.
You know, we have seen these departures, Wolf. We have stood here and talked to you from this North Lawn of the White House again and again, with Gary Cohn, the chief economic adviser, now with H.R. McMaster. We are seeing a pattern develop here. This is the very reshaping of this Trump presidency, just a year and almost three months in, Wolf. This is a very distinctive pattern we're seeing.
The president again feeling more confident to follow his own instinct that, you know, really led him here, onto the campaign, by taking a harder line approach. He knows that this midterm election year is going to be a bruising one. He's already thinking ahead to 2020. He wants to take a harder approach on everything.
The question here is, as Barbara was saying, will his military follow? What other steps are left?
Will White House chief of staff John Kelly also be gone at some place? That, of course, has also been much in the discussion here. John Kelly has always said he serves at the pleasure of the president. He does not know how long he will be here. He says, as long as he can be effective.
But Wolf, we are seeing now, when you add all of these departures together, a very different White House. And we are still in the very beginning of this administration. Never mind the Russia investigation, which overshadows so much. This is the reshaping of his foreign policy, the reshaping of many things this president is, indeed, wanting to do here. A much, much harder line approach.
And again, another person who the president has watched on FOX News, watched as a commentator here, now will be sitting inside the West Wing in the suite of offices that the national security adviser has, Wolf. So a very interesting development. But one that follows a pattern we've been seeing here now for several weeks.
BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget, Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state --
BLITZER: -- he was fired. And today in his exit remarks at the State Department, he pointedly noted that Washington is a very mean-spirited town. He was happy to get out of here.
Everybody, stand by. We're following the breaking news. The president's national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, he's leaving. There's going to be a new national security adviser, retired ambassador, John Bolton.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[18:49:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The breaking news tonight. President Trump just announcing via Twitter he's replacing his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, with former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who served during the Bush administration.
We're back with our experts and our analysts.
You know, take a look at this, Rebecca. The large number of very high-profile departures, only within the past few weeks that have been going on at the White House. I anticipate more. The president recreating his team.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Right. This is unusual, Wolf, to say the least. It might be unprecedented. This number of high- level departures in the White House. The president says, there's nothing to see here. There's no chaos. Everything is just fine.
But that graphic you just showed tells a much different story. When you have that level of turnover in the White House at the senior level, especially, morale is low.
[18:50:04] Staff doesn't know what to expect. They don't know who they're reporting to. They don't know what policy direction necessarily they're going in. And then, of course, you have new people coming in to fill all of those slots.
So it does create a sense of chaos in the White House. But that's the way president Trump likes it. And what is happening here with these departures is he is reverting back to his natural state. He's letting Trump be Trump. As we heard during the campaign and he's bringing in people who agree with him, as opposed to a team of rivals.
BLITZER: And, David, if you take a look at some of the recent articles that John Bolton has written on February 28th in the "Wall Street Journal", the legal case for striking North Korea first, back in August of last year, "National Review", how to get out of the Iran nuclear deal. This guy is a real hawk.
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He's an ambassador and he's hawk.
Even if there is a legal case for striking North Korea, the reality of the situation is that the president just accepted at least tentatively an invitation to negotiate directly with Kim Jong-un and the legal case doesn't factor in the case that we have 38,000 United States troops in South Korea, not to mention our allies in South Korea, Seoul is just 30 or 35 miles from the North Korean border. So the idea of war is not academic exercise.
Wolf, if I can go to what Rebecca said in the turn over in the White House, this is also major narrative President Trump's campaign, that he wanted to continue. This idea that although he was a first time office holder and not deep in public policy, that he was a great CEO and a great manager, and that he would hire all the best people. Well, he's hired a bunch of people he had to get rid of first 18 months of his administration.
BERG: It really illustrates something else that he said during the campaign, which is that he alone can fix it. And that is truly what President Trump believes. He doesn't need to lean on advice of experts in some of these fields. That he has the answer.
BLITZER: So, Sam, there's going to be a new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, assuming he's confirmed, his nomination is confirmed in the Senate, probably will be confirmed. And there's going to be a new national security adviser John Bolton. How is this going to play out?
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think we know because again, I don't think we know if President Trump is going to listen to any of these people.
But, you know, one point that's worth mentioning is, we're having a lot of musical chairs in our cabinet right now. There's one person who's watching this and who's very happy and that's Vladimir Putin, because I think that all of this revolving door and this lame duck syndrome plays into the narrative that our institutions are not as credible. That the White House isn't functioning, that we're in chaos. And I think that helps Vladimir Putin's narrative that the United States is weak and that we're no longer a global leader.
BLITZER: The president clearly likes all this, and we're going to continue to watch it.
There's more breaking news just ahead.
[18:57:28] BLITZER: More now on the breaking news: President Trump replacing his national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush administration.
Let's go to our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.
Dana, what are you hearing why the president chose John Bolton for this very important job?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He likes him. You know, the two men have been meeting quietly. We have actually seen and reported at various times when John Bolton has come into the White House to sit down with the president.
But during those meetings, several of them, I am told by a source familiar with those conversations that the president really hit it off with John Bolton. That he got along personally with him and obviously gets along with him. And now that we have seen the sort of churning of the Trump administration, the turning to more of Donald Trump's comfort zone, meaning not putting people in key places that he has told should be there by formers. For example, Condi Rice saying, you know, Rex Tillerson would make a great secretary of state.
He's going on his own. He's going with his gut, he's going with his instinct, and that is a big reason why I'm told he picked John Bolton, despite their very, very clear policy differences. And there are some big ones.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, once again underscores that the denials coming from the White House about changes don't always take them at full value. Just seven days ago, look at this, Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, tweeted this, just spoke to POTUS, president of the United States, and General H.R. McMaster, contrary to reports, they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the National Security Council.
We and other news organizations had reported earlier that McMaster would be out by the end of this month. We also reported that Bolton was one of the likely candidates to replace him. Once again, they keep suggesting these reports are fake news. They turn out to be true.
BASH: That's exactly right, Wolf. Look, we were reporting last week and even before that, that he was headed there, and then that the president, you know, had made the decision. The question was how it was going to work out. The key question, though, going forward, I think, despite that, and I think we've -- what we've learned our lesson many times, that -- and it's very difficult because we want to trust when we're told things aren't true, but the other thing to keep in mind is where the president's policy is going to go with somebody who still says the Iraq war was a good idea something that the president said -- or at least since the campaign was a bad one.
BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much.
That's it. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.