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Trump Expelling Diplomats; Russian Ambassador Comments on Expulsions; Trump Dismisses Daniels' Story; Daniels Detailed Alleged Affair; Trump to Boot Shulkin. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:23] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar. The breaking news. President Trump ordering the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats, giving them just days to get out of the United States. The president taking this action in coordination with European allies to punish Russia for the poisonings of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the U.K.

CNN's senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is joining me now with details.

What else can you tell us about this, Michelle.


Well, these are 60 Russian diplomatic staff, 12 of them based in New York at the U.N., and 48 others that are spread around the United States at various consulates and embassies.

Also, the entire consulate in Seattle is going to be shut down. U.S. administration officials saying that it's located too close to a U.S. submarine base there.

So, generally, the administration uses diplomatic language, you know, calling these people diplomats because these Russians are based at embassies and consulates, but not today. Administration officials telling reporters this morning that these people are flat out spies, calling them aggressive collectors of intelligence, and that the U.S. will be safer without them.

This is a bigger response than many expected, not only here in the states, but among U.S. allies. And now we're seeing the U.S. leading the response in its scope among more than a dozen allies who have also decided to kick out Russian diplomats from their countries, a few here and there, but not 60, like the U.S. Keep in mind that Britain, where this attack happened, kicked out 23.

Granted, the U.S. and Russia have a large number of diplomats in each other's countries. And over the summer, when we saw tit for tat expulsions over other matters, Vladimir Putin said at the time that now the U.S. and Russia were equal, that they each have 455 diplomats in each other's countries. So, to put this in perspective, when you see the U.S. now kicking out

60 of those 455, that's 13 percent of all Russian diplomats working in the U.S. So this is essentially the U.S. saying, goodbye, good riddance, you have one week to pack your bags and get out. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. And by the way, Russia, if you do plan to retaliate for this, as you say you will, the U.S. could take additional action, Brianna.

KEILAR: Very well put, Michelle Kosinski, at the State Department, thank you.

Now, this announcement on the Russian diplomats being expelled came with a pretty forceful statement from the White House.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. She's joining us now to discuss this.

Tell us about what they're saying.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Certainly a forceful statement here, Brianna, after the administration took its toughest action on Russia that we've seen since President Trump took office. And the White House issued a statement shortly after this from Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, saying, the United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia's use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world.

It goes onto say, today's actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia's ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America's national security. With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate and build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government's behavior.

Now, during that call, as the administration officials briefed reporters on the expulsion of these diplomats, they were asked why the United States was a little bit slower to act than some of our allies in Germany and other countries. And they said that that was only due to coordination with those allies for the expulsion of these diplomats here, Brianna.

KEILAR: So the president spoke with Putin last week. Did he raise anything about this? Did he at all show his hand that this may be happening? Because meetings would have been ongoing then.

COLLINS: Exactly. They said that this is a personal decision that the president made. Something he's been involved with since the beginning and was involved with as recently as this weekend in these discussions to make this discussion here, Brianna. But it raises the question, why didn't the president bring this up when he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself just last Tuesday because, as you know, Brianna, that call made headlines after it was revealed that the president's national security advisers had told him not to congratulate Putin on his election victory, which the president did.

But something that was overlooked is that he was also instructed to bring up the poisoning of this former Russian spy with Putin during that call. Something that the press secretary, Sarah Sanders, later said he did not do during that call. So today this was billed by administration officials as a personal decision that the president made, but it raises the question of, if it's so personal to this president, why didn't he bring it up when he had the opportunity with Vladimir Putin just last week?

[12:05:23] And I should point out, they have not spoken since then, the White House says.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank me -- or thank you, I should say.

Joining me now, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. He is a former Pentagon and State Department spokesman under President Obama. Also Kim Dozier with us. She is CNN global affairs analyst and senior national security correspondent at "The Daily Beast."

What message, Kim, does this send? I mean 60 diplomats. That is a significant number.

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Sixty diplomats, it is a message that is being embraced by our European allies because they've been worried that with some of the things they heard from this president or haven't heard from this president about Russian President Vladimir Putin means he might be soft on Moscow. But this tells them that the national security professionals that they've been talking to behind closed doors really have held sway and the U.S. policy is following what they have always promised, which was a crackdown.

But, on the other hand, what it could do at a time when you've got very aggressive Russian activity, you're probably going to have a reciprocal expulsion of U.S. intelligence officers from Moscow at a time when we really need to be collecting intelligence on them.

So I've spoken to people who are -- I've spoken to Europeans since this has been announced who embrace it, and I've spoken to former intelligence officers who are like, you know what, this is going to give us a black eye right where we need intelligence most.

KEILAR: That it will pull out that personnel probably -- American personnel, as well.

John, you had said ahead of time, it's going to matter the number of folks who are expelled. So what do you think?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, it's a sizeable portion. They have like 450 or so here in the country. It's, as Michelle said, it's about 13, 15 percent, something like that. So it's a significant number. It's going to certainly curtail the Russia's ability to do some collection, but not going to completely eliminate that. What's really important here, though, is two things about the number.

One, it's larger than any other nation did. In fact, it's larger than all of them combined. That's significant. Number two, that it is done in coordination with allies and partners. That this is really more a symbol than it is a practical effect. And -- but the symbol matters. It matters to Putin, too, because, you know, he has been trying to so discord and disunity in the west. This shows that he's not succeeding and that the west is willing to stand up and unify against him.

KEILAR: And I've just been told by my producer in my ear that the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Kim, has responded now and says this is a grave mistake.

DOZIER: Well, one of the things that this does do is plays into Putin's narrative that the U.S. and the west are against him. And, you know, there are a lot of Russians who believe the story that's been peddled on Russian media, that this poisoning was actually a British intelligence operation to make Russia look bad. So if you're in that camp, you think that this is one more step in the world beating up on Moscow and one more reason to rally behind Vladimir Putin.

KEILAR: If you think, though, I mean these actions, we saw the action the Treasury Department has taken here in the last couple of weeks. But then when you look at the president and how he speaks about Russia when given the opportunity, I mean even just last week where he talked to Vladimir Putin, what does he say before the camera? He says that he's congratulated him. And then we learn that he hadn't brought up the U.K. -- the attempt on the life of the former Russian double agent, he hadn't brought up Russian meddling in the election. At the time, though, there's discussions of what now are some pretty serious ramifications for Russia with the expulsion of these diplomats. But how do you square that, John, with what -- how the president talks about Russia and these actions?

KIRBY: Yes. So, a couple of things there. I think -- certainly I would love to hear him talk about this expulsion himself. I think that would be powerful. But I don't think we should get too fixated on it here, Brianna. I mean the -- this was a pretty well-coordinated decision, not just inside the inner agency, but internationally. And it was well rolled out by the White House. They did a background, called reporters this morning. You had simultaneous statements from the White House, from the State Department, from Ambassador Haley. Look, I think we should give them credit for that.

And a decision of this magnitude, whether you think it's going to make a difference or not, it's a big decision. There's no way it gets made without Donald Trump signing off on it.

KEILAR: And it followed a joint statement, was it last week, from a number of these nations with the White House, or was that the week before? If I'm -- I'm -- there was a joint statement that came out --

KIRBY: Right.

KEILAR: Where it was very strong language against Russia when it came down -- almost in a way -- a precursor to these ramifications that we're seeing now coming from the U.S.

[12:10:03] KIRBY: It was in the wake of the poisoning.

KEILAR: That's right.

KIRBY: Yes. So -- and, look, you -- it's to some degree you've got to judge the administration by what it does. They also agreed to sell lethal arms to Ukrainian security forces. And even though it took them a while, they did, in fact, sanction and put those -- implement those sanctions, those bipartisan sanctions.

DOZIER: It's as if President Trump is maintaining the line of communication with Vladimir Putin. Like, hey, we're the bosses up here, but -- and so we'll talk nice to each other. Also, look, this is a president who seems to avoid direct, tough conversations. He fired his secretary of state by tweet. He picked up the phone to H.R. McMaster to let him know that he was moving on to John Bolton. He doesn't do direct confrontation. It's like, he wants to be the good cop and lets the administration, his national security team, be the bad cop.

KEILAR: All right, thank you guys so much, Rear Admiral John Kirby with us, and Kim Dozier, who I really should mention is now the executive editor of "The Cipher Brief." So you can check her out there as well.

Thank you so much.

Coming up, porn star Stormy Daniels breaking her silence on her alleged sexual encounter with Donald Trump, describing in detail the allege affair and the threat to stay quiet while she was holding her infant daughter.

Plus, sources telling CNN that President Trump is gearing up to fire the Veterans Affairs secretary, David Shulkin. So who will run the agency that provides health care and much more to millions of brave Americans?

Stay with us.


[12:15:34] KEILAR: The president and the porn star. Stormy Daniels delivers her first on-camera interview about an alleged affair with Donald Trump. She says it was a one-time encounter a dozen years ago, but she says years later, in 2011, she was threatened and told to keep silent about it.


STORMY DANIELS, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. I was taking, you know, the seat's facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out, and a guy walked up on me and said to me, leave Trump alone. Forget the story. And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said, a beautiful little girl. It would be a shame if something happened to her mom. And then he was gone.


KEILAR: And then this morning the attorney for Daniels issuing threats of his own. He says the "60 Minutes" interview is not the last that we'll hear from his client.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: We have a whole host of evidence. This is not going away. And Mr. Cohen and the president better come clean with the American people and they'd better do it quickly.


KEILAR: Now, the president apparently responding to the Stormy Daniels saying, so much fake news. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great.

CNN's MJ Lee is in New York.

So, MJ, how is President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, responding to this?

MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, this is a very serious allegation that Stormy Daniels is making. Not only is she saying that she faced threats, including a physical threat aimed at her daughter, she is suggesting that these threats came from people close to Donald Trump, including possibly his lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Now, Michael Cohen's lawyers are obviously depending their client. After the "60 Minutes" interview aired last night, they sent a cease and desist letter saying that they want Stormy Daniels to stop making false and defamatory statements about their client. And they even asked for a retraction and an apology. And the one incident that she talked about last night, this incident in a Vegas parking lot where she says a man approached her, we just heard her talk about that, they say that Cohen actually believes that this person may not even exist and that the incident didn't even happen.

And one of Cohen's lawyers going as far as to say that this entire incident is ridiculous. Here's what he said.


DAVID SCHWARTZ, LAWYER FOR MICHAEL COHEN: So 12 years ago somebody approaches her in a parking lot, OK? And what does she do? She doesn't go to the police, right, she goes to her pilates class. You know, this is -- this is ridiculous.


LEE: And you heard, Brianna, Avenatti saying that this is not going to be the last time that we hear from Stormy Daniels. I think the big question for the coming weeks is going to be, are they going to produce actual evidence that people close to Donald Trump, including perhaps Michael Cohen, that they were involved in these threats that they say Stormy Daniels has received.

KEILAR: She, back in January, made a statement where she said, no, this affair didn't happen. What did she say about that?

LEE: Well, you know, and the big picture, or the reason that last night was such an important moment for Stormy Daniels is because this was her moment to address some of these things that have come out, including the money that she received from Michael Cohen, including why she has repeatedly denied that she even had this affair with Donald Trump. And I think the interview last night gave her that opportunity. And she says that the reason she signed this NDA and the reason she accepted the money was because she felt like she had no choice and because she felt threatened. Here was that part of that interview.


ANDERSON COOPER, "60 MINUTES": So you signed and released a statement that said, I'm not denying this affair because I was paid in hush money, I'm denying it because it never happened.

That's a lie.


COOPER: If it was untruthful, why did you sign it?

DANIELS: Because they made it sound like I had no choice.

COOPER: No one was putting a gun to your head.

DANIELS: Not physical violence, no.

COOPER: You thought that there would be some sort of legal repercussion if you didn't sign it?

DANIELS: Correct. As a matter of fact, the exact sentence used was, they can make your life hell in many different ways.


LEE: Now, Brianna, I know that we've all been curious about how First Lady Melania Trump has been responding to all of this. Her spokeswoman telling my colleague Kate Bennett this morning she's focused on being a mom and is quite enjoying spring break at Mar-a-Lago while working on future projects. So, obviously, not specifically addressing the Stormy Daniels interview. I don't think it's likely that she is going to do so any time soon.

KEILAR: No. All right, MJ Lee, thank you so much.

[12:20:01] I want to bring in our panel to talk about this. CNN Politics senior writer Juana Summers. And Michael Zeldin with us as well. He's a CNN legal analyst and former aide to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department.

Listening, Michael, to the Stormy Daniels interview, it's important to point out the timing of this, right? This was taped ahead of time with Anderson Cooper. Anderson had talked to Karen McDougal, the former playmate, who alleges she had an affair with Donald Trump, a few days before this as well. There's no way that these interviews could have been coordinated because one being taped ahead and, well, we don't expect that they were coordinated, right, just to be clear. It's not like -- like these interviews were in the can basically beforehand.

So there's similarities that are worth pointing out. You have both of them saying they met with him in his hotel room for dinner. It was sort of this similar M.O. That is where they had sexual relations. They both said that he told them they were special, that he compared them to his daughter Ivanka Trump, who clearly, they both said, held in very high esteem. They both said no condom was used. Legally, do those similarities in these two stories make these women more believable?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think so. When I listened to the interviews, I felt, as a lawyer, are these witnesses going to be viewed as credible or not credible? And what I walked away from both of those interviews was, these women will appear credible to a triable (ph) effect. We don't know what that triable (ph) effect will be. We don't know whether it will be a lawsuit, a jury or a judge has to make a resolution of.

But when you listen to them, they were both sober and confident and honest about what they believe is the truth. And I think that speaks volumes of what the other people who have to contend with them as witnesses have to evaluate.

KEILAR: They didn't contradict themselves, right?

ZELDIN: They did not. They did not. And they admitted lies, and they admitted mistakes. They weren't -- and they also acknowledged that they took money, why they took money, what the reasons for their desire to speak now and both said they'll give back money. So I think there's a lot of credibility to them as a -- as witnesses.

KEILAR: Trump's friend, Christopher Ruddy, who is the CEO of Newsmax, as we try to think, where is the president in all of this, Juana, what is he thinking? He said that Trump called the Daniels story a political hoax. The president himself has not directly addressed this story. What does that tell you?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICAL SENIOR WRITER: I think it tells us a lot because, quite frankly, the president seems to addresses, frankly, everything else except this. If you just look at his Twitter feed, which I think is a pretty good representation of, Brianna, where his thinking is on any given day, the fact that he's only come out, as MJ Lee reported, and had that tweet about all of these false news stories being pushed out by the media, but he hasn't said, you know, he -- we've not heard from him directly. He hasn't said, you know, I didn't have an affair while my wife was pregnant or at home with my child. I did not sleep with these women. These women are liars. He hasn't done that. We've seen him so frequently when he's facing a political opponent go out and attack the credibility of what those people are saying. I think it tell us quite a lot about where he is on this.

ZELDIN: May I add one thing to that?


ZELDIN: And I think one of the reasons that he may be silent, with respect to these women, is the Summer Zervos case. Remember, in Summer, she said he --

KEILAR: Who's a former "Apprentice" star, right --

ZELDIN: Exactly. Who --

KEILAR: Who alleges on two occasions that she was basically assaulted, groped.

ZELDIN: Exactly. And the statute of limitations ran out on that. But when the president said that she was a liar and a good for nothing, he triggered a new defense of defamation. And she's suing under defamation. So if he goes after --

BERMAN: And the courts allowed it. It's a good point.

ZELDIN: Stormy Daniels and/or Karen McDougal, then perhaps he buys him a defamation lawsuit.

KEILAR: We did hear from the first lady's spokesperson and it also, Juana, was not a denial. But what it said was, remember, there is a minor child whose name should be kept out of this.

SUMMERS: Absolutely. And ask Kate Bennett's reported, she says, you know, she's focused on other projects. She's enjoying spring break at Mar-a-Lago. Time and time again I think we see from Melania Trump, this first lady, she doesn't want to be in the public spotlight on this. She wants to focus on parenting her -- her young child and spending time with him. It's a very -- I just feel like she's taken the maternal role here, focusing on that and trying not to get distracted. But, undeniably, all eyes are on her to see how and when and if she ever responds to this, particularly if we see these two cases here with these two women who have now come out. You see their faces, you've heard their voices, if there are more women who allege this, I think the pressure will be on her certainly to respond.

KEILAR: Juana --

ZELDIN: And, remember, when Hillary Clinton came out and stand -- stood by her man, she was pilloried for it. And so if Ivanka is looking -- rather --

KEILAR: Melania.

ZELDIN: Melania is looking at this, she's got to be careful --

KEILAR: Well, and to be -- to be fair, Michael, well, the reporting is that she's not looking at it. The reporting seems to indicate that she is hunkering down, focusing on her maternal role, and that she does not seem to be worried about that in the way that Hillary Clinton was with Bill Clinton.

ZELDIN: Maybe.

[12:25:02] KEILAR: Michael Zeldin, Juana Summers, thank you so much to both of you.

Coming up, which member of the Trump administration is next to go? Well, one source tells us the president's VA secretary may want to update his resume.

Stay with us.


KEILAR: Could the Veterans Affairs secretary join an expanding club this week. The club of former Trump cabinet members. A source telling CNN, the president is preparing to show VA Secretary David Shulkin the door. Shulkin has been under fire after an inspector general report detailed how he and his wife used taxpayer dollars for a European trip.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House with more details.

And, Jeff, it seems it's really only a matter of time until Shulkin is out. What do we know?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it certainly does look like that. Of course there are several members of the president's cabinet who have a run afoul of the inspector general, flying on expensive flights, other matters. But the VA secretary certainly seems to be the one who is going to be replaced first.