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Shulkin Pushed Out Soon; Turnover at the White House; Stormy Daniels' Allegations; Student's Pledge on Saturday; Final Four is Set. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 06:30   ET

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


[06:30:00] KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning, Alisyn.

It does seem that the Veterans Affairs secretary, David Shulkin, is the next one on the chopping block here at the Trump White House. An though he was once a favorite of the president, he has since fallen out of his good graces and he has been on the verge of leaving for several weeks now. But now sources have indicated that the president is finally ready to oust David Shulkin. He has had a little bit of trouble finding someone to replace him. That's why he is still here. But it does seem that the president is ready to continue shaking up the West Wing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: He did say that he's expect to go make one or two major changes to his -- to his government very soon.

COLLINS (voice over): The turnover in the Trump administration appears likely to continue, with a source telling CNN that the president is preparing to oust Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin as early as this week, although no decision is final.

RUDDY: The president told me he's perplexed by all of these reports there's chaos at the White House or mass staff changes. He told me that he thinks the White House is operating like a smooth machine.

COLLINS: Shulkin has been at odds with senior management at the VA for months now, publically accusing Trump political appointees of working to get him fired over policy differences. He's been on thin ice with the president since a damning inspector general report detailing how Shulkin and his wife used taxpayer dollars for a European trip.

The president ignored questions about Shulkin's future Sunday night.

QUESTION: What about David Shulkin? Does he still have your confidence?

COLLINS: The president's legal team also undergoing changes amid crucial negotiations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller over a potential interview between investigators and Mr. Trump.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Would you like to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. I would like to. I would like to.

COLLINS: Less than one week after announcing that long time Washington attorney and Fox News pundit Joe diGenova was coming on board, President Trump's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, reversing course. Sekulow explaining that both diGenova and his wife, Victoria Toensing, have conflicts that prevent them from joining the team.

The development coming three days after the president's lead attorney handling the Russia probe, John Dowd, resigned, leaving Sekulow as the president's only person attorney dealing with Mueller.

Sekulow's announcement also coming just hours after President Trump pushed back on reports that he's having difficulty finding experienced attorneys, boasting that many lawyers want to represent him for the fame, but that it would take months for another firm to get up to speed.

Sources tell CNN that at least four defense attorneys were approached to join the president's team in recent weeks, but some have turned the offer down for various reasons, including concern that Mr. Trump doesn't listen to his legal counsel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Chris Ruddy, that friend of the president that you saw there at the beginning, did say that he -- the president told him there are two people whose jobs are safe for now, and that is the HUD secretary, Ben Carson, and the chief of staff, John Kelly, both who have been rumored to be leaving as well. But we'll be waiting to see what happens today because there are no public events on the president's schedule.

And one more thing to look out for, Chris, is whether or not the president makes a decision to expel Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of that former Russian spy in Britain.

Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Kaitlan Collins, thank you very much for the hints. Appreciate it.

So, with reports that another cabinet official is on the way out, is the White House under control or in some kind of state of fluxy chaos? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:37:21] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS RUDDY, CEO, NEWSMAX MEDIA: The president told me he's perplexed by all of these reports there's chaos at the White House or mass staff changes. He told me that he thinks the White House is operating like a smooth machine, his words. He did say that he's expecting to make one or two major changes to his -- to his government very soon. And that's going to be it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Well, it's all about perspective, right? President Trump's friend and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy saying the president is likely not done making changes to his administration. As a source tells CNN, the president indicated to associates this weekend that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is next to go.

Let's bring in CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "Smerconish," Michael Smerconish, and CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian.

Michael Smerconish, Shulkin is already winged in terms of political perspective because he's an Obama holdover. The irony is, he was rated pretty well by the veterans in terms of what they were doing there. But if somebody's got to go, you can certainly see his vulnerability in light of the recent controversies.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Chris Ruddy doesn't speak out of turn. For Ruddy to offer those comments over the weekend means he's been given that permission to do so by the president.

And for all of the talk about the president being identified with the line "you're fired," look at the experience. I mean Tillerson was out of country. Comey, as I recall, was in Los Angeles when the manila envelope was delivered. The president really resists being the one to have to show people the door. This is the way in which he gets it done. And the only question in my mind is whether he's gone by 4:00 p.m. today or by Friday. And I think that is dependent on the fallout from Stormy Daniels.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Why?

SMERCONISH: Because I think if -- it's a huge issue today for the president. If the conversation doesn't abet on over this whole subject from last night, he'll be that much more inclined to change up the news cycle and get rid of this guy today.

CAMEROTA: Understood.

OK, so, Karoun, listen, the president may think that it's running like a smooth machine, but here are -- here's the graphics of all the staff turnover and departures. These are just the recent ones. OK, this is February, March. You can see, here are the departures from the beginning. You can go through -- from Michael Flynn all the way through H.R. McMaster. And, you know, my point is, is that the president thinks that these aren't a lot. But if you use history as a benchmark, it is much more than any other president had at this same point in his administration in history.

[06:40:02] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, look, of course the line from the White House and the president is going to be like, oh, this is just normal. Nothing to see here. But it is incredibly chaotic and you do have turnover within an administration, but not usually this much of a deluge all at once. And as we know, I mean there are others that have problems that are

still within the White House. And also, on top of all the departures, the president keeps hinting that he kind of might be thinking about threating to get rid of other people. I mean Shulkin, Carson has exposure with that dining room table, Zinke has had certain trips called into question. The president keeps saber rattling around Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein. I mean there could be several others at any point.

And that is also what contributes to this feel of instability in and around the White House, which is that, yes, it's the people that have already gone, but it's the people who are still there also and aren't sure whether they're going to have a job tomorrow. And, I mean, just look at the last few days, also with his legal team, are people in, are people out? It's like the decisions that are made are not even consistent for a week at a time.

CUOMO: All right, so, Michael, let's go back to a point you were just making about how this Stormy Daniels interview plays into the calculus, either by distraction or on the merits. I mean, you know, we talked about this before on your show and elsewhere. I don't think that you're going to get a lot of political fallout with Donald Trump in terms of having affairs. I think that that was baked in, in a character analysis of him by people who voted for him.

But -- but we know what took down Bill Clinton. That was about being asked under oath about something in a civil matter that had to do with his personal life. That is the potential exposure here, as well as the legs of stories about what was done as a private citizen to keep people quiet.

SMERCONISH: I think that Karen McDougal's interview with Anderson took some of the edge off from the Stormy Daniels interviewed last night. And I watched -- of course I watched last night. But I felt like I knew everything that was revealed last night, with the exception of the -- of the bit about the intimidation.

But a point that Alisyn made in the last segment I think is most significant. This is consensual sex among two individuals. He was not president of the United States. He may have a problem at home. He may need to distract the news cycle so that Melania has something else to watch today. But, politically speaking, I think it's a nonstarter.

CAMEROTA: And, Karoun, about the legal team. Why is there so much chaos? I mean we had heard that Joe diGenova was going to be joining the legal team. Then, over the weekend, no, he's not. Woops, there was a hiccup. So what's going on?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, there's a few problems swirling around and bumping into each other, which is that, one, it's difficult for this president to be able to attract the top legal talent in D.C. A lot of people just do not want to touch this issue with a ten-foot pole and he needs a strong legal team heading to a potential interview with Bob Mueller's team.

But then also it seems like the White House isn't fully doing -- or at least Trump's circle is not doing its full due diligence to actually make sure that all these people that are, you know, open to actually joining his squad don't have conflicts of interest. And that's what led to the situation of diGenova and -- which is why we saw the, yes, they're on the team, no, they're not on the team. And then, remember, you had Dowd's departure as well.

So there is just a thinning of the ranks right now. And that could really be difficult. I mean, look, Sekulow's still there, so at least we know that the president's probably getting, you know, not -- it's one line of advice that he's getting right now on how to deal with this interview. But you don't really want to go up against Mueller's team without having a really strong team around you that's advising you on how to deal with any number of the myriad of things that Mueller could bring up in that interview. So it's pretty thin ranks in be heading into this -- the chapter of this that the president is looking at.

CUOMO: He's pretty lawyered up, though. I mean he's got Cobb. He's got Sekulow. I mean they both have big firms behind them.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes.

CUOMO: I don't think his problem's going to be inadequate counsel. It's going to be how he deals with their counsel that will be the vagaries of it.

DEMIRJIAN: And also just how he deals with the fact that, you know, there are various different lawyers involved for the White House and there's members of his own staff that are -- his own campaign team, his own White House team that are now no longer in that orbit. And so what are they saying? And this has been a domino situation the whole time. Mueller's going for people from the outside and then moving into the center. And he's moving closer now to the White House and so we'll see what it ends up being, you know, presented to the president by the time he actually is the person in the room.

CAMEROTA: OK, Karoun Demirjian, Michael Smerconish, thank you both very much.

So you saw the protesters across America. They were demanding tighter gun safety laws. A closer look ahead at the outcome of these national marches and what comes next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:48:35] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMMA GONZALEZ, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS STUDENT: Since the time that I came out here, it has been 6 minutes and 20 seconds. The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your lives before it's someone else's job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Students and survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School demanding changes to gun laws during the "March for Our Lives" protests. They were across the country on Saturday. So what did they accomplish and now what?

Back to discuss, we have Michael Smerconish.

So, Michael, listen, that -- I was down there. I was reporting on it. Obviously there were so many powerful testimonials from the podium there. They got a lot of -- much of the country's attention. What do you think happens now?

SMERCONISH: So I have always thought that the NRA and its supporters had cornered the market on passion. That in the grand scheme of things more Americans might be supportive of forms of gun control measures, but they lack the passion that you saw in the NRA membership. That might be the change that's now under way as a result of these millennials and I-geners (ph) that may be changing going forward the way in which this issue gets handled.

It will play very well in areas like that where I live, you know, the suburbs of Philadelphia. Suburban swing areas, I think, are very receptive. And it remains to be seen how much the Democrats are prepared to campaign on this issue.

CUOMO: Right. So that's the key. The intensity gap, look, without question, you've seen it narrowing. We've never seen anything like this around gun control before, of motivated out of the worst of circumstances, but it's there. But that's not what leads to policy change. It is an element. It is an element. The NRA doesn't beat you with money. It beats you with organizing and it beats you at the polls.

[06:50:21] Do you think that Democrats will galvanize around this issue, even though the midterms are so far away in terms of things that could happen between now and then, and that people will do what they've never done before, Michael. They will go to the polls and say, I don't know what else is on the agenda today, but I'm voting for or against this man or woman on the basis of what they did or did not do on gun controls.

SMERCONISH: If the elections were held next week, Chris, the answer would be yes. But it's an eternity. As, you know, the three of us so know so well, look at the news cycle and the pace of change. There's no way of anticipating where we'll be and what the issues that will be first and foremost at the time of the midterm election. I mean the whole Mueller probe, you would think by then, will have reached some sort of culmination. That might be the dominant issue.

CAMEROTA: There have been lots of people who have come out and said things that seemed to denigrate the kids' passion or the kids' motivations. As you know, it's been sometimes implied that they're pawns of some sort of invisible hand.

Rick Santorum, who is, of course, former Pennsylvania senator and one of our CNN analysts, he was saying something pretty provocative over the weekend about what he thinks the kids should be doing instead of marching. So listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: How about the kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that -- where there is a violent shooter, that you can actually respond to that.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: How are they looking at other people -- I would ask you, they took action.

SANTORUM: Yes, they took action to ask someone to pass a law. They didn't take action to say, how will I, as an individual, deal with this problem. How am I going to do something about stopping bullying within my own community? What am I going to do to actually help respond to a shooter? What am I going to -- those are the kinds of things where you can take it internally and say, here's how I'm going to deal with this, here's how I'm going to help the situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Michael, what do you think of those comments?

SMERCONISH: I must be missing something. Rick's a nice guy. I've appeared on CNN with him. I've known him a long time.

Having said all that, they're completely nonsensical. It's the exact opposite of what he just described.

To the extent there should be any significant change with regard to gun policy in this country, it will be solely because of those kids standing up and doing things that their parents were unable or refused to do. I just don't understand it.

And the bit about CPR is so defeatist. I mean I interpreted that as if, well, things -- bad things are going to happen and you can't change it, so you may as well try and save some lives of people who get shot. That's the only conclusion I can come to after listening to that tape three or four times over.

CUOMO: Well, look, he is motivated by two things. One, he's on this family values track. You know, the last time he was on, he was saying, hey, the reasons these shootings happen is because we have too many single parent families and we need to address that. And, look, that is a discussion to be had about cultural affairs in America.

But he's also coming from a place of animosity against these kids. Let's be honest, Michael, you know, I mean, it's not just they're bona fides to be there. The bona fides is, they almost got killed. They lost their friends. It's the worst moment of their lives and they've decided to do something about it. But there are people who don't like that they're doing this and he's coming from a place of negativity. It seems pretty obvious, no?

SMERCONISH: But to try and say that there's a matter of personal responsibility on the part of the kids who yesterday were the activists, how much more responsibility could they be taking than what they're doing? No, I just -- I just don't see it. I only wish that I could say it with him here --

CUOMO: Right.

SMERCONISH: So that I don't feel like I'm cheap-shooting him. But that's it.

CUOMO: No, I'm sure you'll get a chance. He's going to want to defend himself, that's for sure. And I'd love for him to point out what other policy changes have we seen where people did it on their own accord, without motivating lawmakers, without promulgating any kind of legislation. I'd like to know where he thought that happened.

CAMEROTA: But, by the way, one more thing is that policy has already changed, OK. These kids have already grabbed lawmakers by the lapel and shook them. Things have happened in Florida. It may not be as much as the kids are calling for right now, obviously, in terms of gun reform and what they want, but things are already changing and it is purely because of the kids and how vocal they've been.

All right, we've used all your time. Thanks so much for being here with your perspective.

[06:54:34] CUOMO: All right, so, big night last night in college basketball. We now know who are in the final four. OK, Cinderella, still in the dance. Coy Wire has the highlights right after the "Bleacher Report." Wait until you hear what the nun said.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: All right. Oh, this has been such a good one. We can't believe how much parody there's been. There is only one bracket where you had one verse two coming into this and now we know who's in the final four, Cinderella lurking among three powerhouses.

Coy Wire has more.

I love what that -- what the sister said what they asked her what she gave up for Lent. Did you see that?

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I did see that. Losing. Ninety- eight years old. She's sharp as a tack, Chris. And last night, though, buddy, you had two basketball blue bloods going into an overtime thriller. Kansas has made it to the elite eight the last two seasons and lost both times. But late in the game last night, it looked again like it might happen, but two seniors stepped up to the plate to get things done.

First, check out this pass. An incredible one from Devonte Graham. He passes to Svi Mykhailiuk. He speaks three languages and, right there, that was saying something. A three to tie the game with 25 seconds left. But then Duke's Grayson Allen, time stood still, his team, the shot bouncing around the rim for the chance to win, but it falls out. You can imagine the feelings there.