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CNN Sues Trump Administration for Taking Acosta Press Credentials; White House Shakeup as Trump Eyes Replacements in Key White House Positions; NYT: Audio Recording May Link MbS to Khashoggi Murder; Michelle Obama Talks Next Presidential Race, Trump. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired November 13, 2018 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT & CNN HOST, "REALIABLE SOURCES": Just a few minutes ago, Sarah Sanders, who is one of the six defendants in the suit, issued a statement. Let me put it on the screen. She said, "We have been advised that CNN has filed a complaint challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta's hard pass. This is just more grandstanding, she says, "from CNN and we'll vigorously defend against this lawsuit." She went on to say, "CNN has nearly 50 additional hard-pass holders" -- that means daily press pass holders -- "and Mr. Acosta is no more or less special to any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment."

The White House is saying everyone else is allowed in the White House. We're not blocking everybody. That's part of the point. They're trying to pick and choose who is able to cover the White House and who is able to ask questions of the president. No past president has tried to engage in that kind of control.

It's also noteworthy, Kate, that we're seeing shifting rationales here.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

STELTER: Last week, the White House claimed, at the press conference, Acosta placed his hands on a White House intern.

BOLDUAN: I'm going to play that in just one second.

But first, Paul, I want to get your take. First, there are clear First Amendment issues that are part of the lawsuit. Brian bringing up the Fifth Amendment issues. What's that about? What is CNN saying?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: CNN is saying essentially that what the president and White House seek to do is restrict a reporter's access based upon the fact that they don't like the reporting that's being done by CNN and possibly by the reporter. That's called content-based discrimination. The First Amendment is very clear on that, that the press has the right to report and express opinions regarding the president's conduct.

The second part is the Due Process Clause or the Fifth Amendment, which says, if you're going to try to restrict anybody's access, you better have a good reason. There has to be a hearing demonstrating the good reason. No such hearing was granted to Acosta here.

There's also a third cause of action against the Secret Service specifically.

But it looks like a very, very strong case most First Amendment experts think under existing U.S. law.

BOLDUAN: I want to focus on how this came about. This came after the press conference last week. That's when the White House took Acosta's credentials. When they took Acosta's credentials, they said this -- this was the first statement why they did: "We will however never tolerate a reporter placing his hand on a young woman just trying do her job as a White House intern."

The video and the facts show otherwise. But the White House statement is very clear on what they were basing this on.

And then the president said this about it Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Jim Acosta is a very unprofessional man. He does this with everybody. He gets paid to do that. He gets paid to burst in. He's a very unprofessional guy. Whether it was me or Ronald Reagan or anybody else, he would have done the same thing. Look, I don't think he's a smart person, but he's got a loud voice.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Wait, wait. David, do you mind if I answer the question?

And as far as I'm concerned, I haven't made that decision. But it could be others also.

When you're in the White House, this is a very sacred place to me. A very special place. You have to treat the White House with respect. You have to treat the presidency with respect. If you have ever seen him dealing with Sarah Huckabee Sanders, it's a disgrace. He does it for, you know, the reason -- the same thing with April Ryan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: The president is not talking about an alleged assault there. If he was talking about an alleged assault, he wouldn't be threatening other reporters. He wouldn't be threatening April Ryan. And then you have this new statement that was saying that Acosta was preventing them from an orderly and fair press conference.

CALLAN: From a legal standpoint, he completely undermined the White House defense, because if he was saying this was Acosta inappropriately touching an intern who was trying to take his microphone, he threw it out the window now. He's talking about all the reporters, and he may ban other reporters, and what happened with Ronald Reagan. All of this indicates this is not conduct-based but it's content-based. In other words, under the First Amendment, he's trying to ban certain press people from covering him.

STELTER: And in today's statement, there's no comment about the intern, instead, it's just a general claim that Acosta's rude or unprofessional or disrespectful. Well, respect is not a matter of law. CNN's complaint says, "The argument that Acosta was not sufficiently respectful at the press conference is not sufficient as a matter of law."

So that may end up be the --

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: I was going to Acosta is rude, he's a showboat, but you know what, different White House reporters have different styles.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: It's been true for decades.

CALLAN: That's right. If you're going to establish a system where conduct determines whether you can attend a press conference, the White House would have to have a set of rules on this indicating what conduct is improper and then that could be tested in the courts. But they have chosen not to have any specifics that would apply to this situation.

(CROSSTALK)

STELTER: The big picture here is that CNN is taking this action because it's not just about Acosta. It could be a reporter from the "New York Times" or NBC or some other outlet next week. CNN is taking this action because this is a big freedom-of-speech issue, even though it involves a single reporter in this one case. The president has been engaging in this out-of-control behavior, lashing out at the press. He seems to be acting out more and more.

[11:35:03] BOLDUAN: Well, now --

STELTER: And this is going to be a test in the courts.

BOLDUAN: Now a judge will have a decision on this.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: And the principle here is that he doesn't have to have press conferences, but if he has press conferences, the First Amendment requires him to give free access to the people who cover him. And I think the White House is going to have a problem with this lawsuit.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, guys. Really appreciate it.

Coming up -- we'll bring you updates on this as they come.

Coming up for us, a major White House shakeup could be coming. New reporting on which top Trump official could be on their way out and when. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:10] BOLDUAN: Brace yourself, everybody. We could have a seismic shakeup in the White House, or should I say yet another one? CNN has learned President Trump is eyeing potential replacements for several key positions now, post midterms, including even his chief of staff.

CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is getting in new reporting on this.

Jeff, what are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kate. It's no surprise the president, as we know, is looking at a shakeup of a wide array of officials here at the White House, as well as cabinet positions across Washington.

But one person we're told who is not safe necessarily in their position is the White House chief of staff, John Kelly. Even though the president said earlier this summer that John Kelly can stay on through 2020, he wants him to remain as chief of staff, we're learning from officials he does not feel confident or secure in his position, largely because of other potential shakeups going on.

As we have been reporting all morning, the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is believed to be the next to go. The president has voiced his displeasure repeatedly about her performance on the border. He's blaming her for the rise in some border crossings. She has tried to explain the law to the president and tried to make clear that the secretary is limited in some things they can do. That has not necessarily pleased the president.

But the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, is her biggest advocate here at the White House. She served under him as a deputy chief of staff here before she went to Homeland Security. If she leaves, the question, of course, is would John Kelly leave?

We do know by talking to a variety of officials that the president has been discussing some potential replacements should there be a vacancy in the chief of staff's office. One is the chief of staff to the vice president, Nick Ayers. He's been around the administration since almost the beginning. The president has a good relationship with him. He's a potential. Mick Mulvaney as well, head of the Budget Office here, and there could be a variety of others.

Kate, at this point, there's expected to be many more people coming and going, which is not uncommon at all at this point in a White House. It's halftime, if you will, of his first term in office. But it's unclear how many will be coming and going. Add John Kelly to the list of people who aren't necessarily going to be here as long as the president once said -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: If this is halftime, I would like to know what the halftime entertainment is. Please report back. Thank you so much. Great to see you.

ZELENY: I'll let you know.

BOLDUAN: OK, thanks.

Coming up, new details coming in about the killing of Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The "New York Times" is reporting now an audio recording may link the Saudi crown prince to his murder. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:47:18] BOLDUAN: It's been over one month since Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Still, no official explanation of what really happened and who ordered his killing. Now the "New York Times" is reporting there's new evidence pointing the finger, suggesting it has to do with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. An audio recording in the hands of Turkish officials that top U.S. officials have heard.

Joining me now is one of the reporters who broke the story, national security reporter for the "New York Times," Julian Barnes.

Julian, thanks for coming in.

JULIAN BARNES, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: The quote that rings out, "Tell your boss." That's one key line heard on this tape. Can you tell us more of your reporting of what's on the tape?

BARNES: Yes. So that is the -- those are the key words that American intelligence officials are focusing on. The phrase that the Turkish tape has caught is, "Tell your boss that the deed is done" or "Tell your boss the mission is accomplished." And these are words that the U.S. intelligence, other intelligence agencies have concluded is a reference to the Saudi crown prince.

Now, there's this caution. Officials briefed on this, former officials have said that this is not a smoking gun. It's not definitive proof. But it is very suggestive. It may be the most suggestive evidence so far linking the kill team to the crown prince.

BOLDUAN: And if it is -- if it is the most suggestive evidence so far, as you say, if that's as far as it goes, what are you hearing from your sources, though, on what that means in terms of the responsibility put on MbS, what the United States will take from it, and how they'll respond?

BARNES: Yes. That question goes to the heart of the matter. That's the exact right question to ask. Look, there are no perfect pieces of the puzzle. When you talk about intelligence, it's not like a police procedural on television or a spy thriller you read. You don't get all the pieces of evidence. You get a little bit here, a little bit there, and you put it together for an assessment. This is one key piece of the puzzle that intelligence agencies are sort of saying creates a picture of the culpability of the crown prince. However, because it is this is not definitive, because they Saudis can say this is not -- they are not uttering the name of the crown prince, that gives a little bit of plausible deniability. And so far, the Trump administration has signaled they are going to use that to maintain the relationship with Prince Mohammad. That could change. But right now, we see that the policy decision will be to continue the relationship with the Saudi crown prince.

[11:50:28] BOLDUAN: You also reported that this audio we are talking about is played for CIA Director Gina Haspel, and we know she briefed the president upon her return from Turkey. We assume the president has this information. And it does leave me wondering, to your point, when the president he recently has taken this as, I'm thinking about it. The way he put it was, "I'm forming a very strong opinion." And I'm trying to figure out what the signs of that strong opinion are going to be.

BARNES: I think we are going to learn more this week. We are expecting some news statements from Saudi Arabia. We don't think they will change their story dramatically. Obviously, the Turks are continuing the pressure. We are expecting shortly that the CIA will brief Congress. We will have some information perhaps coming from that. That will be a classified briefing, but it will up the pressure from Capitol Hill. Then the administration will have to make a decision, do they press forward or change. As you pointed out, maybe there are some signals from President Trump that he is shifting his position.

BOLDUAN: We'll see.

Julian, great reporting. Thanks for coming in and sharing with us.

BARNES: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, former first lady, Michelle Obama, weighing in on the next presidential race and also the current president in the White House right now. That is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:56:27] BOLDUAN: Former first lady, Michelle Obama, is kicking off her book tour and she is not holding back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED HOST: What candidates do you see out there that inspire you and catch your eye? And did you hear recently one of the Hillary Clinton's former advisers speculating that she could run again? Do you think she should?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I think at this point everybody is qualified and everybody should run.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I might even tap Sasha. Sasha. Sasha.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You got free time? I think you would do a great job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: One thing Obama has made clear, it's not going to be her running for office any time soon. But what impact does this memoir have on the Obama legacy and on the current state of politics?

Joining me now is Desiree Barnes, a former Obama administration aide.

Desiree, it's great to see you.

DESIREE BARNES, FORMER OBAMA ADMINISTRATION AIDE: Great to see you, too, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

You started working for Michelle Obama as an intern at 19 years old. You went on to serve the president, the first lady, the entire administration. The reporting has always been that Michelle Obama was reluctant to have her family in the public eye. How do you think her time in the public eye changed her view on politics when we hear her talking about it now?

DESIREE BARNES: I think she has been able to have and experience up close an advantage point to a front-row seat in history. I think that's something that she has been very authentic and candid about with the audience that she has come across. I think that she is not afraid to be honest about the trials and tribulations and the hard moments have been hard and there's optimism comes out of it. She has been able to see how government has been able to function when you have people who are willing to work with one another.

BOLDUAN: And the opposite, when they are willing not to work with one another, which we can definitely see sometimes.

First ladies, they often don't talk about politics at all, particularly not about taking on the current president. In her book, she talks about the Birther conspiracy thing, she won't be able to forgive the president, President Trump, because of it. She is being asked about it in the interviews. Does it surprise you that she is taking on the president in this memoir in this way?

DESIREE BARNES: I don't think she is taking on the current president. She is just being authentic to who she is. This is a part of her character. She has always been candid. And she is comfortable with the voice she holds. I think there's nothing wrong with her sharing her truth and her story and how she feels about things. I don't even think that that's primarily her focus. This book is to tell her story. And it inspires so many young women, young women of color especially, you know -- BOLDUAN: I wanted to ask about that, Desiree, because she is candid

about her personal life and her struggles getting pregnant, going to marriage counseling, and also how personally it hurt, the things people said about her during the campaign or tried to stereotype her in the campaign. She is clear that she wants to encourage and inspire people with her story, especially young African-American women. How would you say she's impacted your from working for her?

DESIREE BARNES: I think the best thing that I have been able to witness from her is her work ethic and her commitment to serving others. I think this book is so great because it is candid. I'm appreciative of it. I think a lot of people will be.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Desiree. Thanks for coming in.

DESIREE BARNES: Great to see you, too. Thanks, Kate.

[12:00:07] BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Thanks for joining us.