Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Spy Game; Interview With Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA); Trump Fires National Security Adviser John Bolton. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 10, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We continue on, hour two. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We are staying on this breaking news this afternoon that President Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, is out. Now, as to whether he was fired or quit, Bolton and Trump are going back and forth over that on, where else, Twitter.

CNN is learning that President Trump had grown increasingly frustrated with Bolton, tweeting that he -- quote -- "strongly disagreed" with many of his suggestions as, did others in the administration.

CNN also is learning from sources that they both got into a heated argument just last night over the president's plan to host Taliban leaders at Camp David. Bolton butted heads with others in the administration, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

And when talking about Bolton's firing a short while ago, Secretary Pompeo at times appeared to grin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: There were many times Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed. That's to be sure. But that's true for lots of -- lots of people with whom I interact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: President Trump has now gone through three national security advisers and he says he will name a fourth in a week.

We are covering this, of course, from all angles.

CNN Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for us.

But let's start with you, Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent there.

You were at that briefing. What is the backstory, please?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like a long backstory, Brooke, and I won't get into off of it, but it sound as though things came to a head last night in this meeting between the president and the national security adviser, fired National Security Adviser John Bolton, in which they clashed over this meeting that the president had thought about having over at Camp David with Taliban leaders to try to saw up some sort of Afghanistan peace plan.

I'm told by two senior administration officials that the president and Vice President Mike Pence were upset that Bolton aides were essentially leaking out to the press that the vice president also opposed that Camp David meeting, in addition to the national security adviser.

As you know, the president does not like leaking. This has resulted in people leaving this administration in the past. But what was stunning to watch, Brooke, just a short while ago was in the White House Briefing Room, a room that is not used very much by this White House anymore.

We saw the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. We saw the secretary of the treasury, Steve Mnuchin, fielding questions from reporters. John Bolton, the national security adviser, was supposed to take part in that briefing.

As a matter of fact, they told us this earlier this morning, and John Bolton himself was standing outside the West Wing at 9:00 this morning. But he was not in that briefing.

And so I asked Secretary Mnuchin whether or not this national security team is now a mess, now that we're three national security advisers leaving this administration and a fourth one on the way. And here's what he had to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Is this national security team a mess?

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: Absolutely not. That's the most ridiculous question I have ever heard of.

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: We've had three national security advisers in three years.

(CROSSTALK)

MNUCHIN: Let me just say the national security team, which is what you asked, consists of the national security adviser, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, myself, the chief of staff, and many others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, I went on to ask Secretary Mnuchin -- it was not quite audible, Brooke -- whether or not you can disagree with the president without being at the risk of being fired.

And Secretary Mnuchin said, of course you can disagree with the president. But it does sound as though there were a number of policy disagreements that were piling on top of one another, not to mention this Camp David thing, but there is also this issue of whether or not the president would somehow sit down with the Iranian president, Rouhani, at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly.

And it sounds as though Bolton's sharp elbows, combined with the fact that he has disagreed with the president and much of the team on so many issues, led to what happened today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes, on policy.

Jim, thank you so much.

Kylie Atwood is at the State Department for us.

And so Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, what impact will his dismissal, firing, what have you have on foreign policy?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, that is the big question here, because we know that National Security Adviser John Bolton was a hawkish member of President Trump's national security team.

He was encouraging Trump to carry out a strike on Iran. They got very close to that. The president was the one who eventually pulled back. When it comes to North Korea, we know that National Security Adviser John Bolton wanted to be a little bit stronger, didn't want to sit down at the table with North Korean officials.

He wanted to use a stronger number of things that the U.S. could say and do against North Korea. And, also, when it comes to Afghanistan, we know that there was a bitter disagreement. That is one of the things, our White House team is reporting, that broke the camel's back here, the straw that broke the camel's back, because there had been a number of disagreements, but that was the most recent one.

And what we saw today was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo standing up there and really taking President Trump's side here, saying that it was the president who asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to resign last night.

[15:05:07]

That is not how Bolton is stating it. He said he offered to resign last night, and the president told him, let's talk about it tomorrow.

Well, lo and behold, talk about it tomorrow for President Trump meant tweet that he was firing John Bolton today. So it is shocking, but it's something that happens in this Trump administration time and time again.

We have seen so many national security officials leave this administration. And one of those who's left standing is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And so he is really holding the baton when it comes to foreign policy for this administration. And Afghanistan is one of the issues that is facing the Trump administration right now. Are they going to pull their troops out? Are they going to come to an agreement with the Taliban? Are they going to include the Afghan government?

That's just the latest, but there are a number of issues that they need to focus on. And they clearly have a disjointed national security team right now.

BALDWIN: No, I think, if you just look at Twitter right now, and you see the way John Bolton and then President Trump are even spinning it as far as, I fired you, vs., no, I resigned, like, that's a microcosm of what larger issues clearly arose in the last few weeks and months.

Kylie Atwood, thank you very much on the policy side of this.

Let's get some analysis.

With me now, Sam Vinograd. She's a former senior adviser to the national security adviser in the Obama administration. So she really appreciates how key this role is. And CNN global affairs analyst Max Boot is a senior fellow on the Council on Foreign relations.

And so, Max, of course, nice to have you.

And so since you're sitting next to me, you first here.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Just first of all, Jim was right. Like, Secretary Pompeo was kind of grinning. And I said to you quickly during the sound bite, I said, why do you think he's grinning? And you said?

MAX BOOT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: He's happy that...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: He's happy he's gone.

BOOT: I want you to know, Brooke, if I get fired, I hope that you're not grinning like that.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I will not be grinning like that.

What do you make of all this?

BOOT: Well, I think this is part of the mess that is the Trump foreign policy.

And, of course, Trump, I think became very disenchanted with John Bolton because he wasn't seeing the kind of results he expected to see in places like Venezuela and Iran, and because Bolton disagreed with him on North Korea and negotiations with the Taliban. And it's just a further sign that Trump doesn't really know what he's

doing, doesn't really know his mind. He wants people who agree with him, but he changes his mind all the time. And so he's saying one day that he's thinking about inviting the Taliban to Camp David. Then he changes his mind.

And then he holds it against Bolton that Bolton was arguing against him and saying that it's not a good idea to invite these terrorists to Camp David.

So, the fundamental problem here, although I'm not -- I'm no fan of John Bolton, I think he was right on some things. I think he was wrong on some things.

BALDWIN: Sure.

BOOT: But the fundamental problem here is not John Bolton. It is Donald Trump.

We will come back to that in just a second.

And then, Sam, to you. And you tweeted: Will anyone notice that John Bolton is gone?

What do you mean by that?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, seriously, will anyone notice? Because John Bolton was really national security adviser in name only.

President Trump serves as his own national security adviser, secretary of state, director of national intelligence and who knows else what. But John Bolton wasn't performing the core functions of the job as the assistant to the president for national security affairs.

Two of those core functions, Brooke, one is having the president's ear. He clearly didn't have that. He was put to pasture in Mongolia when President Trump met with Kim Jong-un at the DMZ. We have reporting that he was shut out of a key meeting on Afghanistan. He got his way in at the last moment.

And he was not running early on in his tenure these key National Security Council meetings called principals committee meetings, in which the Cabinet gets together, and they prepare discussions for the president.

We used to spend endless hours in the Situation Room with the next national security adviser preparing these discussions for the president. There's reporting from 2018 that Bolton slimmed down this process and that Cabinet members were worried that these meetings weren't happening.

So what was John Bolton really doing all day, if he wasn't by the president's side, if he wasn't running these meetings, and if he wasn't representing the president overseas? There are always divisions among the Cabinet. And the national security adviser is allowed to have an opinion. The issue that I think is worth diving into is whether John Bolton was actually doing his job in representing the different views of the interagency, or really just representing his personal opinion, and when it didn't go his way, leaking that to the press.

BALDWIN: So, just staying with you quickly, just, Sam, because you mentioned how you been in all these meetings.

Just for people who -- national security adviser, define the role in explaining how they're supposed to be this honest broker, right, bringing all these various agencies, departments all together to the table.

[15:10:00]

VINOGRAD: So we sit in the windowless Situation Room with members of the National Security Council, the secretary of state, secretary of defense.

And the national security adviser would sit at the head of the table and ask everybody sitting around it what their analysis was, if they were a member of the intel community, and then what their recommendation was to the president on a key issue, for example, like negotiating with the Taliban or a drawdown strategy in Afghanistan.

That way, the secretary of state could opine on the diplomatic track, the secretary of defense could talk about drawdown options, the secretary of the treasury could talk about sanctions options.

All of those recommendations would be -- would then be presented by the national security adviser to the president. That is the honest broker role.

I will say, Brooke, that I have been with national security advisers when they have been asked for a personal opinion, which they given. But their foremost job is representing the views of the interagency, so that the president has the full range recommendations in front of him, so that he can make a decision.

BALDWIN: So back to you, then, on your point that this all falls back to Trump.

Trump has been more or less an outlier within his own party as far as foreign policy and national security is concerned. He's been trying to pull, right, draw people more towards him. As we are now in this reality that is a fourth national security adviser in three years, who and how?

BOOT: There's really been nobody who mirrors Trump's own views.

And I think that's almost impossible, because, as I mentioned, Trump's views keep changing all the time. He's very erratic, so it's hard to keep up with him. I think -- look, I think John Bolton did a lot of things very badly.

I think Sam is absolutely right. He ran a horrible interagency. He did not solicit other people's views. And the ultimate irony is that John Bolton, who was this ultimate bureaucratic warrior who reveled in freezing other people out, at the end, he himself got frozen out.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: He got frozen out.

BOOT: So there was poetic justice.

BALDWIN: Karma.

BOOT: But he wasn't all bad. And I think he did restrain Trump from giving away the store with the Taliban and North Korea, in search of that Nobel Peace Prize.

So I think he was very dangerous with Iran because he was a real warmonger. And his policy has not led to any kind of resolution with Iran. Iran is actually ramping up their nuclear program as we speak.

But, again, with North Korea and the Taliban, I think he was a restraining influence on Trump. And that was part of the reason why Trump got so irritated with him, because he told him truthfully not a good idea to invite the Taliban to Camp David, not a good idea to make this mega-deal with Kim Jong-un that North Korea will not abide by.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Well, not only that, but then it came out into the public sphere, and so that the public all knew that there were people who dared disagree with the president.

Sam, I'm out of time. I'm sure we will continue this conversation another day.

VINOGRAD: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Sam Vinograd, thank you. Max Boot, I appreciate your perspective.

Coming up next, a member of the House Armed Services Committee joins me live with his reaction to John Bolton's sudden departure. We will talk to Congressman John Garamendi about the new revelations also that the U.S. had to extract a spy with connections deep inside the Kremlin -- what we have learned how close he was to Vladimir Putin.

And, later, a former NOAA administrator is speaking out about President Trump politicizing the weather, of all things -- why he says this controversy over Hurricane Dorian's path is so dangerous.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:12]

BALDWIN: All right, as we continue our breaking news this afternoon, the president has fired his National Security Adviser John Bolton.

The reaction from within the Republican Party thus far is pretty mixed. Republican Senator Mitt Romney calling Bolton's departure a -- quote -- "extraordinary loss," saying that -- quote -- "His point of view was not always the same as everybody else in the room, and that's why you wanted him there. The fact that he was a contrarian from time to time was an asset, not a liability."

Senator Rand Paul sees it this way, telling CNN that: "The chances of war worldwide go greatly down. He has a naive view that believes we should recreate the world in our own image by toppling countries by violent overthrow and somehow democracy will prevail."

So let's ask a Democrat what he makes of John Bolton's departure.

With me now, California Congressman John Garamendi. He sits on the Armed Services Committee.

So, Congressman, a pleasure sir. Welcome.

REP. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CA): Good to be with you.

BALDWIN: What -- your thoughts on Bolton's departure, and what does what does his leaving do for the country as a whole?

GARAMENDI: Improves the country as a whole. Good thing that he's gone.

This is a man who had very radical ideas about how the United States ought to act in the world and, basically, it was to bomb everybody out of existence and then rebuild.

Rand Paul is much closer to the truth as I see it than Romney on this one. The fact of the matter is, he was a very aggressive hawk and one that was quite willing to take on the entire world.

But what really concerns me is, when he had a chance as national security adviser to push back on the really crazy things that the president is doing to build his wall -- right now, the president is taking $771 million out of the defense of Europe to build his wall.

[15:20:02]

And you go, what in the world and where was Bolton when all of that was going on?

BALDWIN: You know that this is the third national security adviser in three years, which is pretty extraordinary, in and of itself.

Who do you think could even get through the confirmation process to become the fourth?

GARAMENDI: I'm not sure it makes much difference. This president has a mind of his own. Often, we wonder exactly what is in that mind. And he seems to want to go do it by whomever he talked to last. That may be the national security adviser. It may be somebody on the street or somebody that wants to know the latest stock price or where the stock price is going to go with the next tweet.

The reality is, nobody lasts long in the chaos of the Trump administration. They seem to come and go. And the lack of continuity, the lack of a significant notion of where you want to go, what is the strategy, what is the plan, what is the outcome you're looking for, doesn't seem to be part of the Trump administration at all.

Chaos rules the day.

BALDWIN: Let me pivot to something else, Congressman Garamendi. Just stay with me here. I want to ask you about this story...

GARAMENDI: Sure.

BALDWIN: ... that was first here on CNN.

Trump administration officials telling us that a spy had to be extracted from inside Russia in this secret mission. And so now we're learning the president is skeptical of using foreign spies at all.

So we will talk to the congressman about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:22]

BALDWIN: New details today about a 2017 covert operation by the United States to remove an informant from inside Moscow.

According to CNN sources, the spy, who provided information for more than a decade to the United States, had such close access to Vladimir Putin that he could provide images of documents on Putin's desk.

A person directly involved in the discussions said that the decision to remove this spy was driven in part by concerns that President Trump and his administration mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the identity of this covert source.

Last hour, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo disputed those details. But CNN is, of course, standing by the report.

And, today, Jim Sciutto has new reporting about the president and how he views these foreign assets.

Jim, what do you have?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, multiple senior officials who served under this president tell me that Trump has privately and repeatedly expressed opposition to the use of foreign intelligence from covert sources, including overseas spies who provide the U.S. government with crucial information about hostile countries.

In private, the president has said that foreign spies can damage relations with their host countries and undermine his personal relationships with their leaders, the sources said.

The president -- quote -- "believes we shouldn't be doing that to each other," one former Trump administration official told me.

In addition to his fear that such foreign intelligence sources will damage his relationship with foreign leaders, Trump has expressed doubts about the credibility of the information they provide.

Another former senior intelligence official told CNN that Trump -- quote -- "believes they are people who are selling out their country."

Even in public, we should note that Trump has looked down on these foreign assets, as they are known in the intelligence community. Responding to reports that the CIA had recruited Kim Jong-un's half- brother as a spy, this is what the president said:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I saw the information about the CIA with respect to his brother or half-brother.

And I would tell him that would not happen under my -- under my auspices. That's for sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Now, Trump's skeptical view on foreign informants, it undermines one of the most essential ways that American intel agencies gather information about U.S. adversaries, including analysis of their capabilities and intentions.

Intel assessments of national security threats, they typically depend on a combination of both human intelligence, like these sources, and signals intelligence, which usually means intercepted communications.

And this relates to North Korea's expanding nuclear program, to terror threats from al Qaeda and ISIS, to the military capabilities of Russia and China and North Korea.

We will add that the CIA declined to comment for this. So did the White House decline to comment. The president's attitude about the intelligence community, though, we should also note, it's long been an issue.

You will remember he compared intel agencies to the Nazis soon after he took office. He attacked intelligence officials in public. He denied U.S. intelligence findings on Russian interference in the U.S. election, on Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal, on North Korea's continued expansion of its nuclear program.

Brooke, this has enormous consequences for the U.S. intelligence community and how they respond to key threats to U.S. national security -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jim -- Jim, your reporting has been outstanding. Thank you very much for that.

I still have with me Democratic Congressman John Garamendi, staying with me.

Thank you, sir, so much for that.

And let me add to that.

You know, we also know, just from "The New York Times" today, that the CIA director at the time, John Brennan, thought this information was so sensitive, that he actually sent it to then President Obama in a separate special sealed envelope and kept it out of Obama's daily

[15:30:00]