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Trump Fires National Security Adviser John Bolton; Trump Skeptical Of Using Foreign Spies To Collect Intelligence On Hostile Countries; NRA Suing After San Francisco Labels It A Terror Group; Interview With Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired September 10, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington Headquarters, and we start with major announcement today by President Trump on Twitter that he has fired his National Security Adviser John Bolton.
This is the tweet. I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new national security adviser next week.
Our Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. Our Kylie Atwood is at the State Department. And this Twitter bombshell is pretty interesting, especially because it came a short time after the White House announced that Bolton would be giving a briefing alongside the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
Kaitlan, what are you hearing?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And just minutes after that tweet came out from the president, John Bolton sent one of his own, saying that he was not fired, that he offered to resign to the president last night. So that dispute is playing out in real- time.
But, Brianna, what we do know is that sources are telling me that President Trump and John Bolton got into a bitter disagreement last night over the president's decision to host those leaders of the Taliban at Camp David, of course, a summit that the president later scrapped when he announced it on Twitter on Saturday.
But that was the source of the frustration between Bolton and John -- Pompeo -- or, excuse me, Pompeo -- John Bolton and the president in recent weeks. But, of course, we know that they have been disagreeing on several issues, including Iran, Venezuela, multiple other issues as well for the last several months. And this seems to be the straw that has broken the camel's back because what we're told by sources is the president was frustrated. There were reports about John Bolton pushing back on the president to host those leaders at Camp David, a meeting that was largely put together while John Bolton was not here but instead overseas in Europe on a trip. He was instead have to be beamed in to meetings in the situation room.
So right now, you're seeing this pushback between the president and John Bolton over whether or not he was fired or whether or not he resigned. But what we do know is their latest arguments came from this decision from the president, and it also came, as CNN reporting showed last week, that John Bolton was keeping his own eyes on the Secretary of State job, that's Mike Pompeo's, someone that, in recent weeks, John Bolton was not even on speaking terms with.
KEILAR: Yes. Kaitlan, that was some of your very interesting reporting last week. It seemed very unsustainable that you had the national security adviser and the secretary of state not even talking and, Kylie, they often were often on totally opposite sides of strategy. What are you hearing where you are?
KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. So the State Department right now not actually coming out and saying anything about this resignation. But what we do know, as you said, is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton have been aligned when it comes to policy very often, but they don't operate in similar ways.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, I just spoke with someone who is very close with him, and talked about how he is always pushing his agenda forward. If he didn't agree with the president, it was leaked out to the press that he didn't agree with the president just days later, and that is one thing that happened in the last few days when it came to Afghanistan.
Now, as Kaitlan said, there was a disagreement between President Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton about inviting the Taliban to Camp David to discuss a way forward with Afghanistan. Bolton didn't think it was a good idea, and we, as reporters, found out about that.
So there is other disagreements, however, between Secretary Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton when it comes to how they deal with President Trump. Pompeo has been in lockstep.when the president decides he wants to do something, Pompeo goes forth with that.
That is -- an example of that is when it comes to North Korea, right? We have Secretary Pompeo who has been leading the negotiations with North Korea, which have now hit a standstill. We know that Pompeo is not someone who necessarily is all on board for that, but he has continued to push for it.
On the other hand, we have National Security Adviser John Bolton who was publicly not in favor of what the president was doing here. These grand bargains that President Trump wanted to push forth, John Bolton was not always such a fan of.
That also happens when it comes to Iran, President Trump wanting to meet with Rouhani, Bolton not thinking it's a great idea. So there has been division time and time again between the president and Bolton and time and time again between Pompeo and Bolton.
KEILAR: All right. Kylie, thank you so much. Kaitlan, thank you, [13:05:00] at the White House for us.
I want to talk now with Matt Lewis, a Senior Columnist for The Daily Beast. We have retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, the former State Department spokesman, as well as former Pentagon spokesman under President Obama, He's our military and diplomatic analyst, and Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst is here with us.
So impressive, all of these titles you have, right? That is the expertise that you bring to this discussion because this is a very important development that the national security adviser is out. What do you think, Gloria?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president is now looking for his fourth national security adviser and that should tell us something about the stability of the president's foreign policymaking decisions. This is somebody, John Bolton, who, as Kaitlan was saying, had some problems with the secretary of state and with the president.
And it seems to me that the president, when he hired him, might have had an idea that he and Bolton were going to disagree on certain things. If he had just Googled John Bolton, he would have found out that he is a hawk and the president is not. He's more of an isolationist. They disagreed over Iraq, Afghanistan, Venezuela, North Korea.
I think as we were talking before, the straw that broke the camel's back, clearly, their disagreement over whether the Taliban should have been invited to Camp David. And my reporting is echoing Kaitlan's great reporting, is that there was a fight between the two of them last night over this, because the president didn't like the fact that disagreements leaked out about this session and he was probably blaming Bolton for being the leaker. Bolton says he resigned, the president says he was fired.
KEILAR: He said he resigned last night. I mean, I'm sort of inclined to believe John Bolton in this case, but what I'm really interested to talk about though is what this means, because we're right in the middle of so many crucial foreign policy tests that the president is facing.
And part of that, look, he hired this guy knowing, right, knowing that they disagreed and -- or he should have known. Everyone knew. If he didn't knew, everyone knew. But part of the issue was that he doesn't have a lot of takers, right, when it comes to this job. So where does that leave the U.S. now with leadership on foreign policy issues.
REARD ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I think actually you hit the nail on the head, Brianna. I think the search for a new candidate and whoever that person is and who he chooses, that will tell us about where Trump thinks his foreign policy needs to go.
There hasn't been much of a cohesive agenda in this administration. This is an opportunity for them to maybe get some lassos around where they want to be in the world on issues, like North Korea and Iran and Russia inside or in China. And so who he picks and how he goes about selecting that person should tell us a lot.
I think this is a real inflection point for his foreign policy if he chooses to make it.
KEILAR: What do you think, Matt?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. Look, I would say a couple things just to sort of circle back though. I mean, first of all, I think that I would agree more with Bolton's philosophy, his foreign policy. I think that he's more realistic. And the danger of Donald Trump isn't so much that he's an isolationist. I think it's that he is naive and quixotic and could be rolled by some people who flatter him.
Having said that, I think a president deserves somebody who will argue with him and fight about it behind closed doors and then go forward and carry out the president's agenda and not leak. And I think that we'll have to wait and see how this develops. But it's possible that what Bolton has done now is, in a sense, actually empowered the isolationist forces against the more hawkish people. They're not going to be represented in the room at least until we get a replacement.
KEILAR: And so now, you know, you saw -- when Kaitlan reported last week that Pompeo and Bolton were not even on speaking terms, I mean, that seemed completely unsustainable as a working environment to get something done. What does this do in terms of shifting some of the influence even more so towards Secretary Pompeo?
KIRBY: To my point about the search, it will be really interesting to see how the search is conducted and who has the president's ear, who is putting up candidates and where are they coming from? So is it going to be Rand Paul, is it going to be Pompeo, who are clearly diametrically opposed on foreign policy issues? So that's going to be really interesting to see because that will tell you where the president's head is in terms of what --
LEWIS: And I think Pompeo is someone who is probably hawkish but knows how to communicate with Trump and leave it inside the room.
BORGER: Well, this is about --
KIRBY: But so is Rand Paul.
BORGER: Well, this is about managing Trump. This is always about managing Donald Trump. And Pompeo has managed Trump --
KEILAR: He manages very well.
BORGER: -- very well, and Bolton gets in your face. And so that doesn't work so well with the president. And he's always sort of felt like maybe he didn't have the right casting for the job.
Remember when the president complained about Bolton's mustache a while back? Well, maybe he still doesn't like it.
KIRBY: Matt makes a good point though about -- he deserves a national security adviser that fits the role he wants it to be. I don't know that Donald Trump has really come to grips with that job yet. And so what is it supposed to be for me, because every president fills that job differently. I would hope given what we're facing around the world that he picks somebody who is not afraid to disagree in private, and staunchly so if it's needed, but then is able to carry forth the policy going forward.
So he wants somebody --
LEWIS: And, sorry, there may be times when you say, look, it is immoral for me not to speak out, right? I mean, I think it's possible to be an adviser and to feel like this issue is so vital, but that's a form of civil disobedience. And when you do that, you have to expect that you're going to get fired.
KEILAR: And it wasn't just a leak about Bolton disagreeing, it was a leak -- we realized that Vice President Pence disagreed as well, which is terribly wounding to a president for that kind of disagreement to become public.
But, okay, so let's talk about who are the possibilities for this position. What kind of fantastic candidate can you get who says, oh, great, that job has the shelf life of like a loaf of bread?
BORGER: Well, I was just looking at some statistics that said that there has Been a 77 percent turnover among his top advisers. That's crazy. It's just -- so who is going to walk into this administration and say, you know, this is longevity, I have a real opportunity to put my stamp on foreign policy, I have an opportunity to do what I think needs to be done in the world?
I think --
KEILAR: Who? Do we have any idea like who is in the mix for this?
BORGER: Well, I think someone who is in the mix for it would be somebody who agrees with the president all the time.
KEILAR: Do you think Rand Paul?
KIRBY: I don't know if Senator Paul would do it. I mean, I think he likes the position of influence that he has on the outside now.
But I would like -- I'm just throwing this name out there because he's the first one that comes to mind and I think he would be exceptionally good at it, and that's Steve Biegun, the guy who is the special envoy for the North Korea discussions. No, they haven't been successful, but not because Mr. Biegun hasn't been working diligently and quietly and discreetly to get the ball moving forward. Plus, he is well known in national security circles, foreign policy circles, he's smart, he's engaging, and I think he's also going to be -- would be intellectually curious enough to want to take that job and see if he can make a difference.
But that's the -- if it's not him, that's the kind of person I think you want to be looking for.
LEWIS: But it could be (INAUDIBLE) been on Fox News lately, and that's the unfortunate thing.
KEILAR: John Kirby, Matt Lewis, Gloria Borger, thank you so much to all of you.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier on the Intelligence Committee will join me live to react to this news, John Bolton out as national security adviser. Stand by.
KEILAR: Back now to our top story. President Trump has fired his national security adviser, John Bolton. California Congresswoman Jackie Speier joining us now from Capitol Hill, she's a Democrat who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, the Oversight Committee and the Armed Services Committee.
First, Congresswoman, I want to get your reaction on this breaking news about Bolton being out.
REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA): Well, I think that was coming our way for a long time. I think it was oil and vinegar, and the Bolton hyper, in your face kind of political dynamism that he promotes and his efforts to want to attack everywhere just did not sit well with the president or probably Mike Pompeo. I think the relationship that the president has with Mike Pompeo is strong, and the fact that Bolton and Pompeo weren't getting along was creating a lot of friction.
For the American people though, it's yet another example of how there is no stability in the White House when it comes to our national security. And this is the third or fourth national security adviser we've had in three years. This is not a way to run a national security branch.
KEILAR: Who would you want to see take this job? Do you have any ideas?
SPEIER: Well, I think that the president will only have someone come into this position who is a yes man. And that's not what we need right now. We need someone who has the skills and the depth of knowledge of our national security interests that will represent back to the president as opposed to just being another yes man to the president.
So I'm not confident that he will select someone that will serve our country and the national security interests that we all have.
KEILAR: When you have this kind of upheaval and -- I mean, we heard last week from our reporting from Kaitlan Collins that Mike Pompeo and John Bolton were not even on speaking terms. So that's not a conducive working environment to getting things done and following out -- I guess pushing any agenda whether you agree with it or not.
What does it mean when there is this kind of conflict for making decisions about foreign policy?
SPEIER: You know, it's another day in the White House. This is very consistent, where there is chaos everywhere within the administration. And unless you want to be a political thug to the president, you have a very short life span in that position, whatever that position may be.
So we have lost sight of the fact that these positions are supposed to be serving the American people and not be foot soldiers for the president of the United States.
KEILAR: All right. Congresswoman, if you will stay with us, I'm going to get in a quick break, but we have a lot more to talk to you about, including this next story. We now -- actually, no, I want to ask you about a new story that we just have reported, which is some new details.
A Russian spying for the United States [13:20:00] with extraordinary access to Russian President Vladimir Putin extracted by the CIA partly over fears that they could be unmasked by President Donald Trump. And we know that the asset was providing information to the U.S. for more than a decade and had close access to President Putin. The spy was even able to take pictures of documents on Putin's desk. That's the kind of access that they gad.
This asset provided evidence that proved Putin's interference in the 2016 presidential election, and we also now have new information on President Trump's feelings about the use of spies. Our Jim Sciutto broke this part of the story.
Jim, what more can you tell us?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, multiple senior officials who served under this president tells CNN 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 countries hostile to the U.S.
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 believes, quote, we shouldn't be doing that to each other. One former Trump administration Official told CNN, in addition to his fear, such foreign 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 there are people who are selling out their country.
We should note that even in public, Trump has looked down on these foreign assets, as they're known in the intelligence community. You may remember that after reports surfaced that the CIA had recruited Kim Jong-un's brother as a spy, the president said that he saw that information with respect to that source, and he said, in his words, that that wouldn't happen in his administration. It's not something that he would do.
Of course, the trouble with that, Brianna, is that this kind of information is something that intelligence agencies rely on to create a picture of what is going on in countries, particularly U.S. adversaries, and what they intend for the U.S. It undermines one of the most important ways, in fact, that agencies gather information about U.S. adversaries.
Typically, they rely on two things. They rely on both human intelligence, as these sources are known, but also signals intelligence, intercepted communications, et cetera, and taking one leg of that stool as it were has real consequences for protecting the U.S. from genuine national security threats. Brianna?
KEILAR: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier is back with us. And to be clear, Congresswoman, this disclosure of classified information by the president to the Russians, which happened in the Oval Office in 2017 was not about this Russian spy, as we understand it, but prompted intel officials to renew these earlier discussions they'd had about this potential risk to the spy that perhaps the spy could be exposed. How concerning is that to you?
SPEIER: Well, it's very concerning to me, and it should be for every American. Since our colonial days, we have used spies to help us assess our adversaries. We have used intelligence from our friends and allies, and they have served us in many ways over centuries.
And the president is mind-boggling in his lack of understanding of how important intelligence is to protect the American people. We would not know about Huawei if it weren't for the fact that we had intelligence. He would not know about Confucious institutes that the Chinese have encouraged around the United States at universities without having access to intelligence. Our allies have provided us with very important information that helped us identify that some of the software companies that were doing a malware detection were not actually friends.
So I'm really flabbergasted, I'm speechless to think that the president doesn't recognize the importance of foreign assets and assessing the intelligence in foreign countries, particularly our adversaries.
KEILAR: And his rationale, as we've reported, is that he believes that this actually can get in the way of his relationships with leaders, that it can, I guess, upset other countries and it can damage relations. What do you say to that?
SPEIER: Well, I would say to him that he doesn't appreciate that there are spies for many of our adversaries in the United States today, many that we haven't identified. When President Obama kicked out some 30 Russians after [13:25:00] the reference that the Russians, and particularly Putin, had called on the actual efforts to undermine our election in 2016, those -- one of them was a chef at a San Francisco Russian embassy. He was no chef.
But then again, those individuals oftentimes are serving the interests of a foreign country. And when they're an adversary, we should be very concerned about it.
KEILAR: I want to ask you a question, because you do represent part of San Francisco and the city's board of advisers passed a resolution to designate the NRA as a, quote, domestic terrorist organization. The NRA is suing.
I wonder, do you agree with the board's decision?
SPEIER: No, I don't agree with the board's decision. They certainly have the ability to take up whatever measures they like. But what we should be looking at the National Rifle Association about is the fact that it's a fraud, that it's not a non-profit organization, that it misuses the funds it gets from its members to be able to line the pockets of Wayne LaPierre, to provide him $8,000 suits, to have him fly first class and have his wife be able to have a makeup artist at her Beck and call.
I mean, what we should be looking at is the fact that this is an organization that has had ties with Russia and has taken money from Russians in the pursuit of their interests. And, again, I think that what we should be looking at is where that organization is not a non- profit at all.
KEILAR: The NRA is able to recruit off of something like what the city board did effectively. Is that one of the reasons why you disagree? I just want to know why do you disagree.
SPEIER: Well, I disagree because I don't think it's a domestic terrorist organization. I think it violates the non-profit laws in this country and should be outed for that. it has misused funds, it has taken money from foreign entities which then it has used for political purposes, all of which is a violation of law. So I think there's probably some criminal conduct involved with the operation of the National Rifle Association, but I would not call it a domestic terrorist organization.
KEILAR: All right. Congresswoman, thank you so much. Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
SPEIER: Thank you, Brianna.
KEILAR: We have more on our breaking news, the president firing his national security adviser. That's what he says, anyway. John Bolton is accusing the president of lying. The former secretary of state will be speaking in a moment. Stand by.