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Inside Politics

Trump Signals He's About to Boot V.A. Secretary; Massive Crowds Rally Nationwide to Demand Gun Control; Santorum to Student Protesters: Don't Rally, Learn CPR; Lawyers for Orlando Gunman's Widow Ask for Mistrial; AT&T Battles with DOJ Over Time Warner Merger. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:03] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: -- general flying on expensive flights, other matters, but the V.A. secretary certainly seems to be the one who is going to be replaced first.

Now the president controls the timing on all of this. So he has been visiting with some potential successors but we are -- have not heard from them exactly when he plans to make this switch. So it is something that is expected.

Of course, you see the firings and departures every week for the last several weeks. At least the last five or six weeks, there has been a major departure and shake-up here. So it might happen this week or we don't know. Up to the president.

He does not have much on his public schedule. Today, he's having lunch with the vice president as we speak. So certainly staffing changes and issues are on his mind. We'll see when he decides to make a move on this, Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: What about with his legal team? The top lawyer on his legal team when it pertains to the Russian investigation out last week, then you had a new lawyer or two coming in, and now that's not happening?

ZELENY: Right, that was certainly a big change over the weekend. Joe diGenova who of course, you know, has been very active on Fox News and other places, you know, blasting the Russia investigation was certainly someone who appealed to the president. So he was announced last week that he was coming to join the president's team of lawyers, but that ended up changing on a Sunday after they had a meeting late last week. The president now is essentially left with one lawyer who is handling all of the Russia investigation.

Of course, leading up to the question, will he testify with the special counsel or not? We're a couple weeks away from a potential decision there.

So it's not one of the most sought-after positions, if you will. We've talked to many lawyers here in Washington and elsewhere who certainly do not want to come into the administration. It's a difficult case for sure. It's bad for business in some respects. The president, of course, pushing back over the weekend saying he's happy with his legal team, but we've heard that before. So it certainly is one of the many things weighing on this White House today, Brianna.

KEILAR: He said he was happy and then his top lawyer was gone. So we will see.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

I want to talk more about this with Bloomberg Political Reporter Sahil Kapur with us now.

So Sahil, this morning, we heard that from the deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, he said, this point in times, Trump has confidence in Dr. Shulkin. But, it seems like that means nothing because if you look back at a lot of these other dismissals or resignations or what have you, firings by Twitter or however, there's always a statement that comes out, so this doesn't mean much.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER BLOOMBERG: Right, the key word there is at this point in time or key phrase I should say. I think -- I mean, every day, every week with this White House in terms of personal matters is like a game of Russian roulette. You never know who's going to stay or who's going to go. A lot of this -- you know, the president is the man with the red pen and he can makes all the decisions but he can very indecisive, he be mercurial and change his mind.

Sometimes a firing or departure will come out of the blue, like former FBI Director James Comey. Sometimes, someone will be rumored to go for months like the case with Rex Tillerson or Gary Cohn before it actually happens.

So, you never know where the president is going to go. With the vase of the V.A., we know he's been upset about this for -- you know, this situation for a while. He's wanted a replacement. The key thing people need to know there is, this is not a coveted job or a glamorous one. This is a massive bureaucracy with about 3,000 employees, the successors are not well-understood or appreciated where is the failure has become a national scandal.

Who can the president find who will adhere to his campaign promises to take care of our veterans which the United States is not doing? Who the president likes and trust to see replace Shulkin? Hard to know.

KEILAR: No, that's a really good point. According to the Washington Post, and you mentioned sometimes there are rumored departures for months, even H.R. McMaster, we saw that took -- there was a lot of discontent from the president with him before he left.

So the Post says that several people close to the president say a dramatic move like this would be an effort to change the narrative, take it away from all this focus on the Stormy Daniels case. Do you think a staff shake-up is in response to negative coverage? Do you believe that idea? KAPUR: Absolutely. It's not -- it wouldn't be the first time the president layer over one controversy with another controversy or layer over one crisis with another crisis. We know he's very uptune to news coverage of him. He watches a lot of cable news and he tries to control the narrative and he's frankly very good at it. He can do it with a single tweet.

So, yes, I'm sure that factors into his overall thinking, but I don't think that's the only thing. A move like this I think will weigh on him very heavily. If there's a problem or another scandal today after he makes the decision to fire someone who he currently he can say is an Obama administration holdover, that will weigh very heavily on him and I think he understands that.

KEILAR: V.A., it is such an important job, but like you said, maybe high risk and low reward, right?

KAPUR: Yes, exactly.

KEILAR: All right. Sahil Kapur, thank you so much, really appreciate it.

KAPUR: Thank you.

KEILAR: Now next, they marched for their lives here in Washington and across the country, but will young people march to the voting booths come November?

[12:35:03] How the gun control issue could shake up the midterms, next.


KEILAR: Student survivors of the massacre said enough this week and rallying hundreds of thousands to join marches across the country. But now, questions over what comes next in their fight to eradicate gun violence.

Lawmakers acknowledged that something needs to change, but ask what that something is and you're going to get mixed answers that play along partisan lines.


SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA: I think that the status quo is not OK, and that's what these young demonstrators are speaking out against. And so we do have to find a way forward. But simply stating we need to get rid of other people's rights is not the right way forward.


[12:40:04] KEILAR: Joining me now is CNN political commentator and Democratic Strategist Maria Cardona, and former special assistant to President George W. Bush Scott Jennings with us as well.

So Scott, Parkland students suggested yesterday on Fox News that the NRA had gotten to the president. Listen to them.

OK, so basically what they said was he met with the NRA, he prior to that had said that he would take a position, certain gun positions, and then he meets with the NRA and he starts to backpedal from that. We do know that that happened. We do know his desire to do something did change, and the question is, is there some kind of connection?

One of the students on Fox News said that she found that kind of sketchy. I wonder what you think. The president surely has seen that interview. How is that going to play with the president who insists he's in the pocket of no one?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think one thing we have to remember about the president is, on Friday he signed more gun- related legislation into law than Barack Obama signed in eight years of being president of the United States. They got to fix NICS and they also got the Stop School Violence School Act.

I think, frankly those things were inserted in the omnibus because of what the Parkland students and the other activists are doing. So there has already been progress and Trump is already showing a willingness to move in their direction.

Where I think this debate is going to land is on the things that don't go towards taking away guns or don't take away rights. I think they're going wind up with some progress on moving the age from 18 to 21, background checks, mental health checks, maybe the gun violence protection orders that a lot of conservatives are talking about including Marco Rubio.

I think that's where there's broad common ground where this debate grinds to a halt is on banning weapons and taking things away from people. I think that's where there's less coalescing around the solutions.

KEILAR: Do you really think something can be done on background checks? I mean, clearly, there's overwhelming support on that but it just seems like there isn't the political appetite in Washington to deal with it.

JENNINGS: No, I absolutely think something can and should happen on background checks because look, what's the common theme in all these shootings? This people shouldn't have guns. The guy in Florida, the background check system failed down there, the background check system failed in Texas on the church shooting over there. That guy should have been on the no buy list.

So absolutely something should happen on background checks and I believe there's wide political support for that, but this debate again, is going to break down if we get away from those popular issues and start focusing on banning I think certain kinds of guns.

KEILAR: Is that something, Maria, that Democrats -- I mean, I do feel like that might be a little optimistic just based on how hard it is to get things through Washington although there is as Scott said tremendous support for that. What do you think? MARIA CARDONA:, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, let's make one thing clear. It is difficult to get it through Washington, Republican Washington not Democratic Washington, because Democrats the majority of Democrats --


KEILAR: Don't say that, Maria, near unanimous support. It's not unanimous with Democrats.

CARDONA: The majority.

KEILAR: Fine, but there's still some Democrats who don't get on board with this.

CARDONA: I agree and I think that's a problem. But I also think things are changing thanks to these kids. I mean, the voices of these kids I think are what - is going to propel things forward. And I agree with Scott, there is overwhelming support among the American people for background checks.

There is unanimous -- near unanimous support among the American people for that and also for making sure that people who should not have guns don't get guns. The problem is, Brianna, Republicans do control Washington. The problem is that they control what gets to the floors, what even gets talk about, what gets discussed and what doesn't.

If Democrats had that control, I can assure you that there would be, maybe tomorrow or next week, a discussion on banning assault weapons. Schumer has talked about that. He talked about that during the march when he was with these kids in New York City this past weekend. That is something that we need to put on the floor.

So, to Scott's point, you know, he talks a good game and I hope that what he's saying is true, but he's got to look to his own leaders who are the ones blocking any kind of discussion of this on the floor.

JENNINGS: Brianna, if I may respond to that, I actually think Maria has an interesting point about who controls Washington and what would get discussed. This is not a -- just a thought experiment for Maria because when the Democrats control Washington fully in the first two years of Barack Obama's administration, they did absolutely nothing what Maria just said they would do if they control Washington today.

This is an issue that's being going along for number of years that affects both parties. Right now, I personally believe the political and public opinion dam is breaking on this. But if we're going to have decisive talk like that, we're never going to reach common ground. There's common ground to be hit here, let's not make it impossible to find it.

KEILAR: I want you both to listen to something that Rick Santorum told me yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or try to deal with situations that if there is a violent issue --

[12:45:04] KEILAR: But how are they looking in other people to -- I would ask you, they took action.

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


KEILAR: Scott, what did you think of that?

JENNINGS: Well, I don't make it a habit to speak ill of my fellow CNN contributors but I frankly thought that was on the wrong track and embarrassing answer. I -- look, I don't agree with all of the things the Parkland kids want to do, I agree with some of them. But the one thing I wholeheartedly agree with is any American of any political stripe exercising their right to free speech. I went out in New York this weekend, and walked around to kind of look and see what the marchers were doing and there were people on both sides of the debate after having a big is terrific.

If someone who's engaged in public affairs in this country, I hope every one exercises their constitutional rights, all of them. So I don't agree with Rick on that and I think he ought to take it back.

KEILAR: I know you don't agree, Maria for sure.

CARDONA: Absolutely. I thought it was disgusting for him to say that. I mean, imagine if that was the attitude that we took during the Civil Rights Movement to actually look at all of these millions of people who marched for civil rights and to have leaders of either party say, oh, well, they shouldn't be asking for laws to make sure that every one is treated the same way, they should be doing something on their own. It's absolutely ridiculous.

And talk about divisive rhetoric, Scott, that is -- I don't know how you can get more divisive than that so I'm glad that you're saying that you don't agree with that and I do want to agree with Scott here that we should look at what is the common ground here.

But again, the problem is Scott, you're not going to get anything done on the Hill here if either Paul Ryan or the Republican leader in the Senate doesn't do anything to put this on the floor. Put it on the floor and there will be discussion. Democrats want that discussion. What do Republicans want?

KEILAR: All right, Scott Jennings, thank you so much, Maria Cardona, really appreciate it.

We have some breaking news. The trial of the Pulse Nightclub gunman's wife is now in limbo. Some incredible new information about the gunman's father was just released -- revealed, pardon me. We're going to have that next.


[12:51:49] KEILAR: Breaking news. There's just been a remarkable twist in the trial of Noor Salman. She is the widow of Pulse Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen and she's accused of aiding and abetting her husband in that 2016 massacre that killed 49 people. Her attorneys want a mistrial citing a close connection to the FBI that they say tainted the investigation.

CNN's Martin Savidge has been following this case. He's joining us now from Atlanta. This is very, very Martin, tell us about the story here.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, this is a real stunner here because the trial had been under way for almost a week now. The prosecution had pretty much wrapped up its case last Friday. Today was going to be, and is the first day, of the defense picking up the case.

However, over the weekend, late last night the defense files a motion in which they say they learned over the weekend from the prosecution that the father of the mass shooter here is an FBI informant. And then on top of that, we're talking about Seddique Mateen, is also now under investigation by the FBI for some questionable money transfers to Afghanistan and to Turkey, the suggestion being that money was being used for not so good purposes. So the defense is saying, hey, wait a minute. You are required under the constitution of the United States to provide all information that the prosecution has that could be used for the defense of Noor Salman here.

They say that the government purposely held back the information that his father of the mass shooter was an FBI informant here. So this really could upset the whole case. The judge in the courtroom today said that he was made aware of this information and the motion by the defense to dismiss or (INAUDIBLE) the charges, and he says, he's going to that into consideration this evening. So, no hint on what the judge is going to do here, but this is a massive turn of events, Brianna.

KEILAR: A stunner as you said. Martin Savidge, thank you so much for that report.

AT&T and the Department of Justice going toe to toe in the courtroom. It is a battle that could change the future of how you get your favorite T.V. shows and movies. We'll have details, new details live outside the courthouse, next.


[12:58:10] KEILAR: Arguments are under way in a case that could drastically shape the media industry. The Justice Department and AT&T are locked in a high stakes anti-trust trial over the telecom company's proposed an $80 billion merger with CNN's parent company Time Warner.

CNN's Hadas Gold is liver outside of the courtroom in Washington. Hadas Gold tell us what's happening right now.

HADAS GOLD, CNN POLITICS, MEDIA AND BUSINESS REPORTER: So this has actually been a pretty interesting morning, Brianna. We were expecting to hear from the president of Sling T.V., this is one of those streaming, over-the-top services that give you live T.V. which the Justice Department says would be negatively affected by this merger.

However, we have not heard from this president yet. There seems to be some issue regarding either his testimony or something else. For the entire morning in court, the judge has put on the sort of static machine so that we can't hear the conversations between the two counsels and he's been having these sidebar conferences.

And then he later told us before he broke for lunch that he has a lot of e-mails he needs to review, that there maybe some sort of consequences for what he has learned. So we'll hopefully find out later today what that means, what that means for the testimony from Sling T.V.

We are also expecting to hear today from the president of Turner, the owner of CNN. It's going to be one of the government's witnesses actually so from that we're expecting a sort of what they call a hostile direct.

The government will be questioning the president of Turner, asking him about conversations that he's had with AT&T, with Time Warner about this merger. And how they think it can affect competition.

Ultimately, this all comes down to how the judge sees that. How judge sees, how the media industry will be affected by this merger, how consumers will be affected by this entire merger.

It's going to take about six to eight weeks so we still have some time, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Hadas Gold, thank you so much for that update in Washington.

And thank you for joining me for this two-hour edition of "At This Hour". Wolf starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 6 p.m. in london, 8 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

Poison payback, President Trump expelling 60 Russian diplomats --