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Reince Priebus Out, Gen. John Kelly In; Could Sessions Be the Next Homeland Security Secretary; Story Behind Scaramucci's "Insane" Interview; Experts: New North Korean Missile Could Reach Los Angeles, Chicag; Trump Avoids Feud between Top Aides; Pentagon Confirms North Korea Launched Second ICBM; Kremlin Seizes U.S. Properties, Orders Diplomats Out; Experts: New North Korean Missile Could Reach Los Angeles, Chicago; Transgender Navy SEAL Fights Back Against Trump Ban; Russia Retaliates Against New Russia Sanctions; Alabama Voters Shaken By Trump's Shaming of Sessions. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired July 29, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[15:00:00:] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Kelly takes over the office from Reince Priebus, squarely in the crosshairs of Trump's colorful new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci. The man who calls himself the Mooch referred to Priebus as a, quote, "paranoid schizophrenia." Reince Priebus is the sixth member of the organization to resign or be fired since February. All this changed when President Trump began his morning today in a very familiar way on Twitter. He tweet-slammed Republicans for failing to pass health care reform and complained about the Russia investigation.
Our reporters are covering every angle of this new shakeup. Kaitlan Collins is live on the North Lawn. And correspondent, Dianne Gallagher, from Washington as well.
Kaitlan, we know Priebus has been often considered the source of those White House leaks. Did that have anything to do with his resignation?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ana, it's safe to say that there are multiple factors that led to Reince Priebus' resignation this week. This has been a long-rumored departure that we've been waiting on for months now. And it finally came to a fever pitch this week.
But it's hard to see how the new communication director's allegations that he was leaking White House information to reporters was not a big factor in that.
In fact, Reince Priebus was asked about this during his first interview with CNN last night after it was made known that he had resigned. Listen to what he had to say to Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, WOLF: Are you the leaker in the White House?
PRIEBUS: That's ridiculous. Wolf, come on. Give me a break. I'm not going to get into his accusations.
BLITZER: Why not respond to -- (CROSSTALK)
PRIEBUS: Because I'm not going to. Because it doesn't honor the president. I'm going to honor the president every day. I'm going to honor his agenda. And I'm going to honor our country. And I'm not going to get into all of this personal stuff. So --
BLITZER: Is there a leaking problem in the White House based on what you've seen?
PRIEBUS: Yes. I think that General Kelly should see if he can get to the bottom of it and figure it out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So as you can see there, Ana, Reince Priebus downplaying the tensions between him and Anthony Scaramucci and the tensions between him and the president.
But what's clear is that the president no longer had confidence in him to be a strong chief of staff and to lead the White House. And that's what was made obvious by his resignation this week.
CABRERA: So now, Dianne, there's a lot of talk about who might replace General Kelly. And one name raising some eyebrows is, of course, Embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions. What more can you tell us about this?
DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana, so this is sort of a wild theory that's being tossed around by politicos and talking heads right now. Look, we need to be clear, there's no evidence right now to suggest that this is anything more than that. But essentially some believe that President Trump would slide attorney general Jeff Sessions over to Homeland Security to replace John Kelly, who, of course, is the new chief of staff. Trump has, of course, made it no secret that he's not happy with the attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, among other things. And that's treatment that's angered conservatives who genuinely like Sessions and think he's doing a good job.
So this theory contends that if Sessions was moved to Homeland Security, Trump could satisfy Republicans, and he'd also get a chance to name a new attorney general who then perhaps could fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who Trump has repeatedly said is on a witch hunt in his investigation of possible collusion between the Trump administration and the Russia connection to the 2016 election.
Now, again, it's just a theory, but one Senator, Lindsey Graham, has already tried to pour water on today. In two retweets of an article that was talking about this possibility, Ana, Graham applauded Sessions' credentials as attorney general. And then he wrote, quote, "DHSs Secretary Jeff Sessions doesn't sound right, doesn't feel right, bad idea."
Graham obviously getting out ahead of things, Ana. But even if all of this did happen, look, we got to point out that the Senate would still have to confirm a new attorney general. So even if it was the plan all along, it's not exactly a perfectly wrapped package for the president to get that done.
CABRERA: All right. Dianne Gallagher, Kaitlan Collins, thank you both.
I want to talk more about this. The man who knows how a White House chief of staff can make or break an administration. Chris Whipple is author of "The Gatekeepers, How the White House Chief of Staff Defines every Presidency."
Chris, great to have you with us.
CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR & DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER: Thank you, Ana.
CABRERA: First, your reaction to this shakeup.
WHIPPLE: Well, it's no surprise. This is a broken White House. Reince Priebus presided over a White House that can't do anything right. They can't pass legislation, they can't issue executive orders that are enforceable, they can't prioritize the president's agenda.
CABRERA: Was that Priebus' fault?
WHIPPLE: Look, he made rookie mistake after rookie mistake, but ultimately, the responsibility is President Trump. And, you know, what troubles me is that every sign so far since this announcement of the shakeup and the replacement of Priebus, every sign points to this ship just continuing to sail toward the rocks. And the reason for that is Donald Trump doesn't get it, doesn't understand what Ronald Reagan understood from day one, which is that an outsider president has to empower a savvy White House chief of staff to execute his agenda, to act as a gatekeeper, and to get things done. And until Trump learns that lesson, he's headed for the rocks.
[15:05:16] CABRERA: So you don't think Reince Priebus was empowered, just to give our viewers a little bit of insight about the dynamics between these two.
WHIPPLE: No, in fairness to Priebus, that's true.
CABRERA: "The Washington Post" has reported that at one point during Priebus' tenure, Donald Trump, the president, summoned Priebus to the Oval Office to get rid of a fly.
CABRERA: I mean, what does that say about the role Priebus had in this administration and how the president viewed his White House chief of staff?
WHIPPLE: Well, it tells you everything. It tells you what is the really central question right now as we speak. It tells you that Donald Trump doesn't understand the importance of respecting a White House chief of staff and empowering him to get the job done. There's no replacement for that. I mean, you can have robust debates, you can have internal ideological battles, but at the end of the day, everybody has to fall in behind that White House chief.
And let me say something about leaks because one of the troubling things is that Kellyanne Conway suggesting that somehow Kelly's going to be a big bad guy who intimidates leakers. I interviewed every living White House chief of staff, Republican and Democrat, going way back, here's what they would tell you. The way you prevent leaks, the way you minimize leaks, is by telling the truth and by running a competent White House staff that engenders loyalty instead of fear. That's how you prevent leaks. You don't do it by strapping people up to polygraphs, you don't do it by acting like Scaramucci.
I mean, another really bad sign that this administration is off track is that nobody's taken Scaramucci and thrown him over the White House fence.
CABRERA: He's been empowered, clearly.
WHIPPLE: That would be a good start.
CABRERA: Well, you know, we've talked a lot about the shakeup within this administration just in the last week. We had Sean Spicer, Scaramucci replacing him, now we have a new chief of staff.
I want to put out a tweet there that the president made before he was president back in 2012 as he commented on a chief of staff change within the Obama administration saying, "Three chiefs of staff in less than three years of being president, part of the reason why Barack Obama can't manage to pass his agenda."
WHIPPLE: You know, that has nothing to do with whether Barack Obama was effective or not effective. The truth is that every president learns, with the exception of our current president so far, sometimes the hard way, that you have to empower a White House chief to get something done. It took Jimmy Carter two and a half years to figure that out. He thought he could run the White House by himself. That didn't work out so well. It took Bill Clinton a year and a half to realize he had to really empower a White House chief to discipline him. They took Leon Panetta, the OMB director, to Camp David and virtually locked him in a cabin and wouldn't let him out until he agreed to become White House chief. But Panetta had conditions. Panetta wanted to be empowered in the way that H.R. Holderman was under Nixon to execute the president's agenda, and he was.
CABRERA: So when you look at John Kelly -- a general, we know the president likes generals -- do you believe that he has what it takes to have a successful run as chief of staff? That the president respects him and perhaps the dynamics between these two men would be different?
WHIPPLE: Look, he's obviously going to be given a chance. We're going to find out. The generals have not succeeded, generally speaking, as White House chiefs. Al Hague was the only general to become chief in the modern era, and he lasted a little over a month. Priebus way outlasted him. The reason was that Gerry Ford had a White House structure -- one of the reasons -- had a White House structure just like Trump's. Nobody was empowered. Everybody came and went from the oval willy-nilly. He called it the spokes of the wheel with the president in the center. It was a disaster. It's very much like Donald Trump's model of governance.
CABRERA: So you don't think John Kelly and making this switch will make the difference?
WHIPPLE: The fact that Kelly -- you know, so far, at least there's no indication that he has asked for or made conditions that would show that he understands the nature of the job. He's got to be the guy who is in charge of executing the agenda. People need to report to him through him to the president. If Scaramucci is going directly to Trump and reporting directly to Trump, that way lies disaster.
CABRERA: All right. Chris Whipple, thanks for the insight. Great to see you. Thank you.
WHIPPLE: Thanks for having me.
Let's bring in our panel now. With us, political analyst and historian, professor at Princeton University, Julian Zelizer. White House correspondent for "Politico," Tara Palmeri. And national reporter for Real Clear Politics, Rebecca Berg.
Tara, I'll come to you first.
Do you think there's something to this idea of attorney general Jeff Sessions now being named as John Kelly's replacement?
[15:10:09] TARA PALMERI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It would be a very convenient move for Jeff Sessions to move over. It would keep the Republicans, who are really annoyed with Trump and the way he's been treating Sessions, at bay. Not sure if it means he doesn't need to go through another confirmation hearing. That's going to be a problem. It's never good for a president or for the Senate to be wasting their time on confirmation hearings, which tend to really sully the candidate. And Jeff Sessions has had a rocky road so far with his relationship with Donald Trump. But it would be a convenient place to put him. I personally have not heard from my sources that it's a real option.
CABRERA: We heard the tweets from Lindsey Graham mentioned earlier by our reporter, Dianne Gallagher. Let's show viewers what was referenced there.
This is according to the idea of Sessions just being named DHS secretary, is the response from Lindsey Graham, saying bad idea.
Listen to what he said earlier this week about the possibility of Sessions being fired.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay. Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong. (END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Rebecca, are GOP lawmakers more willing to accept Sessions being reassigned perhaps rather than fired, or would either option turn out badly for President Trump?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, I don't think that would be an acceptable course of action from the perspective of Republican Senators to reassign Jeff Sessions or to fire him. In either sense, this is going to be seen as a major shakeup. If it were to transpire. And Republican Senators have been sending a very strong signal to the White House this week that they want Jeff Sessions to stay on as attorney general. And anything else would just create this chaotic sort of environment when you already have an administration that is by all accounts in disarray. And Republican Senators -- we should note actually Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate, said that he would not entertain a confirmation process for a new attorney general. So that's sending a message that if the president wants to fire Jeff Sessions or get rid of him and send him somewhere else in the administration, then you're going to have an acting attorney general at least for the rest of the year because it's up to the Judiciary Committee to hold these hearings. And that's Chuck Grassley's call ultimately. So very strong signals that's not going to be acceptable.
CABRERA: Grassley put out that statement prior to this new staff shakeup with the chief of staff position. That was after all of the tweets about general -- Attorney General Jeff Sessions by the president earlier in the week.
Now, Priebus' stint at White House chief of staff, if you look back in the history books, it's now the shortest since the position was first created in 1946, Julian, if you take out the interim chiefs of staff who might be in the mix here or there.
Meantime, he joins a growing list of Trump administration officials who have either resigned or been fired, at least six by our count. When a shakeup of this magnitude happens, what's really going on?
JULIAN ZELIZER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if there's a shakeup of this magnitude, it means there's something wrong with the president and with the Oval Office. It's not always about the person. So when Ronald Reagan replaces Don Regan with Howard Baker, it's because of the Iran-Contra scandal that's taking place in an effort to create order in the White House. And that's always the case.
And the problem is it's not clear that this shakeup will change the behavior of the president or the basic infrastructure of this White House. So my guess is that Kelly will be facing the same problems in two weeks or two months that Priebus was facing in the last few weeks.
CABRERA: But let me push back on that because --
CABRERA: General Kelly is his own man. Couldn't his behavior change the outcome here?
ZELIZER: It could. I can't see him though reigning in President Trump. Very few people can do that. At this point, no one can. And he also has some liabilities. He doesn't have very strong relations on the Hill. He's already admitted that he's taken aback by the toxic nature of Washington. And political warfare is different than military warfare. And so I think, in some ways, he doesn't have some of the assets that Priebus had with those relations with members of the Republican Party, who as we heard from Lindsey Graham, are pretty openly upset with this president right now.
CABRERA: Tara, the "Wall Street Journal" editorial board wrote this, quote, "This shuffling of the staff furniture won't matter unless Mr. Trump accepts that the White House problem isn't Mr. Priebus, it's him."
Does it matter who the chief of staff is for this president?
[15:14:52] PALMERI: I would take some exception to that. I mean, my reporting showed that Priebus had a really strong -- he had a really hard time getting a strong hold of President Trump and his staff. He was very preoccupied with his own image. And the truth is that not a lot of people either feared him or respected him in the White House, and that came from Donald Trump. He took on Priebus very reluctantly. He was told that he needed Priebus because of his relationships on the Hill. And the second those relationships didn't work out, after the first health care bill didn't make it to the floor for a vote back in March, Priebus was on the chopping block. And Trump did not stop from that point saying talking about how much he was unhappy with Priebus. He expected him to deal with the House. He expected him to move his legislative priorities forward. And when he couldn't do that, even though it was a really big ask from someone considering the kind of disarray that was happening, the Russia investigation, how legislative priorities were kind of a mess, but I wouldn't say it all, you know, it's all on Trump. A big part of it is. But Priebus was never empowered and he was taken on reluctantly. And he didn't have the kind of organizational skills you need as a chief of staff. He didn't have the command. He wasn't actually willing to be fired. That's another problem. You have to be in that position and be so sure of yourself that you're willing to stand up to the president of the United States, not idolize him and adore him.
CABRERA: Rebecca, both Priebus and Spicer were part of the establishment, right? They came from the RNC, the quote/unquote "swamp" in Washington. What do their oustings mean for President Trump's relationship with the GOP moving forward?
BERG: It certainly puts a big question mark on whether Donald Trump will continue to work very closely with the Republican National Committee, as his administration was doing under Priebus as chief of staff. And he was sort of that connective tissue between the RNC and the White House. And we do know that Donald Trump has always sort of approached the Republican Party and Republican lawmakers with some skepticism because of what happened in the campaign, because there were so many Republicans who resisted his candidacy, and then were slow even when he was the Republican nominee to support him. And so there's always been a little bit of tension or a lot of tension, in some cases, between Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
When he brought on Reince Priebus as chief of staff people said this is proof he's going to try to maintain strong relations with the party. Now we're not so sure. Reince Priebus obviously still talking glowingly about the president in his interviews yesterday, including with CNN. So that suggests he is going to try to keep things very positive in terms of the working relationship between the White House and the Republican Party.
And, look, in this case a rising tide lifts all boats. If the president is doing well, Republicans are doing well, and vice versa. So it's in his best interests, I would think, to continue that relationship with the party.
CABRERA: Rebecca, Tara and Julian, thank you all.
Now of all the things that happened this busy, busy week in news, few stand out more than that expletive-laced phone interview given by the new White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.
The reporter on the other end of that call is "the New Yorker" Ryan Lizza.
I talked with Lizza about their interview that he calls the most insane he's ever had.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The communications director of the White House, who speaks for the White House, called me up to ask me about sourcing for a tweet I'd written about who he was having dinner with. And then, from there, it turned into -- I turned it into an interview.
But, you know, this is someone who speaks for the White House, calling a reporter, having a clear on-the-record no-ground-rules conversation just as if he were coming on your air and sitting in this chair and talking to you.
So we run into this every once in a while in journalism where sometimes we call it source remorse where, you know, people regret saying things. And I think that's what he was saying with that tweet. Although, in the previous tweet, he didn't seem to have much remorse. He just said, you know, he just joked that he used some off-color language.
But, you know, from a reporter's perspective, the important thing is, one, was it on the record, were there any ground rules. It was on the record, no ground rules that he asked me to commit to. And then, two, was it newsworthy? And if the most important communicator at the White House calls you and tells you he's going to fire all the communications staffers at the White House, tells you that he has brought in the FBI to investigate the chief of staff, tells you that the chief of staff is a paranoid schizophrenic and says --
CABRERA: That was putting it lightly.
LIZZA: That was putting it lightly. That's just what we can say. And then, you know, goes on a rant about the president's chief strategist, I would say that's all pretty newsworthy stuff. I'm in the business of reporting on the White House.
LIZZA: Explaining these people to the public. So this is just a straight, how journalistic transactions work in Washington.
[15:20:02] CABRERA: Do you have any regrets of how you did your reporting? Because he says it was a mistake in trusting you.
LIZZA: No. I mean, that would be as if I were sitting here and I got off air and said, wow, that was a real mistake in trusting Ana, I can't believe I sat there and answered her on-the-record questions. No, when the communications director of the White House calls a reporter and speaks to them on the record, there's no ambiguity about what's going on there.
CABRERA: Right. So when he started letting all of this vulgar language fly, I've just got to know, what was your gut reaction when you're hearing all this? Have you ever heard anything like this from a White House official before?
LIZZA: Honestly, no. I got off the phone and I needed to talk to someone about it because it was, frankly, the most insane conversation I'd ever had with a government official. I downloaded the recording from my recorder into my computer. And I haven't actually told anyone this, Ana, but I named it "Insane Scaramucci Interview" because it was just so completely unlike any on-the-record conversation I'd had with a spokesman for the White House in 20 years of covering Washington. And I knew how newsworthy it was. And so that's why I spent, you know, sort of yesterday going over the piece, going back to Scaramucci, talking to him about it, going to Steve Bannon, trying to get Reince, and just, you know, putting the piece together and doing all the due diligence on it.
CABRERA: Right. Does it surprise you that Scaramucci still has a job?
LIZZA: You know, someone said that yesterday, do you think he's going to get fired? I said he's either going to get fired or promoted. You never know with this White House and this president. Trump himself speaks in sort of, you know, colorful language. And Trump himself sometimes makes internal fights public. We saw this recently, obviously, with the way he's treated his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. I haven't learned this myself, so I want to be careful. But I did notice there was some reporting in the press today that where people close to Scaramucci were saying the president liked this. Now, to be very honest --
CABRERA: But is this really what the president had in mind when he hired Scaramucci?
LIZZA: I think probably not.
CABRERA: I hope not.
LIZZA: It would be unusual if this is what he was looking for. But he had to know that he was adding someone to his White House who did not get along with other senior people in his White House. So he had to know that he was creating a new faction within the White House that is already riven by several other factions. It's like a multifront civil war and then you're adding another army from another country. And so he had to know it would cause some friction.
CABRERA: Right. Ryan Lizza, thank you very much for your time. Great to have you with us.
LIZZA: Thank you. My pleasure.
CABRERA: Coming up, experts say the new missile North Korea tested yesterday could now hit cities like Los Angeles, Denver, even Chicago.
Plus, protests today outside the White House after the president's tweets about banning transgender soldiers from serving in the military. We'll speak to one former Navy SEAL, who is transgender, and challenging the president, to say it to her face.
You're live in THE CNN NEWSROOM.
[15:27:37] CABRERA: North Korea now says the entire U.S. mainland is within striking range of its nuclear arsenal. This, after test firing its second intercontinental ballistic missile in less than a month. Analysts say the missile tested on Friday is more advanced than the one launched earlier this month on July 4th. The latest one traveled some 2,300 miles high and landed in waters off Japan.
Missile experts say if that North Korean missile were fired on a more standard trajectory, it could hit major U.S. cities, including Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago.
Kristi Lu Stout is joining us from Tokyo this afternoon.
Kristi, what do we know about how sophisticated this missile was?
STOUT: Yes, Ana, Japan, its neighbors and the world are trying to assess this new reality after North Korea launched a second intercontinental ballistic missile. It splash-landed only 120 miles off the coast of northwest Japan. It also represents progress in North Korea's weapons development. It was a rare nighttime launch of an ICBM. It also traveled further and higher than the previous ICBM launch, the first one in July earlier this year. And it was also launched from a different staging station. And that means that North Korean experts and watchers are saying Pyongyang is trying to say to the world it can launch an ICBM anytime from anywhere.
Inside North Korea, we've been looking at KCNA, state-run media footage of celebrations happening inside the country, as well as the footage of Kim Jong-Un, the leader of North Korea, surrounded by display technology surveying personally the second ICBM launch. Pyongyang says this is a stern warning at the United States and says that the entire mainland U.S. is within striking range.
But we have to fact-check that for a moment. Missile experts are telling CNN that if this happened at a launch at a lower trajectory, then it would be able to reach cities like Chicago, like San Francisco, like Denver. But then there's the issue of payload. We don't know what was the payload on this ICBM, but the lower the payload, the shorter the range -- Ana?
CABRERA: Little bit reassuring to think that perhaps they aren't as far along as they would like us to believe. But this missile did hit Japan's exclusive economic zone. What has the response been from Tokyo and the rest of the region there?
STOUT: Yes, there has been a round of condemnation from Japan, the government in Tokyo, as well as South Korea and China. China also urging caution and calm and restraint as well. But it was also interesting to hear reaction among residents in Japan because they have been living with this threat for so long, for so many years, there's been almost a resignation about this threat.
[15:30:10] But it seems to be a greater sense of urgency this time around.
You know, one resident even saying that he is terrified by what happened and is particularly concerned because of the political instability in the country.
Just a few days ago, the defense secretary resigned here in Japan over allegations that she suppressed sensitive intelligence.
So we still don't know the impact of that on how Japan going to handle this North Korean nuclear threat, but adds to a greater sense of urgency and anxiety.
Back to you, Ana.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Kristi Lu Stout, in Tokyo for us, thank you.
Coming up in CNN NEWSROOM, one transgender Navy SEAL is standing up to President Trump after he tweets calling for a ban of transgender soldiers in the military. She'll tell us why she thinks the president has now turned his back on a lot of veterans.
You're live in CNN NEWSROOM.
[15:35:08] CABRERA: Right now, President Trump's transgender military ban is triggering pushback in his own backyard. Protesters are gathering outside the White House today speaking out against the ban.
When Trump's surprise announcement came Wednesday on Twitter, a lot of people in the LGBT community turned to retired U.S. Navy SEAL for reaction, a 20-year combat veteran, once part of the elite SEAL Team 6, served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa, awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. I'm talking about Kristin Beck, the first ex-SEAL to live openly as a woman. She quickly threw down a challenge to President Trump, quote, "Let's meet face-to-face and you tell me I'm not worthy."
Kristin, thanks for being with us.
KRISTIN BECK, RETIRED U.S. NAVY SEAL & TRANSGENDER: Thank you.
CABRERA: Have you received any response from the Trump White House, reached out in any way?
BECK: No, but I was talking with one of my Secret Service buddies the other day and he was like, well, you might get a visit. So challenging the president so bluntly like that.
But the challenge really was about just take a look at the information, take a look at us as people, not just a number on a bottom line of something. That seems like all we're looking at now is the funding and some other -- it just doesn't make any sense. Look at us, we're people.
CABRERA: Absolutely. Yesterday, there wasn't a direct response to you, but one of the president's top aides was speaking out. Said President Trump's ban shows his warmth for transgender people.
Let's listen to what Sebastian Gorka told the BBC.
(BEGIN AUDIO FEED)
SEBASTIAN GORKA, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The military is not a microcosm of civilian society. They are not there to reflect America. They are there to kill people and blow stuff up. They are not there to be socially engineered. We want people who are transgender to live happy lives. But we want unit cohesion and we want combat effectiveness. And that is why the president is doing this out of the warmth of his consideration for this population.
(END AUDIO FEED)
CABRERA: Kristin, what's your reaction to that?
BECK: That's ridiculous. He might be talking something 13th century, bunch of cone heads running down. I was flying UAVs, I was doing weirdo intel stuff. When I was in the SEALs when I was at, then you had the other guys, assaulters and door kickers, the big dudes crushing everything. In the military, you need all of these different folks, you need all of these skills. So to say the military is only one thing, that's patently ridiculous. You need me and a bunch of other folks there, PhDs with guns. I want scientists, I want engineers, the UAV fires and linguists. There's a lot of other jobs out there besides just being the Conan.
CABRERA: I want to ask you about what you're hearing from some of your friends currently serving in the military. I know there's a study commissioned by the Department of Defense just last year that says when it looks at the number of transgender people in the military, there could be as many as 6,600 servicemembers currently some in war zones right now. What are you hearing from them?
BECK: Oh, I mean, I hear a lot from, you know, friends who are active duty right now and they're transgender and I hear a lot from my SEAL team buddies and the biggest thing they say is, well, first, get out of the news. And then they say, you know, let's see what happens because the military is a huge machine. There's a lot of policy. A lot of people working really hard on this and it's just not going to be one big door slamming shut. There's ways we can do this and do it, you know, in a fashion that would be beneficial to the people themselves, the transgender folk who is are serving, and to the military. We need these skills. We want the best and the brightest. We want a diverse military. But it's not just one Conan with a sword hacking everything apart. I want that linguist who knows seven languages, I want the UAV pilot who grew up on Xbox, who is the most amazing UAV flier we ever had. Who cares if they're transgender, they're the best we have.
CABRERA: When the news first broke of this ban, I know you said the president had no idea what kind of can of worms he just opened and the LGBT community will organize, will respond, you said. Realistically, what can the LGBT community do about this proposed ban? How do you plan to fight it?
BECK: Well, I mean, this will be difficult to fight until we get in there and we start speaking to him. The biggest way we can fight this is by education. There are 18 other countries on this earth right now who have open service for transgender people. Now, we keep talking about liberty and freedom and all that, and the Republican Party especially, they're like the party of liberty and all this stuff and always talking about gun rights and rights and rights and rights. Well, how about the rights of the people? How about individual liberty? How about living up to what your party really says? My individual liberty is what I'm fighting for. The individual liberty of every person in America has the right to serve or at least try out and see if they can do it. If they make it through the selections, then rock on, you're the best of the best and let's go. Let's go to work.
[15:40:03] CABRERA: Real quick, Kristin, we are almost out of time, but would you be open to compromise when it comes to the finances that the president and others in Congress have pushed back on regarding transgender surgeries or other treatments related to transitioning?
BECK: Yes, I would compromise. My compromise would be give us the same amount of money you give in those little Viagra pills. If you're spending $50 million a year on Viagra, then how about doing $50 million per year budgeted towards transgender surgeries or transgender care?
CABRERA: Kristin Beck, thank you so much for your time and thoughts.
BECK: Thank you.
CABRERA: Coming up, Russia retaliates against U.S. sanctions seizing properties, now threatening to kick some Americans out of the country. We'll have a live report from Moscow next.
[15:44:56] CABRERA: The White House says President Trump will sign a bipartisan bill that hits Russia with new sanctions for meddling in last year's election. And this is important, it gives Congress unprecedented ability to stop the president from lifting those sanctions.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this a short time ago, I quote, "The near unanimous votes for the sanctions legislation in Congress represent the strong will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States."
That's one way to see it. But what does Russia think?
CNN's senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is live for us in Moscow tonight.
Matthew, this is obviously not what the Kremlin wanted to see. How is it responding?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's responded with some relatively dramatic measures, particularly a measure that was enact yesterday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here basically demanding that the number of staff in the diplomatic missions from the United States here in Russia -- and there's an embassy and three consulates here -- be reduced to 455 people by September 1st, so in just over a month from now. Now, we don't know yet exactly how many people that means will have to go from these diplomatic missions. But Russian media is speculating about it. State television Channel 1 here, which is the main television channel in Russia, broadcast all over the country, is saying that that foreign ministry decision means that as many as 745 people that work in the U.S. embassy and the three U.S. consulates around Russia will have to go. It's not clear how many of those people are American citizens or how many are local staff, because each of those embassies and consulates employs a mixture of local staff and U.S. nationals. And I've spoken to my diplomatic sources here and they've said that they're seeking clarification on the exact number of U.S. nationals that this will affect.
But nevertheless, it does show that the Russians are absolutely furious with the fact that this bill, passed so convincingly in Congress and is poised to be signed by President Trump, is soon to going to become law. I think it underlines just how disillusioned the Russians are with the ability of President Trump to turn the situation around. He promised to make the relationship better with Russia. And because of the political situation in the United States, he's been unable to do that -- Ana? CABRERA: And now Congress tying his hands to some degree.
Matthew Chance, thank you so much.
Coming up here in the CNN NEWSROOM, this past week, the president repeatedly berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions, calling him weak, among other things. So how do voters in Sessions' home state of Alabama, who also happen to be big Trump supporters, feel about the shaming?
[15:52:00] CABRERA: Reince Priebus ousted from the Trump team this week. Last week, it was Sean Spicer. And now there are growing questions about the fate of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions was the target of President Trump on Twitter this week, calling him beleaguered and weak among other things.
Here's how Sessions responded to the president's criticism when asked about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIOINS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's kind of hurtful, but the president of the United States is a strong leader. I serve at the pleasure of the president.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SESSIONS: If he wants to make a change, he can certainly do so. And I would be glad to yield in that circumstance, no doubt about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: CNN's Martin Savidge went to session's home state of Alabama, a state that overwhelmingly voted for Trump, and asked voters about this public humiliation of their native son at the hands of the president.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Alabama, it's not political. It's personal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm extremely disappointment with what's gone on here lately.
SAVIDGE: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is from Alabama. Voters electing him four times to the U.S. Senate, the last time he was unopposed.
(on camera): He's pretty well liked here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he is.
SAVIDGE: Loved, maybe? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Sessions was the first Senator to endorse Candidate Trump and political insiders here say that turned millions of conservative skeptics into Trump voters.
SESSIONS: Make America great again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His endorsement of Donald Trump made he pause and take back and say, hey, do I need to give this guy another look.
SAVIDGE: Alabama voted overwhelmingly, 62.7 percent for President Trump. That's the highest percentage of any southern state.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unbelievable!
SAVIDGE: So Trump making Sessions attorney general wasn't just here as reward, but right.
RUSS JORDAN, LOCAL ATTORNEY: As attorney general of the United States, you want integrity. That's the bottom line.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm very disappointed with the attorney general.
SAVIDGE: The president's sudden about-face and unprecedented public attacks on their native son has many Trump voters here shocked.
KELLY PAUL (ph), TRUMP VOTER: I don't think it's right. More like drama. He could do better. There's more things to be worried about than little things like this.
SAVIDGE (on camera): Is he turning people away from the president in any way sup wort-wise?
TERRY LATHAN, ALABAMA REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIR: There's going to be some people that probably will. I have no polling data that shows me that.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Some in Alabama have heard enough. Congressman Mo Brooks is running for Jeff Sessions' old Senate seat. He issued a statement saying, in part, "I support President Trump's policies, but this public waterboarding of one of the greatest people Alabama has ever produced is inappropriate and insulting to the people of Alabama."
But despite the anger or insult, nothing here suggests that Trump voters are abandoning the president in large numbers.
LATHAN: President Trump, he is so popular in this state.
SAVIDGE (on camera): Still?
LATHAN: Still. Very still, so much so. SAVIDGE (voice-over): At Dick Russ' barbecue in Sessions' hometown of
Mobile, breakfast and politics come in generous portions. And Matt Waltman is struggling.
MATT WALTMAN, TRUMP VOTER: I'm not trying to jump off the Trump train.
[15:55:02] SAVIDGE: He's torn between his support of the president and the attorney general home-state hero.
WALTMAN: I am extremely discouraged with it. I hope that these two -- I hope these two offices can squash this and move forward, and especially don't need it being put all over damn Twitter.
SAVIDGE: The president has put many of his Alabama supporters in a political quandary, unsure of which side to choose, hoping they won't have to.
Martin Savidge, CNN.
CABRERA: Thank you, Martin.
Now this week "CNN Hero" realized smaller Southeast Asian bears known as the sun bears were under threat, and he's dedicated his life now to saving them. Meet Fichi Wang
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FICHI WANG, CNN HERO: When I started 20 years ago, no one has ever studied sun bears. The more I learned about them, the more I care. The more I care, the more I worry. I have to help them. And this is why I want to be the voice for the sun bear, to ensure the survival of the sun bear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: To see more of those adorable sun bears, the world's smallest bear. To find out how Wang is helping them, go to cnnheroes.com. And while there, nominate someone you think should be a 2017 "CNN Hero."
We're back after this.