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Chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned; Aired 4:00-5:00p ET
Aired July 29, 2017 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[16:00:47] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Hello on this Saturday. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.
We begin this hour with President Trump's dramatic White House shakeup as he reshuffles his inner circling bringing in new faces and perhaps a new direction to the west wing. General John Kelly is Trump's new White House chief of staff, a world generally considered the most crucial position in the west wing. Now the question is who will the President pick to replace General Kelly as homeland security secretary?
Kelly takes over for Reince Priebus who became a target of Trump's new communications director Anthony Scaramucci, the man who calls himself the Mooch. Referred to Priebus as a quote "paranoid schizophrenic this week." And now Reince Priebus is the sixth member of the Trump administration to resign or be fired just since February.
Amid all this change, President Trump began his day in a similar and familiar fashion as he does on many a weekend, many a day on twitter. He tweets slammed the Republicans for failing to pass health care reform and he complained about the Russia investigation.
Our reporters are covering every angle of the White House shakeup. We begin with Kaitlan Collins live on the north lawn along with correspondent Diane Gallagher with us in Washington as well.
So Kaitlan, Priebus was part of the fabric holding the Republican establishment together. What is Priebus now saying about his beloved GOP now?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes. He is out of the White House but he did not say anything critical of President Trump or the White House when he spoke with CNN yesterday in his first interview since the news broke that he had resigned.
Now, as you know the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, made the striking allegations against Priebus this week saying that he was a leaker and that he was giving White House information to reporters that they did not want out. Now, Priebus was asked about the allegations during his interview with Wolf Blitzer last night. Let's listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, SITUATION ROOM: What's your biggest disappointment?
REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, look, I mean, I wish health care would have passed but I don't think it's over yet, Wolf. I think we can still get there.
BLITZER: Well, talk a little bit about that. How do you get there because you don't have the votes? That's a 52-48 majority the Republicans have in the Senate, clearly not enough.
PRIEBUS: Well, they have to keep working, Wolf. I mean, they have to roll up their sleeves and keep working. They have to come up with another amendment. I think that Lindsey Graham has an amendment. I think they have to work on Lisa Murkowski to get her on the right side of the health care debate.
I don't think this is over. I think they can get this done. And obviously, coming together as a party is something that I think we have had too much difficulty doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: So that was Priebus talking about his greatest disappointment as chief of staff. He was really someone that the White House brought on and that his biggest asset was supposed to be that he knows how the levers work in Washington. He has connections on Capitol Hill. He's very close with house speaker Paul Ryan but that wasn't something that could get done. You saw that with the failure of the health care bill this week.
Now, John Kelly takes over Monday. Starting Monday, he will be sworn in immediately afterwards he will have a cabinet meeting. And he is definitely going to have his hands full because the problems of this White House are not leaving the door with Reince Priebus. Just Reince Priebus is leaving.
And as you know, typically in most White Houses the chief of staff is the one who is in charge of funneling all the information to the President, people report to him and then he reports to the President. But this this White House there are so many people who report directly to Donald Trump including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon. So it will be interesting to see how John Kelly takes the reins in this White House.
CABRERA: This White House is far from traditional. That's for sure.
Diane, there's been a lot of speculation already as to who might replace now general Kelly as the department of homeland security secretary. One name raising eyebrows that has been thrown out is embattled attorney general Jeff Sessions.
DIANE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Ana. And we need to say this is a wild theory that is being tossed around by politicos and talking heads right now, so we have to be clear. There's no evidence to suggest that this is anything more than that, at least right now.
But look, it's something that Senator Lindsey Graham is already trying to pour water on. In two retweets, there have been article that was talking about this possibility, Graham first applauded Sessions' credentials as the attorney general. And then he wrote quote "DHS secretary Jeff Sessions doesn't sound right." It doesn't feel right. Bad idea.
Now, Graham obviously getting out ahead of all of this. Here is what it is. Essentially, some believe that President Trump could slide attorney general Jeff Sessions over to home land security, to replace the new chief of staff John Kelly. Trump's made it no secret that he is not happy with the attorney general for recusing himself from that Russia investigation. Among some other things and Trump's treatment of Sessions has really angered conservatives who genuinely feel like the former Alabama senator, they like him. They think he's doing a good job.
So this theory continues that if Trump moves Sessions to homeland security, either immediately or as acting secretary or if he officially nominated him for the job the President could satisfy Republicans and he could then pick a new attorney general who would then be able to either fire special counsel Mueller, the man who Trump has said repeatedly is on a witch-hunt in his investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the 2016 election. Of course, Ana, we are talking the long game here. And it is just a theory. But look, there are laws that technically could allow this to happen, at least temporarily.
[16:06:16] CABRERA: All right, Diane Gallagher, Kaitlan Collins, keep us posted ladies. Thank you.
With everything that's just unfolded in the last two days, it probably feels like it's been say a month since Jared Kushner's highly anticipated meeting with Senate investigators, but no, that happened on Monday.
Also on Monday, President Trump talked to the boy scouts at the jamboree and he said he talked politics a speech that resulted in the boy scouts' leadership apologizing.
Then on Tuesday the President took to twitter attacking his own attorney general accusing him of being weak on Hillary Clinton.
And on Wednesday, President Trump was back on twitter where he suddenly announced he was banning transgender service members from the military. Sources say the Pentagon and joint chief of staff had no idea about this announcement that was coming. And they still haven't received any guidance on how to enact it.
A day later, Thursday, if you are keeping track, Anthony Scaramucci the new White House communications director attacked White House staff in a bulgur (ph) and X-rated interview adding that he wanted to quote "kill leakers."
And then early yesterday, Republicans lost a seven year battle to repeal Obamacare with a single downward flip of Senator John McCain's thumb. Later yesterday, President Trump appeared to promote police violence in a speech before officers and -- in Long Island in New York here. A speech that the police department there had to later condemn. And then chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned at the end of the day. What a week indeed.
CNN politics reporter and editor at large Chris Cillizza, he wrote about the trump's wild week. He is joining us now from the west coast.
Chris, on a scale of one to ten, where do you place this week in terms of bad weeks?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Ana, you detailing that, even though I have written about it a bunch and I wrote about it on the plane out here to L.A. it is still remarkable to go through. Monday does feel like a month ago. And it really wasn't. It was five days ago.
I think this is among the worst. And the reason is not the things that have drawn as much headlines. I do think look, the failure of the Senate to pass a health care bill is hugely problematic for Donald Trump, right. We get caught up in Anthony Scaramucci. Understandably so because it's a remarkable exchange with (INAUDIBLE). We got caught up on that. And it does matter because it shows the tension that exists within this White House.
We focus on Reince Priebus resigning/being fired because again this is the White House chief of staff leaving one of the shortest tenures we have ever seen. But, I think though the health care thing speaks to a lot of the problems for Donald Trump which is he is not able to exert his will on this Congress. He is not simply able to get done what he wants to get done. Senators are not afraid of him. Mitch McConnell is not able to get this through when he was billed as sort of the legislative mastermind. So there's a lot going on here, up in of it really -- none of it really good for Donald Trump.
CABRERA: There are some questions now as to whether President Trump may nominate Jeff Sessions to replace John Kelly at the department of home land security. Do you think that's a possibility?
CILLIZZA: So I was talking about this earlier and I will say what I said then which is I really do think you can't -- when you asked me is it a possibility, I would say yes to almost anything that you said after that as it relates to the Trump administration.
The reason being that this is a guy who has -- a guy in Donald Trump who has proven himself to sort of value chaos, to focus on his unpredictability. He likes this stuff. So it's interesting in that it poses a relatively or proposes a relatively elegant solution to this game of chicken which we have, which is Donald Trump running down Jeff Sessions day in and day out. And Jeff Sessions saying if you want to fire me you are going to have to do it because I won't resign. This would be a third option, a third way in which he says, OK, well John Kelly is leaving the department of homeland security, let's bring Sessions and put him there. He is focused on immigration and border security. It has been his whole career. So that makes some level of sense. And then Donald Trump can put someone in the attorney general's office who he feels more confident with who has not recused himself from the Russian investigate as Sessions had.
The one thing I would add there, Ana, getting an attorney general that Donald Trump wants through the Senate at the moment is I think a dicey proposition.
[16:10:34] CABRERA: And do you think Sessions would even want to make a switch?
CILLIZZA: Well, want is a -- it's a relative term. I think he likes serving in the administration frankly. If he didn't -- he's had an easy exit to get out, right? Donald Trump has made very clear he is not happy with him. Said he was very weak. Said he was beleaguered. Said he was disappointed in Sessions' decision to recuse himself.
Sessions has stayed on, and he said I'm staying, you know, I'm basically staying until Donald Trump kicks me out. So remember, he doesn't have a Senate seat to go back to. There's a special election going on right now to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate. There's not an obvious fallback solution for him.
So I think being -- overseeing the department of homeland security is not a bad consolation prize, frankly. This is a big, important job in which you oversee one of the things that the President put the most emphasis on during his campaign and in the early months of his White House which is immigration policy, right? I mean, build that wall is literally the thing that Donald Trump staked his campaign on. So it's not as though he is being farmed out --
CABRERA: -- on board in terms of supporting him so early on. He was one of the most loyal and ardent supporters when the campaign was unveiled. Now, Lindsey Graham about this idea of Sessions being fired, removed from his attorney general post, we heard from Lindsey Graham week, said there would be fully health case (ph) if Sessions will fire. He said it would a bad idea as well to put him in DHS. Do you think the Senate would try to stop a move if it were to go that direction?
CILLIZZA: I guess -- well, let me say we are in unchartered territory. And again, this is in the speculation phase if this. This is not in - I think this is happening phase. So I think it's important to say all that stuff. But I would be surprised if the Senate would get in the way of that. Because one of the reasons I think -- Trump I'm not sure totally anticipated this. I think one of the reasons it's proven harder to drive Jeff Sessions out than Donald Trump may have thought is that he has two very strong basis of support. One is in the Senate where you have everyone from Susan Collins of Maine to Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to, you know, other folks conservative Richard Shelby from Alabama just to down line conservatives saying this is a good man. We don't like what's being done to him.
And then you have the conservative activist base which has long been a fan of Jeff Sessions, particularly as it relates to immigration. So this might give Donald Trump a way out. He doesn't like to apologize. He doesn't like to say he was wrong. But he is not going to do either of those things as it relates to Jeff Sessions, but it does pose a possibility that would be intriguing for him if, this is still an if, he is ready to move on from Sessions and the attorney general's office because look, saying he is disappointed is one thing. Calling him out to resign is a totally different thing. The White House has not done that yet and let's see if he does it.
Again, Ana, I cannot emphasis this string enough. Predicting what Donald Trump will do on a day to day basis is a fool's errand. I mean, it is a fool's errand. We learned that in the campaign. We are relearning that every day here. And that is why I don't want to be Mamby Pamby. I don't want to be wishy-washy. But I'm also - I can't say yes or no to something like this because this is man as a candidate and as President who has been more than willing to do things where we would say, holy cow, what the heck?
CABRERA: We have done that many a time. I mean, just look at when he fired James Comey as the director of the FBI who was heading up the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with the Russians. And so a lot of questions remain unanswered. We will watch. We will see what the President decides to do and how the cards fall from there.
Chris Cillizza, thanks as always for us.
CILLIZZA: It won't be uninteresting, Ana. It will not be uninteresting. That prediction I feel comfortable making.
CABRERA: Strap on your seat belts.
CILLIZZA: Thank you.
CABRERA: Coming up, the President has called for a crackdown on deadly gangs in the U.S. namely the ultra-violent MS 13 game. But former gang members say Trump's own policies are actually making these gangs even stronger. A Special Report, next.
[16:18:31] CABRERA: Back to our top story. Reince Priebus out as chief of staff from the White House.
Joining us to discuss former communications director for Jeb Bush's presidential campaign, Tim Miller and CNN political commentator Mike Shields. He also served as chief of staff himself to Reince Priebus at the Republican national committee.
So Mike, I'll start with you. I know you have been an ardent Trump supporter as well all along. You have a personal relationship with Reince Priebus. Why do you think this didn't work out?
MIKE SHIELDS, CNN DELEGATE ANALYST: Well, look, Reince -- let's go back and look at what Reince has accomplished. He really redefined what a modern political party does, rebuilding the RNC and helping President Trump win. President Trump won the election but Reince sort of helped to build the channel in the states for him to get the message out. Then he came in and worked alongside the President and the vice President Pence in the transition that was kind of starting from scratch to build out the superb cabinet and a great staff at the White House and in some ways that transition sort of carried on for the next six months as Trump -- as President Trump had someone like Reince with him coming into the White House and getting it set up.
But the fact is that the President is an outsider. He was elected to be an outsider. Sixty-three million people voted for him to be an outsider and he is going don't to do that. And so he was going in a different direction and Reince said, I have done my duty here --
CABRERA: But wait a minute because what you just describe happening, would have resulted in Priebus getting a raise, not resigning or being fired. I mean, if it was so wonderful what he did and what they accomplished why would the President want to go in a different direction?
[16:20:01] SHIELDS: Look, obviously a much smaller scale. I have been a chief of staff to members of Congress before. These people at office go through different phases. And so there is a phase of coming in, but when you are an outsider and you are having an outsider direction, you may want to go ti different direction. And he and Reince decided, you know what, that's a great direction for you to go in and I no longer the person that should be guiding you through the process. I sort of have done my duty here. Reince remains incredibly loyal to the President and incredibly thankful to him. And they have accomplished quite a lot together.
I mean, the stock market right is at a record high. Employment in the country is at a record high. Home ownership is that -- the value of homes are at a 20 year high. The country is in tremendous shape. And I think that General Kelly will be a tremendous chief of staff moving forward. And you are sort of move -- it's like changing out pictures and bringing in somebody that's more appropriate to move along in this phase and that's what Reince -- it was appropriate and talked to the President about it and he offered his resignation and he is pretty happy with John Kelly as the replacement.
CABRERA: Then why don't you think that President Trump stood up for Reince Priebus when Scaramucci came in and called him all these vulgar terms. Paranoid schizophrenic as well. We never heard the President defend Priebus.
SHIELDS: Well look. I think Reince's style is to keep his head down. You noticed that there wasn't a lot of profiles of Reince through this whole process. He was extremely loyal to the President. He wanted honor the president.
CABRERA: But the President didn't sound like he was loyal to him.
SHIELDS: But my point is that Reince didn't want - Reince wasn't trying to engage in a fight. He wasn't running around asking people to go out there and defend me and push back on this guy. He was going to let the statements stand for themselves. And he was going to move ahead and doing what he thought was right --
CABRERA: I hear what you are saying. Let me turn to Tim and ask your point, your take in all of this
because it sounds like Priebus took the high road. We saw that in the reaction when he resigned or was pushed out. It's still a little unclear what went down. But Tim, why do you say it didn't it work out?
TIM MILLER, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, JEB BUSH PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: You know, I think that you could hear from what Mike wasn't talking about, what the problem is, you know, he was defending Reince. I also worked for Reince like Mike did. He is a good guy, but Donald Trump is the problem. And going to decide to work in an impossible job for a President that demeaned him constantly was the mistake. You know, it was never going to work.
And if you look at the stories coming out I think the most telling thing is what Reince's cardinal sin was in the eyes of President Trump was the one time he stood up to Donald Trump and said, no, this isn't appropriate that you are talk about sexually abusing women and that was what I think Axios wrote this morning was the scarlet letter on Reince which is just crazy which it shows you how backwards Donald Trump's values are, that the one time that Reince really stood up to him and said no, Mr. President, you are acting inappropriately or Mr. Nominee at that point, Donald could never get passed that. And so that's why nobody can succeed in this job because any time -- Donald Trump is a baby and any time you criticize him he is going to shun you aside.
SHIELDS: I have to respond. I think that's overblown. After that particular thing happened, and Reince said what he said or didn't say, I wasn't there. He was made the chief of staff for the White House. So obviously the President wasn't holding that against him.
MILLER: Right. That's what I'm saying. The one thing they cited -- that's the one thing that a number of people have cited as something that the President continued to bring up and criticized Reince for. Just because he made him chief of staff doesn't mean that it wasn't something that wasn't hanging over him or it wasn't something that others in the White House used against him, not just the President. And so, you know it is the problem. You know, Mike is defending Reince and I think he should for good reason. I think you are defending Reince, but he is not defending the President's actions.
SHIELDS: Sure I am. I am defending President. What I'm saying is that the President hired Reince to be his chief of staff. For the phase that Reince was there was an important phase for him to have someone like Reince by his side and now he is moving into the different phase. And what I'm saying is that the President absolutely looked past that and hired Reince to be his chief of staff. That speaks to the President's ability to see who would be with him during the transition and setting up the administration.
CABRERA: OK, but let's be honest --
MILLER: He is still obsessing over it nine months later.
CABRERA: I mean, just look at what he's done now to attorney general Jeff Sessions and he brings up what Jeff Sessions did and how it's bothered him all this time when he recused himself from the Russian investigation. But takes us in a different direction.
Let's talk about the bigger picture because when you look at the Trump team in the context of past administrations President Bush had 305 nominees and 207 had been confirmed at this point in his presidency. President Obama had 386 nominees, 228 had been confirmed. Trump has 237 nominee, 52 who have been confirmed. Some disparity there.
Tim, what do you see as the impact of President Trump's treatment of his staff when it comes to recruiting people to fill those positions?
MILLER: Two major problems. One, the Democrats on in the Senate are `obstructing in recommend numbers. Like you said 200 plus to 50 it's insane and unprecedented the amount of obstruction that's happening from the Democrats in the Senate. But that doesn't excuse the President.
I just have to go back to what Mike said. You cannot imagine Ronald Reagan or George W. H. Bush or George W. Bush or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama whining like a child on twitter and mocking their staff. It is so -- it's so far beyond un-presidential and unprofessional. It's just completely unacceptable and he's acting like a petulant child. And so yes, I do think it's creating a problem with recruitment. Some people willing to (INAUDIBLE), want to work for. But I think a lot of others like why should I go work for a guy who is laughing when I have my communications director accusing my chief of staff of a felony? And saying words I can't say on cable news about it and who's chuckling about it and who wants - and who is kind of participating himself in the twitter in these name calling. It is just unbelievably petulant and childish. And I do think it's a problem.
[16:26:10] SHIELDS: Ana, there's no problem with recruitment in this administration. Eighty-seven nominees were sent out to the Senate in June alone. There are plenty of people that want to come serve their country. They want to work in the Trump administration. Some of them don't have the typical government experience which is a good thing. That's what President Trump was elected to do and he is bringing people in like that. The Democrats --
MILLER: Why aren't --
SHIELDS: The Democrats --
MILLER: Why aren't you going in?
SHIELDS: Hey, Tim, excuse me. The Democrats starting with Chuck Schumer have held up his nominees. Chuck Schumer literally said I'm holding up the deputy secretary of defense while we have troops in the field over the health care issue. The President has faced more clotures at this point in his presidency than Barack Obama did the entire eight years that he was in the White House because the Democrats have decided we are just going to try to make him look bad. We are going to hold up his administration an then we can have this talking point that we are talking about now and say, well, look, he doesn't have anyone. He must be doing a terrible job. This is rank partisanship in the Senate. And more coverage should be given to how much the Democrats in the Senate are doing things that we have never seen before to slow down the administration.
CABRERA: You know, we will look a close look at that.
MILLER: I totally agree with Mike on obstruction.
CABRERA: But I think it's worth noting though that, you know, President Trump has also nixed some of the people that some of his own staff would like to appoint or put into their supporting roles like the man who Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, had initially wanted to tap, but apparently he had said something against President Trump during the campaign that President Trump just couldn't get over either. So there are number of dynamics. And of course, there are -- .
MILLER: I agree with Mike on the Senate obstruction totally.
CABRERA: I appreciate the discussion, guys. Tim Miller and Mike Shields, we got to leave it there. Thank you both for your time. We will have you both back.
SHIELDS: Thanks much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you and we will deport you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: President Trump vowing to dismantle and decimate the ultra- violent MS-13 game. Those tough words came during the President's visit to Long Island, New York, where the brutal gang is known for machete attacks and linked to at least 20 murders. President Trump has made fighting this gang a crucial part of his campaign promise, tracking down on illegal immigration. Yet some gang members say Trump's policies are helping their violent groups get larger and more powerful. Dan Liebermann reports.
[16:32:51] CABRERA: President Trump is making drastic changes inside the White House starting at the top. He dumped his right hand man Reince Priebus who served a rocky 189 days as White House chief of staff. He replaced him with General John Kelly who was his department of homeland security secretary.
Now Priebus is part of the Republican establishment don't forget. That may have been problematic in his relationship with President Trump.
Our Randi Kaye takes a look at the delicate dynamics between the President and Priebus.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Their relationship was rocky from the start. During the Republican primary, Donald Trump insisting the vote was rigged and that Reince Priebus should be ashamed of himself because he knew what was going on. After Trump became the nominee, there was more friction. Trump heard bragging that he could grope women without consent on this leaked "Access Hollywood" tape.
TRUMP: Grab them by the (bleep). Do anything.
KAYE: Priebus had heard enough, pleading with the billionaire to drop out of the race. Priebus then abruptly cancelled all of his Sunday morning television appearances. Trump refused to step down. But despite that the two men seemed to find a way to mend fences.
PRIEBUS: Ladies and gentlemen, the next President of the United States, Donald Trump!
TRUMP: Reince is really a star. And he is the hardest working guy.
KAYE: For months Priebus had the President's back. Like when questions were asked about a potential conflict of interest between President Trump and his businesses.
PRIEBUS: So I can assure you and everyone out there that all of these things will be followed and they'll be done properly.
KAYE: Priebus also fending off questions regularly about why the President still hadn't released his tax returns.
PRIEBUS: And President Trump won one of the most historic presidential victories in the history of our country and people are asking me this question -- are people like you.
KAYE: But Trump's victory didn't end the drama. Soon after taking office, Priebus found himself unable to contain a laundry list of controversies like the immigration ban roll out, the Russia investigation and the failure of the Senate's plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Still, Priebus kept up a brave face.
[16:35:02] PRIEBUS: I'm not in any trouble. I have a great relationship with the President. We talk all the time. In fact, just before coming on this set he gave me a call.
KAYE: Reince Priebus who was never an outsider and always a Republican Party guy lost an important ally when press secretary Sean Spicer resigned. And now just days later, he too is out of the Trump White House.
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
(END VIDEOTAPE) CABRERA: Let's discuss with our panel. "Washington Post" assistant editor David Swerdlick, "the New York Times" White House correspondent Michael Shear and national political reporter "RealClearPolitics' Rebecca Berg.
So David, to you first. The "Washington Post" gave us all some insight into Trump-Priebus dynamic including a moment when Priebus apparently was summoned to the oval office by the President. Tell us why. What does that tell you about their relationship?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't want to make too much of that one episode, Ana. But it does - so that Reince Priebus at a minimum was not seen by President Trump as sort of an equal. That he was seen as an underling. You have different models of President and chief of staff relationship. You had the famous Jim Baker and Ronald Reagan relationship where the President his chief of staff as an equal. You had the relationship between President Obama and his chief of staff, Dennis McDonough in the last few years of his administration where McDonough was sort of like a silent enforcer behind the scenes.
The relationship of President Trump to Reince Priebus in my view was not a functional one because it didn't follow either of those models and didn't create a new model that worked. There were too many power centers in the White House. Reince Priebus was an effective party chair. He held the party together during 2016. But I don't think he had the right skill set to sort of manage the running of the country with the President. And it was even made more difficult by the fact what this President is unlike any other President in our lifetime.
CABRERA: Rebecca, we just had Michael Shields on here a moment ago saying that Priebus did a great job working with the President in his six months tenure. That he did what he needed to do and then there was a time where there was a transition that made sense to happen and it was time to cut ties. How effective do you think Priebus was as a chief of staff?
REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Well, certainly I mean, there are a couple of things you can look at here. Certainly in terms of building a relationship between the Republican Party establishment including the Republican national committee and Trump as President, including raising money for the party and helping Republican lawmakers from the White House. I mean, certainly as a Republican Party insider Reince Priebus I think was able to bring Donald Trump sort of into that fold. And help him adapt to being a Washington insider as opposed to being an outsider as he was on the campaign trail.
But if you look at in terms of legislative accomplishments certainly, and even in terms of bringing some order to this very chaotic White House, I think those are two areas where you can look at Reince Priebus' legacy and say that mission was not accomplished. There aren't really legislative achievements that he can point to. That's a really important role in terms of being a chief of staff as to work with Congress and get the President's agenda through. That's not his fault alone. Congress is a little bit dysfunction right now. But certainly he has said he wanted to pass health care. And that's some unfinished business for him.
CABRERA: So Priebus, a Washington insider, part of the Republican establishment, former chair of the RNC.
Michael, did that actually doom him with Trump because Trump was so proud of being an outsider.
MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I think to some extent that's true. These were two people who never meshed at all either in style or any kind of the policies they were ultimately trying to get at.
Look. Priebus was supposed to be a bridge, right, a bridge to Congress, a bridge to the Washington establishment, to Paul Ryan who is close to Priebus. And the problem is twofold. One is as Rebecca said I'm not sure that the skill set was there for Reince Priebus to actually do all of -- be all of that effective in that. But also, if you are going to cross a bridge you need -- you want to cross it. And the President of the United States never did. He never really wanted to be the kind of insider Washington legislator that it would take to form those kinds of bonds and those kinds of relationships. So as a result, Priebus wasn't really ultimately a help. And to the extent that the chief of staff could be the enforcer that David was talking about, to bring that kind of sort of discipline to the internal workings of the White House, it's very clear that this President and the people that he has got around him never wanted that kind of discipline. They like the chaos. They like the back and forth. People coming in and out of the oval office. So that left Priebus essentially as a chief of staff without a portfolio.
CABRERA: So David, does that mean General Kelly is the guy to get people in line, to be a more effective chief of staff?
SWERDLICK: Ana, you know, if we could go back in time in a time machine to the beginning of this administration, which was only six or seven months ago, it seems like an eternity, and General Kelly, someone who is respected on both sides of the aisle, is a proven manager and leader, a guy with a lot of experience, were the chief of staff from the beginning then maybe he would enforce his brand of discipline on the White House. I think though now the challenge is going to be steep but not impossible because the ship of -- not the ship of state, but the White House -- sorry, terrible analogy. Is taking on water. OK? They are already taking on water. They are already in trouble.
In the last week, they have already had the boy scouts apologizing for the President and the internal sniping between Anthony Scaramucci and Reince Priebus playing out in the pages of the New Yorker and on CNN. So I think it's going to be an uphill climb.
And when you see someone like General Kelly who we have been playing the clip all day on CNN say that he has taken aback a little bit by the political rancor that comes with the job that he is in now, it is like are you kidding me, General Kelly? There was already political rancor but it's been ratcheted up exponentially by the guy who is your immediate boss, President Trump. He has played a divisive brand of politics for the last two years and it's effective for him, but you can't be surprised by that. It suggests to me that is an uphill climb.
[16:41:16] CABRERA: Rebecca, when it comes to Trump's legislative agenda in trying to work with Congress, what do we know about Kelly's relationship with congressional leaders?
BERG: Well, certainly based on the reactions we have been hearing so far from Republican lawmakers, he has viewed very positively. You have seen a lot of very warm reaction to the announcement that he is going to be the new chief of staff but he does and have as you would imagine being a general he doesn't have that sort of legislative experience, knowing how to get policy approved by Congress, passed on Capitol Hill. So that the President can then sign it into law. So he has some relationships on Capitol Hill and that will go a long way for him.
But in terms of the legislative process, it would probably behoove Kelly to bring in someone may be as a deputy to handle that side of things. Someone who really understands legislative process. Really understands the inner workings of Capitol Hill and can kind of be a Sherpa for him in that respect. Because as we have seen, so far in first six months of this administration, it is not easy, even with Republican majorities to get these big complicated pieces of legislation through.
And this is a President who came in making very big promises, promising to really shake things up here in Washington and he hasn't been able to do that yet in large part because he has run into a wall with Congress.
CABRERA: And Michael Shear, I know that at one point General Kelly as the secretary of the department of homeland security had told members of the congressional Hispanic caucus to shut up. That's not going to create goodwill.
SHEAR: No, in fact -- well, I definitely agree with Rebecca there is some relationships that the general has on Capitol Hill. The voices of dissent that you heard yesterday after the announcement was made largely came from kind of liberal Democrats and people who are concerned about the -- this President's role -- record on immigration and the travel ban and the border wall and a lot of the issues that they lay at the feet of not only the President, but also secretary Kelly. And so there's a lot of concern on Capitol Hill that some of the policies that they see as more, you know, kind of brutal towards immigrants and those kinds of folks are going to be exasperated with Mr. Kelly in the White House.
CABRERA: All right, we will see. Rebecca Berg, Michael Shear, David Swerdlick, thank you all.
Coming up a live report from Venezuela where demonstrators are shutting down streets in neighborhoods around the capital there ahead of a controversial vote tomorrow.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:43:01] CABRERA: Venezuela right now is a powder keg. Neighborhoods have been exploding with violence leading up to tomorrow's controversial election that many Venezuelans warns could transform the oil rich yet starving country into a dictatorship.
CNN correspondent Paula Newton is in Caracas.
Paula, what are you seeing there on the ground today?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More of the same and it's the kind of hand to hand, street to street combat that we have seen here day over and a day over a month. And really, the conflict here is going back years but it's really intensified in the last few days even.
What's so interesting here is that a lot of people, Ana, that would never think of themselves as being protesters are being on the street are on the street right now. I spent some time with them and looked at what their DIY combat tools looked like. And you are talking about regular, everyday items that they use to make shields and also using the improvised Molotov cocktails that they throw at authorities.
Ana, what is at stake here is that those protesters in the opposition believe that just by holding this vote tomorrow and Nicholas Maduro will basically be able to have a dictatorship here because the super body is going to be stocked with his supporters, with people that want the government here to be able to implement whatever the President says. And that means they can annul the national assembly, now controlled by the opposition. They can even, if they want, to throw the President Maduro out of office. It is that all powerful. But of course the opposition says it will be just another tool of repression here.
We continue to see a lot of conflict. And Ana, the opposition is promising to come back out on to the streets even though the government says every time they are on the streets it is illegal and they are threatening mass arrests.
CABRERA: Paula Newton, a dynamic situation there. Thanks so much.
Coming up in the next hour we will have the latest on Russian sanctions against the U.S. that could now force 745 Americans to leave that country. Coming up, live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[16:54:10] CABRERA: Tonight, CNN's original series "Declassified, Untold Stories of American spy" takes a look at how the drug enforcement agencies took down one of the world's most notorious arms traffickers. Here's a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the first challenge with the terrorists is, how do we get close? The DA would work with our local counterparts and develop sources of information. They are working with sources was a very large part of DEA success worldwide. And you can't really make a good case if you don't have a good source. And in this particular case, we are talking about a terrorist in another country, with the associates all over the world. He definitely was cautious on who he'd get close and who he would talk to. So how do we find a source that can get to this inner circle?
[16:55:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jim had a relationship with a high level source that had been utilized by the DEA for approximately 20 years. His name was Sameer. In New York, Jim arrested Sameer for narcotics trafficking.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We arrested him and I knew he was pretty important. He was Palestinian by birth, well educated, well read, multilingual, phenomenally bright. I knew he would be useful because he understood the global criminal networks. As a source he had the capabilities that follow him through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Catch the new episode tonight at 9:00 eastern only on CNN.
The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right after a quick break. Don't go anywhere.