Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Senator Chris Coons; Trump Top Economic Adviser Resigning; Republican Infighting Over Trump Trade Policy?; White House Chaos; Trump: "Certainly" Meddling from Russia, Probably from Other Countries and Maybe Other Individuals; Jailed Russian "Sex Coach" Offers Election Info for U.S. Asylum. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 6, 2018 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The president also touts a backup plan, saying -- and I'm quoting him now -- "It's called paper."
Encouraging chaos. Mr. Trump also says everybody wants to work at the White House. But breaking tonight, CNN has learned the president is actually encouraging one of his allies to torch his chief of staff on television. Is the president trying to bring down John Kelly?
And Russian sex guru's tapes. The self-proclaimed sex coach jailed in Thailand says she has 16 hours of tapes that could help the U.S. investigation into Russian election meddling. But where are the tapes and will she hand them over?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news.
Another high-level White House official is leaving. President Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is resigning. The news came just a short time after the president denied there was any chaos in the White House, but admitted he does like conflict.
We will talk about the breaking news and more with Senator Chris Coons of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, another West Wing shakeup.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is right.
Don't believe what the president says. Believe what happens here at the White House, another day of chaos as the president's top economic adviser Gary Cohn is resigning. He is leaving the White House.
Apparently, according to our sources talking to us here at CNN, apparently upset about Donald Trump's plans to slap tariffs even on some U.S. trading partners and allies. The president talked about this potential for a trade war earlier today. Here is what -- some of what the president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here to protect and one of the reasons I was elected is I'm protecting our workers. I'm protecting our companies. And I'm not going to let that happen.
We are doing tariffs on steel. We cannot lose our steel industry. It's a fraction of what it once was. And we can't lose our aluminum industry. When we're behind on every single country, trade wars aren't so bad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Ever since the president announced the plan for these tariffs last week, Gary Cohn has been working behind-the-scenes to try to change the president's mind.
He has been working essentially alongside other top Republicans on Capitol Hill like House Speaker Paul Ryan who had been essentially pleading with the president to change his mind in all of this. Wolf, one reason why we wanted to show the press conference clip a few moments ago, look at something very conspicuous that we noticed inside the East Room of the White House.
Gary Cohn was supposed to attend this news conference with the president and the prime minister of Sweden. There is a place card for Gary Cohn on the seat he was supposed to take at the news conference. He did not show up. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders sat in his place instead.
And, remarkably, even though Gary Cohn had notified the president, we're told, within the last 24 hours about his departure, the president went on to say during the news conference here that there is no chaos inside the White House and that everybody in the world wants to work for him. Listen to what he had to say about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The White House has tremendous energy. It has tremendous spirit. It is a great place to be working. Many, many people want every single job.
I read where, oh, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Donald Trump. And, believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing.
And not only in terms of it looks great on their resume. It is just a great place to work. It's got tremendous energy. It is tough. I like conflict. I like having two people with two different points of view. And I certainly have that.
And then I make a decision. But like watching it. I like seeing it. And I think it is the best way to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Despite the fact the president was just saying there at that conference that everybody wants to work at the White House, apparently, among the people who don't want to work at the White House is Gary Cohn, because, Wolf, he was in sharp disagreement with this president over the proposal to slap tariffs on U.S. trading partners and allies, Britain among them, among many allies.
One thing we should also point out, Wolf, is that this is already starting to reverberate up on Capitol Hill. I was speaking with a top GOP congressional source in the last several minutes about whether or not Gary Cohn's departure bodes well for trying to persuade the president against slapping these punitive tariffs on U.S. trading partners and allies.
And in the words of this aide, word of this aide, I should point out, the source said -- quote -- "Nope."
And one other thing we should also point out, Wolf, is that this is a remarkable turn of events for Gary Cohn. Keep in mind, Wolf, in just the last several weeks, we have been talking about the departure of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
One of the names of the potential replacements, one of the contenders that was bandied about -- and we heard this from sources here at the White House -- was Gary Cohn. Gary Cohn has gone from being talked about as a potential replacement for White House chief of staff to now suddenly leaving the White House, apparently very upset about the president's plans to engage in a trade war with a number of countries around the world -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, he is very close to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump as well. They have been almost a team over this past year, right?
ACOSTA: That's right. As a matter of fact, you will recall back in August, Gary Cohn almost left the White House. We had talked to sources at the time. Gary Cohn was apparently very upset about the president's comments there were very fine people on both sides of the protest in Charlottesville, essentially saying that there were very fine people among the white nationalists and white supremacists protesting in Charlottesville.
We had heard at the time that Gary Cohn was considering leaving the White House over those remarks. And it was during the period, Wolf, you will also recall, that Steve Bannon was being shown the door over at the White House. The president had enough of Steve Bannon, but before Steve Bannon left the White House, because this is how Steve Bannon operated, he would tell people, sources and confidants and so on, he really did not like Gary Cohn's globalist views and that one nickname was given to Gary Cohn inside the White House was "Globalist Gary." And so, Wolf, this appears to be a casualty of just an economic, you
know, knife fight that was going on behind the scenes inside the White House. There are two prevailing views inside the White House, one for tightened trade restrictions, cracking down on trade and so on, and then people like Gary Cohn, who were trying to persuade the president not to go down This road.
And it appears the president has decided he is going down this road and Gary Cohn is out the door as a result of that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, Gary Cohn came to work for the president from Goldman Sachs, where he served as president of Goldman Sachs.
Stand by. We are going to get back to you.
I want to bring in our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins. She is also working the story for us.
You are getting more information. What else are you learning, Kaitlan?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are learning a little bit more about the details surrounding the departure.
It is certainly something that people saw coming for some time. They knew that Gary Cohn's departure was imminent at some point over the next year here in the White House. But we are learning he did inform President Trump that he was going to leave, of his intention to leave the White House over the last 24 hours.
And that comes amid the fight over these tariffs that the president announced at the last minute last week against the advice of Gary Cohn. The president was actually frustrated with Gary this week because Gary was trying to -- once he made his decision to impose tariffs, Gary was trying to get him to soften them and maybe exclude some countries, some things that they decided.
And it was something that frustrated the president. But it is important to point out here that Gary Cohn and the president were never ideologically aligned here. The one thing they agreed on was taxes and tax reform. They got along very well. And getting the tax reform bill passed really lifted Gary Cohn's standing in the West Wing after, as Jim just said, there was a lot of frustration over those comments the president made regarding what happened in Charlottesville.
And that frustration went both ways. After Gary Cohn was frustrated with the president saying there were good people on both sides, the president was frustrated with Gary Cohn for criticizing him and would roll his eyes when he saw Gary Cohn on television or whenever they flew together on Air Force One doing events for tax reform.
So, certainly that helped mend their relationship for some time. That's why it was talk of the town that Gary Cohn could be considered for the next chief of staff. But they were never really aligned in their beliefs. It is important to point that out here. BLITZER: You also are getting important information about John Kelly,
the White House chief of staff, and apparently there are efforts to squeeze him as well.
COLLINS: That is right.
We have seen the president complain today that there is no chaos in the West Wing, as has been reported. But we are actually learning that the president does a great deal to sow some of this chaos himself.
As you know, Anthony Scaramucci, the former communications director who was in the White House for a very short period of time, has been making cable news television appearances in recent days and being highly critical of the chief of staff, John Kelly.
He has referred to him as "General Jackass." He blamed him for the low morale in the West Wing and he also said he needs to apologize for the fallout from the Rob Porter resignation. And we are now learning that the president has actually emboldened Anthony Scaramucci to continue making those criticisms of John Kelly.
I'm told by sources that the president is well aware of these criticisms that Scaramucci is making of John Kelly and he has not discouraged him from making them.
And I should point out that Scaramucci was fired by John Kelly. He was only there for a short period of time. And he has been very frustrated with him in recent weeks because John Kelly has really limited his access to the West Wing.
But the news that the president is emboldening Scaramucci to make these attacks on John Kelly just goes to show the president sows some of this own discord in his White House, something he bemoans, a White House that the morale in the West Wing is actually quite low, we're told.
BLITZER: When you say emboldening Scaramucci to make these attacks against John Kelly, how does that work? Does he directly encourage him, go out there and say these negative things?
COLLINS: What I'm told, based on my reporting, I would not say the president was the one who had the first idea, hey, Anthony, go out here and make these attacks on John Kelly.
But when he became aware that Anthony Scaramucci was attacking John Kelly, blaming him for the morale in the West Wing, the president emboldened him to continue making those, did not discourage him, did not ask him to stop going on the air and criticizing his chief of staff, which is not what you would think of a president and a former communications adviser.
The president really liked Anthony Scaramucci when he was in the White House. He enjoyed the way the two of them interacted. Of course, Anthony Scaramucci left after a very short period of time in the White House.
But it goes to show as the president said today he enjoys watching his aides clash. When they don't get along or they have differing policy views, as Gary Cohn and Peter Navarro did over the tariffs, the president instead likes to let them fight it out in front of him, instead of him stepping in and telling them to break it up.
BLITZER: Were John Kelly and Gary Cohn aligned as part of a team in the White House?
COLLINS: I think John Kelly certainly appreciated Gary Cohn's efforts for tax reform. He understood. John Kelly likes someone who has a job in the White House and is doing that job.
What he gets frustrated by is someone who in the West Wing and as you have seen a lot of the people who did not have well-defined portfolios when John Kelly entered West Wing either have well-defined portfolios or they're no longer in the West Wing.
That is certainly something he likes. I'm sure he appreciated Gary Cohn. He was a very good liaison on Capitol Hill for this West Wing and certainly was helpful for tax reform.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment.
I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin to assess what is going on as well. There you are over there, Jeffrey.
Let's talk a little bit about the lack of chaos in the White House. You saw what the president tweeted this morning. "The new fake news narrative is that there is chaos in the White House. Wrong. People will always come and go. And I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change. Always seeking perfection. There is no chaos. Only great energy."
He echoed that tweet at his news conference with the Swedish prime minister. Your reaction?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: At the very senior level, Gary Cohn was the last survivor of the beginning of the administration with just two exceptions, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.
At this point, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are the only survivors of this presidency, which is just a little more than a year old. And it just underlines how unusual that is.
And I think at some level, people might say this is all inside baseball. Who cares what the White House staff is all.
When you look at how this tariff decision was rolled out, the fact it was rolled out in a way where the facts were not known, the amount of tariffs has not been settled. The countries that it covers has not been settled. It is that kind of instability that has affected the stock market negatively, that has roiled our allies.
It is not like it this just simply one person replacing another. These changes have real effects on the real economy. And this departure will as well.
BLITZER: But you also heard, Jeffrey, Kaitlan report that the president is emboldening Anthony Scaramucci, who served for 10 days or so as the communications director at the White House, to go out there and smear the sitting White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.
TOOBIN: Look, it is surreal. It is bizarre. It is unfair to General Kelly.
But this is how the president wants. By the way, H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, he is hanging by a thread too. The entire top leadership of the White House staff looks like it is about to turn over.
BLITZER: That's a good point that Jeffrey makes, Rebecca, because John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., he was meeting with the president in the White House today amid all this speculation that General McMaster, the national security adviser to president, could be on his way out perhaps by the end of the month.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.
In fact, the reporting that our colleagues here at CNN, Wolf, have done suggests that H.R. McMaster is on his way out. A great deal of turmoil in the White House, but par for the course in the Trump administration.
It is extremely unusual for a normal White House, but this is no normal White House. This is a president who manages and governs by chaos. He sows chaos among his staff and in Washington more generally. We have seen this with the tariffs rollout and decision and, of course, Gary Cohn reasonably frustrated with the way the president handled this decision and the rollout of the decision.
He did not consult. He did not speak with any of the decision-makers in Washington. He did not talk to Congress about this. He didn't consult his legal advisers or have any sort of legal review.
It was an incredibly haphazard process. And you could see why Gary Cohn would be frustrated.
BLITZER: David, listen to the president because at the news conference today, he said he has no problem filling all these critically important positions at the White House. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I read where, oh, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Donald Trump. And, believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing.
And not only in terms of it looks great on their resume. It is just a great place to work. It's got tremendous energy. It is tough. I like conflict. I like having two people with two different points of view. And I certainly have that.
And then I make a decision. But like watching it. I like seeing it. And I think it is the best way to go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: His remarks. What do you think?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN COMMENTATOR: Wolf, increasingly, it is the island of misfit toys over at the White House and in the administration.
What the president is saying just doesn't reflect what we have seen for last year.
With the departure of Gary Cohn, there went the cornerstone of the sort of centrist pro-business cohort in the White House. It also signals to other people that, no matter what, you are going to wind up leaving this administration. Senior people now, I'm talking about.
You're going to wind up leaving this administration with people questioning some of the things you have been in on, even if you were not directly involved with it or even if you were supposedly fighting against decisions that the president made. It is tough.
BLITZER: I want to bring in a guest.
Senator Chris Coons of Delaware is joining us right now. He's a member of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees.
Senator, is the departure of Gary Cohn, the president's top economic adviser, another example of this chaos we have been seeing?
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: Well, Wolf, this is I think just the latest example of how the president's comment that he likes conflict within his staff is an understatement.
I believe Hope Hicks was the fifth communications director in this White House in just over a year to depart. And the idea that Gary Cohn is departing largely over the timing and the deliberation or the lack thereof behind the president's abrupt announcement of large tariffs that will distance us from our key trading partners and close allies is just a reminder that his love of conflict has real consequences.
Dow futures for tomorrow are already down 300 points. The president loves to take credit when the Dow goes up. I wonder if he will take any of the responsibility with the Dow likely going down with Gary Cohn's abrupt departure?
He tweeted earlier today: "I still have some people that I want to change." That's the tweet right there.
Do you worry about the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, that he may be included in that group of individuals the president wants to change?
COONS: I do.
The president has repeatedly and publicly harassed, shamed, demeaned the attorney general last summer, as well as over recent weeks. That has brought some real pushback from former Senator Jeff Sessions' close allies here in the Senate, conservatives who contacted the president and said, you should leave the general alone.
He doesn't swear an oath to the president personally. He swears an oath to the Constitution and should be left unharassed as the head of the Department of Justice.
What concerns me is the specific reason the president continues to go after the attorney general. It's because he thinks he shouldn't have recused himself from the Russia investigation and he thinks that Attorney General Sessions should be more aggressively investigating or prosecuting his political opponent in the 2016 campaign, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
BLITZER: The president at that news conference said his administration has been working very hard, in his words, to counteract potential Russian meddling in the November midterm elections and the 2020 presidential elections.
But he also says, seem to be belittling what the Russians did in the 2016 election, saying, yes, maybe they were involved, but other countries were involved, other individuals may have meddled as well. He did not name anyone.
Have you seen any evidence at all that other countries, other individuals other than Russians were engaged or were involved in trying to influence the 2016 presidential election?
Wolf, there is no evidence that I'm aware of that any foreign entity other than Russia attempted to directly interfere in our 2016 presidential election. In fact, just a few weeks ago, President Trump's own chosen FBI director, CIA director and national security adviser all testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee -- excuse me -- his director of national intelligence -- testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee that it is indisputable that Russia had a broad campaign and did interfere in our 2016 elections and can be expected to do so again.
Despite the president's statements, Wolf, there is no evidence that he is taking seriously Russia's interference in our last election or preparing to defend our next election.
In fact, recent reporting by "The New York Times" suggests that a $120 million fund that Congress appropriated to the State Department to push back on Russian meddling and to strengthen democracy hasn't been spent yet. Not one dime. BLITZER: That money was appropriated back in 2016, $120 million, as
you correctly point out. Nothing has been spent yet.
House Republicans at the same time, they're signaling their intention to wrap up the entire Russia investigation, especially in the House Intelligence Committee. They say the Senate is on the same page. At least the Republicans are saying that.
Could President Trump potentially use this development to try and fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel?
COONS: I hope not.
I have a bipartisan bill that would make it more challenging for the president to fire Robert Mueller. I think it is in the president's best interests, as well as the country's, for Robert Mueller, a seasoned senior federal law enforcement official, a Republican nominated and confirmed to be the FBI director by a Republican president, to complete his investigation, to get to the bottom of this.
But the president could, of course, take advantage of an opportunity here to fire him by replacing the deputy attorney general, after replacing the attorney general. I hope he won't.
I think that would be harmful to rule of law, to our democracy, to our global reputation, and to President Trump himself.
BLITZER: Senator Coons, thanks very much for joining us.
COONS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The breaking news continues here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're going to have much more on the resignation of President Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn.
BLITZER: More now on the breaking news.
The president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has announced his resignation.
Let's bring in our correspondents and experts.
And, Kaitlan, you have been doing some important reporting on all of this. He is now about to be gone. Another senior official, one of the closest officials to the president, deciding he has had enough and moving on.
COLLINS: Yes. That's right.
It is interesting what it came to. This is what he is leaving over, these tariffs that the president announced very hastily last week.
And to give you some context for that, this is a decision had that been decided last week by the president on his own, against the will of Gary Cohn. And in the days leading up to it, they had been discussing it and Gary Cohn was advising him not to do it, but people like the trade adviser, Peter Navarro, and the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, were pushing for the president to continue to do this.
And as of Thursday, when the president was meeting with these industry executives from aluminum and steel industries, Gary Cohn and them were under the impression that the president was not going to announce these tariffs.
And then he called the reporters in at the last minute, announced these very stiff tariffs that would greatly, significantly impact the economy and without Gary Cohn's, heeding Gary Cohn's advice in a way. That was really the final straw that kind of broke the camel's back for Gary Cohn.
It certainly is a little bit of a surprise that it came today even to those close to Gary Cohn. But they did believe at some point he was going to leave the White House. He and the president are not aligned. They do not have the same views on many, many things except tax reform. That is the one thing that really what brought the two of them together. It is not a total surprise.
BLITZER: Yes, Gary Cohn supports free trade. He's a former president of Goldman Sachs.
And it's interesting, Rebecca. He waited until after 4:00 p.m., when the markets close on Wall Street, to make this announcement. But look at the Dow futures right now. They're dropping big time because Gary Cohn was seen as a source of support and strength for the establishment Republican economic agenda.
BERG: That's right.
He was a steady hand in a very unpredictable White House. And it is different, Wolf, when you see someone of his stature in the White House, the top economic adviser to the president, step down, as opposed to someone like Hope Hicks, who was obviously very close to the president, but she was the communications director.
This is a big deal. And it could have real-world consequences. The first and most immediate being these tariffs that the president is planning to impose. Gary Cohn was the voice in the White House really urging him against that.
And now the stock markets are panicking because, without Gary Cohn, who will be in the White House to speak up against these tariffs?
BLITZER: It's interesting, Jeffrey, that the president doubling down on the steel and aluminum tariffs and doubling down on, well, you know what, a trade war could be very good.
TOOBIN: Well, I think also this is an interesting lesson in, you know, the ethics and principles of Gary Cohn.
Gary Cohn made a big show of being disgusted with the president's behavior after Charlottesville, his sympathy for neo-Nazis, and he says, oh, I might resign over the president's racism.
Well, he managed to stomach the racism. What he couldn't take is tariffs. And I think if you want to weigh the moral imperatives of the two, it really doesn't reflect all that well on Gary Cohn.
BERG: Although, at the same time, his job was to advise the president on economic matters. It was not to advise him on being a moral leader.
And so if the president wasn't even going to listen to Gary Cohn's advice on an economic matter like tariffs, there is nothing bigger than that. And so what could he possibly accomplish in this White House?
BLITZER: In the president's statement, David, he did praise Gary Cohn for his help in getting the tax cuts through.
SWERDLICK: Exactly. But I do think, to Rebecca's point, that this undercuts a major narrative that President Trump cultivated when he ran for president, has wanted to hang onto, this idea that, OK, he'd never been in government; he didn't know what he was doing on all the granular issues of managing a federal bureaucracy. But that he was going to be a CEO, hire the best people, hire someone who can advise him on just these issues, a president of Goldman Sachs, and this completely undercuts that. He's not listening to the best advice that he's getting.
BLITZER: And there are others -- Matthew Rosenberg of "The New York Times" is with us, as well -- who may be on very, very thin ice, days numbered in the White House right now, including the president's national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster. We've been reporting he could be out before the end of the month.
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, for so many people in this White House, it's been an odd fit with Gary Cohn. Obviously, the economic policies he wants don't match up with what Trump wanted.
McMaster, General McMaster, the national security adviser, has come from a fairly interventionist background in the military. He has pushed for a number of policies that the president was never going to agree with.
And there's a personal issue with the two of them. The president just flat-out doesn't like him. Finds him condescending and lecturing. And -- and I think, you know, at some point, that's --
BLITZER: What do you make of John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the Bush administration, coming to the White House today, having another one-on-one meeting with the president?
ROSENBERG: I mean, this really looks like they're interviewing for the job. Bolton has been through this before. The president didn't think he had the right look for the job the first time around, but maybe this time, it is Bolton's.
BLITZER: Go ahead.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: But also, Bolton is famous as a neoconservative and an interventionist and a big supporter of the Iraq War, which the president has denounced over and over again. So, like, what is the president's foreign policy? If he likes -- if he doesn't like McMaster, but he likes John Bolton? I thought he was against being a neoconservative.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, but this is what the president does. He brings all these people in with these vastly different views. And he actually is a big fan of John Bolton's. He's liked him for a lot for some time. And John Bolton is actually often at the White House every few months. So it's worth noting that he is there a lot. He was there today. We broke that he was there meeting with the president. It's unclear exactly what they were discussing, whether it was a job offer or whatnot. That has certainly been the rumor.
But this goes to show what the president does. Today, he was bemoaning any kind of chaos in the White House. He says that's not true, that things are running fine. And sure, there are some people he still wants to change, but it's only because he's, quote, "seeking perfection" in his staff.
But this is what the president likes. He likes to bring in all these people with vastly different world views and watch them fight it out for his attention, to have his ear on what policy they're going to decide. And we saw that just last week with Gary Cohn, Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: How's that -- well, I was just going to say how's that working out for him? You know, the bringing all these people in? No one is left --
COLLINS: Well, I'm not saying it's the right thing to do.
TOOBIN: -- except Jared and Ivanka.
COLLINS: That's what the president does.
TOOBIN: I mean, like -- you know, at some point, you know, you need to have at least some stability.
BLITZER: But you forget -- you forget, Jeffrey, you forget that there was a story, I think, in "The New York Times" the other day that the -- that the president was actually encouraging John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, to maybe convince Jared Kushner to leave the White House, go back to New York.
TOOBIN: I mean, you know, the idea that you could have close to 100 percent turnover in 13 months. I mean, this has never happened before in American history, in the history of the presidency. And you know, I suppose people just make up their own minds about whether that's a good idea or not. Look, unemployment is low, so maybe that's the answer to everything. But I mean, it's just surreal.
SWERDLICK: It's government by reality show.
BLITZER: And David, look at this. We'll put up on the screen some of the people who have left the Trump administration. And you see all those in senior positions, important positions. The president denies that there's any chaos. He says more departures are on the way in that tweet. He made it clear that -- and I'll read you that one sentence: "I still have some people that I want to change. Always seeking perfection."
Clearly, Gary Cohn was one of those people. He offered his resignation 24 hours ago. So this morning when the president tweeted that, he knew Gary Cohn was on the way out.
SWERDLICK: Right. And it's becoming increasingly clear, to your point, Wolf, that when he says he's seeking perfection, he's seeking some kind of mix of people that you're describing that essentially gets him where he wants to go optically to present a united front of a White House.
But when you have a president who doesn't have core beliefs on foreign policy, doesn't have core beliefs on the traditional Republican view of trade, then you wind up with this chaos.
BLITZER: Matthew, let me just get your thoughts, because you report on this all the time. The president is moving quickly, moving quickly on these tariffs for steel and aluminum, irritating some of the closest U.S. allies in the world.
[18:35:03] ROSENBERG: It's amazing. This is a president who's come in, and he says, you know -- he doesn't seem to want what Republicans traditionally want. And Democrats, mostly. The entire foreign policy establishment. Which is close relationships with real allies. And Britain, a number of our allies are furious about this. And he's undermining them. And it's hard to see what the end game is here.
BLITZER: And he's undermining a lot of his closest allies here in Washington up on Capitol Hill.
BERG: That's right, Wolf. He rolled out this tariff plan. I mean, you could hardly call it a rollout. He announced this tariff plan without consulting Congress, without consulting the Republican leadership in Congress. This was a surprise to Speaker Paul Ryan and to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Ryan has been urging the president to rethink this, just like Gary Cohn. He didn't consult his lawyers. There wasn't a legal review of this.
It really harkens back to his decision on transgender military members, which he also did in a hurry. It was a rash decision. But he did it because it was an emotional decision. He thought it would help him politically. He was angry about the way things are going. And he thought that that snap decision would help right the ship.
Same thing here. He thinks that this is going to help him politically. But it's really burning a lot of bridges at the same time.
TOOBIN: Another example -- another example --
COLLINS: We are -- we are trying to rationalize a president here who thrives on chaos. He bemoans that; he says there is no chaos. But he loves this chaos. This is what he enjoys.
And he's actually had these views on trade for some time. He said he was going to do this throughout the campaign. So you can act like you're surprised by it, but you can't be -- you can be mortified, but you can't be --
BLITZER: Very quickly, Jeffrey.
COLLINS: -- surprised by it.
TOOBIN: Well, just another example of impulsive action was the first Muslim ban on people coming in -- on people coming from majority Muslim countries, which was quickly struck down by the courts; and now they're trying to get the third version upheld by the courts.
So, you know, it's one thing to, you know, react emotionally and do tariffs and do the Muslim ban and do the transgender ban on the military. But you know, you have to follow the law. And you have to have political supporters. And he hasn't done too well on those.
BLITZER: Everybody, stick around. There's more breaking news we're following. President Trump's top economic adviser has resigned. Stock futures are already down on the news.
[18:42:00] BLITZER: We're following breaking news, the resignation of Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn. We'll have much more on the continuing chaos in the White House in just a moment.
But first, the president's longtime personal lawyer has reportedly caught the eye of the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Let's bring in our justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. She's got more on this.
Jessica, "The Washington Post" now reporting that Mueller's team has examined some specific episodes involving Michael Cohen? What are you learning?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Wolf. The special counsel is now focusing in on two sets of interactions involving Michael Cohen: one during the campaign, the other one week after Donald Trump took office. And both of them involving Russia. Now Michael Cohen never actually worked for the White House or the
campaign, but it's Cohen's role with the Trump Organization and at least one prospective business deal that is now being probed by Mueller's team.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight the president's lawyer, who played a big role in the Trump Organization, is drawing scrutiny from the special counsel, according to "The Washington Post." While Michael Cohen is not a target of the investigation, "The Post" reports Robert Mueller's team has asked for documents and interviewed witnesses about Cohen's roles in a business deal and a policy proposal, both involving Russia.
The special counsel is reportedly looking at negotiations by Cohen during the 2016 campaign to launch a Trump-branded tower in Moscow. Cohen previously acknowledge he reached out to Putin spokesmen for help advancing the project in January of 2016, but did not receive a response and abandoned the plan shortly after.
"The Post" reports the special counsel is also examining a Russia- friendly policy proposal given to Cohen by a Ukrainian lawyer. Michael Cohen is also one of the names on the subpoena issued to Sam Nunberg, a former and short-lived campaign adviser to the Trump team. After initially threatening to defy the subpoena, Nunberg now tells CNN, "I'm going to cooperate with whatever they want."
SAM NUNBERG, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISOR: What I'm not going to have is to help Mueller's team target Roger Stone. Roger is my mentor. Roger is like -- Roger is like a surrogate father to me. And I'm not going to do it.
SCHNEIDER: Nunberg has to hand over all documentation between himself and ten prominent people associated with the Trump campaign from November 2015 to now. The names include the president, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates, who were indicted in October. Gates has since pleaded guilty, and Manafort maintains his innocence. Plus, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and Nunberg's self-proclaimed mentor, Roger Stone.
Stone said in a statement that he has not spoken to the special counsel nor has he turned over any documents. And he wrote, "@NunbergSam marches to his own drummer. He's not speaking at my behest or direction."
Nunberg said Stone may be of interest to Mueller's team, since Stone once claimed to have a relationship with WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, something both Stone and WikiLeaks have since denied. Stone also exchanged messages with Guccifer 2.0, the online entity that claimed responsibilities for the DNC hack and was later outed as a front for Russian intelligence.
NUNBERG: Steve Bannon and Roger Stone? I e-mailed with them, like, 30 times a day. That's how we communicate. SCHNEIDER: In wide-ranging interviews Monday, Nunberg alluded to the questions he faced from the Mueller investigators when he sat with the five and a half hour interview last month. Nunberg indicated the special counsel is zeroing in on the president and potentially his business deals.
NUNBERG: They know. They know something on him. I think they have him on something. They're smart enough to know they have him on something, it has to be during the election.
SCHNEIDER: Nunberg says he thinks investigators also want testimony about the Miss Universe pageant Trump held in 2013.
NUNBERG: They probably wanted to know about Miss Universe 2013 if I had to guess.
SCHNEIDER: Trump partnered with Russian billionaire real estate developer Aras Agalarov and his pop star son Emin to hold the pageant in Moscow. The Agalarov's British publicist was one of the people who attended Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 with Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Nunberg doesn't believe the denials from the president and his son that Donald Trump wasn't aware of the meeting.
NUNBERG: I think he probably knew in advance and --
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: In advance?
NUNBERG: Yes. I think if I had to guess, Don informed him about it.
SCHNEIDER: Nunberg provided no evidence for any of his claims and Nunberg has acknowledged he left the campaign on bad terms with Trump. Nunberg was fired in August of 2015 for racially charged Facebook posts. That was just two months after Donald Trump officially announced his candidacy.
In the midst of hours of TV interviews Monday, some people wrote into reporters, questioning Nunberg's mental state prompting CNN's Erin Burnett to ask this.
BURNETT: Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath.
NUNBERG: Well, I have not had anything to drink.
BURNETT: Anything else?
NUNBERG: No. Besides my meds.
NUNBERG: Antidepressants. Is that OK?
SCHNEIDER: Nunberg told CNN today that he plans to comply with all aspects of the subpoena, including the grand jury testimony he's been called to give right here in Washington on Friday. Nunberg has also said he has no regrets about his public defiance for several hours yesterday. He says he has been spending all of his time now working to comply with the document request -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right. Jessica, thank you very much. Jessica Schneider reporting.
Let's get more on all of this, joining us, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.
General, I want you to listen to the president's comments today on Russian meddling in the presidential elections. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever, but certainly there was meddling and probably meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals. You have to be very vigilant. One of the things we're learning is it's always good. It's old fashion, but it's always good to have a paper back-up system of voting. It's called paper, not highly complex computers.
REPORTER: So, are you worried about Russia trying to meddle in the midterm elections?
TRUMP: No, but we will counteract whatever they do. We'll counteract it very strongly and we are having strong back-up systems. And we have been working actually -- we haven't been given credit for this, but we've actually been working very hard on the '18 election and the '20 election coming up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What's your reaction to those words?
JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Just to be clear, what we saw in the intelligence community assessment when we delivered and briefed to President-elect Trump on January 6th, we said there was no evidence meddling of voter tallies, which I give the president the benefit of the doubt. I guess that's what he is referring to. That, though, ignores the huge impact of social media, fake news, trolls, the RT propaganda effort and all that.
So, I think as far as securing the voter apparatus, if I can call it that, and voting machines and et cetera, which is largely a state responsibility, I trust that's going on. But that kind of ignores what to me is an even bigger issue, the big impact that Russia had. And I don't -- you know, we didn't assess what impact the Russian meddling had on the election.
BLITZER: Let me your reaction, though. The president said, well, maybe they did, but there were probably -- there was meddling going on from other countries and maybe other individuals. He doesn't name anyone.
Did you see any evidence that other countries besides Russia or other individuals besides Russian controlled individuals were meddling in the U.S. presidential election?
CLAPPER: We did not. This was Russia. It was --
BLITZER: Why does he say that?
[18:50:00] CLAPPER: Well, I think he tries to muddy, obfuscate the issue here and it continues his indifference for diming out -- calling out what the Russians and what they did during the 2016 election and what they're continuing to do.
BLITZER: He says he is working, the U.S. is working hard on safeguarding the midterm elections, the 2020 presidential elections, but listen to this exchange what the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in exchange with senators today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: One coherent strategy worked between the executive branch and the congressional branch has not been put in place yet.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D), HAWAII: The 2018 elections are right around the corner. Why do we not have a whole government strategy already?
COATS: I don't have a specific answer to your specific question, which is which agency or which individual person has taken the lead at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, is the president on the same page as Dan Coats, director of national intelligence?
CLAPPER: Well, I think DNI Coats is correct, in that the intelligence agencies over which he leads, are continuing to collect information on what the Russians are doing. But the -- what this requires is not just a whole government approach, not just the intelligence community, but a whole of government approach, and for that matter a whole of society approach. And there's only one person that can lead that, and that's the president. And so far, he hasn't chosen to do that.
BLITZER: Yes, he hasn't ordered anyone to do anything, if you listen to his intelligence advisers and the State Department, they have $120 million that was appropriated in 2016 to start doing something, not a penny has been spent of that money yet.
CLAPPER: Yes. And we are 13 months since or actually more than that, since the election, November 2016. And apparently, we are still admiring the problem and trying to devise a strategy for how to protect the forthcoming midterm and election in 2020. BLITZER: General Clapper, thanks so much for joining us.
CLAPPER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a young Russian woman and self proclaimed sex guru says she has tapes that could help the U.S. investigation into Russian election meddling. What does she want in return? We have new information.
[18:56:59] BLITZER: A Russian self proclaimed sex coach now jailed in Thailand since she has 16 hours of tapes containing details of Moscow's meddling in the U.S. election. Tapes that she says she will hand over in exchange for asylum.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen. He's working the story for us from Moscow.
Fred, tell our viewers what you are picking up.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting in Moscow, we are hearing these are allegedly of 16 hours of tape of Oleg Deripaska, who is, of course, an oligarch very close to Vladimir Putin, who was allegedly offered private briefings on the Trump campaign by Paul Manafort when Manafort was still the chairman of the Trump campaign, and also including an hour of alleged meetings with three unnamed Americans.
Now, the big question, of course, is first of all, if these recordings exist, where are they? And does she have access to them while she is still in that Thai prison. It was interesting throughout the course of the day, Wolf, picking up chatter on social media in Russian language saying that apparently there might have been a deal in the works between Nastya Rybka, this lady and U.S. authorities, and perhaps she may have handed over some of those recordings if indeed they do exist.
None of that has, so far, been substantiated. It seems as though this might turn into somewhat of a waiting game, with her there in prison hoping to get out and still hoping to strike that deal with U.S. authorities. She certainly has been actively lobbying to try to do that speaking to U.S. media and also, of course, having other people who have her followers make the case for her being able to speak to U.S. authorities and possibly even come to America if indeed she does have those recordings, Wolf.
BLITZER: Supposedly, she's in fear of her life. If her life is in danger potentially, she could get political asylum here in the United States. What do you hear about that, whether her life is in actual danger?
PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, that's one of the things that some of her followers apparently have been saying. They believe that -- first of all, conditions in the Thai jail that she's in are, of course, very difficult ones, apparently very difficult to get access to food. She's being brought food by people from the outside. Then, of course, there is the fear of what would happen if in fact she were deported back here to Russia. It's no -- no secret that Oleg Deripaska, the man who a lot of this revolves around -- the recordings revolved around, he's a very powerful man with direct ties to the Kremlin here in this country, and therefore, there could be a threat she obviously believes to her life if, in fact, she is deported back here to Russia.
The other option could be she is also a citizen of Belarus, that she could be deported back to there, but that, of course, is a country that's a close ally of the Russian federation as well. So, certainly, there is some concern, and there might be grounds at least she and her followers believe for her to be able to claim political asylum. But in order to do that, and she obviously has to be able to get in touch with U.S. authorities and possibly try to make her way maybe to the U.S. embassy in Thailand or maybe in the third country, Wolf.
BLITZER: We'll follow the late breaking developments in Bangkok and update our viewers. Fred Pleitgen in Moscow for us, thanks very much.
That's it for me.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.