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Trump Fires Secret Service Director after Ouster of Homeland Security Secretary; Trump Ordered Nielsen and Pompeo to Immediately Shut Down Part of Border Two Weeks Ago but Backed Down; Interview with Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), on U.S. Border Security; Trump Purging Top Homeland Security Officials as Immigration Hardliners Hold Sway at White House. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 8, 2019 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: security purge. President Trump fires the director of the U.S. Secret Service after ousting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Sources say that followed ranting and raving by the president on the border issue. And officials ignored his orders to shut down U.S. ports of entry.

Miller instinct: administration sources say White House adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, is one of the people behind the Homeland Security purge and has targeted more senior officials for firing.

What's he up to?

Spying for China?

At a court hearing, prosecutors say the Chinese woman accused of breaching security at Mar-a-lago had multiple electronic devices, including one that can detect hidden cameras, another loaded with malware and thousands of dollars in cash.

Was she involved in espionage?

And Mueller to testify: the House Judiciary Committee chairman says he intends to bring in special counsel Robert Mueller to testify and attorney general William Barr is due on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

Are we about to learn much more about the Mueller report?

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, President Trump cleans house over at the Homeland Security Department. He's firing U.S. Secret Service director Randolph "Tex" Alles according to multiple sources. It comes a day after the firing of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. And a senior official says that President Trump has become unhinged over the immigration situation.

CNN has learned that White House aide Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, played a key role in the ouster of Nielsen. A source says the firing of the Secret Service chief is not tied to the security lapse at the president's Mar-a-lago resort, where a Chinese woman managed to enter illegally.

In court today, prosecutors said she had a device that could detect hidden cameras, a flash drive with malware, four cellphones and Chinese passports.

I'll speak with Republican congressman Will Hurd of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

First, let's go straight to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, an all-out sweep at the Homeland Security. Take us through the late-breaking developments.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump is shaking up the Department of Homeland Security. A full-scale purge is underway, as the president has essentially fired the Homeland Security Secretary and the Secret Service director in the last 24 hours. There are more departures expected soon.

And a familiar face, as you said, the White House immigration hardliner, Stephen Miller, is working behind the scenes to clean house. But a Trump adviser said much of the blame in all of this for the chaos at DHS lies with the president, as this adviser put it, the president still has not learned, quote, "how to govern."


ACOSTA (voice-over): In one of the biggest shakeups of his administration, President Trump is cleaning house over at the Department of Homeland Security. The latest official to go, Secret Service director Randolph Alles, who follows the forced departure of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the sudden withdrawal of the nomination of Ron Vitiello over at ICE.

Top officials at Citizenship and Immigration Services and the DHS general counsel could be next. The Secret Service director told agency employees that he wasn't being fired but had been warned weeks ago that transitions in leadership were coming to DHS.

Nielsen, whose exit was tweeted by the president Sunday, insists she still supports Mr. Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, FORMER SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I share the president's goal of securing the border. I will continue to support all efforts to address the humanitarian and security crisis on the border. And other than that, I'm on my way to keep doing what I can for the next few days. So thank you all for being here.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Before she was forced out, Nielsen was clashing with the president over the influx of migrants at the border, as Mr. Trump told asylum seekers, they're no longer welcome in the U.S.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The system is full. Can't take you anymore. Whether it's asylum, whether it's anything you want, it's illegal immigration, can't take you anymore. We can't take you, our country is full. Our area is full, the sector is full. Can't take you anymore, I'm sorry.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Sources tell CNN the president wanted to resurrect the family separation policy at the border as a deterrent, despite Mr. Trump signing an executive order last year ending the practice of tearing children from their parents.


TRUMP: We're going to have strong, very strong borders. But we're going to keep the families together. I didn't like the sight or the feeling of families being separated.


ACOSTA (voice-over): CNN has also learned that top domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner, has been acting as the president's ringleader behind the scenes, directing top DHS officials to adopt harsh tactics on the border. A --


ACOSTA (voice-over): -- Trump campaign adviser said much of the blame belongs to the president, adding, quote, "Trump will never find border success until he learns how to govern. The border situation is his failing and his alone. The fact that Trump listens to Stephen Miller on this issue is why it will never get resolved."

Part of the problem, the adviser said, is that the president doesn't understand government policies.

Just last Friday, the president got his facts wrong about a key part of immigration law known as the Flores Settlement, saying it was named after a judge. But it was really named after a young migrant.


TRUMP: We've had some very bad court decisions. The Flores decision is a disaster. I have to tell you.

Judge Flores, whoever you may be, that decision is a disaster for our country.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The president has tapped the top official at Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, to take over at DHS as acting secretary. That means the Trump administration is run by yet another acting official.

The president has also blindsided the Secret Service, which is dedicated to protecting the commander in chief, even though he has repeatedly praised the agency in the past.


TRUMP: I could not be happier with Secret Service. Secret Service has done a fantastic job from day one. Very happy with them.


ACOSTA: Now a Trump campaign adviser questioned whether the president actually knows what he's doing as he's cracking down on the border and shaking up his immigration team. As this adviser put it, this is not a Kirstjen Nielsen or a Jeff Sessions issue, this is a lack-of- understanding issue.

And as for Stephen Miller, a senior administration official told me he might as well become the new DHS secretary, as he's driving much of the policy at the department.

But, Wolf, getting back to this notion that the president wants to bring back family separations down at the border, yes, he wants to do it as a deterrent.

But a Trump campaign adviser just told me a few moments ago that one of the other reasons why the president wants to do it is to have leverage with Democrats when it comes to this debate over immigration.

So the president apparently wants to get back to this practice of taking children away from their parents to have leverage on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim, thank you. Jim Acosta at the White House.

We're also learning President Trump was willing to actually break U.S. norms and laws to keep migrants out of the country.

Let's bring in our chief Washington correspondent, the anchor of "THE LEAD," Jake Tapper. He is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jake, you've been doing a lot of reporting on this and the president issued a pretty stark warning, we're told now, thanks to your reporting, a couple of weeks ago.

What are you learning?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, all of this is the context for why the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security was fired, Kirstjen Nielsen. They had been at odds for a long time. And one of the issues was the president wanting her to do things that she thought were either contrary to the law or just unwise.

One of them, two Thursdays ago, the president in the Oval Office, before he departed for a rally was meeting with her, with Pompeo, with other top advisers -- Dan Scavino, Mercedes Schlapp, Stephen Miller, Jared Kushner -- and he basically said he wanted -- it wasn't -- he ordered Pompeo and Nielsen to close the El Paso border the next day, Friday, by noon.

And then he wanted a policy of other ports of entry with the border with Mexico shut down in subsequent days. Secretary Nielsen said that that was not a good idea, closing down the border would not achieve the desired effect. People would just come in through the illegal ports of entry between the ports.

And President Trump said, quote, "I don't care," according to two attendees of that meeting.

At the end of the day, that order was not carried out. Somehow, whether it was Jared Kushner or Mick Mulvaney, someone talked the president out of it. But he had ordered the port of El Paso closed.

BLITZER: He was there at the border on Friday. And you're learning more details.

What happened?

What are you learning?

TAPPER: Well, subsequently, on Friday, when he was at Calexico, California, he said publicly, we need to start saying we have no more room, no one else can come in, that's it.

What's interesting is, he was also saying that privately. He told border agents, just don't let people come in, even though the law is that Central American migrants seeking asylum have every right to come to U.S. soil and, as soon as they're on U.S. soil, seek asylum and they get due process, et cetera. That's the law. Whether or not people like the law, that is the law.

President Trump told them not to carry out that law. And he said, "And if a judge says you have to do it, say, 'Sorry, Judge, we don't have any more room.'"

Now subsequently, President Trump left the room and the leaders of these border agents had to tell them, don't do that, that's not the law, you have to follow the law. If you do what the president said, that will be personal liability on you, so do not do it.

BLITZER: And in another pretty shocking development, you're learning the president not only wants to reinstate what's called the child separation policy, separating kids from their mothers and fathers, but actually wants to expand it?

TAPPER: He wants to expand it. Yes. So the original policy put forward by Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, even though Secretary Nielsen became the public face of it, was that if you come into the country through the illegal ports of entry, between the ports of entry, if you cross the border illegally, they catch you, to prosecute you as a criminal and that would mean that your children get separated from you.

President Trump --


TAPPER: -- thought that that policy was successful in terms of deterring people from coming illegally. So he wants it back, according to administration officials, senior administration officials. Not only does he want it back, he wants to expand it.

He wants, if you are an asylum seeker, coming through a legal port of entry, separate you from your kids. If you are caught in Missouri and you're undocumented, separate you from your kids. He wants it wider.

He's gotten a lot of pushback. Communications people in the White House saying that would be a disaster. Secretary Nielsen saying, there are court cases against this, we can't do this. The Health and Human Services Secretary, Azar saying, I do not want to do this. But this is what President Trump wants.

BLITZER: It's hard to believe. And it's so heartbreaking, some of those kids are still, to this day, separated from their parents. They were separated and it's going to take a while to find their mothers and their fathers and get them back together.

TAPPER: That's the point. The cruelty is the point. He wants the deterrence.

BLITZER: Yes, it's so cruel. All right, great reporting, Jake Tapper, thank you very, very much.

Also breaking, a court hearing for the woman accused of breaching security at the president's Mar-a-lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Prosecutors say she had multiple electronic devices, including one that can detect hidden cameras, and possessed thousands of dollars in cash.

Let's go to our crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. He's on the scene for us down in West Palm Beach.

Shimon, the devices and the malware in her possession raising lots of concern.

Could she actually be a Chinese spy?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: It certainly is, Wolf. And that is the biggest question right now surrounding this investigation and that is something that prosecutors say they're investigating.

They're investigating whether she was acting as a spy, trying to act as a spy, whether or not she was sent here by the Chinese to spy perhaps on the president, on Mar-a-lago. This is the big question here.

You went through some of the items that they found on her. But what we learned today raises the stakes a little bit in that we also learned that, in her hotel room, they found quite a number of other gadgets that she could have been using for this spy operation.

Specifically, it was this device, this signal device that was being used to detect hidden cameras. This is what prosecutors say they found in her hotel after her arrest; when they went there and they were searching the hotel, they found another cellphone. They found five U.S. -- five SIM cards. They found nine USB devices.

So there's a whole lot of other stuff, electronics that certainly could be used in a spy operation. And now investigators want to know exactly what she was doing here.

They also, Wolf, found cash, about $7,500 in U.S. currency, cash in her hotel room, as well as several credit cards, they say.

Today, she was in court. It was the first time that we certainly got a chance to take a look at her. She sat there, listened to the judge and listened to her attorneys, trying to argue that she should be released.

However, that's not happening. She's on hold now. Her visa, essentially, was suspended. She no longer has a visa that she used to come to the U.S. And now we're just waiting to find out whether or not she's going to stay here, whether or not she's going to face any other charges -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tell us a little bit more about the, what they're calling the malicious malware that they found.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, so this is certainly significant. And speaking to cyber experts, they'll say, this is not unusual for the Chinese in general. There is malware. They found -- the Secret Service said that there was a flash drive that they have on it -- it was a thumb drive, actually -- that they found malware.

And what happened is, when they removed this from her, during her arrest, they went back to their offices and they put it into their computer. They wanted to see what was on it.

And what they described was that, the minute that they put that into the computer, it just started unloading. It just started going into their computer, whatever that malware is. They would not say specifically what it is. But the malware started going into their computer. The Secret Service agent said he shut his computer off.

It's unclear if that infected his computer. But, certainly, this does sound like something that she was carrying that was to be delivered into some sort of a computer system. Now whether that was at Mar-a- lago, obviously, that's what's important here.

Everything, when you think about everything that she had here, it certainly sounds like she was under some kind of operation. And the FBI is now part of this investigation and that is something that they're looking into.

BLITZER: What a story that is. All right, Shimon, thank you. Shimon Prokupecz, down in Florida for us.

Joining us now, Republican congressman Will Hurd of Texas. He's a member of the Intelligence and the Appropriations Committees.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): Always a pleasure to be on, Wolf.

BLITZER: So you're a former CIA officer. Let me ask you about this situation down at Mar-a-lago. I want to talk to you about that in just a moment.

But let me get your reaction to the reporting we just heard from Jake Tapper on the president's order to effectively close the border, the port of entry in El Paso, Texas. That's just outside --


BLITZER: -- your district in Texas.

What's your reaction to that news?

HURD: My reaction, Wolf, is simple. There is, indeed, a crisis going on along our border. Last month in March, 100,000 people came in illegally. And to give some context to that number, 400,000 people came in illegally all of last year.

Resorting back to family separations is not going to solve this problem. Family separations didn't work. It's not a deterrent. People still kept coming and we started to see an increase when that was all happening.

Second, closing down the border is not going to also solve the problem. A trade is vital to these communities. And you have communities that are using some of the taxes they get through trade to put back into border security and making sure a civil society is helping Border Patrol and ICE.

We have to focus and make some tough decisions on long-term issues that are going to solve the long-term problem; the root cause is violence and lack of economic opportunities in --


BLITZER: When you think --

HURD: -- El Salvador.

BLITZER: -- Congressman, do you think the president fully understands what you're explaining?

HURD: Well, I don't know the answer to that. But I do know what we should be focusing on. Our acting secretary of DHS is someone who's well respected in both the House and the Senate and both sides of the aisle. He has a tough situation that he is inheriting.

But let's be frank, this is a problem that has transcended multiple administrations, multiple Congresses, because we haven't been focusing on these root causes.

But one of the things I think should happen is the secretary of state should announce a special representative for the Northern Triangle -- that's El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- and making sure that we're engaging everybody in the Western Hemisphere on this problem. We need to be engaging things like OPIC (ph), which is the U.S. Institute of Help on Infrastructure (ph), the International Development Bank, Organization of American States, in order to address those root causes, which is going to be ultimately the solution.

And then here, one of the things our acting secretary has is, you know, Border Patrol has a transportation contract to move you from point A to point B. ICE in the same location has the same -- there's a lot of efficiencies that can be improved to prevent things from happening, like, this past quarter, 78,000 manhours were spent by Border Patrol at hospitals dealing with immigrants.

Why are we not contracting out that service?

So there are some administrative things like that, that can improve the situation. And we do need to address some of our asylum laws. Our asylum laws are being taken advantage of. A 1950s asylum laws are not going to solve this problem. But there needs to be a bipartisan conversation around that.


BLITZER: But that's the law of the land right now. If somebody comes in the United States and seeks asylum, you can't simply just kick that person out and claim, as the president says, you know, the country is full right now, no more room for you.

HURD: Yes, we have to follow our laws, plain and simple. And we should be making sure the men and women Border Patrol and ICE, in CBP, in USCIS, in HHS are following the laws. And when there are things that need to be tweaked, these are the conversations that should be had up here in Washington, D.C.

BLITZER: Well, let me press you on this, Congressman, because you just heard Jake Tapper's reporting that the president said, forget about the law. I want these people out. I don't want them to come in, the country is full. Forget about the law.

HURD: Well, I don't think we should be forgetting about the law. I don't think we should be putting the men and women in Border Patrol. Look, the men and women in Border Patrol and ICE are having a difficult situation. I was down in El Paso two weekends ago. We all saw those images of

those people under the bridge in a tent in 55-degree weather on rocks. These are -- these people are having to deal with that. The folks in ICE are overstaffed, just from a sort of exec for (ph) in El Paso, 2,400 Border Patrol agents, only 150 ICE.

BLITZER: Well, what does it say to you, Congressman, when the president says, ignore the law?

HURD: Well, again, this is the reporting. I don't know if that was -- indeed what happened. I don't think -- I would not be advising anybody to suggest they ignore the law. My job is to focus and articulate solutions to this. And we have short-term solutions; we have long-term solutions.

We need to be making some of these tough decisions. Having this, the number of acting individuals with throughout DHS is adding a -- making a difficult situation even more difficult.

But our acting secretary now, again, we've got to focus on the short- term ways that deal with the problem.

And my fear, Wolf, is in April, this month, we're going to see more people coming into this country illegally than we did in March. That could potentially lead to a loss of life, so that's people in Border Patrol, you know, in custody or even some of our officers being hurt.

BLITZER: But look at this. The president is clearly conducting a purge over at the Homeland Security apparatus. Take a look at what's going on. You can see individuals fired, let go, moving on.

Are you concerned by this very high-level, very constant turnover --


BLITZER: -- inside the Trump administration?

HURD: Turnover is never good, especially when you're in the middle of a crisis. So this is going to make things tricky. However, our acting secretary of DHS, he's been the head of Border Patrol, he's a longtime Border Patrol agent, understands the roles of that agency and knows the problem firsthand.

So I feel confident in his ability, in order to deal and to be in this breach, when we're dealing with this current crisis. And ultimately, I think there's going to be a lot of time for pointing fingers and blaming each other.

But April is going to be bad. And when it starts getting hotter in Texas, you're going to see tempers flare. You're already seeing men and women in Border Patrol and ICE pushed to their max for the last couple of weeks and months.

This is, this is indeed a crisis. And we need cool heads to prevail and make sure that we're actually working towards these long-term solutions. BLITZER: Well, speaking about cool heads, are you concerned that the president's senior adviser, Stephen Miller, who's an immigration hardliner right now, is apparently driving U.S. policy?

HURD: Well, I think folks that have experience on the ground on this issue are folks that we should be talking about.

There's also another element here that we haven't talked about yet, Wolf, is that these kingpin human smugglers that are moving people back and forth to get from Tegucigalpa to El Paso --


BLITZER: But are you concerned about Stephen Miller?

HURD: Well, I would focus on making sure we're listening to folks that have experience on the ground that are doing this. I would rely heavily on the acting DHS secretary, because he is someone that understands this.

When we're looking for a new ICE director to put forward, we need to have people that have experience on the ground in dealing with this. These are the -- listen to the folks on the ground as well.

There's a lot of talent and capabilities that people have been dealing with this. I've seen a lot of senior Border Patrol agents that were sector commanders that have left, being able to bring some of them back in an advisory capacity, especially when dealing with this current crisis.

So these are the folks that I would be listening to. And, again, we need to be addressing the root causes in these countries. And we need to be improving our intelligence on these folks that are bringing people here illegally.

BLITZER: And cutting off all that aid to those countries, whether it's El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, clearly is not going to help either. It's just going to promote that kind of immigration.

You're a former CIA officer.

Does the evidence suggest to you that this Chinese woman down in Palm Beach, who tried to gain entry to Mar-a-lago, was, in fact, a spy for the Chinese government rather than some sort of rogue operator?

HURD: Look, it is -- when you look at all the superficial evidence, it looks pretty bad. FBI are great when it comes to counterintelligence. I would not be surprised if this is, indeed, an attempt by the Russian government -- excuse me -- by the Chinese government to invade and probe Mar-a-lago.

I've seen this when I was in the private sector. I've seen the Chinese do this kind of stuff in order to get a leg up on negotiations. And we've got to remember, there's likely to be a major summit happen at Mar-a-lago between the presidents of the two countries. And I could see them trying to get in, understand that, to help get a

leg up. There will be some tough negotiations going on while they're down there. I would not be surprised, this is a tactic that we've seen the Chinese government do in other places.

Of course, they are going to deny that they were involved in this. Of course, they're going to say this is a rogue operation. But, you know, it just -- it just -- it smells of an intelligence operation.

And here's the good thing. If you're going to do something like that, you're going to use your best. And the fact that our men and women in federal law enforcement and in counterintelligence areas were able to discover this, that's a pretty good move.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point.

But do the president's frequent visits to his club down at Mar-a-lago, where there are a lot of members over there, walking in and out, do you believe that actually poses a direct national security threat?

HURD: The men and women in Secret Service are professionals. They know how to protect locations. If you're going to -- you're going to have any service trying to get a leg up.

We know that there's been attempts to get access into embassies, to get access into the White House in the past. So the President of the United States is always going to be a collection target by hostile intelligence services. And that doesn't matter where he or she may be.

BLITZER: Yes, well, the point is, she actually got into Mar-a-lago. She walked around; eventually, she started asking some questions, raised some suspicions and she was eventually arrested. But she did manage to enter that compound over there down in Palm Beach. And that's causing a lot of concern. You want to say -- yes, go ahead.


HURD: And on that piece, you know, I don't know the layout of Mar-a- lago, I don't know if this is an area where any sensitive conversations would ever be --


HURD: -- just because it's a big property. I don't know if the president is ever in that part of the location. So there's a whole lot of questions to ask to understand the level of threat that it possibly is.

But the kind of gear, this kind of tactic is something we've seen by the Chinese.

BLITZER: I've been down at Mar-a-lago and I've been there when he was a private citizen, Donald Trump; he walks around the whole place. He's very, very familiar with his club. I assume he's doing the same thing right now. Congressman Will Hurd, we always appreciate your joining us. Thanks so much.

HURD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, breaking news. A powerful House chairman plans to call special counsel Robert Mueller to testify. And the attorney general will appear up on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

Will we soon learn more about the Mueller report?

And the actress Felicity Huffman and a dozen other wealthy parents, they agree to plead guilty to the college admissions scandal.

So what fate awaits them?



WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Also breaking tonight, the top democrat on the House Judiciary Committee says he intends to bring in Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before his committee. That comes as Attorney General William Barr will be up on Capitol Hill as early as tomorrow.

Let's go to our Senior Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju. Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, made it very clear that the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, will be testifying in public before his committee, but he said that it would happen after Bill Barr, the Attorney General, talks before this committee on May 2nd. And all of that presumably would occur after Barr releases at least a redacted version of the Mueller report, as he said, by mid-April.

But all eyes will be on Bill Barr tomorrow, Wolf, as he comes to Capitol Hill and talks to a separate committee, a subcommittee on House Appropriations about the budget request for the Department of Justice. But I talked to democratic members of this committee who made very clear they plan to ask about the status of the Mueller report.


REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): Certainly, by this time tomorrow, we're going to know a lot more about Mr. Barr's thinking process and why he did what he did and why he didn't do more and and all of those questions.

Well, I think what's on everybody's mind right now is how much is he going to redact. And I hope that he takes a very sparing approach to his redactions because he knows that everybody is going to want to know what's behind the black ink?

(END VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: And tomorrow, Wolf, will be the first time that Barr comes before public in the aftermath of his release of that four-page letter, outlining the top line conclusions of the Mueller report. A lot of questions democrats and republicans have about how exactly that letter came together, his thinking about why also the President was not charged with obstruction of justice.

And as you heard from Congressman Cartwright there about those redactions, a huge fight looming here on Capitol Hill as democrats demand to redactions from the Mueller report. Barr is indicating at least four categories of redactions, but still a lot of questions about how much Congress will see, how much the public will see and what democrats do next.

BLITZER: Yes. Members of Congress, I'm sure, will be asking Bill Barr, the Attorney General, lots of questions tomorrow precisely on this. We'll cover it, obviously, very closely. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you.

Let's bring in our political, legal and national security experts to talk about all the breaking news. And, Shawn, let's get back to the news right at the top of the hour. How serious is this split between the President and some of his senior Homeland Security officials, including a few apparently who have been fired, who ignored his orders to go ahead and do certain things that they believe would break the law?

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, Wolf. I don't think we can underestimate the significance of having the President of the United States give unlawful orders to law enforcement officials and then having their leaders have to counsel them to ignore those orders.

What's particularly troubling about it is that the President has already demonstrated that when he encounters leaders who will not carry out his orders, when they do what he wants them to do. He simply replaces them with leaders who will do what he wants them to do.

And so I think the split is only going to intensify, because, over time, what we're going to see is we're going to see the President continuing to want to have people to do things that are unlawful. And when his leaders won't follow his orders, he'll simply replace them.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: And just to that point, we know this isn't an isolated incident. Rex Tillerson said after being removed from as Secretary of State, he said, I had to, at times, inform the President that what he wanted to do ran afoul with the law. I'm paraphrasing. Don McGahn, the White House Counsel, repeatedly cautioned Donald Trump, that this is, legally, on a number of things, including the firing of Robert Mueller or proposed firing of Robert Mueller, this is politically disadvantageous at a minimum and legally dicey and can get you into trouble.

So, I mean, he pushes boundaries, and I think even more so, he doesn't necessarily even recognize that those boundaries exist, which is dangerous when you are the top -- you are at the top of the government food chain. You are the boss of all of these folks.

BLITZER: You heard, Laura, Jake Tapper report earlier, quoting a senior administration official is saying, the President refuses to understand that the Department of Homeland Security is constrained by the laws. You reaction?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: It's a real problem. He is the President of the United States, essentially telling border agents to break the law. He said, if the judges give you trouble, tell them I said, there's no room. At which point they turned to their leaders, saying, basically, what am I supposed to do with that? And their bosses are essentially telling them, don't listen to the President of the United States. I mean, think about that. That's just extraordinary. And then on the children separations front, he wants to put it back in a place, despite the fact that there's a court order saying it's unconstitutional.


So on all of these different fronts, on the immigration front, he seems to think the rules don't apply.

BLITZER: Bianna, it's really interesting. There seems to be really a wholesale purge going on at the Department of Homeland Security. Take a look at all of these individuals who have either been kicked out or moved in another direction.

But if you take a look at the bigger picture, it's not just the Department of Homeland Security. Senior administration officials are in acting capacities throughout the administration. Look at all of these other people who have acting roles right now as opposed to officially confirmed -- Senate-confirmed roles as cabinet members.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And that's no accident, Wolf. I mean, earlier this year, just take the President at his words, he said he likes acting secretaries, because, in a way, I guess, it gives him more leverage as to who will listen to what he wants and do what he wants as well. It also circumvents the confirmation process, right? So it sort eliminates the role that the Congress plays in doing any kind of vetting when it comes to these secretaries. And you could also argue that because he may hold more leverage over them, they may be more inclined to do or give in to some of the President's demands.

I'd also go back to what the others were talking about, the panel brought up, and the President, in a way, would joke at times about how he would be jealous of authoritative figures and autocrats in countries like Turkey and China and Russia. And this is the very reason why, because he gets frustrated when the rule of law gets in the way of what he wants to do, whereas in those countries, they are the law, they make up the law, and anybody that doesn't pay attention or obeys the law obviously gets reprimanded.

BLITZER: And I'll put it once again up on the screen, these acting officials who are leading various national security and other agencies, Homeland Security Secretary, acting, Defense Secretary, acting, Theme Administrator, acting, U.N. Ambassador, acting, White House Chief of Staff, acting, Interior Secretary, acting, Office of Management and Budget Director, acting. Is there a national security problem here?

TURNER: Absolutely, Wolf. In the national security space, when it comes to the leaders that you have at the top of our national security agencies, you want a couple of things. You want consistency across those agencies. You want people in those seats who understand the issues and who have worked with those teams at those agencies so they can make sure they capture the national security challenges that we face. You also want to make sure you have people who have relationships with each other because we need our agencies to talk to each other and to work together.

So as Bianna was saying, I mean, this is a real issue when the President is putting these people in these positions, because he believes that he can exercise leverage over them. That is not in the best interests of our national security.

GOLODRYGA: And look at what comes up even with acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan and everything that we have heard about his connections with Boeing. All of this has come up after the fact, obviously. But you can imagine any other of these acting administrative figures being in a similar position, where we're starting to learn more and more about what could have possibly been brought to the forefront during a standard vetting process.

CILLIZZA: And there's a whack-a-mole sort of mentality to this President as it relates to staffing. He sees them all pop up at (INAUDIBLE) arcade game and he whacks it. The problem is there are three others here. And when you are taking one here and patching over here, oh, well, now, this -- I have to cover this. And as a result, what you have is not even -- yes, the acting Defense Secretary, Interior Secretary, huge problems, right?

But take it -- go one step below that or a step below that. Brookings has done great work in this. 66 percent of the senior level in executive office staff that started in the Trump presidency no longer work there. And for George Bush, for four years, it was 63 percent attrition. We're in day 808 for Donald Trump. There's just -- there's a wholesale gutting out even below those bigger names that we obviously know.

BLITZER: Everybody stick around. There's a lot more news we're following. We'll continue our coverage right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with our reporters and our analysts. And, Laura, this -- what's going on at Mar-a-Lago, this woman, this Chinese woman, she was in court today. There's a lot of suspicious activity, a lot of sense that she may, in fact, have been some sort of Chinese spy.

JARRETT: It's such a strange case. And they described today all of the different bizarre devices that she had, she had a bunch of cash with her, a device that even could detect whether there was a hidden camera. And so the prosecutor said, look, we haven't charged her with espionage yet, but the implication is that they are still investigating. We know it's part of the FBI's larger look into China and to spying spying, where generally something they've certainly been looking at for a while. But it's just a bizarre case. And I'm sure as Shawn could speak to, it's just a question of whether this is was a one-off or whether she was coming at the direction of somebody.

BLITZER: You used to work over the Director for the Director of National Intelligence.

TURNER: Yes. Clearly, there's something going on here with regard to this woman trying to gather information. But I have concerns here with the idea that she's a sanctioned spy.

Look, there are several things about the process that she went through that don't make sense. For one, they found this information because she left things out in her hotel room. That's just not the kind of thing that -- that's not good spy hygiene. The fact that she didn't have a story ready to go when she was caught, it all looks very suspicious to me.

What this looks like to me based on my time in the intelligence community, this looks like someone who may have been trying to gather information that they could then go back to the Chinese government with or go back to some other entity that would be interested in having information on the President or having access to the President.


I just question whether or not this is a sanctioned spy on behalf of the Chinese government.

BLITZER: Let's turn to the 2020 Presidential contest, specifically, Chris, Pete Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, democratic presidential candidate. I don't know if he's formally announced, but he will announce formally very soon. He's gay, he's 37 years old. And he really went after the vice president, a fellow Indiana, Mike Pence, for some of his anti-LBGT positions. Listen to this.


MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN): Speaking only for myself, I can tell you that if me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. And that's the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you've got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.


BLITZER: What do you think of his decision to go after his fellow Hoosier?

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean, so -- well, for -- okay, on one level, being a democrat running for president in 2020 and attacking Mike Pence is like relatively low-hanging fruit. I mean, Mike Pence is not -- the only person less popular in the Democratic Party than Mike Pence is probably Donald Trump. So on the one hand, that, it makes sense strategically.

But I also think you see in that clip why Buttigieg is getting attention, starting to move up in polling, raise more money than I certainly thought he would, at $7 million in the first quarter. It's because he speaks in ways that don't feel overtly partisan, don't feel nasty, don't attack Mike Pence for his beliefs, but simply say, sir, I am someone of beliefs as well and you're more than welcome to take it up with that person. But for me, this is my reality and this is my truth. Again, it's a powerful message, well delivered, in a way that isn't sort of the knife fighting that our politics has become.

BLITZER: Let me get -- let Bianna weigh in. Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: I spoke with a Republican Party official who sort of echoed what Chris was saying in the sense that Pete Buttigieg doesn't seem to be excluding anyone. He is appealing obviously to democrats but to also republicans. Republicans have gay and lesbian members of their families and their communities too. And the way he is talking to them and referencing his own experience is not only raw and personal, but he's not talking down to them. He's not in the gutter. He's explaining where he comes from, from an intellectual, but also from a sympathetic and, I would say, very engaging standpoint.

Everybody continues to be impressed by him. It's going to be an issue that's going to continue to be at the forefront, at least during his campaign. We have never had a gay or lesbian, openly gay or lesbian President of the United States. It's something that he knows he will have to address. And I've seen republicans and democrats really commend him for how he's handling it this far.

BLITZER: Yes. He's been impressive so far. He's doing, as Chris say, a lot better than most of us thought he would do. Very impressive, indeed.

There's another major story, a breaking story we're following right now. The actress, Felicity Huffman, is among 13 wealthy parents agreeing to plead guilty in the college admissions scandal. She and the others are accused of using fraud and bribery to get their children into prestigious schools. Huffman issued a statement saying she's ashamed of the pain she caused her daughter, her family, her friends and apologizes to the parents and students who work hard to get into college honestly.

Coming up, new aggression by Russia's military. What is Vladimir Putin up to now?



BLITZER: We're following an aggressive new move by Russia's military. Vladimir Putin's warships have turned up in the Philippines and the timing is ominous. CNN's Brian Todd is following the late-breaking developments. So what's the Russian leader, Brian, up to?

BRIAN TODD, CNN : Wolf, it's not clear exactly what those Russian ships are doing in the Philippines. But analysts say you can bet that Vladimir Putin deployed them there to flex his military might and to disrupt. This comes as the U.S. and the Philippines hold joint military exercises and it comes as tensions in that region are at a boil.


TODD: These ships are a menacing reminder of Vladimir Putin's military ambition, a show of force in a region already in the center of tense relations between the U.S. and its enemies. Tonight, the three Russian navy ships are docked in the Philippines, including two high tech anti-submarine destroyers.

CAPT. BILL HAMBLET, FORMER U.S. NAVAL ATTACHE TO RUSSIA: I think Putin is looking to give the United States something to worry about.

TODD: It's the second time this year that Russian warships have docked in the Philippines. And for America, it symbolizes a worrisome shift in alliances in that region. For decades, the Philippines was a key U.S. military ally in Asia. America kept one of its largest overseas naval bases there. But recently, analyst say, Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte has started to pivot away from the U.S. toward a closer alliance with Putin even though his navy is conducting large-scale joint military exercises with American forces right now.

Meantime, the Russian president, experts say, is having only moderate success in expanding his navy. But he has improved one capability which threatens American forces.

HAMBLET: They have been building new ballistic missile submarines and they have also been building nuclear-powered fast attack submarines.

HEATHER CONLEY, CENTER OF STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: We are seeing cruise missiles coming from vessels in the Caspian Sea. They are testing a lot of hypersonic cruise missiles, a lot of them, again, submarine-based.

TODD: Putin is jumping right into the middle of a region fraught with military tension tonight. China has laid claim to several islands in the South China Sea, has even built some islands from scratch and placed military installations on them. The U.S. has tried to curb China's aggression there and Duterte, whose navy occupies one island in that chain, recently threatened a suicide mission against Chinese forces which were spotted near that island. Experts say Putin is eager to exploit these tensions for his own gain and eager to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its ally.

CONLEY: His arrival in the Philippines with these three navy vessels is to remind the United States that Russia is a global power. Can he separate the Philippines from the United States in any way? Can he be a disruptor?

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: CNN has reached out but, so far, no response from the White House or the Pentagon to the Russian ships' deployment in the Philippines. How can America counter this effort by Putin to divide America from its allies in Asia?


Analyst say the U.S. has to stay its course in the region, keep holding joint military exercises with its allies, keep engaging diplomatically with countries, like the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, make them realize that America is the friend they want to have in that region and not Vladimir Putin. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. Brian Todd, thank you very much.

Coming up, the breaking news that President Trump fires the Secret Service Director after ousting Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Wholesale decapitation. President trump cuts the top leadership over at the Department of Homeland Security, firing the DHS Chief and the Head of the Secret Service. Tonight, more ousters could happen at any time.

Spy at Mar-a-Lago? Prosecutors reveal new evidence in the case of a Chinese woman accused of illegal entry at the President's Florida resort. Why did she have a stash of cash and electronics and tell a string of lies?

Calling Mueller. The House Judiciary Committee Chairman promises to get testimony from the Special Counsel after lawmakers have his full report in hand. How soon will Mueller be pressed to share details about his investigation?

BLITZER: And hitting the Barr. As the Attorney General works toward releasing the Mueller report, he'll face tough questions from Congress tomorrow. Democrats say they'll demand to know how much of the report Bill Barr plans to keep secret.


We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in The Situation Room.