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Rex Tillerson Spoke to Trump by Phone Hours After Firing; Trump Aide Under DHS Investigation for Financial Crimes Fired; Putin Critic Found Dead in London of Unexplained Causes; Trump Nominates First Woman to Lead CIA. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired March 13, 2018 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:30:01] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We just heard a second ago from outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He did confirm he did speak with Trump just a couple of hours after he discovered he was fired over Twitter. As secretary of state, he said his last day at the State Department will be the end of March, and hopes for a smooth transition. Again, CIA chief, Mike Pompeo, the president intends to become the next secretary of state, all pending confirmation.
Meantime, in the room for us for CNN, Michelle Kosinski, live there while the secretary spoke.
What was it like being in the room?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Just sitting a few feet from him, this was clearly a well prepared, lengthy statement. He went in to detail and all areas. What struck you the most was how emotional he seemed. His voice was wavering and he was shaking up there the entire time. I don't know if that was noticeable on camera, but we could all see that. And all the rumors when this reached a head a few months ago that there were at least some factions within the White House that wanted him out, and out immediately, he felt he had gotten past this.
There was a statement from the State Department that wasn't dictated by Tillerson himself. That information came directly from Tillerson and it said he had every intention of sticking around and that he did not know the reason why he was being fired. He didn't go into any detail about what he spoke to the president about exactly. Did he reach some kind of understanding? Does he know now why he was fired? He didn't talk about how those conversation went with either the president or the chief of staff.
I think one thing, too, that stood out was when he walked about U.S. leadership starting with diplomacy, wanting to emphasize that, and saying when leadership is in place, you can actually get some things done. Maybe that was some reference to the kind of relationship he ended up having with this White House that ended up being untenable. He was not happy about it.
This was a difficult moment for him. Even more uncomfortable to watch and to witness than the time a few months ago when the White House forced him to come out and not deny that he called Trump a moron. BALDWIN: Right.
KOSINSKI: But he had to state that he believed that Trump was a smart person. This was quite emotional.
BALDWIN: It definitely broke through, how he stood there, how he spoke.
Going back to Gloria Borger and Dana Bash.
Gloria, I know you wanted to jump in with a thought on Tillerson. Please, go ahead.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I've been eager because what struck me, Brooke, was that he did not mention Donald Trump. The secretary of state did not say, first of all, I want to thank the president for allowing me to serve my country in this role, et cetera, et cetera. He was so seething and so angry at the way he has been handled and perhaps his whole tenure that he thanked everyone in the State Department, thanked 300 million Americans, but he forgot to mention one of them. And I don't think he forgot.
BALDWIN: Do you blame him?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He didn't forget.
BORGER: I don't think he forgot. This was a real window, an open window, I would say, into the relationship between these two men. And I would venture to say we're going to hear a little bit more at some point from Rex Tillerson, who also -- you know, we're all kind of, you know -- Dana and I have been reading these tea leaves for years when people come and go. But here's a fellow who is leaving like at midnight, right? And although he officially ends his tenure March 31, he's handing it over to someone else. What he's effectively saying to the president is, OK, you fired me with a tweet, maybe Kelly called me in the middle of the night, well, here is what I'm going to do to you, I'm not going to thank you, and, by the way, I am gone as of now. This was not pleasant. And the anger is completely obvious.
BALDWIN: I go back, can you blame the man? Can you blame him?
Dana Bash, quickly from you.
BASH: No, you can't blame him.
But just to be fair, Gloria, and I have heard this from sources for months, it is a two-way street.
BASH: It was not necessarily the best situation for Rex Tillerson trying to fit into this world. And the president admitted that last week. But the burden was also on Rex Tillerson. We have heard, I have heard from people that he just kind of never got it, got how to transition from being a CEO of ExxonMobil to being part of a team, to being somebody who works for the president of the United States and integrating himself in that world, that it was very rocky from the beginning.
Having said that, on a human level, to see somebody who is one of the ultimate alpha males in this country, Rex Tillerson, be diminished and frankly humiliated the way he has been over the past 14 months with the climax and what we just saw today, just, again, on a human level, was absolutely astonishing.
[14:35:58] BALDWIN: Agree. Agree.
He says he's now handing it all over to Deputy Secretary of State Sullivan.
BALDWIN: In the meanwhile, we saw the president's tweet. He wants it to be Mike Pompeo, the CIA chief. We'll have that conversation and how the confirmation may or may not go coming up later. But I really wanted to dig into what we heard from Rex Tillerson moments ago.
Ladies, thank you so very much.
As we've been talking about all of this, there's this other huge story we can now report on. President Trump spoke moments ago with British Prime Minister Theresa May about the poisoning of a former Russian spy. This happened as we have now learned that another Russian, in England, this Putin critic, has been found dead in his home in London. Is that connected? What do we know about the circumstances surrounding his death? We'll take you there.
Also ahead, President Trump's personal aide also fired and escorted out of the White House. Why that aide was under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security and where that aide is going next.
Not a slow news day. We'll be right back.
[14:41:06] BALDWIN: Back with more breaking news this afternoon. Another White House firing to report. Sources tell CNN that President Trump's long-time personal aide, John McEntee, was fired and escorted from the West Wing on Monday. McEntee was reportedly pushed out because he is being investigated for serious financial crimes, which caused problems with his obtaining his security clearance.
Let's go straight to our White House reporter, Kaitlan Collins.
More on the investigation, number one, Kaitlan. But also, number two, despite all of this, he's where? Ending up with the Trump re-election campaign?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. President Trump is down to very crucial aides today, one we just heard from, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The other is not a household name. I can't stress what a crucial role Johnny McEntee played in this West Wing. He was the president's personal aide and he was by his side almost constantly. The news broke this morning that he had been fired, was escorted from the White House yesterday. And we now learn he was fired because the Department of Homeland Security is investigating him for what we are told are serious financial crimes. Our source tells us these crimes are not related to the president.
But the twist and where things get interesting here, is that immediately after this news broke that he had been fired, we heard he had been hired by the Trump re-election campaign as a senior adviser. The White House is not commenting. They say they won't comment on personnel issues. But White House staffers in this West Wing were stunned by this news.
And it raises the question of, Brooke, if he's under this very serious investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, why would he be hired by the Trump re-election campaign?
BALDWIN: A valid question.
Kaitlan Collins, keep digging. Thank you so much, for us at the White House.
Meantime, back to the story today, Rex Tillerson, the now outgoing secretary of state, speaking moments ago after being fired by the man you see on your screen getting off his plane in California today. He's in California because he's about to check out these different border wall prototypes for along the southern U.S./Mexican border. We have that for you. Stand by.
You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
[14:47:38] BALDWIN: Word that a Russian exile, a critic of Vladimir Putin, has been found dead in his home today in London. His death coming amid a diplomatic storm between Moscow and the United Kingdom over the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter. British Prime Minister Theresa May blames the Kremlin for that nerve agent attack.
CNN senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh, is live in London with this latest death.
Nick, what is Scotland Yard saying?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATINOAL CORRESPONDENT: Scotland yard, behind me, will not confirm that the man whose death they're investigating is, in fact, Nikolai Gusev. We've heard that from neighbors. He's an important figure because of who he knew, other Russian exiles, some of whom have met murderous ends, Alexander Litvinenko, the former spy killed by radioactive Polonium, and also a former Russian oligarch. His death is less suspicious. He knew those men, considered himself a critic of the Kremlin.
Police behind me, out of an abundance of precaution, perhaps, because of those acquaintances, are investigating that death as part of the counterterrorism division. It's not clear what caused his death. He was 69. Neighbors say he didn't mind a glass of white wine then and again. He had a history of possibly, too, of heart problems. But in the current climate, alarm bells have rung. Police have pointed out, at this stage, there's no suggestion of a link to the Salisbury incident. But it comes on the heels of a deadline that Russia had wiped away, an ultimatum put to them by the U.K. to explain how this nerve agent came to be in Salisbury and poison Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy. Donald Trump, according to Downing Street, has unambiguously said that there must be an explanation for this from Russia. And said, quote, "The U.S. is with the U.K. all the way."
That's a number of statements we've heard from various U.K. allies here. Tomorrow, given the fact that Russia said they won't meeting or answering the ultimatum to explain how this nerve agent came to be in Salisbury, tomorrow is the day in which Britain has to say what kind of response they'll take against Russia. They'll need allies. And they'll certainly need Donald Trump to be willing to point the finger directly at the Kremlin -- Brooke?
[14:49:47] BALDWIN: We'll be listening for that response. We'll talk again.
Nick Paton Walsh, thank you, in London.
Meantime, back here, moments ago, we heard from the outgoing Secretary Rex Tillerson, speaking out publicly after being fired just this morning by President Trump. We will talk about the man who will replace him, pending that confirmation, and the new pick for the CIA director, who has -- would be the first female, but also has a controversial history there.
We'll be right back.
BALDWIN: President Trump has nominated the first woman to lead the CIA after another major shakeup in his administration. Gina Haspel is currently serving as the deputy CIA director. She has been tapped to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who has been nominated to become the next Secretary of State following Rex Tillerson's firing this morning.
Haspel is a long-time CIA employee who mostly worked undercover. But Democrats have long took issue with the fact that she oversaw the torture program at the CIA prison in Thailand where terror suspects were waterboarded. She then destroyed videotapes documenting it all.
Here is what Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told our own Manu Raju.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:55:24] SEN. RON WYDEN, (D), OREGON: Such important policy, I think, would be, in effect, a referendum to supporting secrecy.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Will you do everything you can to block this nomination with a filibuster?
WYDEN: I've already made it clear I'm going to oppose the nominee. RAJU: What about the public reports about her role --
WYDEN: I've read the public reports. I will say I find the public reports very troubling. And I wish that more had been declassified on this matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's talk to Samantha Vinograd about this. She's our CNN national security analyst, who served on President Obama's National Security Council.
And talk to former CIA senior staff and acting director, just to be familiar with what we're about to talk about. You hear from Democrats like Ron Wyden, who are making kicking up dust in this new confirmation process. But at the same time, she did oversee this torture program. Are Democrats fears valid? r
SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think we know. We haven't heard directly from Gina Haspel about how she feels about these programs.
I want to clear something up about how covert program do or do not get approved. Gina Haspel did not approve the enhanced interrogation program at the secret jail in Thailand. She was implementing the lawful orders of the president. The president approved this program. As a CIA staffer, she implemented it. You could argue she should have quit because the program was so abhorrent. But she was following orders.
So if Democrats, like Senator Wyden, think she may support these programs, it's a viable question during a confirmation hearing to ask her, in her capacity as director of the CIA, will she recommend to President Trump that he consider any other enhanced interrogation programs. We shouldn't assume that she has any personal love of torture because she was following these lawful orders.
BALDWIN: One more quick one, 30 seconds, just on, if they're nominated, if they pass through, Pompeo leaving the CIA to go to state, and Haspel at CIA, how would their working relationship look? How would that affect policy?
VINOGRAD: We could see intelligence play more of a role in the policy process. Intelligence is a policy input, and, to date, we've seen the administration turn deaf when we start talking about Russian interference and things like that. We could see intelligence play more of a role in policy development and policy implementation.
BALDWIN: OK. Sam, thank you so very much.
VINOGRAD: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Quick break. President Trump visiting the U.S. border, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
[14:59:41] BALDWIN: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN here.
We are less than 30 minutes away from seeing President Trump live near the U.S./Mexico border where he will be checking out those prototypes for a potential border wall. As soon as we see that, we'll take it live.
As we see the president take his first trip to California since taking office, his trip is certainly being overshadowed by his own doing, his firing of Secretary of State Tillerson. Tillerson learned via the president's Twitter account first thing this morning that he would no longer be America's --