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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Trade War?; New Info Emerges in Trump-Russia Investigation. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired March 7, 2018 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Symone, Gary Cohn is a former Goldman Sachs executive.
SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He was the best thing that ever happened to Goldman Sachs in the White House.
SANDERS: Look, OK, he is the best thing that ever happened to them in the White House.
Look, they got their tax cuts, the tax cut bill which has now become law which is again a tax cut for the wealthiest people in America that codified the tax cuts into law for the businesses and the companies. But the people have temporary tax cuts.
So, please miss me with this Gary Cohn, was just so hurt and shaken by the fact that he couldn't take control of the tariffs, that he was gone. I really think that Gary Cohn was getting -- he wanted to be able to go back to his Goldman Sachs buddies and his folks on Wall Street.
And he could not do that because he didn't have a handle on what is going on because nobody has a handle on what's happening in this West Wing.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And remember the campaign in 2016, where then candidate Trump ripped Hillary Clinton to shreds because she gave speeches to Goldman Sachs.
That was so terrible. Goldman Sachs, what a force for evil.
TOOBIN: Gary Cohn, Steve Mnuchin, the two most important economic policy-makers, are former senior officials, or were, at Goldman Sachs.
TAPPER: There is something to be said, though, about Gary Cohn thinking that these tariffs, aluminum and steel tariffs, are actually going to cause damage to the economy and he doesn't want to be associated with that.
AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. And I'm actually very happy to see broader consensus in the media and among Democrats that tariffs are a bad policy, something that Republicans have been saying for decades and still adhere to.
But in the case of Gary Cohn, listen, he is going to be OK, but he had a lot of expertise. Usually, the president does get the best people in the early years of his presidency. President Trump has exhausted a number of experts on year one.
I think we all should be wary for the next wave of people who may be coming in who may have another agenda, who may be looking to exploit that position and our eyes should be wide open.
TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around.
We have a lot more to talk about, how a top ex-British spy and an international man of mystery factor into the Russia investigation. That's next.
TAPPER: We're back with the politics lead and new insight into the breadth of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
CNN has learned that George Nader, a mysterious international fixer of sorts, is cooperating with the special counsel. Nader has close connections throughout the Middle East and attended secret meetings during the presidential transition with Trump associates.
Let's get right to CNN's Sara Murray.
Sara, what can you tell us about Nader and how he figures into all of this?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He is an interesting character. Right?
A lot of people sort of haven't heard from him in the last two decades, but he is someone who has come into contact with a number of administrations basically by volunteering to open up a lot of these back channel discussions with elusive Middle East leaders.
But the reason that Bob Mueller has cared about him and the reason he has sort of come into contact with this investigation seems to be about two key meetings.
One of these was in December 2016. It was in New York. It involved Jared Kushner, it involved Michael Flynn, it involved Steve Bannon, it also involved the crowned prince of Abu Dhabi. And George Nader was at this meeting as well.
This meeting with the Emiratis, we later found out was unmasked by Susan Rice. It was a little mysterious as to why this was taking place. And there was a meeting that followed that that was also pretty mysterious.
It was a meeting in the Seychelles Islands January of 2017. This one was Erik Prince, who is the founder of Blackwater, a private security firm, as well as Emirati he officials. There was a meeting that took place after that that Erik Prince has downplayed.
This one was the head of a Russian state-run bank, as well as Erik Prince. And then George Nader with somehow party to this meeting. So we know that Mueller is asking questions about these various meetings. And we know that George Nader is cooperating and essentially telling him what he knows.
TAPPER: We don't know that anything wrong or illegal happened at these meetings, but it does seem to suggest something about the Mueller investigation and its scope.
The circumstances surrounding these meetings, what was discussed, what went on, that's been a big mystery. And there's no indication that George Nader has done anything wrong. But what it does tell you is, he is able to give Mueller a window into potential foreign influence beyond just Russian meddling in the 2016 election, that he is looking at the role of the Emiratis in this and questioning whether there were other opportunities for foreigners to influence Donald Trump's inner circle beyond the presidential campaign.
TAPPER: Fascinating. Sara Murray, thanks so much.
Another international man of mystery who figures prominently into the Russia investigation is Christopher Steele. The former British MI6 agent complied the now infamous Trump-Russia dossier which has become a political lightning rod here in Washington.
Joining me now is Jane Mayer, who writes extensively about Steele in the latest edition of "The New Yorker."
Jane, thanks so much joining us. It's a great story.
TAPPER: Some Republicans say Steele is a partisan hack out to get Donald Trump. Democrats say he was just fulfilling a sense of duty by going to the FBI with his dossier.
How does Steele play into the Mueller investigation?
JANE MAYER, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, he's actually been a source to Mueller. He met in London with Mueller's team last September.
So you have to assume that much of what's in the dossier, plus a lot of information about his sources, is now in the hands of Mueller.
TAPPER: What's remarkable about the timeline that you lay out in your story is, well, when you look back at things in hindsight.
You talk about a "STATE OF THE UNION" episode that I did around the time of the Democratic Convention, when we had Robby Mook on, then Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, and Donald Trump Jr.
And it was right after the first WikiLeaks came out of the DNC. I want to play a little clip of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBBY MOOK, FORMER HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these e-mails, and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these e-mails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump.
DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF DONALD TRUMP: It just goes to show you their exact moral compass. They will say anything to be able to win this. This is time and time again lie after lie. It is disgusting. It is so phony.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, at the time, we didn't know the extent of the Russia election interference program.
But now, in retrospect, we know that when Donald Trump Jr. said that to me and to America, he had just a few weeks before met with individuals billed as being with the Russian government who were promising dirt on Hillary Clinton along with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner in Trump Tower.
It is pretty remarkable.
MAYER: It is really remarkable.
And the thing is, I interviewed Robby Mook for this story. And he said was -- partly, I wondered, well, you have Christopher Steele telling you about all of this potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Why didn't you make more of an issue of it during the campaign?
And he said no one would buy it. They just didn't believe it. They just felt he was spinning and it sounded desperate.
And I have to say, I was there, too, as a reporter and I remember thinking, it sounded wild. It was very hard to believe the story. And a lot of people didn't believe Christopher Steele's dossier either when it first came out.
But the remarkable thing is, over time, there has been more and more sort of corroboration that has come out over it.
TAPPER: So, Mook had possession of some of the Steele dossier? Because he was writing it until September, I think.
MAYER: He probably didn't know much about it at that point. That was pretty early on.
But what happened was, as Steele was doing research on a subject, he would filter it up through a channel that would go to the top lawyer for the campaign, who then would tell campaign officials a little bit about what he was finding.
But the top lawyer in the campaign said to him too it seemed really strange. It was all of this Kremlinology. And he really couldn't make head or tails of a lot of it. There was a big learning curve for all of this material.
TAPPER: And also you have an interesting detail about a memo Steele complied regarding Russian opposition to Mitt Romney as secretary of state after President Trump won.
MAYER: Well, yes.
And this is really -- it's the same period that you were talking about just before. After the election, there was sort of an intensification, it seems, of Russian attempts to try to shape the incoming administration.
You can see a lot of meetings taking place. And according to a Steele memo that no one had seen before my piece came out, the Russians tried to interfere with President Trump's choice for secretary of state and stop him from picking Romney, who they saw as too much of a hawk on Russia and who would never lift the sanctions.
And they wanted somebody who was friendlier. And it is hard to tell how much weight to give this. But, circumstantially, I have to say Romney didn't make it. He went through a prolonged sort of interview process for weeks. It was embarrassing. And then finally Trump turned him down and picked Rex Tillerson, who had very warm relations with the Kremlin.
TAPPER: And you point out in the story the Congress passed sanctions against Russia, passed overwhelmingly during the Trump presidency, and neither President Trump nor Rex Tillerson have yet to enforce those sanctions.
MAYER: That's true.
TAPPER: Jane Mayer, thank you very much. Great story. Really appreciate it.
MAYER: Thank you.
TAPPER: The lawsuit with a porn star is not the only legal battle the president is taking on.
That story next.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [16:45:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In our "POLITICS LEAD" today, a huge legal blow-up as the State of California and the Trump Justice Department are now suing each other over immigration and sanctuary city policies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying that California's laws endanger law enforcement by protecting dangerous undocumented immigrants. California Governor Jerry Brown says his state is not afraid to fight back saying the Justice Department is lying. Let's bring in Miguel Marquez. Miguel, Jeff Sessions flew the California today to announce the lawsuit after a series of attacks between the Trump administration and officials in California.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The relationship has gotten worse and worse and worse over the months and it's been bad on a range of issues whether it was the environment or marijuana or tax policy. But this immigration law, in particular, sanctuary immigration laws that California and other cities around the country have, has just pushed this relationship to a whole new level.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The State of California, they are doing a lousy management job.
MARQUEZ: The fight between President Trump --
GOV. JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA: We know the Trump administration is full of liars.
MARQUEZ: And the California Republic --
BROWN: This is basically going to war against the State of California, the engine of the American economy. It's not wise, it's not right and it will not stand.
MARQUEZ: Now a heavyweight bout.
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: How dare you, how dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers?
MARQUEZ: The federal government now suing the Golden State, its governor and Attorney General over its so-called sanctuary immigration laws. The President first threatened to pull ICE and border patrol from the state.
TRUMP: And we have to said, hey, let California alone. Let them figure it out for themselves. In the two months, they'd be begging for to us come back. And you know what? I'm thinking about doing it.
MARQUEZ: Now his Attorney General wants to undue three California laws limiting law enforcement cooperation and information sharing about immigration status on mainly law-abiding immigrants.
SESSIONS: We are going to fight these irrational, unfair, unconstitutional policy that's have been imposed on you and your officers on our federal officers.
MARQUEZ: Several California cities already have sanctuary laws on the books. In January, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement called for arresting officials who passed and signed the laws.
[16:50:09] THOMAS HOMAN, ACTING DIRECTOR, ICE: We've got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes. These politicians can't make these decisions and be held unaccountable for people dying.
MARQUEZ: For its part, California has sued the Trump administration five times on other immigration issues. The federal government now trying rein in the Golden State and possibly hundreds of other states, counties, and cities nationwide in their immigration laws.
MARQUEZ: Now, the President is due to visit California for the first time next Tuesday. It is notable because he is the first President since Eisenhower not to visit the Golden State in his first year in office. It gives you a sense of just where California sits on the President's agenda. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Miguel Marquez in Los Angeles, thanks so much. A deadly nerve agent, an ex-Russian spy and a mystery that is scarier than fiction. That's next.
[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "MONEY LEAD" today, they're targeting all American products. Seems like everything but apple pie. The European Union considering adding new tariffs to classic American exports in retaliation for threatened U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum. We're talking about delicious, delicious bourbon, denim, peanut butter, even motorcycles. Worth mentioning, the tariffs on Kentucky bourbon and Wisconsin based Harley-Davidsons would hit the two home states of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. Both of those Republicans are against the tariff proposal. And we just learned President Trump could impose those tariffs by the end of this week.
In our "WORLD LEAD" today, police now say a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent after being found unconscious in a small English town. As investigators try find out if this was a Kremlin hit, politicians of the United Kingdom are now calling for an investigation into this and other suspicious deaths that could be tied to the Russian government. I want to bring in CNN's Phil Black. And Phil, experts say this case seems eerily similar to the poisoning of another Russian spy in 2006.
PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, that's right. But in many ways, this case is more brazen, even more concerning. You can see the restaurant behind me is still cordoned off by police. It's one of the few areas in central Salisbury where cases where the police are still investigating, trying to work out where they believe that nerve agent, a chemical weapon, was deployed at a time when these streets were filled with people walking between shops, restaurants, and parks. The police believe the former spy and his daughter were the targets but it clearly represented a risk to everyone in the area as well because the police officer, one of the first respondents who rushed to help the father and daughter is now in serious condition in hospital after he was exposed to it.
MARK ROWLEY, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, SCOTLAND YARD: This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent.
BLACK: Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, now both critically ill were deliberately poisoned by a nerve agent, targeted specifically according to police.
ROWLEY: Our role now is, of course, to find establish who is behind this and why they carried out this act.
BLACK: New video shows the former double agent that is shopping Salisbury, England on February 27th. A simple life, far from this 2004 arrest in Russia where the spy was thrown into a van, later sent to court and then found guilty of treason for selling Russian secrets to the British. The convicted traitor was brought to a tarmac for a spy swap in exchange of agents between U.S. and Moscow in 2010. He lived quietly if Salisbury until Sunday. That's when police say he and his daughter were found unconscious on a mall bench. The mystery has prompted urgent questions and careful warnings in parliament.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: Though I am not now pointing fingers because we cannot. Mr. Speaker, you understand, point fingers. I say to governments around the world, that no attempted to take innocent life on U.K. soil will go either unsanctioned or unpunished.
BLACK: The case is reminiscent of another former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko. He was hospitalized and later died after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium. From his deathbed, Litvinenko called out Russian President Vladimir Putin directly saying, "You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life." Putin has denied any involvement in that murder just as the Russian government has denied any knowledge of what happened (INAUDIBLE).
YVETTE COOPER, U.K. MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: But what about the other 14 cases that several members have now of suspicious death?
BLACK: Now, M.P. Yvette Cooper is calling for an investigation into are deaths of people linked to Russia that's were ruled suicides or accidents on British soil in recent years.
COOPER: There are serious questions about whether the police investigations were thorough en4ough.
BLACK: She's asking about cases including the Russian whistleblower Alexander Perepilichny, found dead outside his home in Surrey in 2012, and Boris Berezovsky, an exiled Putin critic found dead on his bathroom floor near London in 2013.
BLACK: So Jake, you can see there, Russia was believed to have motive. Skripal was a Russian traitor in form -- in the form of the previous killings that are believed to have taken place here and of course the chemical weapon, a very specific specialized weapon belonging to very few countries. Jake?
TAPPER: Phil Black, thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD today. I now turn you over to one Mr. Wolf Blitzer. He's right next door in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.