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Trump Upset with Sanders' Response on Porn Star; Attorney: Trump Not Aware of Payments to Daniels; Florida Gun Bill Imposes New Sales Restrictions. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- do they do now with this new information potentially conflicting information from one witness who came before this committee last year, John.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: All right. At least we know it is of interest to the investigation that matters most of that of the special counsel.

Manu Raju on Capitol Hill. Appreciate it.

A quick break. When we come back, the president is mad at his press secretary for something she said standing at the White House podium about a porn actress.


KING: President Trump now said to be upset with his press secretary Sarah Sanders over her handling of the Stormy Daniels controversy.

On Wednesday, Sanders was pressed on who knew what, when. Whether she meant to or not, Sanders acknowledged for the first time the president's involvement.

A source says, Sanders (INAUDIBLE) the president mad because Sanders had give the story line, quote, steroids.


[12:35:01] SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This case is already been won in arbitration. And anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said there's arbitration that's already been won? By whom and when?

SANDERS: By the president's personal attorneys, and for details on that I would refer you to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're aware of them so what more can you share with us?

SANDERS: I can share that the arbitration was won in the president's favor, and I would refer you to the president's outside counsel on any details beyond that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now Sanders was also asked whether the president knew about the $130,000 payment by Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen to Daniels.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.


KING: Not that I'm aware of is not a no. That's the new thing they say at the White House because they've said things so many times that the president (INAUDIBLE) of the facts later have contradicted not that I'm aware of. But the key point is the president has denied this relationship. Through spokespeople, the president has denied this relationship.

She says the president's personal attorney was won. She says won. The Daniels side disputes that. It was -- she confirms in an arbitration hearing which is about a document.

If the president's lawyer is in an arbitration hearing about a document there, that document says this. All parties agree to these facts. Prior to entering into this agreement, PP which is Peggy Peterson, the pseudonym for Stormy Daniels, came into possession of certain confidential information pertaining to DD, David Dennison which is alleged the pseudonym for Donald Trump.

As more fully defined below, only some of which is in tangible form which includes, but is not limited to information, certain still images and/or text messages which were authored by or relate to DD.

So Sarah Sanders is confirming the president's personal attorney was in a hearing about a document that says Stormy Daniels got text messages, other certain information authored by or related to DD, who the hearing says was Donald Trump.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I mean, she's acknowledging the president's connection to this, like you said, before either on purpose or inadvertently. And up until now, the White House has been pretty, you know, adamant that they're not going to address these questions. That was asked and answered during the campaign. But the problem for the White House is that because of this new legal action that Stormy Daniels is taking, you can't refer back to questions that weren't being asked then.

These are new questions now about this alleged agreement to shut her up before the election. And so I think in trying to figure out what to say that would shut down that line of questioning, she did acknowledge that there is a connection here. And by saying that that arbitration, whether or not you agree that it was won or not won, but that it was decided in favor of the president. She didn't say in favor of the president's lawyer, in favor of Michael Cohen or anything like that, but in favor of the president, she did lead to a lot of follow-up questions. And that is why --

KING: She gave credence to the idea that the president and his party to a hush agreement, nondisclosure agreement, call it what you will, with a porn star who says she had an intimate relationship with the president started in 2006 and carried over to 2007.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. What I'm struck by to just pull back a little bit. First of all, (INAUDIBLE) you're just passively listening at least on the Hill and you hear the word arbitration and you're like, what?

DAVIS: And in the room there was an audible gasp. I wasn't in the room, but I am told when the word arbitration came up, you could even hear people saying, what?

MATTINGLY: Here's why this matters I think, and I think why yesterday's briefing matters. Whether Sarah did it intentionally or whatever the back story is as to why it all matters. And this goes back to the Wall Street Journal reporting on this which is been unimpeachable, rock solid, related to court documents. They have been excellent, they have been thorough and it has been consistent over the course of weeks and weeks and weeks.

And you keep in mind, this is a porn star and a president in an alleged relationship that for the most part, it's been the 12th to 15th most important story of every days for the better part of the last three months. And they have continued plugging away at this and they're not using unnamed sources, they're using documents, things that you can't fight because they're true and they're filed in court and people are signing off on them. And this is the same thing as you're noting with the arbitration document that people are agreeing these stated facts are accurate. And I think that's why the story is important and why all of a sudden it's picking up and why people are paying a lot more attention.

This is unnamed person speculates on why. These are court documents and the reporting has not been disputed it in any way or shape or form up to this point. And it's very clear now not just in the White House briefing room, but has clearly reached the Oval Office and the president's personal lawyer.

It isn't going away anytime soon and there's far more questions to be answered over the course of the next couple weeks than there are answers.

KING: And one of the questions is, did the president know about the payment, and if he did, to what level of detail. Again, the president is on the record saying he didn't have this relationship. His attorney Michael Cohen who set up this LLC and did the payment has said the president had no idea about it.

If you think about, the president is asking witnesses in the Russia investigation what they now. Who is known to be sort of a gossipy guy, I don't mean that in the bad way, around the White House talking to staff and everything else. Has the history of dealing with the New York tabloids.

[12:40:05] The idea that his personal attorney would do all this without the president's knowledge to Stormy Daniels' attorney is ludicrous.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: That he would engage in weeks of negotiation. That he would reach agreement. That he would then send $130,000 in connection with that agreement. That he would then later institute an arbitration proceeding without knowledge of his client.

All of this to those of us that practice under the law as attorneys, it's ludicrous.


KING: What Sarah Sanders said from the podium yesterday lends credence to that.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: And that's why you have this very weak denial where she says, not that I'm aware of. This story has been going on for more than two months now, so she's had plenty of time to talk to the president and ask him, did you know about this payment, what do you know about this? Why was there a payment from your attorney to a porn star back right before the election.

And she's only saying, not that I'm aware of, and that's a pretty weak denial two months after the story came out. If she were to talk to the president and if he were to tell her that, you know, I knew nothing about this payment, this was not done with my approval, then she would come out and tell the reporters, no, the president had nothing to do with this. But she'd not say that.

She sort of has this very weak denial which lends more credence to the idea that the president did know about this and that they're trying to cover their tracks.

KING: Is this just a daily or almost daily detouring to the tabloids, or does it matter? In the sense if you talk to Republicans on the Hill, they think something else that gets in the way of us trying to keep a straight path in an already difficult, horrible midterm election year. But is it more than that?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: I mean, it seems to be a real story. As Phil points out, nobody has pushed back except for the basic denials and fairly weak denials on the substance of this.

When it comes to the White House's credibility, it seems to me that it's a hallmark of Trump employees and Trump world employees like Michael Cohen, that they're very devoted to the president but they're also not great at shielding the principle from the things that they should be. So it doesn't smell right to me that he would actually get through this without having talked to the president because that's not something they're great at doing.

But in this sort of bizarre and sad world we're in, where this is the 12th or 15th most important story of the day, in the end, do I think it will matter? I'm not sure it will.

OLORUNNIPA: And this one other thing that there are legal ramifications, you can't just put $130,000 into an election if this isn't election-related spending without reporting it. So there are some FCC guidelines that could also come into play here. So I think that's something.

KING: And if this (INAUDIBLE) from Paula Jones. If this lawsuit gets a standing in court, now people have to give depositions and answer questions, and then we're going to learn more and more and more. And that's the interesting part here.

Before we go to break, just want to show you this video. Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman arriving in court in Virginia just moments ago for an arraignment in one, one of two cases in federal court against him.

We'll be right back.


[12:47:25] KING: On our political radar today, how to tackle cyber threats from Russia.

The highest ranking American general in Europe says, at the moment he does not believe all U.S. agencies across the government are unified against Russian cyber attacks. General Curtis Scaparrotti is the NATO Supreme Allied commander in Europe. He told a Senate panel without getting into details that he has personally seen Russian cyber attacks against U.S. infrastructure.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ethiopia today, he's underscoring what he calls the United States commitment to security and economic interests on the African content. That despite, you might remember, President Trump's name calling episode which Ethiopia's leader says now in the past.

Here's Tillerson talking to reporters just a short time ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Donald Trump has called Africa a shithole and Africans. This is something that Africans are still digesting. Do you agree with that and do you believe Donald Trump owes Africans an apology?

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the United States' commitment to Africa is quite clear in terms of (INAUDIBLE) on the relationship. The president himself wrote a personal letter to the chairperson reaffirming the importance of this relationship.


KING: Up next, Florida lawmakers defy the NRA and take action on gun controls just weeks after that deadly massacre at a Florida high school.


[12:53:03] KING: Big decision now facing the Florida governor Rick Scott. Is he ready to anger the NRA in an election year?

Yesterday, over the objections of the NRA, the Republican-controlled legislature passed new gun controls. The bill raises the minimum age to buy firearms to 21. Ask a three-day waiting period on all gun sales. Bans bump stocks, gives police more flexibility to take guns away from those believed to be mentally ill. And provides school with funding if they want to arm and train school resource officers and certain eligible staffers.

Scott, a likely Senate candidate this year, (INAUDIBLE) in a minimum purchasing age, but says arming teachers is a bad idea and he wants time to think the bill over.


GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: When a bill gets to my desk, I'll do what they don't seem to be doing in Washington. I'm going to review the bill line by line, and the groups that I'm going to be talking to (INAUDIBLE) most about right now because what impacted them so much are the families.


KING: It's a big deal. In a state where Governor Scott has been an ally of the NRA, the Republican legislature has long blocked any Democratic efforts or other efforts of moderate Republicans as wells of gun controls. A big deal not to the finish line there yet.

Big deal in Florida. A, the pressure on the governor who is likely be a Senate candidate this year. And B, if this happens and you get new gun controls in a critical swing state in the United States, it has a big elections this year, will it impact the debate here in Washington?

OLORUNNIPA: Florida and the NRA had seen the state as sort of a testing ground for how far they can push their -- push the envelope in creating new gun rights and this is sort of shifting the other way. I think there's a lot of concern among gun owners and specifically among the NRA that this could be a start of an avalanche of various states moving in this direction.

I think raising the age from 18 to 21 for assault rifles is something that the NRA has pushed against very strongly. And the idea that this is something that the president has also floated, I think he's given some cover to, even some Republican-led states to move in this direction. So if Scott signs this, I think we'll see other states follow.

[12:55:02] KING: The president at the White House not long ago said this was a very good legislation. He praised Florida for doing this and said it was very good legislation. Is there any evidence the president is willing to put his shoulder to the wheel and ask that Congress raise the age, to defy the NRA, to push the NRA?

MATTINGLY: No, at least not talking to people who had been doing at the White House on Capitol Hill, and to be fair, they haven't got gotten a lot of details in terms of where the White House is (INAUDIBLE).

I'm told to expect some type of gun push again next week from the White House. It's potentially and perhaps trying to put in a spending bill.

I think the -- why Florida is important is because that's where things are going to be happening right now. Washington, the debate is not moving anywhere as long as Republican leadership is controlling the House and the Senate.

At the moment, it's in the states where I think when you talk to people, where can there be real impact, where can there be real movement? Right now, it's on the states and then hopefully builds to Washington as what advocates were saying right now.

KING: Well, it's interesting, you heard the governor there saying he wants to talk again to the families, the students especially. Students in Parkland have been critical of this debate. We'll see how that one plays out in Florida. We'll keep an eye on the governor, we'll keep an eye on the debate here.

Thank you for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here tomorrow. Wolf starts after a quick break. Have a good day.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 8 p.m. in Damascus, 9 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're watching --