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WSJ: Trump Attorneys Want Mueller To End Probe If President Talks; Voters Head To Polls Tomorrow For Heated Pennsylvania House Race. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

At last the president had to release his blueprint for dealing with school shootings and this morning it includes one big thing he just said he was against and leaves out one major thing he repeatedly said he was for.

There is no mention in the plan for raising the legal age to buy a gun to 21, which is something the president endorsed again and again after the Parkland massacre. Instead the plan calls for the formation of a new federal task force barely after -- barely a day after the president complained at a rally that blue ribbon committees do nothing but talk, talk, talk, talk.

The plan does call for arming some teachers which the president has supported from the beginning. This morning one Republican lawmaker with a high grade from the NRA calls the plan a, quote, "missed opportunity."

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

The scope of this proposal may be not the big deal that the president seemed to indicate he was all for at that meeting at the White House -- Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. It's actually a lot less dramatic than any of the language we've heard the president use since that shooting in Parkland, Florida. One of the biggest parts of this proposal unveiled overnight by the White House and away from the cameras and three weeks after that shooting was something the president has pushed for which is arming school teachers.

Now this proposal specifically calls for, quote, "The rigorous training of school employees to be able to use these firearms," but I should note that it doesn't call for any new funding for states to be able to provide that training to teachers, but what's most notable about these proposals is what's not included here, John, and that's the president's idea to raise the age limit to purchase certain firearms from 18 to 21.

Now what this proposal does do is create this commission that would study a range of issues including raising the age limit to see if that would help to prevent mass shootings in the future. But even the president's education secretary Betsy DeVos struggled to really explain this commission this morning.


BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: Everything is on the table and the commission that is being formed of which I will lead is going to be looking at this issue along with a number of other issues. There are many things that have driven this issue in the first place and we have to go back to the beginning and talk about how these violent acts are even occurring to start with.


COLLINS: Now, John, I have to point out that the formation of this committee comes about 24 hours after the president was denouncing such committees at that rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday night while talking about the opioid epidemic across the United States saying that those kind of commissions, those blue ribbon commissions just don't work but the White House and the president seem to think that it's going to work for the school safety measures.

BERMAN: So, Kaitlan, there's also some new reporting over the weekend on the Russia investigation. The "New York Times'" Maggie Haberman saying that the president was considering hiring this lawyer with an expertise in dealing with the I word, impeachment.

COLLINS: Yes. Certainly an expert, Emmet Flood is a veteran lawyer here in Washington who actually defended Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings and according to the "New York Times" the president has been meeting with Mr. Flood, including last week in the Oval Office, with the idea of potentially bringing him on to help deal with the White House's response to the special counsel's investigation.

And the "New York Times" says that if they did hire him, he would deal with the day-to-day dealings with the Justice Department, but we've got to point out that the president was quick to deny this story on Twitter, essentially saying it was fake news.

But what this speaks to, the larger issue here, John, is that the White House clearly does not think that this investigation is wrapping up any time soon.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. Thanks so much. We'll come back to the Russia issue in just a moment. First, let's talk more about guns.

Joining me now CNN political analyst Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Ryan Lizza, and with us reporter for "The Guardian," Sabrina Siddiqui.

You know, Julie, you covered the big dramatic meeting between the president and families at the White House. You of course covered the White House when the president had that dramatic interesting meeting with lawmakers about guns. In both places he talked about raising the legal limit to buy a gun to 21, from 18 now, and now when he comes out with the proposals, nothing in there about the age limit. Critics asking, did the NRA get to him? What happened here?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's no question that he had extensive talks with the NRA both behind the scenes, and, you know, he alluded to an Oval Office meeting that he had with them shortly after that meeting with lawmakers that was so extraordinary because he had really endorsed or seemed to be open to so many gun control measures that Republicans typically and certainly Republicans with a lot of support from the NRA have not been willing to go near.

But I think what we're seeing here is what we've seen so many times with President Trump where in the immediate aftermath of an event, he -- he goes way out there on a limb, makes some, you know, very bold statements about what he's willing to do or what he wants to do on policy, and then in the intervening days and weeks, he kind of slowly, slowly walks it back and so what we're seeing in the proposal that was rolled out overnight is not only a drifting away from this idea of raising the age but there's no mention in this package of the Manchin- Toomey background checks legislation.

[09:05:13] There's no mention of an assault weapons ban, which of course he famously in that meeting at the White House said he would be open to sticking on to a background check bill. So it's really a retreat from what he initially said and you have to imagine that the NRA is quite happy about that.

BERMAN: And it does include this federal task force which would be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. And as Kaitlan noted, it comes just 24 hours after the president said he's against this idea of federal task force. He doesn't think they get anything done. Listen to what he said just Saturday night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't just keep setting up blue ribbon committees with your wife and your wife and your husband, and they meet and they have a meal, and they talk, talk, talk, talk, two hours later then they write a report.

Look, that's what I got in Washington. I got all these blue ribbon committees --


BERMAN: So, Sabrina, he was talking about opioids on Saturday night and today he's talking about guns. They're different issues, but it's the same idea. Essentially he has punted this idea to a federal task force and this is not what President Trump likes to think he's about. He says he's about action. This isn't exactly action.

SABRINA SIDDIQUI, POLITICS REPORTER, THE GUARDIAN: Well, I think that the irony is, it's his administration that has been setting up some of these commissions and they did the same for the opioid crisis as he mentioned. They had a task force that met and included state officials as well as local authorities and they produced a series of recommendation. It's ultimately up to the White House and the president to push for

those recommendations and to support some of the proposals that any task force comes up with. What's notable about the gun violence task force that prevent -- gun violence prevention task force is that there is no set deadline for their works.

So I think there's also a lack of urgency with respect to addressing the issue of gun policy in the wake of Parkland at a time when you have this grassroots activism that is really trying to keep this issue at the forefront of the debate in Washington.

Ultimately, whatever the president chooses to support on guns, unless he's willing to use the bully pulpit of the presidency, unless he's willing to really put some urgency behind the need for Congress to act, especially on an issue that's so bitterly divides lawmakers in Washington nothing is going to get done. And you haven't really seen him use the platform of the presidency outside of convening these meetings in the same way that, for example, President Obama really did after Sandy Hook where he really mounted a public pressure campaign designed to really force lawmakers' hands.

BERMAN: So, interesting, Ryan, that the person who's going to chair this federal task force is the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who's had a doocey of a 24 hours. She did an interview with "60 Minutes" last night with Leslie Stahl. And remember she is the secretary of Education. It is her job to know what goes on in schools and she's from Michigan where she's supposed to know even more about what goes on in schools. Listen to this exchange with Leslie Stahl last night.


LESLIE STAHL, CBS' "60 MINUTES": Are the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don't know. Overall -- I can't say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where the students are doing well --

STAHL: No, but have you seen the really bad schools? Maybe try to figure out what they're doing?

DEVOS: I have not -- I have not -- I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.

STAHL: Maybe you should?

DEVOS: Maybe I should, yes.


BERMAN: So Betsy DeVos is the secretary of Education, Ryan. The reviews of that interview universally not so good. RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. People have been pretty

tough on that. It reminds me of her confirmation hearing. She similarly stumbled over a lot of basic questions on education policy. A lot of Democrats pointing out that she never went to a public school. She's been a fierce champion of vouchers and charter schools and spent a lot of time in Michigan politics working on education, so it's a little bewildering that she wouldn't --


LIZZA: -- be able to answer the basic questions. And just one comment, John, on the Trump and guns. I mean, it strikes me, the thing that we're all trying to adjust to with Trump is, unlike previous presidents, his words just don't make policy. I mean, there -- I remember instances with Obama where he said something and the policy of the White House shifted because he said it publicly, right? With Trump, it is the opposite. It does not matter what he says, it does not make policy in the White House and in Congress. They just ignore it and so we have -- we're just adjusting to a president whose words, frankly, don't matter.

We've seen it with immigration. We now saw it in a startling way with guns where he literally mocked Democratic and Republican senators for being scared of the NRA and then a few weeks later his White House puts out the NRA's wish list on guns. And I think we just have to adjust our expectations, when Trump says something on policy, you just -- there's no reason to believe that that's what is going to be.

[09:10:06] He defers to policy aides in the White House and congressional leaders on Capitol Hill.

BERMAN: Even so, you know, he still has an opportunity here if he chooses to use it.

Guys, stick around. I'm going to come back to you in just a moment. In the meantime, this morning a lawyer for Stormy Daniels-Stefanie Clifford tells CNN he hopes that reports are wrong that lawyers for the president are trying to stop the airing of a "60 Minutes" interview with Stormy Daniels.

Joining me now with the very latest on this, MJ Lee.

MJ, what's going on here?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, what is very clear is that Stormy Daniels wants to speak out about her experience. She wants to speak out about this alleged affair that she had with Donald Trump going back to 2006. She wants to speak out about the $130,000 payment that she said she got from Michael Cohen and she also wants to discuss this NDA that she says she had to sign and the threats that she continues to receive from Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's lawyer.

Now we know that she sat down with Anderson Cooper for an interview on "60 Minutes" but a report over the weekend said that lawyers associated with Mr. Trump, President Trump, is considering taking legal action to ensure that this interview doesn't air.

Now Michael Avenatti, who is Stormy Daniels' lawyer, was on CNN's "NEW DAY" this morning and he says that he certainly hopes that the "60 Minutes" interview will air because he says the American people deserve to hear her out and deserve to know the truth.

Here's a little more of what he had to say.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: I don't understand why the president cannot come out and state unequivocally, did he know about the agreement? Did he know about the payment? And did he have anything to do with the payment being made? Three very simple questions. You don't need 140 characters on Twitter in order to answer those three questions.


LEE: Now just a reminder of what is happening, legally Stormy Daniels has filed a lawsuit in California against President Trump. She basically wants the court to say that this NDA that she signed with Michael Cohen is void so that she can speak out and just as for how Stormy Daniels is doing right now, she says -- She told Nick Valencia, our colleague, over the weekend that she is more in demand. That she has had more dance bookings because this is really a double-edged sword because she has had less time to promote her adult films.

BERMAN: All right. MJ Lee, thanks very much.

Joining me now to discuss this, CNN legal analysts, former federal prosecutors, Michael Zeldin and Laura Coates.

Laura, let me start with you. Is there any chance that if Michael Cohen and people close to the president really want to stop this interview from airing, is there any realistic chance that they can do that?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, of course much of the cat's already out of the bag by the fact that she filed a complaint just last week that detailed a lot of the information people thought. The salacious details that come out have not come out as -- you know, as clearly as they could in the future I'm sure. But if this contract is enforceable, if the NDA is enforceable, and remember, absence of a signature is not enough to just take away and void an implicit contract, then there is a leg that they would have to stand on if the contract is valid.

But she cannot disclose the information. She can't give (INAUDIBLE), and the reason for that is it's because it's nondisclosure as in you cannot disclose the information in there. Realistically, the optics are already bad enough that they may not want to fight it quite as hard if you're the president of the United States.

BERMAN: So, Michael Zeldin, I mean, what are the consequences for Stormy Daniels if this interview does go ahead and air over the objections of Donald Trump's lawyers? And I'm not sure I believe the lawyer for Stormy Daniels who says, you know, we'd be very sad if the Trump team filed action to get this interview from airing. I think they'd be thrilled. I think the more the better in terms of attention here, Michael.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, so a couple of things. First is, they are seeking in a lawsuit like this to restrain the media from publishing a story. Prior restraints don't work very well as we saw in the Pentagon papers case. I think they have a losing hand with respect to trying to restrain the media from publishing this especially because I think "60 Minutes" is not even a party to this contract.

BERMAN: Right.

ZELDIN: So they could then perhaps sue in damages if there is such a damage claim but I think the gambit of suing in court to restrain her from speaking is silly because she'll get to then put on her case which says, essentially, it's true what I'm having to say and that overcomes their efforts to get a prior restraint. So I think it's a losing proposition for them where they to proceed this way.

BERMAN: So, Michael, other legal news over the weekend we reported. Kaitlan Collins telling us about the story where the president meeting with the impeachment expert adding, perhaps thinking about adding to his legal team, what does that tell you?

ZELDIN: Well, first of all, we've understood for a long time that this is a very skeletal team. You've got Ty Cobb, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow and that's it. Bob Mueller has 17 lawyers. So they need reinforcements and they've needed it for quite a long time.

So bringing on another lawyer supplemental to Ty Cobb and John Dowd makes a lot of sense to me. And Emmet Flood is experienced. He worked for David Kendall on the Clinton impeachment and so if it ever got to that point, he has experience in that respect.

So I think it's fine for them to think about additional counsel on this case. It doesn't seem to be going away any time soon, Laura. It certainly doesn't. I mean, we have more people going in to testify before a grand jury. There's still more indictments coming out it seems every week or every other week.

Yet "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the president's lawyers are trying to reach this strange deal to get him to testify and that deal would be, he'll go and speak to investigators under the condition that the special counsel wraps up the president's role in this, finishes what he's going to do with the president within 60 days after the interview. Why on earth would the special counsel ever agree to that?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: They wouldn't and good luck with the attempts to do so. Their efforts are Herculean at this point because the president of the United States although it may seem odd to everybody in terms of the Mueller criminal probe, he has no bargaining power here and no position to negotiate for strength.

There's no incentive for Mueller or his team to allow the president to dictate the terms, the tenure, the duration of their investigation. What if more witnesses come forward or more information is available that allows them to maneuver a different direction or go in a different direction or pursue either a rabbit hole or one that actually is chock-full of carrots while the president would have dictated the terms they would have agreed to that.

No prosecutor in their right mind would allow somebody who's potentially a target or a witness or somebody who's even related to investigation to give them their prosecutorial prerogative. It doesn't work that way and any efforts to do so would be laughed at.

BERMAN: The issue is does the special counsel have the stomach, Michael, to battle, you know, in court if he needs to subpoena the president, if it gets to that is that something he wants to? I imagine he prefers not to have to do that, Michael?

ZELDIN: Sure. I think that they probably are looking at the Bill Clinton case as the template. In that case, Ken Starr threatened to subpoena Bill Clinton into the grand jury, instead they worked out an agreement where Ken Starr came over to the White House with his lawyers, they had an interview in the map room, that was ported over to the grand jury live and it lasted for most of the day. I think that's what will happen here. There's not likelihood that they will go to court and fight this out.

BERMAN: All right. Michael Zeldin, Laura Coates, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Republicans fighting to keep control of the congressional seat in Trump country, we're talking about in Trump country. What is really going on here? We are there and the president says he would love to run against Oprah. Oprah says, no, thanks for now, but she's got some advice for anyone who does run.

Plus, a deadly helicopter crash in New York City. What happened here? Dramatic video of this incident and perhaps some new information about what went wrong.



BERMAN: Later today, Republicans are bringing in another heavy hitter in what has become a major battle in Western Pennsylvania. Donald Trump Jr. will stump today for Rick Saccone following the president's rally on Saturday for the Republican candidate. It was a rally for the candidate. It was really a rally for the president himself.

On paper, this race should be a Republican cake walk. The president won the district by 20 points, but Democrats see an opening here. A chance for an upset in Trump country.

Joining me now from just outside Pittsburgh, Alex Marquardt. Alex, you've been talking to people all up and down this district over the last several days.

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, we're actually in Canonsburg, which is the heart of this 18th Congressional district. You're absolutely right. This race has no business being this close. All of the polls in recent days show it neck and neck and just to give you a sense of how much Republicans feel is on the line, how much Trump feels is on the line.

The president came down here this weekend to give that rally for Saccone, which as you mentioned ended up being more about Trump, much like this race.


MARQUARDT (voice-over): It's the weekly Sunday chess meetup at the Mt. Lebanon Mall. John Surlow (ph) is a long-time chess coach and supporter of President Trump's, who enjoyed the free willing raucous rally.

JOHN SURLOW, VOTING FOR REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE RICK SACCONE: So, I think he's very successful. I want to see him continue to be.

MARQUARDT: And that means supporting Republican State Representative Rick Saccone over the 33-year-old Democrat Conor Lamb, a retired Marine and former federal prosecutor.

(on camera): How much of your support for Saccone is actually about Saccone versus the Republican Party or Trump?

SURLOW: Very little.

MARQUARDT: Really? You don't really care about Saccone.

SURLOW: I think Conor Lamb has got a great personality, a great persona, he's like Jack Kennedy all over again. I mean, he's just terrific.

MARQUARDT: But you'll still vote for the Republican?

SURLOW: Yes, definitely.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): Surlow and Trump know that this race is seen as a referendum on the president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The world is watching. I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick, they're all watching because I won this district like by 22 points. It's a lot. That's why I'm here. Look at all those red hats here, Rick.

MARQUARDT: Here, this corner of Southwestern Pennsylvania is also where he's hoping his announcement of steel and aluminum tariffs will resonate with voters as they have with Surlow.

SURLOW: I feel like the Republican Party has got a wall street wing and a main street wing and the tariffs are mainly in support of a main street wing. CAROL THOMAS, VOTING FOR REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE RICK SACCONE: If it actually has the effect that it says it will have I'll be for it.

MARQUARDT: At a diner in nearby Canonsburg, Carol Thomas isn't convinced nor is her husband, Bob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to come around to bite us.

MARQUARDT: Lifelong Republicans who don't like the president now at odds with their daughter, Michelle, who supports his agenda but not his attitude.

MICHELLE GRIMPE, VOTING FOR REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE RICK SACCONE: I don't necessarily like how the president presents things. I don't like his persona, so to speak. That's why, while I'm still supporting Saccone, it did cause me to look a little towards Conor Lamb.

MARQUARDT: And for some like Carol who are wavering even more, Trump's visit didn't help.

[09:25:03] GRIMPE: If anything, if I were Saccone, I'd tell Trump to stay away because he puts his foot in his mouth, but I look at Saccone as someone who has really good background and a lot of experience. He can probably negotiate the politics.

MARQUARDT (on camera): You're saying that the president's support of Saccone would make you less inclined to support him?

GRIMPE: Much less inclined.

MARQUARDT (voice-over): In the end mother and daughter will vote for Rick Saccone, father for Conor Lamb. One American family struggling as so many are and will this year to reconcile their beliefs with deepening political divisions.


MARQUARDT: And John, just to give you an indication of how panicked Republicans are that this special election could be a canary in the coal mine, if you will, for the midterm elections, outside Republican groups have spent $10 million in favor of Rick Saccone, $10 million for a special election.

All the while Conor Lamb, the Democrat, has been out fundraising Rick Saccone by around five to one in the early part of this year. This should be such an easy victory for the Republicans, for Rick Saccone, that even if Saccone manages to eke out a victory it could still be seen as a loss -- John.

BERMAN: And you don't have to scratch the surface very far to find national Republicans already giving you a rebuttal of what went wrong with Rick Saccone putting the blame on him as a candidate. Alex Marquardt for us in Canonsburg. Alex, thanks so much.

So, as we said, you know, tomorrow's election very much about the president. There is another election which is totally about the president that's the 2020 run for the White House. The president now says that he would love to take on Oprah Winfrey and beat her. He claims he knows her weakness.

Now Oprah Winfrey for her part says she is not running. She gave our Van Jones her advice for anyone who he is.


OPRAH WINFREY, MEDIA MOGUL: Do not give your energy to the other side. Do not spend all your time talking about your opponents. Do not give your energy to that which you really don't believe in. Do not spend an ounce of your time on that.


BERMAN: All right. Coming up much more on the Oprah special election also the special election in Pennsylvania and we have just heard from the president on what he might or might not do in terms of raising the age limit to buy guns. Stay with us.