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Pennsylvania House Race Too Close to Call; Lavish Dining Set Puts Carson in Hot Seat; Source: More White House Shakeups to Come; U.K. Expels 23 Russian Diplomats over Poisoning of Ex-Spy; Radio Host & Stormy Daniels Talked Alleged Trump Affair in 2007. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- saying that their efforts in terms of reaching out to the labor community has paid off. The ongoing debate that keeps going on out here is whether or not the president had any effect on this race. It's clear from one perspective that he did, but the candidate last night not giving into that, saying what put him over the top was sticking to the issues that affected here people here in the district the most.


CONOR LAMB, (D), PENNSYLVANIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Not really, other than to say that there are plenty of people here still pretty supportive of him from what I can tell. I think that his visits -- he came here twice. I think they probably did contribute to the turnout we saw and, look, I was at the polling place yesterday with cars parked outside of them that had President Trump's bummer sticker on them. He's a popular person here. But I think that what happens when you campaign in real life as much as possible, those divisions go away. Everyone gave me a fair shake. And I know there are people that voted for the president who also voted for me. And I thank them for hearing me out. And I'm looking forwards to fulfilling my promise of actually representing them.


CARROLL: A couple of things here, this clearly was an upset. There are a lot of Democrats that have reason to celebrate. But once again, Saccone not giving up. Conor Lamb also saying at this point this is a time for Democrats to have found their voice -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Jason Carroll, do stay warm for us there.

I want to talk about the race with CNN politics reporter and editor- at-large, Chris Cillizza.

We still don't have a certified winner even though you have Democrats saying nope, we got this. That aside, it's close.


CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-AT-LARGE: That's right. KEILAR: What does it mean this key midterm election year?

CILLIZZA: OK, so, I think Conor Lamb is going to win. All of absentees on election day, votes have been counted. There have been legal challenges. He's ahead out of 600 votes out of 200,000 counted. We should be cautious. I think he'll probably win.

What does it mean? It effectively was a tie. When it's this close, it effectively was a time. But that's important. We focus too much on who won and who lost. I think Conor Lamb will win, but we focus too much on that. What should we focus on? This is a district that Donald Trump --


KEILAR: Changes sentiment between a 20-point win.

CILLIZZA: -- won by 20. I counted this morning. There are 119 districts, Brianna, that are less Republican friendly than the one that Conor Lamb looks to have won. Which means there are 119 seats that Republicans currently hold. Republicans currently hold. That's half of their majority, literally half, that are going to be more vulnerable in terms of just the raw numbers of presidential performance than the seat that it looks like Republicans are heading towards a loss in southwestern Pennsylvania.

KEILAR: Is there any way to see this other than a referendum on President Trump?

CILLIZZA: No. There are other factors. Lamb was younger, military veteran, right profile, had a name in the district. His uncle, his father had been involved in politics at some level. Saccone was an older guy, ran a not very nuanced or updated campaign, spent time in state legislature. There are a number of things. The Republican member of Congress resigned amid a sex scandal. There are things, but that doesn't get you from Trump plus 20 to Lamb plus 627.

KEILAR: It's a good point. Trump campaigned in Virginia and in Alabama. And Republicans in those races lost. He did not campaign in the Georgia special election, the Republican won. So if incumbent Republicans are looking at, whether they want Trump power in the corner, is this going to affect that?

CILLIZZA: I think it depends what your problem is. If your problem is with base motivation, it can't hurt.



CILLIZZA: The issue though, if you're in a district that as all swingy, at all has Independents, Democrats on the fence, Trump being in the district can turn off as many Independents and moderate Republicans as he can energy conservatives, so you have to make a balance there. I still think Trump's best advantage for Republicans is what Obama was in 2010 and 2014. He hurt them in a lot of places going into the campaign. He helped them raise money. Donald Trump can still raise money. You're hearing a lot of, we need to raise money, and this is a wake-up call. Those are true from Republicans as of this race. The question is, can they do anything about it. All of the money in the world doesn't save you from a giant wave politically coming. Democrats knew there was one in 2010 and 2014. They couldn't do anything about it. Republicans knew there was one in 2006. They couldn't do anything about it. Sometimes these things are outside of what you can -

KEILAR: You can control --


CILLIZZA: -- you can control. And is Donald Trump going to go from 40 percent approval to 50 percent approval? If he does, we're having a different conversation. If he doesn't, Republicans need to be very worried.

KEILAR: Chris Cillizza, thank you so much.

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

[11:34:53] KEILAR: Could an expensive dining set cost a cabinet secretary his seat? Coming up, new information about the furniture order that Ben Carson canceled after word got out it would cost taxpayers $31,000. We'll telling you who actually made the request and why it makes you wonder what Ben Carson really knew.


KEILAR: It is a big platter of controversy served on a super expensive table. New information who picked out a $31,000 dining set for HUD Secretary Ben Carson's office with taxpayers expected to pick up the tab. A spokesman said Carson had little to no involvement before he eventually canceled the order, but e-mails show Carson and his wife actually personally picked this furniture out.

CNN's Rene Marsh has been following the story.

Rene, what are you seeing in these newly released e-mails?

[11:40:02] RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATIO & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Right. So it's there in black and white. These e- mails, clearly state that Carson, Secretary Carson and his wife, they selected this $31,000 dining set we've been reporting on. There was an August e-mail, internal e-mail from HUD, in which a career staffer says on this e-mail chain with the subject lines "Secretary's dining room set needed." She says, and I'm quoting, she makes a reference to "printouts of the furniture that the secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out."

These documents were released through a Freedom of Information request by American Oversight. They are a liberal-leaning group.

But as you mentioned off the top, HUD's spokesperson said from the very beginning, they denied the Carsons had any involvement in this selection of this dining set. I want to read a quote. This spokesman told me, quote, "They had zero awareness of this purchase being made." And for Carson's part, he put out a statement and painted a picture of more of a limited involvement. He said that he briefly looked at catalogs of the dining furniture. His wife also briefly looked at catalogs to make sure the color matched the other decor.

But again, Brianna, the e-mails paint a different picture. They weren't on the sidelines while others were making these decisions. The e-mails paint a picture of the Carsons very much so being involved in this process of selecting this dining set, which got a lot of bad press obviously.

KEILAR: What is HUD saying about this discrepancy?

MARSH: So we reached out to HUD and got a somewhat odd response regarding this story here and I'm quoting --


KEILAR: How in line with what they've responded to far. Please, sorry. Go on.

MARSH: A quote from the spokesman saying, "When presented with the options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles."

It's just kind of -- they don't plainly answer yes or no, were we up front, were we not. The e-mails show one thing. They kind of led us to brief something else.

I will say we reached out to the White House for comment. They are not officially commenting on all of this. But Kevin Litpak (ph), at the White House reporting that Trump is growing increasingly frustrated with these negative headlines coming out of HUD.

KEILAR: Well, let's see what that means. A lot of times that goes to the next step in -- the secretary's in danger.

Rene Marsh, great reporting. Thank you so much.

Right on the heels of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson being the latest casualty of the White House revolving door, sources tell CNN that President Trump is not done shaking up his team. He may be on the verge of replacing a few other top cabinet members.

I want to bring in CNN White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Who could be next, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think could be next is the question of the moment for this White House, Brianna. The winds of change are blowing, is what one White House source told me yesterday. There's a feeling that any number of cabinet positions could get changed. There's a lot of speculation about what's happening over at Veterans Affairs. Some sources telling us that the energy secretary, Rick Perry, might in line for that. But then we're also getting pushback saying Rick Perry loves being at the Energy Department. And it's not just confined to cabinet positions, Brianna. We're also hearing about more speculation about the future of the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

But to get back to Rene Marsh's great reporting on what's happening at HUD and Ben Carson, I talked to a source earlier this morning who said essentially things would get better for them if they were to start giving straight answers. And there's a frustration in the White House that they haven't been very straight forward about what's been happening with the furniture purchasing inside that department.

KEILAR: We just heard from Rene's report. We'll have to see. The White House does sound frustrated.

I want to ask you, I know over at the White House, they've been keeping an eye on the race in Pennsylvania, still too close to call, but it is leaning towards the Democrat Conor Lamb. What is the White House saying about the Republican Rick Saccone?

ACOSTA: I talked to a couple of sources this morning. They are obviously over at the White House trying to put some distance between Rick Saccone and President Trump. That seems to be the messaging this morning. I talked to one source who said either you run hard or run scared, and it seems that in the case of Rick Saccone, he was running scared. And another source said, inside the Republican Party right now, the feeling is that this is not a referendum on President Trump. This was all about Rick Saccone, that he was a weak candidate. Obviously, Brianna, that is the kind of messaging -- you remember from your days as a White House correspondent -- that is the kind of messaging one would expect to come out of the White House, out of the party when they have a loss like this. But make no mistake, when President Trump wins that district by nearly 20 points, and then that candidate that the president just campaigned for over the weekend appears to be on his way to losing that race, there is obviously going to be some problems for the president down the road. I talked to a source -- Republican source on Capitol Hill last night, Brianna, who was talking about a blood bath in November -- that was the word this person used, blood bath -- because of these head winds that the Republicans are running into at the moment.

[11:45:25] KEILAR: We're seeing those in Pennsylvania.

Jim Acosta, traveling with the president.

ACOSTA: Thank you.

KEILAR: Thank you so much.

Breaking this morning, the United Kingdom unveiling one of its strongest answers against Russia since the Cold War in response to the poisoning of a spy. Is President Trump going to stand with this ally? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [11:50:08] KEILAR: We have some breaking news out of London. British Prime Minister Theresa May is striking back at Russia, which it blames for a nerve agent attack on a former Kremlin spy and his daughter. Just a couple hours ago, May announced the largest expulsion of diplomats since the Cold War.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in London with more -- Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Twenty- three diplomats accused of undeclared espionage activities who were residing at the embassy here in London have a week to get out. Now, that, as far as we can tell, is half possibly of the entire embassy. Quite a substantial move. One I'm sure, though, that Moscow will quite simply reciprocate, kicking out a similar, possibly more, by initial indications, British diplomats from Moscow.

On top of that, though, Theresa May announced in a very lengthy statement here that they were going to suspend relations with Russia, effectively stopping bilateral meetings, meaning that the foreign minister isn't coming here in a reciprocal visit any time soon.

More importantly, on the public stage of diplomacy, all royal family members attending the football World Cup, the soccer World Cup, in Russia later on this year.

Apart from that, we have to dig into the real details of the legislation she announced. She said they'd go after Russian state assets if they were proven in the U.K. to be harmful to Russian citizens. They wouldn't allow an espionage network to get re- established. They'd check things coming into the country at ports, borders. But also, too, some legislation amending sanctions that may more closely resemble what you have in the U.S., the Sergei Magnitsky Act, designed to target individuals considered to be behind human rights abuses in Russia.

It's how this legislation bites that's the issue. Twenty-three diplomats getting kicked out and a suspension of relations. That's sort of a tit-for-tat thing that won't really bite inside the walls of the Kremlin, if indeed, the Kremlin are to blame for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal on a Sunday afternoon in the rural city of Salisbury with this nerve agent, Novichok.

The broad question is, how much does that really hurt Russia in the long run, and can they get any of their allies in Europe or particularly in the White House to back them up with similar moves or more than just rhetoric here. So a key question that has to be answered moving forward. Moscow has hinted already they may respond with harsher measures. But really, Theresa May today having to set forward a tough position but possibly knowing, too, that the British toll box isn't particularly deep in terms of things they can do to really genuinely hurt Russia -- Brianna?

KEILAR: And what will allies do? Well, in the U.S., the White House decided not to put in place -- not to enforce those sanctions passed unanimously by Congress. So that may answer that question as well.

Nick Paton Walsh, for us there in London. We do appreciate it.

Coming up, a radio host says porn star, Stormy Daniels, talked about her alleged affair with Donald Trump on his show back in 2007. But it's what she told him behind the scenes that is making news today. We're going to have details about that ahead.


[11:57:20] KEILAR: We have new details on the alleged affair between the porn star and the president. This time, we're hearing from a popular radio host who interviewed Stormy Daniels back in 2007.

I want to bring in CNN's M.J. Lee for this.

What's this radio host saying?

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Well, Brianna, just the latest twist in this ongoing Stormy Daniels saga. Now we have a Florida radio personality, who goes by the name of Bubba the Love Sponge Clem, who says he had Stormy Daniels on in 2007 and, at the time, she discussed in detail her affair with Donald Trump.

Now, how he tells it now is that he asked her to write down a list of famous men that she had slept with, and that at the top of that list was Donald Trump, even though she didn't actually say the name at the time, but he says he saw that list.

Now, among the things that she is said to have said during this interview in 2007 is that she found it horribly embarrassing that this person, i.e. Trump, was the best in bed of the three people that she had written down on her list and that this person contacted her at least twice a month.

Now, this is potentially significant, Brianna, obviously, because this would make it a telling of her affair with Donald Trump or her alleged affair with Donald Trump back when it was actually happening as opposed to her telling the story now.

I have to note, of course, the White House has not commented a lot about Stormy Daniels. But it has been very adamant about one thing, and that is that this affair didn't happen. But now we seem to have maybe Stormy Daniels actually talking about this affair back in the day at the time, around the time that she says the alleged affair took place.

KEILAR: And her lawyer, M.J., says President Trump's attorney missed a deadline for the return of the nondisclosure money, the 130 grand. What happens next?

LEE: That's right. Stormy Daniels essentially tried to make a deal with Donald Trump, and it didn't work. What she offered was to give back the $130,000 that she was paid by Michael Cohen as a part of this NDA, as a part of this hush agreement, and the deadline to accept this deal was yesterday at noon. And the thing that she wanted in exchange was the freedom to speak about her affair with Donald Trump. Now, obviously, I think not surprisingly, Donald Trump or any of the

lawyers associated with him had not spoken out and said anything or responded. That means that the lawsuit that she originally filed against Donald Trump to dissolve this NDA still goes on. A new trial date has been set for July 12th in Los Angeles later this year.

KEILAR: All right. M.J. Lee, thank you so much.

And thank you for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

[12:00:13] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Brianna.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.