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Source on Looming Firing: "Everyone Loves a Season Finale"; Stormy's Lawyer: 6 More Women May Come Forward Against Trump. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. We'll take it. Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN. Thanks for being with me.

Spoiler alert, on season two, Chief of Staff John Kelly survives until the next episode.

[14:00:04] But as far as everyone else is concerned, a source close to the White House says everyone loves a season finale and we are told the president is enjoying the show. Several reporters today said that today is the day the president could fire more cabinet members and staffers after a tumultuous week that saw his secretary of state get fired via tweet. And moments from now, the White House will face reporters to answer for all the drama.

This, as the buzz continues to build around national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who sources say should be gone before the president's promised meeting with the North Korean dictator, which we're now hearing could be end of May. If McMaster does go, the president will be on his third national security adviser in the 14 months he has been in office.

So, let's start in the briefing room with our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

And, Jeff, just bring us up to speed on who could be on the outs and especially this line about how at least it looks like John Kelly, according to sources, is 100 percent safe. True?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, good afternoon.

The only one who knows that for certain, of course, is the president. As we've been saying all week long, the president controls the timing of any announcements, any firings, any hirings. So, the reality here is that this is the president's situation and staff to control.

This is certainly something he started and fueled as the week went along, saying change is good. He signaled that he was almost ready to build a cabinet he was comfortable with, suggesting, of course, he wanted to make some changes. That has sort of fueled, you know, an intense week of speculation and questions and rumors. People here in the White House and, indeed, agencies across Washington, quite frankly, have been wondering where they stand, where their bosses stand. As we sit here or stand here on a Friday afternoon, Brooke, it is clear there have been no major firings yet -- of course, since the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday.

But we do believe that there are some officials who are short timers, if you will, and the national security adviser, General H.R. McMaster certainly among them. Talking to a variety of people, the president, we're told, has expressed a desire to change that position. When that will happen, we do not know. Brooke, the consequences of all this turmoil is also something we should, indeed, focus on, particularly that meeting you were talking about with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Now, the White House is leaning more toward the end of May. Just a week ago, it was beginning of May. And it raises the question, who was planning these meetings, who was running interference and setting up what really is an unprecedented high-stakes gamble of potential diplomacy here if the secretary of state is not in his position and if there's a new national security adviser.

BALDWIN: Right.

ZELENY: So, those questions are certainly ones hanging over the head here. I will hear what White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says about the mood in the White House. That is something that I'm told by officials here, the White House chief of staff has been trying to tell people to focus on their work, to not necessarily be caught up in all the speculation.

But, Brooke, I can tell you, that's pretty hard to do because, as people watch their NCAA brackets on a Friday, they're also wondering who will get through this Friday with this #firingfriday. So, so far, Brooke, no announcements to be made -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Listen, already some early upsets in the tournament and --

ZELENY: Indeed.

BALDWIN: -- we could see if the day is still young with regard to this White House.

Jeff Zeleny, we'll look for you in that briefing. We'll stand by for that.

ZELENY: Sure.

BALDWIN: Meantime, the unprecedented cabinet churn aside, on any other day, another stunning development would be dominating the headlines. The lawyer for Stormy Daniels now claims that she was threatened with physical harm to stay silent about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: And the fact is that night client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump. The details surrounding that, she's going to discuss, I'm sure, on the "60 Minutes" interview on March 25.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So let's go straight to CNN national political reporter MJ Lee on this.

And, listen, we are still short on so many details. This is proving to be quite the teaser for that "60 Minute" interview.

But what did her lawyer say about proof?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, you know, Brooke, this is a pretty stunning allegation. Up until this point, Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, has talked about threats in a broader sense. He has said that there have been legal threats against Stormy Daniels. For example, temporary restraining order that was taken out against the porn star just last month. But this morning was really the first time he had ever mentioned a physical threat against Stormy Daniels. But to be clear, he has not said who made these threats or what kind of threats they have been.

And he has said that on the "60 Minutes" interview with our Anderson Cooper, he will get into the details, that Stormy will get into the details, suggesting that there could be some kind of evidence as to what kind of threats we're talking about.

[14:05:13] Now, the other news that Michael Avenatti also made this morning is that there could be other Stormy Daniels out there. He has been approached to at least six other women who had similar stories. Take a listen to what he said to our Chris Cuomo on "NEW DAY."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVENATTI: We have been approached by six separate women have claimed to have similar stories to those or to that of my client. Two of those women, at least two, have NDAs. We are in the very early stages of vetting those stories.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Do they these women, though, in terms of what their allegations are at this point, before you vet them, do they all involve the president of the United States?

AVENATTI: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now, he is being careful as well, Brooke, saying that he hasn't fully vetted all of these stories, he hasn't fully vetted these two NDAs. And he doesn't know if these women will end up becoming his clients as well.

The key thing there, Brooke, is that all six of these women, he says, have stories involving the president of the United States, which obviously raises a whole host of other questions. Did these women have consensual relationships with the president? What kind of relationships did they have? Did they also have NDAs? Did they also have hush agreements? Were there payoffs? And given the news from this morning, another question is, are there

any other women who will say that they were also threatened by people around President Trump because of their relationship with the president?

BALDWIN: MJ, thank you so much on the reporting.

Let's dive right in, starting with my panel.

And Sara Azari, criminal defense attorney, I'm coming to you first on all of this. You know, listen, again, only they know what the evidence or proof may be. We're only taking this is just his side of things. But if true, with regard to the first bit on threats of physical violence, that would take this story from an extramarital affair to something extraordinarily concerning.

SARA AZARI, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Absolutely. And in California where this action is pending, that's what's known as criminal threats, which is a crime, obviously, and also known as terrorist threats. So, this is very serious.

We're now not in the realm of duress as far as being forced to sign a contract. We're now in the criminal area, in the criminal arena. And, you know, I think Mr. Avenatti is jumping the gun here. It is not a fact. It's an allegation until it's proven to be a fact.

What, first of all, these six women, these six Stormys out there, what is an analogous between their story and Stormy Daniels' story? You know, what is the connection with the Trump Organization --

BALDWIN: He sounds like he is alleging to them and he's saying that he's still vetting them. These are just women, right?

AZARI: Correct. Right. He's clear about that, and he's saying that two of them had NDAs. But again, he hasn't even looked far enough into the ndas to say much about that.

But with respect to the threat of physical harm, I think this was a really alarming thing that came out today. And, you know, it's subject to proof. You know, what is the connection between these threats? The threats are as good as their source.

So, what's the connection between these threats and Donald Trump and Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization, if any? I think we need to see.

BALDWIN: I have so many more questions. Quick break. We're back with the panel on all things Stormy and also the revolving door there at the White House in just one quick break.

We're waiting and watching for Sarah Sanders to take the podium. Lot of tough questions she has to answer on this Friday afternoon. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:12:54] BALDWIN: All right. We're back.

We're waiting for this White House briefing to begin. And we're just sitting here talking to my panel about the latest Stormy Daniels headline today, the fact that this -- you know, her attorney came on "NEW DAY" this morning and basically mentioned that she -- that there had been threats of physical violence, had she not signed this NDA to shut her up.

Again, this is just one sign of the story and also mentioning that there are six other women that this attorney needs to vet, two of whom he says also were forced to sign NDAs here after perhaps relations with then private citizen Donald Trump.

I'm sitting here with all of you guys and I'm also wondering -- we were talking about this through the commercial break. Does President Trump need to come forward and address this head on? I mean, if the man, you know, as we heard from Sarah Sanders at the podium last week didn't do it, does he need to say so.

ROB ASTORINO, FRIEND OF PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't think he needs to do so now because that would be playing into Avenatti's game. And Avenatti to me is just like a catfish. He's sucking at the bottom of the tank.

I mean, he's sitting there, with a porn star, a stripper, and she has already signed an agreement. Now she is reneging or wants -- I think she's extorting, I think she wants more. So, they're going to this whole media frenzy --

AZARI: It's defective agreement.

ASTORINO: Well, but they're getting their 15 minutes. She's getting a lot out of this. God knows what else he's getting from her as she goes forward.

BALDWIN: Oh --

AZARI: That's not appropriate.

ASTORINO: That's not what I meant. Obviously, that's not what I meant.

AZARI: OK.

ASTORINO: From a book deal, or a movie deal, or something else, because he's got to get paid, right, and we were just talking about how much --

(CROSSTALK)

AZARI: This all boils down to whether this contract is enforceable or not. And he, in fact, this morning on CNN made it clear that he doesn't need to go to the duress and the threats and all that, because the piece of paper itself has so many defects he can just attack the contract.

KEITH BOYKIN, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE AIDE: The problem is not a legal issue. It's a political issue, media issue.

AZARI: Of course.

BOYKIN: And Michael Avenatti and Stormy Daniels are beating Donald Trump at his own game. They're masters at manipulating the story, continuing to bring out new information every day. They're keeping this in the news. Donald Trump is continually on the defensive, using exactly the same tactics that Donald Trump used during his successful campaign.

And now, he doesn't know how to respond to it.

[14:15:01] So, I think it's interesting to watch how they're able to beat him at it.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's not only a matter of what Stormy Daniels get out of it, what is her attorney get out of it, I mean, there are a lots -- there could be potentially lots of other fallout from all of this, right?

BALDWIN: Finance law. We don't know yet.

RAMPELL: We don't know in there are campaign finance violations. We don't know that much about the nature of Stormy Daniels' relationship with Donald Trump. Another port star as you were discussing during the break has alleged --

AZARI: Other cover-ups.

RAMPELL: Another porn star has alleged paying her for sex.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: -- paying to shut people up.

AZARI: Of course. And does his base really care?

RAMPELL: His base probably doesn't care. A survey that came out a couple of days ago that said if he had a relationship with her, if he had an affair with her, it wouldn't be illegal. I think more than half the people did not believe it would be immoral. So, you know, look, whether or not she has something to gain from this, it doesn't necessarily mean that the rest of us should abandon paying attention to this particular conflict.

AZARI: Definitely newsworthy. It's definitely important.

BALDWIN: My question is, when you start really reading into this, I'm wondering, what would Mueller have any interest, the special counsel? I know Mueller is looking into a lot of financial dealings and I have to also imagine that Michael Cohen, who is the one who paid the $130,000 out of his own personal pocketbook and is irked he hasn't been paid back, I'm sure Michael Cohen is someone that Bob Mueller would really like to talk to, because he's seen it all.

AZARI: Michael Cohen is definitely a person of interest to the Mueller investigation, the Mueller team. We already know what's established is that Mueller is following the money. We're talking about hush money here as part of this -- you know, the $130,000. So, I think there's definitely a clear tie that Mueller can jump in and sort of add this to the follow his money track that he's on, you know?

BALDWIN: I think that's a huge potential next track.

Let me come back, let me move on from Stormy. Let me talk about what's the comings and goings at this White House, whether it is the chief of staff. Although now we're hearing he is 100 percent safe, as in won't be fired. He was in the category of on thin ice as is H.R. McMaster, and Shulkin, Carson and the list continues. We're waiting for the White House briefing to begin. We're going to talk to these guys about revolving door if, you will.

Quick break. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:21:14] MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS DIRECTOR: The president selects the nominee. They then go -- they undergo an entire FBI background check. They work with the Office of Government Ethics to deconflict financial issues. And that's a process that takes a good amount of time, and good amount of resources.

Only then after cleared through an FBI background check can the Office of Government Ethics is a nominee submitted to the United States Senate. When they get through the Senate, they go through several additional evaluations, including meetings with staff, meetings with members on both sides of the aisle. The nominee then undergoes a hearing and the committee votes on the nominee to get out of that committee. At that point, the nominee moves to the Senate floor for full confirmation.

Traditionally, the Senate routinely confirms the administration's nominees once out of committee. It is there to respect the will of the American people and the election for administration to fill out its roles under a new president. Instead, what Senator Schumer has done is to require closure votes to essentially slow down the process and to obstruct.

At this point, in the past four administrations combined -- the last four administrations -- the Senate had conducted 17 cloture votes combined. Cloture vote, in essence, being a filibuster on a nominee. Seventeen cloture votes in the last four administrations combined, at this point.

Today, the Senate has had 79 cloture votes in the first 14 months of our administration. Seventeen, over the last four administrations, versus seventy-nine in the first 14 months of our administration. That is roughly five times the number of the last four administrations combined.

Senator Schumer is essentially weaponizing a Senate procedure and demanding cloture votes on our nominees that he even eventually supports. Eleven of the President's nominees have been approved without a single dissenting vote, yet still forced to go through a 30- hours of debate to essentially slow down the Senate calendar simply for the purpose of obstruction. Even Senate Democrats have begun to call this out and to say it is getting to the point of ridiculous.

At this rate, the United States Senate would take eleven and a half years to confirm our nominees. Eleven and a half years to confirm our nominees.

So, let me give you one more example of the comparison, historically. In the first entire term of the George H.W. Bush administration, his entire four years, he faced one cloture vote. In the entire four years of the Clinton administration, he faces 10 cloture votes. Under the George W. Bush administration, the entire first term, he faced four cloture votes. Barack Obama faced 17 in his first entire four years.

We have faced 79 in our first 14 months. That adds up to 32 combined in the entire first four years of those administrations, relative to 79 in our first less than a year and a half.

So let me give a couple more illustrations of specific individuals.

Pat Pizzella is our nominee --

BALDWIN: All right. We're listening to Marc Short. We're really waiting to see Sarah Sanders come back to that podium and answer some of the tough questions for today.

We're going to take a break, waiting for her. Back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right. We're back.

We promise we're watching this breaking here, but really, we're waiting for Sarah Sanders to step behind that podium and answer some of the tough questions of the day. We were just talking about the latest top lines on Stormy Daniels.

Let's actually delve back in to the panel and we'll take you back to the briefing the second that Sarah Sanders is there.

Catherine, just to you, set us up on where we are. We already -- I say we. The administration, the president fired the secretary of state this week. So, Tillerson, out. Apparently still on the list of potential exits, H.R. McMaster, David Shulkin, Ben Carson, listening to Sarah Sanders she said it's nothing more than an administration having different priorities at different times. But a source close to the White House told Jeff Zeleny, everyone loves a good season finale.

RAMPELL: Yes, you do wonder if Trump still thinks he's on "The Apprentice", and he thinks the point is to have lots of fighting and backstabbing until there's only one employee left to be in.