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Trump Under Fire Over Putin Congratulations; Trump vs. Stormy; Zuckerberg Takes Responsibility for Data Firm Scandal. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: By now, you would think the president's aides would have learned, if you tell him not to do something, that's going to be first thing does.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Fury inside the White House, as President Trump tries to track down who leaked confidential information about his briefing materials for his Putin phone call? Will the president make it through the snowstorm without firing anyone?

A former Playboy bunny, a reality star and a porn star, and the president of the United States. As one woman wins a victory in court, could this trio pose more legal trouble for President Trump than the Mueller investigation?

Plus, just moments ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke his silence. He will appear exclusively on CNN tonight talking about the 50 million users having their personal data exploited without their knowledge or permission.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with the politics lead and a snow day in Washington where there's also a more figurative cloud looming over the White House. The president is infuriated, according to a source familiar with the president's thinking, infuriated over leaks to "The Washington Post," which is reporting that the president's briefing materials for his call with Russian Vladimir Putin included an all-caps warning, do not congratulate Putin on his election victory, despite the president opening the call with just that, and then telling a room full of reporters with the cameras on that he had done that.

The news breaking of the president defying, ignoring, maybe not even reading the advice of his national security aides sent the president fuming. And according to this source, it has only reinforced President Trump's belief that there are people inside his administration who are actively working to undermine him.

This is a point we heard from Republican Senator Marco Rubio today. Rubio wasn't supportive of the president's congratulatory call, but:


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I don't like what he did, but I really hate that there's someone in this inner circle that is willing to leak this stuff. And if you don't like working for the president, you should resign your job.


TAPPER: Now, to be clear, we don't know the source of the leak. The "Washington Post" story is attributed to "officials familiar with the call."

For all we know -- and this is hypothetical -- senior Republicans on Capitol Hill, upset about the news of the congratulatory call to Putin, phoned the White House for an explanation, and were given that information confidentially, and they're the ones who leaked it. We simply don't know where it came from.

But the president is not being unreasonable in wanting those working him to not share something so sensitive. The leak is a legitimate reason for the chief executive to be upset.

But one also might imagine that whoever leaked this perhaps might also be upset. Whether he or she was upset because the president didn't read the briefing materials or because he didn't heed them or because of the larger issue that President Trump to this day has said nastier things publicly about me, Don Lemon, Chuck Todd, Meryl Streep, and the cast of "Hamilton" than he has of former KGB operative and current human rights repressor Vladimir Putin.

And while it is true that Russia hawks point to the records of both of President Trump's immediate predecessors, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and see much to criticize when it comes to not sufficiently standing up to Putin for invading other countries, suppressing human rights, repressing his own people, and much worse, we are also now in a moment where Putin is bolder than ever before.

According to the U.S. intelligence community, Russia is interfering in the elections of Western democracies all over the world, including again right here in the United States.

And Putin's opponents, well, they have a way of findings themselves in jail or in the morgue.

"The Washington Post" also reporting that President Trump chose to not heed talking points from his national security aides instructing him in this phone call with Putin to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, a poisoning for which both the U.K. and U.S. governments have blamed Russia.

So, by all means, be outraged by the leaking and the inability of a president to fully trust his team, but also ask yourself. When it comes to this story, when it comes to Russian behavior and U.S./Russian relations and Russian cyber-attacks against the American people and the inability of the millions of Russian people to have free and fair elections, or the attempted murder of a Putin critic on British soil, is the leaking really the most offensive thing going on here?

The president may be privately seething over the leak, but just moments ago, he publicly defended what we know about that phone call, tweeting -- quote -- "I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory. In past, Obama called him also. The fake news media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They're wrong. Getting along with Russia and others is a good thing. Not a bad thing."


He goes on to say in another tweet: "They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran, and even the coming arms race. Bush tried to get along, but didn't have the 'smarts,'" Trump tweeted. "Obama and Clinton tried, but didn't have the energy or chemistry. Remember reset. Peace through strength," he wrote in all caps.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny has more for us from the White House.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a cold and snowy day outside the White House, inside, the heat is on. President Trump fired up in and infuriated over yet another leak, this time about his call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after the president said this Tuesday.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory.

ZELENY: It stirred outrage. Republicans and Democrats wondering once again why the president didn't take a heavier hand with Putin, scolding him for Russian election meddling or the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I haven't heard anybody over in the legislative branch say they thought that was a great idea.

REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO: This is like congratulating Saddam Hussein when he got 98 percent of the vote in the Iraqi elections.

ZELENY: It turns out the president didn't follow the script from his national security advisers, who wrote in all capital letters "Do not congratulate" in his Putin briefing papers.

A "Washington Post" report about the president ignoring that advice sparked recriminations today in the West Wing. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly launching specifically targeting anyone from the national security team who may be trying to undermine the president.

One senior White House official telling CNN: "Someone leaked the president's briefing papers. Leaking such information is a fireable offense and likely illegal."

Another official said: This is unacceptable."

With the federal government close for the unseasonal spring snowstorm, the White House canceled the president's public schedule, but that didn't stop her from lashing out once again at the Russia probe.

As the president gets closer to deciding whether to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller, he tried again today to discredit the investigation.

In a tweet filled with misspellings, he quoted lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who wrote: "I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have been a special counsel appointed because there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime, collusion or otherwise or obstruction of justice."

On Capitol Hill, Republicans have roundly rejected the president's criticism of the special counsel.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: My advice to the president from the beginning has been that he should have no comment whatsoever on Mr. Mueller's investigation until it is completed.


ZELENY: Jake, right now, it's clear that the president is not going to follow the advice of Republicans on Capitol Hill and have no comment.

The question is, is he going to allow the investigation to continue?

He has given hints along the way he may try and stop it by replacing people at the Department of Justice. The White House still says he has no plans at all to end that Russia investigation -- Jake.

TAPPER: No plans until it happens, I suppose.

Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

My political panel is here with me.

Let me start with you, Congressman Rogers. What do you make of President Trump's approach to Putin, congratulating him on what international observers call a sham election and his explanation just now?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Listen, that in and of itself could be acceptable if he had a more public pressure campaign back on Putin.

And that's what's missing in this whole thing. So, think about what just happened. We had acknowledgement that the Russians were in our electric grid. They had cyber-intrusions into the U.S. electric grid, which is really dangerous not for our national security, but public health and safety as well.

That just happened. The 13 indictments of Russians who we know were engaged in trying to influence the U.S. election, all of that just happened. He killed a spy in Great Britain as well. So without any at least context of, hey, we're going to start pushing back on this guy, yes, OK, you want to call up and say congratulations, nice win, but we're not going anywhere, we're going to pressure you here, we're going to ask for this, we're going to do this, that to me is what's missing.

And that's where I think the White House makes a serious mistake, especially the president on. Putin will not respect anything other than strength. And what the president did just doesn't look like strength.

TAPPER: I want you to listen, Ana Navarro, to John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, talking about why -- speculating, why is that the President Trump refuses to say anything negative about Vladimir Putin?

Take a listen.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: I think he's afraid the president of Russia?


BRENNAN: Well, I think one can speculate as to why, that the Russians may have something on him personally that they could always roll out to make his life more difficult. The Russians I think have had long experience with Mr. Trump and may have things that the they could expose.

QUESTION: Something personal perhaps?

BRENNAN: Perhaps.


TAPPER: It's not just some guy off the street. It's a former CIA director saying that, Ana.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's the former CIA director and it's a lot of Americans asking themselves the same question.

Why is it that Donald Trump, who is not shy and has no qualms about being negative and criticizing and attacking practically anybody and anything else, seems to walk around on eggshells and treat Putin with silk gloves and a little feather?


It makes absolutely no sense. And it's got a lead you to the conclusion of wonder, what do the Russians have on Donald Trump? What does Vladimir Putin have on Donald Trump that the leader of the free world, the leader of the United States is incapable of speaking up against a poisoning on the soil of our greatest ally, England, is incapable of speaking up against the meddling in our U.S. elections? Look, I guess he could congratulate Putin in the fact that he stole the election that was not in the United States.


TAPPER: Bakari, you would concede the point, I imagine, that the president has every right to be frustrated that these things are leaking out, what was in his national security briefing materials are leaking out to the press.


I think, as the president, you deserve to have people around you that you can trust. But what we're starting to see is that the national security apparatus, those individuals, the Mattises, the McMasters, those people who are there maybe not necessarily to serve Donald Trump, but to protect the country from Donald Trump, are growing frustrated with his inability to follow simple instructions.

Do not congratulate. I'm pretty sure it was in bold letters on a document provided to you by individuals who know better. If you look at this in totality, look at the simple fact that he agreed and announced that he was going to meet with him Kim Jong-un without even notifying his secretary of state at the time.

I mean, he has this propensity to go off-script, to do things. And we know that he does not have the intellectual capacity to engage these individuals the way he should.

So, yes, he has every right to be concerned with the leak, but as Americans, I'm damn glad we understand what he said and what he did not say. I think that's important.

TAPPER: Well, OK, a lot of opinion there, but let me play devil's advocate here.

President Trump, he's the big enchilada. He gets to decide. National security advisers can -- maybe they're smarter, maybe they know a lot more about the history of the region or what's appropriate, what's not appropriate. Maybe what the president said isn't what you wish he said.

But he's the president. He gets to decide.

ROGERS: No, clearly, he does.


TAPPER: Let me ask Mike, and then I will come back to you, Bakari.

ROGERS: What you want is that you want it a part of a broader policy.

So if the policy is to not go after Putin publicly for a whole host reasons, then they should articulate why they're not doing that. I fear that what's happening is the president is just being a little bit impetuous when he makes these decisions. And so when you do that, that's not a policy. That is not a program to push back on the Russians. And I think that's why his national security team is saying, listen, you don't want to congratulate him. He just pulled off a fraudulent election. He's certainly been meddling in U.S. elections, trying to influence the race with the regular Americans.

He's being more aggressive in Syria. He's been more aggressive in going after people who have left his care and custody, the spy in the U.K. Make sure that we are starting to put our arms around what the policy really is.

So, as the president does this, it just serves not to empower his National Security Council and those who are engaged in this to have a policy that the Kremlin understands. And I think that's the jeopardy here that we get into.

If the Kremlin doesn't understand what you're doing or where you're going, trust me, they're going to move out smartly, just as they are. And they're not going to slow down the card.

TAPPER: Bakari?

SELLERS: No, I think that we have to have a dose of honesty in this discussion.

Look, Barack Obama called President Putin and congratulated him. Barack Obama also, many of us agree, he did not do enough to prevent this election meddling from happening or notifying the American public. We can have a tit for tat about whether or not Mitch McConnell wanted to be a part of this or not, but we can say that the administration did not do enough.

But when you look at it in totality, when you look at the whole picture, what you saw in the 44th administration was someone who expelled 35 Russian diplomats and spies, someone who implemented sanctions on Russia they literally broke their back.

They were on the edge of financial ruin. And now you have someone -- just to piggyback on what Mike Rogers said -- now you have someone who not only congratulates him, but kowtows to the every wish of President Vladimir Putin, who is nothing more than a thug.

And we need someone who's going to protect us in eight months. I mean, we have another election in November right now. And I'm afraid that we are not prepared.


TAPPER: Go ahead.

NAVARRO: I have to say, I am so disappointed over and over again in the leadership of my party and elected Republicans, who very quickly and very strongly criticized and attacked Barack Obama in 2012.

And along the way, every time he tried a reset with Russia, every time he capitulated to Russia, every time he reached out to Russia, I was very critical of Barack Obama for that.

[16:15:01] I was critical of him for legitimizing Raul Castro in Cuba. And yet, now, what we have is a bunch of amnesiacs in the Republican Party who to look other way and are playing Donald Trump's game when it comes to this divert and distract tactic with leaking. Look, he's got leakers in the Oval Office is Donald Trump's problem, that he is kowtowing and cozying up and playing footsie with a geopolitical foe of the United States is all of our problem, including the Republican leadership.

It seems to me the only person with any memory and any spine left in the Republican Party is John McCain who from his sick bed in Scottsdale, Arizona, is giving out the strongest criticism and giving moral compass to a party that seems absolutely lost.

TAPPER: All right. Stick around.

We still have a lot more to talk about. We've got breaking news, the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is breaking his silence finally to CNN, talking about the election data breach debacle, that's next.

But, first, a live look at the White House where snow has been falling since early this morning. More than 75 million people from Kentucky to Boston are being hit with heavy snow right now, with New York City expected to break record with 12 inches of snow on the first full day of spring. Thousands of flights have been canceled. The federal government has closed due to a storm.

Stay with us.


[16:20:20] TAPPER: Now, we're back with breaking news in our money lead right now.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is finally breaking his silence on this data scandal engulfing the social media giant. He is promising to do better after it was reported that 50 million Facebook users had their information swept up in a data firm scandal. That data firm Cambridge Analytica has ties to the 2016 Trump campaign.

CNN's Brian Stelter joins me now.

And, Brian, Zuckerberg has been silent until a few minutes ago with his Facebook post. What is he saying?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was strangely quiet for almost a week as these stories were coming out in the newspapers. But now, he's basically saying, we know we screwed up. We promise we'll learn from this and do better in the future.

He didn't actually use the word "sorry", though, Jake. Here's a part of the statement from Zuckerberg. He says: We have a responsibility to protect your data. And if we can't, then -- actually -- if we can't, then we don't deserve to serve you. He went on to say, we will learn from this experience the secure our platform further and make our community safer for everyone going forward.

Now, it's notable that COO Sheryl Sandberg went a step further in her post on Facebook. She says: We know this was a major violation of people's trust and I deeply regret that that we didn't do enough to deal with it. We have responsibility to protect your data. And if we can't, then we don't deserve to serve you.

So, they're talking about the relationship between users and this giant company that sucks up people's personal information. Interesting to hear both executives taking responsibility. They're going to do a few things around the edges to tighten up data practices. But we're not seeing wholesale changes from Facebook.

TAPPER: It's been observed by wiser than people than me, Brian, that Facebook -- we're not the clients of Facebook, we're the product. The clients are the advertisers. But still, there are a lot of people out there who are very concerned about their online privacy. Zuckerberg is sitting down with CNN's Laurie Segal tonight.

What do you think he needs to convey to all these Facebook users, billions, all over the globe?

STELTER: Facebook actually does take this seriously, that even though it's in the data business, it's entire business model is about knowing you so well that it can target ads directly to you, that even though that's the business, it knows it has a responsibility to be careful.

Facebook at this point, Jake, has a GDP bigger than some countries. It is a global player. It affects wars and campaigns and elections. And sometimes it feels like the company still thinks it's still just a dorm room business at Harvard. So, it's a challenge going forward. And I'm curious to see what Zuckerberg says about the future including potential interference in future elections.

TAPPER: All right. Brian Stelter, thank you so much.

Be sure to tune in tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Mark Zuckerberg is sitting down exclusively with CNN. It's his first interview since news broke of this data scandal. And you can only see it here on CNN at 9:00 p.m. tonight.

Everyone, stick around. The big question: could a porn star, a reality star and a former Playboy playmate bring down president? That's next.


[16:27:25] TAPPER: And we're back with the politics lead.

Adult film star Stormy Daniels previewing her upcoming television interview about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, tweeting to a critic who had told her and she should disappear, quote, technically, I didn't sleep with the president of the United States 12 years. There was no sleeping. He, he. And he was just a goofy reality TV star. But I digress. People do care that he lied about it, had me bullied, broke laws to cover it up, et cetera, and P.S., I am not going anywhere. Hugs and kisses.

Lawyers for President Trump are insisting that Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, stays silent or face a multimillion dollar lawsuit for violating a nondisclosure agreement.

CNN's Sara Sidner picks up our coverage.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stormy Daniels is in the midst of a tweet storm. The porn star who says she's been silenced by a hush money deal she made with president and his lawyer was anything but quiet on Twitter Wednesday, firing back at critics who question her motives and insulted her career.

I really question the priorities of someone more worried about the quality of a porn star than a president, she tweeted to someone.

Daniels, who says she had a consensual sexual relationship with President Trump back in 2006 is set to tell her story on "60 Minutes" Sunday.

As evidence she is telling the truth, her lawyer release this photo of Daniels taking a polygraph test back in 2011. On Twitter, Daniels said she never took money to talk to 60 minutes and that she, quote, never claimed to be a victim. But while Daniels may say she's not a victim of Donald Trump tonight, her story is intensifying the spotlight on a woman who says she was.

SUMMER ZERVOS, TRUMP ACCUSER: As I was about to leave, he again kissed me on the lips. This made me feel nervous and embarrassed. This is not what I wanted or expected.

SIDNER: On Tuesday, Summer Zervos, a former contestant on Trump's reality show "The Apprentice", won the right to move forward with a defamation lawsuit against Trump. In that suit, Zervos says Trump sexually assaulted her in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills hotel after inviting her to have dinner with him alone.

ZERVOS: I pushed his chest to put space between us and I said, come on, man, get real. He repeated my words back to me, get real, as he began thrusting his genitals.

SIDNER: Donald Trump responded to her and other accusers with this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication.

SIDNER: Zervos sued for defamation.

Trump's lawyer fought back saying as president, he couldn't be taken to court. But Judge Jennifer Schecter disagreed Tuesday saying the president of the United States has no immunity and is subject to the laws for purely private acts. And that the case can go forward.