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Stormy Daniels' Attorney Demands Trump Preserve Documents; President Trump Announces Tariffs on China; Lead Trump Lawyer Quits. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 22, 2018 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:03]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Dowd's departure comes just 11 days after this complimentary tweet from the president.

Let me read it for you.

He wrote: "The failing 'New York Times' purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY" -- in big capital letters -- "VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job."

So, let's start at the White House with our reporter there, Kaitlan Collins.

Why did Dowd leave?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, the president saying publicly he's perfectly fine with his legal team, but that just isn't the case here at the White House and Dowd's departure really signals that.

Now, with Dowd specifically, the president had been complaining about him in recent days, saying he didn't feel like he had the capacity to continue to lead the legal team that is handling the Russia -- the special counsel's investigation into Russia, but it's not just Dowd.

Dowd has actually been in the headlines a lot as the president's lawyer. Of course, you will remember he was the one who had lunch with another member, the other White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, at a public D.C. restaurant where he was overheard discussing the special counsel's investigation.

He is also the one who took credit for crafting that Trump tweet that blamed the firing of Michael Flynn, that national security adviser, on Flynn lying to the FBI, which raised questions about what the president knew, and he also is the one who said during that interview once with Axios that he didn't believe the president could ever be guilty of obstructing justice.

A lot of contention surrounding John Dowd. He's clearly resigned. They are saying it was a mutual decision, but the president's unhappiness with his legal team is not just related to John Dowd here, Brooke.

Though the president is saying he's perfectly happy with his legal team, that just doesn't seem to be true with the events we have seen recently, not only Dowd's departure, but also outreach to several other lawyers, seeing if they would be willing to come on and join the team.

A lot of people who have actually turned that gig down. And then the hiring of Joe diGenova, that high-profile former federal prosecutor who believes the president is the target of an FBI conspiracy. So a lot of shakeup, a lot of reshuffling happening here with the president's legal team. But to be clear here, look, this does signal the president really taking the reins here and taking a more combative approach to this.

And it does seem like the only person the president would be pleased with is a lawyer who could get him out of this Russia investigation, but the million-dollar question here in Washington is, who would be the lawyer to do that, certainly something the president would like to know, Border Patrol

BALDWIN: That's a biggie. One of many questions.

Kaitlan, you so much for the setup.

I have two great voices here. Gloria Borger has been doing all this reporting, CNN chief political analyst. She talked to John Dowd, got a statement from him today. And Bob Bauer is with me, former White House counsel under President Obama. He knows a lot of the attorneys personally involved here.

So, good to be in your town.

Starting with you, you and Pam and team were reporting last night that Dowd was threatening to quit, wasn't thrilled with the notion of being co-counsel with Joe diGenova. And, today, boom.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's gone. Yes.

And I think, look, that was obviously one of the reasons. He's been hammered by the president recently, as I was told by a source. They did have different strategies. He was always telling the president, be cooperative with Mueller, hold your fire, let's see what happens. This investigation's going to be over. He and Ty Cobb have been saying that.

Didn't happen. They get this group of, these bundles of issues that the special counsel wants to discuss with the president. They realize it's not going to be over. The president is very upset. That's one thing.

BALDWIN: OK.

BORGER: The other thing is that the president decides -- and make no mistake, the president is running his own legal strategy.

BALDWIN: We will get into that.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- legal strategy, that can be a problem.

BALDWIN: Yes.

BORGER: So he wants to bring in Joe diGenova, who he knows and admires, former U.S. attorney. Smart guy.

Dowd had a problem with that, not only because he didn't want to be co-counsel, but also because he believes, and I was just speaking with another source, that he was conflicted, that diGenova is conflicted here because he represents Mark Corallo, who is somebody who is a former spokesperson for the Trump legal team who left the legal team in a not friendly way.

His wife represents Sam Clovis, somebody else who has been part of this. And I don't think Dowd felt that he could find his way around these conflicts for somebody who, you know, is representing the president. I think that's another layer to this that we are finding out.

BALDWIN: Lot of layers. Lot of pinnacles reaching all these different people and connections.

Do you know John Dowd?

BOB BAUER, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN GENERAL COUNSEL: I do not, no.

BALDWIN: Just putting yourself in his shoes, given what Gloria just laid out, can you imagine being in his situation and feeling conflicted and not wanting to be this co-counsel with this guy rolling in who has peddled these conspiracy theories on the other channel?

BAUER: I assume he's relieved today. We will start with that.

BALDWIN: Relieved.

BAUER: But on the other hand, the other thing the reporting shows is that not only does the president want to run his own legal team, but he's constantly maneuvering behind his lawyers.

[15:05:04]

BALDWIN: He's not listening to his lawyers.

BAUER: He's not listening to them and he's telling them that he's satisfied with them, while at the same time interviewing their replacements.

He's creating this environment in which it's very difficult for lawyers to do their jobs.

BALDWIN: What about team Mueller? Because it's Dowd who was the point of contact from the Trump attorney team to the Mueller team. And I can't imagine the Mueller team is actually thrilled with this news either.

BAUER: I assume the Mueller team reads into it. I don't know what they're reading into it, but, clearly, there's a step in the direction of a more combative approach.

So if you take the tweets along with these staff changes, it seems the president is at least, whether he intends to or not, communicating something to the special counsel about a conflict that lies ahead. Whether that's a sensible thing for him to do, we can debate. But that's certainly one interpretation the special counsel is likely to put on these events.

BORGER: Jay Sekulow, though, who worked very closely with Dowd, remains. And he's in those meetings with the special counsel and John Dowd.

I have been told he can clearly -- I don't know that he will take over, but he will continue those conversations. And the big question is, will the president testify or won't he testify? And we don't know the answer to that.

BALDWIN: Could you play out a scenario -- and, again, we don't know who would step into Dowd's position -- where it's a more pugilistic approach toward this whole special counsel investigation, therefore, down the road ultimately -- and, again, we saw the president just today walking out of a room in the White House saying, yes, yes, yes, I will speak with Bob Mueller, but says one thing and he does something else.

Is it realistic to think that with the new, I don't want to say new team, but with diGenova and Trump and whoever else, they may say, forget it, we're not cooperating, and we're not sitting in front of you, Bob Mueller?

BAUER: Absolutely.

He's had that possibility for sometime, at least on background in the press. And what's interesting about the Dowd departure is that not too long ago, he tweeted out his desire to see the Russian investigation shut down. He initially said he was speaking for the president, and then he said he wasn't speaking for the president.

Now, in the press, it appears the president was annoyed that he said he wasn't speaking for the president. So Dowd actually may have previewed the direction this was going, but the president decided he was not the person he wanted carrying the spear.

BALDWIN: If they do fight it, could Mueller and his team essentially say, forget it, you're not complying, not cooperating, see you in May for a grand jury?

BORGER: Or -- well, they will subpoena.

BAUER: Absolutely. Absolutely. Certainly.

They are trying to work out a cooperative arrangement, but, of course, Mueller is not required to wait forever.

BORGER: I think also what you are seeing is the political side of this play out. So you have the legal side, which you can talk about, but the political side is that the president, you see this going on, and Joe diGenova has done this and the president is doing this, is to discredit the Mueller investigation, discredit the FBI, discredit the Department of Justice, say it is corrupt, say it is has been contaminated, so if in the end, while he's publicly saying, I want to testify, so if in the end he doesn't testify, he could say, why would I?

Why would I testify before corrupt people who are only out to get me? That's the kind of -- that's the political argument that is proceeding apace and gives him an out if he decides that -- and I don't know. Would you have him testify?

BAUER: This client?

BORGER: Yes.

BALDWIN: This client.

BORGER: That client.

BALDWIN: That guy. The president.

BAUER: Well, assuming I was ever in the position of representing someone like this, the answer is, I don't see any advantage to his testifying.

On the one hand, he's the president, so it's very difficult for him to say he's not going to cooperate. On the other hand, based on what we know about how he operates, there are huge risks to him.

The one other point I would like to quickly raise here is, the president is looking ahead to the difficult April in which James Comey publishes his book, starts delivering interviews to the press.

And I think some of the pressure that's beginning to build inside the White House around these legal issues may be in part influenced by what he thinks is going to be some turbulent period ahead here.

BORGER: Well, and don't forget, you also have the Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal, whatever--

BALDWIN: Swirling, swirling as well.

BORGER: Swirling, swirling as well. And that's a whole other legal issue.

BAUER: Absolutely.

BORGER: And it's a lot of problems.

BALDWIN: Which I have no doubt we will talk about it in just a second. Bob and Gloria, thank you all so much for all things John Dowd and what is going on at the White House.

Also breaking this afternoon, look at all the red on your screen here. We are about 51 minutes away from the closing bell, and the Dow is down after President Trump announces these new tariffs targeting China. Might this be a sign that we could be heading into some sort of global trade war? How will China retaliate and how might this impact an everyday American?

Also, President Trump responding to Joe Biden. Both men saying they could go toe to toe and physically beat up one another. You heard me right. Is Vice President Joe Biden, former Vice President Joe Biden setting the stage for something bigger perhaps?

Also ahead, Rex Tillerson revealing how he really feels about Washington as his tenure as secretary of state is coming to an end. To quote him, D.C. is one mean-spirited town.

[15:10:11]

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Quick flash of Wall Street. The Dow is down in response to President Trump living up to his America-first promise.

He just slapped tariffs on China, saying the move is in response to China's theft of American intellectual property. He also pointed out that his anti-trade platform likely helped him at the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are doing things for this country that should have been done for many, many years.

We have had this abuse by many other countries and groups of countries that were put together in order to take advantage of the United States. And we don't want that to happen. We're not going to let that happen. It's probably one of the reasons I was elected, maybe one of the main reasons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:15:02]

BALDWIN: So, let's go to Jim Tankersley, tax and economics reporter for "The New York Times."

And, to be precise, we saw the president today talking about how he's going to, you know, slap these tariffs in the ballpark of $50 billion on Chinese imports. But what I want to know, Jim, is for people watching, why do they care? How does this impact everyday Americans?

JIM TANKERSLEY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it's going to depend on where the tariffs are actually applied, because it depends on whether or not you buy the products that are going to have the tax put on them. That's what a tariff is. A tariff is a tax.

Now, the White House has said they are going to try to tailor these tariffs so they don't hit things that you and I buy most of the time, so probably not shoes or other apparel. But it's really possible that it's going to raise consumer prices in some way. We're just not sure how until we see what the list is.

BALDWIN: So the last time we were talking tariffs was, of course, the White House's steel and aluminum tariffs that also took aim at China. I was talking to Rick Newman last hour of Yahoo! Finance, and he called them toothless tariffs, my phrase, much ado about not as much, right?

And so I'm wondering, with this, might this go that same way? How might China retaliate?

TANKERSLEY: Well, the retaliation is something that could escalate and it could get ugly. In particular, we saw today administration officials were testifying on Capitol Hill and there was a lot of concern from representatives and senators from farm states about the ways in which China could, for example, put tariffs on U.S. soybean exports, which is a big deal to farm country and a big deal in China.

They import a lot of American soybeans.

BALDWIN: And that's Trump voters.

TANKERSLEY: Yes, it is, absolutely.

And so this is -- and the administration acknowledges that agriculture always gets hit back, because we export a lot of agricultural goods. That's a big concern. And if we respond to that and then it escalates, that's the trade war scenario people are worried about.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. We are going to keep a close eye on the Dow.

Jim Tankersley, thank you so much. Appreciate that.

TANKERSLEY: Thank you.

BALDWIN: I want to get back to our breaking news ahead here on CNN. President Trump's lead attorney for the special counsel investigation is resigning. CNN has learned several high-profile lawyers have already turned down offers to take his place. So, more on that.

Also, Stormy Daniels' attorney demanding the Trump Organization preserve documents and e-mails relating to her payment to stay quiet, this as CNN has new insight into what Stormy Daniels is telling her closest friends about this whole scandal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:21:53]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Back to the breaking news today.

John Dowd, President Trump's lead lawyer in this whole Russia investigation and his main point of contact with special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, he quit today. Dowd's resignation could signal a change in how the president deals with Mueller's Russia investigation.

Dowd's legal advice was for the president to negotiate. Now the White House is expected to take on a more confrontational tone.

With me now, CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

And so, Dana, in addition to that, so now we also know that at least four other attorneys, and this isn't today, this is overall, four attorneys have been approached to join Trump's legal team, and they have all essentially said, thanks, but no thanks.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brooke, this has been the issue from the get-go with the president on this investigation.

The people in and around the president have been trying to get lawyers sort of in a steady way, at least I should say they first were, when Marc Kasowitz was officially on the team. He has been the president's -- one of the president's personal lawyers for a long time. He was on this Russia team, and then left, but he helped to get the team built that we see today.

It wasn't easy. We have been reporting on this for a long time. Either because people didn't want to do it, or, more likely than not, lawyers were conflicted, meaning they were working for firms that were already representing somebody with a stake in or being questioned by the Mueller investigation.

And so that has been the case all along, and that is why we saw some sort of old hands who hadn't been at it for awhile brought back in the form of Ty Cobb and John Dowd.

Now we are seeing, as you said, the president not happy, obviously, with his legal strategy, the way it is going, and they are trying to find others. And it hasn't been easy for the same reasons that they had problems just at the beginning when they built this team.

BALDWIN: Speaking of things not being easy, you are in my town, I'm in your town today, and in this town, it's a tough gig. It's a tough town. And it was put pretty eloquently by the outgoing secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in his farewell speech.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What advice would you give to the 25-year-old Donald Trump knowing what you know today?

(LAUGHTER) TRUMP: Don't run for president.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: We're glad you did.

TRUMP: You know, I was talking to Mercedes and Sarah walking off. You know, the Oval Office is right across the street. And I said, all my life, I have gotten really -- you know, look, we all get, every once in awhile or not, but I got the greatest publicity. I was getting such great -- until I ran for office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right. Psych. We are going to get to Tillerson in a second. That was the president a little while ago.

Obviously--

BASH: But, by the way, they're related.

BALDWIN: Tell me why.

[15:25:00]

BASH: What Tillerson said and what I -- I don't want to -- if you are going to play it, I don't want to give too much away.

BALDWIN: We will, we will, but this is the president saying -- OK. Now, I'm being told we are going to run the Tillerson sound. So, here we go.

BASH: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: In closing, I would like to ask that each of you undertake to ensure one act of kindness each day towards another person.

This can be a very mean-spirited town.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

TILLERSON: But you don't have to choose to participate in that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Wow. It's what he didn't say.

Go ahead, Dana. What was your point?

BASH: Well, first of all, he's right. It is a mean-spirited town. And it didn't start as a mean-spirited town with Donald Trump. It has been a mean-spirited town for a very long time.

The difference between the Trump administration and Rex Tillerson's situation in particular is that he not only didn't have the backing of the president. The president went after him publicly over and over again.

Combine that with the fact that Tillerson really never got his sea legs in the town. That made it very difficult for him. But it also speaks to the larger point that the president was saying, without saying, when he says he would have told his 25-year-old self not to run for president--

BALDWIN: Not to run for president.

BASH: Which is to me just a reminder of, frankly, how accidental this moment is for all of us, including Donald Trump.

He said he had had great press beforehand. And, you know, by all accounts, that was part of his M.O. at the beginning of his campaign, before it really took off, to continue that, to continue to get great press.

And then, all of a sudden, he not only got -- you know, it wasn't about the press. It was about the followers. He got people behind him and people who believed in the message that he was sending. And then, poof, he's in the Oval Office. And I think--

BALDWIN: Poof is right.

BASH: -- that the difference that we are seeing now, Brooke, and there is a bit of a difference in the way the president is operating, vs., you know, the first 14 months, is that the shock has worn off a little bit and he's trying to figure out -- he feels like, and this is according to sources I talk to who speak to him, he feels like he is better understanding of how the job is done, not that he understands, you know, not that he can execute it effectively.

He thinks he can, but he has a better understanding of the process and he is less scared. He would never, ever admit with all that bravado that he was freaked out, but, again, by sources who are close to him, he was.

BALDWIN: Yes. And to use your phrase on Tillerson with Trump, getting his sea legs about a year in.

Dana Bash, thank you. Good to see you.

BASH: Thank you. You too.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden in this whole war of words about who -- basically about beating each other up, these two 70-something-year-old grown men. This is the state of our politics today. We will discuss what motive the former vice president might have for this mudslinging. Also, Stormy Daniels' close friends speaking about her and how she's

dealing with all of this behind the scenes, this as her attorneys make a big move -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)