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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Stock Market Rises; White House Pushes Back on Stormy Daniels; Stormy Daniels Suing Trump Lawyer for Defamation. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired March 26, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What a difference a day makes or, in this case, a weekend, today's massive rebound coming after "The Wall Street Journal" reported that China and the U.S. quietly began trade negotiations.
This after President Trump promised that tariffs would be placed on Chinese goods. Also, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told FOX News on Sunday he is cautiously hopeful the two sides can reach a deal.
So, for the moment, worries about an all-out trade are cooling off, but aren't entirely disappearing. There's a feeling here on Wall Street of uncertainty that anything could happen because the trade situation is far from settled.
One thing is certain, John. These wild swings in stocks, especially for the Dow, are the new normal -- John.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Up 671 points at the closing bell. We will see where it settles in.
Alison Kosik, thank you very much.
We have more breaking news now in our politics lead. A brand-new CNN poll releasing right now with fascinating insight into how Americans are reacting to the storm surrounding the president on multiple fronts, from his handling of Russia, to the president's staff turmoil, to his alleged affairs.
It comes as the White House today ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats as questions percolate about who might be the next official to exit the Trump the ministration
And then there's this, the second woman in three days detailing on national television an intimate relationship with Donald Trump and the effort to conceal it. Adult film actress Stormy Daniels alleges she was threatened to -- quote -- "leave Tromp alone" and insists the president knows she is telling the truth.
But, today, the White House says the president continues to deny Daniels' claim of an affair or any threats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: With respect to that interview, I will say the president strongly, clearly and has consistently denied these underlying claims.
And the only person who's been inconsistent is the one making the claims.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: President Trump has remained uncharacteristically silent, however, except to write this cryptic statement this morning: "So much fake news. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate, but through it all our country is doing great."
Want to get straight to CNN political director David Chalian.
David, allegations of affairs, the Russia probe, even the recent White House shakeups, how are voters responding to all these controversies surrounding the White House?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: John, despite all that swirl you're just describing, our latest poll, brand-new CNN poll, shows Donald Trump's job approval on the rise from last month.
He's at 42 percent approval, 54 percent disapproval. That is up seven points from last month. Where did the movement come from? Take a look at this; 86 percent of Republicans approve of the job he's doing; 41 percent of independents.
In both cases, that is six points higher this month than last month. And when we asked about a whole series of issues that we tested, only the economy is where he is in positive territory, John. He's still majority disapprove of the way he handles foreign affairs, foreign trade, gun policy. Only the economy is the bright, bright spot for Donald Trump.
BERMAN: Interesting, David.
There's also the issue of these women, these two women in these big televised interviews who have claimed to have relationships with the president. There's been some debate if the woman should violate their deals or remain silent. What does public think on this?
CHALIAN: Yes. Take a look. We asked if indeed they should be allowed to talk; 51 percent of Americans in this poll conducted by SSRS, they say the women should be free to discuss their relationships with Trump.
Only 41 percent say no. But, John, look at this gender gap on the issue. Among those who say the women with agreements should be free to discuss, 59 percent of women say that. Only 43 percent of men say that. In fact, 48 percent of men in this poll say they should stick to the agreement and not talk.
Take a look at that gender gap. And then you heard Raj Shah at the top of the show. On the actual allegations of Trump's infidelity, 63 percent of Americans in this poll, John, say they believe the women. Only 21 percent believe Trump, despite the fact the White House is still saying that Trump denies these affairs.
BERMAN: Raj Shah said today the president denies everything in that interview. The public, though, you look at that poll, they believe the women.
David Chalian, thank you very, very much.
My political panel joins me now for more on this.
Robby Mook, Democratic strategist, it's interesting; 63 percent say they believe the women alleging that they had affairs, the sexual relationship with President Trump; 21 percent, they believe the president.
And yet, even though they believe the women and they must think the president's lying, his approval rating is going up. When would this issue begin to affect his overall approval?
ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, a couple of pieces of background here.
I think, first of all, his approval rating is lower than any other president in the last 20 years I think in your polling. So it's important to keep that in mind.
The economy's doing well. And at the end of the day, what voters care about most is whether their lives are getting better or worse, whether the president is perceived to be on their side and helping them.
And while the economy is doing well, this is the one leg that President Trump is still standing on. You were just showing how the stock market surged up today. When that's the case, he's going to do better.
And that is the one place where he is in positive territory in the poll right now. So if I were at the White House right now, I guess, sure, we could celebrate this, but, boy, he is still lower than past presidents.
That economy goes down, he's in big trouble.
BERMAN: To be clear, his numbers are better. They're not good, as you say, Robby.
They're only four points off, though, where Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan were at this point. So there have been presidents who ultimately turned their presidency around who aren't that far where he is.
Alice Stewart, white evangelical Christians, which is a big support obviously for the president, they believe the women; 40 percent say they believe the win; 36 percent believe the president. But an overwhelming majority of this group still has a positive approval rating of the president. I think it's up above 68 percent.
You have been speaking to evangelicals about this. Why this giant mulligan? Has there ever been a bigger mulligan in either golf or politics?
ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not that I can recall and I have been through obviously that Clinton presidency and looking throughout history.
This is a huge mulligan. But, look, here's what evangelicals are saying. Look, from a Christian standpoint, you have to be able to give someone a second chance. There's a couple reasons why they continue to give him the benefit of the doubt in terms of moving forward as a successful president.
One thing, they have to -- they have to be reassured these things happened in the past before he ran for office and before he was president and they will remain in the past. Another thing looking forward, as long as he continues to abide by the campaign promises on issues that are important to them, the executive order on religious liberty, the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court on life issues is incredible.
And also on Friday as you recall he reinforced the ban on transgenders in the military, a key component for evangelicals. And they say as long as he continues to carry the issues that they care about to the forefront, they will continue to support him. And as long as the past is the past, he will continue to have their support.
BERMAN: Guys, stand by for a minute.
I want to bring CNN's Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.
Jeff, the White House now says the president doesn't -- was threatened as she claimed in the "60 Minutes" interview last night. Do they have any facts to support that statement, any reasoning?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there certainly was not a lot of specificity as to why they believe that.
Raj Shah, the deputy White House spokesman, would not say if the president watched the interview or not, but said it simply didn't happen. He was asked how they know that.
This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHAH: The president doesn't believe any of the claims that Ms. Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate.
QUESTION: He doesn't believe she was threatened?
SHAH: No, he does not.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) SHAH: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: What is his basis for that?
SHAH: He just doesn't believe that -- there's nothing to corroborate her claim.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So again not answering with any specificity of why they believe that her a claim was inaccurate.
But a rather tense White House briefing today, this question being asked again and again. Important to point out Michael Cohen was meeting with the president on Saturday evening at Mar-a-Lago. He had dinner with them, so the president certainly in conversations with him. Certainly this is not over.
The president at some point, John, I'm guessing will be asked about this and will have to decide if he will address it or not. So far, though, not commenting at all, even on Twitter.
BERMAN: No, though Raj Shah had to answer questions.
Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you very, very much.
Kaitlan Collins, Raj Shah confirming that the president had dinner with Michael Cohen this weekend. That is a statement in and of itself.
It's interesting. The White House seem to decide to take issue with the entire "60 Minutes" interview last night and perhaps pick a fight with lawyer Michael Avenatti, who says he has more in store. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: It is just the beginning. We have a whole host of evidence. This is not going away. And Mr. Cohen and the president better come clean with the American people and they better do it quickly.
QUESTION: What kind of evidence you have?
AVENATTI: Again, I'm not going to get into the details of the evidence. We're in the early stages of this, but suffice it to say we are only getting started.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So, Kaitlan, any sense of the White House strategy here?
Obviously, we haven't heard from the president. He hasn't tweeted about this, not a peep. But Raj Shah went out and tried to discredit Stormy Daniels and the entire interview.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He did, John.
And he essentially said the president watched this interview because he said -- he did not answer directly when he was asked if the president watched it, but then he was asked about the claims that she made in that interview. And he said the president felt the claims that she made were not accurate, which means he would have watched the interview.
And the president got back from Palm Beach Sunday night at the White House. He arrived about 20 minutes before this interview aired on TV and he didn't answer any shouted questions about whether or not he had plans to watch it.
But we do know that the White House is keeping close tabs on this because we have reported that the president has been complaining about what he says is the wall-to-wall coverage of the Stormy Daniels allegations on cable news.
So we know that maybe the president isn't tweeting about this. That was actually a point raised by Stormy Daniels' lawyer, how the president has been known to twin on very mundane things, very mundane criticisms before in the past, and this is something he has not remarked on publicly, which is interesting.
But the White House is maintaining the president is denying these allegations, but according to Stormy Daniels' lawyer, there could be more to come out, which would certainly be an unwelcome headache for this White House.
BERMAN: Alice Stewart, was it smart from a political and communications perspective for the White House at the podium in the press room to pick a fight on this and say that the president does not believe the threats?
STEWART: That is his strategy all along with regard to all of these women, so we all probably expect that he will continue, as he's done with each of these allegations from years -- from last year even.
He will deny, deny, deny the allegations, and denigrate the women. That's what he's always done. But the reality is I don't need any more evidence and I think most Americans don't need any more evidence to substantiate the claims that these affairs happened, that he cheated on his third wife with a porn star and a Playmate.
But that's really not the concern. The concern is whether or not he used campaign money to hush them. And now after we heard last night potentially having someone threaten Stormy Daniels to keep her silent.
That's the bigger concern. What happened with regard to the disgusting details of his affair, that's between he and Melania. But what happened potentially afterwards, that is what I'm concerned with and I think a lot of Americans are.
BERMAN: Robby, it's interesting, because you can hear just as many people say there was nothing new in this interview, it was a dud.
And this comes after an interview where an adult film actress says she spanked the president with a magazine that had him on the cover, where she said that the president reminded her of his daughter, where there are questions of campaign finance violations and where lawyers raised the possibility that Robert Mueller might eventually get involved in this.
But there are people saying there's nothing new there. And it just makes me wonder whether or not the bar is so incredibly high, it says more about where we are in this society right now.
MOOK: Yes, well there there's always a problem with Donald Trump that there's so much out there, it's hard to fixate on any one scandal or anything like that.
I agree with Alice. What's important here is that there is a potentially serious breach of campaign finance law, very significant for an individual person to out of their own pocket give enough -- give this much money to a campaign. And so somebody broke the law there.
Last night's interview was full of salacious details, but I don't think anything did change. And all -- in that same vein, as you said, the White House -- sure, the spokespeople are denying this, but those guys haven't said the truth in a long time.
Donald Trump is not denying this, which I think both reinforces that it's true. I also wonder if Donald Trump doesn't sort of enjoy that everybody's seeing all these details about his infidelities.
We certainly know in the New York press in the '80s and '90s he liked to put out there everything he was doing sexually in his personal life. So, I don't think much has changed, but the legal issues remain.
BERMAN: The coverage before in the '80s and '90s was different, right?
There's "The New York Post" headline that said he best sex ever. This is Stormy Daniels saying he never wanted to do it to begin with. And who knows if -- what the situation is and whether he wants this to be going on or not.
Kaitlan, if I can shift gears from Stormy a little bit right now, the 42 percent approval rating, which again is not good, but it's better. Does the White House think it has things moving in the right direction?
Does the White House know why it can make things turn up occasionally, what makes things go better and worse for them in terms of the polls?
COLLINS: Well, they certainly maintain that things are going fine for them, John, like just like they maintain that there are no mass staff changes at the White House, even though the last month we've seen the departure of a national security adviser, a secretary of state, the chief economic adviser, a coms director, a lead lawyer.
I could go on for several more minutes here. But with these poll numbers we know that for months now the president has actually insisted to his allies in and his outside advisers that he thinks his numbers are actually much higher than they actually are.
And I think that would us simply be the case here. I'm sure he would welcome any increase in his poll numbers, something he is greatly concerned with. But he maintains that his poll numbers are actually much higher than is reflected in actual polls, John.
BERMAN: Even though the numbers are the numbers.
All right, guys, don't go anywhere. We have a lot more to talk about.
Is there any legal action that can now be taken about the Stormy Daniels -- excuse me -- Stormy Daniels claim that she had been threatened or is that all too late?
[16:19:05] BERMAN: Back now with the politics lead and the fallout from adult film actress Stormy Daniels breaking her silence on her alleged affair with Donald Trump.
I want to bring in CNN chief legal analyst, former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin.
And, Jeffrey, I want to start with what really was in some ways the biggest, newest revelation in this interview, the idea that she was physically threatened, Stormy Daniels laws some years ago. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. I was taking, you know, the seats facing backwards in the backseat, diaper bag, you know, getting all the stuff out, and a guy walked up on me and said to me: Leave Trump alone, forget the story. And then he leaned around and looked at my daughter and said: It's a beautiful little girl, it would be a shame if something happened to her mom. And then he was gone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: That was back in 2011 when an article was going to come out on this.
Legally speaking, how significant is that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGLA ANALYST: Probably not that significant. First of all, just as a matter of proof, how could you identify all these years later who it was, who did it?
[16:20:06] And there is also the question of the statute of limitations, if you could or if Stormy Daniels could identify who it was, who made that threat, would there be anything she could do at this late date? You know, it would depend on the statute of limitations in that state. But, you know, mostly the question is, how could you prove who did it all these all these years later? I don't know how you would.
BERMAN: Listening to Stormy Daniels and listening to Karen McDougal, the playmate last week, there are a lot of similarities in their stories, first of all. They both claim the president told them that they reminded him of Ivanka Trump, her daughter.
BERMAN: They both had similar details about Melania Trump. They were both paid similar amounts in their non-disclosure agreements, $130,000 and $150,000, right, from the "National Enquirer" and AMI. Does that pattern matter?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, it depends for what purpose? I mean, you know, for those of us who are citizens who are deciding whether these incidents happened, whether Donald Trump did sleep with each woman, I think it is relevant. But that's just a political judgment, that's a social judgment.
But legally, I'm not sure whether any of these situations will ever even wind up to be decided by a courtroom. So, I don't know how to, you know, measure the legal significance. But, you know, those of us sitting here and deciding whether they're telling the truth, it does matter, yes.
BERMAN: It also leads to a political judgment, whether it matters to you that people were paid hush money to stay silent about something like this right before election, that might not be a legal issue, but it's certainly a political issue.
Legally speaking here, people have noted the president's been silent about this on Twitter. He hasn't made any public statements. He also hasn't filed a defamation suit personally, which he likes to do, right? I mean --
TOOBIN: He says he likes to do.
BERMAN: He says he likes to do.
TOOBIN: Yes, he's done it once as far as I'm aware, against the author of the biography.
BERMAN: What options does he have politically -- legally?
TOOBIN: Legally -- I mean, he could file defamation suits. But I think, you know, it's uncharacteristic but I think his best option is to say nothing. I mean this does not appear to be affecting his popularity a great deal. I mean, we're paying a lot of attention to it. I think a lot of people are interested, but I don't know how many minds are being changed about Donald Trump.
I think the real exposure, the real risk he faces is if he has to give a deposition on this.
BERMAN: All right. We do have breaking news on this, the opposite of what I just said. "The Washington Post" is now reporting that Stormy Daniels is suing President Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for defamation, alleging that Cohen defamed Stormy Daniels by insinuating she lied about this affair with the president. Obviously, Cohen is the attorney who says he paid $130,000 out of his own pocket as part of this hush money agreement right now.
So, this defamation lawsuit is new for Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer. What happens here?
TOOBIN: Well, I think this is another attempt to get Michael Cohen and perhaps Donald Trump under oath in a deposition. I mean, that's really what the larger goal is here for Michael Avenatti, which is to try to figure out what, you know, get these people under oath and force them either to tell the truth or he would assert lie about whether Michael Cohen actually used his own money to pay this judgment, which with this -- this damage award which no lawyer and I am aware of has ever done. But -- and whether Donald Trump knew about it.
I mean, those are I think the key political issues here and filing this lawsuit gives Avenatti another opportunity perhaps to get Cohen and perhaps Trump under oath.
BERMAN: By the way, CNN has now matched this reporting, not just "The Washington Post". Does a suit like this have any likelihood of success? And when I say success, I suppose it doesn't matter ultimately if a judge rules defamed or not, by success I mean does it get to a courtroom? Does Cohen or the president have to --
TOOBIN: I mean, you know, I would have to look at precisely what he's charging, you know, what Stormy Daniels is charging was false and defamatory. You know, parse the words carefully, that's what's involved in defamation cases. But, you know, it is possible that she will at least get to discovery out of it rather than --
BERMAN: And that maybe everything Avenatti wants.
BERMAN: Let me ask you, Robert Mueller was brought up last night in the "60 Minutes" piece, the notion that maybe ultimately this whole thing could land on Robert Mueller's lap. At first, it seems far- fetched but then we know that Sam Nunberg, right, the one-time adviser to President Trump says that during his question, he was asked about Michael Cohen and relationships and alleged payments.
TOOBIN: Well, remember, Michael Cohen negotiated with Russian interests interest in 2015 to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow. That is certainly within the purview of the Mueller investigation. There is no question, because that relates to the motive possibly for Trump's -- of collusion if it took place with Russia.
[16:25:04] You know, the fact that he had business relationships there and Michael Cohen as he has told me in an interview did engage in negotiations about that. So, that's certainly within Mueller's purview.
Once Cohen is talking to him how broad the questioning is, hard for me to know it.
BERMAN: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.
I do want to read a quote as we go hear from this new lawsuit, this defamation lawsuit filed by Stormy Daniels' attorney Michael Avenatti. It reads: It was reasonably understood that Mr. Cohen meant to convey that Ms. Clifford aka Stormy Daniels is a liar, someone who should not be trusted, Avenatti wrote in the complaint as we said. He added that Mr. Cohen made the statement knowing it was false or had serious doubts about the truth of the statements.
So, a new legal avenue open in this odyssey.
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