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U.S. Expels 60 Russian Diplomats Over U.K. Nerve Agent Attack; Stormy Daniels Alleges She was Physically Threatened to Stay Silent; Source: Trump Indicates He's Preparing To Oust V.A. Secretary. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:11] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. We do have breaking news from the White House.

We learned just moments ago the Trump administration is expelling 60 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter in England. The Russians who will be leaving include 48 members from the Russian embassy and 12 from the United Nations.

Joining me now senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski with the details.

Michelle, what have you learned?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, this is a tough response this morning to Russia. In fact, tougher than many expected. Remember, the UK has kicked out 23 Russian diplomats. Now the U.S. announces this morning it's kicking out 60 of them.

These are Russians that work in consulates and embassies, 12 of them as you mentioned will come from New York, the other 48 from Seattle. In fact the U.S. is now closing its consulate in Seattle because they say it's located too close to a U.S. submarine base.

But the administration isn't just calling these diplomatic staff, they're calling them intelligence agents. In fact at one point they've called them aggressive gatherers of intelligence. That this will significantly diminish the ability of Russia to spy on the U.S.

You know, we've seen this tit-for-tat of expulsions over the summer, the U.S. kicked out some, Russian responded, the U.S. responded again. So we're likely to see that again this time but after the last round, both the U.S. and Russia reached this parity to each have about 450 diplomats from each other's country -- in each other's country. So this is going to diminish that significantly taking away 60 from 455.

And the Trump administration this morning was asked by reporters, you know, Russia is likely to respond to this, what do you think of that? How will that effect the U.S.' diplomatic stance in Russia? Are there plans to remove U.S. diplomats voluntarily? They said no and they wouldn't speculate on what Russia's response would be but they did say that they would hold the ability to respond further and punish Russia again if Russia retaliates.

So this is a significant step and we see it going farther than even the UK has. The administration also said that other U.S. allies are going to do the same. We don't know exact numbers yet but they said more than a dozen U.S. allies are going to take similar steps possibly as soon as today -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Michelle Kosinski for us at the State Department.

Even before this action was taken, the Russians warned they would respond. Let's get to Nick Paton Walsh with that.

What are the Russians saying, Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, saying they would follow the principle of reciprocity. Well, obviously that's diplomatic language but will kick pretty much as many out as you for about the all countries.

Now of course we've seen that happened when approximately 23 British diplomats were kicked out after the same thing happened in London but over the last few days we've heard from Ireland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, other media reports perhaps suggesting that Poland or even Germany might be involved in a substantial number of EU states, also willing to take action possibly in the hours ahead.

We are in fact expecting a statement from the president of the European Council Donald Tusk, which may well at some point outline exactly what level of coordinated diplomatic response we see.

But there are two important things to remember here, John. Firstly this is much more solidarity and much more cohesion across Europe against Moscow. And I think many had expected Theresa May, the British prime minister, could actually muster after the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal, former Russian spy and his daughter, poisoned by a nerve agent on a bench in Salisbury.

But she in a weak position with her European allies but she does appear to have kept at it and managed to get a lot of people on her side. Secondly, less diplomats in both countries means less understanding, less communication, and that's not a bad -- a particularly good thing when you're dealing with a complicated country like Russia.

Back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Nick Paton Walsh covering that for us. Thank you very much, Nick.

Joining me now is Samantha Vinograd, a CNN national security analyst, former senior adviser to the National Security Council under President Obama. Sam, we just get two new bits of information. We've been in

background briefings with senior administration officials all morning who want the world to know that this was absolutely President Trump's decision. They say he made this decision himself after consultation with his advisers over the weekend. They also say the president has not spoken directly to President Putin about this. They only had their call last week where President Trump congratulated him on his reelection. Fortuitous timing or the opposite, depending on how you look at that.

So, Sam, let's talk about what this is before we talk about what it's not. What message does this send expelling 60 Russian diplomats and the fact that it is in solidarity with other NATO nations.

[09:05:04] SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think it sends a message that the United States is perhaps finally ready to stand with other countries against Russian aggression. So doing this in a coordinated way makes it more powerful. It sends the message that we're in close contact with all the Europeans that are taking similar action, and also sends a message that Russia is not a topic that is no longer allowed in the situation room and that President Trump is willing to talk about punitive measures.

BERMAN: But, you know, John Bolton in the past has said among others.

VINOGRAD: Yes.

BERMAN: Her says sanctions don't mean -- expelling diplomats doesn't really do anything.

VINOGRAD: It doesn't. And we have data points here. We've expelled diplomats before. This is a larger number. And John, it hasn't done anything. We've expelled diplomats and Putin has not stopped his maligned behavior. He's increased it. So we expel diplomats in response to election meddling for example. We have the intelligence chief saying that the election meddling is still ongoing, so, yes, this is a positive step. But I think we need to be clear eyed about the fact that Russia is not going to stop what it's doing.

BERMAN: All right. Samantha Vinograd, thank you very, very much.

VINOGRAD: Thank you.

BERMAN: We're going to watch very closely to see how the Russians do respond over the next minutes and hours. The other major news just another Monday morning after an adult film actress says she spanked the man who would become president of the United States with a magazine that had him on the cover.

There is no dispute that Stormy Daniels was paid hush money by the president's lawyer to keep the alleged relationship secret. That fact is agreed to by all sides which is stunning in and of itself. But in this "60 Minutes" interview with Anderson Cooper, for the first time, Stormy Daniels alleges that she was physically threatened to stay silent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: I was in a parking lot going to a fitness class with my infant daughter. Taking 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, "That's a beautiful little girl, it'd be a shame if something happened to her mom," and then he was gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Our Sara Sidner covering this for us.

Sara, you know, an impressive piece last night. Interesting interview from Anderson to say the least.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting and what you just showed is something that none of us had known the details of. Her attorney had come out and said that there was a threat made, at least one and maybe more. And she detailed what that threat was all about, although Michael Cohen had responded saying that he had nothing to do with it and he doesn't even believe that that threat actually happened asking for a retraction which her attorney says they will not be giving.

Here are some other details that we hadn't heard directly coming from her mouth. Anderson asked her about whether or not she signed an agreement that was essentially a hush agreement, taking $130,000 from Michael Cohen who says he paid her without the president's knowledge to keep her quiet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was it hush money to say silent?

DANIELS: Yes. The story was coming out again. I was concerned for my family and their safety.

COOPER: I think some people watching this are going to doubt that you entered into this negotiation because you feared for your safety, they're going to think that you saw an opportunity.

DANIELS: I think the fact that I didn't even negotiate, I just quickly said yes to this very, you know, strict contract and what most people will agree with me extremely low number is all the proof I need.

COOPER: So you signed and released a statement that said, I'm not denying this affair because I was paid in hush money. I'm denying it because it never happened. That's a lie.

DANIELS: Yes.

COOPER: If it was untruthful, why did you sign it?

DANIELS: Because they made it sound like I had no choice. COOPER: No one was putting a gun to your head.

DANIELS: Not physical violence, no.

COOPER: You thought that there would be some sort of legal repercussion if you didn't sign it.

DANIELS: Correct. As a matter of fact, the exact sentence used was, they can make your life hell in many different ways.

COOPER: They being?

DANIELS: I'm not exactly sure who they were. I believe it to be Michael Cohen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: So we have heard from her former manager's attorney and her former attorney who said he would like to talk about this, saying that he denies that he ever pressured her but he is under attorney-client privilege at this point and can't unless she allows him to do so -- John.

BERMAN: You know, it's interesting, Sara. She talks in detail about their first encounter and talks about the sex which she says was consensual even though she also says she didn't really want to do it.

SIDNER: Yes. This was really interesting. I think culturally this will be something that's talked about among women and men, about these relationships and how there are times that some women will say, look, I didn't really want to do it but I did it because I felt like I have made the mistake of actually going to the hotel room. I'll let you hear her words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Melania Trump had recently given birth to a son, just a few months before. Did he mention his wife or child at all in this?

[09:10:04] DANIELS: I asked and he brushed it aside, said oh, yes, yes. You know, don't worry about that. We don't even -- we have separate rooms and stuff.

COOPER: And you had sex with him.

DANIELS: Yes.

COOPER: You were 27, he was 60. Were you physically attracted to him?

DANIELS: No.

COOPER: Not at all?

DANIELS: No.

COOPER: Did you want to have sex with him?

DANIELS: No, but I didn't -- I didn't say no. I'm not a victim. I'm not --

COOPER: It was entirely consensual?

DANIELS: Oh, yes. Yes.

COOPER: You work in an industry where condom use is an issue. Did he use a condom?

DANIELS: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: Now you'll remember that the same information came from Karen McDougal who also detailed the fact that she had sex with the president and that he did not the use protection. And these patterns we're seeing over and over again, there are quite a few details that are very much the same between what Stormy Daniels has said about her relationship with Donald Trump and what Karen McDougal who was also suing to tell her story has said about her relationship with Donald Trump.

I do want to get into, though, before all this happened, there were certainly flirting going on and here's how Stephanie Clifford, a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, described what happened when she went up to the hotel room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANIELS: He was like, have you seen my new magazine?

COOPER: He was showing you his own picture on the cover up of the magazine.

DANIELS: Right. Right. And so, like, does this normally work for you? And he looked very taken back, like he didn't really understand what I was saying. Just, you know, talking about yourself normally work? And I was like someone should take that magazine and spank you with it. And I said, you know, give me that. And I told him, you wouldn't? Hand it over. And so he did and I was like, turn around. Drop them.

COOPER: You told Donald Trump to turn around and take off his pants?

DANIELS: Yes.

COOPER: And did he?

DANIELS: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: Now it's important to note here, you know, when you're watching this, a lot of folks saying, look, she seems credible but what she says on camera and what she's talking about has to be backed up by evidence when it comes to any potential legal issue with him or the federal elections commission on campaign finance laws, that will all have to be proven in court if a case goes forward and that will require hard evidence -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Sara Sidner covering this for us. Thank you very much.

As we said there was a lot in that interview but now her lawyer says there is much, much more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: Suffice it to say we have a lot of evidence in this case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Plus, one of the president's friends says brace for new changes in the administration. Could a Cabinet secretary be in jeopardy?

And these kids not done marching just yet. They're going 50 miles more right to the hometown of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:16:25]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The breaking news just moments ago, the White House announced that the United States is expelling 60 Russian diplomats from the United States. Most will come from the Russian embassy here but also from the United Nations as well. This is in response to the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in the United Kingdom and several other NATO allies of the U.K. and U.S. are taking similar actions as well.

Our Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. And Kaitlan, you have some information about how this decision was made.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. We were just briefed by senior administration officials during a call about the details of how this decision was made. And it's a really interesting context if you look at it.

Because though they said today that the president was personally involved in this decision that he was the one who made the final decision to expel these 60 Russian diplomats and he was involved in the negotiations with it over the weekend.

We have to point out the president just spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin last Tuesday. Of course, that call was in the headline a lot last week because he was directed by his national security advisers to not congratulate Putin on his recent election victory during that call. But also, another thing that slipped under the radar was that he was also directed to raise the poisoning of this former Russian spy with Putin during the call and Russia's role in the poisoning of that and he did not do that.

Of course, now, we do not believe he even looked at those briefing materials, but it's important to note that the president when he spoke with the Russian president didn't even bring this up even though the White House was maintaining that he was very involved in this decision.

And actually, the president sounded down right beat when he described that call with Putin, saying it was a good call and they were looking forward to meeting sometime soon. So, you have to take that in mind and as the White House briefed reporters today they said that the president has not spoken with Putin since that call last Tuesday when he did not raise the poisoning of this former Russian spy.

So, it makes you question just how involved the president actually was behind the scenes in this decision because if it's something that means so much to him why didn't he bring it up during that call with him?

BERMAN: Good questions. We will probe those areas as best we can over the course of the next several hours with the White House, Kaitlan. One other thing emerging from the White House this morning, perhaps the notion that the president is not done yet in terms of shaking up his White House staff and his cabinet. What have you learned on that front?

COLLINS: That's right. We are expecting the president to get rid of his Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin this week. We know that this has been a decision that has been a long time coming. He's certainly been on the chopping block for some time.

But now our sources are indicating that it could come as early as this week based on what the president has been saying. Of course, he's said multiple times there could be one or more shake-ups in his cabinet coming soon.

We have already seen several shakeups in the White House so far with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, leaving and the national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, being replaced. Those being the biggest too.

And it's interesting because Shulkin actually used to be a favorite of the president back during the early days of the administration, but he has since fallen out of his good graces. Now, of course, you have to take this with the Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Giddily saying a few hours ago that the president actually still has confidence in Shulkin.

Of course, we should take that with a grain of salt because one week before McMaster was replaced, the White House is also saying that the president had confidence in him and there would be no changes at the National 2Security Council. Of course, that later proved to not be true so that we are on Shulkin watch at the White House. It does not seem the president is done shaking up the west wing just yet -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlin Collins, keep an eye on it for us. Let us know when something happens as no doubt it soon will.

Joining me now CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Laura Coates, and CNN political analyst, Alex Burns from "The New York Times," and Amie Parnes from the Hill. Amy, I want to start with you here on what this is. The president is taking action against Russia.

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BERMAN: He apparently was in meetings on this. The White House wants us to know he was very involved, very important for them to tell us, how involved he was in this decision to kick out these 60 Russian diplomats.

PARNES: Right. It's a very Trump move actually. He says one thing and does another. This comes on the heels of that call where he congratulated Putin. But yes, I think he has to kind of show he's gotten so much scrutiny.

The press is constantly asking him what about Russia as this cloud looms over the White House and so he has to kind of show that, you know, he is kind of taking action and he is taking this seriously. But it remains to be seen how much he will continue to talk about this publicly and what that relationship will look like in the days.

BERMAN: And to be clear, we are learning other nations are taking part in this. I just seen Germany and Poland among others that will be kicking out Russian diplomats as well, Alex. The flipside of this is, you know, the president spoke, had a conversation with Vladimir Putin one week ago where this certainly could have come up. I mean, it is the type of thing you do raise with another leader if you're displeased with the actions that his country is taking.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You would think so and this is part of I think a basically bipolar approach to Russia that we've seen from this administration, that you look at what the State Department does and the Defense Department does, you know, what our ambassadors in dealing with entities like NATO are doing and then you listen to what the president says and you often get very different messages depending on who you're listening to and what you're looking at.

A lot of it boils down to what you care about more. Do you care about what the officials' bureaucratic actions that the administration is taking, or do you care about the way the president uses the mega phone and the moral authority of his office?

We clearly have not seen President Trump use his platform and the global moral authority of the presidency to take on Russia and over the next couple days, it's very important to see is he comfortable talking about what his administration did today.

BERMAN: He may not. I mean, we almost never hear him talking about Russia out loud even when the administration is taking action. Amie, it's interesting. We did hear Hogan Giddily, the deputy press secretary, bragging about the fact that this administration had given arms to Ukraine, for instance, the (inaudible) missiles.

Also, the fact that they took military action in Syria in a way that the Obama administration didn't. They point to these examples as areas of action even when they don't have as many concrete responses on the Russian election meddling.

PARNES: Right. Exactly. I think they're saying, you know, they are kind of defining a line and drawing a red line and saying these are very serious things and we're very involved in this and the president's taking it very seriously and yet, he is not -- he still is in denial about what has happened or doesn't want to talk about it publicly at least about what's happened with the election.

BERMAN: So, Laura Coates, I've saved you because this is a wide umbrella here of issues that the White House is dealing with. Russia is the headline and what hangs over all of it, and of course, the Russia investigation and meddling investigation that Robert Mueller is leading and there's been this unusual shake-up in the president's legal team.

I mean, John Dowd, who was handling the personal reaction is out. Two lawyers that the president wanted to bring in, one of whom he hired actually now. He's unhired one of them. This is a lot of turmoil awfully late in the game and it points to really just disarray.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And it's late in the game especially when you had negotiations up to this point where John Dowd was the lead front person on that between Mueller and his team. It's almost as if you had a captain who is no longer a part of the ship in the middle of the Mueller storm.

And you're on sea and trying to figure it out and the president has been very clear about the fact that other people do want to join the team. But they had conflicts, et cetera. One of those conflicts, John, is that one of the people that Digenova is representing was the person who has concerns about whether Hope Hicks (inaudible) when she tried to make a statement about these e-mails never going to get out.

And so, we're talking about a web that's continually tangling here. The one thing about these Russian diplomats is so curious to me as well. This is based primarily in part at least on intelligence reports that Russia is responsible.

So, the president on the one hand is discrediting the FBI and the intelligence community here in the U.S. as it relates to the Mueller investigation. On the other hand, taking it completely literally and saying, OK, we'll punish base on that. Why the disconnect will raise the concern again in suspicion of Mueller and his team? It goes under that same umbrella.

BERMAN: Will the rhetoric match the action here? They often don't. We will wait and see. Guys, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about coming up.

Stormy Daniels says she was threatened physically over the story that she wanted to tell about Donald Trump. Her legal team is now vowing that they have more information that they haven't revealed yet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:29:28]

BERMAN: All right. We are just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. All signs point to a big opening this morning. The question is, what's going on here? We've had pretty down days. Our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, Christine, what are we seeing?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You'll see a bounce of 300 or 400 points when things open up, John. And one big reason is because last week was so terrible for the markets, big concern about a trade war between the U.S. and China. Last week was the worst week in a couple of years for stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial average 3,000 points, down from its record high and officially in correction territory.