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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Silent About Stormy Daniels Scandal; More Lawyers Decline to Join Trump's Legal Team; California Suing Trump Administration Over Census Citizenship Question; CNN Source: Trump Using Ex-Aide Porter As Sounding Board. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:01] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: What did Al Roker do wrong?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: I know.

CAMEROTA: How did he get in that --

CUOMO: The president is like, fake weather.

CAMEROTA: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

CAMEROTA: All right. On that note, it is time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with John Berman.

CUOMO: Fake John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. We begin with the sound of silence, the president saying, "Hello, darkness, my old friend." Of course given the nature of the stories involved maybe the more appropriate lyric is, "A vision softly creeping."

Surprising really unprecedented silence from the president of the United States about Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress who said she had sex with Donald Trump and was paid to keep quiet about it after being threatened to keep quiet about it. More than 20 million people watched her tell her story to Anderson Cooper, reportedly the president among them. But he's not said a thing about it on Twitter. In fact, he's not said a thing in public since Friday.

We are getting new word on what he's saying privately about this. And speaking of private conversations, CNN has learned that one person the president has been speaking with is Rob Porter, the senior aide pushed out of the White House after reports of domestic abuse. The president it seems is pining for a return.

Let's go to Abby Phillip live for us at the White House this morning with word on what the president does think about the Stormy Daniels saga now -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. The Storm Daniels interview was a huge ratings bonanza, but the White House is playing coy about whether the president actually watched it. Now the principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah made it clear that he couldn't speak for whether the president actually watched the Daniels interview. But that the clips have been on the television pretty much non-stop for the last day. And this is a president who we know is an avid watcher.

He has, according to "The Washington Post," watched the interview and has actually been talking to friends and polling his aides about whether they thought -- what they thought about Daniels' performance. For his part, the president, according to sources, believes that Daniels is not a credible person, that she didn't come across as credible in that interview. And he adds, according to "The Post," that Daniels is not his type.

Now what we have seen from President Trump, however, is that he's not attacking her on social media. He's not attacking Stormy Daniels or any of these other women who have emerged in the last several weeks with their claims against him. And that speaks volumes about where he is.

According to our sources, the president has been advised to stay out of it. Don't make it worse by attacking these women on social media and so far, at least, he has obliged -- John.

BERMAN: So, Abby, what's the situation with Rob Porter? Of course the staff secretary who was pushed out of the White House after these reports of domestic abuse?

PHILLIP: That's right. Now this is extraordinary. The president, after firing Rob Porter for these reports that he domestically abused two of his ex-wives, the president has been actually calling Porter, sources tell CNN. He's been phoning him in the last several weeks and reportedly wants him to come back to the White House. That's in spite of all of the things that have happened as a result of that incident, changes to the security clearance process and several other White House aides leaving as a result of that.

The president seems to think that Porter should be back here in the White House. Now remember, President Trump actually defended Rob Porter on multiple occasions in the days after he left this White House. But, you know, a source tells us that despite the president's desire to bring him back in here, the issues that underlie this, the security clearance processes, the fact that he couldn't get one, has not been resolved. And so it's really unlikely that he will end up back in this building -- John.

BERMAN: And, Abby, one other matter to cover here, and honestly, I have lost count on how many lawyers the president has tried to hire or brought in for interviews to represent him privately in the Russia investigation, but there are either two or three more we learned today who said no.

PHILLIP: That's right. I mean, the president is the president. He's a personally wealthy man. And yet it still appears that he is having a hard time getting lawyers to sign on. Two new lawyers say that President Trump reached out to them. Dan Webb and Tom Buchanan released a statement confirming that President Trump reached out asking them to represent him. But they're citing some conflicts as the reason why they can't join on.

They said that they will not be able to join his team because of business conflicts. However, they consider the opportunity to be -- to represent the president, to be the highest honor and they sincerely regret that they can't do that. Now this is coming after the president and his legal team announced last week that they would be bringing on two other attorneys, Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, but it turns out that neither of those individuals would be able to join the legal team, also because of conflicts.

Look, John, this is a Russia investigation that has a ton of tentacles. Many people here in this town have lawyers and because of that reason they can't represent President Trump because of conflicts. But also, this is a story that carries a lot of risks for a lot of high caliber law firms here in Washington and clearly that's becoming a problem for President Trump as he tries to rebuild his stable of lawyers after several departures in the last several months -- John.

[09:05:08] BERMAN: Abby Phillip at the White House for us. Abby, thank you very much.

Let's continue this conversation. Joining me CNN chief legal analyst, former federal prosecutor, "New Yorker" staff writer, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, the president having a hard time bringing on lawyers to represent him in the Russia meddling case. Is he, A, a bad client, the lawyers think this is, B, a bad case or is it C, all of the above?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's more in the nature of C. He doesn't listen to his lawyers. He thinks he does a better job about being a lawyer than his actual lawyers and, not to be neglected, he has a history of not paying his lawyers even when he owes them money. So all of that has led, as well as these issues of conflicts of interest with other clients, to these lawyers saying no, thank you.

BERMAN: And it is a problem that he doesn't have representation right now.

TOOBIN: It's crazy. I mean, you know, this is a very serious investigation with the issue of an interview hanging out there. And Jay Sekulow who is the only remaining lawyer on his team is a fine lawyer, but he is a constitutional lawyer who deals with religious freedom cases for the most part. He is not a criminal defense lawyer so he needs someone serious and he needs someone soon.

BERMAN: On the subject of lawyering.

TOOBIN: Yes.

BERMAN: Michael Avenatti, who is the attorney for Stormy Daniels.

TOOBIN: Yes. BERMAN: Has filed a new defamation suit against Michael Cohen, the

president's personal lawyer here. You say that all of Avenatti's actions are now designed to achieve one goal.

TOOBIN: Right. Which is to get discovery, which is to get Donald Trump in particular but also Michael Cohen to have to submit to a deposition, to answer questions under oath about their relations, not just with Stormy Daniels but with Karen McDougal and all the other women who have been, you know, linked to the president. And of course, the precedent here is the Paula Jones case. The peril to the president is not so much the liability that he may face in these lawsuits, it's the process of giving depositions under oath about embarrassing facts which, of course, Bill Clinton, it led to his impeachment, his false answers in the Paula Jones.

BERMAN: What do Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti get out of that? And what's the likelihood that they do get there?

TOOBIN: Well, I think anyone who has seen Michael Avenatti during his many television appearances on CNN and elsewhere recognizes that he is reveling in this process and he is someone who is determined not just to win the case for his client, but to show that the president and Michael Cohen have been lying about this whole case.

BERMAN: Actually he said outright that one of his goals here is to show the president has been lying.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. And that -- and he does have a foot in at this point. I mean, he has not gotten all the way there. But this is a serious lawsuit against the president -- against the president and Michael Cohen relating to Stormy Daniels' alleged nondisclosure agreement. And he may yet get a deposition.

BERMAN: All right. Jeffrey, you were in the middle of an interesting discussion last night. And I put discussion in quotation marks right now.

TOOBIN: Yes.

BERMAN: This was on "AC 360." And you were sitting between Michael Avenatti and an attorney who is a friend of Michael Cohen. I'm going to walk you down memory lane and play a little bit.

TOOBIN: OK. All right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Let's talk about Michael Cohen, what kind of a man this is. This is the kind of guy who claimed in connection with that story that there's no such thing as spousal rape. This is a legal genius. Right. Completely false. The guy doesn't even know the law and he's a thug. Your friend is a thug.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, ATTORNEY FOR MICHAEL COHEN: Thank you.

AVENATTI: He's a thug.

SCHWARTZ: That's a million dollars?

(CROSSTALK)

AVENATTI: Thug. Thug.

SCHWARTZ: A million dollars, a million dollars.

AVENATTI: A thug.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ: Anyone who can come on --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TOOBIN: So it was kind of high brow. I don't know. It was more like a C-SPAN thing happening.

BERMAN: But aside from making you look exceedingly rational by comparison --

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: Not easy. Yes.

BERMAN: Does either side get anything out of that in this legal and political and public opinion debate right now?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I -- it's very hard for me to say what the public opinion is about, you know, that particular aspect, but I do think, you know, Michael Avenatti is focusing on the peculiar role of Michael Cohen here. I mean, remember, Michael Cohen claims that when it came to Stormy Daniels he paid out of his own pocket, out of the line of credit in his house, $130,000. That is still --

BERMAN: You keep asking about that.

TOOBIN: Yes.

BERMAN: Why do you think that point is so important?

TOOBIN: Because it's so improbable. I mean, you know, I've been around lawyers my whole life. I think most people in the world have dealt with lawyers one time or another. Who knows a lawyer who pays out of his own pocket a damage award or a settlement for a client? I've never heard of it in my life. And I think it has a surface in plausibility and it's important because that $130,000 could be seen as a campaign finance violation given the fact that it was given on October 28th right on the eve of the election.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, the exceedingly rational Jeffrey Toobin.

TOOBIN: Indeed.

[09:10:03] BERMAN: Thank you so much for being here. I appreciate it.

Joining me now, Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun-Times," and Amber Phillips, a political reporter for the "Washington Post's" political blog "The Fix."

You guys are also exceedingly rational. The White House is not being silent on Stormy Daniels. The president is, not the White House. Deputy press secretary Raj Shah had this to say at the podium.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president doesn't believe that any of the claims that Miss Daniels made last night in the interview are accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Again, that's the White House. But the president's silence here is remarkable, Lynn. What do you think he gets out of that?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: Well, what he gets is a short-term reprieve from making matters worse for himself. We'll see how long that sticks. There is only one way to go when President Trump, if he hits the Twitter on this thing, and I don't -- it is a lose-lose. It is hard to see what he could write, what possibly he could say that could make his legal and political situation better in dealing with Stormy Daniels on this. So for once, his silence is useful to him.

BERMAN: And Amber, you sort of parse very carefully how the White House has approached this. It's interesting, Raj Shah said that none of the statements in the interview were accurate. He didn't say they were all lies. And there is a difference there.

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST'S POLITICAL BLOG "THE FIX": Right. Right. Yes. It's interesting to look at what the White House has denied and hasn't denied about Stormy Daniels. They've said from day one there's been no affair. That's been very clear. But they've been less clear on some of her other more damaging accusations. Just yesterday was the first time we heard the White House say no, we don't think that there was any kind of confrontation in a parking garage the where Stormy Daniels said that she was threatened.

But Raj made very clear that it was inaccurate the way she told it. I mean, the White House hasn't denied that the president knew of any kind of physical coercion after she talked to a blog back in 2011 about the alleged affair. The White House certainly hasn't denied that it knew Michael Cohen paid this hush money during the election, and of course they've openly acknowledged that the president got into some kind of legal agreement and is now fighting -- putting his name on a court battle to continue to keep Stormy Daniels quiet which raises the question of, like, why the mixed signals and what are they trying to keep her quiet from if not an affair? BERMAN: It's a fair question. And while Raj Shah says the president

does not believe the interviews were accurate, Matt Lewis, the American people say otherwise. There's this new -- brand new CNN poll that came out yesterday afternoon, 63 percent of people believe the women, that would be Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal in these cases. Only 21 percent believe the president. What does that tell you, Matt?

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, you can look at these numbers and say that's really bad news for Donald Trump. And in a normal, sane world, it would be. In this case I think ironically it maybe is a positive sign for Donald Trump. And what I mean by that is simply it's baked into the cake. When it comes to these affairs, cheating on his wife, with Playmates and porn stars, Donald Trump never pretended to be anything else.

People voted for him after that horrible "Access Hollywood" video came out where he talked about, if you're a celebrity, that they let you do it. So in a way, I think these are good numbers for Donald Trump. Now there's of course a legal aspect of this that could be very bad for him.

BERMAN: Right.

LEWIS: The fact that Stormy is now alleging that she was intimidated.

BERMAN: Right.

LEWIS: Someone threatened her, that's a different thing. But if it's about the affair --

BERMAN: So Matt -- I knew Matt was going to say this, because, A, he said it before to me, and B, I follow him avidly on Twitter. The "Wall Street Journal," the Rupert Murdoch owned "Wall Street Journal," has an editorial out which sort of addresses this point. It says the president really might be in some trouble here. The editorial says, "The Stormy Daniels case is typical of Mr. Trump's pre-presidential behavior in thinking he can, with enough threats and dissembling, get away with anything. He's never understood that a president can't behave that way, and this may be the cause of his downfall."

Now that might be hyperbolic, Lynn Sweet. But the notion that your behavior as president is different than your behavior as some real estate mogul who's at a reality show in New York, that's interesting.

SWEET: It's interesting. It would seem, as Matt likes to say and everyone else, in a normal time it goes without saying, but the behavior that I think puts -- my analysis that puts President Trump most at risk isn't whether or not he had an affair, it's whether or not this hush money was equal to a political contribution that was not reported which is -- you know, which is against the federal election regulations. And that's the kind of, you know, money changing hands that got then presidential candidate John Edwards in trouble. So that's why he is so much at risk on this.

And right, we have so many examples of how President Trump has not changed his behavior from the days he was a private citizen and the gravity of the presidency has yet to sink in on the president.

BERMAN: Guys, everyone, stay with me. We have a lot more to discuss. Russia promising to fight back after at least 100 of its diplomats expelled all around the world. What will the Kremlin do next?

And one new question on the 2020 census with huge political stakes. How it can change Congress, presidential elections, and much more.

Plus, new information this morning on the death of Prince. We'll tell you what that is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: This morning one proposed new question on the census with huge political implications and now new controversy. CNN's Rene Marsh has the story -- Rene.

[09:20:07] RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, California is suing, and more lawsuits may be under way after the Trump administration announced that it's made a decision last night to add citizenship, a citizenship question to the 2020 census asking those filling out the form whether they are U.S. citizens or not.

Now former Attorney General Eric Holder, who leads a group focusing on congressional redistricting reform is also threatening to sue over the decision calling it, quote, "an irresponsible move and an attack on our democracy, which would impact voting rights for decades."

Now this move comes at the request of the Justice Department, but the Commerce Department made the announcement last night because the Census Bureau is part of commerce. In their statement they said that this citizenship data will help DOJ better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which essentially protects minority voting rights.

But the argument here is that the data would provide information about minority populations in communities when DOJ is handling voting rights violation cases. Opponents say that is baloney.

A coalition of state attorneys general, they've been pushing the Commerce Department not to make this move for fear that it would cause a population undercount because immigrants wouldn't fill out the census. Why do we care?

Well, the census is incredibly important because it helps determine political representation, congressional district boundaries and federal funding for critical programs from health care to education.

I do want the make one point, John, the purpose of the census is to count the entire population and not just U.S. citizens. Back to you.

BERMAN: Rene Marsh, thank you very, very much. Back with me, Matt Lewis, Lynn Sweet, Amber Phillips. You know, Amber, with all the talk about Stormy Daniels and Russia, sometimes people lose sight of the fact that there are real substantive changes going on to the government right now during the Trump administration that you may love them, you may hate them, but they'll have a lasting impact. If this goes through, this is really one of them.

PHILLIPS: Yes, exactly. This is especially important to watch what the Trump administration does because Congress is basically done legislating for the year. They passed a budget to keep the government open and they'll go focus on campaigning for the midterm elections.

The thing, though, that's a problem for the Trump administration is when you act unilaterally, you end up opening yourself up to legal challenges, which is exactly what we see here. The thrust of the case in California is really that this is politically -- comes from a police of political intent rather than positive intent to try to get a broader count of American population.

And I think the critics do have some reason to argue that when you step back and look at the travel ban, the Trump administration's decision to end protection for DREAMers, his rhetoric during the campaign and about the wall, some of those similar arguments are what got caught up with the travel ban in court.

So, it's a very real possibility that this does sort of get halted in the courts despite the administration wanting to make this lasting change.

BERMAN: Matt Lewis, we were talking before about the poll numbers surrounding the Stormy Daniels interview. The overall poll numbers for the president have improved. His approval rating now is 42 percent, which is not good, but it's better. It's a lot better than it was.

It's 4 points below where Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan were roughly at this time in their terms which does show, that look, you can be around this area and perhaps have a political future. Why the rise, Matt?

LEWIS: Well, first of all, yes, Donald Trump I believe was lower when he won the election. I think his approval rating was actually lower the day that he won the presidency. These numbers are not good.

They're not where I would want them to be if I were a president or an advisor to a president, but they're not to the point where you can say he can't win re-election. As you noted, John, this is a high point.

They're going up despite the fact that we're in the midst of this Stormy Daniels controversy, which I think buttresses my argument, that politically speaking at least for now, it hasn't been a big problem. For another presidency, this could be Watergate territory, but for Donald Trump it's just a typical Tuesday, right?

BERMAN: Right. Again, I will state 42 percent is not good. It's right in the middle of the problem zone for a president and for a president who doesn't seem to be able to avoid chaos. Lynn Sweet, there is this new reporting overnight, first "The New York Times," CNN has it as well, that the president is talking to Rob Porter, his former staff secretary who was pushed out of the White House because of these reports of domestic abuse. Is that a good look for the president to be calling up this guy for advice and companionship? [09:25:12] SWEET: Well, no. This one is an easier analysis to make, John, because it's not only that he's making calls, it's that people around him in this orbit, he's telling people he's doing this. He doesn't like to be cast -- I don't know why he would want him cast as this kind of lonely guy rambling around.

We know his wife is in Florida for spring break. So, that also brings up in terms of his judgment. If he is looking to a cast-off aide to seek either personal counsel or advice, it shows how thin his bench is. That is a matter of concern.

So, the idea that he is making calls, he's kind of left unattended at night, we know he doesn't really leave the White House except to go to a Trump hotel here or another Trump property in the suburbs. All this points to somebody who is -- what is the word? Who is not of the strongest, soundest mind in terms of seeking the best advice from the people around him.

BERMAN: Lynn Sweet, Amber Phillips, Matt Lewis, thank you all very much for being with us today. We are just moments away from the opening bell. A lot of activity on Wall Street lately. Christine Romans here with a look ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Last week was the worst week in two and a half years. Yesterday was the best day for stocks, 669 points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, trade war on, trade war off, every headline seems to change the mind and mood of investors.

We think that there could be a little bit of a continuation this morning, but who knows? We'll have the opening bell right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)