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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Silent on Daniels; Defamation Against Cohen; Trump Talks with Porter; Trump Orders Expulsion of Russians; Officers in Louisiana will not be Charged. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:18] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And we begin this hour with the latest in the showdown between the president of the United States and a porn star. Stormy Daniels slapping the president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, with a defamation suit. This comes, of course, after more than 20 million people tuned in to her interview with Anderson Cooper on "60 Minutes." "The Washington Post" reports the president was one of those viewers and that he apparently asked his staffers what they thought about the interview.

According to "The Post," President Trump has privately said he doesn't find Daniels credible and he insists he doesn't find her attractive either. In public, however, silence. Sources tell CNN that he was told early on to avoid the topic altogether. And for now it appears that he's actually heeding that advice.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House. CNN's MJ Lee is joining us live from New York.

Kaitlan, the president might be silent here, but team Trump is pushing back against the Stormy story. What are you hearing from the White House?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: They certainly are pushing back and the president is certainly not being silent in private here, Brianna. He's been complaining about what he says is the wall-to-wall coverage on cable news. His friend Chris Redding, who spoke with him over the weekend, says that he believe it's just a hoax, it's meant to damage him politically. And "The Washington Post" has noted that he's said that Stormy Daniels is not his type. So some familiar defenses there we've seen from the president, especially the hoax comment, which he's obviously used multiple times to bat down the Russia investigation.

But this is certainly something that has been on the president's mind and he has been keeping tabs about how this coverage of the allegations made by Stormy Daniels has been playing out in the press. But he's hasn't responded publicly, which though he's been advised not to do so and so far it seems as if he's heeded that advice, the question now that even his advisers and allies are asking is just how long he will continue to hold back. Because as you have noticed, we've seen the first lady before say that this is a president who often punches back when he's first punched. So this is what -- not falling in line with that narrative. And what they are waiting to see if the president does respond to these allegations.

And, Brianna, it's almost hard to see how he doesn't with Stormy Daniels going on television, one of his favorite mediums, as we know he's watched "60 Minutes" before in the past, and also with her lawyer making several appearances on news, essentially taunting the president. So now the question is when is the president going to publicly respond to these allegations.

KEILAR: And, MJ, tell us about this defamation suit that Stormy Daniels is filing against Michael Cohen.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, Brianna, this is an interesting new development in the Stormy Daniels lawsuit. She initially filed this earlier this month against President Trump because she wanted to get out of this NDA that she signed in 2016 so that she could speak out freely about her alleged affair with him in 2006. Well, now that lawsuit has been amended and expanded to include Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal lawyer.

Now he, of course, has been a key figure in all of this because he was the one who arranged this NDA and also made the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels in 2016 to keep her silent. Now, what she is alleging now is that Michael Cohen has defamed her by basically suggesting that she has been lying about her affair with Donald Trump.

Here's Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, discussing all of this last night on our air.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: Namely he made some statements earlier this year whereby he basically said that the affair never happened in not so many words and made my client out to be a liar. So we're going to test the veracity of his statements against those of my client.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: Now, you'll also remember that in the "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, Stormy Daniels said that there was an incident in 2011 in Las Vegas where a man approached her in a parking lot and basically threatened her about this alleged affair. Well, Michael Avenatti saying that since this "60 Minutes" interview aired on Sunday, he now has several new leads on where that threat could have come from. He says it wasn't directly from Michael Cohen or Keith Schiller, Donald Trump's bodyguard, but, you know, the question is going to be, will he, at some point, be able to produce evidence that shows that these threats came from people close to President Trump.

Brianna.

KEILAR: Meantime, Kaitlan, there's some other news coming out of the White House, that the president is still talk to his former aide, Rob Porter, who left the White House after both his first wife and his second wife said that they had been emotionally and physically abused by him. Tell us about that. COLLINS: Yes, "The New York Times" is reporting that the president has

stayed in touch with Porter despite that very nasty departure here from the White House after those allegations of physical abuse and pictures. (INAUDIBLE) a very botched departure by some accounts here in the White House especially on behalf of the chief of staff, John Kelly, because, as you'll recall, he stayed around for several days before he actually had left the White House after those allegations first surfaced.

[12:05:19] And now we're learning that the president has stayed in touch with him, seeking his counsel on some questions about how things are going in the West Wing, and also has even floated the idea of having Porter return to the West Wing.

Now, I should offer a word of caution there. That is incredibly unlikely to happen, especially because of those allegations that were made against Porter, which prohibited him from being able to obtain a permanent security clearance which obviously was required for that kind of job, a job handling the level of paperwork that Rob Porter did.

But it does go to show who the president keeps in touch with despite how they leave this White House, what circumstances they leave the White House under. And Rob Porter seems to be one of the people that the president has decided to keep in his orbit here, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Kaitlan Collins and MJ Lee, thank you so much to both of you.

Joining me now to talk more about this, Elaina Plott is the staff writer with "The Atlantic." We also have Michael Moore. He's a former U.S. attorney for the middle district of Georgia. And Republican strategist and former communications director for Ted Cruz, Alice Stewart, with us from New York.

Elaina, when you think of how the president is not responding publicly to the Stormy Daniels saga, it's just astounding because it seems like he always responds to things.

ELAINA PLOTT, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Absolutely. And I think it's one of the first instances when scandal has embroiled this administration. Aides -- top aides are telling the president not to speak publicly about it, not to, you know, go on a late night or early morning tweet storm, and he's actually listening.

What that means, I'm not sure anybody knows the implications yet. But I can tell you as a Hill reporter, that it's something that congressmen are very happy that he's staying silent on.

KEILAR: Do they -- because do they believe -- do members of Congress believe that he can stick to it, in general?

PLOTT: I mean -- no.

KEILAR: Just checking. PLOTT: Definitely. But right now it's something -- it's another thing

they don't have to answer for. As you know, going into midterms, they want the message to be all about tax reform. And as few questions as they can get about Stormy Daniels, the better.

KEILAR: That's right, because you have the midterms, Alice, and you look at a new CNN poll. It asks Americans, who do you believe? Do you believe the women or do you believe the president? And nearly two- thirds say they believe the women. Twenty- one percent of Americans said they believe the president. With that in mind, how do you see this playing out in the midterms?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And a lot of it depends on where we are with regard to the economy. Those numbers are quite telling. I think we can all agree that anyone with common sense based on the president's history believes these women. And, in addition to those numbers, more than half the people polled in our CNN poll say that these women should be free to talk.

Given all of this, his approval numbers are higher than they've been in many -- many, many months. And the reason for that is, people knew this when he ran for office. People knew this when they decided to vote for him. And this is nothing that they didn't already know.

But people are not really -- while it's titillating to hear about the porn stars, people are concerned about their pocketbooks. And while the economy is going well and while the tax cuts are benefitting Republicans and Democrats across this country, that's why people continue to have faith and support in this presidency and have approval for the job that he's doing. They may hear all of this talk about the porn stars and the Playboy playmates, but what really resonates with them is what is in their bank account, their jobs and their steady economy. That's why they continue to support him.

KEILAR: We've seen these clips of the lawyers fighting. You don't even have to leave the -- you don't have to go to Bravo, you can just watch the news and get your reality show fix. It's almost unreal. But their rhetoric really has escalated. And the lawyer for Michael Cohen said once the facts settle out of court, Cohen will absolutely annihilate this guy. Now, that side not known for understatement for sure, but where do you see this whole drama heading?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: You know, it seems to me that the Trump team and the Cohen team are stepping into every trap that Stormy Daniels' lawyer may be setting in the case. They get them to respond to things they shouldn't respond to. They get them to say things off the cuff with a certain amount of hyperbole that's going to get them into trouble at the end of the day. I think they're setting their expectations probably too high or they're setting them too high.

KEILAR: With that in mind, I mean, when you look at how these two lawyers are behaving, this back and forth that we've seen repeatedly now, do you -- who's serving their client well? And who isn't?

MOORE: Well, I mean, Stormy Daniels' lawyer has gotten the case out there and he's able to sort of plant some media bombs that the Trump team seems to be stepping on time and time again. I don't think the Trump team's helping themselves at all. I mean it's interesting to me that they have finally gotten the client to be quiet there, and maybe that tells us something about the allegations, too. You remember, he was very critical of Al Franken for not saying anything, but yet he justified his support for Roy Moore for saying, well, I didn't do it, it's not true. Well, we haven't heard Trump denying these allegations.

[12:10:07] KEILAR: Because it's not -- I mean, as you say, members of Congress welcome that they don't have to talk about this, but it's not like this isn't out there. It's just the president isn't out there talking about it.

PLOTT: You know who else isn't talking about it, Brianna, are Democrats. I was talking with a Democratic congressman this morning asking how he thought this would play out for his side and midterms, and he said he didn't think it would play at all. He said, people knew what they were getting with Trump when they elected him. He also said that Democrats don't feel comfortable wading into this issue. That they would much rather keep the focus on Russia and Mueller's investigation, which I thought was an interesting fact. They didn't feel like they had the grounds, really, to wade into this debate.

KEILAR: If it's not going to play at all, that is music to Alice Stewart's ears.

Alice, thank you so much.

STEWART: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Elaina, thank you, Michael, really appreciate it.

Coming up, Russia now vowing retaliation after the United States and a growing list of allies expel Russian officials from their borders. We'll have details ahead.

Plus, breaking moments ago, the Louisiana attorney general has decided that two white police officers involved in the shooting death of an African-American man, Alton Sterling, will not be charged. The family, outraged. What they're saying about the decision, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:20] KEILAR: This morning, the United States and more than 20 of its allies are bracing for Russian retaliation. Moscow is vowing to strike back against a coordinated move to expel more than 100 Russian diplomats in total from their host countries. It's a global response to the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil. The U.S. is leading the way, booting 60 diplomats and closing a facility as well.

The Russian embassy in Washington almost taunting the White House, asking its Twitter followers to share in the revenge. Quote, U.S. administration ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle. What U.S. consulate general would you close in Russia if it was up to you to decide? Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees.

Thank you so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEES: Great to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: OK, so this expulsion, you've been -- you've been certainly very critical, as a number of Democrats have been, about the Trump administration and its response to Russia and meddling in the election in 2016. So the expulsion of 60 diplomats, to you is that credit where credit is due? What do you think?

CONNOLLY: Well I think it's a proper action. And it's kind of the least we can do. So when the Russian government is sanctioning murder -- or attempted murder on allied soil, in this case Salisbury, England, to do nothing and to say nothing, as Trump did last week when he called Putin to congratulate him on his sham re-election, never brought up the fact that this attack occurred. You know --

KEILAR: Is that made mute by the fact that at the time of that conversation, and White House officials will say this, they were discussing what to do. There were conversations going on about this expulsion. And to put it in context, it is the -- I mean we're talking about, this is on the level of what Reagan did during the Cold War.

CONNOLLY: It is, and I certainly applaud the decision to do this, however belatedly President Trump came to it.

We -- putting it into context, Trump's been the odd man out in his own administration with respect to Russia, whether it's cyber security attacks, whether it's interference in the elections, whether it's illegal Russian money coming into this country, and now with the attempted murder of two former Russians on British soil.

KEILAR: So -- actually, we just have something just in I want to ask you about. Defense Secretary Mattis just called out Putin, saying, as the head of state, he is responsible for Russia's reckless activities. So there you have an example of really aggressive rhetoric against Vladimir Putin and we haven't necessarily seen that -- not necessarily -- we haven't seen it on that level from President Trump, right?

CONNOLLY: That's right.

KEILAR: He just doesn't do it very often. He doesn't do it very aggressively. And that is very different from what is his rhetorical style, with a lot of other people, including allies.

CONNOLLY: Sure. Yes, President Trump's been, as I said, the odd man out in his own administration on this subject. Remember when we had 17 intelligence agencies of the U.S. government unanimously saying incontrovertible evidence of Russian interference in our election. We still have Trump saying, well, it could have been some 400 pound man in a basement in New Jersey. KEILAR: So, to that point, why is that so important? Why is it that even when you have recent actions that -- I mean if you just looked at this period of time, the actions that this administration is taking on Russia, it seems like there would just be sort of in a vacuum Democrats and Republicans saying this is the right way to go. But there's been so much time that has passed where the rhetoric hasn't matched that. Why is that so important to you versus saying very tough rhetoric but really no teeth, no action?

CONNOLLY: Putin is, you know, a very pragmatic KGB officer. He respects power. And he knows rhetoric when he hears it and he knows weakness when he sees it and experiences it.

Speaking with one, clear voice and very emphatically is critical to the United States of America in terms of countering Russian aggression across all fronts. And we have not had that in President Trump.

BERMAN: John McCain, a Republican senator, who's been very critical of the administration on Russia, has said the only way to insure Putin and his cronies feel the consequences of their brazen action is by punishing them financially. The administration must follow today's actions by enforcing robust sanctions on the Russian government.

We heard a spokesman for the White House, Raj Shah, say yesterday that he wouldn't close any doors on sanctions against Putin or even against oligarchs, those who have a lot of money who are closely tied to Putin, who if they are sanctioned are going to put the pressure on Vladimir Putin. Do you think there's more to come?

[12:20:08] CONNOLLY: I sure hope so. One can only speculate why Trump has been so reluctant to follow through on the sanctions. We passed over 400 members of the House, I mean close to unanimous, saying there ought to be additional sanctions in the case of Russia and Iran. And the president was very reluctant to implement any of them. And certainly the oligarchs need to be punished, certainly closing down financial access to international financial machinery, using export controls, cutting off oil markets to Russia, those are all things we did in Iran and they were very effective.

KEILAR: U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley just spoke at the United Nations and she took aim at Russia over its continued involvement in Syria. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: And we cannot take these actions because instead of calling out how Assad, Russia and Iran made a mockery of our calls for a cease fire, too many members of this council wanted to wait. This is a travesty. This should be a day of shame for every member of this council.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: What do you make of that?

CONNOLLY: Well, Nikki Haley, to her credit, has been pretty consistent and outspoken about Russia. She hasn't cut any corners on that, unlike the president. And so she's calling out the fact that at the Security Council we've had some week-kneed members who don't want to impose sanctions on Russia for their activity in Syria, including breaking their own cease fire. You know thousands of lives have been lost, the use of chemical weapons has occurred multiple times. We've got millions of refugees, tons of towns and cities destroyed, and Russia is aiding and abetting that whole effort. So I think she's quite right to call it out at the U.N. and to call out those members at the U.N. who are equivocal in acting on Russian aggression.

KEILAR: Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

CONNOLLY: My great pleasure.

KEILAR: Appreciate it.

And we have some breaking news this morning out of Baton Rouge. The Louisiana attorney general will not press charges against the two police officers who shot and killed a man that they were already holding to the ground.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:26:28] KEILAR: We have breaking news. The Louisiana attorney general has decided the two white Baton Rouge police officers involved in the shooting death of an African-American man, Alton Sterling, will not be charged.

In 2016, an officer shot and killed the 37-year-old during a struggle outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. He was shot at close range while the officers pinned him down. Sterling did not display a gun during the struggle. Police say that he was reaching for one and a gun was recovered after he was killed. Sterling's death was caught on camera, and I do want to warn that you this is a very disturbing video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, during a news conference just a few minutes ago, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said the evidence doesn't support a prosecution of the officers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF LANDRY, LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL: After a thorough and exhaustive review of the evidence, the facts that can be established beyond a reasonable doubt, the law and jurisprudence of the state of Louisiana and the obligations of prosecutors under the code of professional conduct, the Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with a prosecution of either Officer Lake or Officer Salamoni.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Joining me now from Baton Rouge with more on this, CNN correspondent Nick Valencia.

Nick, you talked to the family today. Tell us about that.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This has been an announcement that has been months in the workings here, months of anticipation from the local community. And unfortunately for those that are supporters of Alton Sterling, it did not come as a surprise that the attorney general decided not to bring charges, state criminal charges, against the two officers involved in the shooting. It was just a couple of minutes ago, Brianna, that the family of Alton sterling spoke to the media saying that they would get justice, but their justice is going to come, quote, from a higher power.

I spoke to Sandra Sterling as well about the frustration among the family and the Alton Sterling supporters that three pieces of video, including individual surveillance from the SSS convenience store where that shooting happened, as well as body cam footage have yet to be released. We understand the mayor has that video in her possession and has had that according to the family attorney for the last several days. I asked Sandra Sterling, who's effectively the mother of Alton Sterling, who raised him as a young child, what that video would mean to her to see that video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDRA STERLING, AUNT WHO RAISED ALTON STERLING: Shame on him and shame on him and his committee for making that decision that he made on Alton Sterling. And for all the people that say that Alton Sterling was a bad man and he should have been killed, shame on y'all for that. Because you know what? You all have kids, too. And to put Blane Salamoni back on the streets of Baton Rouge, you're putting a killer back on the streets. So you watch your kids at night. That's all I have to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:29:55] VALENCIA: You may have noticed that Sandra is now in a wheelchair. That's over the course of the last two years. She's had a couple of strokes. The family attorney says the health concerns that they have are related to all the pressure and the stress that the family has gone through. They went on to say that the Baton Rouge Police Department is filled with bullies and that they will continue on with their civil lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Police Department and the two --