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Attorney For Stormy Daniels Seeks To Depose Trump, Cohen; Another Day of Trump's Uncharacteristic Silence on the Stormy Daniels Story; North Korea Leader Makes Secret China Trip Ahead Of Trump Meeting. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2018 - 11:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. We do have breaking news, at this point in time, the attorney for Stormy Daniels ramping up the legal offensive asking a federal judge for permission to depose President Trump.

Michael Avenatti wants to question the president under oath about the hush money payout to keep Daniels silent about her alleged affair with the future president. Avenatti also wants to question the president's personal lawyer.

Michael Cohen has said that he paid $130,000 out of his own pocket and without his client's knowledge a week and a half before the 2016 election. The depositions could decide whether any campaign finance laws were broken.

And M.J. Lee is here with us. So, M.J., what is Stormy Daniels lawyer asking for?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, what he says he wants is to force Donald Trump to essentially tell the truth. In filings that were made overnight, he is asking to depose both President Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, each for no more than two hours.

And essentially wanting to ask them, what did they know about this hush agreement with Stormy Daniels from 2016. Now, a hearing date has been set for April 30th. So that will be coming up pretty soon. And Avenatti says when Donald Trump is asked and forced to tell the truth, they are going to be a number of lies that are exposed. Here's Avenatti this morning.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: We want to know the truth about what the president knew, when he knew it and what he did about it. As it relates to this agreement, we're going to test the veracity or the truthfulness of Mr. Cohen's, his attorney's statements. And we're confident when we get to bottom of this we're going to prove to the American people that they have been told a bucket of lies.


LEE: Now Brianna, we have not heard directly from Michael Cohen this morning responding to all of this, but we did get a statement from David Schwartz, he is one of Cohen's lawyers and serving as a spokesperson.

Here's what he said, he said, "All of this is a reckless use of the legal system in order to continue to inflate Michael Avenatti's deflated ego and keep himself relevant. His statements are ludicrous when he asked where Michael Cohen and Donald Trump are.

He knows they are following the rules of the court. They are handling the court in a case of competent jurisdiction and as lawyer he needs to do the same." Now on the question of whether it is actually realistic to depose the president of the United States, Avenatti is trying to make the case that there is precedent for this.

He is pointing to a Supreme Court ruling that has to do with former President Bill Clinton, and he is saying the Supreme Court has already decided that a sitting president can be deposed and if that was a law then, then that is still the law now.

KEILAR: And M.J., you also have some new details on a meeting last week between Avenatti and the lawyer for President Trump. Tell us about that.

LEE: Well, it's really fascinating, Brianna, because there's been a lot of confusion as to what President Trump knew, what his involvement was or wasn't and all of this hush agreement with Stormy Daniels, the White House is, of course, continue to deny there was even an affair in the first place.

But notably, Donald Trump's lawyer got involved in a lawsuit against Stormy Daniels recently. So, a lot of mixed messages. I was talking to Michael Avenatti earlier today and I asked him about this meeting that he had with Charles Harder, that is the lawyer representing President Trump.

He says that in this meeting Avenatti asked him is your client, Donald Trump, a party to this agreement, the agreement being the NDA with Stormy Daniels and Harder responded by saying we don't know yet, we are still researching it.

So, unclear whether Harder was unwilling to answer that question or whether he really didn't know the answer. It's all a little bit confusing. The final thing I want to quickly mention too is that when I asked Avenatti whether Stormy Daniels will be willing to accept a settlement, this is what Avenatti said.

"We would never consider any settlement that did not include everyone coming 100 percent clean with the American people. Kind of sending a strong message to President Trump.

KEILAR: Indeed. M.J. Lee, thank you. President Trump has released a new burst of tweets on China, North Korea and gun rights, but so far, another day of uncharacteristic silence on the Stormy Daniels story. CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House. Abby, what are you hearing about Trump's silence on these allegations?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Brianna. It is certainly unusual for President Trump to be so silent when it comes to people who are going directly at him in the court of law and other ways. But President Trump has not only not talked about Stormy Daniels on Twitter, but he's also not had any public events on his schedule for five days now.

Now his silence on Stormy could have something to do with the president simply holding back. Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, was pressed on this in the briefing yesterday and here's how she explained why President Trump hasn't weighed in.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why the silence, is someone advising him to be silent or following his own --

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think it's silent when the president has addressed this, we've addressed it extensively. There's nothing else to add. Just because you guys continue to ask the same question over and over and over again, doesn't mean we have to keep coming up with new things to say. We've addressed it and addressed it extensively and there's nothing new to add to this conversation.


[11:05:09] PHILLIP: Well, to our knowledge the president really hasn't addressed this $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels. He hasn't addressed any of the legal filings in the last several days and certainly hasn't addressed this new desire from Stormy's attorney to depose him in court.

And also, we have learned from our sources that the president has been advised to stay out of this and he's largely obliged in part because the Stormy Daniels controversy has not yet hit his poll numbers.

In fact, a recent CNN poll shows that the president's poll numbers are almost as high as they've been since he's become president. The Stormy Daniels controversy seems to not be penetrating and he has been willing to let that go.

Now in the meantime, as this legal debate heats up, it's clear that Michael Avenatti is trying to get under President Trump's skin every day with a new development on this. This time calling -- essentially implying that in a deposition he would be trying to get the truth out of President Trump and some responses to the underlying question here which is whether he knew about this $130,000 payment to Stormy just before the election -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Abby Phillip, thank you so much for that.

I want to bring in our panel now, Jackie Kucinich, a CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief at "The Daily Beast," and Caroline Polisi, a defense attorney specializing in federal and white-collar crimes.

Caroline, in the motion to depose that was filed this morning, Michael Avenatti outlines his legal argument and he cites Clinton v. Jones, which is the 1997 Supreme Court case that established a sitting president has no immunity from civil litigation. What's the likelihood that the president actually gets deposed or do you think this is just a stunt?

CAROLINE POLISI, FEDERAL AND WHITE-COLLAR CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, there's two questions here. I think it was a brilliant move on the part of Michael Avenatti and Team Stormy to cite this precedent. We all know how turned out for Bill Clinton. Of course, It led to the 1998 infamous deposition, which really ultimately led to his impeachment.

So, I think that this is a power play on the part of Avenatti and Team Stormy. The question of whether or not President Trump could actually be deposed, one from a legal standpoint, I think that is really strong legal precedent in the form of the unanimous Supreme Court case, which stated that a sitting president is not immune from civil litigation of this nature.

From moving forward with depositions and civil discovery like this, if it pertains to things that happened outside of the oval office. Now, from a political standpoint, I don't think he will be deposed. We've heard hints of the question of a potential settlement earlier today from Michael Avenatti.

My guess would be that this would all come to some sort of settlement prior to President Trump actually sitting down for a deposition because nobody wants him to be in that position. It's not a good thing for him to do. So, legally speaking, he definitely could be deposed about the from a political standpoint, I don't think it's going to get there.

KEILAR: Jackie, we heard Avenatti say this morning he wants to prove to the American people that Cohen and/or Trump are lying here. When you look at the polls, it doesn't really seem to affect President Trump, relative to himself and not predecessors he's doing pretty well at this point in time and people know about his alleged past behavior with women and it doesn't seem to affect him. So, what's the point then?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's baked in a lot of this. Let's not forget, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump were terribly trustworthy in the eyes of the American people when he was elected to president.

That said, the way this could matter is for the midterm elections because women are obviously the story of this election. And they are looking at this, we're seeing in those special elections, the last couple of months, women are going away from Republicans because they are tired of the chaos in the White House. And it's not just Stormy Daniels, it's a whole litany of things that have happened in the Trump administration, be it the moveable cabinet or some of the more spontaneous things the president has done when it comes to foreign policy and domestic policy. That is weighing more heavily, but this is -- and another thing is this Stormy Daniels issue that's not going away.

KEILAR: So, Caroline, it seems like when you look at Avenatti, some people who have been observing this say he's really kind of beating Trump at his own game in a way, right? He's attacking his opponents publicly and putting out alleged evidence on Twitter, but tweet this morning he needled Cohen and Schwartz and we can put that up, is that going to help or hurt him?

POLISI: I mean, it's helping him by all accounts. He's played every hand to his benefit at this point. I think it speaks volumes that President Trump has not come out publicly saying anything in his own defense. I think he's listening to his attorneys in this instance, which he doesn't typically do.

Because I think he knows that he has a lot of exposure here. I will say the interesting twist here is Michael Cohen's criminal exposure and how it could potentially play into the Mueller investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.

[11:10:07] So, I think that Donald Trump knows the stakes are high in this situation and he's keeping his mouth shut for a reason.

KEILAR: When you go to the White House and you ask them Jackie about -- we've seen this over and over again in the briefing, if the president knew about this payment, Sarah Sanders won't say that. Is that sustainable at a certain point? Is she going to have to answer that question?

KUCINICH: I don't know that she will. Unless the president himself weighs in, that's always the issue with these people in the White House briefing room, right? They are forced to change their story when the president changes his story. But as long as the evidence stays how it is and the president stays quiet, she can say that, you know, over and over again.

KEILAR: Caroline, why would Trump's lawyers not say this? Why would they not say whether they knew about the payment?

POLISI: Well, I mean, the question again goes to a violation of campaign finance laws, so, if this was an in kind contribution from Michael Cohen in an effort to get Trump elected, then that's -- that's a criminal offense and it could potentially be -- it's obviously being investigated by the Federal Election Committee.

So, I think that the wisest course from a legal perspective is to say nothing at this point? You can't get yourself into more trouble when you just deny, deny and you don't corroborate events.

KEILAR: Very good point. Caroline Polisi and Jackie Kucinich, thank you so much to both of you. Now coming up, we've come a long way from "Little Rocket Man." President Trump now tweeting that he's looking forward to meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong-un and that Kim feels the same way about him after the dictator makes a secret trip to China. Details ahead.

Plus, another major development in the Russia investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team says that former Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, interacted with a former Russian intelligence officer during the campaign. Stay with us.



KEILAR: A surprise trip to China, a meeting in the works with President Trump. Is the world on the brink of detente with North Korea and its reclusive dictator? A day after we learned that Kim Jong-un made his first foreign trip since he came into power.

President Trump reacted with this tweet, he said, "For years and many administrations everyone said peace and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there's a good chance that Kim Jong-un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting."

CNN's Ivan Watson is in Seoul for us. Ivan, take us through how all of this happened.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's pretty remarkable to consider you had a summit of two heads of state, first ever foreign trip for North Korea's leader since he assumed the throne more than six years ago in Pyongyang, and they kept it secret essentially, he traveled by train from North Korea to Beijing. It was a four-day trip in all.

He met for several occasions with China's leader, Xi Jinping and neither China nor North Korea made this public until the train was back across the border back in North Korea. The Chinese who have had frosty relations with the North Koreans in recent years, they basically brushed away the disagreements of the past.

Xi Jinping saying that it's a strategic choice to have this alliance. They've got to meet more in the future. Kim Jong-un mentioning that the possibility of denuclearization could be on the table, provided there be cooperation from the U.S. and from South Korea.

And then to carry on with the love fest, you have this recent tweet from President Trump, this morning, quote, "Receive message last night from Xi Jinping of China that his meeting with Kim Jong-un went very well and that Kim looks forward to his meeting with me. In the meantime, and unfortunately, maximum sanctions and pressure must be maintained at all costs."

He's saying you still have to isolate the North Korean regime economically, even though the North Koreans seem to be having international meetings on almost a weekly basis now -- Brianna. KEILAR: What kind of impact is this going to have on Trump and Kim Jong-un's potential meeting in a few months?

WATSON: Well, as I mentioned before, North Korea was not getting along terribly well with its most important ally and sponsor China. This has been going on for years really as it was conducting nuclear tests and it was firing ballistic missiles, China was imposing sanctions on North Korea.

Well, now, Xi Jinping has said that they are basically almost best friends again and even accepted an offer to travel to North Korea, sometime in the indefinite future. So, when Kim Jong-un sits down with the South Korean president next month for the first time and then after that with President Trump, he comes with the confidence that his alliance with China has been patched up. So presumably, with a stronger hand at the negotiating table -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Ivan Watson in Seoul, South Korea, thank you so much. Sue Mi Terry is here with us now, a former North Korea analyst for the CIA and senior fellow for Korea at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Sue Mi, Kim Jong-un's visit to Beijing was really a surprise. Does this complicate the president's position as he's setting up a meeting with Kim Jong-un?

SUE MI TERRY, FORMER CIA NORTH KOREA ANALYST AND FORMER WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Not necessarily, I don't think it really complicates the position for Mr. Trump. From Xi Jinping's perspective it makes sense to meet with Kim Jong-un. China does not want to be on the sidelines or be sidelined. Kim Jong-un is going to meet with Moon Jae-in and President Trump.

[11:20:00] Of course, they want to be part of this. China is North Korea's patron ally and security partner and so on. Just like the United States is coordinating with our allies, South Korea and Japan pre-Trump-Kim Jong-un meeting this makes sense from China and Kim Jong-un's perspective.

KEILAR: The White House released a statement about this meeting between Kim and Xi. It said this, quote, "We see this development as further evidence that our campaign of maximum pressure is creating the appropriate atmosphere for dialogue with North Korea."

Is that really an accurate assessment of what's happening here or is this more China not wanting to be on the sidelines and wanting to make sure it reasserts it has influence in the situation with North Korea after being pretty surprised by a potential Kim Jong-un Trump meeting?

TERRY: No, I think from China, it's intention, goal is not to be sidelined. It wants to be a player. It was a player during the six party talks process. It does not want to be sidelined. But I see what the Trump administration is saying in terms of Kim Jong-un being ready to meet with President Trump.

And there are certain amount of truth that we did -- the U.S. is pursuing maximum pressure, sanctions and did get China to do more in terms of sanctions, in terms of implementing sanctions. So, I can see why the Trump administration saying or trying to take credit for Kim Jong-un being willing to talk to the -- with the United States.

KEILAR: It's really interesting. These new satellite photos that show North Korea is firing up a new reactor that's capable of making plutonium. Does that threaten the status of these talks? What happens with that?

TERRY: Well, I think North Korea is trying to influence its leverage before coming into talks with the United States, but I a am -- you know, I think we should temper our expectation of how well this summit is going to go between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

We don't have a whole lot of time to prepare, may just around the corner and if the summit does not produce results I'm very concerned because then we have used this engagement card or negotiation card that does not hold a lot of different things we can do afterwards. We need to make sure that the summit goes well between Trump and Kim Jong-un.

KEILAR: The stakes are just so high here.

TERRY: Very high.

KEILAR: And as you say North Korea is trying to increase its leverage. I wonder what you think about the U.S. I want to talk about the John Bolton factor specifically. He is about to take over as national security adviser and recently made the case for a preemptive attack against North Korea. Does that change the calculus? Does that give President Trump some leverage to say that, you know, he's very serious and there could be major repercussions if a solution isn't found?

TERRY: I think it's part of the calculation that President Trump wants to come into this negotiation with North Korea from a position of strength. Mr. Putin is a known hawk, I can't even think of any other person who is more hawkish than Mr. Bolton on North Korea.

He's talking about regime change or potential strike on North Korea for many, many years. So, I think it is both North Korea and United States are trying to increase leverage and trying to come into the negotiation from position of strength.

KEILAR: All right. Sue Mi Terry, thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Coming up, a late-night court filing by the special counsel drawing what appears to be a direct line between the Trump campaign and Russia. We'll have those details next.



KEILAR: Prosecutors working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller say they have uncovered a link between Trump's Former Deputy Campaign Chairman Rick Gates and a person with ties to a Russian intelligence.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is here with us now. Shimon, according to the new court filing, Gates was in touch with the person during the presidential campaign?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Brianna. This court filing came last night, and it really has nothing to do -- in some ways it really has nothing to do with Rick Gates or Paul Manafort. This was an interesting memorandum that relates to a lawyer who was working for Paul Manafort or Rick Gates on some lobbying work for the Ukraine.

And what it revealed was that there were these contacts that Gates had with a Russian intelligence official. And specifically, the court documents say that Gates and "Person A," who is this intelligence official were directly communicating in September and October 2016 and how that is all pertinent to this investigation,

And yet the FBI who is investigating the Russian collusion and assisting the special counsel's office, assesses that "Person A" has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016.

And then the court documents go on to talk about how the attorney, Van der Zwaan, that during his interview with the Special Counsel's Office admitted that he knew of that connection. He told the special counsel and the FBI during interviews that they had conducted with him, that he was of these connections and goes on to say he is stating that --