Return to Transcripts main page


Attorney Seeks to Depose Trump; Trump on North Korea and China Meeting; Russia Link to Trump Campaign. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 28, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This update came. Now there's going to be even more.


Brynn Gingras, thank you so much.

And the next hour of news starts right now.

KEILAR: Hi there, I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington. INSIDE POLITICS with John King is going to return next week.

Breaking this morning, the attorney for Stormy Daniels formally asked 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 their alleged affair. Avenatti also wants to question the president's personal lawyer. Michael Cohen has said that he paid the $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 help decide if any campaign finance laws were broken.

CNN's MJ Lee here with us now.

So, MJ, what is Stormy Daniels' lawyer asking for here?

MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what he's trying to do, Brianna, is to force Donald Trump to tell the truth under oath. The motions that were filed overnight would try to depose both President Trump and his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and get them to answer questions under oath about the $130,000 payment, as well as the NDA that Stormy Daniels signed in 2016. All of this, of course, is about this alleged affair that she had with President Trump in 2006.

Now, a hearing date has been set for April 30th to go over all of this. And what Avenatti is saying is that if he is able to get Donald Trump and Michael Cohen to testify under oath, that he believes that a number of lies will be exposed. Here is Avenatti on that 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 voracity or the truthfulness of Mr. Cohen's, his attorney's, statements. And we're confident, Gayle, that when we get to the bottom of this, we're going to prove to the American people that they have been told a bucket of lies.


LEE: Now, we have not heard directly from Michael Cohen this morning, but we did get a lengthy statement from David Schwartz, his spokesperson. Here is a part of what he said. He said, what Avenatti is doing right now 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 asks where Michael Cohen and Donald Trump are? He knows they are following the rules of the court. They are handling the case in a court of competent jurisdiction, and as a lawyer he needs to do the same. This is politically motivated, and people see through this charade.

Now, Brianna, the question of whether it is actually realistic to depose the sitting president of the United States, at least Avenatti is trying to make the case that there is precedent for all of this. He is pointing to a supreme Court ruling that has to do with former President Bill Clinton. And he's essentially saying, if the Supreme Court has decided this a while ago, then what was the law then is still the law now

KEILAR: And you have some new details, MJ, on a meeting that happened last week between Stormy Daniels' lawyer and a lawyer for President Trump. Tell us about that.

LEE: That's right. Just keep in mind that there is so much confusion right now as to what exactly President Trump did or didn't know, how he was involved or wasn't involved in this hush agreement with Stormy Daniels. The White House, of course, has continued to say that this affair never took place.

Well, Donald -- Stormy Daniels' lawyer, rather, Michael Avenatti, spoke with me this morning, and he said that he had a meeting with Donald Trump's lawyer, Charles Harder (ph), last week. And in this meeting he directly asked him, is your client, Donald Trump, a party to this agreement? This agreement being the NDA with Stormy Daniels. And Harder responded, we don't know yet. We are still researching it.

The very final point I want to quickly make is, when I asked Avenatti, is Stormy Daniels willing to accept a settlement, here's what he said. We would never consider any settlement that did not include everyone coming 100 percent clean with the American people.


KEILAR: MJ Lee in New York, thank you.

Now, President Trump has released a new burst of tweets this morning on China, North Korea, and gun rights. But so far, another day of silence on the Stormy Daniels story.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House. Jeff, what are you hearing about Trump's unusual silence on these


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, it's unusual indeed, but the silence has really extended into other matters. We have not seen the president in a public setting here at the White House, a public event on his schedule all week long. That is quite unusual for him to go essentially the whole week so far without saying anything. But it is, of course, these questions about Stormy Daniels. White House officials simply do not want him to be in the position of being asked these.

But yesterday at the White House press briefing, we asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders why the silence.


ZELENY: Why the silence? Is someone advising him to be silent or is he following his own advice here?

SARAH 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 just nothing else to add. Just because you guys continue to ask the same question over and over and over again doesn't mean that we have to keep coming up with new things to say. We've addressed it. We've addressed it extensively. And there's nothing new to add to this conversation.


[12:05:11] ZELENY: So the line was, we've addressed it, we've addressed it extensively. But, Brianna, as you know, there are still some questions, many questions, hanging over this because this is an ongoing situation.

But I think the biggest question that is still unanswered by this White House is this, did the president know or did he authorize that payment of $130,000 in the days before the 2016 election or not? So that is something that, you know, the White House has simply not said yes or no.

So as this all goes on here, the president is meeting with his defense secretary, James Mattis, for a lunch this afternoon. And that is about all that's on his public schedule. We do know he's working on other things. We know he's been stewing about this, talking to some of his friends and advisers. But so far, all silent.

He has an event scheduled tomorrow in Ohio and then going on to Florida for the long Easter weekend.


KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

And joining me now, we have CNN legal analyst Page Pate. He's a criminal defense attorney and constitutional lawyer, and CNN Politics senior writer Juana Summers.

So, Page, in this motion to depose that was filed this morning, Michael Avenatti outlines his legal argument. In it he cites Clinton versus Jones. It's, of course, the '97 Supreme Court case that established that actually a sitting president has no immunity from civil litigation. Is part of that posturing? We know certainly how that ended for President Trump. And do you think that the president may actually be deposed here or is it just a stunt?

PAGE PATE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Brianna, it is certainly an aggressive move to go ahead and file a motion with a federal judge to see if they will order the president and Michael Cohen to submit to a deposition. But I do think he has a good legal argument for it.

This particular agreement does contain an arbitration clause. And 99 percent of the time, that's all the judge has to do. If you have an arbitration clause in the agreement, the judge is done with it. He sends it to an arbitrator. And you don't see the inside of a courtroom and you don't have this type of a deposition.

But, I think this arbitration clause and this entire nondisclosure agreement was so poorly drafted that now Stormy Daniels' legal team does have a solid legal argument that there was never any deal in place. And that is an issue that a federal judge has to pass on before the case is sent to arbitration.

So, yes, now that there's an issue for the federal judge, it is realistic and understandable to request some limited discovery, including depositions of the people who supposedly were parties to this agreement.

KEILAR: Juana, we heard Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Avenatti, say that he wants to prove to the American people that President Trump and that Michael Cohen, his lawyer, are lying. When you look at polls, this doesn't really seem to be having an effect on President Trump. Why do Avenatti's claims, why does all of what he's doing matter?

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: So I think it matters, not necessarily in the universe of polls. I do think that if more of this comes out, if the president does indeed have to go and be deposed, that it could speak to his credibility, his character.

But I think the bigger question here is what Pate was alluding to, whether or not there is actually a legal question here. You know, if -- whether or not -- if Stormy Daniels was paid money by Michael Cohen for reasons related to the presidential campaign, then that goes into campaign finance territory, and that could have significant ramifications, I think, for this White House.

KEILAR: We've seen, Page, that Avenatti really seems to be using Trump's playbook himself. He's teased some alleged evidence on TV and on Twitter. He's attacked his opponents publically. He put out a tweet needling Cohen and Schwartz this morning that says, can someone please ask Michael Cohen to call down to central casting again and order up a new hack to speak on his behalf? I'm bored with batting around David Schwartz. Is this something that's going to help or hurt him in court, or is that not the point?

PATE: I don't think it's the point, but it is interesting, Brianna. I think once this is all over with, perhaps President Trump is secretly thinking, I want this guy as my lawyer, because he is following the exact type of tactics we've seen Trump's legal teams use in the past when Trump was a private citizen. So the more he presses, the more aggressive he is in this litigation, the more likely it is that he's going to get Trump in a deposition. And then, that's where it becomes critically important because any question that the president answers under oath falsely in a deposition could be grounds for criminal prosecution of perjury, completely aside from any campaign finance violations or any Russia collusion. Lying under oath in a deposition is a crime.

KEILAR: Page, when you see Cohen's lawyer engaging publicly the way he has, I mean, what's your -- what's your assessment of that? Is that something that you think serves Michael Cohen well or even the interests of the president well?

PATE: That's a great point, Brianna, because right now Cohen is not just a lawyer in the case, he's a defendant in the case. And so there's a potential conflict of interest here. I understand Cohen does have legal representation, so he really needs to act like a defendant now and not like a lawyer He does not need to engage these folks outside of a courtroom or outside of a deposition. It's a different role for somebody to play who's used to being the lawyer, used to being the guy asking the questions. Now he's on the receiving end of that, and he needs to act differently because it's a totally different situation.

[12:10:32] KEILAR: Juana, we talked to Jeff Zeleny just a moment ago about this, did the president know about this payment? And the White House isn't answering. Sarah Sanders basically said, look, we've covered this over and over. Clearly she's covered it the way she wants to cover it. She doesn't want to answer the question. Is that going to change?

SUMMERS: I wouldn't expect that we'll hear any different from White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. When we hear from her at the podium later today, that's kind of the line she's decided to take. Though we would note that that particular question has not been asked and answered.

What I do think will be interesting is, when you have Avenatti out there in the press on every network, including ours, coming out here and kind of publicly jabbing at the president, even with this deposition which is clearly a move to kind of push the president to respond, will he become so irritated and so enraged by all of this bubbling up that he comes out on Twitter and says something? That's the putting (ph) I'm just not sure about.

KEILAR: Juana, thank you so much.

Page, really appreciate it. And coming up, President Trump striking a hopeful tone on North Korea after Kim Jong-un holds a secret meeting in China, but will the dictator really give up his nuclear program? We'll have details ahead.

Plus, new developments in the Russia investigation. The special counsel's team revealing that former Trump aide Rick Gates knowingly interacted -- he knew he was interacting with a man with ties to Russian intelligence during the campaign.

Stay with us.


[12:15:53] KEILAR: The president is striking an optimistic tone today on his proposed meeting with the dictator that he recently called little rocket man. On the heels of China confirming that North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un made a secret visit to the Chinese capital and met with President Xi Jinping, President Trump, this morning tweeting, for years and through many administrations everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is 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 senior international correspondent Ivan Watson in South Korea for us live.

So, Ivan, the president said that he spoke to the Chinese president about this secret meeting. What did he say about that?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's take a look at this -- let's take a look at this tweet that President Trump sent. He said, quote, received 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.

We do seem to have moved very far away from the era of insults, like little rocket man or Kim Jong-un calling President Trump a dotard, threats of fire and fury, to now this remarkable period of diplomacy with this surprise visit that Kim Jong-un made to Beijing. His first ever foreign visit since he assumed the throne in Pyongyang more than six years ago, if you can imagine. And he traveled to Beijing by train. The Chinese and the North Koreans avoided publicizing this, announcing the summit until after Kim Jong-un was back in North Korea.

The White House was quick to claim credit for this, saying it was the maximum pressure campaign that has pushed North Korea to engage diplomatically. And it's going to be a busy schedule because next month North Korea's leader will sit down with the president of South Korea. And then, after that, we expect at some point this historic meeting with President Trump himself.


KEILAR: How did -- how did you read that, Ivan? Did you read that, that the U.S. can claim credit for maximum pressure? I mean, and, obviously, it can claim credit for keeping up pressure, but that that would spur somehow this meeting? Or did you see this more as China trying to make sure that they're not on the sidelines here?

WATSON: Yes, so hard to tell because everything is so opaque in Pyongyang and they don't exactly give press conferences where you can ask these questions face to face. As for China's motivations here, it could work two ways. You know, China has been the historic patron of North Korea, but North Korea and China have not been getting along for years. And China has been tightening the screws on North Korea. The question here is, did the Chinese summon basically their proxy to Beijing ahead of expected meetings with South Korea and with President Trump to kind of give instructions, you could argue, or is this Kim Jong-un being very clever and leveraging the upcoming meetings with the South Korean president, with President Trump, to get an audience with the leader of China, who has kind of shunned him in the past? And we don't -- we simply don't have the answer to that right now.

What we do know is that North Korea is far less isolated internationally than it was just a few months ago, which means they probably have a stronger negotiating hand when they go into the meetings with President Trump, with the president of South Korea.


KEILAR: Ivan, thank you so much.

David Sanger is joining us now. He's a national security correspondent for "The New York Times" and a national security analyst for CNN.

So, David, what did you think about this, this meeting between Kim Jong-un and the Chinese president? What was your initial reaction when you heard this happened?

DAVID SANGER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, remarkable for a few things.

[12:20:03] First of all, it was a full state visit. It was not just Mr. Kim, but he brought along his wife. They were there for three days. They took this train, which, you know, the sort of luxury, bulletproof train. It looks like something we'd all take instead of some Amtrak trains, right?

But it also reflected the fact that the Chinese very much wanted to make sure that they were at the center of whatever negotiation was going to go on here, because if this negotiation goes badly, it's a big problem for the Chinese. They look at President Trump, and he certainly has been volatile on this issue. They look at John Bolton, the incoming national security adviser, and his advice about how to deal with North Korea has been very clear. Go to them, give them an ultimatum, tell them where to send all their nuclear material, give up nothing, and tell them that the alternative to this would be a military strike.

One of the most important dynamics is going to be to see what happens between President Trump and Mr. Bolton, because President Trump clearly wants to strike a deal here, and that's going to mean giving some things up. Something that Mr. Bolton has never discussed in terms of negotiating with the likes of North Korea or Iran.

KEILAR: So then what do you think about John Bolton and the timing, him coming in as the national security adviser? I mean this all comes -- it's not as if he's been sidelined by the position that the president is taking here. He knows that.

SANGER: Hardly, yes. Right.

KEILAR: So what is your expectation about how that plays into this, how President Trump, obviously, has got someone who -- there's no one more hawkish on North Korea than John Bolton. And this is going to be one of his closest advisers at this point in time.

SANGER: That's right, Brianna. And I think, you know, in part that may bolster President Trump's position. He's already done, I think, a fair bit by really cranking down on some sanctions that the Obama administration could have tightened considerably and did not when they were tied up doing other things, including the Iran deal. So I think the president deserves some credit for that.

But I think there is a concern that Mr. Bolton wants to have this meeting only to demonstrate that the North Koreans really will not denuclearize. And, frankly, we all forget, but there have been three or four previous agreements with North Korea in which they have committed to denuclearize, not only to us but to the South Koreans. And in each time they have fallen apart either because the North Koreans didn't feel that they got in return what they were promised, or because they felt that the United States was not ready to take a number of steps that they also put under denuclearization, which is pulling all of our troops and all of our forces and all of our hardware out of South Korea, which I'm having a hard time imaging President Trump agreeing to go do.

So while I think it's extraordinarily good news that the North Koreans have confirmed that they're willing to meet Mr. Trump, that they're willing to put denuclearization on the table, we have all seen negotiations like this before. And it's hard to imagine right now that the North would actually give everything up or that we could verify it if they did.

KEILAR: David Sanger, thank you.

And 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.


[12:27:53] KEILAR: There's some startling new information about one of the key players in the Russia meddling investigation. Robert Mueller's team says that former Trump Deputy Campaign Chairman Rick Gates was at one point before the election talking to someone with ties to Russian intelligence and that he knew that he was talking to someone with ties to Russian intelligence. That alleged connection is spelled out in a report that prosecutors filed about the upcoming sentencing of another figure who has pled guilty in the investigation, Dutch attorney Alex van der Zwaan.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is here to explain all of this to us.

So, what are prosecutors saying about who Gates was talking to, Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, yes. So in these court documents, and this really has nothing to do with any of the proceedings as it relates to Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. This is about, as you say, this attorney. Here they say they have indications, they have evidence that Rick Gates was communicating with a Russian intelligence official, someone that's working for the GRU, which is the military intelligence. And the documents, these court documents, go on to say that Gates and person "a," who is this intelligence official, that the special counsel's office at the FBI, alleges was talking to Gates, that they were directly communicating in September and October 2016. And the documents go on to say how that is pertinent to the special counsel's investigation. And they say that the agents who were assisting the special counsel's office, they assess that this guy, this person "a," was working for Russian intelligence and had such ties, meaning he had connection to Russian intelligence, in 2016.

And then it goes on to talk about -- these documents go on to talk about how van der Zwaan, Alexander van der Zwaan, in his interview with the special counsel, he admitted that he knew this -- that this attorney admitted that he knew the connection, stating basically that Gates told him person "a" was a former Russian intelligence officer with the GRU, which is the military intelligence in Russia.

[12:29:56] What's significant here is the date, right? The special counsel here talks about that. 2016, which is right around -- which is during the election, during the campaign. And it's specifically in October that Rick Gates is having these communications with this individual.