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Newly Sanctioned Oligarch Has Ties To Paul Manafort; Documents: Mueller Using Info Related To Manafort Search; Trump: There Will Be Pain In China Trade Dispute; Tariffs Threat Adds To Wave Of Vague White House Policies; Trump Stands Behind Embattled EPA Administrator. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2018 - 11:00   ET



ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: We'll get you ready for all of the weekend's action. Erica, you know, I said beautiful yesterday, beautiful today, going to get rain on Saturday. That's when things will get interesting.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: It will get a little interesting. Rain better than the snow we're expecting in the northeast, though. I think you win. Andy, thank you.

Thanks to all of you for joining me today. I'm Erica Hill. "AT THIS HOUR" starts right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in for Kate Bolduan. We begin with breaking news, the Trump administration slapping new sanctions, naming names and getting more aggressive with Russia, going after more than a dozen senior government officials and several uber wealthy Russians with ties to Vladimir Putin.

This is payback for, among other things, interfering with the 2016 U.S. election and it is especially notable for a couple of individuals who have been targeted. Putin's son-in-law among them, a billionaire who is part of the special counsel investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russia.

CNN's Kara Scannell is taking a closer look at how these individuals fit into the Mueller investigation. But I do want to start with Michelle Kosinski. So, Michelle, what can you tell us about the key figure in these new sanctions, Oleg Deripaska.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, this is substantial. This is going after some big steps. So, you mentioned Deripaska, he's somebody thought to have had ties with Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, and also his partner, Rick Gates, both of whom have been indicted in the Robert Mueller Russia probe.

Deripaska made a lot of money and is expected to be deeply connected to the Russian government. In fact, the way it is described here by the Treasury Department, he actually presented himself as essentially being a member of the Russian government, even though technically he was not.

So that connection exactly wasn't mentioned within the sanctions material, but he's one of the several. I would call this a handful of top figures. So, we have Putin advisers, a Putin son-in-law who became extremely wealthy after marrying into the family.

We have the head of Gazprom, the huge Russian state-owned energy company, and on and on. So, these are significant figures. You have to say, though, that among the original list that Treasury was forced to put out by Congress when they passed the bill, mainly to punish Russia from meddling in the 2016 election, they put out a list of more than 200 people who could be targeted.

So, now we see 24 people targeted as well as a handful of other businesses. You're going to have questions, why relatively few sanctioned now, why did it take months to sanction these people? And also, the reason for these sanctions now includes meddling in the 2016 election.

But the way this was presented was it was a long string of Russia's bad behavior around the world that prompted these sanctions. In that string of bad behaviors, administration officials did mention this morning in talking to reporters that it includes Russia trying to undermine western democracies.

So, they only mentioned U.S. election meddling in a very general sense. Since then, though, the administration has put out basically a paper list of Russia's behavior and reasons for these sanctions along with more detail.

And in this material, they do spell it out, they say Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Now, when they're spelling out Russia's bad behavior overall, though, it is notable that they also don't mention the attack, the nerve agent attack in the U.K. just last month.

We're told by one senior official that the reason for that is they didn't want these new sanctions to appear to be a continuation of the tit for tat between the U.S. and Russia over that -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Wonder if that's avoidable at this point. Kara, you have reported on how the Mueller team questioned a couple of these oligarchs when they were traveling to the U.S. One of them even had his electronic devices searched while his plane was still on the tarmac. Connect the dots here for us.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: Well, Brianna, we don't know the names of the individuals who were stopped by Mueller. But what we do know from this list of those individuals that were sanctioned today is that a number of them do overlap with actors that Mueller is investigating as Michelle described.

Oleg Deripaska, he's the head of an aluminum company. He invested in a venture that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates has been involved in. Manafort also reached out through an in intermediary to Deripaska in July of 2016. According to the "Washington Post" offering private briefings while Manafort was campaign chairman. Now there is no indication the two ever spoke. But you can see how they overlap and Rick Gates is cooperating with the investigation, and as part of that cooperation has to talk about everything. He was also a deputy chairman of the Trump Inauguration Committee.

Another individual on the list is Victor Vexleburg, an energy oligarch and he attended two events of interest.

[11:05:14] He was at a dinner that Michael Flynn attended in December of 2015 with Vladimir Putin. That we know caused a lot of controversy. He also attended the Trump inauguration with the invite of a friend of his, according to his spokesman who told that to "The Washington Post."

Another name on the list, who is designated as a government official, is Alexander Torshin, a banker in Russia, also very closely associated with the NRA. He puts himself out as building the Russian equivalent of the NRA. He's attended a number of the conventions.

And we understand that Congress is looking at him. McClatchy has reported that the FBI is looking into whether he illegally funneled money into the NRA and to the Trump campaign.

So while none of these individuals have been accused of any wrongdoing, they are now put on this sanctions list, you know, which has ties to the election and it will remain to be seen whether Mueller makes any moves against them.

But, you know, we see now there are some connections between at least these three individuals and several people within Mueller's orbit

KEILAR: Kara and Michelle, great reporting. Thank you to both of you.

I do want to talk more about this now with Chris Cilizza, our CNN politics reporter and editor at large, and former U.S. attorney, Michael Moore. Michael, included in this list is a gentleman we were just talking about, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire who has been connected to Paul Manafort, who is now under indictment for money laundering allegations. Did these sanctions back up the Mueller investigation?

MICHAEL MOORE, PARTNER, POPE MCGLAMRY LAW FIRM: You know, I think it probably sheds some light on the reality that there has been Russian meddling and that there has been Russian involvement and I said this will be a money case and they'll follow the money.

I think the timing of the release of the sanction is unique. I don't want to say that the public is being played by Trump, but it seems like every time we have any type of pressure or negative press about the Trump administration, whether Pruitt, whether that be porn stars, whatever it is we turn around and suddenly something happens with some Russian sanctions. These things have been in play for a long time. There was an order under Obama's administration to create a list of the Oligarchs and suddenly now we're moving forward on sanctions. So, I don't know how much it really gives credence to the Mueller investigation.

I think that's already there. I think what it does is it simply affirms the fact that there has been Russian involvement in our elections. And as I say, at the end of the day, I think we'll be talking about money.

It does concern me because when I heard about back channels and discussions with Russians, these things have been out there, the sanctions possibility has been out there for so long. You got to wonder did some people already have word, did they move assets?

Did they close business arrangements, have they shifted assets to other family companies? I don't know. I don't want to be conspiratorial about that. It seems like a long time to wait.

KEILAR: Well, and actually, I think that is a very real concern because when Congress almost unanimously passed sanctions and the administration missed the deadline and then decided not to go forward with them at the time, that was the main concern of so many experts, that it would allow those close to Vladimir Putin, to figure out a way to shelter their money.

You know, Chris, some of the experts that we've been talking to here on CNN, they say when you bring up -- Mueller looking at oligarchs and then you have sanctions, they say actually this is a good thing.

Because what it means is the FBI and the Treasury Department, which, you know, they're both a part of the intel community, it means they're talking to each other, they're sharing information and that they're taking action against bad actors. But does it also undercut the president and what has been soft rhetoric?

CHRIS CILIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: OK, so, on point one, I think that's largely true. Bringing the full force of government and government coordinating, which is no easy thing on --

KEILAR: And it doesn't happen all the time.

CILIZZA: Very rarely happens. Donald Trump aside, very rarely happens in any White House, in any administration, is a good thing. And I'll note many Russia experts that I talk to, that we heard from on our air, said the way that you get Putin to pay attention is you go after the oligarchs who are his friends.

Because if they feel squeezed, then they complain to him and then he feels under more pressure now. That puts aside your point, which I think is a good one, Brianna, about the delay in doing this, right, which does matter.

Yes. It is somewhat odd when you have the president of the United States being asked earlier this week about Vladimir Putin and saying I don't know what kind of relationship -- KEILAR: He was asked basically, is he a foe?

CILIZZA: Right. And he said he could be a friend or a foe, we'll see, and then you have this. I mean, what we have consistently seen, whether it is H.R. McMaster, no longer working there, Rex Tillerson, no longer working there.

[11:10:01] The folks who have been primarily responsible for the Russia relationship have tended to be more hardline in wanting to be more hardline than Donald Trump has been at least publicly. This is, I think, in keeping with that.

Chris, thank you so much. Michael Moore, appreciate you as well. We have some breaking news, a lackluster jobs report and the growing trade battle with China putting new pressure on the markets today. The president is threatening to get even tougher with china. We'll have details ahead.

Plus, the president finally breaking his silence on what he knew about the $130,000 payment to porn star, Stormy Daniels. And now Stormy's lawyer says this just changed the case in a huge way. We'll take a look at that.


KEILAR: President Trump is ratcheting up the trade dispute with China, saying that he'll consider an additional $100 billion in tariffs. In a radio interview this morning, the president even said he would be willing to take a hit in the stock market if it improves the trade imbalance with Beijing. Let's listen to what he said.


[11:15:06] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We've already lost a trade war, we don't have a trade war. We lost a trade war. The easiest thing for me to do would be just to close my eyes and forget it. If I did that, I'm in the doing my job. So, I'm not saying there won't be a little pain, but the market has gone up 40 percent, 42 percent. So, we might lose a little bit of it. But we're going to have a much stronger country when we're finished.


KEILAR: The tariffs are adding another jolt to a wild week on Wall Street. The Dow has been in the red all morning, as traders also deal with the news of a disappointing jobs report.

I want to go to the New York Stock Exchange with CNN Money correspondent, Cristina Alesci live for us. So, Cristina, what is concerning traders more, this tariff threat or this jobs report?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's definitely the tariffs. Look, I don't think a weaker than expected jobs report really helped the situation. But the market is really concerned about these additional potential tariffs and more so the escalating rhetoric from President Trump. You know, they see this as provoking our biggest trading partner and biggest trading partner, China, has other levers it can pull. This is a fairly risky way traders and even executives to get in the Swiss Bank to get to the negotiating table, right?

China can pull a bunch of other levers here on the economic front. It could make it difficult for U.S. companies to do business there, for example. It can limit tourism dollars coming into the U.S.

These are all things that investors and traders are talking about when you're publicly provoking your biggest trading partner in what attempts to be sort of a political message to really, you know, rally the base, and that is what is concerning traders here today.

We're down more than we were earlier this morning and so we're going to be monitoring the situation very closely.

KEILAR: All right, Cristina Alesci, we do appreciate the report. The president's talk of new tariffs has China already issuing threats of another wave of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods. Could it be that this is simply a negotiating tactic or something more?

CNN's Jeff Zeleny at the White House live for us. And, Jeff, just minutes ago, you heard from the president's chief economic adviser, what did he say?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We did, Brianna, good morning. The reality here is Larry Kudlow, the president's chief economic adviser, has been coming out and speaking virtually every day for the last several days here, trying to ratchet down the rhetoric and trying to explain this is all part of a process.

That this is something that is being negotiated very much in public. But this is what he said a short time ago when we caught up with him on the north lawn here at the White House.


LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: We're not running a trade war. If you read this thing, you'll see. This is just a proposed idea which will be vetted by USGR, and then open for public comments. So, nothing has happened. Nothing has been executed. There is no there, there yet, but there will be.


ZELENY: So, Brianna, this is something we have heard all week long from Larry Kudlow, who, of course, is basically on his first week on the job here, fresh off the commentary side of things at CNBC. He's saying this is a process, an ongoing negotiation, a discussion.

He said nothing is happening, but in fact, things are happening. Look at the markets there. I can tell you the White House is watching the markets very carefully, particularly that lackluster jobs report earlier this morning.

KEILAR: And, Jeff, moments ago, the president weighed in on Scott Pruitt, his embattled EPA chief. What did he say?

ZELENY: He did, indeed. This is something that we have been watching here very carefully. The headlines are racking up against the EPA administrator, you know, for misspending for a variety of conduct.

The president is saying he's still with him, but our reporting this week also suggests the president had still been earlier this week considering him as a potential replacement to Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Perhaps acting attorney general because he is already a confirmed cabinet secretary, that is likely now not to happen. But the president weighing in on that, a short time ago. This is what he said.

He said, do you believe that the fake news media is pushing hard on the story that I'm going to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions with EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, who is doing a great job, but is totally under siege?

Do people really believe that stuff? So, Brianna, interesting on a couple of levels here, he does say he's doing a great job. So, a vote of confidence in one respect, but also saying under siege.

One thing that is different to point out here, as we think of all of the other secretaries and top officials who left this White House, Scott Pruitt has a lot of conservative support here in the business community from others about the regulations and things he's actually doing at EPA.

The "Wall Street Journal" having a very strong editorial of support for him this morning, telling the president to stand by him, and he's hearing from a lot of business leaders. So, that is what is different here.

They like what he's doing at the EPA, rolling back a lot of Obama era regulations here. We'll see if that wins out or the negative headlines in the mind of the president, because, of course, this is the president's ultimate decision -- Brianna.

[11:20:04] KEILAR: Jeff Zeleny, thank you. There is a lot to break down. Let's discuss this with Josh Dawsey, White House reporter for "The Washington Post" and CNN political analyst.

Josh, it is notable this week, there have been so many pronouncements, right, sort of sweeping pronouncements that the president has made without really much policy. You got military at the border. We don't know how many guard troops there are going to be. What they'll be doing. Are they going to be armed?

You have the withdraw from Syria, but there's no timeline, and now maybe $100 billion in additional tariffs on Chinese products, but the details are vague, we don't even know if this is -- if this is going to happen. What is the president doing here?

JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president has gone, frustrated for months. Our sources indicate it's kind of being slow walked and having advisers around him who do not necessarily support or try to at least morph some of his own agenda.

And what we have seen in the recent weeks from the president has been unchaining to say exactly what he wants to say. Troops at the border, his own press shop wasn't prepared to roll that out.

Pulling out of Syria, that's' a decision that is contradicted or contrasted by a number of his national security advisers who do not necessarily think that's a good idea, and more tariffs, which he's been warned against by many people.

But the president is increasingly telling folks, my instincts are right. One thing he's learned in this offense is the power of his Twitter feed can make the entire government apparatus go into overdrive.

So, the president can post something quickly and then different agencies, top advisers have to go into place of implementing it. There are times we have seen with the transgender troop ban last year, the president was tired of the discussion, tired of the lawyers telling him this and that, he just tweeted it.

And we're seeing a lot more of that these days. The president coming to a gut decision, deciding he's ready to move forward on something, and tweeting it without looping it out of key people and having everyone else kind of scramble.

KEILAR: Let's talk about Scott Pruitt who heads up the EPA. It is true that on the left you have people who really have him in their sights because they just hate the agenda that he's promoted, but look at all of this bad behavior, right? Renting a room from a lobbyist, he raised salaries of his aides, asked security to use sirens so he could go through traffic to dinner, he reassigned staffers.

When they told him that there would be problems, because you have five times that officials warned him about this according to the times, and then those folks were reassigned or demoted, I mean, the list goes on and on as you see here. Can he really move past this?

DAWSEY: That's a good question. There's a curios dynamic here at play. You have a president who does not like to see a cascade of bad stories about a cabinet member. We have seen this time and time again. The president initially supports someone and then his support fades as stories build into a crescendo.

Here it is hard to know what is going to happen. Unlike some of the cabinet secretaries who have been deposed, the president is also hearing from folks on the right who really like Scott Pruitt. McConnell allies say it would be very difficult if not impossible to confirm a new EPA head.

There's no deputy in place now. So, there are some factors that are mitigating Scott Pruitt's, you know, negatives on the other side on his ethical conduct and problems he has. But it is hard to imagine based on conversations that I and my colleagues have had with folks on the White House that if this drumbeat of stories continues, that the president sticks by him forever.

Now, the stories could stop, things could change with this president as we have seen time and time again. He will make a decision on the gut and I think what Scott Pruitt, he certainly is in dicey territory, you see what the president tweeted earlier, totally under siege.

Those cannot be calming words for Scott Pruitt to see on the Twitter feed, but he has not made an indication he's ready to make a move yet. I think (inaudible) presidential personnel purgatory again today.

KEILAR: Presidential personnel purgatory, I love it, Josh Dawsey. You have a wonderful Friday. Thanks for being with us.

DAWSEY: Thank you so much.

KEILAR: Coming up, for the first time, the president breaks his silence on that $130,000 payment to porn star, Stormy Daniels, denying that he ever knew anything about it. Stormy's lawyer now celebrating the president's comments. We'll tell you why next.



KEILAR: This morning, President Trump's attorneys are asking for more time to respond to Stormy Daniels' lawsuit. This comes after Mr. Trump finally broke his silence, telling reporters he did not know that his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, gave the adult film star $130,000 before the election to keep her from talking about an alleged affair.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did Michael Cohen make this, if there was no truth to the allegations?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael Cohen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know where he got the money to make that statement?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: No, I don't know.


KEILAR: Well, Daniels' attorney, Michael Avanetti, says that the president's comments actually help her case. Check out this tweet. He said, "We very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump's famed lack of knowledge regarding the $130,000 payment as stated on Air Force One. As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath." Avenatti said he plans to refile a motion to depose the president and Michael Cohen. His first one was unsuccessful, we should mention.

For more on this, former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore back with us to talk about this. Michael, this is the topic we're always discussing, the two of us here. But is there truth to this? Does the president's denial actually help Stormy Daniels' case?

MOORE: I feel like I'm back in grade school and the letter of the week is p because we're talking about Putin, Pruitt, porn starts and payoffs. I mean, that seems to be the new --