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White House Press Briefing; Interview With Speaker of the House Paul Ryan; White House Breaking As Trump Taunts Russia About Syria Strike; NYT: Cohen Raid Sought Info on "Access Hollywood" Tape. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 11, 2018 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with a torrent of breaking news in our politics lead.

"The New York Times" dropping a major development on the raids on President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, reporting that FBI agents were seeking all records related to the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape, which I'm sure you remember, in which then private citizen Donald Trump made some vulgar comments about women, to say the least.

Earlier today, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced he will not seek reelection and will leave Congress in January, the 49- year-old Ryan denying it had anything to do with the current political climate, calling it a personal decision, noting that he's been in Congress for two decades and saying he no longer wants to only see his wife and three children on Sundays.

That announcement comes at a perilous time for the GOP, a party in danger of losing control of the House come the November midterm elections.

We are going to cover all of this today. Speaker Paul Ryan is going to join me shortly.

We're also, of course, monitoring the White House briefing, which may start at any moment.

My panel is here with me.

Let's start with them.

So, David Urban, big supporter and defender of President Trump, what do you make of this? One of the things that the FBI is looking for is information related to the "Access Hollywood" video. Perhaps this has something to do with Michael Cohen trying to keep out of sight damaging information about President Trump.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. And perhaps it doesn't. And that's what we don't know, right? And I

think that the FBI action may be a bit heavy-handed. We heard professor Dershowitz, Alan Dershowitz. I watched him on this network earlier this morning talking about there are many, many avenues to find information out, right, without raiding the president's personal lawyer.

You get -- I'm sure they could find out information about this "Access Hollywood" tape through a variety of different channels without kicking down the door of the president's lawyer, going in and rifling through his stuff.

So, I think they could have done it a little bit differently. You heard Mark Meadows today in the House just a little bit saying that the Freedom Caucus is a little bit upset with this as well, because they feel like they've been asking for documents and production from the FBI for a long time, and they're not getting what they need.

But you're hearing from a lot of different folks, not just folks who support the president on this one.

TAPPER: Jen Psaki, what is your take on this?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I'm not a lawyer. I don't think any of us are lawyers.

TAPPER: David is.

PSAKI: Oh, David. OK, sorry.

URBAN: I play one on TV.


PSAKI: I think you can validate it is not easy to get a search warrant. So, whether you like what they did or didn't get, there is justification for it. We don't know what that is because it hasn't been made public yet. We will see and we will learn more.

We don't know what they had exactly and we also don't know what they got out of it, because we don't know what Mueller has. I think the most interesting piece of this is how Trump reacted, which was to completely freak out and melt down and make it look like he in fact was not an innocent man in this case.

TAPPER: All right, everyone, stand by, because, right now, I want to bring in the House speaker, Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin.

Mr. Speaker, thanks. Thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: I know it is a big day for you. And I do want to talk about your retirement in a second.

But, first, I want to get your thoughts on this "New York Times" story. They're reporting that the FBI, when it raided the offices of President Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen, they were looking for information about the "Access Hollywood" tape and possibly attempts by Cohen to suppress damaging information about Mr. Trump.

I know, after the "Access Hollywood" tape came out in October 2016, Mr. Trump was asked not to appear at an event for you. Now it is back in the news in a major way.

This must bother you, "Access Hollywood," Stormy Daniels, Karen McDougal. At a certain point, it must be embarrassing.

RYAN: Well, look, I didn't even read the article. I'm obviously familiar with what you are talking about.

So we're pretty focused on just getting our work done here. And so this is something that I will let you guys speculate about. Right now, I'm busy trying to get things done in Congress. We have got a big agenda here.

And so that is kind of where my focus is. And I don't really have much punditry to offer you on this. And, look, I just think the way the president ought to handle this is compartmentalize it and focus on doing your job.

We have got issues with Syria. We've got a balanced budget amendment we're passing this week. We have got a lot to do. And that is what I'm focused on.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about your retirement, obviously a big announcement.

I know you said you want to spend more time with your wife and kids, obviously very understandable. You have said things to me like that privately as well.

I do want to get your reaction, however, to some other speculation out there.

Listen to the former Republican governor of New Jersey talking today about your decision. He said -- quote -- "It is a big indicator that the speaker doesn't think he would be speaker anymore. If you are a betting person, you're betting on the Democrats for the House in the fall" -- unquote.

Now, again, I know family played a huge part in this decision, but isn't Governor Christie correct that the odds are that you wouldn't be speaker anymore come January?

RYAN: No, actually, I really don't believe that. I think that's just not true, because we have an excellent track record to run on.

Look at what the economy is doing. Look at wages. Look at bonuses. Look at tax reform. Look at the regulatory relief. We just rebuilt the military. That is actually taking place.

We have actually passed an agenda into law. We are one of these crazy people that actually said what we would do while we campaigned, won the election. Now we're doing it. And it is making a positive difference in people's lives. So I think really we are going to have a very good story to tell.


So I'm confident we can keep this majority. It's one of the reasons why I was comfortable making this decision, actually, Jake. In a funny way, I decided to do this. Number one, as you know, my kids are now teenagers.

They have only known me as a weekend dad because they got -- they were born after I was elected to Congress. So that's a personal decision.

But I was able to make that personal decision because I feel like we have put our majority in a good place, because we have gotten a lot done. It is making a big difference in people's lives. So I'm confident we're going to be able to hand -- I'm going to be able to hand this gavel over to another Republican speaker.

And because of that list of accomplishments, I actually feel content and confident. Therefore, I feel like I can do what I have always wanted to do, which was to be a full-time dad with my wife for at least part of my children's upbringing, because, if I do another term, that is really all they will ever know me at home, is a weekend dad.

And that is just something I just can't live with.

TAPPER: There are also a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill speculating that President Trump hasn't exactly made your life as speaker any easier, even though he obviously signs your bills, as a Republican president would.

I do know that you have also had concerns -- sometimes, you voice them -- about some of the ways President Trump has conducted himself.

Take a listen to Republican Senator John Thune -- he's a member of the Senate leadership -- discussing your relationship with President Trump.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: That has been a little bit of a difficult marriage from the beginning.

They are very different in terms of temperament and character.


TAPPER: Very different in terms of temperament and character.

And I want to ask you, because you are talking a lot about your kids today. What do you tell your children when they ask you about the president's temperament and character?

RYAN: They don't really ask me about the president's temperament and character.

They -- we try not to talk about these things. I try to spend my time talking about what is going on in their lives. But to get to the point you're asking me, yes, we're very different people.

I'm from the Upper Midwest. I'm not from New York. We're from a different generation. So we definitely have different styles. But what we learned after we got to know each other, because we didn't know each other at all in the campaign -- and, yes, we had a pretty -- we had a lot of friction in our relationship.

What we learned is, we have a common agenda that we agree on, and we want to get it done, and we know it's going to make a big difference in people's lives. And that is what we were elected to do.

He got elected president. I got elected speaker. I think it is our job on behalf of the people we represent, the people of this nation, to focus on their problems, get things done, make a big difference. And that is what we're doing. And that is what I'm proud about.

TAPPER: So I understand what you are saying, but, obviously, it is more than stylistic, though.

It has to do with you both have very different visions of the Republican Party. I know you can come together on issues like repealing and replacing Obamacare or tax cuts. But in terms of the message of the Republican Party, you disagree.

And that has -- the deal you have made to try to get these things done for the American people has subjected you to criticism.

Ron Brownstein wrote today -- quote -- "Paul Ryan chose to tolerate both Trump's personal excesses and his racially polarizing words and deeds as the price worth paying to advance Ryan's own top priorities, cutting spending, regulations and above all taxes. The result was that Ryan, more than any other prominent Republican, personified the devil's bargain the GOP has signed with Trump."

What is your response when you hear criticisms like that?

RYAN: Yes. Look, I have known Ron for 25 years.

The -- I don't see getting things done for the country, keeping your promises, making a difference a devil's bargain.

Look, we have a divided -- we have separation of powers. We have three separate, co-equal branches of government. We have many different kinds of Republicans. The secret to success, from what I see, is getting all these different kinds of Republicans to form a coalition government that can actually deliver.

That is what we have right now. I'm grateful for the president to win the election, to give us this chance and opportunity to make a big difference in people's lives.

So I'm really proud of the accomplishments we have here. And so I don't see this as some Faustian bargain, devil's bargain, or whatever it is you call it. I see it as the country said, go fix these problems. You guys get the majority in the House, you get the majority in the Senate. Here is the presidency. Now go do something with it.

That is what we're doing. That is not devil's bargain. That is actually doing what the people in this country asked us to do and keeping our word. And I'm very proud of that fact.

TAPPER: So, if I -- if a year ago, two years ago, somebody asked me, what are the two most important things to Paul Ryan, I would have said tax cuts and --

RYAN: Tax reform.

TAPPER: Tax reform. Tax cuts. Tax reform. OK.

And entitlement reform or changing the way the social safety net programs, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, exist, so that they will exist in future generations.

One of them, you have done. The other one, you have not. The Congressional Budget Office, as you know, this week came out with a report projecting trillion-dollar deficits will start in 2020 if nothing is done, and, by 2028, CBO expects that deficit to top $1.5 trillion.

Now, the CBO says this is largely, not entirely, but largely because of the tax cuts.

Take a listen to Republican Senator Bob Corker. He said -- quote -- "This Congress and this administration likely will go down as one of the most fiscally irresponsible administrations and Congresses that we have had."


Do you disagree with Senator Corker?

RYAN: I do disagree with that.

If you take a look at the new projections, which are similar to other projections we have seen from CBO for many, many years -- I used to authorize that agency as the Budget chair -- we always knew we were going to have pressure on deficits hitting a trillion dollars because of baby boomers are mandatory spending, which is entitlements, which is two-thirds of our budget.

If you take a look at their forecast over the next 10 years, discretionary spending rises about $300 billion. Tax revenues still increase. Entitlement spending increases $2 trillion over the next 10 years.

So this is the issue. That has always been the issue when it comes to debt and deficits in the future. And, yes, that is one of the things I have talked about forever. And, Jake, I have got to tell you, I'm particularly proud of the fact

that the House, ever since I was Budget chairman to this term of Congress, has passed budgets that not only balance the budget, but pay off the debt.

Last year, we passed out of the House -- now, it didn't go into law and that is one of my regrets -- but we passed out of the House the single biggest entitlement reform bill Congress has ever considered. It would have lowered health care premiums. It would have shaved trillion dollars off our long-term debt.

And, unfortunately, that bill did not pass the Senate. But it did pass the House. And I'm proud of that fact. So, yes, we got a lot of work to do, but I do really feel that I have helped contribute to advancing this cause of dealing with entitlements in a serious way.

And here's the irony of it all. I really think we can make these entitlements better. I think these entitlement programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, they can work better for future seniors, and we can get this debt under control.

But we have to reform these programs. We have not had bipartisan consensus on how to do that. We were able to get a bill with a party- line vote only out of the House to do it just this year. And I wish we could have passed that into law, because I thought it would have made a great difference.

But, nevertheless, I'm proud of the fact that I have -- we have advanced these issues. These issues aren't going away. And I think we're closer to a consensus than where we were just a couple of years ago, when we started talking about these issues.

TAPPER: I have two more questions, and then I know you have to go.

One is, and maybe it is early for you to be retrospective and looking back at your career in Congress, but can you think of what your best moment in Congress was and what your worst moment was?.

RYAN: Worst moment. Losing the majority in '06 was a pretty ugly time, when we lost that majority.

Losing the 2012 election was a pretty tough moment for me. I was on the ticket with Mitt, as you know. Those were tough moments.

I think getting tax reform done was one of the best moments. That's something I have been working on for over 20 years. Ever since I worked for Jack Kemp, I have been working on tax reform. I think it is critical to laying a strong foundation of economic growth.

I think there are a lot of things in this tax bill that help advance our poverty-fighting agenda, like enterprise zones, social impact bonds. There's a lot of things here that a lot of Americans don't even know about yet that I'm really proud about it.

And I'm excited about advancing some issues I really care about that. And that is really what I'm most proud about. TAPPER: And, lastly, I find it hard to believe that January will be

the last time you're on the political scene.

I find it hard to believe that you won't run for Senate or governor or president some day. You're shaking your head.

RYAN: Yes.

TAPPER: You don't think -- there is no chance you are going to reenter politics down the road?

RYAN: Well, not while my kids are growing up, and obviously not in the near future. I really don't see that.

I really thought when I took this job, Jake, that this was the probably last elected office I would have. I'm not going to run for president. That is not my plan. I'm not going to do that.

I really want to spend time doing the things that I have just discussed doing. I'm always going to advocate for the causes I have, but, right now, the last thing I'm thinking about is running for something.

TAPPER: Well, I believe that. But we will see.

I'm going to believe that you -- that we will see, because your kids are teenagers. They are going to be out of the house soon enough. That is why you're going home, right?

All right, House --

RYAN: No plans to run for anything, and I -- I really don't think I will change my mind.

But thanks, Jake. Appreciate it.



House Speaker Paul Ryan, thank you so much for your time.

RYAN: You bet.

TAPPER: And best to your family.

RYAN: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is holding the briefing.

Let's listen in.



QUESTION: What about an enemy, though? Are they an enemy, though, of America at this point?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: That is something that Russia needs to play a role in determining. We hope that they will continue -- or not continue -- I'm sorry -- to be a bad actor and make some changes in their behavior.

But that is something that Russia will have to play a role in determining.

Sorry, Francesca. I'm going to keep going.


APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sarah, as you say all options are on the table when it comes to Syria and Russia, has diplomacy been exhausted? That's an option as well.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: As I said, all options are on the table.

A. RYAN: So, has not there -- and are you saying that --

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, all options are on the table. That contains a number of different things.

A. RYAN: So, diplomacy could still be in play?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: It could be. But there are a lot of other options that are also on the table.

QUESTION: Four senators, two Dems, two Republicans, have a bill to ensure that the special counsel isn't fired for political reasons.

[16:15:04] Does the White House support that bill? Does the White House think a bill like that is necessary?

SANDERS: We don't have an administrative policy on that right now.


REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah.

Two questions. On Monday, I asked you if president had contacted President Macron and Prime Minister May about an alliance with France and England, not unlike that -- that President Obama tried to forge in 2013. He has had two conversations with both of them. Have there been any new developments? Has he spoken with any other world leaders, especially those in the central Europe about a larger coalition instead of the U.S. going it alone in Syria?

SANDERS: We've had regular contact with regional allies and partners, including Israel and Saudi Arabia, France and the U.K., as well as a number of other countries at various levels. We've provided read-outs of the conversations the president has directly had. But both are -- the national security adviser as well as the secretary of defense, the acting secretary of state and a number of others in the administration have had regular contact with their counterparts from a number of other countries.

REPORTER: And the other thing I wanted to ask, the president has a good relationship with Congressman Scalise and a good personal relationship with his family. What does he think about the reports that Congressman Scalise will run for speaker soon?

SANDERS: The president has a great relationship with a number of members in the House of Representatives who support his agenda. And he looks forward to working with all of them over the course of the next six and a half -- seven years I guess.


SANDERS: Tamara?

REPORTER: Yes. Is the president considering firing or in other ways pushing out Rosenstein?

SANDERS: I don't have any personal announcements at this front. David?

REPORTER: And, Sarah, just one other thing. Paul Ryan said today he's been given assurances by the White House that president isn't planning to fire Rosenstein or Mueller. Do you know where he's getting those assurances? Is it coming from the president? Is it coming from others? Where is it coming from?

SANDERS: Again, I don't have any announcements on that front.

REPORTER: Sarah, Senator Markey is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee said today that the president must come to Congress for authorization prior to another military strike on Syria and others who are also saying that. Does the administration intend to do that and if not, why not?

SANDERS: Obviously, the administration will follow whatever laws and regulations are necessary for any actions that we take and because we haven't laid out any specific actions that we plan to take. I can't tell you exactly what needs we would have to go to Congress with.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It sounds like the president hasn't left a lot of wiggle room. You said all options are on the table but when the president says, get ready Russia, they will be coming -- the missiles are coming, how is that anything but an announcement of a pending air strike.

SANDERS: That's certainly one option. But that doesn't mean it is the only option or the only thing that the president may or may not do. Just because he does one thing doesn't mean he can't do a number of other actions as well and he hasn't laid out the timetable which would be broadcasting his intentions. REPORTER: And one thing on Speaker Ryan's announcement, there were

fears up on Capitol Hill and we understand some in the White House that a Democratic wave is coming and could sweep the Republicans out of power in the House and that could potentially lead to impeachment proceedings that the Democrats could bring forward. What is the president's thinking on that? What is your thinking on that?

SANDERS: Like I said earlier, we're confident in the record that we have and the very successful first year and a half the president had in office and we expect to talk about that a lot. We'd love for you guys to talk about that a lot more too, and we'd be happy to send you some talking points if you need some guidance on that.

REPORTER: You think a wave is coming? You think a wave is coming?

SANDERS: We certainly think we have a great story to tell and we think America will be ready to listen to that and certainly has I think felt the impacts, certainly from an economic standpoint from this administration and we're proud of that.


SANDERS: I'll take one last next question right here. Andrew?

REPORTER: Just a follow-up. Is there anything Syria or Russia could do at this point to avoid military action?

SANDERS: I won't get ahead of anything, but certainly like I've said a few times today, all options are on the table. And we'll continue conversations with our allies and partners and move forward from that point. Thanks so much, guys. Have a great day.

TAPPER: All right. You've been listening to the White House press briefing, the White House saying that all options remain on the table concerning Syria and saying that President Trump has, quote, deep concern about the direction of the Mueller investigation.

Let me get back to my political panel.

Mary Katharine, we need to get your thoughts on this. Your thoughts on the raid and the hotel room and house.

[16:20:05] And apparently they're looking information about Stormy Daniels, about Karen McDougal and about the "Access Hollywood" tape.

HAM: Yes, I think the "Access Hollywood" part of this is very interesting. I'm puzzled as to what the alleged underlying federal crime is, but I'm mindful of the fact you have to hit a bunch of real bars and that there had be sort of consultation between DOJ, Trump's DOJ and New York to make this happen.

However, if we are in position or if we end up in a position where an FEC violation is what caused the sacking and raiding of a attorney's office who is the president's attorney, despite the fact that "The New York Times" editorial page decided today that attorney/client privilege isn't that important if you are innocent, it is really important, and I do think that would be not a great development. So I am hopeful there is something larger there.

TAPPER: Now the -- the standard, the rules and regulations for U.S. attorney and you know this better than I because you're an attorney, state --

URBAN: At least on this show.

TAPPER: Say it could be done, a raid on an attorney's office if there is evidence that the person is going to destroy evidence or there is evidence that there's no way that you could get this information, including with a subpoena, without raiding the office. It's a fairly high bar. But presumably, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York or the assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York got that permission from a magistrate.

URBAN: Yes, sure. And I still remain incredulous they couldn't get it from some other source. If there is banking involved, you go to the bank. There is another party involved to this other than Mr. Cohen presumably, you go to that source first. That is what I'm saying.

I think what Mary Katherine said is exactly correct. You know, attorney/client privilege is sacrosanct. There is the crime-fraud exception which has been debated and talked about on this network exhaustively, that, you know, the only time you get to pierce that attorney/client privilege is if there is a crime committed and so, this is some pretty high bar stuff and we'll have to see. But it's an extraordinary step to be taken for sure.

TAPPER: And, Jen, I mean, one of the things -- and this is all speculation since we don't know anything. But the question is if -- Michael Cohen has been the -- the accusation is made if he spent $130,000 to keep Stormy Daniels quiet about her alleged affair with President Trump and doesn't report that to the Federal Election Commission, that that's an election violation, that's an FEC violation. Theoretically, my payment that he made and didn't declare as an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign would also be a violation, including theoretically any payment to suppress an "Access Hollywood" tape or anything else.

PSAKI: Sure. And this goes back to the fact it is speculation and we have drips of the reporting of what the purpose or what they got justification for but we don't fully know. Guessing from what's over the past couple of months, we will know more soon because just a lot of it seems to come out. But it is confusing, again the bits and pieces, as to why that would have been the justification, but as we've all agreed on, there is a very high bar to getting -- to being able to get a search warrant and so, clearly, there is probably more there.

TAPPER: I want you to take a listen, Mary Katharine, to what Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, just said a few minutes ago about special counsel Robert Mueller. Take a listen.


SANDERS: The president certainly has been clear that he has a very deep concern about the direction the special counsel and other investigations have taken. This investigation started off as Russia collusion of which there was none. That has been very clear that nothing has come up over the last year and the president spoken at length on this topic. While the media continues to focus on this, despite the fact that there's been no evidence after a year, we're going to continue to stay focused on the issues.


TAPPER: Some Democrats say there actually is evidence of collusion. There is evidence of cooperation. You have very clearly the Russians get incriminating information about Hillary Clinton illegally. They offer it to the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign expressed its interest in it. Bravo -- you know, voila, I mean, it shows up on WikiLeaks.

HAM: Yes. And I also think that Trump Jr. meeting is the most damning thing we've seen. There is not the big smoking gun of a giant global conspiracy and I remain skeptical of -- that that exists. But, look, what she's doing there is the same thing that has been going on for several months which is a little bit of teasing of the idea, that well, we don't like this direction, there is a possibility that something might happen in the employment status of -- on Mueller.

Look, I think there is continuing to have people around him and her talking into keeping him and we will just have to see because he is a moment to moment leader.

TAPPER: But can you imagine -- I mean, obviously, the Ken Star investigation started off as an investigation into a land deal and ended up with the president -- you know, focusing on President Clinton having perjured himself and suborned perjury, et cetera, about lying about an affair. I mean, that's one of the issues that people have with special counsel and then special prosecutors.

URBAN: Right. So, we've been in town long enough to remember that's exactly reason the independent counsel statute was demolished and taken -- and pounded with a hammer and thrown in the trash because of these wide-ranging, freelancing, just kind of never-ending investigations.

[16:25:15] And I think that's what we're seeing here.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got a lot more to talk about, especially about the breaking news. New details about the "Access Hollywood" tape and the raid of Michael Cohen's hotel room, office and home.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Breaking this afternoon, stunning revelations about that raid at the office and hotel and home of President Trump's personal attorney Michael Cohen. "The New York Times" reporting this afternoon that FBI agents were searching for evidence related to that infamous "Access Hollywood" tape.

Cohen was spotted returning to his hotel in Manhattan today and was asked about the raid.


REPORTER: Are you not worried at all?



TAPPER: Maggie Haberman helped break the story for "The New York Times". She joins me now on the phone.

Maggie, thanks for joining us, as always. Your reporting stems from three sources briefed on the contents of the federal search warrant. Explain exactly what they are telling you.