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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump Tells NRA Crowd "You Better Get Out And Vote"; Record Number of Women Running For Office In 2018; Soon: Trump Talks Tax Reform In Cleveland; NYT: Redskin's Cheerleaders Describe Uneasy Photoshoot; NYT: Trump Knew About Hush Money Payment Months Ago; WSJ: Cohen Gained Access To $774,000 During Campaign; Soon: Trump Talks Tax Reform In Cleveland; Judge In Manafort Case: Mueller's Aim Is To Hurt Trump; Hawaii Volcano Still Spewing Lava And Toxic Gas. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired May 5, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone and thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All eyes on the president today waiting to see if he'll respond to that bombshell report in "The New York Times." The president has been silent so far after taking off for Cleveland to attend a tax roundtable. But here's what "The New York Times" is reporting.

The paper claims the president has known for months about the $130,000 hush money payment his lawyer made to adult film star, Stormy Daniels, meaning the president was well aware of the deal when he said this in April.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: No, no. What else?

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?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I don't know, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. This in contrast to what his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said earlier in the week and now "The New York Times" reporting as well, saying that the president did know about those payments.

So, I want to go live now to CNN White House correspondent, Boris Sanchez. So, Boris, the president so far at least today has been mum on this issue. Has the White House issued any kind of response or will it?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No response just yet, Fred. As you noted, the president had an opportunity to respond as he departed the White House, leaving for some events today in Ohio. It does appear that the president isn't eager to answer the number of questions still swirling around this Stormy Daniels saga.

Namely, when did he first learn of this hush money payment to Stormy Daniels from Michael Cohen. Did he consent to that payment or did he know what he was reimbursing Michael Cohen for? Further, why did Michael Cohen deny ever being reimbursed by the president?

And why did the president allow his new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to appear on national television and contradict so much of what the president and the White House has been saying about Stormy Daniels when the president himself said that Giuliani did not have all his facts straight.

Many questions to be answered. Unclear if he's going to approach any of them today in Ohio though. We will be watching -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then, Boris, there's a separate report in "The Wall Street Journal" about Michael Cohen raising questions about whether he made other deals, Cohen making other deals for the Trump campaign based on lines of credit.

SANCHEZ: That's right, Fred, yes. "The Wall Street Journal" is citing some public records that indicate that Michael Cohen extended two separate lines of credit just as President Trump's career was taking off and as Cohen was seeking to protect the president, then Candidate Trump, from allegations similar to those being made by Stormy Daniels.

The first line was extended in November of 2015. The second in February 2016. In total, Michael Cohen had access to more than $770,000. Recall that Michael Cohen consistently said that he used his own funds to make that $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels and that he was never reimbursed.

Despite all of that, take a look at what Rudy Giuliani told "The New York Times." He says, and I quote, let's pull that up, just one sec, "Some time after the campaign is over, they set up a reimbursement, $35,000 a month out of his personal family account." Again, according to Rudy Giuliani.

"He added that overall, Mr. Cohen was paid $470,000 from Mr. Trump through those payments, which also included money for incidental expenses that he had incurred on Mr. Trump's behalf."

We're still digging to find out what those incidental expenses are, Fred. Notable that $460,000, way more than the $130,000 that Michael Cohen admits that he paid to Stormy Daniels -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK, and then you're in front of the White House. The president not there. He's in Ohio attending a lunch about tax reform. What more can you tell us about what's expected?

SANCHEZ: Yes. The president in Ohio where we are expecting primaries in the coming months. Of course, the president has been to Ohio a number of times in the past few weeks. This is a territory that is meaningful for the president.

He obviously won Ohio surprisingly in the eyes of many analysts. He's heading back there to promote some local Republican candidates and of course, to tout his tax reform success. One of the few legislative victories this administration has had. One you will hear them cite again and again and again as we get closer to the midterm elections -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Boris Sanchez at the White House, thanks so much.

All right, sharp criticism hitting Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team. This time, it's coming from a federal judge in Virginia, who says he believes Mueller's motivation is to oust President Trump from office. The judge is presiding over Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort's, bank fraud case brought by Mueller's team.

CNN's justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider, has the latest.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: A federal judge in Virginia seemed to reprimand the special counsel's team in their case against president Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

[12:05:07] So, Federal Judge T.S. Ellis even lost his temper at times on Friday morning while he expressed his doubt that the special counsel is acting within its scope or even properly following its mandate.

Now remember, Manafort is facing 18 counts, including bank fraud in federal court in Virginia. That's on top of the counts he faces in Washington. So, the criticism from his lawyers is that these charges, they don't relate to the campaign and, therefore, they just go too far for the special counsel.

So, Judge Ellis who is a Reagan appointee, he echoed some of those concerns and he said this in court. He said, you don't really care about Mr. Manafort's bank fraud, the judge told Michael Driben (ph) on the special counsel's team.

Instead, the judge said that the special counsel was only interested in Manafort because of what he could provide that would lead to the president's, quote, "prosecution or impeachment." The judge continued to say, that's what you're really interested in.

The judge also continued to say, we don't want anyone in this country with unfettered power. It's unlikely you're going to persuade me. The special prosecutor has the power to do anything he or she wants. The American people feel pretty strongly that no one has unfettered power.

So, of course, it was Friday morning. It was a hearing on Paul Manafort's motion to dismiss the Virginia case because he does contend the special counsel went too far in charging him with crimes that don't directly relate to the campaign. The judge will rule on that at a later date.

In the meantime, the judge will be getting access to an unredacted August 2017 memo from Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and it spells out the special counsel's authority. So, the memo will remain sealed and only the judge will see it.

But that will no doubt cast so many more light for the judge on how broadly the special counsel's powers are as to what they can investigate. And remember that this is the memo that explicitly said the special counsel could examine Paul Manafort's lobbying work in Ukraine and notably whether Manafort himself colluded with Russian government officials during the 2016 campaign. Jessica Schneider, CNN, Washington.

WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk more about this and other things. Joining me right now, Republican strategist, Noelle Nikpour, also a fundraiser for Giuliani's previous presidential campaign, and CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, Keith Boykin. Good to see you both.

All right, so let's begin with these powerful words coming from the Judge T.S. Ellis. So, Keith, what do you make of -- is there anything to this kind of open criticism coming from the judge?

KEITH BOYKIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, first take into consideration, this is a Republican judge who's making this announcement. But I don't think there's anything untoward or inappropriate about this special counsel leaning on Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, in order to get Trump or get information about Trump.

This is what prosecutors do. Yes, Paul Manafort may not be the ultimate target, but he is a pawn, if you will, in the process of getting to who the ultimate target is. And I believe that Paul Manafort.

At least I think Robert Mueller believes Paul Manafort has more information that could lead to the information -- lead to disclosures about Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, with whomever else. So, that's important that that process needs to go forward.

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Noel, given the judge is, you know, a Reagan appointee.

NOELLE NIKPOUR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Right.

WHITFIELD: That he expresses his opinion in the manner in which it happened, does that in any way jeopardize this case or influence this case or the outcome? NIKPOUR: Well, you know, Keith has a good point and I agree with this. I think that the judge is irritated and, finally, there has been a judge that has been a little irritated about the way this investigation is going. You know, I do think that Manafort's been a pawn, to get to the bigger fish, so to speak.

I think that, you know, a lot of people have felt this way and it was refreshing to see a judge get a little irritated about it, about how they feel like it's kind of a one-sided deal.

WHITFIELD: But does that mean that there isn't merit? Does that mean that there isn't merit for this case to proceed in the manner in which it's proceeding?

NIKPOUR: No, and you're right, there is merit, and I think Mueller and his team feels like there is merit in this. That's why they're doing it. But I think that a lot -- especially Republicans, you know, taking what the judge said aside, I think a lot of Republicans feel this way.

A lot of Republicans feel, you know, a lot of Donald Trump's base, they feel it's a witch hunt. And I think that a lot of people were very happy that this judge kind of called Mueller's team out by saying that, you know, you're targeting Manafort, you're targeting all these people, and they're pawns, trying to find anything they can find on Donald Trump.

BOYKIN: But if they did -- if he committed a crime, if he's engaged in federal offenses that he committed, then regardless of what the motivation is for the prosecution, he still deserves to be prosecuted.

[12:10:10] That's the point. That's not a witch hunt. If somebody commits a crime, they should be prosecuted --

WHITFIELD: But Noelle, is there a feeling if they are to, you know, come across an alleged crime, that it should be overlooked because --

NIKPOUR: No.

WHITFIELD: OK. So, what are you saying then?

NIKPOUR: No, I don't think that. I think the feeling is that they are trying to get Trump, they're trying to get anything they can, and I think that Trump has felt like that there is -- there's no collusion, that they've already been through this, and it started out, the basis of this has started out with Russian meddling.

That's where this started out. I think you're seeing a lot of -- this is mainly coming from a lot of Trump fan base and a lot of die-hard Republicans that are behind Trump. And they feel like he's got an unfair shake and that everybody's pretty much targeted him and a lot of people --

WHITFIELD: That goes back to the argument if you see stuff along the way, do you ignore it, or do you pursue it too? And the instructions say that, you know, there are wide parameters that the Mueller team has.

NIKPOUR: Right.

WHITFIELD: Go ahead, Keith.

BOYKIN: That's also part of the reason why Mueller's office referred the criminal case against Michael Cohen about the Stormy Daniel's payment to the Southern District of New York. He didn't pursue that himself.

So, it's not like he's on this witch hunt fishing expedition trying to find anything he can about anybody out there. When he finds an issue that's not directly related to his scope of this mandate, he has shown he's willing to refer to other counsel.

WHITFIELD: OK, so Noelle, you said supporters of Trump were happy to hear what, you know, Judge Ellis had to say but the president, too, was rather happy. This is what he had to say at the NRA event in Dallas yesterday.

He essentially says that this helps underscore his messaging that, you know, they're out to get him, and, you know, at whatever cost. And so how does this influence, Noelle, the narrative of Democrats leading into midterm elections? Because the president essentially says this is fuel for people to get out and vote.

NIKPOUR: Well, and it is. He's right about that because legal tell you something, every Democrat I've spoken to, they're outraged. They do not like Trump. They do not like what's happening in the White House. They feel like it is a disgrace. Really the only chance they have to replace this in the White House is to beat them.

I think with the blue wave coming up, I think part of the enthusiasm is the Trump impeachment. I think a lot of people are tired of it. So, this blue wave, this feeling of the blue wave, is met by impeaching Trump.

I think that's a lot of their messaging because one of the things that the Republicans have, when you get Republican talking points as a pundit like I am, we get, you know, to tout the economy, which is doing really good, the -- you know, the unemployment rate, we have a lot of good things on the economic side of the Republican platform.

So, the Democrats only message right now, if they don't like what's happening with Trump, is the impeachment movement because the economy isn't working.

BOYKIN: That's not accurate. The problem is, yes, you may be getting talking points, the GOP every day to talk about the economy, which by the way was fine under Obama but Trump denied it and said it was fake news. But the reality is today, Democrats are talking about a lot of different issues.

It's Donald Trump who keeps talking about these issues. He talks about Stormy Daniels. He talks about his Justice Department. He talks about Robert Mueller. He talks about Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama. He's consistently on Twitter and consistently off message.

So, if you have a problem with people who keep talking about these issues, you need to look at Donald Trump and the White House. He's the chief purveyor of all of all these discussions. If he had any message discipline, we wouldn't have this discussion.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll leave it there.

NIKPOUR: I'm just giving the Republican point, thanks.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. Noelle Nikpour, Keith Boykin, we'll leave it there. Thank you so much.

All right. Hawaii's most active still erupting and right now the lava may not be the biggest concern. It's the threat residents cannot see.

Plus, a shocking report, some NFL cheerleaders required to pose topless for a calendar with male ticket holders around and some of them even ordered to escort those VIPs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:50]

WHITFIELD: Extraordinary moments in Hawaii, over 450 earthquakes in 24 hours and spewing lava on the big island. That's what many people on that island have been enduring and many having only minutes to escape the lava from the Kilauea Volcano. People are now being told to ration their water even if they do remain on the island.

CNN correspondent, Stephanie Elam is live for us near Hilo. So, Stephanie, officials there say more potential danger is ahead.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Fred. As if it's not enough to not know where one of these fissures where the lava is spewing forth out of the earth, but then dealing with the air quality and the earthquakes. It's a lot for the people who have been forced to evacuate from their homes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM (voice-over): Volcanic eruption spewing molten rock, ash, and toxic gases on the Hawaii's big island. The eruption stemming from a series of cracks and Puu Oo's rift zone, miles from the Kilauea Volcano.

Video from earlier this week shows walls of smoke billowing as the vent of Puu Oo collapses leaving behind a red, rocky surface, similar to that of Mars, with gaping holes giving us a glimpse of the orange liquid magma smoldering below.

[12:20:10] And this time lapse shot last week shows gushing rivers of lava flowing as night turns to day. Residents are fleeing from their homes as forests burn and roads break open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You could feel the heat coming from the ground. Yes, there's heat coming up out of this.

ELAM: Officials warn that the sulfur dioxide levels are extremely dangerous. More than 700 structures and 1,700 people are within the mandatory evacuation area.

RANSON YONEDA, SUPERVISOR, PAHOA COMMUNITY CENTER (via telephone): Now we have about 100 people up here at the facility at the shelters. We just got another wave of them that were evacuated because the volcano and (inaudible) more off on the street.

CHELSIE SETTLEMIER, RESIDENT: Lava is coming out in Leilani. So, this is real.

ELAM: At the center of the activity lies the community of Leilani Estates. A resident there captured this lava fountain shooting over 100 feet into the air.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down the road, all we heard was a boom. What is that? And all of a sudden you smelled the sulfur, sulfur dioxide. We knew something was happen. Within minutes, smoke, and now we see the lava coming across the street and it's pumping right now. So, this fissure is opening up and this is our next eruption.

ELAM: The eruptions are part of a massive geological event set off by the collapse of the Puu Oo crater floor. That collapse led to hundreds of earthquakes this week which continued to jolt the big island.

DAVID IGE, HAWAII GOVERNOR: The tough part about this eruption is that it's unpredictable. We don't know which way the lava is going to flow, and we are planning actively for every contingency that we can think of.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ELAM: If you take a look out here now, you can see one of the plumes from one of the fissures, one of the eruptions we have seen, still billowing into the sky, now that the daylight has arrived here in Hawaii.

And because of all of these earthquakes, because of the eruptions here, Hawaii Volcanos National Park has decided to shut down. It is also closed. It's a major attraction here on the big island, as you know, Fred. Because of that, they're not taking any chances. Some of these earthquakes have been really large. One as large as 6.9 on the Richter scale yesterday.

WHITFIELD: Does that mean they've increased the number of flights out? Because usually flying in and out on the big island is very limited.

ELAM: It is limited. I have not seen evidence of that. You did hear people talking about it when we flew in yesterday from Los Angeles. But there's also the tale of two islands almost on this big island.

Because here near Hilo this is closer to where they're seeing activity but then on the other side of the island, it's fine. The people are fine, the air quality is fine. They may feel some of the tremors, but there are places you can go on the island and be safe.

WHITFIELD: That dry side versus the wet side. All right, Stephanie Elam, thank you so much. All right, appreciate it thank you. We'll check back with you.

All right. For more now on the dangerous conditions there on the big island, Meteorologist Allison Chinchar joins us now from the CNN Weather Center. So, Allison, what are among the biggest concerns, because there are many?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think the top concern is the sulfur dioxide gas mainly because people can't see it. You see the lava, you know to stop. You turn around. But the sulfur dioxide gas you cannot see.

Here's the thing people need to understand. In low doses, that can cause breathing problems in people who would never normally have any breathing problems. But at high levels, which they are seeing, the fire crews have reported toxic levels, it can be fatal.

I think that's the big concern. People want to take pictures and see. But you can't breathe that stuff in. You just simply can't. The sulfur dioxide is at dangerous levels. Those fumes are rising from those fissures along with the lava.

We're watching for additional fissures to open up. It's likely over the coming days that you will get some additional fissures opening up or cracks. The earthquakes are also going to continue. That's a big concern because you have to understand the frequency. We've had over 450 earthquakes in just the last 24 hours.

Now, here's the explanation of why this is happening. You have all that magma building up underneath. It has to go somewhere. It's hard to find those locations. So, pressure builds up underneath. And when the pressure gets too high, you start to notice cracks. The cracks, these are the fissures that end up taking place and the earthquakes also taking place.

Eventually, though, that magma has to come up somewhere. It comes out through those fissures or through the actual eruption of the volcano. That's where you get lava as well as toxic fumes. That's what we've been seeing around this general vicinity.

Now we talked about the earthquake. Stephanie mentioned the magnitude 6.9. Only about three miles deep. This did actually trigger a mini tsunami.

[12:25:11] Sea level rise was about 15 inches. Nothing dramatic, but the point is this was a large earthquake in association with that volcano. Those earthquakes are going to continue. Now, the hope is we maintain all the small ones and don't get any more large ones. But in reality, Fred, it's still very possible we could get more earthquakes above 5.0, if not even 6.0 magnitude.

WHITFIELD: Very frightening. All right, Allison, thank you so much.

Democrats may have momentum ahead of the midterms, but it is not going to be an easy race for either side of the aisle. I'll break it down with my panel, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:30:23 WHITFIELD: All right. Hello again, thanks so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. All right, with the 2018 midterms now just six months away, President Trump is not wasting any time rallying his base.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The one thing that has always stood between the American people and the elimination of our Second Amendment rights has been conservatives in Congress willing to fight for those rights, and we're fighting. It seems that if we're going to outlaw guns, like so many people want to do, Democrats, you better get out and vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, President Trump will likely be the primary target Democrats use to rally their base for the upcoming midterms. The President may be a savior for some GOP candidates. Many Republicans fear that he could hurt the GOP chances of holding on to House and Senate this November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: My party's going to pay a price for it because in the midterm election, this election's going to be a referendum on the President of the United States and his conduct in office. And I can tell you as a member of Congress, I had done some of these things, any of these things. These would have been disqualifying events. And I wouldn't be a member of Congress right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, let's discuss with my panel right now. Kristen Soltis Anderson is a Republican pollster. And Bernard Whitman, he is a Democratic strategist and was a pollster for Hillary Clinton. Good to see you both.

BERNARD WHITMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Christine you first, you know, aren't midterms generally a referendum on a president and, you know, knowing that, how much are Republicans kind of sweating it out about holding on to the House and Senate like Charlie Dent just expressed?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: So every Republican needs to run like they are 10 points down. If they've never run a tough race before, they need to be prepared for a tough race. Because Democratic voters are pretty fired up this year. For those who may not have turned out in 2016, maybe want to do over, 2018 is their chance.

And so you look at numbers. Like the President's job approval and the generic ballot. And they're not great for Republicans. What Republicans have working for them is those numbers have trended in the right direction. They're not as bad as they were a couple of months ago. And you have a lot, especially on the Senate side, of Democrats running in places where Donald Trump is actually fairly popular. States of Donald Trump won in 2016.

So while the House is potentially scary to reign, in the Senate, Republicans actually have some pickup opportunities not in spite of Donald Trump but because of Donald Trump.

WHITFIELD: So then Bernard, you know, what has to be the narrative, the strategist for Democrats? It can't just be anti-Trump.

WHITMAN: No, absolutely. In fact I think Charlie Dent is wrong. I think this is not going to be a referendum on Donald Trump. The voters already know Donald Trump is chaotic. They don't trust him. They don't think he is a good leader. 62 percent of people think Washington is in chaos. That is not new information.

What I think we need to expose is the fact that Americans want the House Republicans in Congress to hold the President accountable. And by all measures, Paul Ryan's speakership has been an abject failure. He has not done that. By 57 to 31, Quinnipiac shows that his speakership was a failure. The Republicans really don't have anything to run on except their signature tax cut which is also seen as a failure. 27 percent think that's a good idea.

And I think at the end of the day, Americans actually embrace the idea of accountability and for better or worse, in this respect, a divided government. We saw that in 2006 when the Democrats took and broke up George W. Bush's united government. We saw it in 2010 when the Republicans took control of Congress. I think we're going to see it again in 2018. We need a check on this presidency and the House Republicans have failed to provide that.

WHITFIELD: All right. So Kristen, this is how the President sees it. This is him campaign-style at a rally in Michigan.

TRUMP: Nancy Pelosi and her gain. They've got to be voted out of office. They've got to be voted out of office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Is it as simple as that? Is it Nancy Pelosi that's so polarizing that that's the jargon that's needed in order to secure Republican seats?

ANDERSON: Well, it's certainly something that fires up the Republican base. Even for voters who are maybe not crazy about Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi is one of the least popular politicians in America. But I don't think that just running on an anti-Nancy Pelosi message is what Republicans ought to do. I think what a Democratic Congress represents is more gridlock.

[12:35:02] I mean, it was just sort of framed in the nice term of let's have a check and balance on the President. But what it means is Washington does less, there's more gridlock, it's not that there's less chaos, it's that there's more chaos. And a lot of swing voters, they don't like the division that they see. They just want to see problems getting solved.

Having a Democratic Congress with Trump in the White House does not lead to problems getting solved and things getting fixed and everybody sort of holding hands and singing Kumbaya. It actually leads to a lot of things that independent voters want to see less of. And so I think for Democrats if they run on this, let's just stop Trump message, they're doing themselves a disservice because all they're offering swing voters who may not be crazy about Trump but don't want to see more gridlock and more obstruction. All they're offering those voters is more of what they don't really want.

WHITFIELD: So then Bernard is it inspiring for Democrats or even Independents to hear, you know, even this week Nancy Pelosi, you know, said she expressed that she's very confident about, you know, Democrats winning back the house, telling The Boston Globe, "We will run. I will run for speaker, I feel confident about it, and my members do too.

WHITMAN: I think it's going to be a tough road. But I think it's a winnable road. And I think the Democrats need to do three things. I think, number one, we need focus on bread and butter issues. We need to show how our economic plans are actually going to deliver for the American people, for all the American people.

I mean, you look at what happened under this Congress. Absolutely nothing saved the tax cut. 27 percent of people think that was a good idea. How is that a good record to run on? I think we need to also make clear to the American people that the Trump administration along with the Republican Congress tried again and again and again to take away health care. That would be a huge disaster for a lot of people in red states, a lot of people in purples states. And I think we need to remind the voters of that.

And third, to go back to this, I think we need a check on the Trump administration. Not to stall the Trump administration. Not to prevent them from doing anything, but to hold them accountable. I mean, look at the waste the corruption, the fraud that's going on in the Oval Office, with this cabinet. Cabinet secretaries, so many people have left. We need a Congress that is going to balance out this President so wen can actually get things done for the American people. And I think that's what independent voters are going to resonate too.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it right there. Bernard Whitman, Kristin Soltis Anderson, good to see you.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

WHITMAN: Thank you. WHITFIELD: All right. Up next, more women than ever are running for Congress but they're largely doing so on the Democratic ticket. So what two female lawmakers have to say their party needs to do to attract more women.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:41:56] WHITFIELD: Republican women only make up 10 percent of Congress and while a record number of women are running for election this year, most are doing so on the Democratic ticket. So what's it going to take to get more red state women on Capitol Hill? Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 5:30 a.m., a single digit dawn in South Dakota. Congresswoman Kristi Noem's daily ritual. The path to make history. Running to be the first woman governor of South Dakota.

(voice-over): The one thing that Washington is known for is the smoky bar, the late night drinks. For you that just doesn't work.

REP. KRISTI NOEM (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Well, I mean, I'm married. It's not good testimony for me to be sit in a bar late at night when my family is all the across the country. I sort of thinking it about (ph). How can I get to have interaction with other members? And for it was the gym. We exercise together, but we talk about legislation.

My name is Danny (ph), how are you doing, huh?

LAH (voice-over): Breaking the norm, hardly new for the conservative Congresswoman born, raised and still rancher on the 6,000 acre family plot.

NOEM: We have had cattle and horses and raised our family here. So we'll always be here.

LAH (voice-over): Noem made the leap to state lawmaker then in 2010 defeated the popular incumbent to go to Congress. Despite her success, this is what she heard as she announced her historic run for governor.

NOEM: I had a few people tell me that maybe I didn't have the right body parts to be a governor. So --

LAH (voice-over): Really?

NOEM: -- you know, there's just -- Yes. But, you know, it's a small minority of folks that we just have to change their perspective and I said, you know, that's unfortunate but we're going to win.

You all have come alongside me over and over and over again.

How are you doing? LAH (voice-over): Noem is as uncommon here as she is in Washington. Republican women make up about 10 percent of Congress. The unprecedented surge of women running for office this year has been almost completely among Democrats.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: It is sad, it is depressing and the numbers are getting worse.

LAH (voice-over): Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has represented South Dakota for nearly three decades. She says gender diversity is an afterthought for House leadership. She's retiring this year, leaving with this ominous message for her party.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Just stop with the name calling. It turns women off.

LAH (on camera): Do you look at the White House because --

ROS-LEHTINEN: Absolutely. The rhetoric coming out of the White House is recruiting tool for liberal women to come out and counter that. And as long as we are a party that's seen as homogenous, not heterogeneous, a party that doesn't invite minorities and women, we're not going to be a welcoming party for the future. The growth for GOP women in elective office is at the local level and at the state capitols

LAH (voice-over): Why this year are a record number of women saying that they can run in government?

NOEM: You know, I think it's all about not missing an opportunity. Timing is everything in politics.

LAH (voice-over): Congresswoman Noem's time may be now. She is regarded as the front-runner, pledging to govern with the innovation of a national lawmaker and a transparency of a local farmer.

[12:45:11] NOEM: This is about a million miles away from D.C.

LAH (voice-over): This is far.

NOEM: This is -- I live two totally different lives, that is very true.

LAH (on camera): You prefer a tractor to an airplane?

NOEM: I do. You have control over your own destiny.

LAH (voice-over): A path she hopes to forge at home.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Castlewood, South Dakota.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: All right, President Trump in Ohio right now. Will he speak to reporters as the chaos inside his administration and his legal team grows?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:50:09] WHITFIELD: Happening right now, President Trump is in Cleveland. He's at a private fund raising luncheon with about 250 of his supporters that has raised about $3 million for Trump and the Republicans. In the next hour he's making a public appearance at a round table on tax reform. We'll bring that to you live as it happens.

Our Polo Sandoval is joining us from Cleveland. So Polo, what are the expectations today?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, we know that this won't be a rally-like setting that the President certainly enjoys and often time strives in. It's about (ph) to what we've seen in the past. This will be a roundtable setting. An event that's scheduled in the auditorium you see behind me at about 30 minutes or so when President Trump arrives.

He's been in Cleveland for a couple of hours now, going to some of these private RNC events. Reporters not allowed in, which is certainly not unusual either for this administration or previous ones as well. So the next and final stop again will be at the location you see behind me, inside that roundtable setting.

The White House saying that the focus will be a discussion about that tax reform legislation that was passed that Republican tax reform that was passed just this past December, an opportunity certainly to take this victory lap-like tone here in the Buckeye State, so there will be certain policies that will be discussed. Politics are certainly not going to be left out here. Keep in mind that in Ohio, we are just days away from a primary race that's happening here very soon. So we are expected to see various Republican candidates for both Senate and the governor's office that will be present, including the President's pick, Jim Renacci who the President has already endorsed here. He will sitting by the President's side today as he tackles this issue of tax reform, Fred.

The question, will he address any of the controversy or drama that swirling around the White House. Officials of the administration saying that's likely not going to happen, Fred, that the President that often goes off script. It's certainly within the realm of possibility.

WHITFIELD: All right, predict the unpredictable.

SANDOVAL: Yes.

WHITFIELD: Polo Sandoval right in Cleveland, thanks so much.

All right, still ahead, disturbing allegation against the Washington Redskins from cheerleaders about topless photo shoots where donors who are big spenders were allowed to watch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:56:52] WHITFIELD: A shocking new report in The New York Times says former Washington Redskins cheerleaders were subjected to a topless photo shoot while VIP sponsors looked on. And that some of the women were required to escort those same VIPs to a nightclub. Redskins President Bruce Allen says his conversations with current and former cheerleaders contradict The Times report but adds the team will conduct a review and any employee who acted inappropriately will face, quote, significant repercussions.

CNN's Diane Gallagher has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Several cheerleaders for Washington's NFL team say a 2013 trip to Costa Rica crossed the line. In interviews within New York Times, the women say that upon arrival the team collected their passports before requiring them to take part in a racy photo shoot where some of them were topless for a team calendar. All of this while high-profile sponsors and FedEx field suite owners looked on.

JULIET MACUR, NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER: Shooting the calendar in these little tiny outfits is really the issue. It's giving access to sponsors who are men who are seemingly paying for this privilege to watch women pose with hardly any clothes on. The issue is giving access to sponsors and making the women feel uncomfortable.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The cheerleaders claim that some of them were picked to be, quote, personal escorts for the sponsors at a Costa Rican nightclub later that night. And while sex was not involved, the women told The Times they felt, quote, worthless and unprotected and were so devastated by the situation, that they did not return to the squad the next season. The cheer team's director says that the night of the club was not mandatory and the Washington team issued a statement, saying that it's looking into and taking the allegations seriously but, "Based on the dialogue we've had with a number of current and former cheerleaders over the past 48 hours, we've heard very different first-hand accounts that directly contradict many of the details of the May 2nd article."

That's something two former Washington cheerleaders picked by the team to appear on NBC's Today show Friday echoed.

CHARO BISHOP, FORMER WASHINGTON CHEERLEADER: Some girls were excited to do those things. In terms of being an escort, that was never a perception that I had. I think that being friendly and receptive and welcoming to sponsors is completely different.

RACHEL GILL, FORMER WASHINGTON CHEERLEADER: We always have the option to say no. We are never forced or told to do something we don't want to do.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): The former Carolina Panthers cheerleader says that in her experience it wasn't that simple.

BRITTNEY CASON, FORMER NFL CHEERLEADER: Manipulation is a strong word. But it's what happens. GALLAGHER (voice-over): Brittney Cason says that the NFL cheerleading environment can be toxic with low pay and high standards, that the women often feel powerless to say no.

CASON: So if you're put in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, they quickly remind you that there's hundreds of other girls that would kill to trade for your spot right then and there, and so you just kind of go along with it, fearing that you could be kicked off the team.

GALLAGHER (voice-over): Recent lawsuits from cheerleaders on other teams around the NFL have described discrimination, unfair wages and sexual harassment. The NFL released a statement Friday saying, "Our office will work with our clubs and sharing best practices in employment-related processes that will support club cheerleading squads within an appropriate and supportive workplace."

Dianne Gallagher; CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: We've got so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom and it all starts now.