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Oliver North Announces He Will Not be Re-Nominated as President of NRA; Financial Mismanagement Reportedly at Center of NRA Leadership Shakeup; President Trump Defends Controversial Comments on Charlottesville Rally; Michael Avenatti Gives Interview on Charges that May Lead to Jail Time; Democratic Presidential Candidates Speak Before Union Crowd in Las Vegas. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired April 27, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:00] MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: -- Martin Savidge in for Fredricka Whitfield.
We are following breaking news this hour. There's been a major change at the top of one of the country's most powerful lobbying groups, the National Rifle Association. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North says that he has been told he won't be re-nominated as the organization's president. This follows reports that North was reportedly locked in a power struggle with long-time CEO Wayne LaPierre. Ryan Young joins me now with the latest. And Ryan, what exactly is Oliver North saying about this?
RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Martin, there's some real drama playing out with the NRA Convention. Oliver North has been asked to step down. It seems there is a fight over how money has been potentially mismanaged. This internal power struggle over funds has boiled over within the organization, leading to Oliver North being told he was never wanted.
So Oliver North stepped down after about a year on the job. But before going North wanted to have a letter that he wrote read out loud, a letter which we have a copy of in part reads, "There is a clear crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately and responsibly so the NRA can continue to focus on protecting our Second Amendment. I have been on the NRA board for more than two decades. It was a great privilege to serve as president this past year, an honor only second to serving our country." So obviously you see he didn't necessarily want to leave, but it looks like he is going to have to leave. One thing that he did sort of point out here, he believes the funds being mismanaged could put their nonprofit status in jeopardy, which we know, that's a huge deal.
SAVIDGE: Oliver North is still considered a hero by many people, and now to see him sort of shown the exit, this isn't the last we're going to hear of him.
YOUNG: No. I'm sure the power struggle will play out, especially because you know there are members who probably won't like the way this played out today.
SAVIDGE: Ryan Young, we'll continue to follow it with you. Thanks. We want to bring in Mike Spies. He joins us now on the telephone. He
has written about the NRA for "The New Yorker" and is a staff writer for "The Trace," which is a news organization dedicated to looking at gun violence. Tell us first, because this seems, for those of us who may not so intently follow the NRA, what are the roots of this power struggle? This seemed to have just come out of nowhere.
MIKE SPIES, CONTRIBUTOR, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, it didn't. I mean, yes, it seems to have come out of nowhere in the public, but it has been playing out for the last year behind the scenes. Basically, things came to a head over the summer, around the time that the organization held an audit committee meeting, and a lot of things came to light that had been previously hidden from the organization and its most important board members that conduct financial oversight. And that basically involves a vast number of problematic financial arrangements, chief among them was the most longstanding one with Ackerman McQueen, a PR firm that is responsible for the vast majority of the NRA's messaging, and also by the way it pays Oliver North.
SAVIDGE: So when I was reading about this, I was wondering, where was the NRA board going to come down on, whose side? Now it appears pretty obvious the board must have come down on the side of LaPierre, right?
SPIES: Yes. They sided with Wayne. It's sort of fascinating what's happened, because it should be known to everybody that Wayne LaPierre's relationship with Ackerman McQueen goes back to 1991 when he rose to the NRA's top post. He has relied on them extensively. They've ultimately created his public image. So the fact that all of a sudden he has now turned on them, ultimately to save himself, is a huge, huge deal. It's a remarkable turn of events. No one would have ever -- any insider would have told you that no one would have ever imagined that this day would have ever come.
But right now he is in survival mode. And Oliver North also is in survival mode. Most people at the top at the organization, though not everybody, have in some way or other contributed to this mess. And right now, it's kind of like, as a friend of mine said, it's kind of like game of thrones, and they're all trying to be the one to outlast the other.
SAVIDGE: Those I know who are fans of the NRA are also fans of Oliver North. Not all, but there are many who do consider him a hero because of how he served in the Reagan administration, and the Contra movement there. What is likely the fallout to be of his departure? In other words, could it divide membership?
SPIES: Yes, I think it absolutely could divide members. He's a hero -- before he became board president, he was always among the most popular board members. The membership reveres him. He's also revered within the organization, in the conservative movement in general, and I think there is going to be a ton of anger. And that's on top of what members have now discovered, which is that all of this financial mismanagement, the self-dealing, the sweetheart deals, these gratuitous contracts, they're all finally, it is all spilling out into the open, and I think it will be very obvious to a lot of them that this was not really decisive action so much as just a power play.
[14:05:05] SAVIDGE: I believe the NRA was already having issues when it came to membership, and this is only likely to exacerbate it. Play this forward. I mean how bad could this be for the NRA?
SPIES: The worst-case scenario, and I think one of the things that the organization fears the most, in addition to losing its nonprofit status, or getting its charter yanked, which is possible, is just a massive member-based class action lawsuit. The vast majority of the NRA's funds come from its members, dues, that sort of thing. They're not very good at cultivating big donors. So they would have -- they do have standing to sue.
And they, I'm sure, as they're learning about all of the details of all of these various business arrangements and what it has cost them, they probably are going to start to feel cheated, and that their money has been misspent, and ultimately, not entirely, but in plenty of instances, has just essentially enriched a small group of people and contractors.
SAVIDGE: This was not the convention they thought it was going to be, at least for the conventioneers that showed up for it. Mike Spies, thank you very much for joining us today, and for your insights. Appreciate it.
Still ahead, President Trump not backing down and not apologizing about his response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. We'll talk with a University of Virginia professor who saw the march firsthand and what he thinks of the president's new defense. That will be next.
[14:10:12] SAVIDGE: New polling numbers are giving us an updated look on how the American public views President Trump following the release of the redacted Mueller report. The "Washington Post"/ABC News poll reveals that 47 percent of Americans believe the president did try to interfere in the Russia investigation, and that he obstructed justice. But in that same poll, a majority also said they do not believe Congress should start impeachment proceedings.
Right now, the president is golfing with the Japanese prime minister before heading to the Midwest to hold a campaign rally to celebrate the latest blockbuster numbers on the economy. And joining us now is CNN White House Correspondent Boris Sanchez with more on these numbers and what the president has planned for the remainder of the day. Hello, Boris.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Martin. President Trump spent the morning golfing with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the two leaders with plenty to talk about, not only the upcoming bilateral trade negotiations between the two countries, but also securing that region and ongoing efforts by the United States to denuclearize North Korea.
It's unlikely that we will hear from the president when he returns here to the White House, which should happen in just a short while, but we will be hearing from the president later tonight. He is holding a rally in Green Bay, Wisconsin, sort of counterprogramming the White House Correspondents Dinner which is set to take place tonight here in Washington, D.C. The president not attending in any of the years in office that the event has been held.
President Trump, despite touting successful jobs numbers, and great numbers on the economy overall, which we will likely hear about tonight, that 3.2 percent GDP growth we saw in the first quarter over last year, his approval rating simply hasn't really moved. It's at 39 percent, according to a poll by the "Washington Post" and ABC News. Ultimately, it hasn't moved in months, possibly years even, hovering from that mid-30s to low 40 percentage points.
It simply appears that the president is not convincing a majority of the American public that he is doing a good job despite the strong economy and despite the fact that the Mueller report for the most part left him relatively unscathed, save for questions about obstruction of justice. Keep in mind that approval rating, those numbers were captured after the release of the redacted report, and they asked people about their thoughts on the report. Look at how many people believe the president is lying about the probe. Some 58 percent of those asked believing that the president was untruthful in this investigation. It paints a picture of where he stands, especially going into 2020. We will likely hear him talk about potential opponents tonight in Green Bay. He actually spoke about one of them just yesterday before heading to an event in Indiana, Joe Biden, the president attacking the former vice president over his age, despite Biden being only about four years older than President Trump. The president says that Biden makes him feel like a vibrant young man. Martin?
SAVIDGE: Yes, that polling is just fascinating, and disturbing at the same time. Boris Sanchez, thanks very much. Good to see you.
It has been nearly two years now since white nationalists descended on Charlottesville, Virginia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CROWD: Jews will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: Carrying torches, marching, and yelling anti-Semitic and racist chants, the president is once again defending his remarks about that tragic event. You might remember how white nationalists clashed with protesters, and then later a counter-protester was killed when she was hit by a car. Joe Biden slammed President Trump for his handling of Charlottesville as he announced his 2020 presidential run this week.
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JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He said there were quote, "some very fine people on both sides." Very fine people on both sides?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: And now, the president is once again trying to clarify his words, what he meant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said there was hatred, there was violence.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, I think there's blame on both sides. You look at both sides, I think there's blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don't have any doubt about it either.
You will see that that question was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general, whether you like it or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: The president's latest explanation drew this sharp response from the University of Virginia's Larry Sabato who was in Charlottesville during the rallies and violence. Sabato tweeteing, "You know what I heard that weekend? Not one single comment about Robert E. Lee. But I did hear racial slurs and the chants, "Jews will not replace us," and "into the ovens." Very fine people, indeed."
[14:15:02] Larry Sabato joins me now. He is the director for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. And Mr. Sabato, thank you very much for being with us today.
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Thank you for having me.
SAVIDGE: So judging by your tweet, you don't agree with the president's latest explanation. Tell us more about your thoughts.
SABATO: Sure. You're certainly right. I don't agree with it. He keeps making it worse. He keeps taking the scab off and rubbing salt really in the wounds. What he said, Martin, was very interesting. Not so much by reiterating what he has said so many times before, but by saying he said it perfectly. Perfectly. If he said it perfectly, why did his chief of staff look so distressed when he said it at the Trump Tower? Why did his chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, dictate a letter of resignation and almost submit it, and on and on? Clearly, he didn't do it perfectly.
But this is our president. He has to insist that everything he does is absolutely correct all the time. He has to win every debate. And he will go back two years and cause additional problems if he has to do it.
SAVIDGE: It's obvious that Joe Biden purposefully placed this within his opening speech as he declares his presidency, because he knew that this was a very dark moment, a very low moment of approval ratings for the president. I'm wondering, it could have been a moment, where the president, instead of fighting back, decided to say, let me be perfectly clear. This was wrong. In other words, he didn't. And I'm wondering, was this a missed opportunity?
SABATO: Oh, absolutely, it was a missed opportunity. And Martin, he has had so many missed opportunities. Many of us who have been around through a lot of presidencies have been waiting for the moment since before he took office when he would reach out beyond his base, and if not reunite American, at least try to, at least say some things that would appeal to key constituencies in the country. It would actually do him political good. But he just doesn't do it, at least not in any sustained way. He's simply happy by exciting his base and agitating them and trying to get a maximum turnout in 2020 from them. And maybe it will work, but it certainly doesn't work for the country.
SAVIDGE: And from what you know of the whole community of Charlottesville, you were there, how are they responding now to this renewed debate over this?
SABATO: Oh, there's tremendous resentment. By the way, that includes many conservative Republicans that we have here. We're a university community, and it's more diverse than many university critics out there really understand. We just don't see any reason for him to do this. We don't understand why he is so stubborn about this. Of course, he is on so many things. But it's not helpful, and it doesn't help him. Forget about all of the damage he's doing. It doesn't help him.
SAVIDGE: And do you think that those that support him, his constituency, do you think that they're going to turn on him on this subject? Or is it just, oh, well?
SABATO: Not a chance. Not a chance. Most of them believe absolutely anything he says. Look on Twitter. And then they rewrite history with him. They let him direct them in rewriting history. Why he didn't mean anything about that very fine people on both sides, why he wasn't referring to the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists. No, he was talking about the people supporting the Robert E. Lee statue. Martin, I'm here to tell you that what happened in Charlottesville only incidentally had something to do with the Robert E. Lee statue. None of the advertisements from this Unite the Right group, which is neo-Nazi, openly neo-Nazi, using Nazi symbols, none of it mentioned the statue. They were here to push their sick ideology, which should be roundly condemned by everyone, or at least every sensible person.
SAVIDGE: Larry Sabato, we appreciate you being here setting the record straight. Thank you.
SABATO: Thank you, Martin.
SAVIDGE: In other news, the Mueller report shed new light on Russia's interference in 2016, in the election, including possible attacks on a county in Florida. Why some are saying the investigation hasn't gone far enough.
[14:23:31] SAVIDGE: Speaking publicly for the first time since the release of the Mueller report, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is defending himself over his handling of that report, and describing Russia's attempts to undermine the 2016 elections, he says, quote, only the tip of the iceberg. Here's what he told his audience about his role in the Mueller investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I did pledge to do it right and to take it to the appropriate conclusion. I did not promise to report all results to the public, because, as my fellow U.S. attorneys would know well, grand jury investigations are ex parte proceedings. It's not our job to render conclusive factual finds. We just decide whether it is appropriate to file criminal charges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: CNN's Marshall Cohen is in Washington, and another part of the Mueller report that is just now getting attention is the claim that Russian hackers infiltrated, one in Florida county, ahead of the 2016 election. The FBI will meet with the governor and Senator Rick Scott. And I'm wondering, Marshall, just what are they hoping to learn, besides the name of the county?
MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: They do. They think it is a pretty simple answer, right? Who got hacked? It's been more than two years since the 2016 election. That answer has still not been furnished. We're talking about this now because that piece of information did come out, new information, from the Mueller report, that in addition to some of the hacks of election vendors in Florida, Illinois, and other locations, one of the counties in Florida was breached by Russian hackers, the same military intelligence agency that hacked John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee.
[14:25:09] Now, of course, the senior officials in the Obama administration, Trump administration, have all said they didn't change any votes. But just yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio said they could have changed the voter rolls if they wanted to. They were in position. And the governor there is going to try to find out more information.
SAVIDGE: Yes, I mean if they had done that, changed, say, wipe out the records of registered voters on Election Day, it would cause chaos within the state of Florida. It also implies then, of course, then, that they might be gearing up for 2020, right?
COHEN: Well, of course. And intelligence officials, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence and others have warned, they did before the midterms last year, too, and they are saying, get ready. Every locale, every municipality has to be prepared for this reality. It's not a Democratic thing. It's not a Republican thing. You need to get your systems updated. They're trying to raise the alarm so that people will take this seriously. And it seems like this has been another consequence of the Mueller report. People are trying to get ready for the next one.
SAVIDGE: Hopefully, they are listening. It is not a political thing. It's a democracy thing. All right, Marshall Cohen, thanks very much.
Well, he was the public face during some of 2018's biggest scandals. Now, he's facing his own scandal, and possibly decades in prison. Before he heads to court, he sat down with CNN for an emotional interview. That's next.
[14:30:18] SAVIDGE: Michael Avenatti will appear in a California court on Monday where he is expected to be arraigned on a slew of charges, ranging from tax evasion to bank fraud. The hard-charging lawyer who represented porn star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against the president and his personal attorney Michael Cohen, sits down for an emotion-filled interview. This is Michael Avenatti probably like you've never seen him before. He spent months as one of Trump's and Cohen's fiercest critics, all while federal investigators were digging into his financial past. And what they found shocked Avenatti's biggest fans and filled his critics with glee. CNN's Sara Sidner has this story.
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: My lawyers didn't even want me to sit down for this interview.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But Michael Avenatti is doing it anyway, while free on a $300,000 bond.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael, do you think you will go to jail before the president?
SIDNER: Accused of trying to extort Nike --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Avenatti again made his threats and demands --
SIDNER: -- for more than $20 million.
Nike says, look, we have Michael Avenatti on tape saying he will take this money and not disclose anything, and ride off into the sunset. Did you say that?
AVENATTI: Did I say that we would ride off into the sunset? Yes. Was it in the context that Nike and the government alleges? Absolutely not. What happened was, was that Nike and their attorneys figured out that they couldn't buy me. They couldn't own me. They couldn't control me.
SIDNER: Avenatti is accusing Nike of rigging the college basketball recruitment process by bribing amateur players to attend Nike- sponsored schools. Nike told CNN it would not respond to the allegations of an individual facing federal charges of fraud and extortion. But the criminal complaint says Avenatti was threatening to go public if Nike didn't comply with his demands -- $1.5 million for his client, between $15 million and $25 million to hire him and his co-counsel to lead an internal investigation, or a payment of $22.5 million, and no investigation. Instead of making a deal with them, Nike called the FBI, saying it was being extorted. The FBI began recording the meetings.
The case came to a head in just under a week after this tweet, Avenatti announcing a press conference.
What happened after that?
AVENATTI: Well, I was arrested shortly thereafter.
SIDNER: Were you saying to them, pay me hush money, I'll be quiet, I'll go away, I'll walk out the door?
AVENATTI: Nope, never. Never happened.
SIDNER: The accusation concerning hush money is especially ironic considering the case that brought Avenatti's name into the American consciousness.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Avenatti.
SIDNER: The high-flying, hard-fighting litigator became a household name when he represented porn star Stormy Daniels, who sued the president of the United States.
STORMY DANIELS, SUED PRESIDENT TRUMP: My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth.
SIDNER: She wanted out of a hush agreement she signed in 2016 to keep quiet about a 2006 sexual affair she said she had with Donald Trump. Trump has denied the affair.
Did you think you were going to bring down the president?
AVENATTI: I immediately saw that as an opportunity to do collateral damage to the president of the United States. In that regard, I accomplished the goal, although not entirely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what, you're a thug.
SIDNER: Avenatti's theatrics and legal zingers became a fixture on cable news.
AVENATTI: Where is this guy?
SIDNER: The president's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, endured that public shaming, and after an investigation referred to the Southern District of New York by Robert Mueller, Cohen admitted to a total of nine criminal counts, including orchestrating that hush payment to Daniels on Trump's behalf to affect the 2016 presidential election.
AVENATTI: I don't think his prison sentence is strong enough by any stretch of the imagination, and, and I don't believe that other people around him that participated in that, included Donald Trump, the president of the United States, should somehow get a pass. I believe Donald Trump should be indicted.
SIDNER: But now, Avenatti is facing serious charges and potential prison time, more than 300 years if convicted.
The very same day he was arrested in New York, the U.S. attorney in California charged him in another separate case, eventually bringing 36 counts, including wire fraud, bank fraud, and bankruptcy fraud. But perhaps the most stunning charge, stealing from his own clients, one of them, a paraplegic man named Geoffrey Johnson.
You're a paraplegic client has said he did not receive what he was supposed to receive of a $4 million settlement. Did you defraud him?
[14:00:00] AVENATTI: Look, here is the bottom line. I'm not at liberty to get into the details of that particular situation because I've been advised by my counsel not to do it. If it was up to me, I would hold a press conference, put documents up on the screen, and tell my side of the story.
SIDNER: But Avenatti did do that. Using Twitter as his bullhorn, he posted this document showing a glowing recommendation that he said his client had signed just a month before the indictment.
His attorney said what you posted was actually, you tricked him into signing something saying that you were a great attorney and that he was happy with your services, that you stole money from him. How do you respond to that?
AVENATTI: That assertion by the attorney is absurd.
SIDNER: Prosecutors are also saying the same thing.
AVENATTI: Prosecutors are saying all kinds of things, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're all true or provable.
SIDNER: That wasn't the only client prosecutors say he defrauded. There are four others, including an NBA player who wanted to quietly pay moneys to his ex-girlfriend for her long-time support. But nearly all of the $2.7 million settlement was allegedly used to pay for this, Avenatti's personal jet.
Did you own a private jet?
AVENATTI: I had an interest in a private jet, yes. But there is nothing unusual about some of these factors relating to my lifestyle. Have I had a privileged lifestyle? Of course. Have I had a lifestyle that some people would describe as lavish at times? Yes. I'm a self- made guy. I put myself through college. I put myself through law school. Nothing was ever handed to me, Sara. And you know what, I busted my ass for a lot of what I've received.
SIDNER: And prosecutors have tagged your lifestyle. They accuse you of buying that jet with $2.5 million that belongs to a client from a settlement. Are they right? AVENATTI: We're going to have facts and evidence. We're going to
present that to a jury, and a jury is going to decide up or down, whether I'm convicted or not. And it's their obligation.
SIDNER: You're evading the question, and if there is nothing but truth out there and you did none of this, why can't you just tell me?
AVENATTI: Because, Sara, here's the problem. Because my lawyers didn't even want me to sit down for this interview. We've had umpteen debates about this. And the problem is that I've been told to say absolutely nothing, and I've said no, I'm not going to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: And he had plenty more to say. Up next, Michael Avenatti talks about the R. Kelly case, his domestic violence arrest, and his own future.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Have you thought about the prospect of potentially having to spend time in prison?
AVENATTI: There's no question I've thought about that. I would have to be an absolutely --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:41:28] SAVIDGE: Welcome back. He is the hard charging lawyer who represented porn star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Trump, and his personal attorney Michael Cohen. We are talking about Michael Avenatti, who is not afraid to greet controversy head-on, nor is he afraid of the spotlight.
And in part two of Sara Sidner's one-on-one interview with him, we learned that Avenatti's ups and downs have left him humbled.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: I'm not going to answer that. That's a ridiculous question. Next question.
SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Avenatti has rarely shied away from a controversy.
AVENATTI: It is time to come clean. Basta.
SIDNER: Stepping into the spotlight in connection with the biggest headlines of 2018.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brett groped me and tried to take off my clothes.
SIDNER: As U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh faced sexual assault allegations.
BRETT KAVANAUGH, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: But I have never done this to her or anyone.
SIDNER: Avenatti emerged with a second abuser.
AVENATTI: She is 100 percent credible.
SIDNER: Republicans and some Democrats viewed his insertion into the case as an outrageous stunt.
Do you interject yourself purposefully for your own fame, for your own fortune in these cases that have made headlines?
AVENATTI: Do I interject myself? No. I receive a call from a client.
SIDNER: She never testified. She is accused of lying, but her allegations were never investigated.
When the border battle over child separation emerged, so did Avenatti with clients whose children were alone and afraid. In one case, he went all of the way to Guatemala to deliver a mother's most precious gift, and unexpectedly received one of his own.
AVENATTI: It was one, as a father myself, it was one of the best days of my career. I remember it like it was yesterday. He gave me a -- I have it in my briefcase, I carry it with me. It in my briefcase when I was arrested. It was a fabric bracelet that he made me to thank me for bringing him back to his mom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you consider running for the Democratic ticket in 2020?
SIDNER: Avenatti began to consider running for president.
AVENATTI: Stand up. Join in the fight club.
SIDNER: He tested the waters in West Hollywood, and the crowd swooned.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Avenatti. I sleep better because you're in the world. I'm not kidding you.
AVENATTI: What's your name?
We hit harder.
SIDNER: From Iowa to New Hampshire to Texas, Avenatti began fundraising for Democrats. But problems with his own financials followed him. A judge ordered one of Avenatti's firms to pay his former partner $10 million, and another $800,000 he owed to the IRS. He has yet to pay all his debts.
Are you broke?
AVENATTI: No, I don't think I'm broke.
SIDNER: Well, you know if you're broke or not. Are you broke?
SIDNER: You're 100 percent sure?
AVENATTI: No, I'm not broke.
SIDNER: Are you having money problems?
AVENATTI: No, I don't believe I am having money problems. I believe there has been some challenges along the way. There's no question about it.
SIDNER: Avenatti still had his eye on the presidency. And then --
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Avenatti, attorney for Stormy Daniels, is under arrest on allegations of felony domestic violence.
SIDNER: Did you hit, slap, drag the young lady that was in your apartment?
AVENATTI: Absolutely not, and that's why there has been three separate investigations and no charges have been brought.
SIDNER: And with that, Avenatti bounced back into the headlines, taking on another explosive case.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Avenatti said that he had given the state attorney's office a video tape that showed Kelly having sex with an underaged girl.
[14:45:02] SIDNER: At first, Avenatti's new evidence in superstar R. Kelly's case energized a public clamoring for justice. But it wouldn't be long before Kelly's attorney would use Avenatti's legal troubles against him.
SIDNER: He is basically saying, R. Kelly's case has been tainted because of what has happened to Michael Avenatti, and the case is rotten.
AVENATTI: It's a desperate attorney for a desperate man. It's absolutely absurd.
SIDNER: Now, Avenatti is fighting perhaps the biggest case of his entire life -- the case against him.
You're facing potential of more than 300 years in prison, if convicted. Will you fight these charges? Or will you make a plea deal?
AVENATTI: Well, I anticipate on fighting all of these charges.
SIDNER: Have you thought about the prospect of potentially having to spend time in prison?
AVENATTI: There's no question I've thought about that. I would have to be an absolute moron to have not thought about that.
SIDNER: There are some people that are delighting in what they see is your facade being exposed, "The New York Post," "Avenatti is actually the fraud con man he accused of Trump of being." "The Hill," "Trump Jr. mocks Avenatti, saying you might just get to share a cell with Michael Cohen." "Politico," "Avenatti crashes and burns." Have you crashed and burned?
AVENATTI: No, I don't think I've crashed and burned at all. This is a rough and tumble business. There is no question about it. We operate now in an environment that is more toxic politically than we have ever experienced in the history of the United States.
SIDNER: Haven't you contributed to that?
AVENATTI: Largely due to social media. Have I contributed to that?
SIDNER: To the toxic nature of politics?
AVENATTI: I don't think so, because I don't think I've trafficked in nonsense, in personal attacks for the most part.
SIDNER: He has also made clear why he thinks he is facing his own legal battles now.
AVENATTI: I've made a lot of powerful enemies over the years, especially over the last 18 months.
SIDNER: You are alluding to a conspiracy against you.
AVENATTI: I'm not alluding to a conspiracy.
SIDNER: You are.
AVENATTI: What I'm saying is the facts are the facts.
SIDNER: The IRS says the fact is they have been investigating him for two years, long before Avenatti ever met Stormy Daniels. Daniels and Avenatti parted ways earlier this year. When Avenatti was arrested for financial crimes, Daniels tweeted she was not shocked, adding that he treated her extremely dishonestly. He denies being dishonest.
Was it worth it to take on this case?
AVENATTI: If you would have asked me that nine months ago, I would have said absolutely. As I sit here today, Sara, I just don't know, because the price that has been paid by me and my family, and those around me has been enormous.
SIDNER: You sound like a man that has been humbled by this. Is that fair?
AVENATTI: No, there is no question I've been humbled. Regardless of what happens, I have had an enormous life, I have had a lot of opportunities that a lot of people can only dream of. I've done a lot of things over my 48 years of that a lot of people would never have an opportunity to do.
SIDNER: Are you afraid you're going to lose it all?
AVENATTI: Well, of course, I'm afraid of that. Again, I mean, if I wasn't afraid of that, there would be something fundamentally wrong with me as a man, as a human being. But I can't have that consume me. It can't allow it to eat me up, because otherwise, I might as well just I guess crawl into a fetal position and wither away. And I'm not going out like that. And I'm not planning on going out period.
SAVIDGE: Once again, our thanks to Sara Sidner for that reporting.
Still ahead, several of the top Democratic contenders for president are taking the stage in Las Vegas. How they're pushing to gain support from the working class ahead of 2020. That's next.
But first, see what happens when victims and defenders of violent crimes meet face to face on CNN's new original series "The Redemption Project" with Van Jones. It premieres tomorrow night, 9:00 eastern. Here's an advance look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We like to imagine that after there has been a verdict, that the story is over. The reality is, whether they're the offender, or the victim, the journey is just beginning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was a sheriff's deputy at the door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got some drugs. I used.
I took the gun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember shouting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put it to his head.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I pulled the trigger.
JONES: What is it that you want to know?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want him to look me in the face and tell me why he killed my mother.
[14:55:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know where we are going to land. But we're all in there. (END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:54:00] SAVIDGE: The 2020 Democrats are on the move, making steps all over the country, but several of them are in Las Vegas at this hour pitching their plans directly to working men and women. Leyla Santiago is there as well. And Leyla, what's the message they're sharing?
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Martin, all of these candidates certainly know their audience. They know they are speaking to a group that is very pro-union. So you're starting to see some of those same themes come up when they all speak.
But one thing they are all doing, they are all making the case against President Trump's economy, an economy that has seen growth and good job reports. But they are all making it a point to say this is an economy that doesn't work for everyone, pointing directly to wage inequality. Every single candidate that has been on stage has talked about supporting the fight for $15. That is a call, a national movement for a $15 minimum wage. Right now, we haven't seen the federal minimum wage change since 2009, stands at $7.25. They are certainly speaking to that, and the crowd likes it. This is an SEIU forum.
[14:55:05] And the other thing you might expect is that there are going to be a lot of health care worker, so the other talk is about health care, their stance on health care. So you might see them sort of all repeating the same things when they're speaking about the economy and President Trump, but where they sort of differentiate each other is on health care. You have got Senator Kamala Harris who says she wants Medicare for all, and then you have Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Congressman Beto O'Rourke saying they want universal health care, but they see a different path to get there.
SAVIDGE: And who is all there, Leyla? In other words, what candidates showed up?
SANTIAGO: Right, so we have already seen Senator Kamala Harris speak as well as former Congressman Beto O'Rourke. We expect Senator Amy Klobuchar as well, and we expect the former secretary of HUD, Julian Castro, Governor Hickenlooper as well as Senator Elizabeth Warren will take the stage to I suspect answer some of those same questions, and, again, take that stance against Donald Trump to try to differentiate themselves in what is such a crowded field. Not here today, Vice President Biden, as well as Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.
SAVIDGE: Interesting. Leyla Santiago, great to see you, thank you very much.
And thank you for joining me. I'm Martin Savidge. We have much more just ahead in the Newsroom with Ana Cabrera. It all starts right after this.