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Four Countries Looked at Kushner; Kushner Loses Top Secret Clearance; Stone's Communication with WikiLeaks; Trump Backs Age Increase; Hick Admits to White Lies; Trump Attacks Sessions; Wade has Inspirational Performance. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 28, 2018 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": Fit together now and what we're going to be seeing is Mueller is going to be examining whether or not he followed protocol when he was in communication with these foreign officials. If he was not following protocol, then that would mean the H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, and other officials in the White House would not have known the content of those conversations, which, of course, for the White House trying to manage national security is a big problem.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It raises the stakes if Bob Mueller's involved here.

All right, Salena, we know that the president's base supports him, wants him to be supported by whichever adviser probably the president wants, but does the base really care about Jared Kushner? Are there massive save Jared demonstrations that are going to be held in Trump counties around America?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, no, there's not a #savejared going on that I know of.

Look, one of the things that, you know, connected Trump to his base and to people who voted for him who wouldn't ordinary vote for a character such as him was his ability to go into a place and ask for their vote. Jared was never part of that equation.

And one of the things we sort of see with the Trump administration, and we don't know if this is going to be successful or not, is some companies or administrations thrive off of incredible tension, which is, you know, what we see and hear and read about every day and some of them sort of collapse. The way we measure that is how successful they are in -- not just in their approval ratings, but on things that they're able to get done. And -- and the first big measure is how people accept what they've been doing in a midterm election. That's the first big measurement. Are you happy? Do you like the way this go -- you know, why -- the way the tensions and the dramas that happen every day, or are you looking for something a little more pragmatic, a little more normal? We'll see.

BERMAN: Indeed. We're seeing right now, in fact.

Natasha, you got a pretty remarkable story out overnight in "The Atlantic" that deals with communications between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks. You obtained direct messages essentially between Stone and WikiLeaks. And, by the way, Stone had testified that they only communicated through an intermediary. WikiLeaks had said sort of large the same thing. What's the nature of this communication and what does it tell you?

BERTRAND: So essentially Roger Stone had reached out to WikiLeaks on October 13, 2016. We don't actually know if they communicated before that. But this is the exchange that I obtained. Asking him -- asking WikiLeaks to essentially stop attacking him because WikiLeaks had been going on this kind of public relations campaign tweeting that they had no formal association with Roger Stone who, of course, at the time, was saying that he had advanced knowledge -- or that implying that he had advanced knowledge of what WikiLeaks was about to drop, which, of course, was problematic for Roger Stone and the Trump campaign because they didn't want to make it seem like there was any coordination going on.

So he asked WikiLeaks if he could -- if they could back off. WikiLeaks said, well, we don't want it to appear like there's any association between us because that's undermining the -- our documents that we're publishing. And then Roger Stone said, well, you really should learn who your friends are. You should figure out, you know, who you want out there defending you because right now you don't have a lot of defenders.

And then, on the morning of November 9th, of course, after Donald Trump did win the election, WikiLeaks reached out again and said, are you happy now, we're now free to communicate.

BERMAN: It's interesting. You know, it shows they were communicating which is something that we didn't necessarily know before. It doesn't necessarily show that they had a close relationship. But, as you mention in the article, you haven't seen everything as far as we know.

BERTRAND: We haven't. And Stone actually told me that he turned over a bulk of his communications, or the entirety of them, to the House Intelligence Committee, but he would not immediately share those with me.

BERMAN: Alex Burns, you have a story in the paper overnight, too, which gets to one of the other big issues facing the country right now, and it's guns, and the political implications of it and how politicians around the country from both parties are dealing with this issue right now, politically and I think legislatively.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And what you really do see between the two parties is this split along geographic lines. The pain on the Republican side is being felt by suburban politicians, folks who are closer to big cities, don't have a lot of constituents who embrace hunting culture but do have a lot of constituents whose kids go to big high schools and elementary schools that look at an event like Parkland and just feel terrified. Those Republicans you see really trying to make some kinds of gestures in the direction of gun regulation.

On the Democratic side, John, you know, for as long as I think any of us can remember, there has been a sense, or at least 20 years, that Democrats need to do what they can to placate the NRA and to really court gun owners and to show that they're not a party that's hostile to gun rights. Often they've not been terribly successful at doing that. But really right now at a critical moment in the cycle, you have Democratic candidates, you know, for governor, in places like Ohio and Minnesota who, in the past, have had pretty warm relationships with the NRA, trying to show that actually now they've either completely changed their minds or they've meaningfully changed their minds and certainly that they reject NRA support.

[09:35:05] BERMAN: It's super interesting to see how these politicians are moving left, right and center in this issue all at once.

All right, Salena Zito, you are a terrific reporter. If you have a spokesperson or a communications director for a politician tell you that, you know what, sometimes I tell white lies, how would that change your relationship with that person? I -- you know, we don't know the context of Hope Hicks, who's the president's communications director. It's unclear to me the context of what she said in the House Intelligence Committee where she admitted she tells white lies on behalf of the president. But, still, it's very unusual for someone whose job it is to disseminate information to admit that sometimes they lie.

ZITO: Right. Well, I mean, I think there's this general understanding among reporters is that a lot of times communications people, especially if they're -- if they're dealing with you publicly and there's a bunch of other reporters around, you're going to get white lies. It's important to get them to yourself and say, hey, OK, what's really going on? I need to understand this. I need to understand what's really going on. I mean, unfortunately, white lies is sort of part -- I mean I'm not saying it's acceptable. But I am saying it's sort of part of that relationship between a communications person and a press person.

I did want to make a point about what Alex was talking about in terms of guns and regulations --


ZITO: Because I think it's really important right now. In that House special election, in the district that I live in, in Pennsylvania 18, the Democrat, Connor Lamb, has come out and said that he is not for more gun regulation. He said that last week in the aftermath of what happened in Parkland.

It's the first time that we have seen in a very long time someone on the Democratic side who is in the same -- almost in -- sort of in the same position as the Republican, and it's probably a good thing for the NRA because they need more Democrats, and the Democratic Party, I think, need more Democrats who are more Second Amendment friendly in terms of being able to win more elections. You see that race is tied right now.

BERMAN: Right.

ZITO: I bet that has something to do with it.

BERMAN: It's past the primary, though. He didn't have to deal with that issue in the primary quite the same way, where there are different implications.

Salena Zito, Alex Burns, Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much. Great discussing. I appreciate it.

Very shortly the president meets with members of both parties. He will talk about guns. Is there any chance of a deal here? Is there any chance for movement on significant legislation?

Stay with us.


[09:41:42] BERMAN: All right, we have some interesting breaking news here. Yesterday the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced that he was going to have the inspector general of the Justice Department investigate allegations of FISA abuse against those investigators who have been working on the Russia probe over the last year. This has to do with the Republican memo. Jeff Sessions asked the IG to look into it.

Well, moments ago, the president weighs in with a new attack on the attorney general. The president writes, why is AG Jeff Sessions asking the inspector general to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse? Will take forever. Has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey, et cetera. Isn't the IG an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? Disgraceful.

Again, the president criticizing his attorney general.

Joining me now is the House whip, Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer, from Maryland.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate you being here.

I hope you had a chance to hear what I was just reading, this new statement from the president criticizing anew the attorney general for calling for an investigation into FISA abuse.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: Well, the president tends to call out his friends and his foes for anything that he believes are contrary to his interests. And I think that he's undermined clearly Attorney General Sessions in a lot of different ways from the very beginning, most of all, of course, for recusing himself and, therefore, not being able to fully protect Trump from what the facts may show. So I think it's a continuing, unfortunate modus operandi to of the president of the United States to undermine law enforcement, undermine the Justice Department, undermine the FBI, undermine the credibility of anybody who's trying to get at the truth.

BERMAN: Put yourself in the attorney general's shoes. I mean he was once a lawmaker, like you. Could you work like this? HOYER: I don't think so. I don't think I would tolerate being

undermined in so many different ways by the person who asked me to be the attorney general of the United States and a person that I had supported very, very strongly and, frankly, uniquely in many ways being one of very few who were strong supporters of Trump's and believed he could win from the very beginning. But the president is loyal only to those who are absolutely and unquestionably loyal to him.

BERMAN: Well, on that point, Hope Hicks, you know, his communications director, testified to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, apparently told them that she sometimes tells white lies for her boss.

HOYER: Right.

BERMAN: Does that concern you?

HOYER: Look, of course. But she didn't say what the white lies were, so we don't know how important those lies are. It doesn't sound to me like it's cleaning the swamp up. It is adding to it.

When Hope Hicks, who obviously is one of the president's closest advisers apparently in the White House, will not tell the truth about what's happening in the White House, the American people have the right to know what's happening, and the fact that she admits to white lies, heavens knows what else might be the case, because other than that, she was unwilling to be very forthcoming.

[09:45:11] BERMAN: Look, if the Democrats do take back the House -- you think there's a 90 percent chance, I read you say that before -- is this the type of thing you would investigate? Would you be calling on the House Oversight Committee to be launching an investigation into this now?

HOYER: Look, I think one of the reasons that Americans are going to vote for Democrats to take back the House is because they want a check and balance on this administration. Whatever they think of the administration, they obviously don't have a lot of confidence in their continuity or their transparency or truthfulness. And I think they're worried about this administration and would want to see the checks and balances that our founding fathers had in mind, operate in a way that the founding fathers thought it ought to do as a check on executive power so that I think that that clearly would be something we would be looking into, yes.

BERMAN: America is watching Washington today, congressman, to see what you do on gun safety, on school safety. Yesterday I watched Bill Pascal (ph) stand next to you and say, you know, Paul Ryan has lost his guts here. You know, what do you want to see come to the House floor?

HOYER: Look, we have 67 percent of the American people who think we ought to deal with assault weapons, which are the weapons of choice for those who want to kill a lot of people very quickly in public places, whether they be schools or restaurants or concert venues, restaurants, nightclubs. The American public want action. They certainly want action -- 97 percent of Americans, which means the majority of Republicans, independents, and Democrats, all believe that we ought to have background checks that do not have any loopholes, that we know who are purchasing weapons, we find out whether they have mental health problems, whether they have criminal problems, whether they're domestic abuse persons, whether they're terrorists, whether they can't fly on airplanes because of the danger to the air public.

The fact of the matter is, America wants action and we ought to have action. And the president -- and the speaker has said, we will take on the tough issues one at a time. We'll have the courage to do that. Well, he's not doing that. He hasn't done it in so many different ways. But certainly on this issue, we've filed two discharge petitions. One to make sure that we have -- everybody has a background check and, two, that you can't get a gun until that background check is finished, not just 72 hours later if the background check is not approved you get the gun anyway. That's the Roof case in Charleston where the individuals who were killed were in a church. So I think Americans want action. They expect action. And we ought to take action.

BERMAN: We will see what happened today after the president meets with lawmakers of both parties.

Congressman Steny Hoyer, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your time, sir.

HOYER: Thank you. OK.

BERMAN: All right, I want to go now to Abby Phillip at the White House.

Again, we just heard from the president moments ago, Abby, really cutting into Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. The attorney general actually called for the type of investigation you might think the president wants. It's still not enough. What's going on here? What are the issues and who are the players?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, definitely. And certainly not fast enough for President Trump. This is a person who was one of the president's earliest supporters and is now, as the president has called him himself, beleaguered. This tweet -- President Trump says, why is AG Sessions asking for the inspector general to investigate massive FISA abuses? Will take forever and has no prosecutorial power. And already late with reports on Comey, et cetera. He -- the president also is concerned, apparently, that the inspector general is an Obama guy, a holdover from the Obama administration. And he's wondering why Sessions will not use Justice Department lawyers.

Now, Sessions announced this yesterday in an effort to sort of get ahead of this issue and try to put it through what would under normal circumstances be a normal Department of Justice process, have the inspector general look at it. The inspector general is already looking into how the Clinton investigation was handled. But it's clear that President Trump is not happy with the pace of this. And he thinks Jeff Sessions should be much more aggressive. President Trump's anger with Sessions has not abated over the last

several months. These attacks are still growing very public and continuing for months and months. Meanwhile, Sessions remains in the job. And, you know, recently, when -- the last time President Trump attacked Sessions in this way, it was clear that, you know, the president's advisers believed that these would continue, that he would not stop criticizing Sessions publicly, but that it was still not clear whether there was any intention to move Sessions off of this particular job.

We also know that in the last year, there were a lot of efforts made to keep Sessions from resigning in the face of these criticisms from his boss. But, obviously, John, this saga continues and President Trump wants his Department of Justice to be more aggressive in investigating the prior administration, investigating the use of the foreign surveillance program in the overall Russia investigation, because that's ultimately what a lot of this is about.

[09:50:23] BERMAN: And he just called his attorney general disgraceful. The president of the United States called the attorney general that he nominated disgraceful and is pushing for some kind of Justice Department lawyer investigation into the FBI.

Abby Phillip, at the White House, thank you very much.

We do have more breaking news. Paul Manafort pleading not guilty to these new charges moments ago. We'll have details right after the break.


[09:55:28] BERMAN: A day after dedicating his season to Stoneman Douglas shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, Dwyane Wade had his best game of the year.

Andy Scholes has more in this morning's "Bleacher Report."

Andy, this was awesome.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: This was so cool, John. You know, since being traded back to Miami, Dwyane Wade hadn't had much of an impact. He was averaging just nine points a game. But he had one inspirational performance last night.

This "Bleacher Report" brought to you by the new 2018 Ford F-150.

Joaquin Oliver, one of the 17 students who lost their lives in the Stoneman Douglas shooting. And he was such a big Miami Heat and Wade fan, he was laid to rest wearing Wade's jersey.

Well, Wade writing Oliver's name on his shoes last night and then he went out there and had his best game of the season, scoring 15 of the Heat's final 17 points, including this game winner right here with five seconds left. After the game Wade posted on Instagram, Joaquin Oliver and Henry Thomas, thanks for being my angel tonight. Thomas, who was Wade's agent, passed away last month. All right, the Golden State Warriors are in D.C. to play the Wizards tonight. The team skipping the annual trip to the White House to celebrate their NBA title. Instead, the team visiting the National Museum of African-American History and Culture with students from Kevin Durant's hometown. Now, Durant and Steph Curry and head coach Steve Kerr, they've been outspoken about President Trump in the past, saying they would not go to the White House. President Trump, meanwhile, rescinded their invitation to celebrate the title with him back in September.

All right, finally, one day away from March, but the madness already beginning. Last night North Carolina down three to Miami. Joel Berry, the clutch three to tie the game with just four seconds left, but Ja'Quan Newton going to get the inbound, one last second heave and it goes down. The Canes win 91-88, snapping the Heels six-game winning streak.

John, conference tournaments start tonight. Selection Sunday, a week from Sunday. So start doing your research.

BERMAN: All right, Andy Scholes, thanks so much. My heart just skipped a few beats there. I appreciate it.

We do have a whole lot of breaking news right now.

President Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort just pleaded not guilty in court.

And a stunning attack from the president of the United States on the attorney general. The president calling the man he nominated disgraceful. We have new developments right after the break.


[10:00:10] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here.