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AT THIS HOUR

Major Democratic Turnout but GOP Candidates Still Ahead in Texas; Cruz Puts Out Ad Ridiculing Opponent's First Name; Senate Democrats Split on Banking Bill; Trump Administration Strikes Out Against Sanctuary Cities; "Man of Mystery" Cooperating with Mueller; Porn Star Sues Trump, Says "Hush" Agreement Invalid; Another Nor'easter with Heavy Snow to Hit Parts of East Coast. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] TOM PEREZ, CHAIR, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Your first chance to make a first impression and you attack somebody's nickname they've had since they were an infant. What Beto is talking about, how do we expand health care for people and grow jobs, and if you work a full-time job, you can live a stress-free life. That's why he's generated so much excitement out there. They don't know what the origins of the nickname are but how to improve their lives. He's fighting for education and right to organize a union and fighting for health care and fighting for the things that keep people up at night.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHORs it tell you that maybe -- I'm assuming that there was research behind what he did. So there must have been findings that a lot of people thought Beto O'Rourke might be Hispanic and he was trying to clear that up. What do you think about that?

PEREZ: I think what it shows is Ted Cruz is desperate. Look at this. Beto O'Rourke has run a remarkable grassroots campaign. He's not taken money from the special interest that have lined Ted Cruz's pockets for years and years. Ted Cruz has 100 percent name recognition. And, frankly, I think that's our secret weapon, as Democrats, because people know Ted Cruz and he's not fighting for ordinary Texans. He's fighting for special interests. And Beto is going to fight for everyone in every zip code. That's what his campaign has been. He's been going to corners where, frankly, where Democrats didn't show up.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: He's been all over.

So you are the chairman of the campaign arm for the party. The campaign arm for House Democrats, the DCCC, in a controversial move, published opposition research against a Democratic primary opponent, Laura Moeser. It didn't work. She's going to be in the run-off election. And you said to C-SPAN, "I wouldn't have done that. I would have done it differently." Tell me about that.

PEREZ: I think what we need to do as Democrats -- what we do at the DNC is we don't get involved in heavily contested primaries and the DCCC does. I respect the fact that they do endorse in primaries. Emily's List and others endorse in primaries. But what I would have done differently, again, I would have kept the campaign focused on the issues, what are you fighting for, things of that nature.

You know what though, what I see in Texas -- and we have a runoff there and elsewhere. But what excites me about Texas is what I see everywhere, which is incredible energy. We had incredible energy last year in Virginia, record turnout.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: What type of message did this send in Texas to progressives when the D trip is taking on the progressive candidate. One of your big challenges, coming in as chairman of the DNC, has been trying to span the divide between the wings of your party. What kind of message does that send when they are taking aim at the more liberal person in the race?

PEREZ: Again, as I said, I would have done it differently. But what I think is most important and what I see all across the country -- and we've had a lot of contested primaries across the country -- and what we saw in Virginia after the primary there last year is people came together. They understood that Donald Trump is most dangerous president in American history.

People in Texas understand that Ted Cruz is not fighting for their values. And we need a Democratic Congress so that we can grow this economy, so that we can make sure that people across Texas have access to health care. So we'll continue to have these spirited primaries, but I'm confident that as we complete the runoffs, that Democrats will come together because our -- what unites us far exceeds what our differences are.

KEILAR: Speaking of differences, there's a split in the party in the Senate when it comes to this banking bill. You have, on one side, folks like Elizabeth Warren, who say this takes the teeth out of Dodd- Frank, it is going to lead to another financial crisis. Then you have moderate Democrats who are willing to vote for this. Where are you on this banking bill?

PEREZ: Well, again, as someone who served in the Obama administration, I had a front row seat to a lot of the abuses on Wall Street. I had one CEO of a prominent bank who said, when there's no common-sense legislation, it becomes a race to the bottom.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: Well, I see the point of the American people. Fooled you once, shame on you, fooled you twice, shame on me. We have to protect consumers here. And I'm fearful that there will be short memories and we'll again have a bubble and we won't have any --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Do you support the bill? I hear your concern about the bubble and --

(CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: I don't think -- I think we should continue to give the Consumer Protection Commission --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: What about the bill? What about the banking bill?

PEREZ: Again, I think we should continue -- we should continue, as we currently are. I don't think we should loosen the requirements. I think that we need to protect consumers. And I saw it firsthand, because I had to help a lot of them who had been, through no fault of their own, victimized, and that's what I think our focus should be.

Thank you so much, Tom Perez. Really appreciate you taking the time to --

PEREZ: Pleasure to be here.

[11:35:09] KEILAR: -- join us in the studio today.

A powerful businessman, a Trump associate and Middle East officials meet on a remote island during the presidential transition. One of those men is cooperating with the special counsel in the Russia investigation. We'll have those details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Breaking news, the Trump administration striking out against so-called sanctuary cities and states. Moments ago, in a speech to California peace officers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions talked about the Justice Department's lawsuit against the state over its immigration policies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: California, we have a problem. A series of actions and events has occurred here that directly and adversely impacts the work of our federal officers. For example, the mayor of Oakland has actively -- has been actively seeking to help illegal aliens avoid apprehension by ICE. Her actions support those who flout the law and boldly validates illegality. There's no other way to interpret those remarks. To make matters worse, the elected lieutenant governor of the state praised her for doing so, bragging about and encouraging the obstruction of our law enforcement and the law -- I'm afraid this is an embarrassment to the proud state of California.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[11:40:45] KEILAR: CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett, has more details on this.

What do we know about this lawsuit, Laura?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Hey, there, Brianna. The crux of this lawsuit is that the Justice Department is taking a pretty aggressive step, some might say the most significant step to date. In the midst of all of the lawsuits in this administration, this one is quite serious. What they are asking a federal judge to do is block a series of state laws passed last year in California that sought to try to limit the amount of information that local law enforcement would have to share with federal officials.

They did that because they wanted to try to stem the tide of deportations under the Trump administration. But now the Justice Department is saying that that conflicts with federal law, federal law takes the day and, therefore, the federal judge should put them on hold.

Now, the California officials have really slammed this lawsuit, calling it a political stunt. The governor, Jerry Brown, there, saying this is sad. But they will have their chance to fire back against it later today. The governor and the attorney general in the state are going to make a statement just shortly there in California -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Laura Jarrett, thank you.

I want to bring back former U.S. attorney, Michael Moore, to talk about this.

Michael, how do you see this playing out?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: You know, I don't know that the Justice Department bringing a lawsuit against a state is a particularly unusual thing. What's unusual is it's different from the past. That is that this administration seems so particularly interested in street crimes and immigration, they are not doing the historical things the Justice Department has done. Usually, you see the Justice Department come in and tell a state, you're not giving your citizens enough rights. Think about the Justice Department when they sued over civil rights, over voting rights.

There were people -- rights of people with disabilities. These are things that expanded people's rights. Here you've got the Republicans coming in under the Trump administration essentially saying, we think the federal government has more authority and more wisdom about how to run things in the state. That's an unusual position for them. We've heard for years about states' rights, states' rights, states' rights. That's about all that the Republicans have talked about and local governance. Now, the federal government is telling California what laws they should and shouldn't pass.

KEILAR: It's an interesting point there. How much leeway do the states have though?

MOORE: Well, you know, there's a rule about the supremacy and having federal laws enforced within the state. The question will be here, are the California laws actually specifically opposed to the federal law? Do they cause it to not be enforced within the state or is it the state's efforts to deal with some of the immigration issues that they have internally? So I think, ultimately, at the end of the day, obviously, the judge

will make that call, but historically, we do think that states have rights to pass laws affecting their local law enforcement. That's what it sounds like is happening here. Again, this administration has been fascinated with guns and gangs and immigration, and we're back to talking about street crimes, instead of things like Russia, voting rights, making sure people have a right to vote, and access to the polls.

KEILAR: Michael Moore, thank you so much.

MOORE: Thank you.

KEILAR: Now, a man with ties to both Donald Trump's inner circle and the Middle East is reportedly now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. His name is George Nader. Sources say he attended secret meetings during the presidential transition between the United Arab Emirates and Trump associates. Nader was stopped and questioned at Dulles International Airport in January when he was on his way to Mar-a-Lago. And he has been talking to Mueller's investigators ever since.

Joining me now, we have CNN justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, what more can you tell us about Mueller's interest in Nader?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME & JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Brianna, whatever it is that George Nader has to offer to investigators, it's important enough that investigators at the Mueller team and FBI agents and prosecutors there have deemed it important enough where they have put this information before a grand jury that is investigating this.

As you say, George Nader was kind of this mysterious character associated with some of the Trump inner circle, with Steve Bannon, with Jared Kushner. He was at the meeting with them in December 2016 during a -- during the transition where the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was there. It was a secret meeting. The crown prince never notified the U.S. that he was coming to New York to meet with Trump people. George Nader was in that meeting.

That was follow-up with a meeting in January in the Seychelles, also never told to anyone it was happening, and only learned of by U.S. intelligence officials and partners after they picked up some intelligence there was a meeting going on, that George Nader was there. We didn't learn that George Nader was at that meeting until he was questioned by the FBI when he returned in January of this year, where they searched his phones and he was given a search warrant and they imaged his phones. He was then given a grand jury subpoena. Ever since then, he's been cooperating with the special counsel.

It's true that we don't know exactly what Mueller's interest in George Nader is but, again, whatever it is he's providing, it is evidence in this and that is now before a grand jury.

[11:46:01] KEILAR: Interesting.

Shimon Prokupecz, thank you.

Joining me to talk more about this is CNN legal and national security analyst and former FBI special agent, Asha Rangappa.

Asha, when you look at this, how significant is it that George Nader is cooperating with the special counsel?

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: To me, Brianna, this is significant because it's showing that Mueller is really expanding the scope of his investigation. It's looking internationally. And that there were potentially even more contacts and connections. We now have the UAE involved, in addition to Russia, and looking at how all of these things tie together with the Trump campaign. So Mueller's investigation is not ending any time soon, I can tell you that.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about the president's long-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, because it's become clear that he's been involved in a series of pretty shady dealings recently. He paid the porn star, Stormy Daniels, to silence her, to basically keep her quiet ahead of the election. According to her lawyer, he was trying to keep her quiet through binding arbitration as recently as last week.

Then you have the special counsel, of course, which is interested in Michael Cohen. He also, it turns out, got some -- what was supposed to be secret information about some testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, testimony from a staffer about the Christopher Steele dossier. It's a series of things, and it seems like one thing after the other. Could he be in trouble when you look at this pattern?

RANGAPPA: Well, right now, it doesn't look like he is directly a target of any investigation.

Let's take each of these things separately. The Stormy Daniels lawsuit is a civil lawsuit. This has to do with potentially private conduct of the president before he entered office. Is not really clear it's going to be tied in in any way with Mueller's investigation or what's happening in these other arenas.

With regard to Mueller's investigation, he's looking at two deals that Cohen was potentially involved with. One involved a deal to create a Trump Tower in Moscow. The negotiations, which began in September 2015, Cohen says those never went anywhere eventually. Another is a potential peace plan that was presented -- that Cohen was involved with that was presented by the Ukraine. And that was the timing of that is very up in the air, but that may have been in the works during the campaign as well. So it looks like Mueller is interested in that.

With the House Intelligence Committee, what we have are again, potential leaks. You know, that committee is not functioning very smoothly. And so he's not necessarily in trouble, but it does raise questions about who on that committee is kind of leaking information about other witnesses' testimony to, you know, maybe shape future people who may come before it.

[11:49:04] KEILAR: All right, Asha Rangappa, thank you.

Up next, nor'easter, round two. Heavy snow and high winds taking aim at more than 50 million people on parts of the east coast right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Another nor'easter is on its way, getting ready to drop heavy snow across parts of the east coast. More than 50 million people from Maryland to Maine are under winter storm warnings, even as they're recovering from that bomb cyclone that hit the area a few days ago.

CNN's Jean Casarez is live from Allentown, Pennsylvania.

We see the snow coming down. How's it looking there, Jean?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's so beautiful, but it's so dangerous, too. This is exactly what state officials here in the commonwealth said was going to happen, as well as meteorologists. From 11:00 today until 5:00, it is supposed to come down fast and furiously right here in Pennsylvania, especially Allentown. They say it's going to be one of the hardest hit areas, up to two inches per hour.

Now, the governor, Tom Wolf, of Pennsylvania, just came out saying they're preparing for the worst. There are 450 members of the National Guard on standby here in eastern Pennsylvania. They have moved the resources to the areas that they think are going to be the hardest hit. And they're really saying, stay home. But as you can see, of course there's not a car behind me, but there's cars all over the place. Everybody's driving everywhere. And the concern is that when the accumulation continues to build until 5:00 tonight, when people are going home, that is the most dangerous time of all.

As far as snowplows, snowplows are going to be on the most heavily driven areas, the interstates. It takes two hours, they say, for the snowplow to make its route. On roadways, just like behind me right here, the snowplows are going to be able to get to. The accumulations will be there. The slickness will be there.

They say go home. Go home and stay home. This should be considered a snow day until this storm passes -- Brianna?

[11:55:28] KEILAR: Go home, hunker down, stay home.

Jean Casarez, thank you so much, for us from Allentown.

Still ahead, another top adviser out the door, the markets rattled over looming tariffs, and a lawsuit from a porn star. That's just a taste of the chaos engulfing the Trump White House this morning.

Stay with CNN.

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