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CNN TONIGHT

Porn Star Pushes Her Fight Against Trump; Curiosity Leads to More Legal Troubles for Trump; Secret Meeting Disclosed to Mueller's Team; European Union Prepared to Retaliate. Aired 10-11:00p ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 22:00   ET

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


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: That's it for us. Time now to hand it over to Don Lemon and CNN Tonight.

DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

Another night of scandals in the Trump White House from the Russia investigation to the lawsuit against the president by a porn star.

First, Russia and this is big. President Trump had reportedly had not one, but two, conversations where in which he asked key witnesses what they discussed with Robert Mueller's investigators, the sources telling The New York Times the President asked former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus if investigators had been, in his word, "nice." They also said the President went so far as to say the White House Counsel Don McGahn should deny Trump asked him to fire Mueller, again, reportedly had to remind the president that yes, he did just that.

We also have breaking on the story of the President and the porn star, the phrase I never really thought that I would actually say until this White House.

Stormy Daniels' attorney claims she was threatened today by Michael Cohen, Trump's long-time attorney, in an attempt to keep her quiet, which just makes you wonder what else she might know here.

That's after the White House tried again and again today to dance around the questions about this tawdry mess, and whether the president knew about the $130,000 check his lawyer wrote, Sarah Sanders defaulting to what's become -- becoming the favorite response of this White House. Quote, "not that I'm aware of."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Sarah, you said repeatedly that we've addressed our feelings on that situation in regards to the Stormy Daniels incident. Specifically, did the President approve of the payment that was made in October of 2016 by his long-time lawyer and adviser, Michael Cohen?

SARAH HUCKABEE-SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, the president has addressed this directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration, and anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel.

ZELENY: When did the president address, specifically the cash payment that was made in October of 2016?

SANDERS: The president has denied the allegations against him, and again, this case has already been won in arbitration. Anything beyond that I would refer you to outside counsel.

ZELENY: Did he know about that payment at the time, though?

SANDERS: I've addressed this as far as I can go.

ZELENY: Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So the White House response boils down to this, claiming the president has already addressed Stormy Daniels' allegations against him. No, he hasn't, claiming the president has won a case against Stormy Daniels in arbitration. That's not true, either.

At least according to her attorney who says, quote, "Claiming that Mr. Trump won at arbitration when there has been no hearing, no notice to Miss Clifford, no opportunity given to her to respond and no decision on the merits is completely bogus." That's a quote.

So you've got to wonder, what is this White House trying to hide? We don't know yet what really happened. But we do know that the president's lawyer paid Stormy Daniels $130,000, $130,000. He admitted that.

We know that her lawyer says it's an effort to silence her, an effort that began 11 days before the election. It's hard to imagine why they would spend so much money and time trying to silence Stormy Daniels if there were nothing to her story.

We don't yet know what happened, but what we do know is this. Somebody is not telling the truth.

Let's bring in CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin with more.

Drew, good evening to you. So what is the latest in this Trump versus Stormy Daniels saga of -- should I use the alias David Dennison? Or what's trending online now President Dennison and Peggy Peterson? What more are you learning about the settlement agreement?

DREW GRIFFIN, SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, CNN: Yes, I mean, for those of you who don't know, those of the two names that the two parties involved Stormy Daniels as PP, Peggy, and Donald Trump is DD, David Dennison, that is in this settlement agreement that was worked out.

I just want to correct one thing, Don, when you said we don't know what happened. We do know what happened according to Stormy Daniels through this lawsuit and through her attorney. She said yes, she had an intimate relationship with Donald Trump beginning in 2006 in Lake Tahoe and lasting well into 2007.

We also know that prior to the election, she was looking to tell her story. She was looking to tell the story of this relationship to media outlets, and that is when Michael Cohen, Trump's attorney, found out about it and aggressively came after her, she says, aggressively sought to silence Ms. Clifford.

[22:05:02] This is according to this lawsuit, and forced her, if you believe Ms. Daniels and her attorney, into signing this settlement agreement in which she was paid $130,000, supposedly to keep quiet, not say anything, not produce any documents, and her attorney today said if you believe that Donald Trump didn't know all of this was happening, think again. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The suggestion that you would have an experienced, educated attorney like Mr. Cohen who would run off half-cocked without any knowledge of his client, that he would negotiate and draft a detailed agreement that included his client as a party, that he would engage in weeks of negotiation, that he would reach agreement, that he would then send $130,000 in connection with that agreement, that he would then later institute an arbitration proceeding without knowledge of his client. All of this to those of us that practice under the law as attorneys, it's ludicrous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Don?

LEMON: Yes. So, go ahead. Did you want to respond to that?

GRIFFIN: You know, I was going to tell you that this agreement, this settlement agreement, which was worked out 11 days before the election now, goes into great detail, it's more than a dozen pages long, it itemizes just about everything Stormy Daniels cannot say, the information that she cannot release, and this was all done just before the election just as Stormy Daniels was going to tell her story about her relationship with Donald Trump.

LEMON: Yes. Eleven days. And you've obtained the restraining order, I understand, issued against Stormy Daniels.

GRIFFIN: Yes. The restraining order issued by an arbitrator in a private arbitration company out in California, which actually was put in place or executed to try to stop this lawsuit from being even filed.

It didn't involve anybody from Stormy Daniels' side. It was basically a judge, retired judge, who would make this order and try to prevent this lawsuit from ever being filed. That's why Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford's attorney, says it's ridiculous. There was no hearing and Stormy Daniels and attorneys didn't even know about it. So it's very hard to think that that would be executed in any way. LEMON: Drew Griffin, I appreciate your reporting. Thank you, sir.

I want to bring in now CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger, CNN's politics editor at large, Chris Cillizza, and legal analyst Laura Coates.

Good evening to all of you.

Gloria, I want to start with you. I want to get your reaction and what you're learning tonight. Because you, too, have spoken to Stormy Daniels' attorney. Just what do you make of what you're learning from him?

GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Well, I think what he's saying is that this was a kangaroo court that this agreement was settled in, and that, you know, they didn't know about the arbitration. They had no idea about it. It's not going to hold up in court.

They, you know, it's ludicrous, as he puts it, ridiculous, and they're not going to let Michael Cohen get away with this.

Politically, I would tell you that this is a story that has been kind of on a slow boil for weeks, and now it's moved from side stage to center stage. And this is something that the president is not going to like because at some point push is going to come to shove here, and the president is going to be asked questions about this.

LEMON: I thought it was interesting, do you think that Sarah Sanders made a mistake today by talking about this arbitration?

BORGER: Yes.

LEMON: Because no one had heard about it.

BORGER: Well she pointed it out to everybody.

LEMON: She pointed it out to everyone.

BORGER: She pointed it out to everybody. She released this, you know, pointed out this bit of information saying, well, it's a done deal, it's been settled in arbitration. And it took us a while to figure out what she was talking about.

But once she said it, it even became stranger because it was clear that Michael Cohen did this because he was -- thought her story was in danger of being told. And so tried to get her not to talk this way, and now she's got a new attorney, and this attorney is clearly very aggressive and going to fight this, going to fight this.

LEMON: It's an interesting thing, people have asked me why -- why are you reporting on something that happened 10 years ago? The alleged affair happened 10 years ago. It didn't happened the allege affair happened 10 years ago.

BORGER: Right. LEMON: But the payoff happened 11 days before the election.

BORGER: That's right.

LEMON: And we just found out she -- we just found out $130,000, the payoff, that was last month or in January.

BORGER: Right.

LEMON: So this is all new information.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Well, it is new information.

LEMON: It happened before the election.

BORGER: There are legal questions...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: And legal questions about election law, right?

BORGER: ...about who paid for it, was it a campaign contribution? About election law. Michael Cohen is saying that it was his personal money. Lots of people doubt it. Michael Cohen -- you know, people are also saying, look, the president didn't know about this.

It's hard to believe that 11 days before the election, the president did not know what his close friend and personal attorney was doing on his behalf.

[22:10:03] LEMON: And if the president or his attorney did, indeed, Laura, break the law here, that is really the important question.

Some people may not care about a tawdry affair with a porn star. That's their business. Others will. But if someone, especially if someone who is running for president and his personal attorney broke the law, that is 2indeed the big question. That's the scope here.

LAURA COATES, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes, it's huge here. And remember, not only did Sarah Huckabee Sanders disclose this arbitration agreement or the arbitration happening in court, she also confirmed for the first time that David Dennison was Donald Trump, and he was actually a party to all this. So that's why it's trending about President Dennison.

But you're absolutely right here, Don, but the larger issue here is not about the salacious details about whether a porn star was involved with then-private citizen after the birth of his youngest child.

Now, we are talking about is the issue of was there transparency in the democratic process? The very same directive that's undertaken Robert Mueller's team. The whole goal here of campaign finance law and about disclosing campaign contributions that won't necessarily impact the election but will help and benefit the campaign. Remember, we've got laws that say you can't even spend more than $2700

on that. Even people who don't know how to do math very well know that 130,000 is a lot more than that, and obviously, 11 days before the election, it would have benefited in some way.

And if you don't recall that back look to John Edwards so it deals with this issue in an indictment. Now that was a hung jury. But you're seeing that past is prologue here, and history is repeating itself. Maybe not with the porn star part 2, but you have that aspect of it as well about the absence of transparency and someone is trying to circumvent a law that's supposed to protect the American people's choices.

LEMON: Two questions, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNN: OK, I'm ready.

LEMON: So we keep hearing that the questions surrounding Stormy Daniels have been asked and answered. Not so. And did Sarah Sanders make a grave error here by pointing out the arbitration today?

CILLIZZA: Yes. The question is, she was clearly prepped for it. She expected Stormy Daniels questions given how much it's been in the news, given the lawsuit that Stormy Daniels filed on Tuesday night.

She was prepped for it. This is clearly a talking point to push back on it and try to put it behind -- well, it's already done with, old news. That didn't work. So whoever gave her that advice, or if that was her own thought, that didn't work and I think suggests that the fact that Michael Cohen was pursuing this approach as early as recently as February 27th, why? Right? What is the story?

He has said it's not true. Donald Trump says he never knew anything about it. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said again it's not true. Why? So, that's a big error.

The second thing I just -- I think Gloria hit it from side stage to center stage. I think Donald Trump is going to have to say something about it. Maybe he won't. He regularly box what a normal politician would do when it comes to addressing or not addressing.

But it's not been asked and answered. Jeff Zeleny, our colleague made that quite clear about the $130,000. Did Donald Trump know contemporaneously that Michael Cohen was using $130,000 allegedly of his own money to pay a porn star who didn't actually have an affair with Donald Trump according to Michael Cohen, but just pay her for her silence, did Donald Trump know that? Her response was not terribly convincing. Not that I know of is not no. And you believe that if she thought this though, she could say no, she of course would have.

LEMON: Gloria, you know Michael Cohen. You know how he operates. I know him just a little bit just peripheral, I mean, he seems to be fine and nice guy. But would he do something like this without the knowledge of the president, do you think?

BORGER: I don't -- I don't...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: So he said to me, I'm very loyal to the president.

BORGER: He is, he is loyal. He's a dog defender of the president, always has been. He's bit of a pit bull, we know that.

LEMON: Right.

BORGER: And we've seen that, we saw that during the campaign. And he's fiercely loyal to him. Would he do something like this without telling him 11 days before the election? I have a lot of question about that. I don't see how that happens. I think they were close.

Michael Cohen wasn't a part of the campaign but he was still close to the Donald Trump and to the family. And you know, it's hard for me to think that he would do this on his own, out of his own pocket. I don't know many lawyers who would do that.

Again, he is close to Trump, but it's just -- it's just really hard to fathom that this would all be going on without him going to the president and saying, look -- or the candidate Trump saying, we've got a problem here. I want to fix it, and here's my plan for it. And Trump would probably not get particularly involved in the details but say, you know, well, fix it. That's what Michael Cohen does.

CILLIZZA; And by the way...

(CROSSTALK)

[22:14:57] LEMON: I've got -- I've got to get to the break. Standby, Chris, can you hold that thought?

CILLIZZA: Yes, of course.

LEMON: But two things I want the viewer to carry to the break. Number one, if the law was broken here, how do you feel about that? Right? If the law is broken how do you feel about that. And I don't know that it is, I'm not an attorney.

And number two, had you known this, that the President of the United States attorney, whether the president is involved or the candidate was involved, this information paid 100,000 -- $130,000 for someone to keep quiet, and then made them sign an undisclosed agreement about it. And then it had gone to arbitration, would you have voted the same way? Maybe you would have, I don't know.

We'll be right back. More to discuss.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Breaking news on the Russia investigation tonight. We're learning tonight that President Trump has reportedly asked two witnesses about their conversations with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators. That is according to the New York Times. So what does this mean for the investigation?

Gloria Borger is back with me, also joining me is Jack Quinn, the former Clinton White House counsel. My apologies to Laura and Chris. I thought they were coming back. They're not. I'll have to get Chris' answer to the question a little later on, on another show.

So, Gloria, I'm going to start with you. The New York Times says the president spoke to at least two witnesses about what they discussed with the special counsel.

One witness said, "Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff Reince Priebus how his interview had gone with special counsel -- counsel's investigators and whether they had been -- this is a quote -- "nice."

[22:20:03] "That's according to two people familiar with the discussion."

So, you're not particularly surprised the president is doing this, right?

BORGER: Well, I'm not, because the president knows no boundaries here. I mean, any lawyer and Jack will tell you, will tell you, you know, if you're involved in a big case, you don't ask people what they said to the investigators.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let your attorneys, right.

BORGER: Let your lawyers do that. What is a little more stunning to me is that he asked Don McGahn, his White House counsel to issue a retraction saying that after the New York Times story came out saying that the president had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller.

And McGahn had to -- the president said, you didn't say that, according to the Times. And Mueller said, well actually, you know, you did say that to me and that story is accurate.

So, you know, this is something the president would be doing, and I know from my reporting that his attorneys sit on him every single day. He hasn't been tweeting about Mueller. They try and keep him from tweeting about the investigation. You didn't see him tweeting about Sam Nunberg the other day. But you can't restrain him in the Oval Office when he wants to ask questions.

LEMON: It makes me wonder though, if he even remembers the conversations or if he just wants people to lie straight up. Because Don McGahn was like, I can't do that because you did ask me to get rid of the special counsel.

BORGER: Yes, and then president, according to the Times, said that's not the way I recall.

LEMON: Yes. Let me read this.

BORGER: Yes, OK. LEMON: This is quote from the Time.

BORGER: OK.

LEMON: And Jack, I'll give it to you. "In one episode, the president told an aide that White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a New York Times article in January. The article said Mr. McGahn told the investigators that the president once asked him to fire the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. McGahn never released the statement and later had to remind the president that he had indeed asked Mr. McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed the people said."

So, he said, one of the White House counsel to lie from him, what's going on? This is for you, Jack.

JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Is that for me? Look, there's nothing here that on the face of it speaks to an illegality, all right? But appearance here is really concerning. Specifically, it has all appearances of trying to shape the testimony that Mueller is getting, shape the testimony of other people, find out what other people are saying so that he can shape his own testimony when he has to present evidence and submit to an interview by Mueller.

LEMON: That would be obstruction?

QUINN: Well, so you've two kinds, two legal issues here. One is obstruction, and we're talking an awful lot about that, and I know that -- well, let me come back to that.

The second one is witness tampering. Now, they are dealt with in separate sections of the U.S. Code. You cannot try to persuade somebody to testify falsely. That in and of itself is a crime. And, of course, you can't obstruct justice, which requires a showing of corrupt intent.

So there's a lot that needs to be done to make out a case, but it seems like every time we're on air talking about this, there is a different episode with a different anecdote, all of which suggest that the president is interfering here or getting close to that line.

LEMON: Yes.

QUINN: Now, one of you mentioned earlier, I think Gloria, that the president's lawyers no doubt have been warning him not to do this. Any lawyer worth his or her salt will be doing that, saying essentially, don't speak to witnesses, don't speak to other lawyers. In fact, why don't you just not speak to anyone about this until we're ready to present evidence.

LEMON: Well, I've heard some people say, well, it can't be witness tampering or it can't be obstruction because it's on the back end. But my understanding, Gloria, is that when they don't speak to the special counsel, some people don't speak to the special counsel just once. They may go back. They may -- or if somebody wants to amend their testimony sometimes the special counsel... (CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Right. And you don't know who's going to be called before a grand jury.

LEMON: Right, exactly.

BIRGER: So, you don't know. Look, I think the president is honestly curious. I'm assuming his lawyers...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Who wouldn't he be? You can't blame him for being curious.

BORGER: Of course. And maybe Jack can talk about this. I'm assuming his lawyers are debriefing people as they come out of the -- people in the White House as they come out. I think I know they are.

QUINN: Absolutely.

BORGER: Yes.

QUINN: Absolutely. And look, it's true, it is somewhat helpful to him that this is after the fact.

BORGER: Right.

QUINN: But again, let me just go back to this conflict of shaping testimony. You know, the prosecutors are going to ask himself is he curious about the testimony in order that he might know how to avoid saying something that, you know, is inconsistent with testimony they got from other people.

[22:25:09] And that all of this together again, would naturally raise the antenna of Bob Mueller and the people working for him, that they're trying to shape the story. That's concerning.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: OK. I want to -- I want to give Gloria the last word here. Gloria, it is concerning. Jack, you're absolutely right. But it just shows that this remains on the president's mind. It's forthright in his mind.

BORGER: Yes. And he knows, first of all, it hangs over his presidency, and he knows that at some point no matter what the negotiations are that Bob Mueller is going to want to hear from him.

LEMON: Yes.

BORGER: And his lawyers know that, too. So they're debriefing all these people, Trump so trying to figure out who told what, when, and he has to come up with the narrative, his own narrative. He's very confident he can do that, but his lawyers, of course, don't want him to.

LEMON: When you go in there...

(CROSSTALK)

QUINN: And if I may, if I may.

LEMON: Yes, go ahead quickly, Jack.

QUINN: I can promise you this. They will hear from him.

BORGER: Yes.

QUINN: I promise you that.

LEMON: The thing is, though, everyone is out there and they're trying to save themselves, so you don't know exactly what they said even if they report back to you...

QUINN: Correct.

LEMON: ... something. We don't know.

BORGER: Yes.

LEMON: Thank you both. I appreciate it.

When we come back, new scrutiny over a secret meeting that investigators say was all about creating a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin. Did one key figure in that meeting mislead investigators about what happened there. I'm going to speak to a member of the House intel committee. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:30:00] DON LEMON, HOST, CNN: A report tonight that Robert Mueller's team is zeroing in on a secret meeting in Seychelles in early 2017. A meeting involving an adviser to President Trump and an associate of Vladimir Putin.

2I want to talk about this with Congressman Denny Heck, a Washington Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, good to have you back. Thank you for coming on.

REP. DENNY HECK (D), WASHINGTON: You're welcome Don.

LEMON: The Washington Post is reporting tonight that the special counsel's office has evidence of a secret meeting just before Donald Trump's inauguration to establish a backchannel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin.

The meeting involved Erik Prince who has serve as an unofficial adviser to the president and a Russian official close to Putin. What's your reaction?

HECK: No surprise if that turns out to be the case. Are you talking about the meeting in the Seychelles, Don? LEMON: Yes.

HECK: Or are you talking about another one?

LEMON: No, I'm talking about the meeting in the Seychelles. But look, I have to ask you though. I mean, backchannel meeting especially...

(CROSSTALK)

HECK: Well, Don.

LEMON: Go ahead.

HECK: The meeting wasn't secret. Erik Prince came before the committee and testified, and as a condition of his testimony, he asked that the transcript be made public. Anybody can go to the intelligence committee's web site and see. He'll talk about it. It defies credibility in every regard.

What he suggested that he was invited to the Seychelles, he showed up with the Emirates. They had a conversation about possible business. It didn't go anywhere. Somebody said, hey, there's this Russian guy that you might want to meet in the bar for a beer. I went down 20 minutes with him, nothing came of it. I went to bed. I got up the next morning and went home. There's absolutely nothing about that that is credible.

LEMON: But it wouldn't be part of the first administration or incoming administration to try to establish a backchannel?

HECK: Yes, I don't think -- I don't think that's the issue. I think is whether or not there is something more nefarious that flip there. And as we all know, every time we turn over a stone, something has crawled out of it in this regard.

LEMON: Yes. So this meeting happened in the Seychelles, Erik Prince was questioned and it was back in November. He failed to mention, as you said, that a Mideast specialist with ties to the Trump campaign was also there. That man's name is George Nader.

HECK: Yes.

LEMON: And some of your committee are saying that Prince gave misleading testimony. That's your interpretation as well?

HECK: I don't remember he mentioned George Nader whatsoever, but I think we're going to learn more about this because that same Washington Post article is mentioning that George Nader was a cooperating witness before the grand jury.

LEMON: Yes. He is cooperating with the investigation after he was picked up at the airport, George Nader the Mideast specialist ties with the Trump team, meeting with Erik Prince. So you think this is a significant part of the investigation?

HECK: It certainly holds forth the potential to be significant. But look, Don, there is so much here that is of potential significance, and I keep in my great frustration trying to, at least get as much attention put upon the fact that we've got to simply -- we've simply got to do something about this right away in order to stop or deter Russian interference in our election coming up.

It's, what, seven short months away and we've done nothing. Congress has done absolutely nothing. And by the way, myself and some of my colleagues are going to seek to do something about that tomorrow.

LEMON: OK. Well, let's talk about tomorrow. Because President Trump's first campaign manager, or candidate Trump's first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, will go before the House intel committee for the second time.

In his first interview back in January, he refused to discuss any activities or communications with his former boss. Do you think tomorrow is going to be different?

HECK: Don, I have as a policy not confirming or denying the presence or identity of any particular witness unless they've already been identified either by chairman Conaway, who is functionally the chair of the investigation or ranking member Schiff until such time that's been confirmed in open sources. So that's a better question to ask me tomorrow.

LEMON: But you did say you were going to do something about it tomorrow. What did you mean by that?

HECK: We're going to introduce the DISARM act which stands for Directing Implementation of Sanctions and Accountability for Russian Mischief, DISARM act.

And basically what this says -- you know what we did last summer when we passed between the House and the Senate on a vote of 517 to 5, sanctions against Russia which the president refused to implement?

But we took away all his discretionary authority in that regard, and this legislation would require him to implement sanctions against five of the oligarchs that are identified here, and at least five of the organizations that are identified here to have been a party to this.

[22:34:57] LEMON: Tomorrow Congressman Denny Heck introduces the DISARM act to make sanctions enforcement requirements to the executive branch absolutely clear.

HECK: Quite a bit, Don, I should add there's a quite a bit of appetite to this. I was on the floor this afternoon and procured 42 signatures in co-sponsorship in a little less than an hour.

The bill will be, if you will pardon me, the Heck-Lance for Congressman Lance of New Jersey and Bass, Heck-Lance-Bass bill, Congresswoman Bass of California. There is a considerable appetite in Congress to actually have happen in direct, simple, blunt terms that which we requested last year.

LEMON: Congressman Heck, thank you for your time.

HECK: You're welcome.

LEMON: When we come back, James Clapper, the former director of the National Intelligence on why Vladimir Putin may be treating President Trump like an asset. We'll also ask him what he thinks about Putin complimenting President Trump in a new interview out today.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We have breaking news on the Russian investigation tonight. President Trump has reportedly been speaking to key witnesses about their conversations with special counsel Mueller.

[22:39:57] And there is news that Russian President Vladimir Putin lavish praise on Trump. President Trump in newly released interviews. Is it part of an attempt to treat Trump like and intelligence asset?

Well, good person to ask about that is CNN's national security analyst James Clapper, the former director National Intelligence. Good evening, sir. Thank you for joining us.

Director, the New York Times is reporting tonight that Robert Mueller's team now knows of two conversations in which the president asked Russian investigation witnesses, including his former chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House counsel Don McGahn about their interactions with the special counsel. What's your reaction to that?

JAMES CLAPPER, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, CNN: Well, first, I think it reflects intense concern on the part of the president and probably rightfully so in where special counsel Mueller is going and what questions he's asking. Maybe even a paranoia about it.

You know, I don't know -- I'm not a lawyer, I don't know if this rises to tampering with a witness. I guess not after the fact, but once again, not a very good optic.

LEMON: Yes. And that seems to be pretty much what the consensus from most people I've spoken to today. What about the new scrutiny on this mysterious meeting between informal Trump adviser Erik Prince and a Russian banker close to Putin possibly to set up a backchannel to Russia? As an intelligence guy, what stood out to you about this? Anything?

CLAPPER: Well, this is just another example of this surreptitious, you know, cops and robbers, Inspector Clouseau stuff, which is completely unnecessary if, in fact, you know, the dialogue was going to be legitimate.

There is really no reason to set up a secret backchannel because there has been a history where transition president elects and administration to be reach out to foreign contacts and foreign interlocutors.

And if it were done open and aboveboard, the last administration would have been pleased to assisted this if, in fact, it were legitimate and aboveboard. But this, again, is a bad optic in my view, and maybe there wasn't anything nefarious discussed, but it certainly doesn't have very good appearance.

LEMON: Director, the president was asked about Russian interference in the 2016 election yesterday. This is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the Russians had no impact on our votes whatsoever, but certainly there was meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals, and I think you have to be really watching very closely.

You don't want your system of votes to be compromised in any way. And we won't allow that to happen. We're doing a very, very deep study and we're coming out with, I think, some very strong suggestions on the '18 election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So director, at least three intelligence chiefs say they know nothing of any specific plan to deal with Russia. Is it possible that they would be out of the loop on any such deep study?

CLAPPER: Very unlikely. And why are we -- why are we studying this 14 months away from when all this happened, you know? So that's kind of an incredulous statement.

And as well, for him to suggest that, you know, the meddling had no impact really stretches credulity. In the sense of trying to give him, you know, do the best I can to give him the benefit of the doubt, we did say in our assessment that we saw no evidence of meddling with voter tallies.

But that's -- he's conflating that to try to give the impression or the assertion that the meddling had no impact. When you consider that the election basically turned on less than 80,000 votes in three states, with three key states, which were targeted, by the way, by the Russian effort, I think it really stretches credulity to suggest that no voter decisions were changed.

And by the way, it wasn't anybody else. It wasn't China, it wasn't the 400-pound guy in his bed in New Jersey, it was Russia. And nobody else.

LEMON: You have spoken before about how you think that Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be treating our president as an intelligence asset. What do you see that makes you say that?

CLAPPER: Well, first, I need to say I meant it figuratively, but remember Putin's professional background. He's a KGB agent in the heyday of the Soviet Union. So that's a way he, I think instinctively approaches particularly another head of state.

[22:44:56] And so, the way he thinks about this is how do I co-op this guy? How do I influence him? How do I gain his favor? Well, I think Putin has figured out that if he plays to President Trump's ego, he can influence him. LEMON: Yes.

CLAPPER: And the president's deference to him and his apparent admiration of an autocrat like Putin, a corrupt one, by the way, you know, it just further gives, in my mind it just suggests to me that Putin approaches how he handles and how he manages his interactions with President Trump as though he were a potential asset.

LEMON: Yes. Before I let you go, I just want to switch gears here and just get a quick thought on where things stand now with North and South Korea.

CLAPPER: Well, you know, I'm glad you asked me that, Don, because one of the things that concerns me is somebody that's followed developments on the Korean peninsula ever since I served there for two years as director of intelligence for U.S. forces Korea is that with all of our preoccupation with chaos in the White House and, you know, paying porn stars not to talk, we may be losing a crucial opportunity here that may not happen again to really change the dynamic on the Korean peninsula.

And the recent developments with Kim Jong-un receiving delegations from the South, his willingness to talk if as it's been reported by the Koreans, if that's accurate, this is a profound opportunity for us which I hope doesn't get lost with all these distractions.

And I would hope -- although I doubt we're doing it -- we're taking the long view here. And by that I mean, you know, what is it that's motivated the North Koreans to acquire a nuclear weapons capability? Well, it's fear of the United States.

LEMON: Right.

CLAPPER: So one of the demands they made to me when I was there, which I think still stands, is to negotiate a peace treaty because all we have right now is a ceasefire where, you know, 65 years ago on the 27th of July, 1953, everybody stopped shooting at each other.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Yes, and that...

CLAPPER: And so from the North Korean perspective, they just see, you know, the forces of raid against them as on a hair trigger ready to invade and overturn the regime. And we have a chance to change that dynamic.

LEMON: All right.

CLAPPER: We've been there for 68 years. At some point we need to decide when can the South Koreans defend themselves? And if we slowly and incrementally and thoughtfully reduced our presence in North Korea and remove the abject fear they have of us, we could easily change the dynamic.

And we're certainly, even now today we're in a much better place than we were a few months ago, where we were on the cusp rhetorically, at least, of a cataclysmic war.

LEMON: Thank you, director. I appreciate your time.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Don.

LEMON: We'll be right back.

[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The first shot in the trade war. President Trump has been talking about could begin as soon as tomorrow afternoon. But the president thought to be ready to announce tariffs on steel aluminum imports.

I want to talk about this now with Austan Goolsbee is here, he is the former chairman of the council of economic advisers under President Obama, and CNN's senior economic analyst, Stephen Moore, the former senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign. Gentlemen, good evening.

Austan, this announcement could come tomorrow. Sources say in part, it's in part an effort to help him rally voters for the republican candidate in the Pennsylvania special congressional election. Is this going to back fire do you think?

AUSTAN GOOLSBEE, FORMER BARACK OBAMA CHIEF ECONOMIST: Look, I can't speak to the politics I'm just a policy guy. But this is bad policy. It's going to destroy more manufacturing jobs than it saves. It's going to cost even in the steel industry more than a million dollars a job. And its cost the president his economic adviser. They know what's bad policy. They are leaving the ship as quick as they can.

LEMON: What do you think, Stephen?

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMIC ANALYST, CNN: Well, Austan is pretty much right about that. I mean, it is bad policy. And I think Austan is right -- I've been saying the same thing when you have 50 workers using steel and manufacturing down for every worker that produces steel, you know, you could actually see a net reduction in jobs.

Look, I think Donald Trump's heart is in the right place. I really do think he cares about the steel and aluminum workers. I traveled to a lot of these areas where factories have left. I just don't think this is the way to bring them back.

LEMON: So why doesn't he get that?

GOOLSBEE: Look, they're going to let Trump be Trump.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: Yes.

LEMON: Go ahead.

GOOLSBEE: If you let Trump be Trump you better make sure that your house is fire proofed. I mean, once the advisers are out of there, who knows what he is going to do.

LEMON: Stephen?

MOORE: Well, Austan, look, you know, you and I can talk about the virtues of free trade and comparative advantage and go back to Adam Smith. But you know, again, I really believe that it was this trade position, which is an unorthodox position for sure.

It plays with a lot of these areas, Don, in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. They do think, you know, that the factories are gone because of trade with Mexico and China and other countries. So we better figure out, Austan a better way to persuade the American people that the trade deals are good for us.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Let's say it plays there. Is it worth playing there and losing the rest of the country because...

MOORE: I'm not defending the policy.

LEMON: I know you're against the policy.

MOORE: I'm not defending the policy I'm just saying the politics. Yes, I think that the policy is wrong. I'm trying to tamper it back. If I were advising Trump, what I'd tell him is, Mr. President, look, you can aim some of these tariffs against countries that are enemies of the United States and adversaries like China and. And China does steal, Austan. You know that.

They're stealing our technologies, they're cheating on the trade deals. I'm in favor of getting tough with China. I heard the discussion about North Korea. I mean, you know, how is North Korea able to have a nuclear weapon? Because of China.

So, I just don't think it makes any sense, Don, to have a tariff against countries like Mexico and Canada. If the -- if this is...

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: Or like South Korea, too.

MOORE: Yes.

GOOLSBEE: This wasn't thought through at all.

MOORE: No, I agree. I agree.

[22:54:59] LEMON: Austan, to that point, the European Union announced that they are considering retaliating...

MOORE: Yes.

LEMON: ... or retaliatory tactics on tariffs to classic American goods like this. Orange juice, Bourbon, denim, peanut butter, cranberries, motorcycles. MOORE: Yes.

LEMON: That's a lot, and that could cost the American public.

GOOLSBEE: All I'll say it's a bad idea. The European and our allies they are trying to be circumspect. They

picked a few, you know, public goods, things that are -- have high visibility. But they did -- they are actively trying not to launch an escalating trade war.

But you saw Donald Trump when they said they were putting tariffs you saw Donald Trump shoot out and say, well, I'll put 25 percent tariffs on all European cars if they respond. That's how you start recessions or worse.

LEMON: And that is a trade war, is it not.

MOORE: That's right. It is. And that's why I think it would be really bad advice. I would not advise the Europeans to start slapping tariffs on our blue jeans on our Bourbons and our Caterpillar tractors. Trump will retaliate.

I mean, look, I've been around the guy, he is a counter-puncher. You know, you punch him he is going to punch back. We need to deescalate...

(CROSSTALK)

GOOLSBEE: He is punching us in the face.

LEMON: What did you say, Austan?

GOOLSBEE: I said he is -- this counterpunch is punching ourselves in the face.

LEMON: Yes.

GOOLSBEE: Is how we are doing this.

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE: Wait a minute, Austan.

LEMON: Listen, I got to go. I got to go. I got to go but listen. Listen, this is tried back...

MOORE: But...

LEMON: ... with George W. Bush and we lost hundreds of thousands of jobs when this was tried with George W. Bush.

MOORE: That's a good point.

GOOLSBEE: Indeed.

LEMON: Thank you. We'll be right back. GOOLSBEE: Thank you.

MOORE: Thank you.

[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)