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Trump: New Chief Economic Adviser to be Named "Soon"; Porn Star Sues Trump, says "Hush" Agreement is Invalid. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's in the U.S. They've been down around the world as well. As for chaos, well, how's the fact that an adult film actress filed a lawsuit against the president. And conflicts, sources tell CNN the president is OK with his Chief of Staff General John Kelly being trashed in public. Anthony Scaramucci calls him General Jackass and no complaint from the president.

Our Abby Phillip at the White House this morning. Let's talk with the most recent - let us start with the most recent departure, Gary Cohn on the way out, the latest on that and the impact we'll have, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. The stock market is nervous. The business community is also nervous, all over Gary Cohn's departure. And one of the reasons for that is because of the policy reasons behind it. Gary Cohn and President Trump really clashed over this issue of tariffs. The steel and aluminum tariffs the president has insisted on in the last week. He opposed it, the president supported it. Ultimately that was the last straw sources tell us.

But Cohn's departure is just one of many White House advisers who have left this building in the last several weeks, never mind the last year of this president's administration. It has been a deluge of staffers leaving here and all of this, President Trump says is no problem. He says that there is no chaos in this building but rather it is his style of management. Listen to what he had to say yesterday about that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view. I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. I like watching it. I like seeing it and I think it's the best way to go. I like different points of view.


PHILLIP: That all may be true but just a week ago or weeks ago, Gary Cohn was one of the people that the president was maybe considering replacing Chief of Staff John Kelly with. And so here we are Gary Cohn is out the door and we're already thinking about some replacements. Among the names being put forward are Peter Navarro, who is a trade adviser to the president, already here in the White House but he's someone who favors tariffs and has clashed with Gary Cohn in the past on this issue.

Also, on the drawing board is potentially Larry Kudlow, an outside adviser and economist who is friendly with the president but is more on the side of the business community when it comes to the tariff issues. So, unclear when we'll get an announcement, but President Trump seems to think it will be soon.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip at the White House. We will be watching. Thanks very, very much.

Joining me now, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of "Chicago Sun- Times" and CNN political commentators Kevin Madden and Joe Trippi.

Kevin, I want to start with you. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but you have said that you cannot overestimate what a stabilizing force Gary Cohn has been in the White House.

KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's true. I think not only with inside the White House but also with the key relationships that this president and the White House has with those who are stewards of the president's legislative agenda up on Capitol Hill. He's not known as a Republican. In fact, he's been known as a lifelong Democrat, but he forged very strong relationships with the president's allies on Capitol Hill during the tax reform legislative effort and was largely successful as a result and played a key role in that signature accomplishment of this White House. So, having lost that experience and those relationships, it's going to be very tough to fill that void, I think in this White House.

The other thing too is what this may say about the breakdown in the process. Gary Cohn who was essentially that stabilizing force, that guiding force towards accomplishment now is viewing that his loss on this tariff issue was maybe a sign that he had been -- was not going to have the same ability on other parts of the president's agenda going forward and then deciding to leave as a result. I think that is somewhat problematic as you look at how the president sort of rights the ship now going into the 2018 midterm elections.

BERMAN: You know, Lynn Sweet, the president says that it's not chaos, everything is running smoothly here. You know you've covered administrations before. Does this look like a well-oiled machine?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Oh, no, even though -- when President Trump said that and when he even joked about -- he could joke about it but it's not funny. You don't have these departures coming week after week in policy protests or in the wake of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Roger Porter or sexual -- not sexual -- I forget the right word to use.

BERMAN: Domestic abuse.

SWEET: Domestic abuse. Excuse me. If it's not one thing, it's another. This is not normal. I've heard this said many times by many others and let's echo it again today. These kinds of departures do not happen normally. But John, I do want to add to this though, on the politics of it, I'm guessing that when Trump thinks and assesses will this impact my base? Most people don't know what domestic economic adviser does, much less who Gary Cohn is.

[10:05:05] And even though it might be a loss to some of the influential leaders on Capitol Hill among Republicans, that is a hole that perhaps could be plugged if the policy follows the person.

BERMAN: You know it's interesting -

SWEET: -- that's what counts.

BERMAN: You know Joe Trippi, I was joking two weeks ago. I didn't see people in Youngstown, Ohio carrying signs that said save Jared Kushner. I don't think we're going to see that for Gary Cohn either. I mean, Lynn does have a point there, Gary Cohn does not represent even a shred of what caused the so-called Trump base and some of these voters, particularly some of the Democrats who switched to vote for him.

JOE TRIPPI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I don't think - I think Lynn is completely right there. No one is going - he's not going to lose any votes over that. I think the tariff issue is much different. There are a lot of industries around the country and in places like Alabama and Mississippi and across the south, the auto industry, those workers could be affected in a very different way than the president -- than they want to with the president's policy. But look, all of this gets down to -- I think the chaos will continue until morale in the White House improves. I mean that's literally what's now become a theme. I know the president doesn't think there's any chaos there but that might as well be the theme of what's happening in the White House and has been happening for well over a year now.

BERMAN: And Kevin, you alluded to this but one of the issues going forward is without Gary Cohn, without Hope Hicks, you know, who will the president lean on? Who's going to be that last person to speak to the president and send a message? And I know there are Republicans on the Hill who are concerned about that.

MADDEN: Yes and it's the compound effect of losing all of these people with very strong relationships with the president or a complimentary level of experience. And to lose Gary Cohn who was guiding a lot of the domestic agenda. To lose Hope Hicks who is a very close personal aide of the president and then to have Rob Porter have to leave the White House, who was in charge of that - of the process inside the White House, how the president gets information and how the president interacts with most of his top aides. That's the equivalent of trying to -- of losing both your wheel on your car, the bumper and the transmission while you're backing out of your driveway.

So, you're not going to go very far without these types of you know key aides playing a role and having again that stabilizing force inside the White House. So, it's that -- I think is the key concern, how do you continue to really advance your agenda when you have so much of this. I get the idea of creative tension, but what's happening now this is more of a civil war where you have competing sides inside the White House and that is actually slowing down and hurting potential -- potential to hurt the process of getting things done.

BERMAN: You know Kevin used the creative tension. Let's listen to what the president said about conflict and just how much he likes it.


TRUMP: I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view. I certainly have that. And then I make a decision. But I like watching it. I like seeing it and I think it's the best way to go. I like different points of view.


BERMAN: I like watching it. You know has a lot of implications there. Lynn Sweet, he likes the gladiator battle in his office before him and then he likes to make a decision. Look, you know he is running the biggest operation he has ever had to by an exponential factor, every president does. But President Trump specifically, yes, you know he had billion dollar plus business but it was his family. He was managing his family. Now he has got to manage you know thousands and thousands of people.

SWEET: Well, one of the things that you hear from former chiefs of staff and other people who staff a White House is that sometimes somebody has to tell the president what the president does not want to hear. Now, that doesn't mean of course presidents get opposing point of views and people write articles and even books all the time about big disagreements over policy and administrations and even personal disagreements.

But the point is that the -- President Trump has raised this to another reality show art form. And yes, the way he describes it sounds more like the latest episode of the Trump chronicles then thrashing out complicated trade policy. And once we cannot underscore enough, I think that this kind of turnover under these circumstances is not normal. And the results are what count. So whatever President Trump wants to do, having this turnover, get his trade policy done. Does it get whatever he wants in his agenda done? And we're not looking at ratings here, we're looking at signed legislation or some changes and that's his test.

BERMAN: Whenever you hear reality show, Canada doesn't think it's a reality show when they're dealing with their exports. I don't think DACA recipients think it's a reality show when they're talking about what their future is in this country. And people who pay taxes don't think it's a reality show either. That's not what this is about for the people - go ahead.

[10:10:07] MADDEN: I think Joe will agree with me. We've worked in government offices or on campaigns where a lot of these conflicts take place in private. I mean I flipped over tables arguing against one way or the other on campaigns. But then when a decision was made inside the room, everybody on the campaign or everybody in the government office then executed publicly and with a certain level of discipline. That doesn't happen in this White House. What happens is when these decisions are made and the losing side or the winning side, they go out and they publicly air what the differences and grievances were. And I think that's where the -- it goes from creative tension to chaos.


TRIPPI: Yes, absolutely. That's what's going on here, the fight continues outside the Oval Office and on the cable TV and in leaks in the media and it continues this sense of chaos. And I think that's where chaos exhaustion that the president and White House has to start worrying about. Usually you see this kind of exhaustion like eight -- in the last few years of Obama or something, but not this early and not with this kind of turnover.

BERMAN: Can I ask you again, a hard turn on Stormy Daniels, this lawsuit, I have it in my hand right now. How does that factor into this? Because right now it's been playing on sort of the outer rings of the scandal circus as it were. But does this weigh on the White House? Does this add to the chaos inside, Joe?

TRIPPI: It certainly does. I don't think it's on the list of things that they need to worry about. It's not near the top. We've got so much chaotic things going on including -- like Lynn says, you have this massive turnover, this is -- it's leaving the president more isolated and losing Cohn who is somebody who had some capacity to stabilize things, in this environment, that's what they really need to worry about. And I think Stormy Daniels -- and this is not going away either. It adds to that sense of chaos and to disarray and it's nothing they have to deal with and it's like I said, they don't have time to deal with it given everything else on their plate.

BERMAN: Joe Trippi, Lynn Sweet, Kevin Madden, thanks so much.

Another person in the president's circle cooperating now with the Russia investigation. What is this businessman sharing?

Plus, we were just talking about it, the porn star suing the president. This is unusual, folks. She says that the hush money deal over an alleged affair is now void. We're going to hear from her lawyer coming up.

And new details on the Florida school shooter's life behind bars, how he spends his days.


[10:16:49] BERMAN: This morning, the porn star, the president, the payoff and now the lawsuit, Stormy Daniels real name Stephanie Clifford is now suing the president over the alleged affair with him and what she calls hush money.

MJ Lee has the details for us. MJ, lay it out.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, for first time ever Stormy Daniels laying bear the details of her alleged affair with Donald Trump and the new lawsuit that was filed in California yesterday. Let me just walk through a couple of the big headlines from this lawsuit.

First and foremost, she says that there was in fact an affair. She says there was an intimate relationship that she had with Donald Trump that began in the summer of 2006. I should note this would have been a few months after Barron Trump was born and that this relationship continued well into 2007.

And second, she says that she decided during the 2016 presidential election that she wanted to tell her story. She saw that the "Access Hollywood" tape had come out in October of 2016. And when she saw that other women were coming out with their stories, she sought to tell her story to the media as well.

Now this is where things get really interesting. I want to read from a part of a lawsuit. It says that after discovering Mrs. Clifford's plans, Mr. Trump with the assistance of his attorney, Mr. Cohen, aggressively sought to silence Miss Clifford as part of an effort to avoid her telling the truth, thus helping to ensure he won the presidential election.

Now it goes on to say that Cohen drafted an NDA as part of the so- called hush agreement and that at the end of October of 2016, just days before the election, that both Stormy and Michael Cohen signed this agreement and that Cohen then proceeded to arrange $130,000 to be wired over to Stormy's lawyer at the time. Now, importantly, this lawsuit alleges that Trump himself did not sign this agreement and so therefore the agreement the lawsuit says is legally null and void.

Now, I just want to read another part from the lawsuit that's very interesting. It says, quote, "Attempts to intimidate Stormy into silence and shut her up in order to protect Mr. Trump continue unabated." It says that, "As recently as last month Cohen initiated arbitration against Stormy in Los Angeles, California." Now this lawsuit obviously John, gets to her very, very important question of did Donald Trump himself know about this agreement, know about these efforts to silence Stormy about this alleged affair. And it clearly states that yes, Trump himself did know and that Cohen was acting with basically permission from Trump. Now, I just want to play a sound from what Stormy Daniels' lawyer actually had to say about this just this morning.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: There's no question the president knew about it at the time. The idea that an attorney would go off on his own, without his client's knowledge and engage in this type of negotiation and enter into this type of agreement, quite honestly, I think is ludicrous.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You make that inference, but you don't know. Can you prove that the president knew about this payment?

AVENATTI: We certainly haven't disclosed all the facts and evidence that we're aware of in connection with this.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEE: Now you can imagine, John, all of this raising so many new questions that the White House will have to confront about this alleged affair and what was done to try to stop the story from getting out into the public.

[10:20:06] BERMAN: All right. MJ Lee, thanks very much.

Joining me to discuss this, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Paul Callan. Jeffrey, biggest of big pictures first here. This is a lawsuit to avoid a nondisclosure agreement yet in the lawsuit it says she had an intimate relationship with the president and her lawyer just went on TV this morning and says it was a sexual relationship. So, what's the point of the nondisclosure agreement here?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: That's hard to fathom because -- I think you know Stormy Daniels is going to tell her story. One way or another, you know. She's sort of had it come out this way. But I mean she will tell the story in all of its fullness presumably for as much money as she can get for it. One thing that I just find bizarre about this whole thing and maybe Paul has an idea. It's like why is it significant that Trump didn't sign? Why would he have to sign this agreement if it was an agreement between Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels? I don't get that.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's not relevant at all and I was looking at the details, the confidential agreement itself and in it, it said that either this corporation that Cohen formed to set this deal up could sign or DD could sign, that's the -

BERMAN: David Dennison.

CALLAN: Right. That's the acronym for the president, OK? But it said and/or. So, he didn't even have to sign it to be a legal contract. And of course, third parties negotiate contracts all the time on behalf of other people. There's nothing illegal about that and they are binding contracts.

BERMAN: More than about what matters here. What does it matter, Paul, if the president knew that this payment was happening, which this lawsuit alleges?

CALLAN: Well, what the -- what Stormy Daniels attorney is trying to say is that Cohen, under the code of professional responsibility that binds lawyers is obligated to confer with his client before he does anything important in a lawsuit. And so, they are saying the president must have known and must have authorized it or Cohen is acting unethically and could be disbarred. That's why this clause is thrown in.

TOOBIN: And there's also -- the extremely bizarre part of this story, although it's all bizarre, that Michael Cohen has apparently claimed that he paid the $130,000 out of his own pocket, like, I know lawyers really are zealous in defense of their clients but the idea that a lawyer would simply decide out of the goodness of his heart to pay hush money to a porn star for the benefit of someone else because he wanted to pay, I mean that to me just stinks. CALLAN: John, I just wanted to add one other thing that I think is very important. First of all, this is an action they called for declaratory judgment. They wanted a California court to jump in even though there's nothing going on between the parties to say this is a void contract. And when you look at it, one thing that I think Stormy is going to have problems with is she took the money. He paid her $130,000 to keep quiet, which is the essence of these nondisclosure agreements. She took the money. So, there's a doctrine called and hate to say it, the doctrine of unclean hands where if you have done something improper, accepting the money that you shouldn't have accepted, you don't have a right to bring a lawsuit.

BERMAN: Her lawyer was on TV this morning saying that she might have to give back the money and that's something they'll deal with at that point.

TOOBIN: What do you think the odds of that are, John?

BERMAN: I think -

TOOBIN: How likely is it she's going to be writing a check for $130,000? My guess is not so likely.

BERMAN: I get the sense and either of you gentlemen hold this legal document in particularly high regard when it comes to the greater issue of jurisprudence. But as a political matter, Jeffrey, right now. You know is this something the president will have to get involved in? Could he ever be deposed on this? Could he face campaign finance questions on this?

TOOBIN: I think we need to separate this specific lawsuit from the general subject of Stormy Daniels. You know, I remain as mystified as anyone else why this story has not generated the traction that it would say if Barack Obama had paid $130,000 to a porn star to keep quiet. I mean you know this is - you know a story about how people just sort of have certain assumptions about Donald Trump's life. But this lawsuit itself, I don't think is going anywhere. But the idea that $130,000 was paid essentially for the benefit of his campaign, that as an illegal campaign contribution, I think that has some saying power as a legal issue much more than this declaratory judgment nonsense.

BERMAN: And Paul Callan, the legal issue there would be though whether or not it was to save him from personal embarrassment which you know the John Edwards case seems to allow some room. If it's just because I don't want to be embarrassed or my wife to find out, that's one thing. But if it's because you're afraid it will hurt you in a campaign, well that's another.

[10:25:02] CALLAN: Yes. You have to prove that and for Trump it's even harder than in the John Edwards case because he can say I was worried about my personal situation with my wife and also the Trump organization. So, it had nothing to do with the presidential campaign. That's what his claim will be.

TOOBIN: But look at the timing. The timing is October of 2016. How could you possibly say it wasn't principally for the presidential campaign? The timing is incredibly incriminated?

CALLAN: Quite true.

BERMAN: Stick around. We've got more to talk about on some other issues, a businessman with ties to the Trump campaign now cooperating with the special counsel investigation. So, who is George Nader?