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White House Chaos, Cohn Quits, Dow Falls; Nerve Agent May Have Poisoned Ex-Russian Spy, Daughter; Porn Star Sues, Says Trump Never Signed Hush Agreement. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:04] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's it for me. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

In the meantime, the news continues right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Here we go. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being here.

The revolving door at the White House isn't just turning. It is spinning and spinning. Moments from now, you will experience the first White House briefing since the departure of the president's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, is now the third departure in the last month.

One week ago today, White House communications director Hope Hicks left. Four weeks ago today, staff secretary Rob Porter resigned amid allegations he abused his ex-wives.

And now, there's Cohn whose exit was announced after markets closed, yesterday, when they opened this morning, the Dow was down more than 300 points. Analysts say investors interpreted Cohn's quitting as a sign that President Trump will follow through on this whole tariff of 25 percent on both imported steel and 10 percent aluminum. You see the numbers today, still down about 250 points here, two hours to go.

Investors are fearing a trade war. You have Republicans fearing what will happen in a West Wing without Cohn's, quote/unquote, voice of reason, citing one Republican senator. Simply put, the number two Senate Republican says Cohn's departure is not good news.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: I think Mr. Cohn was an outstanding public servant and somebody, obviously, who had the credentials and experience to help the president decide what the policies of the government should be.


BALDWIN: So, let's go straight to the White House, to our senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who is standing by ahead of this briefing. Any word on who replaces Gary Cohn or, for that matter, Hope Hicks? JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I mean, Brooke,

those certainly are the big questions here now. There is a small list of potential people being circulated for the next economic adviser. You know, most are from the economic world. Most names are not household names or familiar names.

But, Brooke, the big question and concern is how many top level executives, how many sort of grade A talent, if you will, are going to want to come and work in this White House? We heard anecdotal evidence across Washington and beyond about how people just are afraid to come and work in this White House, because they see what has happened.

Now, so interesting with Gary Cohn. He was a Democrat. It's one of reasons a lot of people inside were not happy with him. Like Steve Bannon for one. Peter Navarro for other on trade.

But you heard John Cornyn there, the number two Republican in the Senate, you know, essentially praising him because Gary Cohn was the person, was one of the top people who essentially was a bridge here at the White House to Capitol Hill be it tax reform and other matters.

So, it is something that is being -- the question is who wants to come in and work on this? But Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, had this to say about the staffing holes, if you will, here at the White House. Let's watch.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: One of the problems here is the White House is getting hollowed out and the number of people capable of doing things, doing real things, whether you agree or disagree ideologically, is getting smaller and smaller. And they seem unable to recruit new people to take these jobs. So, the kind of mess-ups we've seen this past week I think we're going to see over and over and over again. The president's erratic style, I didn't vote for Jeff Sessions but I think it's a symbol to everybody what he did to his best friend, Jeff Sessions is don't go work there. And I've heard story after story of capable people in the Gary Cohn mode being -- trying to be recruited by the White House and no one wants to go.


ZELENY: So, I think the point here is there's always staff shake-ups, no question. Brooke, there's not ever this many at one time. There's usually a wave of experts across the disciplines who want to come in for a second wave of White House workers. That's not what we are seeing. And there were already so many vacancies before.

So, the president says, you know, he has a lot of resumes. The question is, how qualified are some of these people who want to come in? All of this is coming ago the president, we are told, wants to announce something more specific on steel and aluminum coming up this week. We're still scrambling to find an exact policy. Capitol Hill Republicans also trying to work with the White House to slow some of that down, add some exemptions on some of our allies. So, that's something to keep an eye on as well as everything else here

today, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Will do. Jeff, thank you. We'll stand by for the briefing.

In the meantime, just a quick reaction now, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger. Linette Lopez is back with us as well, senior finance correspondent for "Business Insider".

But, Gloria, just -- Gary Cohn out.

[14:05:02] We know the White House is, you know, essentially spinning this as he's a New York guy, wanted to go back to New York, I know, I'm looking at your face. A source close to Trump says, quote, of all things, this will cause the most trauma. What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Same thing. I was texting with somebody close to Trump and also who's a friend of Gary Cohn who said, it will be a disaster beyond what anybody can imagine. You know, I think they looked at Gary Cohn as kind of the last holdout in the White House.

BALDWIN: Grown-up in the room?

BORGER: Grown-up in the room, who had the faith of the markets. You would know this better than I.


BORGER: Somebody who could steer the president in the right direction. I think part of the story that I'm hearing is that the president -- he was trying to steer the president in a different direction on tariffs and the president got angry and upset and pushed back on it. Cohn finally knew that he wasn't going to succeed.

BALDWN: Hold your thought --


BALDWIN: -- because I want to come to you. We've got to get a quick break in, stand by because I have so much more to ask.

Also moments from now, what is sure to be a fiery White House briefing, revolving door at the White House, to this lawsuit from a porn star against the president of the United States. Does Stormy Daniels' have a case? Were campaign finance laws broken? We're going to take that briefing live.

Also, more breaking news today, British investigators just confirmed that a former Russian spy and his daughter may have been poisoned with a nerve agent. They are going farther and calling it a deliberate act, attempted murder. They are now poring through the security footage to determine who did this.

A live report coming up next. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:11:06] BALDWIN: We're back with the White House briefing, first since the top economic adviser in the White House is now out. Gary Cohn, we've been talking about him.

Gloria Borger, Linette Lopez sitting next to me.

I know you wanted to jump in because you have this whole looming trade war. You had Gary Cohn who was one of the guys in the room, who was essentially -- he was the Democrat, and he was the guy who's essentially saying, Mr. President, this is not a great idea. Now what?

LOPEZ: Well, we have the prospect of retaliation over these aluminum and steel tariffs.

BALDWIN: Global retaliation.

LOPEZ: Global retaliation from our allies and our friends.

Now, there are more decisions coming down the pipeline. We have one about Chinese intellectual property, that should be cited soon during which the administration could basically decide to put tariffs on random Chinese goods. And then the next thing coming down the pipeline is NAFTA.

Now, there are some disagreements among legal scholars whether or not the president can unilaterally pull us out of NAFTA without Congress. Sufficed to say, it's going to be a mess. And Gary I think ultimately realized that he's not going to be able to stop Trump from doing this stuff because Trump really believes this.

When Bannon left the White House, I wrote a piece that was essentially Bannon is gone. Long live Bannon, because his ideas remain with the president. That's where they really connected.

And just the fact that he left didn't mean that we weren't still in danger of starting major, major economic issues. We're already in an inflationary environment where our economy is starting to heat up again and now we're doing things that could raise prices of goods like cars. You know, Wilbur Ross went on television with a Campbell Soup can which was -- I mean, a little ridiculous. But there's a point to say that the inputs of so many goods that Americans buy are about to be more expensive.

BALDWIN: What about -- we keep saying revolving door, borrowing a phrase from my executive producer, the devolving door. I mean, we have talked about how Trump loves chaos. For the first time, there's evidence that the president sees this as a reality show instead of governing. Here he was just yesterday.


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


BALDWIN: I like conflict. I like watching. I like seeing it.

BORGER: Well, he's got it. He's got it.

BALDWIN: But that's not a way to govern.

BORGER: No, it isn't a way to govern, particularly when you don't live in a vacuum, when you're dealing with other countries on the world stage. A certain amount of predictability is required. I mean, people want to know that they can count on you for X, Y and Z, particularly your allies like Great Britain, Canada.

LOPEZ: I mean, Jean-Claude Juncker said, we're about to go do something stupid and we don't have to do this stupid thing. We're meeting stupid with stupid.

And I think that any serious economist would have problems going into an administration where they know that things are not going to be relayed truthfully to the public. For example, the entire report that Wilbur Ross prepared about these steel tariffs, the issue with it, according to Gary Cohn, was that there were no downsides of what the tariffs would do in the report. It was only, we'll get these many jobs back, these companies will be able to make more money and prosper, and the people who were witnesses for that report were all steel execs.

BALDWIN: So, the president denies stirring the pot but --

BORGER: He does.

BALDWIN: -- he does. And case in point, the Mooch, right? We talked about him last time you were on. And just to you, the fact that Anthony Scaramucci, who had Hope's job before Hope had the job and now who knows who will have the job.

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: He goes on national television and essentially disses the chief of staff.

BORGER: Right.

BALDWIN: And now, the tidbit out today is that it was the president telling him --

BORGER: It was OK.

BALDWIN: That that was OK.

LOPEZ: You know, Anthony denies it, but my sources corroborate all the reporting.

[14:15:02] The president is looking to send his minions out to do his dirty work.

BORGER: Well, here is the thing -- the president, according to my reporting and colleague's reporting, has had problems with General Kelly. General Kelly has isolated him from a lot of people he likes to talk to all the time. General Kelly has tried to keep him under wraps.

But we've also been told that Kelly has failed. For example, the president continues to tweet in ways that Kelly would like him not to do. I don't know exactly what Kelly was trying to do on the tariff issue, but this is a president who governs in a very ad hoc way. And the general is not ad hoc, period.

BALDWIN: Wasn't Trump also telling Kelly to tell Ivanka and Jared to leave?

BORGER: Yes. But this happened -- you know, look, in political life, very often -- I mean, I go to back to Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, they communicated through their staff because they didn't have great communication. And this very often happens in offices where the boss doesn't want to deliver the bad news personally, so he will have somebody else deliver it.


BORGER: And I think that's what you're seeing going on here, because we all know Donald Trump doesn't really like to --


LOPEZ: Doesn't like confrontation. Doesn't like it at all.

BALDWIN: Right. Ladies, thank you for that. Gloria, thank you.

Moments from now, the White House press briefing set to start. Among the questions they're likely to face, this lawsuit that the president is now facing from adult star Stormy Daniels. So, we'll take that live when it happens.

Also ahead, this chilling story out of England where officials now believe a former Russian spy was deliberately attacked with a nerve agent.

Back in a moment.


[14:21:08] BALDWIN: Breaking news now, in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter over the weekend in England. Scotland Yard announcing that it believes Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent, and that they were deliberately targeted. But it's the who and the why that remains the mystery.

CNN international correspondent Phil Black is with me now from Salisbury, England, where this whole attack happened.

And so, Phil, we know this former spy was this former double agent, accused in Russia, betraying his own country to help British intelligence. What did -- what did police reveal about this nerve agent that they're now saying was used?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They wouldn't -- Brooke, they wouldn't talk specifically about what type of nerve agent but those two words are so powerful because a nerve agent is a chemical weapon. Sarin, for example, is a nerve agent used to commit atrocities against civilians in Syria. What the police are saying is that a chemical weapon was used not far from where I'm standing now on what would have been a busy Sunday afternoon in a relatively small, quiet English town surrounded by people in this shopping area, going to restaurants, going to pubs and so forth.

It's an extraordinary idea really, one that will shock and anger people in this country. It also limits, in some ways, the suspects. There are only a certain number of countries who are members of the chemical weapons club that have this sort of capability. So, it strongly points, focuses attention on the involvement of a state actor -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK. Phil Black, staying on the investigation, thank you so much.

Meantime, back here at home, a porn star sues the president. Why a missing signature on a hush agreement may be what exposes this alleged affair and whether the Trump team actually broke the law.


[14:27:01] BALDWIN: We know the president will put his name on just about anything -- buildings, steaks, vodka and ties. But apparently, the one thing he has not put his signature on is a nondisclosure agreement with an adult film star.

Stormy Daniels is now suing the president of the United States over their alleged affair and hush agreement. She is now claiming that Trump never signed it, rendering it null and void.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does she have a sexual relationship with the president?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does she still have photos, images, text messages, that verify this claim?

AVENATTI: That's a question that Ms. Daniels will have to ultimately answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you know the answer to that question?

AVENATTI: I do know the answer and I'm not at liberty to disclose it this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you went to court and a judge says this is not valid, wouldn't she have to return the money pursuant to this agreement?

AVENATTI: I think she may have to and she's prepared to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is she looking to sell her story?

AVENATTI: No. She's looking to disclose the truth about what happened.


BALDWIN: Disclose the truth about what happened, so says the lawyer.

Let me bring in Ashleigh Banfield, host of HLN's "Crime & Justice with Ashleigh Banfield." And Randy Zelin, defense attorney and former prosecutor.

OK. So much to get into. Randy, let me start with you actually, just beginning on the lack of signature from David Dennison, aka private citizen Donald Trump. He didn't sign, does she have a case?

RANDY ZELIN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER PROSECUTOR: A settlement agreement is only enforceable, A, if it's done in open court, B, pursuant to a court order or C, it's signed by all the parties. If the party didn't sign it, it don't count. Ask the sugar honcho that had to pay about a billion times more because he forgot to sign off on his revised settlement agreement.



BANFIELD: I think the signature isn't an issue because she took the money. If I give you money --

BALDWIN: She took the $130,000?

BANFIELD: Yes. If I give you money and you accept, we've made a contract. The lack of signature is a small piece of this. The lawyer signed on behalf of the actual corporation, Essential Consultants, love the name. So, there is actually a party signed to the agreement.

My good friend, the counselor, is well advised and smarter than I am, but I still do --

ZELIN: No, I'm not.

BANFIELD: -- truly believe -- I do truly believe the signature is not the issue here. There are way bigger fish to fry in this thing.

BALDWIN: How about the bigger fish being the fact that the silencing, that is recent as last week, according to this lawsuit that there was some sort of secret arbitration to try to, according to the lawsuit, shut up Stormy Daniels?

ZELIN: That is the lions, tigers and bears, oh, my moment, because follow the bouncing ball. Attorney/client relationship, attorney/client privilege. Mr. Cohen, no lawyer can talk about what a client and lawyer talk about. However, you can't use a lawyer to help commit a crime.

So, if that money was hush money, which violates the campaign finance laws because a week before the election you sure as hell don't want that stuff out there, then the lawyer is helping the client now commit a crime or a fraud. Time for a exception, no privilege.

BANFIELD: But what if this wasn't a campaign issue? This is really hard to prove, right?

BALDWIN: Step back a second, campaign finance laws -- ultimately, you would have to prove it would be violating it if it was proven that this money was hush money to keep -- the dupe the American voter, correct?

BANFIELD: A week before the election.

BALDWIN: A week before the election.