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White House Economics Advisor Gary Cohn Resigns; Nor'easter Hits U.S. East Coast; Porn Star Sues Trump Over Alleged Affairs and Hush Agreement; Interview with Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 7, 2018 - 8:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like conflict. I like different points of view.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea that Gary Cohn is departing is just a reminder that his love of conflict has real consequences.

TRUMP: The White House has tremendous energy, has tremendous spirit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think chaos is too strong a word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scaramucci trash talk his current chief of staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The headline reads "Porn star sues president" and nobody seems to blink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People knew about this when they voted for Donald Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He'll have to continue to respond to it in a court of law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are announcing a state of emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the second time in just a week, a powerful nor'easter threatening more than 50 million people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a lot of snow, going to be a lot more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, March 7th, 8:00 now in the east. Wall Street is bracing for an ugly open. Look at the futures on your screen, all red arrows, never good. Why? Could be news that the president's top economic adviser is resigning. His name is Gary Cohn, and he's just the latest in a series of high-profile departures. We have never seen talent bleed out of the White House like this. What was this about with Cohn? There have been rumblings for a while

that he wasn't happy in the White House. But the president's decision to impose tariffs seemed to have been the straw that broke the camel's back. The question becomes whom will the president tap next for this critical post?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, and then to this story. Adult film star Stormy Daniels is now suing the president over her alleged affair and hush money agreement. The suit claims that her non-disclosure agreement is void because Donald Trump, then a candidate, never signed it. The biggest question is, did this payment from Trump's lawyer break campaign finance laws?

And we're tracking another powerful nor'easter. It slamming the east coast as we speak, the second one in less than a week. And 50 million people are in this storm's path including Chris and me. So we have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House. What's the latest there, Abby?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. President Trump says there's no chaos in the White House. And it seems very much that Wall Street disagrees. With the departure of Gary Cohn from the White House, Dow futures are down sharply. And now there are growing concerns that the economic nationalist wing of the White House is on the upsurge and these tariffs could be here to stay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: President Trump's top economic adviser Gary Cohn becoming the latest in a string of White House advisers to abandon ship after butting heads with the president over his decision to impose stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. News of Cohn's departure coming just hours after the president insisted that there is no chaos in his administration.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I read where, gee, maybe people don't want to work for Trump. Believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office, they want a piece of the West Wing. I could take any position in the White House and I'll have a choice of the 10 top people having to do with that position.

PHILLIP: The president later reiterating this message on Twitter, noting that he'll be making a decision about Cohn's replacement soon. Sources say the president is considering trapping trade adviser Peter Navarro, who unlike Cohn is in favor of imposing tariffs. Trump also considering informal adviser Larry Kudlow who has been a vocal critic of the tariffs and lamented Cohn's resignation.

LARRY KUDLOW: I think it's a turn for the worse. I think he did a great job. I'm really sorry he's leaving.

PHILLIP: Less than a month ago, Cohn was being considered as a possible replacement for embattled chief of staff John Kelly after successfully ushering in the tax bill. But sources say his feud with the president over tariffs was the last straw. Cohn considered resigning last year after the president equated neo-Nazis and those protesting them in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Very fine people on both sides.

PHILLIP: The revolving door at the West Wing may not stop there. Speculation continues about national security adviser H.R. McMaster and chief of staff John Kelly. CNN has learned President Trump has emboldened former campaign director Anthony Scaramucci who was fired after just 11 days on the job, to continue attacking Kelly publicly.

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There's a fear, culture of fear, culture of intimidation. People are afraid to talk to each other.

CUOMO: Coming from the president, they're afraid of the president?

SCARAMUCCI: No, I think it's the chief of staff.

PHILLIP: When asked about the infighting at the White House, president Trump saying this Tuesday.

TRUMP: I like conflict. I like having two people with different points of view, and I certainly have that, and then I make a decision.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP: So as we wait to see who will take Gary Cohn's place, President Trump today is going to be touting his tax cut bill before a coalition of Latino -- their legislative summit here in Washington. He is also going to be, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also going to be headed to Mexico today to meet with the Mexican president about the tariffs and also about the renegotiation of NAFTA. Both of those issues are really up in the air now with the departure of Gary Cohn. Chris?

CUOMO: All right, Abby, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. What do you make of the desire to push back on the notion of chaos? The president has to know he's not going to win this one. There's too much counterfactual one. What is the play here? Is it just simple resistance?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he does not like when narratives are set by anybody but himself. He doesn't like reading what he would describe as negative reviews. And he thinks he can say something and make it true. He's had success at doing that. He did during the campaign. He would say things that weren't true and people would believe him. He's trying it now.

Remember a lot of what he does is salesmanship. And so he is selling this idea that things are fine. Things are not fine, however. And there are example after example to show that things are not fine. Gary Cohn's departure is obviously the latest instance of that. He is not the first person to leave, but he is certainly one of the most prominent and significant figures to leave this White House. And despite the president claiming that everybody wants a piece of that Oval Office, whatever that quote was, that isn't true. Some people do, and those are mostly people who would not have gotten hired in almost any other administration. And that is really what they're left with in terms of choices at this point.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about that, because you made a point of tweeting about it, you said several top people have declined to be interviewed by the president and the White House. So the best and the brightest don't want to go work in the White House? Why? They think this will sort of career suicide or they don't like the chaos? Why wouldn't someone want to go work in the White House?

HABERMAN: All of the above. Typically speaking, working at the White House can be, especially depending on your field, the pinnacle of your career, it can be a highlight. It can be reaching the top and then you have a menu of other options once you leave. But it can also be a way of serving your country.

Primarily people among what you would describe in that class the best and the brightest who are working in this White House are doing this because they believe they're serving some higher goal which is trying to smooth out the chaos, trying to make things function more normally and typically.

But what people are seeing over and over is you can't do that with this president. At the end of the day, we have focused on Reince Priebus was the problem, then Steve Bannon is the problem, then this one is the problem, then Jared Kushner, then John Kelly, then Don McGahn. Ultimately it is the president and the culture that he has created.

CUOMO: It gets embarrassing, that was what you were hearing from Cohn.

HABERMAN: But he doesn't get embarrassed. It gets embarrassing for other people.

CUOMO: That's right, to not be listened to, things come out that you have to defend, things that are supposed to be your purview. Although, a little bit of irony, who would have guessed that Rex Tillerson would still be in there and all these other people would be gone first?

HABERMAN: That's true.

CUOMO: Not that I'm wishing him to go or to stay, but a little bit of surprise.

HABERMAN: It is, especially considering that he's reported to be called the president a bleeping moron, a quote, by the way, that he has refused to say repeatedly that he didn't say. He has just danced around it.

CUOMO: He won't dignify the question.

HABERMAN: It's a very undignified question. But yes, he has continued to have this staying power. And it is a reminder of the fact that if you report on what they are thinking of doing, sometimes the president will table the opposite tact just so you cannot be correct.

CAMEROTA: So was Gary Cohn's departure -- as you point out, he's certainly not the first. There's a long laundry list of people who have departed, so much so that Brookings says it's 43 percent turnover since the beginning of his administration.

HABERMAN: A huge number.

CAMEROTA: It is huge because when you look historically, Reagan is the closest, and he had 17 percent turnover.

CUOMO: Almost the same rate of attrition as his Reality TV show. Once a week somebody goes.

CAMEROTA: I can't wait to see the finale of what's going to happen and who's going to go.

HABERMAN: Stay tuned.

CAMEROTA: But about that, was Gary Cohn's departure a surprise?

HABERMAN: No. Gary Cohn's departure was not a surprise. We had reported last week he had informed John Kelly if the president went ahead with this tariff action that he may have to resign. I had heard from a couple of people last week that he was very close to doing it except that Hope Hicks resigned and he didn't want to look like he was jumping into the fray and creating a bigger narrative.

However, remember, he almost resigned last year or at least talked about it and drafted resignation after Charlottesville. He has known the president's position on tariffs for a very, very long time. But up until the last few weeks there have been enough people -- we keep saying moderating influences. That isn't really how this process is working. It's people willing to jump on the grenade.

One of those people was Rob Porter, the staff secretary, who basically knew enough, as several people have said to me, to run into the Oval Office and stop something as it was going down or to bring in other people to sort of redirect the president. It's also a reflection of the fact that John Kelly does not really have that much influence on the president right now. Could that change? Maybe. It certainly has changed from what it was when he did have a lot of influence over his behavior.

But right now the president is just reverting back to his usual self. This is a position that he has had since he came into office. It's a position he had for decades before that. But now it is just sort of running free.

CUOMO: And in fairness to him, really the only experience with managing a big team he has had was on the reality show. Anybody who knows his operational structure from Trump Enterprises, he's never managed a large number of people.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: It was a marketing family business where he worked with partners and joint ventures on different development projects. He's never had a big company. And when he ran into those kinds of challenges on the casinos, we know how that went.

So in terms of who might replace Cohn, do you buy any of these names? Let's put them up, Larry Kudlow, had a TV show for a long time, against the tariffs. Peter Navarro, supposedly gaining sway with the exit of Rob Porter, that he may have been blocked by him, but now he's in there gaining sway. Andrew Puzder, even with the domestic abuse allegations, could he really be in the mix?

HABERMAN: Sure, because it wouldn't be a Senate confirmation post, so therefore he could actually --

CUOMO: But they want that stink on them?

HABERMAN: I don't think that is a stink that they are of really concern -- think about the number, the various stinks that are coming from different departments, different areas of this White House. I think you would see the president whitewash this, if he decided this was going to be the person he was going to sell as the real savior here who could be the right person for that job. I do think Puzder is a possibility. I think Navarro is a possibility. Kudlow less so. Kudlow has been toyed with repeatedly by this president for a job. I don't think he's going to be the one.

Navarro is on the rise. Navarro has been on the rise, as you said, for several weeks now. I do think that's possible. Or it could be somebody whose name we haven't heard yet. And so we don't know.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, stick around, if you would. We have breaking weather news. So hold on.

HABERMAN: I can't comment on that.

CAMEROTA: We have an expert to do that.

CUOMO: There is another nor'easter hammering the east coast right now. Remember, this is about cumulative effect. This is the second storm in less than a week, 50 million people in the storm's path, a lot of them still recovering from the last storm. CNN's Chad Myers live in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Chad, you told us when you were in New York it was one deal, you moved ten, 15 miles, a little elevation, look at you now. All you need is a carrot for a nose.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And button eyes. Yes, it is snowing and it's snowing heavily now. We're in beautiful Ridgewood, New Jersey, just a little bit farther to the west as we expected, and it has been snowing all morning.

Unlike what we saw in downtown Manhattan, that has been all snow. But just like Fort Lee last hour, this is just full of water. This is going to be tough to shovel when it starts to pile up on the concrete. So far it's not. The temperatures yesterday were around 40. And so therefore the concrete is still a little bit warm. But by the time we -- I would say when we get to 9:00 or 10:00, this is going to come down so hard that it's going to get on the roads. We are going to start to see slick roads. We're already seeing the snow trucks out, a lot of plows out, too, but they're not doing much because nothing is sticking just yet.

But this is just starting. Don't wake up, look outside and say, oh, we've got mist. No, this is an all-day snow event. Some spots may pick up two to three inches of snow per hour. You do that for a few hours, all of a sudden you have a significant snow event, a significant snowstorm. What this nor'easter doesn't have that the last one did is the winds. The winds were 60 to 70. This one is 20 to 30, maybe 35. That's some help for those powerlines. Guys, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Chad, thank you very much. We'll check back with you as it gets snowier and stormier. And I'm going to resist making a cheesy stormy pun right now because I've made them the other hours.

When we come back, we're going to talk to Maggie Haberman about the latest in the Stormy Daniels case.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:18:00] CAMEROTA: Adult film star Stormy Daniels is suing President Trump. In this lawsuit that was field yesterday, Daniels claims a contract paying her hush money to keep quiet about her alleged affair with the president was never signed by Donald Trump, then a candidate, and therefore, the entire thing should be voided.

Maggie Haberman is back with us.

How is this playing in the White House?

HABERMAN: About how -- as you'd imagine. I mean, this is not a story line that they like. It's a story line that when you raise it, everybody gets freaked out and this is not something people are eager to discuss with the president. It is something they are not eager to discuss with the first lady.

It is also something that is clearly not going to get better. The biggest issue I think with these new revelations is the fact there was an effort recently by Michael Cohen it appears to have instituted some kind of legal action against Stormy Daniels because of her conversations, because of everything can be so become so public. That is really dangerous ground for a sitting president, Michael Cohen still describes himself as the president's personal lawyer.

So, we don't know what the president knew, we don't know whether he was looped in on this or not, but the appearance of it is pretty bad.

CUOMO: So, here becomes the concern. We've been talking about the legalities this morning. I'm not that impressed by the lawsuit.

CAMEROTA: OK.

CUOMO: It did give her an opportunity to put out there what is her new truth.

HABERMAN: Which is also Donald Trump's trick, by the way. As you know, he often for years put everything into a deposition or lawsuit so it could be quoted.

CUOMO: So, she's already, you know, she's gone back to the story of, yes, it happened.

All right. But we know where people are on that. The morality is not the reason people voted for Donald Trump.

HABERMAN: Yes, that's right.

CUOMO: And you could argue, you know, this is somewhat of a distraction for matters that matter more, until we get to the point of him sitting down with investigators.

Do you think that this is that Lewinsky-esque fear up the spine that people around him have say he cannot sit down with anybody who has the ability to charge him with lying because he will not tell the truth about this?

[08:20:00] HABERMAN: I think this is one element of a much broader fear about him sitting with investigators and not telling the truth. Somebody close to him said to me the strangest thing you hear said over and over again is they're going to set a perjury trap for the president and that's what his lawyers are afraid of. This person who likes the president quite a bit said he is a walking perjury trap. Meaning literally he will get himself into situations, investigators don't even have to do much.

This is one element of it. There are many others that relate to the campaign. But certainly this, and this is where the Lewinsky parallel comes in, this is one of the things his lawyers are concerned about where it will go, what exactly he knows, whether they are being told the full picture. There are a lot of questions raised by this.

CAMEROTA: But doesn't that tell us he's not going to sit down with investigators? I mean, his lawyers --

HABERMAN: I don't think he's going to.

CAMEROTA: They telegraphed as much, they don't want him to. Why do we think he ever would do that?

HABERMAN: Well, because he's going to get subpoenaed. I think his lawyers are trying to -- they're trying to force Mueller's hand on it and see whether Mueller wants to go the extra extraordinary step of subpoenas a sitting president.

CAMEROTA: And then can he say -- I mean, this is the legal question, can he plead the Fifth?

CUOMO: Yes.

CAMEROTA: So --

HABERMAN: Well, that's not going to look great.

CUOMO: But the way he does -- there is a way, OK, because remember then we're back into politics. The legalities off the table, I'm going to plead the Fifth. So, all right. There goes your legal responsibility, but he says because it's all a hoax and this is a B.S. probe and I'm not going to be cheapened by this. He probably locks in his base.

HABERMAN: Right, then he leaves with what he entered that room with, 37 percent, 38 percent. I think that's probably true. You can't win re-election with that. And the reason he won re-election before, it is often described as the base that stuck with him. No. The 37 percent-ish is the base. Then you had independents and you had Democrats who couldn't stomach voting for Hillary Clinton and, you know, couldn't stomach voting for her and still voted for him thinking he likely wouldn't win and their vote didn't matter.

That is not what it's likely to look like in 2020. And again, we have no idea what's going to happen this November. We have no idea whether the House flips. If all this takes place when he's in a severely weakened political position, I think you're looking at a different calculation.

CAMEROTA: All right. Maggie, thank you for sharing your reporting. Great to talk you.

HABERMAN: Me too.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, listen to this. A source tells CNN that President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received information about a witness' testimony from a Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Why is this important? Well, just because of the leaks and all the talks about leaks and all the Republican complaints about leaks.

CUOMO: And the law.

CAMEROTA: And the law. There's that, that as well. Details -- next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:26:44] CAMEROTA: A source tells CNN that a Republican on the House Intelligence Committee allegedly leaked witness testimony to an attorney for President Trump's personal law, Michael Cohen. Believe me, I'll have a flow chart if you can't follow all this. We'll make it clear.

So, this revelation is raising new questions about how politicized the House panel's Russia investigation has become.

Joining us is Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Good morning, Congressman.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: Good morning. Good to be with you.

CAMEROTA: First, before we get to the details of who is leaking what, is your committee close to wrapping up its work on Russian influence and meddling? Because we keep hearing different things from the Republicans on the committee versus the Democrats on the committee.

STEWART: Yes, there is a different view on this. I think we're getting close. We aren't finished yet. We have a few other witnesses. And I think we've got some more questions we ask them.

It's not a matter we don't set a timeline to, I think we say we want to get to where we think we've done a reasonable job of asking the questions, as I said, reporting to the American people.

And, look, my Democratic colleagues would like this to go on for a long, long time. They gave us a list of nearly 100 witnesses they wanted us to bring. Many of them are overseas, many of them are Russians. They're clearly not going to come.

One of them has passed away, he committed suicide. Hard for us to pursue those kind of witnesses.

(CROSSTALK)

STEWART: I think at some point, especially -- I think we owe it to the American people to give them a report and recommendations before the next election. That really is the key to this, I believe.

CAMEROTA: Well, sure. If it's ready, if you have your findings and you have the conclusions and if it's ready, then for sure Americans want to hear from it, but not if it's premature. Here is what we had from your Democratic colleague Eric Swalwell on the committee. Here is what he said about what he wants to know. So, listen to this from yesterday on our show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: We have to keep this investigation alive. We have a long list of individuals we have not heard from. We haven't heard from Sam Nunberg. We haven't heard complete interviews from Jared Kushner. If he called it quits and walked out about three hours into his interview.

We haven't heard the full story from Donald Trump Jr. because the Republicans won't subpoena him. Our democracy was attacked and the American people are going to measure us on what did we do to defend it. Right now, the Republicans seem willing to say we're going to do nothing. And that's not good enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Congressman, what about that? Don Jr. and Jared Kushner seem integral to this. STEWART: Yes, look, I like my friend Eric Swalwell, but that's just

nonsense what he said. We've spent hours and hours and hours with these witnesses. I've heard the same question asked 15 different ways.

At the end of the day, look, we've been looking at this for more than a year. I don't know any reasonable Democrat who is still claiming there's evidence of collusion. There just isn't.

And as I've said to you, even Dianne Feinstein said, she said this month ago, there's no evidence of collusion. At that point, you have two options. One, is you can say let's just keep asking.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

STEWART: Let's keep going, we'll find something.

And the other is, and this is important, we've made serious accusations against people. You've been accusing them essentially of treason and maybe these people are innocent.

CAMEROTA: Well --

STEWART: I mean, maybe the evidence just doesn't support some of the accusations that people have been making for a long time.

CAMEROTA: Congressman, listen, I leave it to you. You're the person who has been listening to all these interviews and gathering all of the evidence. It doesn't sound like they're only focused on collusion.