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White House Today: Porn Star Fallout and Tariffs Confusion; Trump "Very Unhappy" with Press Secretary's Response to Porn Star; Trump Lawyer got Restraining Order to Quiet Stormy Daniels; Sources: Trump May Sign "Symbolic" Tariff Document Today. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The first answer we could find out in just minutes when the president gets his first chance to talk to cameras since news that his lawyer got a restraining order against Stormy Daniels. This morning we're also now learning the president is very unhappy with how his press secretary handled questions about this yesterday, his problem that she might have inadvertently told the truth.

As for the latter issue, tariffs, the answer depends on who you ask. It seems not even his aides in the White House are sure if the president plans to impose new tariffs today and if he does which countries will be affected and perhaps exempted?

Let's start with CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House. Abby, with news that the president not particularly happy with how the Stormy Daniels story is unfolding at the hands of the White House.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. This Stormy Daniels saga continues to dog this White House and Sarah Sanders yesterday finally gave the White House press corps a little bit something more on this situation, when she talked about an arbitration case that the president had apparently won last week, as it relates to Stormy Daniels. But that acknowledgement, according to a source close to the White House, has kind of upset the president because he believes that it has given fuel to this whole story line.

According to the source, Sarah gave the Stormy Daniels story line steroids yesterday. CNN's Jim Acosta reported this morning, and what that means is that it opens a can of worms for the president potentially after weeks of the White House saying that he had nothing to do with this Stormy Daniels situation. Listen to what Sarah said yesterday, exactly, on the arbitration case.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case is already been won in arbitration.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said that there is arbitration? That's already been won by whom and when?

SANDERS: The president's personal attorneys and for details on that, I would refer you to them.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're aware of them. What more can you share with us?

SANDERS: I can share that arbitration was won in the president's favor.


PHILLIP: In the president's favor. That's the key line here. It is not clear whether Sarah was cleared to say that to us or whether that was the plan, but clearly that may have gone a little bit farther than the White House wanted to go on this issue in part because you know up until this point, Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer, said he has been doing this on his own in order to protect the president and that the president didn't necessarily authorize him to engage with Stormy Daniels on this issue. John?

BERMAN: So, Abby, one other interesting point here, there is news on tariffs today, sounds odd to say this, but we don't know what the news is because White House officials honestly don't know what the news is on tariffs.

PHILLIP: That's right. And it is really not clear exactly if the president knows what the news is going to be by the time we see him later this afternoon. Look, President Trump has come out now and said there is something happening at 3:30 p.m. today as it relates to aluminum and steel tariffs. But as of last night, White House aides were going back and forth and back and forth about whether this event was actually going to happen. We had aides telling CNN that the event was canceled, that they couldn't get it done in time. And then someone else said at the White House that the event is back on again and then a third aide by the end of the night late last night, it was just hands in the air. Not clear whether this event is going to happen at all.

This morning, the president made it clear that he wants to have this meeting regardless. We know that steel and aluminum workers were flowed in to this area to be present for some kind of White House event. The big question, John, is whether or not the president -- the White House will be able to codify the legal foundation for tariffs, and who is going to be exempted at all. Will it be Mexico and Canada and if so, how? These legal details really need to be worked out, otherwise the president is just going to be perhaps having a meeting announcing tariffs and nothing official is really going to be done this afternoon. We'll see what happens, John.

BERMAN: Could be a meeting announcing it is Thursday and that he likes tariffs and you spell tariff with a t. We don't know much more than that at this point. All right, Abby Phillip, thank you so much.

We started talking about Stormy Daniels and where the White House is on that. Let's dive a little deeper about where we are and the legal issues here. MJ Lee here with that. MJ, where are we?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, the thing that we still don't know is what President Trump knew and when. Two things that I want to really highlight from what Sarah Sanders said at the White House briefing room yesterday. The first is her statement that this case has been won in arbitration already, and we can discuss that more in a second.

The second point is when Sarah Sanders was asked did President Trump know about the payment at the time, when it was made in October of 2016. Sarah Sanders answered not that I'm aware of. She did not say no. Now, Stormy Daniels' lawyer is now pushing back on a lot of the things that Sarah Sanders said yesterday. One of the things that he's rejecting in very clear terms is this idea that Michael Cohen acted on his own, that he was a rogue player in all of this. That he did not consult with the president. Take a listen to what Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, told Anderson Cooper last night.

[10:05:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: The idea that somehow President Trump didn't know anything about this, and that attorney Cohen was just running off and doing what he thought was best, without any consultation, with President Trump, it is patently absurd.


LEE: Now, coming back to this issue of the arbitration that Sarah Sanders says was won in Trump's favor, this appears to be a temporary restraining order that a private mediator issued against Stormy Daniels last month on behalf of Essential Consultants. Remember this is the company that Michael Cohen set up back in October of 2016 in order to make this payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels' lawyer at the time. But Stormy's lawyer now is saying that they actually were not even aware of this arbitration. That they were not even given a heads up and the lawyer says this arbitration is one of many examples in which Michael Cohen has tried to silence Stormy Daniels, not just back in 2016, but that those efforts continue to this day. A little bit more on what he had to say about that to Anderson Cooper last night.


AVENATTI: I want to be really clear about this. All in an effort to keep this matter under wraps, keep it out of public view, hide the facts, and silence my client. There is a pattern and practice that is governed the way that my client has been dealt with by Mr. Cohen and President Trump for months. And that pattern and practice, Anderson, has continued up until even a few hours ago.


LEE: Now, worth pointing out that this lawyer also says, John, that there is more information that has not come to light yet, meaning that there could be more headlines in the coming days, and if I could just end on this note, when Sarah Sanders says the president has already answered directly answered these questions, that is simply not true. And it just seems like with every passing day, the White House has more and more questions to answer.

BERMAN: We could hear from the president in a little while. It's a cabinet meeting. It is a strange setting for this to come up. But if he's going to claim he answered questions or hasn't, you got to keep asking the questions. MJ Lee, great to have you with us. Thank you very, very much.

Joining me now, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst and CNN political commentators, Doug Heye and Symone Sanders, kind of a strange cocktail this morning, a porn star and tariffs, not your everyday fare in the West Wing.

Let's start with tariffs because I do think this is interesting. You know, Jackie, we do not know yet if Canada and Mexico will be exempt from these tariffs. The White House is suggesting, yes, that decision hasn't been fully made yet, it is possible. As if that's a small thing. It is not. It is everything here. Again, Canada is the number one exporter of steel to the United States. If you're going to put tariffs on all steel, got to be part of it, if you're going to exempt him, you would think you would have thought that through beforehand. It shows, I think, the level of White House forethought here, does it not?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It does. So, there are two things at play here. One is the president's very ingrained beliefs about trade. I found an article yesterday from 1989, where he was talking about levying massive tariffs on places like Japan, South Korea, and then West Germany. So -- because he thought that the United States was being ripped off.

The other thing at play is this massive effort by House Republicans and Senate Republicans to get the president to change his mind on this. More than 100 sent him -- House Republicans sent him a letter yesterday asking that I believe it was Canada and Mexico to be exempted from this. So he's -- maybe his mind is being changed with all this new information. We don't know yet, but he seems to be maybe a little receptive to some of the outcry by his very own party.

BERMAN: That outcry from the party includes this letter now, Doug, from 107 Republicans telling him they're against universal tariffs. Perhaps something more focused on China they'd be OK with, Doug. But these same Republicans who have signed the letter and say they're upset. You know do you really think they'll do anything to stand in the way of this happening if the president comes down and makes it happen?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I was in the Rayburn House Office Building yesterday and what I can tell you is what they said publicly in the letter is the same thing they said privately except privately it is a lot stronger language. This goes to the core of Republican ideology in a way that all the other outrage du jour we have seen from the White House do not. And they have been caught by surprise, which if you talk to congressional leadership, is a big no- no with them. This is the one thing where I think we could see them stand up to Trump, push him in a different direction or at least nudge him in a slightly different direction and try and claim some political victory.

BERMAN: I'll believe it when I see it. But we'll see. I guess a lot of it does depend on what he does and if there are exemptions. I think that there are exemptions for Canada and Mexico. I think Republicans will --

HEYE: And they look at that as a victory.

BERMAN: No doubt. Maybe an earned victory because of how they lobbied him over the last few days.

Symone, we're going to make a transition here between the issue of tariffs and trade and financial issues to the issue of Stormy Daniels, because your former boss - Well, but it is interesting. Bernie Sanders, Senator Sanders from Vermont, seemed to be complaining a little bit about where the focus has been the last 24 hours.

[10:10:11] He was suggesting that we're covering Stormy Daniels too much and not enough -- he was talking about banking regulations as opposed to tariffs. But it is interesting because you get complaints that, you know, we're not watching the things that are important here. On the other hand, there are people who will tell you my goodness, if this were a Democrat president this is all we'll be talking about.

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is true. If it were a Democratic president, it would be -- not necessarily wouldn't be all we're talking about. But also, I do believe that Republicans would have a Democratic president on -- would be trying to burn them at the proverbial stake, if you will. You know, I think what my former boss was saying last night is something that rings true with a lot of different Americans. There are a lot of other things happening, particularly with the attempt to deregulate the banks. And lack of protections for consumers. So that is not something that often gets to break through when you know we have the very real thing of the president being sued by an adult film actress and finding out that he tried to pay her off.

And so -- and the White House not having any real answers and the White House press secretary's office repeatedly coming out, standing at the podium, and deflecting and using spin tactics to not directly go and ask the president these questions because they don't want to have to lie.

BERMAN: Having your cake and eating it too. I like what you did with that saying that both are important. Jackie, it was interesting yesterday. We now learned that the president says -- is said to be upset about the way Sarah Sanders handled this, acknowledging that this arbitration exists and it was decided on the president's behalf there. Do you buy in any way that the president could be upset about this now, about what she said, that she would somehow freelance with that information at the White House podium?

KUCINICH: It is highly unlikely that Sarah Sanders was freelancing yesterday. Perhaps the president didn't like the delivery. We've heard that in the past with some other press secretaries like Sean Spicer. He was told to say one thing and how he said it, the president didn't like, perhaps that. But we don't - I don't know what her actual, you know, script in front of her said. Maybe those three words that Abby Phillip was talking about is what he's upset about. But this certainly is another example of the White House making something worse and us not knowing whether it is going to get any better. And if the president is raging behind the scenes, it is almost certain it will enter his Twitter feed at some point.

BERMAN: You know, Doug Heye, we heard Mark Sanford of South Carolina raised questions about this yesterday, suggests there are legitimate issues here. Do you think he will be alone on Mark Sanford Island on this or will other Republicans entertain the notion that this is a legitimate subject?

HEYE: I think by and large he'll be on his own. But that depends on how the White House handles this. Two kind of interesting things that I dealt with earlier in my career, one was the lesbian themed bondage club RNC scandal and the other was the skinny dipping congressman in the Sea of Galilee, which I think, Jackie covered both of. You know both of those are real gold stars in my resume that my family is proud of, but it taught me, here is how you deal with crises like this. And you get the truth out as quickly as you can. You get your version of events out as quickly as you can. This is where the White House is struggling because it looks like the only people who know exactly what happened here or on so many other things, is the president and maybe his lawyer. And this White House, if we learned one thing, it is that - at the first day of college, look to your right, look to your left, one of these people may be subpoenaed and that's why you're seeing such a - and fearful reaction from the White House staff. They're scared because they're next or on the line here too.

BERMAN: You know, Symone, do you think this is an issue that Democrats press or do you think they should do what your former boss Bernie Sanders is doing right now and saying you know what, we have other things to deal with.

SANDERS: You know, look, I think this is an issue that is going to continue to be in the news cycle or the Democrats quote/unquote press it or not. I think the conversation should now be about where are the Republicans in Congress to help hold this president accountable. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. And again, had this been a Democratic president, the Republicans in Congress would be looking to burn the president at the proverbial stake. And so, it is time for folks to step up so we can talk about real issues like deregulation of the banks and protections for consumers.

BERMAN: Hang on, Jackie, one second. There's actually breaking news. We have some breaking news. Don't go anywhere because I want your take on it. It is on tariffs. Abby Phillip at the White House with, I don't think it is clarity, but with information here.

PHILLIP: Yes, John. We're getting a little bit more detail about what actually might happen this afternoon and it could very well be according to a source that the president signs a symbolic proclamation declaring his intent to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. Now, this may not go a whole lot further than what we have heard the president say already, but it will allow him to sign something, a document of some kind, a memo or a proclamation on the issue of tariffs and it will also allow him to deal with the issue of exclusions at a future date. So if, in fact, the White House and the administration does decide to carve out some space for Canada and Mexico, that issue might not be dealt with today. It might be dealt with in the future.

[10:15:10] This allows President Trump to say, hey, this is the thing I've signed, this afternoon at this event at 3:30 p.m. that he has announced himself and that, by the way, is still not on the president's official White House schedule. But it may or may not be a legal document. They're going to have, you know, this memo or proclamation ready as a backup, just in case that they can't iron out those legalities by 3:30 p.m. this afternoon, John.

BERMAN: All right, Abby Phillip at the White House, thank you so much.

Jackie Kucinich, the president will get the chance to write his name on a piece of paper today. That seems to be the White House solution to figuring out how to get something done. But it will be a symbolic proclamation declaring intent there.

KUCINICH: Policymaking at its finest -- what it sounds like is the White House, what we have been hearing, the White House wasn't ready for this announcement. And the president is rushing them. There are a lot of T's and I's that need to be crossed when you make a major policy change like this. This is also the backdrop of this. There is a special election in Pennsylvania. I'm sure the president wants to go to steel country, and say that he is bringing back steel jobs. And now he has a piece of paper that basically means that, you know, means nothing other than he intends to do this, which he already said, that he can show them, I guess. And maybe that will be enough, but, you know, this is what happens when you rush the process.

BERMAN: Jackie Kucinich, Symone Sanders, Doug Heye, symbolic proclamation declaring that I'm grateful that you did this with me.

HEYE: Only symbolism, that's terrible.

BERMAN: That's right. It really is. Still ahead, new report that the president asked two members of his staff about conversations they had with the special counsel's team. Could there be any legal fallout here? And in just minutes, the former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski returns to Capitol Hill, expected to give a new round of testimony to the House Intelligence Committee and the Russia probe. Stay with us.


[10:21:06] BERMAN: We are waiting an on again, off again, supposedly on again sort of event at the White House where the president is expected to sign something on tariffs.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Francis Rooney of Florida who actually wrote a letter to the president, urging him -- urging really caution, Congressman, on these tariffs. You are against the idea of universal tariffs on steel and aluminum. Why?

REP. FRANCIS ROONEY (R-FL), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Well, first of all, I don't think we don't want to lose the stability and security relationships that we built up around the world through multilateral trade agreements and globalization. We can't just unravel global trade over a few -- over an effort to try to deal with excessive deficits.

BERMAN: Well, we're hearing today, I know there say lot of noise behind you, I appreciate your patience here. What we're hearing today is this is possible, but we don't know for sure that there will be exemptions for Canada and Mexico. It strikes me as odd that only at the 11th hour that these exemptions will be added when it is a big deal, right? I mean Canada is the biggest exporter of steel to the United States. You would have thought this would be thought through before.

ROONEY: Well I think the process is evolving in a sort of a clumsy manner. But at least they're getting to the right spot. You know the real enemy is China. That's what we put in our letter, the transshipment or laundering of goods that we have to address.

BERMAN: But you are concerned about the fact that as you put it this has been handled in a clumsy manner.

ROONEY: I am. I think our allies got to sit back and look and say why did they do it this way in first place? We need to identify who is the real enemy and come up with a logical and comprehensive plan to deal with perhaps perceived excessive trade deficits without unraveling the benefits of globalized, fairly free trade.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman. I want to read you a statement from your colleague, Republican Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina. And he was weighing in on this issue involving Stephanie Clifford, AKA Stormy Daniels, the adult film actress and the White House. I want to read you this from the congressman. He says "Hush money is a big deal, particularly if it is not ancient history. We're talking about a payment in October of 2016. That is not a long time ago. We're talking about money that was exchanged in the midst of a presidential campaign. I think that's problematic, and I think it needs to be viewed for what it is."

Do you agree with the Congressman, sir?

ROONEY: You know, I'm a former ambassador to the Holy See. I think the whole fact this is being talked about, this conduct may have occurred, this lady did or did not do things with the president is just abhorrent to me. We need to focus on the big picture issues facing our country and not this kind of stuff. But it is abhorrent to me that this is taking place.

BERMAN: I guess I want to make sure I understand what you're saying is abhorrent, the alleged behavior is abhorrent, the idea that the president may have been involved in paying hush money to an adult film actress to keep information about an affair quiet?

ROONEY: All of the above. BERMAN: Do you think the White House has to answer questions on this?

ROONEY: Well, I don't know. I can't speak for the White House. But I just think it is really unfortunate that the greatest nation on earth has so many challenges facing it is talking about some porn star and perhaps some compromised deal with the president.

BERMAN: Again, I don't want to overly dwell on this but I want to make sure I understand what you're saying. I can't tell if you're criticizing the fact that anyone is asking these questions, or that you have serious concerns about the fact that the president and his lawyer may have been involved with this?

ROONEY: I think all questions need to be asked. I think you all are the defender of the first amendment. I think the whole issue of having this -- I can't even hardly say the name, porn star, involved with the president is not a good thing.

BERMAN: If he paid hush money, 10 days before the election, whoever it was, would that be a problem?

ROONEY: I don't think it is a good thing. I really don't.

BERMAN: OK. Congressman on Russia right now, Corey Lewandowski testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, some Republicans say that the work on that committee might soon be over. Do you think it is time to wrap up?

[10:25:04] ROONEY: Well, unfortunately for Mr. Mueller, despite his great reputation, he hasn't found anything that we know about yet. So if they don't find something, they need to wrap it up.

BERMAN: I was talking about the House Intelligence Committee, but since you brought up Robert Mueller, you say he hasn't found anything -- it is OK, it is a legitimate question there. He has indicted 13 Russians for meddling in the U.S. election, three companies for meddling in the U.S. election. He's got a guilty plea from the former campaign chair -- sorry, the former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates of the campaign, got charges against a campaign chair, that's nothing?

ROONEY: No, it is not nothing but it is not what the investigation was set up to do. He hasn't found collusion or successful interference. He's just found that the Russians tried and I think we need to have these sanctions that the president signed and the House and Senate passed last summer showing them that there is a price to pay for that.

BERMAN: The indictments clearly said that the Russians meddle. I mean they -- he said they did things, it wasn't trying. He said they did do things involved in the electoral process. And as for collusion, he hasn't weighed in on that yet. Are you willing to give him time?

ROONEY: Well, he's been -- he's had a lot of time. I mean yes, we know the Russians bought digital ads and organized protests and took a lot of actions. But we haven't seen any evidence that it did any good.

BERMAN: All right. Congressman Francis Rooney -- I really do appreciate your time and your willingness to discuss the subjects. Please come back again, sir.

ROONEY: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his investigators being nice? That's what President Trump reportedly asked one of the key witnesses in the Russia probe but did his questions cross the line?