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White House Fights Back on Allegations of Porn Star Affair; Trump Advisor: Tariffs Won't Be Imposed on Canada and Mexico. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 06:00   ET



SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There was no knowledge of any payments from the president.

[05:58:55] MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY TO STORMY DANIELS: The idea President Trump didn't know anything about this is patently absurd.

STORMY DANIELS, SUING DONALD TRUMP: Hopefully, I'll be able to tell my side.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We are urging caution this could on send the economy in the wrong direction.

SANDERS: He wants to address the trade imbalances. We're moving fully ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This wasn't thought through at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is completely improper to interrogate witnesses after they've provided testimony. We saw this before in Watergate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's perfectly normal for anyone to be concerned about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What this does show is a heightened sense of paranoia.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, March 8, 6 a.m. here in New York. Here's our starting line.

The Stormy Daniels scandal heating up the Trump White House. Press secretary Sarah Sanders having to comment on reports that President Trump is trying to silence the porn star, who claims that she had an affair with President Trump a decade ago. Mr. Trump's personal attorney obtaining a restraining order to prevent the woman from speaking out.

[06:00:05] And onto policy, there's confusion at the White House. President Trump was scheduled to announce his controversial plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum today, but the signing ceremony is not on the White House schedule at the moment. It appears the policy is not finalized yet.

CUOMO: All right. We also have several developments in the Russia investigation. There's a new report in "The New York Times" that says President Trump asked key witnesses in the Russia investigation what they had discussed with Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigators. The president targeting White House Counsel Don McGahn and former chief of staff Reince Priebus for those follow-up talks.

The "Washington Post" reporting that Bob Mueller is gathering evidence about a meeting in the Seychelles last January. Why? Well, the paper reveals they believe it may have been an attempt to establish a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin. Now Democrats say a Trump associate may have misled the House panel about that meeting.

We have it all covered. Let's begin with Abby Phillip live at the White House with our top story -- Abby.


This melodrama, or perhaps a soap opera between the president and a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, who alleges an affair, is becoming a huge headache for this White House this morning.

The president denies this affair, of course. But we know that there was hush money paid. And questions persist about who knew what and when about why that money was paid to Daniels just days before the election.


AVENATTI: 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, it is patently absurd.

PHILLIPS: Stormy Daniels's lawyer is rejecting the White House's claim that President Trump was unaware of the $130,000 payment to Daniels 11 days before the election, paid by Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did he know about the payment at the time?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of.

PHILLIPS: But Sanders admitting for the first time that a nondisclosure agreement involving the president did exist.

SANDERS: The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration. And anything beyond that, I would refer you to the president's outside counsel. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that there's arbitration that's already

been won? By whom and when?

SANDERS: By the president's personal attorneys, and for details on that, I would defer you to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you're aware of them. So what more can you share with us?

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

PHILLIPS: Daniels's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, telling CNN that Sanders was referencing a temporary restraining order obtained by Cohen last week to keep Daniels from speaking out about her alleged affair with Mr. Trump.

AVENATTI: She had no idea it was happening. No opportunity to respond. But we find her statement that President Trump has already quote, "won," closed quote, this arbitration to be absolutely bogus and baseless.

PHILLIPS: Avenatti charging that Cohen and his legal team are actively trying to intimidate his client.

Mr. Cohen has not responded to CNN's request for comment.

The White House will try to shift the media's focus today to the president's controversial proposal to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. But there is confusion about the rollout. The White House's top trade advisor, Peter Navarro, saying in an interview that Mr. Trump will sign the tariffs into law today but a White House aide telling CNN that the policy is not even finalized. Navarro announcing that there will be exemptions for Canada and Mexico after facing heavy backlash from fellow Republicans.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF TRADE ADVISOR: The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately on Canada and Mexico.

PHILLIP: On Sunday, Navarro touting a different approach.

NAVARRO: At this point in time, there are no country exclusions. As soon as you exempt one country, then you have to exempt another country. And so it's a slippery slope.


PHILLIP: And there is, of course, real policy implications behind this tariff announcement that the pressure -- the president we know has been putting pressure on his staff to roll out as soon as today. It could be today or tomorrow or early next week. He wants to do it before he goes to Pennsylvania in order to campaign for a Republican candidate who could really use the help at this moment. We also know President Trump is going to be having a cabinet meeting this morning. There are a lot of questions, and you bet we'll be asking them. Back to you, Alisyn and Chris.

CAMEROTA: All right, Abby, thank you very much for all of that reporting. Let's bring in our guests. We have CNN political analyst John Avlon and associate editor and columnist at RealClearPolitics, A.B. Stoddard. OK.

Let's start with tariffs. OKI?

So you just heard Abby report there that he wants this in place before he goes to Pennsylvania for this campaign stop, because he knows that this will play well with his base in Pennsylvania. So according to Jeff Zeleny and Boris Sanchez, our reporters, the -- his aides in the White House are working overtime. They pulled an all-nighter to try to make this happen.


[06:05:07] CAMEROTA: This is a huge bit of policy that they might be able to pull off this week.

AVLON: Yes. This does not sound like the well-oiled machine we have been told it is.

No. This is a -- White House staffers are pulling all-nighters. They're complaining they're frustrated that this is way too fast to push it through. An event that has been promoted on television as happening today at 3:30 is not on the official White House schedule. That is a sign of chaos. And if the president's timing is set to try to benefit a Pennsylvania special election, that's almost the definition of the tail wagging the dog.

The other big bit of news is they're backing off of the exemptions.

CAMEROTA: Just for Canada and Mexico.

AVLON: Just for Canada and Mexico. But that actually could be a smart move in terms of creating leverage for NAFTA negotiations.

CUOMO: Right.

AVLON: But rushing this through is not a sign of organized -- it's Captain Chaos again.

CUOMO: Right. And also, it's not just Canada and Mexico. They're the two main players with aluminum and steel. We just heard Navarro say there would be no exemptions. And again, it goes to coordination of the message and capability.

So A.B., you've got a beautiful sky behind you. But there is an adage. Red sky in the morn, sailors be warned. Could there be trouble today for the White House? If they try to push something like this through, we've got Ron Johnson, a Republican senator coming on today.

Is it true that they are actually thinking about legislation to change the president's abilities on tariffs because of how unhappy they are about how rash this move is?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REALCLEARPOLITIS: Oh, I think they've made that clear. More than 100 Republicans in the House sending a letter and the speaker being very -- very forthright -- very firm about this. He's obviously been telling the president these things privately for months and months and months.

But now they're coming out strongly in their opposition to him and making the kinds of warning -- issuing the kinds of warnings that Senator Johnson is across the board. I mean, everyone except pretty much for free-trading Vice President Mike Pence is being openly critical in the party of this.

And I think that they -- they have to use the specter of legislation to mitigate these tariffs as a means to get the president to listen. I think the fact that the White House has considered -- was considering, is still considering, may consider, and then, of course at the last minute pull out, exemptions for our allies, Canada and Mexico, is a sign that the president has been spooked a little bit about their reaction, the stock market reaction, the Cohn resignation, et cetera, and is realizing that across the board exemption-free tariffs would be a mistake.

But I think until and unless we see what the, quote unquote, "proclamation" is, we really don't know where this is going. Because there's still time to mess things up further, to actually soften the blow of these. And, you know, in the end it's not until you see what's written up that we can really know where they're going with this.


CUOMO: There's still time to screw it up even further. I mean, this is a bad rollout by definition. And those 107 Republicans who are riding the president is a sign of just how deep the divisions are. This is sort of the third rail. He's been able to violate conservative catechism on everything except tariffs. And this is really spooking him. Paul Ryan is finding his spine on this issue, or trying to. But he's got the national security, ability to push it through.

CUOMO: Does Ryan deserve the full nod on this? Because he did it through a spokesperson.

AVLON: We'll give him a half nod. I think a half nod.

CUOMO: Give him a half nod?

CAMEROTA: There's also reporting, by the way, that the leaders in Congress don't know who their point person is anymore. Because Gary Cohn is gone.


CAMEROTA: And so even trying to communicate and negotiate this out is a challenge. CUOMO: And Navarro isn't somebody that they have been working with.

But I also think it's important. This isn't style points. This isn't, "Well, this is how Trump is." You know, he likes to be disruptive. He's messing with the machine. He's draining the swamp. All of those nice catch phrases that ring hollow. This is about a policy that conservatives really believe. The irony is a lot of Democrats don't believe it.

AVLON: Right.

CUOMO: But a lot of conservatives believe and a lot of economists believe when you mess with tariffs you create an imbalance. And there's going to be retaliation, and then you can't stop it. And it's a problem. And we've never had one work out well for U.S. workers. That's what it's about. It's not just about how he's doing. It's about what he wants to do.

There are fundamental concerns here. It's not they just don't know how to get out of their own way in the White House. That may also be true, but that's not the root of the concern here.

AVLON: No. You study history to try not to make new mistakes, not repeat old ones. That's one of the reasons.

CUOMO: Go right back to Smoot-Hawley. Burn (ph) Depression.

AVLON: Let's drop a little Smoot-Hawley.

CUOMO: Drop some Smoot-Hawley, my brother.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my gosh.

AVLON: There are a ton of different reasons trade wars haven't worked out well. What's also interesting is some of the initial pushback is aimed at products and companies made in Wisconsin, and Kentucky, homes of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. So, you know, people are really feeling the heat on this.

Navarro -- and you're right. This is actually much more in line with what a lot of folks on the left want to see, and this is -- that sort of extension of the populist attempt to reshuffle the coalition. And Trump seems committed to it. He actually -- this seems to be an area where he has a longstanding commitment to protectionism. This actually seems to be an issue where he's not just Johnny come lately. He actually believes this.

So it's going to move forward, but they're going to try to mitigate it. Because he should be spooked. Because this is -- the chance of blowback on this, politically and economically, are high.

CAMEROTA: OK, so A.B., let's talk about another issue that the White House had to address yesterday, and that is Stormy Daniels, a.k.a. Stephanie Clifford. So there is -- was arbitration, apparently, that Michael Cohen, the president's personal attorney, engaged in in California to try to get a restraining order so that she could not speak out. So here is Sarah Sanders trying to address this yesterday.


SANDERS: The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true. This case has already been won in arbitration. And anything beyond that I would refer you to president's outside counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that there's arbitration that's already been won? By whom and when?

SANDERS: By the president's personal attorneys. And for details on that, I would refer you to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're aware of them, so what more can you share with us?

SANDERS: I can share that -- that the arbitration was won in the president's favor. And I would refer you to the president's outside counsel on any details beyond that.


CAMEROTA: A.B., what did you make of all of that?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: I'm just baffled that the White House would want to drop that information at the briefing to further the story. The best way to make this go away is to stop with the arbitration, the restraining orders and talking about it and say what Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been saying all along, which is, you know, "The president says these allegations aren't true. I don't know anything further. Let's move on to the next topic."

I mean, this is really -- Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer of the president, made this clear weeks ago, that the president is involved in this payment when he you've the word "facilitated." "I facilitated a payment," he said in his statement. OK. He -- the gig is up here.

CUOMO: He doesn't is say that, A.B., just so you know.

STODDARD: The point is that he made it clear that the president knew of the payment, was involved in the payment through his use of a lawyerly term. This story can go away. The voter -- the Trump coalition voters don't care about it. They will forgive him anything or anything like this. They don't even care if it was, you know, in- kind campaign contribution. This is really the kind of thing that -- that doesn't matter and that could go away in the storm of other debacles that we have raining over this administration.

So the idea of them bringing this up and letting Stormy Daniels' lawyer, then go on TV and counter it and say it's bunk is really counterproductive.

CUOMO: I don't know why -- I don't know why Sarah Sanders said the president won. Because it kind of blows up the whole spot. Because the whole point is the president's not involved. This is the theory from Michael Cohen: "I did it. I did it through my LLC. She violated her agreement with me. I went to get the relief that is laid out in the agreement. She lost. She was supposed to shut up. She couldn't file the suit. She did it anyway. It's all me." And then she says the president won.

AVLON: This is a classic Washington gaffe. Someone inadvertently tells the truth. I mean, this is what happens. She didn't mean to say that wasn't perfectly scripted, because she gave away the ghost.

Look, it's very clear in the NDA that's been released, David Dennison appears to be the president. Michael Cohen is acting on somebody's behalf. It's a document that is quite detailed and, you know, weighted on behalf of Cohen and his client.

And, look, this is not a great story. The porn star and the president is going to resonate on front pages in a way that other scandals won't.

CAMEROTA: But I mean, to A.B.'s point, do people care?

AVLON: I actually think -- we'll talk about, look, the election, the FEC implications. But if this had dropped a week after "Access Hollywood" in the election, I think the evangelical vote would have been depressed.

CUOMO: Really?

AVLON: I do, I do.

CUOMO: Evangelical vote?

After all the things they've said to us recently about Trump with his whole journey of spirituality, giving a man --

AVLON: Please.

CUOMO: They have done a lot to rationalize their support for him.

AVLON: Mike Pence is an evangelical. There is nothing in Donald Trump's history to suggests that he is. That said, he got a higher percentage of the vote than George W. Bush. I think in part this election is very late-breaking. Everything matters. The second Comey letter matters.

The "Access Hollywood" tape was relatively in the rear-view mirror. So all these things matter. This is not going away the way the White House would like. We have a look at an NDA that is -- seems to be well-worn and deeply outside the mainstream of American politics.

Is it going to turn the Trump coalition's base against him? Of course not. Is this going away any time soon? No, it's not.

CUOMO: They keep talking about -- my concern if I were Cohen and the people around the president is, if it stays in the news it becomes relevant. If it's relevant, then it will be relevant to investigators. And if he ever got asked about this, he could have a problem. Let's not forget what happened with Clinton.

[06:15:10] CAMEROTA: OK. John Avlon, A.B. Stoddard, thank you very much.

CUOMO: All right. So "The New York Times" has new reporting that President Trump questioned two members of his staff after they spoke to Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigators. Is that illegal? No. But it could be a problem for the president. We'll tell you why next.


[06:19:15] CUOMO: "The New York Times" reports that President Trump questioned former chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House counsel Don McGahn after they spoke to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators. The word "after" is very important here for legal purposes.

The president reportedly told McGahn to deny he was asked to fire Mueller. John Avlon is back with us. And joining us is CNN legal analyst Laura Coates.

Laura, it's good to have you, Counselor. Explain to people why the word "after," that that preposition is very important. Why this may not be illegal, but what could be the concern for investigators.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, remember Mueller and his investigative team and there have been a lot of thoughts about whether the president of the United States had obstructed justice or was involved in witness tampering.

Normally those two allegations and those crimes take place before the testimony has occurred. And a way to influence it in some way or to manipulate the witness.

[06:20:10] So if you did it afterwards, essentially, he's checking to see if they're very nice about it, not actually trying to influence the testimony that was there. So this is probably on the very lowest scale of even allegations of obstruction or tampering.

But it does belabor -- it does actually reveal one great point here. And that is the president has a consistent impression or consistent obsession with trying to figure out what Mueller is investigating, whether he is a target. And tampering is kind of a fine line to dance when you've already been accused of obstruction.

CAMEROTA: Laura, let me just stick with you for one more second, because you bring up the "was he nice?" So that's some of the reporting in "The New York Times." Maggie Haberman is one of the reporters that, in one episode, Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how the interview had gone with the special counsel, and whether they had been -- investigators had been, quote, "nice." That sounds quite benign. OK. So is that -- does that run afoul of something?

COATES: No. The idea of him asking the question, frankly, you have to give, at this point, the benefit of the doubt. Asking if it's nice. We could read into it and say that's a coded word, to figure out, "Was he nice? Did he like me?" Was it a Sally Field moment? Does he really, really like me? Trying to infer too much into what Mueller was trying to do when he asked questions of Reince Priebus, you can't read in a lot.

But you can read into this, is that he was trying to figure out and assess whether there was an ally in Mueller or whether he himself, not his orbit, not the campaign, not people who are surrounding it, not Russian nationalists, whether he himself or people that were around him would be the target of, obviously, a less than benign interaction with Mueller.

CUOMO: I mean, look. In a little bit to Counselor Coates's point, it would give you a little bit of a sense of state of mind with Trump with where he is, what his intentionality is with respect to his own efforts where this investigation's concerned.

Him talking to McGahn and saying, "Here's what you need to say about all of this 'fire Mueller' stuff" and what he might have said to Reince Priebus about what you should say about what happened, now that's a different category of behavior, because it goes into the president's potential efforts and a pattern of behavior to control the...

CAMEROTA: That's before. What you're talking about is before. This is him checking in after.

CUOMO: I'm saying after. He goes to McGahn and says, "All right, if that's what he talked to you about, here's what you need to say publicly now. That may be viewed differently, but I think that this is still kind of low levels.

AVLON: Yes. It's far from a best practice. Is it news that the president is obsessed and interested and curious? Is that national? Yes.

For me, actually one of the biggest things in the story is that the president asked McGahn to deny, to your point, that he asked -- the president ever asked to fire Mueller, and McGahn allegedly said, "Mr. President, but you did."

CUOMO: Right.

AVLON: And Trump didn't recall it, didn't remember it.

CUOMO: That's not the way I remember it going.

AVLON: Right. That's a big deal. This seems like the kind of thing you would remember if you're president, asking your White House counsel to try to fire a special prosecutor. That, you know, you would have notched a way in the back of your head the setting up a condition to create a constitutional crisis. If that didn't, you know, really resonate with him, that I think, is -- is troubling.

CAMEROTA: OK. Another tidbit -- COATES: And it goes on, also. And he goes on at that point to say,

well, you want somebody who's heading the DOJ to protect him. That goes into the same symptomatic pattern that the president is under the impression at the Office of White House Counsel, which protects the actual office, not its incumbent, is actually there to be its personal legal bodyguard. And that's not the case.

CUOMO: Strong point.

CAMEROTA: Next tidbit is from "The Washington Post" in terms of what Mueller is looking into.

There was a meeting in the Seychelles in January of 2017. OK. So before the inauguration, during the transition. OK? Here's a little passage from "The Washington Post."

A witness cooperating with Mueller has told investigators that the Seychelles meeting was set up in advance so that a representative of the Trump transition could meet with an emissary of Moscow to discuss the further relations between the countries. So Laura, this is before he is president. Is this illegal?

COATES: It's a real big problem. And what it does is buttress (ph) other testimony, that there was somehow a decision or an effort to have a back channel created between the Kremlin and the incoming president of the United States.

Mind you, after the current, at that point in time, Barack Obama, at the current decision to try to sanction Russia for trying to interfere. You already have that. There was already a discussion about Kushner and trying to have a back channel. This buttresses (ph) it.

It also contradicts the testimony that Prince gave in front of the House Intel Committee, where he says that, "Oh, no, no, no. I just happened to be in the Seychelles. I happened to have been told that I can go at the end of the bar and share a beer with somebody who was pivotal in trading that backchannel. "And I only talked to him about things like Stalin and Putin for a second. Only the length that it took me to finish my beer, or 30 minutes."

[06:25:04] And so you have that sort of testimony being contradicted. Now you know why somebody like Nader would be so important in trying to either dismantle that obvious myth or trying to fill in the gap of was there an actually, you know, planned-out meeting, or was it the happenstance that Prince has alluded to?

AVLON: Yes, I mean, look, this -- this has been sort of fishy since it first surfaced, right? And remember, this is also part of the context that ultimately sinks Flynn. That Obama ream raises sanctions. They try to retaliate for Russian interference. And was there back channels saying, "Hey, it's going to be fine. Don't worry."

Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, brother of Betsy DeVos, education secretary. Now, testimony being called into question. And Mueller's done a very good job of seemingly flipping folks who are in positions to know.

And that's going to increase and ratchet up pressure. Now does this actually follow through on the spy novel premise that seems to be on the surface? We'll see. I think we have to have a healthy degree of skepticism. But it does seem that there's Russian outreach before the election and certainly after.

AVLON: If it had taken place at a bar in New Jersey, it would be far less intriguing. The fact that it's in the Seychelles. Well, you'd have to assume if it was in Jersey, it would be dirty.

CAMEROTA: That's right.

AVLON: Or worse.

CUOMO: Let me ask you something. Talking about this NDA involving the porn actress lady and the president, before he came on the show. What is your take on what you see here and kind of the moves of legality here? The moving for the arbitration hearing, the moving for the TRO. That theory versus what Sanders said yesterday of, yes, the president won those actions.

I thought the president wasn't involved? What do you make of, like, the legal moves here?

COATES: Well, first, I love that you called her a "porn actress lady." I just love that phrasing of it.

CUOMO: I don't know what to call her. We keep calling her a porn star. It just...

CAMEROTA: We actually should call her Stephanie Clifford. She does have a name.

CUOMO: There you go.

CAMEROTA: We don't call everybody by their character name.

COATES: There you go, yes.

CAMEROTA: We don't do that.

CUOMO: Three or four weeks ago I was told that's how people know her, and we weren't calling her by her real name. But now we shifted. But all that -- be that as it may, what do you see here as the real issue?

COATES: Well, remember here, the idea that they entered into an arbitration, it's really not a big, you know, revelation here that she entered into a bad contract. Not one that's unconscionable, that needs to be reversed. But one in which she didn't get the best benefit of the bargain here. She was in a position of weakness, got $130,000 out of it. And contracted to have this outside of the courts, according to -- you know, all statements now.

But an arbitration does give you less protections and guarantees in a court of law. It also gives you greater confidentiality. And so when you enter into arbitration, it does two things. One, it allows this arbitrator who is not a judge in a criminal court or even a civil court, decide issues about whether it's enforceable and what to do next.

So this ex parte, meaning without the presence of Stephanie Clifford or her counsel at this hearing that was issued to say, "Listen, I'd like you to recognize that this contract is valid, and I do not want this person to be able to disclose any information." That was part of the deal that she contracted for.

Also, the benefit of an arbitration is not that you have to have a deposition, necessarily. But the greatest thing about this is remember, everyone is fixated on the amount of money she stands to lose if she discloses, a million dollars. But she's already in a cost-benefit analysis of what she stands to gain. A million may be a far less amount than she would gain once her story is out there.

CAMEROTA: OK. Laura Coates, thank you very much for all that information.

John Avlon, thank you.

All right. Let's get to weather. Millions of people in the northeast battered by this powerful winter storm. Here's the snow still coming down in Massachusetts. Another storm could be on the way. Details next.