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White House Fights Back on Allegations of Porn Star Affair; Confusion in White House Over Tariffs Plan Rollout. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2018 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And that's on me. We fell down on that.

[07:00:09] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys are the first ones to really cover it.

CUOMO: No, but I mean, that's important. Look, if you want to tell people we've got to take this more seriously, you've got to do it yourself, as well. So look, you're always welcome. Thank you for telling us what we need to know. We will stay on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Appreciate it, Chris.

CUOMO: Thanks to P.J. Thanks to you, our international viewers watching, for you, "CNN TALK" is next. For U.S. viewers, there's a lot of news to get after. So what do you say? Right now.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Here he is alleged to have had an affair with a porn star, paid hush money, and now lying about it.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I can share that arbitration was won in the president's favor.

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER FOR STORMY DANIELS: We find her statement to be absolutely bogus and baseless.

CAMEROTA: The rollout of President Trump's proposed tariffs creating confusion in the West Wing.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF TRADE ADVISOR: We're not trying to blow up the world. We want to fix the trade deficit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a bad policy. It's going to destroy more manufacturing jobs than it saves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot tamper with witnesses. You can't interrogate witnesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This, in fact, doesn't rise to trying to influence the special counsel to reflect intense concern on the part of the president and maybe even paranoia.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. The Stormy Daniels scandal is heating up. The Trump White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, fighting back against reports that President Trump's personal lawyer is trying to silence the porn star who claimed she had an affair with Mr. Trump a decade ago.

Michael Cohen obtaining a temporary restraining order to prevent Daniels from speaking out. There's also a lot of confusion at the White House today, not where the porn star is involved but where policy is involved. The president is scheduled to announce his controversial plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum today. But the signing ceremony isn't on the White House schedule. It appears the policy is not finalized yet.

CAMEROTA: And there are several new developments in the Russia investigation to tell you of. "The New York Times" reports that President Trump asked key witnesses what they discussed with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators. "The Washington Post" reports that Robert Mueller is gathering evidence about this meeting in the Seychelles in the weeks before the inauguration. The paper reveals it was an attempt to establish a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin.

We have all this covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip. She is live at the White House.

Tell us the latest there, Abby.


This melodrama involving the president and the porn star Stormy Daniels, who alleges an affair with him several years ago, continues to dominate the White House agenda right now. They are struggling to answer questions about who knew what and when about this alleged affair that the president denies.


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 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 prevent 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.

[07:05:0] 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: This tariff announcement continues to be mired in chaos today. We know that the president has been pushing his staff to get it done by the end of this week. He is heading to Pennsylvania over the weekend in a race that could really potentially benefit from an announcement like this.

However, the policy is not done yet, and the White House still won't say whether it's going to be announced today.

Meanwhile, on the president's otherwise light public schedule, he's going to have a cabinet meeting this morning, where he will probably be asked questions about all of this stuff: tariffs, Stormy Daniels, the whole thing. -- Alisyn and Chris.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF TRADE ADVISOR: Indeed, he will. Yes, Abby, thank you very much for all of that.

Let's discuss with Michael Smerconish and John Avlon. We do not have any more indication about whether this will actually happen today.

But do you see this as just another example of them not getting their ducks in a row at the White House? Or are there legitimate policy considerations at play here?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I think it's a combination of both. And I think they've got their eye on the issue of the Pennsylvania special election on Tuesday. The president clearly wants to get this issue resolved in time to go into Pennsylvania on Saturday so as to affect the outcome of what is a very close election.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Michael, I want to stop you for one second. Because your -- those are your stomping grounds. Right? So you're in Pennsylvania.

SMERCONISH: In that particular district which is Pennsylvania's 18th District, I think that it plays well for the president of the United States. There are a lot of misconceptions about that district. It's actually Democratic in its registration but has a tendency to elect Republicans. Donald Trump did extremely well there. He remains very popular there.

And if you had to identify, Alisyn, among 435 congressional districts in which of them would this issue play the best? Pennsylvania's 18th would be at the top of the list.

SMERCONISH: Yes, and look, Michael is exactly right about the composition of the district. But there's also this. This shouldn't be competitive, because it is such Trump country. Because Republicans have represented recently. The fact that it's neck and neck right now and the White House seems to think that a trade war will help to win a special election, that's topsy-turvy, folks. Let's not, you know, normalize that. You don't start trade wars to win special elections you should be winning, because your president won it in a landslide a few years ago.

CAMEROTA: But this isn't just political, John. I mean, this is how the president has felt. He has long felt that America is being screwed.


CAMEROTA: Other countries are screwing America over. So this is beyond just throwing, you know, red meat for a special election.

AVLON: I think that's the buzz saw that Gary Cohn read into, is that this actually is an issue that the president has consistently cared about in his books going back decades. So this is actually one of his deep-seated beliefs. And so he's going to execute on it. And that's why the 107 Republicans trying to push back don't realize that this is an area of real conviction for the president.

CUOMO: Yes, but here's the problem, Michael. Is that there's no question that the president has felt that the U.S. doesn't get a good deal with trade relationships. But it's always been easy to say. It's harder to fix. And he's picking a method of fixing it that will likely do more damage and not just in terms of retaliation but just in terms of the scale of labor that's involved.

For every 18th District, you have 10 districts where you have exponentially more workers who are dependent on the use of these materials than on the manufacturing of the materials. And they're going to be affected by these tariffs. So isn't the rub not that he wants to help workers, and that's bad. He should, but he should deal with automation. He should deal with worker retraining. He should deal with bringing new industries into the United States, not putting one group to the advantage against a much larger group. True?

SMERCONISH: Well, I think your observation is that there will be a tremendous ripple effect from his implementation of the tariff that may come back to bite in the fanny those that he seeks to help.

But let's say this. There's no surprise here he's delivering on yet another campaign promise. And people can disagree about the policy, but he's checking off that list each of the things that he promised.


CUOMO: But how is he -- how is he helping workers if he's going to disadvantage more workers than he helps?

SMERCONISH: Chris, what you're really get to is that what's the matter with Kansas book and whether those voters will actually recognize. Same issue on the Affordable Care Act. Is he really helping the constituency that put him in office by getting rid of the individual mandate, which is there, frankly, to protect many of them. But whether there's a recognition on the part of the voters of who really is helped or hurt, that's a debatable point.

[07:10:02] CUOMO: Well, the recognition will come when the consequences kick in. The problem is, Chris, what you're suggesting is a more complicated policy palette to deal with the underlying problem.

This is a president that's not going to do complicated policy, right? Because what's better? Well, let's do trade war. Let's do tariffs. The problem is, you know, this is the prose-poetry of governing versus campaigning. You've got folks in the White House pulling an all- nighter, trying to pull together a trade policy so they can announce it in advance of the special election. You now, that's ass-backwards. This is a real problem in terms of the governing part of what is done when rhetoric meets reality. That's falling apart right now. This should not be done on the fly, and it's being done on the fly. Make no mistake.

CAMEROTA: OK. Let's talk, Michael, about the latest developments in -- with the Stormy Daniels case, a.k.a. Stephanie Clifford, this actress who claims that she had an affair with Donald Trump before he was president.

The president's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has filed some arbitration to try to silence Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, who wants to now, it sounds like, speak out about all of this. What do you think the political upshot of all of this is?

SMERCONISH: Well, the political upshot, negligible. I'm more interested in the legal upshot. Because I don't think that this moves the needle, politically speaking. So let me talk about the legal aspect.

I think the president has a real conundrum here. This is a declaratory action that she has filed. Why? She wants to speak. And she wants to speak without the penalty of a million dollars for each infraction of the hush agreement.

So he's now been sued. President Trump has been sued, and he needs to respond. His response is, I see it can take one of three forms. No. 1, he can defend the validity of the underlying agreement.

And by the way, when Sarah Huckabee Sanders yesterday says he won at arbitration, I don't know whether she realizes it, but she's buying into the underlying agreement and facts of this case.

Secondly, he can ignore the declaratory action. Stormy Daniels then wins by default, and she gets to speak.

Third option is the president says -- and he really has to thread the needle -- "I didn't know anything about it. I had no idea what Michael Cohen was up to. I didn't authorize this. But it's nevertheless a valid agreement."

And each of those will have some consequence, if not politically, within the White House second floor, you would think.

CUOMO: The biggest consequence legally could be if he gets asked about this affair and the arrangements by investigators, and he doesn't tell the truth. Because then it goes from just what is impressive to his voters, what's impressive to us versus people who can attach a consequence.

But Michael, one thing that you said, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, by saying the president won, plays into the Clifford case that it was always about the president, not about Michael Cohen and her. So that was clumsy for Sanders to say.

But doesn't -- doesn't she have unclean hands in this, under the law, the legal doctrine? She took the 130 grand. She made her deal. Bring Michael back. I can't even see his head. I don't even know if

he's hearing what I'm saying right now. Oh, that's fine. Michael doesn't want to hear the point. There he is.

Look at you. You only half believe me. You're ink, like, silhouette there. Who are you, Mickey Spillane? So Michael, the idea of she took the 130 grand. She made the deal. She doesn't like the deal. But that's not the way deals work right now.

And when they went to arbitration, the arbitration judge said, yes, you're not supposed to talk about this deal. You can't seek legal relief. And then she filed it anyway, asking for declaratory judgment, which we both know judges are very loathe to bring, especially in circumstances like this when one of them may have unclean hands.

SMERCONISH: Right. Well, what I find interesting is that Stormy Daniels's -- Stormy Daniels's lawyer in this case, in the arbitration, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says the president won.

Here's the caption. I know you can't see it, but take my word for it. He wasn't a party. Michael Cohen brought this action without any regard for President Trump. He's not in the caption. It's "E.C. LLC versus Peggy Peterson."

What I find interesting is the very aggressive posture of Stormy Daniels's lawyer, who essentially says, "Forget this. I'm going to name Donald Trump in my complaint. I'm not even going to rely on the arbitration. I'm going to act as if this arbitration never even took place." He didn't appeal the arbitration. All he did was reference it and say that it was surreptitiously obtained. So he's not litigating.

Here's my point. He's not litigating in the court. He's litigating in the court of public opinion.

CUOMO: Exactly.

SMERCONISH: That's why he named the president.

CUOMO: And she did get all ready to say, in her pleading, she got to say once again that they had an intimate affair.


CUOMO: She was already -- which is a very Trumpian tactic, by the way. He used to do that in lawsuits on a regular basis.

AVLON: That's right. That's, you know, getting a taste of your own medicine. Once this has all been in the court of public opinion, we had the interview she gave before this agreement was signed. It gets politically trickier. It gets political trickier for reasons of FEC violations.

What did the president know when Cohen was trying to push this through. Let's not pretend that this surface story smacks of anything resembling the truth, right? This is about trying to tamp down an uncomfortable fact in the final days of a campaign. And the headline, "The president and the porn star," that doesn't go away, folks. The headline --

[07:15:14] CUOMO: Don't you think Michael's right? That the people who voted for Trump are not going to turn on him because of this.

AVLON: Look, Trump has said early on that his core supporters, he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, and they'd stand by him. The question is: does the approval rating go from 35 to 30? What percentage of evangelical voters who care about these issues start to say, you know what? This is -- you know, this is something that bothered us, would have driven us crazy with Bill Clinton. This is not the kind of behavior we're looking for, and we backed into it.

CAMEROTA: Quickly, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Or does it go from 35 percent to 39? We keep looking at this like this could hurt him. Are you kidding me? In that 18th Congressional District, among blue-collared men, do you think he's being hurt by this or helped? That's another question.

CAMEROTA: OK. Great. On that note, Michael Smerconish, John Avlon, thank you very much.

So the White House wants to change the conversation to the president's tariff plan. But the policy does not appear to be fully baked. There is confusion over the timing and the details of the plan and when it will be rolled out. We'll try to get answers next.


[07:20:13] CAMEROTA: All right. What are the details of President Trump's plan for tariffs on steel and aluminum and when will they go into effect? The answers to those questions are not clear this morning. We don't even know if the announcement is happening today, though it had been promised at one time from the White House.

So let's discuss this and so much more with CNN's senior economics analyst, Steven Moore. He is the former senior economic adviser for the Trump campaign and Bill Kristol, the editor of "The Weekly Standard."

Great to have both of you guys here to talk through news of the day.

OK, so Stephen Moore, tariffs. It sounds like they're still ironing out the policy on this. I heard you say you think this is a bad policy. What don't you like about tariffs?

STEPHEN MOORE, CNN SENIOR ECONOMICS ANALYST: Well, I'm not in favor of tariffs, a blanket tariff. And I think the steel and aluminum tariffs are going to probably be counterproductive, Alisyn.

Because I don't even think that this is going to save the kind of factory jobs that Donald Trump wants to because so many Americans in these factories are using steel, not producing it. Look, I think Donald Trump's heart is in the right place. He really

does care about these workers. He's been to these places like Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and in Ohio where a lot of Americans feel like trade is responsible for the loss of their jobs.

But I just think this -- where this is headed right now, Alisyn, is in the direction that I'm more comfortable with, which is to really tailor and target these tariffs toward the real bad actors on the international scene. Countries like Russia and China which are cheating and stealing.

And, you know, if that's the case, then I'm in favor of putting some punitive tariffs on them until they start behaving. We can't have them, you know, stealing as much as $500 billion a year of American technology and know-how.

CAMEROTA: Well, it's hard to know exactly where they stand on this, because they have sort of been all over the map, including Peter Navarro, who seems to be the guru on tariffs in Gary Cohn's absence. Gary Cohn, as you know, quit over this.

So here's Peter Navarro in just the past few days saying different things. So listen to this about tariffs.


NAVARRO: General consensus in the room that the president heard was tariffs rather than quotas and that they should be across the board with no country exemptions. Who cares? We've got the politicians. Everybody in the swamp is rising up against it. At the end of the day, we're getting a bad deal.

The proclamation will have a clause that does not impose these tariffs immediately on Canada and Mexico.


CAMEROTA: In a few days there, we heard from no exemptions, no countries exempt to, "Yes, we will exempt Canada and Mexico." What do you see happening with the White House policy on this?

BILL KRISTOL, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "THE WEEKLY NEWS": I mean, who knows, but it is rattling our allies. The fact is, we have been at the core of an increasingly free trade system around the world which has brought a heck of a lot of prosperity to hundreds of millions, billions of people. And also a lot of prosperity to the U.S.

You want to target China, what's their biggest vice, the biggest thing they do wrong? Probably stealing intellectual property. Fine. Let's change the rules on intellectual property. This doesn't do that at all.

So I'm struck, talking to some foreign diplomats and stuff, they are rattled by our -- by the tariffs, departure of Gary Cohn and rumored departure of H.R. McMaster. I think we could be at a tipping point here, where there's been a sense the adults are keeping things kind of under control: Kelly, McMaster, Cohn. You don't have trade wars. You don't have real wars. Kelly has some flaws. But he's kind of made the White House a little more professional.

Suddenly, we've got, you know, Stormy Daniels's story, which in a way is trivial but does show kind of the recklessness in which Trump, of course, lives his life and his personal lawyers act. But more importantly, obviously, Gary Cohn leaving. This blow to our allies. I mean, if you're Canada, I mean, if you're one of the European countries --

CAMEROTA: They're exempt now. That's the latest.

KRISTOL: We'll see. You'll want -- Steve Moore is the guy who knows this. You don't want government picking that individual. Well, this country is going to exempt. Suddenly, it's like every lobbyist in town now makes a fortune, signing up for different governments, different industries. Harley Davidson, "I can get you out of this." This is exactly what conservatives have been against.

CAMEROTA: The swamp?

KRISTOL: Yes, this is the swamp.

MOORE: Let me just -- let me just --

CAMEROTA: Go ahead.

MOORE: Let me just respond is to that. Look, I am against tariffs. I don't think they're very effective policy. But on the other hand, to found the president, just to say this is half-baked, I mean, look, we -- I started working for President Trump two years ago. We've talked about this policy hundreds of times.


CAMEROTA: No, just means that it's -- it's not that it is half-baked. It was supposed to happen at 3:30 today, but it's like it's not on the schedule.

MOORE: No, no, no. My point is that there has been -- it's no secret there's a lot of disagreement within, you know, Trump's advisers on this policy. But, Bill, I will say this.

I did travel to these Mid-western states with Donald Trump, and Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan, and West Virginia, and Kentucky and Iowa. And I've got to tell you, Bill, you and I can talk all we want about the virtues of free trade, but there's a pretty good chance that, if Donald Trump had not gone wrong with those states and said, "I'm going to help protect your jobs," he might not be president. It's a campaign promise.

[07:25:10] KRISTOL: Oh, come on. I mean, fine. I mean, if you think it's appropriate to file -- pursue foolish policies because maybe it gets you a few votes, because people can be misled into thinking that trade is their problem. The idea -- serious things to this (ph). The problem -- reason steel plants closed down is automation. It means we need many fewer workers to work in steel plants.


CAMEROTA: I want you to answer that.

MOORE: Don't we think --

CAMEROTA: If automation is a problem and steel workers aren't going to get their jobs back because of automation, then how does this --

KRISTOL: There are more steel is workers today than there were two or three years ago. So, you know --


MOORE: That's true. But you know what -- let me make two responses. First, look, I think it's mighty refreshing to voters that you actually have a president who comes into office and keeps his promises. And Bill, he's keeping a promise here. Now, do I agree with the policy? No. But I think it's pretty admirable that he's doing for workers what he said he was going to do.

Now you're exactly right, Bill. I mean, I remember when I was a kid in the early 1970s, my parents took me to Michigan. And we went to some of the steel mills. And we went to the auto factories. Those were old sweat shops where you had, you know, thousands of workers. You're right, Bill. You go to those factories today where you might have had 2,000 workers, you know, today you have 100 workers and they're producing more cars and more steel. So you're right. That's automation.

But I've got to tell you, the other thing that that's interesting about this, Alisyn, is you know, when I go around the country and talk to employers who are running construction sites or manufacturing plants, their problem is right now they can't find enough workers.

MOORE: That's right. Which is why we need -- which is why we need more immigrants. A position, Steve, you've always held. And which Donald Trump is against also. So we're going to cut back on immigration. We're going to cut back on immigration and impose tariffs.

KRISTOL: Both are bad for the country.

MOORE: I want them to come, but I want them to come legally.

CAMEROTA: Back to tariffs. Just so I understand, you're saying, Stephen, that tariffs are actually not going to help reemploy any of the steel workers?

MOORE: Look, at the margin in the short-term, they will. I mean, as Bill just said, the price of imported steel now has gone up 20 percent. That obviously is going to make American steel and the margin, you know, that probably in the short-term will save jobs.

But I agree with Bill, you're right, Bill. In the long -- even in the medium term, tariffs is not the way to steel the -- protect this industry. It's become more productive and to become, you know, more capital intensive. And that's what's happening in our factory. And I'm very bullish on the outlook for American. I don't think they need protection.

But when it comes to China, why not use tariffs, Bill, as the way to force China to start doing the right thing? Why not use tariffs as a way to get them to shut down the nuclear program in North Korea?

CAMEROTA: OK. Last word, Bill.

KRISTOL: Well, if Donald Trump can use it as leveraging in China, you target China. I'm for policy on China. There are ways to do that that are not across-the-board tariffs.


MOORE: I agree with that.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. OK. Wow. Thank you, gentlemen, very much, for the conversation.

All right. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner met with Mexico's president this week. Should he be taking on this high-profile role without a top-secret security clearance? Senator Angus King is here next.