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AT THIS HOUR

Porn Star's Attorney: "I Hope" Trump Team Can't Silence Her; Trump Backs Off Own Call To Raise Age To Buy Guns; White House: Trump "Intends To" Meet With Mueller Under Oath; White House Spokesman Sidesteps Questions On Stormy Daniels; GOP Candidate Struggles In Trump-Dominated District. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 11:00   ET

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


[11:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: "AT THIS HOUR" begins right now.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Kate Bolduan today. More than three weeks after the deadly rampage at a Florida high school, the White House unveils its proposals to combat gun violence at schools. It calls for the arming of teachers, but no major change to gun laws including the president's own call to raise the minimum age to buy some guns.

Meanwhile, the president may be on a collision course with the Russia investigation. A White House spokesman says he believes President Trump still intends to meet with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and answer questions under oath.

And a new twist in the Stormy Daniels scandal. The adult film star has taped an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes." This morning on CNN, her attorney says he's hearing that the Trump legal team may try to block it from air.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House. So, Kaitlan, first off, school safety and gun reform. Tell us what the president is saying this morning about these new proposals.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, after these were unveiled overnight, away from the television cameras and three weeks after that shooting, much later than the White House initially said they were going to put these proposals forward, the president is now tweeting about them this morning.

Saying things, "Like very strong improvement, strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by the White House." And then he goes on to say, "Legislation moving forward, bump stocks will soon be out, and highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry subject to state law."

He said, "Armed guards can serve as a deterrent" and then he went on to say that, "The 18 to 21 age limits he's watching court cases and rulings before acting." He said, "States are making this decision and things are moving rapidly on this, but not much political support to put it mildly." Now, that last part comes after there were several questions raised about where the president was on this gun -- on raising the age limit issue. He is seemed to have backed off of it. That comes after he was critical of Senators Toomey and Manchin for not increasing the limit to purchase firearms in their proposed bill.

The president had proposed raising the age limit some, but now after multiple conversations with the NRA that does not seem to be a priority for the president, which is obviously going to raise some criticism about why he's changing his mind on a key stance there.

But, Fred what is included in this bill, one proponent the president has consistently pushed, which is arming teachers. Now this proposal calls for the rigorous training of teachers to arm them eventually, and also calls for including retired law enforcement and veterans in schools as well as removing guns from threatening individuals.

But back to arming teachers with guns, concealed carry option that the president has pushed, even his own Education Secretary Betsy DeVos struggled to really explain that proposal just this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

2RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: He's also said that that will be in consultation with his attorneys. They have been in touch with the special counsel and they're going to be communicating back and forth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said 100 percent to me, 100 percent yes. Is there any --

SHAH: I'm sure he intends to. But what I'm saying is that his attorneys are communicating with the special counsel on the specifics regarding it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: All right, that there, Fred, was the Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah speaking about this latest news on Russia. Even though we have so much going on here with the White House, with these gun proposals, this is still making it into the headlines with the "New York Times" reporting this weekend that the president has been meeting with a veteran Washington lawyer, Emmet Flood, in the oval office.

Now, Flood, of course, defended President Bill Clinton during those impeachment proceedings, and now he's been meeting with the president and "The New York Times" says the president is considering bringing him on to his legal team in the White House to help deal with the administration's response to the special counsel's Russia investigation.

Now, the president denied this on Twitter saying that it was not true. He was very happy with the legal team that he has now, but, Fred, there is no denying that clearly this is something that is on the White House's mind and they do not believe this investigation is wrapping up if the president is meeting with lawyers like Emmet Flood here at the White House.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much, at the White House. There is that and there is this, about the Stormy Daniels saga. The attorney for Stormy Daniels says that the adult film star has a story to tell and the American people have a right to hear it. His comments this morning on CNN following reports that the Trump legal team wants to block that "60 Minutes" interview with her.

CNN senior investigative correspondent, Drew Griffin, joining us with the latest on this now. So, Drew, what are we hearing from Stormy's attorney on this?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: A lot, Fred. I think that is the strategy here. Michael Avenatti seems to want to keep this in the news. He's continuing to keep this in the news. He did allow his client, Stormy Daniels, to tape an interview with "60 Minutes" last week with Anderson Cooper.

We know that because he tweeted out a photograph he took talking about it. The "60 Minutes" wasn't going to air it this Sunday.

[05:05:05] And now Michael Avenatti is on the news this morning saying he's hearing rumors or rumblings, as he said that there may be a legal fight to try to stop it. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, LAWYER REPRESENTING STORMY DANIELS: Well, nothing has been filed as of yet, but we have heard some rumblings that it is expected perhaps this week. I hope we're wrong about that, quite honestly, because I think the American people deserve to hear from her and quite honestly, we don't understand why all of this effort is being undertaken to silence my client.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: CNN doesn't have any reporting on that, Fred, that the attorneys for President Trump or Michael Cohen are trying to stop this "60 Minutes" interview from going forward. "60 Minutes" and CBS remaining mum on this, although, over the weekend they said they had no communications apparently with Cohen or Trump's attorneys. So, will it happen? Will it not? Is this just a way to keep it in the news? We'll see.

WHITFIELD: And even though it is being reported that there is that effort, reality check, is it possible that that legal team would be able to step in and stop the airing of this interview?

GRIFFIN: This is so unlikely, I'm told, from our own lawyers here at CNN, this basically comes down to a First Amendment free speech case. And the Nixon administration tried to stop "New York Times," "Washington Post" from publishing the pentagon papers over national security issues.

I mean, a president's romp with a porn actress is hardly national security. So maybe they'll delay it, but I don't see a pathway forward for this. The other thing, Fred, is, so much of this story is already out there. I mean, you know, in 2006, Stormy Daniels was telling friends about it.

In 2007, reportedly, she's telling a radio station about it. In 2011, she gave a very long interview to "In Touch" magazine all about this relationship. That has been published. And in her lawsuit last week, she explains in detail exactly what took place between her and Mr. Trump, and according to her the payoff she got to silence it.

So, you have to wonder if the attorneys go to court, what would be the upshot or the damages that they could point to of this release of the "60 Minutes" interview.

WHITFIELD: All right. Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

All right. Let me bring in my panel now, Caitlin Huey-Burns from Real Clear Politics and CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan. All right. Good to see you both. OK, so Paul, you answered that for me too, is there a likelihood that the Trump team could stop the airing of this interview, not knowing the contents of the interview even?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think in the long run they'll lose, and the interview will come out. But don't rule them out completely and I say that because remember, this will have an impact on a lot of other things. There are these agreements that have been negotiated in sexual harassment cases by corporate executives across America.

Where money was paid to a victim, and there was an agreement on both sides, we're not going to talk about it. If this one gets thrown out, what about the thousands of other agreements that have been negotiated across the country.

That's what judges will be looking at when they see this, and she took $130,000. She made an agreement not to speak out about this. There is a contract in place. Can you enforce a contract? That's what the courts will be looking at?

WHITFIELD: And Caitlin, the messaging coming out of the White House is rather confusing and questions are being asked of Sarah Sanders, Raj Shah, he was on with ABC's John Carl this weekend and this is how he handled the whole situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president approve the payment that his personal lawyer made to Stormy Daniels?

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Not that I'm aware of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did the president reimburse Michael Cohen, his attorney, for making that payment?

SHAH: Not to my knowledge. Again, Michael Cohen has addressed this matter extensively and the underlying --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you asked the president that question? SHAH: I haven't asked the president about that question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And does the president believe that Stormy Daniels has a right to speak on this issue or does he -- is he demanding that she remain silent?

SHAH: Again, this is a private legal matter for which the president's attorney has spoken about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, so not to my knowledge, I haven't asked the question, so is this intentional that Shah and perhaps even Sanders don't want to put themselves in a position where they know too much, but at some point, you know, the White House, someone has to respond because the questions are not going to end.

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "REALCLEARPOLITICS": The questions are not going to end, and we saw Sanders really not wanting to engage this last week. The reason that this is lasting longer than some others is because it hits a very -- it hits a lot of different fronts.

First, you have this inner section of campaign finance laws and this payment. You have this idea of exposure politically, what the president would be open to in terms of blackmail perhaps, given these payments, and then I'm kind of interested too in whether the public does have a reaction to this on the moral level.

[11:10:02] We saw over the course of the presidential campaign these things were litigated, didn't really matter. Now we're kind of in a different environment in terms of the post "Me Too Movement," wondering if this is having an impact on voters.

If voters look at this and say, look, there is so much coming out of this White House at this point. This is another element of that. We'll see kind of how that gets litigated, if it does, in a different way this cycle.

WHITFIELD: I wonder, Paul, how much does the legal road change too and the investigative role change when now there has been e-mail that has been released that has Michael Cohen's e-mail on it from Trump Organization, in addition to his admission that he used a HELOC, Home Equity Line Of Credit, to help pay for this or pay for the $130,000 payoff.

CALLAN: You know, Fred, you have all of these things going on and you have something here that you don't usually have in these cases. The First Amendment because there are political issues involved. The president of the United States is involved. Just as in the Pentagon papers, you were talking about freedom of speech to talk about a controversial policy. So, I think this case may be handled differently than other cases of a similar nature.

WHITFIELD: OK, and then on the other hand, the White House has a lot, big clouds hanging over its head and now reportedly over the weekend, the president has met with an impeachment attorney. And the president, by way of tweet yesterday, says it is not true, I'm happy with my team, except, you know, there is some suspicion that really might be happening.

Is this an indicator, Caitlan that the president is worried about midterm elections that perhaps if more Democrats get, you know, more seats, then perhaps there will be impeachment proceedings and he is trying to beef up his legal team.

HUEY-BURNS: Certainly, has to be a concern with the president, whether he acknowledges it or not. Look at this special election taking place tomorrow in Pennsylvania in a district that Trump won by 20 points. The fact that it is competitive, whether or not the Republican loses this election tomorrow, the fact that it is competitive shows this energy among the Democratic base in this kind of era.

So certainly, Republicans acknowledge that it would be political malpractice not to prepare for the worst in these midterms. And impeachment is something that Democrats have been struggling with in terms of a message, right?

You have a lot of Democrats who don't want to push that message. They're focusing on the economy, focusing on what they're trying to push out, but you do have this feeling among some in the base for this.

So, if this is an indication that the president is preparing for it, if Democrats take over, you've heard from Republicans on the ground sometimes that they are worried that Democrats will take over and impeach -- try to impeach the president.

WHITFIELD: We'll leave it right there. Caitlin, Paul, good to see you. Thanks so much.

All right. Coming up, President Trump upping the pressure on the Republican candidate for tomorrow's special election in Pennsylvania. Why the president says the world is watching the state of Pennsylvania.

Plus, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos facing new criticism after failing to answer basic questions on school performance in an interview with "60 Minutes." Now we're told White House officials watched the interview in dismay. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:17:19]

WHITFIELD: All right. Some March madness in Western Pennsylvania, and it has nothing to do with basketball. Tomorrow voters head to the polls for a special congressional election and this is in a reliably Republican district that President Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

A GOP win would be a slam dunk or least an easy layup. But in 2018, the GOP candidate, Rick Saccone, is running neck and neck with his Democratic opponent, Conor Lamb. President Trump hosted an event for Saccone Saturday night and tweeting his support just moments ago.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is in Canonsburg outside Pittsburgh with more on that. What is the president saying right now?

ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it is absolutely should be a slam dunk for Rick Saccone, the Republican. This is a deeply red district. The president and Republicans know how much is on the line for them. They know that if this race goes badly for them, this is going to be seen as a sign of things to come in the midterms, so the president is really coming out hard for Rick Saccone.

In addition to the rally he held over the weekend, he tweeted moments ago, saying, "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette just endorsed Rick Saccone for Congress, he'll be much better for steel and business, very strong on experience and what our country needs. Lamb will always vote for Pelosi and Dems will raise taxes. Weak on crime and border."

Now just a quick factcheck there, steel tariffs that the president has talked about imposing are quite popular among both Democrats and Republicans in this part of this very industrial state, but both candidates said they support the steel tariffs.

In terms of supporting Pelosi, Conor Lamb has said that he doesn't support Pelosi. We imagine if he got elected, he would be antagonistic towards her. There is no doubt that Trump knows that this is a referendum about his presidency and essentially said as much during that rally on Saturday night. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love Pennsylvania. I mean, look, how can I not love it, right? I love the state. But I really feel strongly about Rick Saccone and I know him. I feel strongly about him. He's an incredible guy. The world is watching. I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick. They're all watching because I won this district like by 22 points. It is a lot. That's why I'm here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: So, that was one of the few moments during that speech that Trump actually talked about Saccone, much like this race, the rest of that rally was mostly about the president. But the president's right there. This shouldn't be a tight race. He won by 20 points.

Just to give you a sense of how deeply red this Congressional district is, during last two Congressional races in 2014 and 2016, the Democrats didn't even field a candidate.

[11:20:07] And to show you how panicked they are about this, outside Republican groups have spent $10 million, more than $10 million supporting Saccone because he has been wildly out-fundraised by Conor Lamb.

So, the thinking now is that even if Rick Saccone were able to eke out a victory in single by single digit points, it still could be considered a loss for him -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Alex Marquardt, thank you so much from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

All right. I want to bring in CNN political director, David Chalian, to talk more about all of this. So, David, if Rick Saccone wins, should Republicans feel like, you know, easy street, midterm elections?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: No Republican is going it feel like easy street in 2018. That is a given, Fred. If Saccone does pull out a win, and as Alex just mentioned, obviously even single digit is going to raise questions about just how big of a Democratic wave may be building this year, because it is a Trump plus-20 district. He won it by 20 points, but a win is a win in politics, right?

If Saccone does emerge and Republicans hang on to this district, they will breathe somewhat easier. Flip that around, if the Democrat wins here, if Conor Lamb emerges victorious tomorrow night, you're going to see a real earthquake inside the Republican Party about the level of concern about 2018 really ratcheting up.

You may see some more retirements, you may see some of the outside money folks trying to figure out who really to place their bets on. It is going to become a real public hand wringing for the GOP if they lose this district.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. And then, of course, you know, the president has already tweeted today, I mean, he's been very loquacious about this whole topic, but tweeting today, being very critical of lamb and saying he will always vote for Pelosi, but, you know, as Alex made it very clear, Lamb made it very clear that he is not a big supporter of Pelosi. So, what does this mean that you might have a Democrat if he were to win, who were not in Pelosi's camp, what does that do to the party potentially?

CHALIAN: Well, and there is a difference, of course, between what Conor Lamb stated, which is he's not going to vote for Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House. He would prefer a different Democrat if they were to win the majority to be leader of the party. That's different than the overall agenda. That will be an issue by issue thing.

Obviously, if you're a Democrat, running in a pretty Republican area, you may tend to find that your votes are not completely aligned with the Democratic Party in total. But you got to remember also, Fred, this district is going away. Pennsylvania is going through a whole redistricting effort.

So, while there is more than $10 million on the Republican side, when you total the bill here at the end of the day, $13 million had been spent or what have you on this race, it is all for a district that is going to go away and not be there for November's election. So Conor Lamb, if he's victorious now, may find himself in November running in a slightly friendlier district for a Democrat. WHITFIELD: And for Pennsylvania, Saccone has made it very clear that he's actually for the tariffs as well in support of what President Trump has been advocating here. How much might that -- how might that make it for a very tight race, very tough for people to decide there.

CHALIAN: Yes, it is a great question. Obviously, some of the timing of this rollout of this policy was in the White House this race was on the calendar. The president knew it was upcoming. I think the goal here is to try to rally some troops who may be complacent on the Republican side.

But as Alex noted, the candidates have the same position on this. They're both in favor of the president's policy. Therefore, it makes it hard to be just a clean-kill of an issue for one side or the other.

WHITFIELD: All right. David Chalian, thank you so much.

CHALIAN: Thanks a lot.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, students from a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School bashing the new White House gun proposal. Hear from them and the Florida congressman who represents them. He'll join us for his first television interview since the White House released its plan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:28:13]

Welcome back. Students who survived the shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, are reacting to the White House plan to address gun violence and shootings in schools. It includes money to train teachers to carry guns, but no big change to the current gun laws and no raising of the age limit to buy a rifle, at least not yet.

The president tweeting a short time ago that he's still waiting to see how courts rule on that issue first. The NRA came out strongly against the idea of raising the age limit. This is what Stoneman Douglas High School student, David Hogg, told CNN this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID HOGG, MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SENIOR: When President Trump showed when he said that he wanted to raise the age to 21 is bipartisanship and he wanted to work together on this and save some lives. But the other thing that he showed after that is that he's no better than the other politicians because he said -- he called out other GOP members and said that you are essentially you're owned by the NRA and that's why you don't want to take action.

But then he stepped back down from where he was and that's why we're seeing this stuff. And I ask him, why? Show us that you're better than the other politicians, you aren't owned by the NRA and you want to take action. Those proposals were great. Proposals without action remain proposals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. Joining me now in his first television interview since the White House plan was announced, the congressman who represents Parkland Florida, Democrat Ted Deutch. Good to see you.

REPRESENTATIVE TED DEUTCH (D), FLORIDA: Good to be with you. Thanks.

WHITFIELD: So, your reaction to what we know of these proposals?

DEUTCH: Well, look, we know what needs to be done. We know that there is a groundswell of support in this country to take action right now to require universal background checks, to ban bump stocks, to increase the age to buy a gun to 21, to get weapons of war off the streets, all of those have broad support.

Sadly, the response from the administration is to form a commission?