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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Stormy Daniels Offers to Return Money to Trump Lawyer; Interview With Senator Chris Coons. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:01]

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I will tell you that I, as a member the Judiciary Committee, have not seen conclusive proof one way or the other.

And I do think it's in the president's best interest, it is in the country's best interest for us to reach a conclusion here about what did or didn't happen in the 2016 election.

It's also critical that we be investing in the resources to make sure that our states are not open to a likely Russian interference in our 2018 elections.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, NBC interviewed Vladimir Putin about the election interference, about which nobody in the intelligence community, none of the officials disagree that that happened. Whether or not there was collusion is another matter.

Take a listen to what Putin had to say about this election interference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I could not care less. They do not represent the interests of the Russian state. Maybe they're not even Russians. Maybe they're Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship.

Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your thoughts?

COONS: Jake, that is simply chilling.

That is a reminder of the worst in European history of an anti- Semitism that suggests that Jews aren't really Russians or aren't really citizens of whatever country they're from.

His reference to, oh, they might be not really Russians, Ukrainian, Tatars, or Jews is a revival of some of the worst of the hatred that marked unfortunate chapters, tragic chapters in European history. And I think this is just another reminder of why we ought to be standing up to Vladimir Putin, his violations of human rights, his challenge to Western democracy.

That's a despicable quote. And it's the sort of thing that deserves a strong denunciation from the administration and from members of Congress.

As the co-chair of the Human Rights Caucus, I denounce anyone and Vladimir Putin in particular who suggests that people are not legitimate citizens of parts of the country because of their religious faith.

TAPPER: We only have about a minute left, but I do want to find out what you think of about this. There is a bill to loosen some of the regulations, weaken some of the regulations, depending on your point of view, in the Dodd-Frank banking regulations.

Take a listen to Senator Elizabeth Warren, your colleague. She opposes this measure that you have voted at least support and debate. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It puts us at greater risk that -- that there will be another taxpayer bailout, that there will be another crash and another taxpayer bailout.

Frankly, I just don't see how any senator can vote to weaken the regulations on Wall Street banks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: She's talking about you. You're a Democrat that's going to vote for this bill, correct?

COONS: And there are 17 of us in the Democratic Caucus, including Angus King, an independent from Maine and 16 Democrats, who voted last week to proceed to debate this bill.

I'm going to support this bill. And I think we have a difference of opinion about what the purpose is of the bill. There were hearings in the Banking Committee. There have been amendments. There's been markup. We're now going to have a series of votes on the floor.

I believe this is a bill that provides regulatory relief for community banks, for credit unions, for regional banks, but does not affect the core protections of Dodd-Frank.

Obviously, we have a disagreement on policy. I hope this doesn't spill into the sort of partisan warfare within our caucus that I think could put at risk as some of our most vulnerable senators in the 2018 election. And it's my hope that senators will conduct themselves in a way that is respectful of the differences in policy that we see in our caucus.

I will remind you, in 2010, I got elected to the Senate because there was a deep division in the Republican Party between those who were sort of establishment or traditional Republicans and those who were more Tea Party Republicans.

It is my hope that we won't allow ourselves to be deeply divided along ideological lines. I have fought hard for Dodd-Frank in the eight years that I have been a senator and in the years that I have been the ranking member of the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

I will put my record of defending Dodd-Frank up against anybody's.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, thank you so much your time. We always appreciate it.

The art of the deal? Adult actress Stormy Daniels says she's got a deal for the president's legal advisers. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:38:34]

TAPPER: In our politics lead, Stormy Daniels today took a momentous step in her ongoing legal battle with the president of the United States, so she can tell her story.

The adult film star is now offering to return $100,000 paid to her by President Trump's lawyer? The catch. This would mean, of course, that she can finally end her silence and speak publicly about the alleged affair.

CNN's Sara Sidner has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When it comes to business, Stormy Daniels hasn't skipped a beat. The porn star and director says she's busier than ever on the strip club circuit.

STORMY DANIELS, ADULT FILM ACTRESS: If somebody came up to you and said, hey, you know that job you have been doing forever, how about next week I pay you quadruple, show me one person who is going to say no.

SIDNER: While she's making good money off her notoriety due to the scandal involving the president of the United States, she is now offering to give back big money she took in 2016 from Donald Trump's personal attorney to keep her quiet.

In a letter from Stormy Daniels' attorney to Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's personal attorney, Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, offers to send back the $130,000 she was paid in a so-called hush agreement signed just 11 days before the presidential election.

The money was part of this non-disparagement agreement in exchange for her silence regarding an alleged sexual encounter with Mr. Trump. It was to keep Daniels from revealing anything about her alleged affair with Donald Trump that she says began in 2006. [16:40:00]

But that story has already hit the headlines multiple times since the agreement was signed.

QUESTION: She have a sexual relationship with the president?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Yes.

SIDNER: Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, sent the letter offering to hand back the money, with two huge caveats.

One, that giving back the money would require the entire non- disparagement agreement and side letter to be null and void. And, two, the letter says that Ms. Clifford will pay $130,000 by wire transfer to President Trump himself.

But Cohen and the White House have denied repeatedly any type of affair between the president and Clifford.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has addressed these directly and made very well clear that none of these allegations are true.

SIDNER: The letter comes after Stormy Daniels has already done an interview with Anderson Cooper for "60 Minutes." That has not aired yet.

In the letter, it mentions allowing that show to go on after reports that Trump's attorneys are trying to keep the interview from airing.

AVENATTI: 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.

SIDNER: The watchdog group Common Cause points out the reason why the hush money issue is so important. The group says the payment could be a campaign finance law violation and has filed a complaint in the case with the Federal Elections Commission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our complaint hinges on, number one, this payment being made for the purpose of influencing an election. And Donald Trump's campaign did not disclose, did not report this expenditure to the Federal Election Commission. That's a violation of federal law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Just moments ago, that watchdog group did amend their complaint, saying that Stormy Daniels' lawsuit now bolsters the complaint against the Trump campaign.

We will wait and see what the FEC does. We should also mention that we did reach out to Mr. Cohen. We texted, we e-mailed, we sent a voice-mail. He has not responded to give us a comment -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Sidner, thank you so much. Let's bring back my panel.

So, first of all, the optics here for the president, he's clearly -- he and his team are doing everything they can to keep this woman from talking. If nothing happened, why not allow her to talk?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I'm glad that the "In Touch" interview was brought up in that previous package, because Stormy Daniels gave a lot of detail in that interview.

She talked about the longstanding relationship she had with Donald Trump, meeting in hotel rooms, hanging out with Ben Roethlisberger in hotel rooms, meeting him in a red carpet. And so you have to ask, what do Trump's lawyers think that she had that could be even more embarrassing to the president?

And there's been talk about texts. We know that Donald Trump doesn't usually communicate with these women one on one. In fact, Stormy Daniels said that herself. And so that actually leads you to wonder are there photos, are their tapes?

We're talking about an adult film actress. She makes tapes for a living. I don't know if that's what she has, but you certainly have to wonder. And you also have to wonder if the country could handle seeing something like that.

TAPPER: Oh, man. Thanks for introducing that subject, Amanda.

CARPENTER: Yes. Sorry. You gave me that question.

(CROSSTALK)

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: I mean, that's the bottom line. Separate from the fact that it would be embarrassing is that it would prove it.

And so I have said this before. I had this position with Bill Clinton and I have it with Donald Trump. Their extramarital affairs are their businesses. It's between them and their wives. I really don't care.

The only reason I think this story matters is because of the campaign finance issue, and also because Jeffrey Toobin had pointed out that the deal looked like kind of a cut-and-paste job. And so the question automatically comes to mind is, are terrorist other deals like this and is the president compromised in some way?

Are there people who could blackmail him? If she in fact proves this is true, then it does raise the question of, are there other people that could do this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And people in the White House have actually raised that question. Are there other women who have similar stories like this with the president?

But it's also very interesting how she has really taken a page out of the president playbook here by raising this litigation, keeping her name in the headlines, offering to give back the money that was given to her, she says, by his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

It's very interesting how this is really had such staying power in the news.

CARPENTER: One point on asking if there are other instances.

We do know there's one other instance of the president...

TAPPER: Of a former Playboy Playmate.

CARPENTER: Yes. And that wasn't the president's lawyer paying the woman off, but "The National Enquirer," who is very close to Donald Trump, paid her essentially hush money to catch and kill that story.

And in both cases, these payments were made to deprive voters from having damaging information about Donald Trump before the election. I mean, that's really the nutshell here that I think we should be zoning in on.

TAPPER: But I guess one of the questions that I would ask in terms of the question about whether or not this subjects him to blackmail, not just Stormy Daniels, but any other, do we really think that President Trump is embarrassed by this information getting out there?

I think Melania Trump is embarrassed, but I don't think he cares.

POWERS: I don't think he's embarrassed, but I do think he wants his wife to stay with him.

I don't think -- I think, to a certain extent, his denial could be merely just for that reason, not because he's embarrassed, but because it would be devastating to his marriage.

And I have to say, I think having -- to follow your sort of idea, if there was a sex tape, I think even Donald Trump might be embarrassed by that.

TAPPER: What -- in the White House, how are they taking all of this?

Do they think this is just sleazy Washington garbage, or do they understand that there are actual legal and campaign finance issues here?

COLLINS: No, I think people -- they can grasp just how serious this is. I think the (INAUDIBLE) has been quick to downplay it. They say constantly this has been asked and answered and we've addressed this and it's simply not the case.

TAPPER: When it hasn't.

COLLINS: No matter how often they say that they were just saying it, the Deputy Press Secretary on the Sunday shows when they were asked about this. That's just simply not true especially in light of her suing the President just last week. So it goes to show the (INAUDIBLE) is definitely trying downplay the story. But as I said, there are certainly people in the White House who think there could be more stories like this. And if something -- this could be an exam will for other women in other cases involved like that to come forward.

TAPPER: Stick around. We have a lot more to talk about. We're going to talk about some other news that could spell trouble for President Trump in tomorrow night's critical special election if Pennsylvania. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:19] TAPPER: Welcome back -- wait. It's the CNN election music. Tomorrow morning, voters are going to head to the polls in a critical election. It's deep in Trump country. President Trump carried the district outside Pittsburgh by more than 20 points. But right now it's taking on a blue hue. A new Monmouth University poll out this afternoon finds a Democrat Conor Lamb is ahead of Republican Rick Saccone by six points in Pennsylvania's 18 District, assuming that there is a surge in turnout. That's what those numbers are for which we have seen in recent special elections. My panel is back with me. Kaitlan Collins, take a look at this. It's a flavor of some of the campaign ads they're seeing in 18th in Pennsylvania.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Conor Lamb, fresh face or two-faced? Lamb won't admit he's a Pelosi liberal. The truth, Lamb won't protect seniors in Medicare.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In T.V. ads, Rick Saccone and his supporters use the images of opioid addiction for political gain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It's getting pretty rough there.

COLLINS: And a lot, a lot, a lot of money is being spent on this race. I can't understate just how much money or overstate just how much money is being spent on this race. And I think that if Rick Saccone wins, it's going to be portrayed as this massive Republican victory which they will be pleased obviously to hold on to that seat. But the fact that it's even this close shows that it's not a Republican victory because this shouldn't be an area where they're even concerned about. And if it's an indication of what's going to happen in the midterms to come, it's not a good sign because they're not going to be able to pour this much money into every single race.

TAPPER: Yes --

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what's crazy is that you know, $8 million on the Republican side, another $4 million on the Democrat side for a district that won't exist next year when the line are redrawn. I mean, that just blows my mind. You have Donald Trump going in arguably and I haven't seen this point where it's too much, announcing a tariff policy to seemingly help the candidate win and then walking it back. So there's so much investment honestly in a race that doesn't matter that much. TAPPER: What's interesting also though is a lot of Republicans will tell you that Conor Lamb is like a dream, a Democratic candidate for that district. He's pro-gun in a lot of ways. He said to camera he's not going to vote for Nancy Pelosi. He's a prosecutor, he's young, he's a veteran. Saccone, even President Trump has been privately been trashing for being an uninspiring candidate and not doing a lot of fundraising.

KRISTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I mean, I think that's going to be the spin that they're definitely going to use if the Republicans can't hold on to this. But you know, it's isn't a place where you should see even a close race. It's the -- you know, the previous candidate ran. Democrats didn't even run anybody in the last two cycles. So this isn't -- this isn't a place where they even thought they had a chance even with the best candidates. So I do think that the interesting thing is the Pelosi thing doesn't seem to be working. And so, you know, and part of the reason it's not working is because he said he's not going to vote for her. So the question is now -- are Democrats around the country are going to start saying maybe that's what I need to do. Maybe I need to stand up and say I'm not going to vote for her because it actually has been a pretty effective attack in other districts.

COLLINS: It will also be interesting how the President handles it if he loses, after he's gone there on Saturday. He held a rally for him. His son is there today doing some last-minute campaigning for him. He's been tweeting about him as well. How will the President handle this if he lost? Will he see it as a personal loss? Because what we've seen differently is back in that Alabama race when the President endorsed several candidates, none of them won including Roy Moore. The President was on Roy Moore's side publicly advocating for him to win that race. And here with Rick Saccone, the President is in public going and telling people to vote for him, but in private he's been telling people he believes he's a weak candidate and is worried if he's going to win or not. So you have to question, is the President setting himself up, so that if he loses, he can say, well, I said he was a weak candidate in private.

CARPENTER: But they are so desperate for a win. I mean, Republicans had loses since Virginia with Roy Moore, lost a bunch of seats in Virginia and even lost you know, some minor seats in Sarasota that could cause alarm among some circles. But the thing with this race, they are so desperate for a win. They brought in Karen Handel who is a Republican who won a special election in Georgia to the Pennsylvania race earlier to say, hey, look, we can win in some places when really the moments in this are against them.

TAPPER: All right, Amanda, Kaitlan, and Kirsten, thanks so much. And be sure to join me for special coverage of the Pennsylvania election tomorrow night here on CNN. Coming up next, the big bomber for kids and for 40-somethings who still wait in line for star wars figures. Stay with us

[16:55:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Breaking news now. In our "MONEY LEAD," you might recall that the President's top economic adviser Gary Cohen has announced that he is resigning because he's so upset about the tariffs on steel and aluminum that President Trump has announced he wants to impose. Kaitlan Collins now has some news for us about who might replace Gary Cohn. Who?

COLLINS: That's right. There's been a subject of much debate over who is going to replace him there in the West Wing. The President is telling people today that has settled on Larry Kudlow. Now, Larry Kudlow is this guy who is a CNBC Commentator. He advise the President actually back during the 2016 campaign. He's a very close to the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. But the President is telling people today that he's made his final decision. He has settled on Kudlow but I need to caution that this is President Trump that we are talking about and he is given to do these things, to say that he's picked someone, to say he's made a final decision, when he truly hasn't so it's not over until it's formally announces but this is his thinking as of today.

TAPPER: All right, as of this moment.

COLLINS: As of 4:59.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER, or tweet the show, @THELEADCNN. That is it for THE LEAD, I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for watching.