Return to Transcripts main page


Adult Film Star Offers to Return Money; Injunction for Interview; Nerve Agent Attack in England; New Poll Released; Trump On Age Limits For Guns. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 12, 2018 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Thanks very much for joining us.

Breaking news. The porn star suing Stormy Daniels now offering to return her hush money to end the silence. But her offer doesn't end there. We have details. That's coming up.

Backing down. Despite calling outlaw makers for being afraid of the NRA, President Trump now pleasing the NRA by back-pedaling on his calls to raise age limits to buy some guns.

Cabinet chaos. This time the secretary of education under fire after failing to answer basic questions about America's schools. All that coming up.

But let's begin with the breaking news. A new poll just released right now could spell some serious trouble for Republicans and President Trump. The survey shows Democrat Conor Lamb pulling ahead of Republican Rick Saccone in tomorrow's special election in Pennsylvania.

President Trump campaigned for Saccone this past weekend and the Congressional race is seen by so many as a referendum on his presidency.

Patrick Murray is director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. He's joining us now live.

Patrick, break down these numbers for us. What's the latest?

PATRICK MURRAY, DIRECTOR MONMOUTH UNIVERSITY POLLING INSTITUTE: Well, right now, we have a bunch of different models. We've been using these for the special elections.

But a month ago, Saccone was ahead with a -- by a small amount. Now, we see Conor Lamb up by six points in what we call our surge model. That's based on the Democratic surge turnout that we've seen in past elections, particularly in Alabama and Virginia.

He -- but he's also ahead in even a low typical turnout model by just two points. Now, that's just a low model of just two points. That's a margin of error, certainly. But there has been a big shift toward Saccone. Not only is he getting a Democratic surge, but, over the past two weeks, he's been able to convert a lot of these Republican-leaning voters in this district which went by -- for Donald Trump, by nearly 20 points in 2016.

But they are blue collar voters who have Democratic roots. And I think Conor Lamb has been able to connect with them on a very personal level.

We find that people seem to like Conor Lamb better than they like Rick Saccone. I think that might be what we see in this poll right now.

BLITZER: So, right now, you have Conor Lamb at, what, 51 percent; Rick Saccone at 45 percent. That's a six-point spread. That's pretty significant, right?

MURRAY: Yes, I think that's fairly significant.

Of course, you know, you take intake into account what we've been seeing in past elections, the margin of error. This could be anything from a slight Saccone win with that or to a big Conor Lamb blowout.

But, right now, the momentum is certainly with Conor Lamb.

BLITZER: It certainly looks like that.

President Trump, as you know, he's hoping his decision to impose tariffs, on steel imports, aluminum imports, will help Republicans in this Pennsylvania race. But your poll suggests that might not necessarily be the case.

What do the numbers say about the tariff issue which is a significant issue in western Pennsylvania?

MURRAY: Right. We tried to tie it directly to the vote. We find that 96 percent of voters said it's not changing their mind at all about who they're going to vote for.

Among the rest, Saccone has a slight advantage, three percent to one percent for Lamb. But that's not enough to change these numbers.

What we found mainly was that voters in this district are split on the tariffs. 43 percent say it's going to help their economy; 36 percent say it's going to hurt their economy because of other industries that use imported steel that they work at.

So, this is, really, kind of a wash right now. One of the things that we don't know exactly is the impact of the rally that Donald Trump had on Saturday night. Most of our polling was conducted before that rally happened.

But our indications are, from Sunday's interviewing, seems to be that for every extra voter that Donald Trump turned out for Saccone, there's another Democrat who decided to go out and vote for lamb.

BLITZER: Interesting Monmouth University poll. 51 percent right now, once again, for Conor Lamb; 45 percent, for Rick Saccone, the Republican. We'll see what happens tomorrow night throughout the day. And the polls close in Pennsylvania 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Patrick, thank you very much for joining us.

MURRAY: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Now, to President Trump's plan to combat gun violence and make the nation's schools safer. The plan is notable for what's in it, certainly, but also what's not in the plan.

It does call for some stricter endorsement of existing background check requirements that paves the way for arming some schoolteachers.

But it does not include raising the age limit to purchase assault- style rifles, some that -- something the president clearly expressed support for in the wake of the Florida school massacre.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't buy a handgun at 18, 19 or 20, you have to wait until you're 21. But you can buy the gun, the weapon used in this horrible shooting at 18.

You are going to decide. The people in this room pretty much, you're going to decide.

But I would give very serious thought to it.


BLITZER: Let's go to our Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the president has been tweeting on guns and school safety today. What is he saying?

Because the impression, based on the plan released last night, was he's walking away from his earlier suggestion that raised the age limit from 18 to 21 to purchase certain guns.

[13:05:08] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he's been tweeting but not talking about it.

If a president has a bully pulpit to use, you know, something to draw attention to an issue, he's certainly is not doing so today on guns. He is not holding a public event to talk about this.

So, we are about a -- one month after that Parkland shooting. And, of course, he convened a listening session here. He talked about it extensively.

And, now, he is backing away from some of those proposals.

Let's take a look at what he said this morning on social media. He said it's very strong improvement and strengthening of background checks will be fully backed by the White House.

The legislation moving forward, bump stocks, will soon be out. Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to state law. Armed guards OK deterrent.

On 18 to 21 age limits, watching court cases and rulings before acting. States are making this decision. Things are moving rapidly on this but not much political support, to put it mildly.

So, certainly not ruling out that proposal. But certainly not leading the way on it, as he suggested he might some three weeks or so, Wolf.

But, again, the president, sort of, softening his approach here. And certainly not talking about it, not drawing attention to it today here at the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The president's plan, Jeff, also calls for setting up this so-called blue-ribbon commission on school safety, headed by the education secretary Betsy DeVos, weeks ago or so, Wolf.

But the president certainly not talking about it, not drawing attention to it today here at the White House, Wolf.

The president's plan, Jeff, also calls for setting up this so-called blue-Ribbon commission on school safety headed by the education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

And this commission may consider age restrictions on some firearm purchases. This commission could be in business at least for one year, we're told, before they come up with some recommendations.

So, this issue, once begin, comes up again. Get us -- give us some background why the president has decided to form this blue-ribbon commission.

ZELENY: Wolf, certainly interesting. Forming a commission certainly is a very common, typical thing to do in Washington. But it's far from suggesting or proposing or writing legislation.

In fact, at a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday evening, the president had this to say about forming commissions. Let's watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't just keep setting up blue-Ribbon committees with your wife, and your wife and your husband. And they meet. Then they have a meal and they talk. Talk, talk, talk. Two hours later, then they write a report.

So, look, that's what I got in Washington. I got all these blue- ribbon committees.


ZELENY: So, Wolf, certainly interesting the president would say that on Saturday evening, and then about 24 hours after the fact, would, indeed, announce the exact same thing on one of the most important issues of our moment here.

So, it is, you know, certainly not as vocal as he was being a month ago, when he said that he would be the president to change things on guns.

We'll see if that happens, Wolf. But certainly an interesting blue- ribbon commission that the White House has announced on guns -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, usually they form these commissions when they don't want to go ahead and make a final decision, because it's politically too difficult for them to do so.

Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Thanks very much.

For more on the president's gun and school safety proposals, let's bring in CNN Political Analyst Rachael Bade and our Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

You know, I guess the president, by all accounts, capitulated to the NRA on this issue of raising the age from 18 to 21. The NRA came out very strong, immediately after the president originally suggested it's a good idea to oppose it.


Don't forget, the president had a private meeting, after Parkland, with members of the NRA, the top echelon of the NRA. And, at that point, they made it very clear that that was something that they did not -- could not accept.

And it seems to me, that since the president has spoken about it multiple times, one way for him, politically, to get rid of it, was to, kind of, kick the can down the road which is effectively what he's doing with the blue-Ribbon commission.

And he's putting, you know, Betsy DeVos in charge of it. She -- you know, she is somebody that is not known to be as strong a proponent of, you know, lowering the -- I mean, raising the age for younger people to get guns. But we'll -- you know, now, at this point, we'll have to see what happens.

But if you're a kid in Parkland, and you heard the president originally. And you're hearing the president now, you have a right to say, why are you changing your mind on this?

BLITZER: Because as recently as yesterday morning, Rachael, Raj Shah, the Deputy Press Secretary at the White House, was on ABC, was talking to Jonathan Karl.

And even yesterday morning, only hours before the final announcement was released, he said this. Listen.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Yes, the president has been clear that he does support raising the age of -- to 21.

JONATHAN CARL: As federal policy.

SHAH: For certain firearms. Again, there's going to recommendations to states, a task force. I don't want to get ahead of what's going to be announced.

[13:10:01] But I will say, that will be a component of it, raising the age.


BLITZER: All right, well, it wasn't a component. They didn't raise the age.

RACHAEL BADE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, they're trying to, sort of, have their cake and eat it, too. They're trying to say that the president supports raising the age on this. He -- you know, he wants to be for stricter gun control measures, but he's not willing to put the political capital behind it.

The NRA is completely against raising the age from 18 to 21 to purchase any kind of a weapon. And if the president really wants to do that, he's going to have to really stick it to his party. And go out there call people and try to whip this. But he's obviously not willing to do that.

And, right now, you're actually hearing him sound more like a Republican. Before, you know, he sounded like a Democrat. A lot of Republicans on the Hill were very concerned about that meeting he had a couple weeks ago, where he endorsed a bunch of gun control measures.

But, right now, he's saying it's up to the states to do the age thing. That was something, specifically, Paul Ryan had said, right after that idea has bloated.

You don't hear much about restraining orders on guns anymore. We're not hearing much about universal background checks. It's a whole different president right now.

BLITZER: The poll that -- the Monmouth University poll we just reported on, it just came out this hour, it has the Democrat, Conor Lamb, at 51 percent. The Republican, Rick Saccone, at 45 percent. A six-point spread going into the voting tomorrow.

BORGER: Right. And, look, this is a district the president won by 20 points. So, if things were going swimmingly, things would be going well for Rick Saccone who is a big Trump supporter.

Also, the president has just announced tariffs on steel, which you would think would play well in this district, and I'm sure it does.

But I think that -- and both sides have put a lot of money into this race. The president has privately mused, according to reporting out there, that, you know, Saccone's not a good candidate. So, you can see he's starting to distance himself a little bit from it. And -- but this should be -- you know, this should be a shoe in. This should be an easy win.

And, you know, to go back to the gun issue, one of the -- you know, one of the reasons the president isn't jumping into this wholeheartedly -- you know, wholeheartedly is because he knows that he's got a lot of Republicans out there who he would put in a tough place for the midterm elections if he did, and who would have to oppose him.

And so, his instinct was to embrace on the gun thing and then he pulled back. Now, he's doing the tariffs, because he wants it to help him in a state like Pennsylvania and it may not.

BLITZER: The ramifications of a Democratic win, tomorrow in Pennsylvania, over the Republican ramifications for the president and a lot of other Republicans, would be significant.

BADE: Yes, not to carry this -- Trump carry this district by 20 points, but this is a district that has been Republican-held for something like 15 years. If they lose a district like this, they're in big trouble in the midterm elections.

Now, as you mentioned, the president saying, you know, not the best candidate. We are hearing the same thing on Capitol Hill. They're trying to downplay him, saying that he's a little frumpy. The Democrats have an A plus candidate. He's running as a Republican even though he's -- or he's running as a Democrat, but he sounds like a Republican.

So, they're trying to, sort of, make excuses already to say this is not the typical situation that we're going to encounter in the midterms. They're saying Conor Lamb, the Democrat, is way more conservative than the Democrats we're going to see come up on the ballot in 2018.

But I think they know they're in trouble and this is going to look really bad for the president and the party.

BORGER: You know, we can always overread these midterm elections. You know, we look at one race, and we look at another race. But the president is personally -- you know, his popularity is under 40 percent. We know that his supporters are strong.

But if you see in a district like this, where he won by 20 points, and he's got a candidate that is not as flawed as, say, Roy Moore was in Alabama, then you have to start asking some questions about what's going on.

BLITZER: And the president went to his district, this past weekend, --

BORGER: Yes, he did.

BLITZER: -- to campaign for Rick Saccone, the Republican.

BORGER: He didn't talk about him a lot.

BLITZER: Yes. He spoke about 73 minutes. He spoke about 70 minutes about himself and his policies. A few minutes about Rick Saccone as well.

Guys, there's a lot more we need to discuss. There's more breaking news we're following. The porn star suing President Trump and now offering to return the money to end her silence.

And also, published videos and pictures. There's new information.

Plus, the president reportedly looking to hire more fire power for his legal term for the Russia investigation, including a lawyer with impeachment experience.

And White House officials admitting they were alarmed watching the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, stumble through T.V. interviews, failing to answer basic questions about education in America. One of her predecessors standing by to join us live.


BLITZER: All right, this just coming in to CNN.

Stormy Daniels is now offering to return the $130,000 she received from President Trump's attorney in order to keep quiet about an alleged affair with the president. In a letter sent to President Trump's personal attorney, the porn star seeks to end the agreement in order to speak freely about the alleged relationship. Michael Cohen, the president's long-time personal attorney, has until tomorrow to respond.

Joining us now, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates and Gloria Borger is still with us as well.

Is this a suggestion, Laura, that the president's personal attorney is likely to accept?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't see why he would. This is not how you void a contract. If the contract is valid in the first place, which is kind of the "if" started last week about his failing to sign the actual document.

But wouldn't it be nice, in all contract cases, if I just changed my mind down the road and said, you know what, the money you gave me, I'll go ahead and give that back and all bets are off. That's not how contracts are enforced, nor how they should be enforced.

What it sounds like to me, and the deadline that's being given, the artificial deadline of tomorrow, is probably because she wants to tell her story to the "60 Minutes" interview, or wants to have it be aired at some point in time, and is hoping to avoid having that $1 million penalty be assigned per that non-disclosure agreement for each instance of violating the NDA. And so I think what you have here, what you called it, a suggestion. It's not one that should be followed if you're Michael Cohen and Trump's team. [13:20:08] BLITZER: Clearly, Gloria, she's already sat down with Anderson Cooper for this "60 Minutes" interview that didn't run this past -- yesterday. Didn't run Sunday. But it could run --

BORGER: They weren't planning to have it --

BLITZER: Next -- next Sunday, presumably, it could run.

BORGER: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: And the Stormy Daniels team would like to resolve the legal issues in advance.

BORGER: Sure, they would. Look, they -- they'd like Michael Cohen to get out of the way so that they can tell their story and that they can tell it the way she wants to tell it.

I agree with you, I don't see why Michael Cohen would do this because, obviously, it's not in the president's interest if Stormy Daniels were to continue -- were to tell her story to millions of people watching on "60 Minutes." And as we all know, it -- Michael Cohen's job in all of this is to keep her quiet, defend the president of the United States, and continue the story, such as it is, which is that he's saying, you know, that they're denying this ever occurred.

BLITZER: You know, these reports out there that the Michael Cohen team and his lawyer are seeking an injunction to prevent "60 Minutes" from airing the interview --

BORGER: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Is that going to fly?

COATES: Well, that's talking about the term of prior restraint. Essentially you have to understand, who was a party to this contract? It was, well, David Denison, which, as we know, is Donald Trump, thanks Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is Peggy Peterson, aka Stephanie Clifford, Stormy Daniels, and Michael Cohen, who's a part of that. Who's not there? "60 Minutes."

And the reason that's important is because when you ask for a media outlet or a news organization that has the First Amendment backing, you're saying, I'd like to stop you from reporting something you're able to do so because it offends a particular person, not a national security issue, not a reason that is somehow a violation of your contract, but I want to restrain you from exercising your First Amendment right.

The Supreme Court in particular has always been very adverse to the prior restraining of any type. Had they been a party to the contract, it's a very different story. But ultimately you're talking about the idea of whether the president, in terms of political optics, will vie for a different position. Legally speaking, it's not even a snowball's chance that they'll be able to survive a prior restraint if this is a valid contract between someone other than "60 Minutes." BORGER: But do you also -- and you're the lawyer, so you can answer me

this -- would you want -- if you pursue a court case, would you want to go to discovery with the president or Michael Cohen or -- I mean, is that -- is that -- is that a serious --

COATES: Well, you know, the American people, I think, would love to hear the salacious details out that way, but they chose arbitration. And why arbitration was important in this consented-to nondisclosure agreement is because the amount of money, especially in the uniform arbitration codes and commercial codes that go about is that the rules for arbitration is about a certain money amount has to be at stake before a deposition is an automatic thing. So they're smart to have that $130,000, which is far less than normal for arbitration, because they want to avoid that very thing.

But, you're right, if you're Stormy Daniels, you want to dare and taunt Michael Cohen into saying --

BORGER: With a look (INAUDIBLE).

COATES: I'll file the lawsuit.

BORGER: Right.

COATES: Just let me tell my story this way because perhaps the dollar amount is the same. But that's why arbitration was chosen by presumably Michael Cohen in a raw deal to Stormy Daniels for that reason.

BORGER: So the threat of a lawsuit, though, is not a great thing from the president's point of view. I mean that --

COATES: No. The threat -- the threat is a -- the threat is a good, strategic decision to make.

BLITZER: All right, Laura and Gloria, guys, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of that story as well.

We're also following more breaking news right now. The British prime minister, Theresa May, saying it's, quote, highly unlikely that Russia is behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy.

We're getting word of a third explosion, by the way, in another story that we're following in Austin, Texas, following two deadly package bombs at two separate homes.

Lots of news. We'll be right back.


[13:28:13] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: All right, breaking news.

Only moments ago the British prime minister, Theresa May, pointed the finger directly at Moscow for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy. Listen to this.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Mr. Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March. Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get in the hands of others.

This afternoon my right honorable friend, the foreign secretary, has summoned the Russian ambassador to the foreign and commonwealth office and asked him -- asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is and therefore to account for how this Russian produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury against Mr. Skripal and his daughter. My right honorable friend has stated to the ambassador that the Russian Federation must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the organization for the prohibition for chemical weapons. And he has requested the Russian government's response by the end of tomorrow.


BLITZER: Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in critical condition after they were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, England, last week.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us from just outside parliament right now.

So, Nick, what kind of action would the U.K., would the government of Theresa May take against Russia?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: : We don't know on that point, but we do know they're discussing it. And unless they get a full accounting of how that military grade nerve agent, and that's the word Theresa May used, calling it Novichok. I'll go into that in a moment.