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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

More Cabinet Departures?; Will Trump Respond to Alleged Russian Attack in U.K.?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 14, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: But that's kind of odd that they're already talking to people about maybe replacing him.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But that's kinds of odd is sort of the theme of the last year-and-a-half, is it not?

I think this is a difficult job. You saw Reince Priebus struggling to in that beginning couple of tumultuous months of the administration, trying to figure out, there was fighting and different factions, trying to create a sense of peace. It didn't work out.

They brought in Kelly to be someone who could be more of an enforcer, to really put up a sense of structure and guardrails. But even over time, factions have read reformed.

And with the tumult of turnover, whether it's losing folks like Hope Hicks and what have you, it makes sense that if there's turmoil on the staff and Trump doesn't like that, he's going to want to look for someone new.

TAPPER: Another person getting headlines the president assuredly does not like is Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

You might remember when the news broke that a $31,000 dining room set had been ordered for his office. CNN has learned via Freedom of Information Act requests, that e-mails show that Ben and Candy -- that's his wife -- selected that dining room set.

An e-mail refers from Carson's secretary refers to "printouts of the furniture" the secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.

This is obviously the opposite of what the Department of Housing and Urban Development originally put out, as well as the opposite of what Dr. Carson himself has said.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not to mention the budget cuts that they proposed for the HUD Department.

Yes, when they say drain the swamp, it wasn't just replace it with new furniture. This directly contradicts what the president said he was going to do, particularly in this agency.

And I think this is why you had Kelly reportedly have some of these press secretaries like Carson at the White House say, cut it out.

TAPPER: And just to compare the two statements from HUD spokesman Raphael Williams today, the statement is -- quote -- "When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles."

Originally, the statement on February 27 said Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased.

Not how you handle a controversy like this.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No.

And if we give the spokesperson the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they had no idea. But it's your job to know and to find out the facts before you speak publicly.

And I'm not sure how the process works in HUD, but this has come up time and time again with this current White House, where their spokespeople will go out and say something, and then it's contradicted within 24 hours.

And really how that's supposed to work is you get everybody in a room, you find out what the facts are and you decide how much of it you can share publicly. And that's clearly not happening in the White House or anywhere in the administration.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. Don't go anywhere.

Will a poisoning with a nerve agent be the thing that pushes President Trump to finally say the one thing he has refused to say so far?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:37:10]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning. The United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain.

The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Some breaking news now, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley going further this afternoon than her boss, President Trump, in blaming Russia for the poisoning of two Russians on British soil.

President Trump said yesterday if the facts showed Russia was responsible, then he would condemn them for it.

And now yet another death of a Putin critic this week is shining a spotlight on a disturbing trend in the United Kingdom, suspicious suicides, sudden heart attacks, evidence of an almost untraceable poison.

The British government is now asking police and the MI5 intelligence agency to investigate 14 suspicious deaths of Putin critics and Russia critics dating back more than a decade after a BuzzFeed report suggested the U.K. had been ignoring evidence of Russian involvement in those deaths, such as powerful Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who after he called for the ouster of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found dead on his bathroom floor, or Alexander Perepilichny, who after he provided evidence of alleged fraud against Russian tax officials, collapsed and died on a jog outside his U.K. home.

Plant toxicology experts testified that traces of a rare plant poison were found in his stomach and evidence emerged it might have been slipped into the soup he ate just before his death.

That investigation request comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May took aggressive action against Russia today, expelling 23 Russian diplomats from the U.K., as the international community blamed Russia for the poisonings of former Russian official turned British by Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in London with more.

And, Nick, how is Russia responding to Prime Minister May?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: With flat rejection, as always, of the accusations levied against it, and frankly suggesting that they will reciprocate, as you might expect.

Now, Theresa May laid out sort of sanctions, the measures against Russia after Russians basically ignored a deadline to explain how that nerve agents came to render those two people critically ill; 23 Russian diplomats accused of undeclared espionage will have a week to leave the country.

And Britain is going to cut its normal relations with Russia, bilateral relations, not sending, for example, officials or the royal family to the World Cup in Russia later this year.

And there will a lot of tweaking to legislation, extra powers given to crack down on what they referred to as Russian state assets that may cause U.K. citizens harm.

But the devil really is in the details of those later legislative changes. They need to have serious teeth, because frankly what we heard from Theresa May today was effectively halving the size of the Russian Embassy here and stopping conversations with Russia, which are always going to be fraught after this incident.

[16:40:08] We have to wait and see whether these new extra powers genuinely make Moscow feel uncomfortable, because you might say that Russia will simply respond in kind and kick a number of British diplomats out.

It really depends how the weeks progress ahead now to whether this is really felt. She is under great pressure to respond tough, as you said, after these other cases where they've been blamed of not doing enough to investigate -- Jake.

TAPPER: What about Britain's allies? Where are they?

WALSH: We've heard a lot of supportive rhetoric from European allies, some mentioning Russia to blame, some not.

We have just heard, as you saw there, from Nikki Haley at the U.N., the U.S. ambassador for the first time leveling quite frankly the U.S. accusation that Russia was behind this attack.

But what do they actually do? Solidarity's no use unless people are joining together and taking cohesive action against Russia. Economic sanctions will be something very unpopular for Europe to swallow. As you have known yourself, the White House have kind of a questionable relationship in terms of cracking down on Moscow.

That is the big question moving forward. I can imagine tonight in Moscow, they're hearing what Theresa May said and thinking, is that really all you have got, and waiting to see if legislation genuinely bites, because until now this is not the international community responding, but Theresa May frankly trying to look tough on her own -- back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much.

My panel is back for more on this real-life spy story.

So BuzzFeed U.K. did the story that really got a lot of attention with members of Parliament, calling for an investigation in the deaths of 14 individuals in the U.K. and claims that the Russians have been acting basically with impunity.

PSAKI: Yes.

And I think Nick out raised some really important points there, though. Look, Nikki Haley gave a strong statement, but in the bizarre world we live in with this administration, she doesn't necessarily speak for the president and doesn't even speak for the United States necessarily in terms of White House policy.

And it really is a question of what happens from here? As he also pointed out, Europe had to be dragged to the table to do sanctions on Ukraine. They're not going to really want to take financial steps if they don't have to because of their trade -- their trade obligations, their trade benefits.

So this is a case where frankly this is scary, and what should scare people is that the United States is not out of the realm of places where the Russians could go after people here who threaten them, whether it's spies or just individuals.

And the U.K. is an example of a place we should look at and think, wow, that is scary, we should be doing something about it. And it's unlikely that's going to happen right now.

TAPPER: I want to play two pieces of sound. The first one will be Nikki Haley today and the second one will be President Trump yesterday.

I just wanted people to hear the differences.

Let's start with Nikki Haley just blaming Russia just this afternoon for those two poisonings on U.K. soil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HALEY: We take no pleasure in having to constantly criticize Russia. But we need Russia to stop giving us so many reasons to do so.

TRUMP: Theresa May is going to be speaking to me today.

It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia. And I would certainly take that finding as fact. And as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, he says, "As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia."

I guess if I'm Vladimir Putin, I think who cares what Nikki Haley says? The president is waffling?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: To me, that actually sounds like he just hadn't been properly briefed yet, which is a problem, but that's more of what that sounded like it. Didn't sound like he was saying I don't think Russia did, I have been shown evidence and I think that evidence is bad.

It is certainly strange and has been strange for a long time that President Trump always seems to be a bit more reluctant to criticize Vladimir Putin, especially as he is not the sort of president who shies away from conflict, but consistently, since his administration took office, whether it's documents put out by the National Security Council, whether it's the statements of Ambassador Haley, they have consistently been tough on Russia.

It's really only been the comments of the president himself that have at times ever been a bit waffly on this topic.

TAPPER: I mean, the president has been more critical of Meryl Streep and the cast of "Hamilton" than he has been of Vladimir Putin. That's just a fact.

KUCINICH: And rightly so. No.

(LAUGHTER)

KUCINICH: No, but to Jen's point, this is what the problem -- Tillerson was very -- his words are very tough on Russia.

Nikki Haley. And then there's the president. And because of this, the world is watching, right? And the messages that were -- that they're sending out, it's not just -- it's not just the American public. It's the world.

And if the United States isn't tough on Russia and isn't putting that tough foot forward on Russia, what is to keep them from misbehaving elsewhere?

TAPPER: Do you think that it's possible that he was just not adequately briefed yesterday, and that he meant to be delivering a more strong statement, or do you see this more as a piece of he's reluctant to criticize Putin?

PSAKI: It certainly is possible.

However, it's more consistent with his past statements to be a little waffly on it and leave himself room.

[16:45:00] And I think the problem here is that it's not just about condemning and comments that are made, it's also about action taken. And other countries in the world, Europe, other parts of the world are not going to take action on Russia unless the United States does. And there's no clear evidence or path that looks like we are going to. So whether it's sanctioned in relation to this or intervention into elections, the rest of the world is sort of halted until we do and that's -- I think that's the problem.

TAPPER: And speaking of intervention and elections, there's this dispute between the Republicans in the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee -- Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee and the Intelligence Committee on whether or not Russia's intention was to help President Trump or help Donald Trump during the Presidential Election. What do you make of all this?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think it is fascinating the differences between the House and Senate Republicans because, by all accounts, the Senate investigation is continuing or is proceeding with much less controversy around it. And again, is being led by Republicans in the Senate. And even on the House side, you have folks like Trey Gowdy who have had sort of a different view than what has come out from say, Devin Nunes on this. Overall, I think it's unbelievable that we would still be discussing whether or not Russia wants to create chaos throughout established market democracies around the world. It is clear that Vladimir Putin loves it when countries like the United States, countries like Britain, are going through turmoil, have chaos, that the public is being sort of stoked to anger. And so, I just -- for me, it is -- it is appalling to me that we continue to try to make it seem like Russia is a good guy and has nothing to do with trying sow chaos around the world. TAPPER: All right, everyone, thanks so much. Stick around. We have lot more to talk about. What one friend now says Donald Trump offered porn star Stormy Daniels years ago that she repeatedly rejected, and the answer is not money? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] TAPPER: A new development today in the President's legal battle with an adult film actress amid allegations that he and his lawyer may have violated campaign finance laws to buy her silence before the 2016 election. Earlier today a close friend of Stormy Daniels showed new details about the alleged affair between Daniels and then-private citizen Donald Trump whose wife had just given birth to their son Barron. Keith Munyan says he listened in on phone calls between Trump and his friend Ms. Daniels. This comes as Daniels has raised more than $22,000 today alone for her legal bills on the Web site crowdjustice.com. Let's bring in CNN's Sara Sidner. Sara, you talked to this friend of Stormy Daniels what did he have to say?

SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we talked to a couple of friends of Stormy Daniels and Keith Munyan confirmed to us that everything he has said about this relationship is true. He said that he was able to listen to Donald Trump on speaker phone when he was hanging out with Stormy. That she would often put him on speaker phone and that Donald Trump would talk for hours at a time. He said that Donald Trump did things like offer her a condo in New York.

He also at one point sent a limousine to the home, Munion was there at the time, to pick Stormy Daniels up to take her to a Miss USA pageant that happened to be going on in Hollywood here in California and that she did go for a bit. She said that look, you know, he knew that the nondisclosure agreement after it had already become public was there and that his name is listed in that nondisclosure agreement. And he said about it that the reason that Stormy Daniels signed the NDA is because she wanted to protect her family and because she felt intimidated. Jake?

TAPPER: And Daniels spoke to a radio host about her alleged affair years ago. And now that host is speaking out about what happened? Yes, the host name, and please try not to laugh, is Bubba "The Love Sponge". That is the actual name that he changed. And he talked on his syndicated show with Stormy Daniels who came on the show and he asked her, look, can you write down the names of some of the famous people that you have talked on and had sex with. And she replied by writing those things down. He promised on the show that indeed he wouldn't say who the names are. And this is the response after he heard and saw those names written down by Stormy herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUBBA CLEM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm just going to play right now up to the point where she writes it down in our first reaction. And I've got the words, I got the e-mail to read. She writes down Donald Trump -- and you can tell it's him because listen to how they describe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me see. CLEM: We're going to hand it around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, wow!

CLEM: Hold on, hold on. Everybody be careful on this. Do not --

And so -- I know it's Donald Trump and I'm like be careful. This isn't Vince Neil or Tommy Lee or David Lee Roth. This is a guy that's you know, litigious and got money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIDNER: Now, Stormy Daniel's lawyer Michael Avenatti has been clear is saying this isn't about the alleged relationship. It is about the cover-up. That's how he sees it and of course, there is that lawsuit that is there alleging that she was forced to sign it.

TAPPER: Yes, the allegation of course that the President's personal lawyer Michael Cohen intimidate her. Sara Sidner, thank you so much. A beloved family dog barking for help from the overhead bin on a flight, how an airline has tried to explain this incredibly sad and deadly mistake. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: In our "MONEY LEAD" today, United Airlines is navigating yet another public relations nightmare and at least one Senator is calling for an investigation. But will it hurt the company bottom line? A family is saying that a flight attendant forced a passenger and her daughter to put their dog in an overhead compartment, despite the family's protests, and the family's insistence that they had already complied with the United's in-cabin pet policy.

The owner says the puppy's barks for help were ignored and by the time the Houston to La Guardia landed four hours later, their French bulldog had died. The owner claims the flight attendant then said she didn't know there was a dog in the carrier. United apologized saying "We assume full responsibility for this tragedy and express our deep condolences to the family and are committed to supporting them." Last April, United faced major backlash after violently dragging a passenger off of a plane the day it had overbooked. That's it for THE LEAD, I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching.