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Trump Claims U.S. has Trade Deficit with Canada; Source: White House Considering EPA's Pruitt for Next AG; CNN: Another Trump Attorney Involved in Stormy Daniels Case. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

This morning, as President Trump hints he will fire or shift more senior staffers and cabinet members. We're about to see many of them and hear from them as well as Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they will all appear in front of cameras. You're looking at live pictures. We'll see and hear from them shortly. What kind of questions will they face? How do they feel about their futures?

And then there's this. The president is bragging about making up facts in a conversation with one of America's closest allies. CNN confirms that the president boasted about lying to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about trade deficits. But now, in a really unbelievable twist. And I mean that in every way.

The president is pushing back on the story with frankly a new lie. This is what the president says. "We do have a Trade Deficit with Canada," even though we don't - we do not, to be clear. There is no trade deficit with Canada. There is a trade surplus. Who says that? The U.S. government says that. The Trade Office and the Commerce Department both say that. The government that the president of the United States works in says that.

I'm now joined by Josh Dawsey of "The Washington Post" who broke the news that the president was bragging about making things up in conversations with the Canadian Prime Minister. Josh, first, tell me where he did this and what he said.

Josh Dawsey, White House Reporter, "Washington Post": So thanks for having me. He did this last night at a fund-raiser in Missouri for Josh Holly. The president was on a two-day trip, went to California and saw the border wall prototypes, did a fund-raiser and last night in Missouri, 60 donors. He gave 30 minutes of contemporaneous off the cup remarks where he ticked through foreign and domestic issues and he did this as part of that speech to that fund-raiser.

BERMAN: And he says, you know, relate the story, he was with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and during negotiations he said the United States has a trade deficit with Canada. Then what happened? DAWSEY: So, the president was riffing to these donors and he saying when Justin Trudeau came and met with him at the White House, the Prime Minister said, President Trump, we don't have a trade deficit with you like you think. We don't have a deficit. It is not there. And President Trump said I assumed, yes, we do because I didn't have any facts. I didn't know anything. I kind of made it up because we have a trade deficit with everyone in the president's eyes. He said I assumed we were stupid and they were smarter and had a better deal than we did. He then -- the president said he got his experts and his team to look up some data for him and came back and said there wasn't a deficit unless you count it a certain way. And that's how he's trying to explain his comments to Trudeau and now on Twitter this morning.

BERMAN: In this fund-raiser last night, he admits that when his own experts came back to him, they told him, no, Mr. President, no trade deficit, with Canada. Yet this morning he's putting out this frankly just flat out false information that there is a trade deficit with Canada. Let us leave that aside for a moment. He also said something very interesting about South Korea as well, Josh.

DAWSEY: Right. The president really ticked through a number of United States allies and said essentially our allies are not looking out for us. They're looking out for themselves. And he was talking about South Korea. He said South Korea and the United States had a trade deal that was outdated. That South Korea had become rich and the United States had not gotten any of those riches and he's trying to negotiate a new trade deal with South Korea. The president said we have 32,000 troops along the border between South Korea and North Korea, and let's see what happens. We're protecting them and we're losing money from them. Obviously others disagree with his characterization of that. But let's see what happens, if they don't give us a better deal.

The president ticked through Japan, China, the NATO - I mean the WTO, the European Union, all these different groups we really think are jilting the United States and he promised them to impose new tariffs. The tariffs have been very controversial, even in Republican circles, but he wants to impose new tariffs, particularly on foreign cars. The thesis of his speech was essentially he thinks the United States is being screwed.

BERMAN: Josh Dawsey for us. Thank you very much. And again, this is all on tape so there is no denying that the president said all of these things, bragging about lying among others.

More information coming in to CNN this morning about possible turnover inside the Trump administration, including new reporting on how Congress might react to it. Our Manu Raju, live on Capitol Hill, part of the team breaking this story. I think the headline here, Manu, and I'll let you get to the much more part, the headline here, the president considering the head of the EPA Scott Pruitt perhaps as the next attorney general.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. These are the discussions that are underway at the White House to potentially replace Jeff Sessions with Scott Pruitt, the very controversial EPA administrator. [10:05:02] And it is uncertain whether the president is going to go that route because pushback among Republicans - Republicans, very significant to replacing or getting rid of Jeff Sessions. Just talking to a number of Senate Republicans over the last couple of days, you hear the pushback, the concern about replacing their former Senate colleague for a number of reasons.

One, Republicans are concerned about this would reopen the controversy over the president's handling of the Russia investigation, something that we very difficult to deal with in this election year. And also very difficult to get the votes to pass -- to confirm any replacement to Jeff Sessions even if particularly Scott Pruitt, someone who is riled up Democratic opposition over his tenure at the EPA and even it is uncertain whether or not the Republicans would move forward with confirmation hearings, have a vote on the floor, Chuck Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman last year to me, his agenda was full, did not want to move on aide, attorney general replacement. But yesterday, he stopped a little bit short but said in very ominous tone, John, that it would be unwise for the president to take the steps of firing Jeff Sessions.

BERMAN: That is a shot across the bow from Chuck Grassley there, you know perhaps a senator sending a very clear message. Manu Raju, thank you very much for that.

We have a lot of news this morning including new details suggesting a deeper link between the Trump organization and the deal to pay off an adult film star in exchange for her silence. Documents obtained by CNN show a second Trump organization lawyer, a different one than Michael Cohen, worked to keep Stormy Daniels from sharing her story. Our MJ Lee joins us now with the details on that. MJ?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Well, John, as you said, these are documents obtained by CNN yesterday that appear to show deeper links between the Trump organization and the entire Stormy Daniels saga. Now, these documents were dated February 22nd of this year, and they list a woman named Jill Martin as representing EC, LLC. You remember EC, LLC is Essential Consultants, the company that Michael Cohen set up in 2016 to make a payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels.

Now, who is Jill Martin? She is the vice president and assistant general counsel at the Trump organization. You might remember that she spoke on behalf of Trump throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and she would now be the second employee of the Trump organization who has direct involvement in Stormy Daniels' related legal matters. Now when we reached out to Jill Martin for comment yesterday, and I spoke to her briefly on the phone as well, she insisted that she filed these documents. She filed these filings in her private capacity and that the Trump organization is not involved in these matters other than for herself. Now it still raises some serious questions about what Michael Cohen has been saying all along, which is that he acted mostly alone.

Now two other things that I want to mention quickly, John, is that Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels' lawyer, is now saying that there might be other women in addition to Stormy Daniels who might be considering taking legal action against President Trump. We don't yet know what he's talking about, what woman he's talking about. So we'll try to find out exactly what he's referring to.

The second thing is that we have a friend of Stormy Daniels who is now speaking out about her alleged affair with President Trump, saying that he listened in on phone calls between her and Trump back in 2000 and 2007. Now all of this of course as the White House continues to insist this affair never happened.

BERMAN: All right. MJ lee, thank you very much.

I want to talk about this more with CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. MJ just reporting here Paul that Jill Martin, who is the assistant general counsel for the Trump organization, says that she wasn't working as an assistant counsel for the Trump organization when she filed this brief that indirectly has to do with Donald Trump who for a long time was the head of the Trump organization. Is that even a thing? Can you say I wasn't doing this as part of my job? I was freelancing, moonlighting as a regular private -

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I suppose in theory you could moonlight. But it is an absurd claim. And frankly, I think that the involvement of the Trump organization is actually an interesting maneuver because, remember, the primary threat that this whole thing with Stormy Daniels poses to the president is not what happened between the two of them, because that's been reported repeatedly, OK? The cat's out of the bag on that.

What they're really trying to do is, number one, send a message to other women that we will crush you if you try to come forward and telltales about the president. But number two they're worried about a federal election commission violation. Their defense to that is the Trump organization was doing this to protect the reputation of the Trump organization, not the reputation of the president of the United States as president. I think they're setting themselves up to defend against an FEC claim.

BERMAN: But they can't have it both ways there. I mean she was saying she wasn't working for the Trump organization. She can't then argue well, I was, because I was trying to protect the reputation.

[10:10:05] CALLAN: Well, what about the Canadian trade deficit. You can have that both ways. Why not a lawyer?

BERMAN: Apparently, you can say anything these days. Let me ask you one other question because it relates to all of this right now. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, now saying there have been a number of people coming forward saying, look, they'll pay. They'll whatever she -- you know, was fined or charged if she speaks her story. They'll reimburse for whatever fee she may have to turnover for breaking the nondisclosure agreement, if it comes to that. Could you do that? I mean, you know, if she wants to talk and tell her story. Can she just do it and get money for it?

CALLAN: No, absolutely not. I mean, the whole idea of a nondisclosure agreement if it's a legal nondisclosure agreement is you're paid a certain amount of money and you have to remain silent. You don't get to back out of that later on when you change your mind and decide you want to write a book or submit yourself --

BERMAN: What are the consequences then?

CALLAN: Well, the consequences are, at least in her case, there is a $1 million liquidated damages clause saying that for each story she tells about Trump, that violates the agreement. She can be hit for a million dollars.

BERMAN: -- over someone who comes forward every time who says I'll pay that million dollars.

CALLAN: Well, then she'll be OK. I mean if somebody -- I know she's been saying that she's doing fund-raising now, crowd source fund- raising, to try to raise that kind of money. If she has the money, she could probably try to violate the agreement.

BERMAN: Paul Callan, thank you very much, I do appreciate it.

All right possible staff shake-ups, lying to Canada. We're on top of all of the fast moving developments from the White House.

And tensions building, the U.S. blaming Russia and standing with the UK, following the nerve agent attack there.


[10:15:45] BERMAN: All right. Quite a morning, the president of the United States is bragging about making things up to the Canadian Prime Minister. He did that overnight and this morning, he just flat out made things up to the American people, he flat out lied about the trade deficit.

Let me read this to you. He said, "We do have a trade deficit with Canada as we do with almost all countries (some of them massive). P.M. Justin Treadeau of Canada, a very good guy, doesn't like saying that Canada has a surplus versus the United States, but they do. They almost all do and that's how I know"

Here is the thing, in one sentence, I can sum this up the United States does not have a trade deficit with Canada. All right, joining me now to discuss, CNN political analyst Jackie Kucinich, from "The Daily Beast," CNN political commentators, Scott Jennings and Robby Mook.

I think I want to start before the lie to the American people with bragging about the lie to the Prime Minister of Canada, Jackie. The president at this fund-raiser last night, "The Washington Post" got audio of it, the president was saying, you know I met with the Prime Minister, I made it up, I didn't know. I just said that the United States has a trade deficit with Canada, we don't, but I said that. What kind of effect does that have around the world when the president is bragging about such things?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there are a couple of things. In some ways we shouldn't be very surprised. This is a president who doesn't -- we know doesn't read briefing books, we know doesn't really have the longest attention span, so even if he was briefed on this, before the meeting with Canada, he said in those remarks, he didn't know, so he just made it up. Now, Canada is an ally, Canada is someone we have very good relationships with, and a normal basis. But if you're the rest of the world looking at this, you don't know if you're dealing with an honest broker. And that is a problem. Particularly let's talk about North Korea. Country the United States does not have good relations with and the president is supposed to meet. One would hope he prepares a little bit more for that one, but it certainly is disconcerting to hear this and the president bragging about it too at a fund-raiser.

BERMAN: --- When he say, instead of you know, to Kim Jong-un of North Korea. The United States does not have troops in South Korea. I suppose he can say that. That would be similar to saying that the United States has a trade deficit with Canada.

Scott Jennings, look, you know, there is the international implication of this, and then there is going out this morning with this statement to the American people, to the world, that is just not true. One of the things Jackie said at the beginning is you know we've just come to expect this, but that can't be the answer here. The answer can't just be it is OK to make stuff up.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, cannot be the answer when we're dealing with our world allies. I mean I remember back during the Obama years, a lot of Republicans used to say things like, you know, our enemies no longer fear us and our allies no longer trust us. I say it all the time. And to be consistent we have to admit here that admitting lying to an ally is going to make our allies not trust us.

I think the president has done a good job on strengthening America, regarding our military. But we're not doing a very good job of strengthening our alliances and it is unfortunate that this happened on a day when Nikki Haley, our U.N. Ambassador, was in New York getting something very, very right, vis-a-vis our relationship with the United Kingdom by standing with them on these Russian nerve attacks. So we got one thing right yesterday and one thing wrong. I prefer of course to see us get it always right with our allies, especially as we try to negotiate with North Koreans and deal with other difficult situations.

BERMAN: You know Robby, one of the things we're hearing already from the president's allies this morning is, well, if you're talking about trading goods with Canada, the United States does have a trade deficit. But that's not what the deficit is. When we're talking about the economy now, it includes goods and services and the Trade Office and the Commerce Department both flat out say there is a trade surplus with Canada. Can't cherry pick what you're talking about here it's just the facts of the new economy. It is the world as it is. Is there any public relations advantage to the president doing this, Robby?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think the president thinks this is good politics with his base. I don't know that a lot of voters are sitting at home concerned about what Math you use. I think the perception by a lot of people is that these trade deals aren't working for everyday people here, and they're taking away jobs. So that's what the president is playing off of.

[10:20:00] I agree with what everybody has been saying. This is incredibly damaging to the president's own ability to negotiate it, this important summit. He's going to have with North Korea. I wonder at what point it is going to start to have an effect with elites here in the United States as well. Now the president is saying any country can get an exemption from these tariffs, he has to personally negotiate. You know there could be a point where Wall Street starts to turn on the president because it starts hurting the bottomline.

BERMAN: It is interesting. You did say one thing that is probably true, the president thinks, there is political argument to be made, any discussion about trade is helpful politically to him and that may be Americans, the American people aren't focusing on the facts. The facts - you know, look, matter here. You can just tell the truth about this and still have the same argument to be sure.

Robby, I want to have you get political advice to the president now, -- your usual position here. We got rid of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. CNN is reporting overnight, you know, considering more big moves. If he's going to do something, shouldn't he do it this week, just for a political perspective, get it all out at once. If you're going to rip the Band-Aid off do it fast?

MOOK: Yes. In a normal political context, you try to take out all your dirty laundry at once. Unfortunately, this president is just not capable of that. He lives off drama. He thrives off drama. You know what happened last night that was a self-inflicted wound. He was proud to talk about how he lied. So, yes, he should try to rearrange this cabinet as quickly as possible and stabilize things. But, boy, I don't -- I've never seen stability at all in the last year since the first day he stepped into office. I don't see it coming anytime soon.

BERMAN: You know, Jackie, I think it was on Axios where they said they made a good observation, one of the issues about controlling the notion that there is chaos in the administration, is that the president just to be frank likes operating in a situation of chaos. He likes floating names of possible replacements. He likes this type of thing.

KUCINICH: Right. And that's one thing when you're running the family business. But this isn't the family business. This is the United States of America. And I mean look at what is happening, when you're talking about trade and I wasn't saying it was OK that he lied, John. -

BERMAN: I wasn't guessing. Just something -- we heard all morning is that, you know this is what the president does. --

KUCINICH: Sure. No, no, no. So, sure, one of the things -- so let's talk about Rex Tillerson, let's talk about Nikki Haley. When you have people in these positions who are doing their jobs, they don't know if they're speaking for the president. That's unique to this administration. So in some ways you're looking at these -- at these various positions. Does it even really - I mean I'm just asking a question, doesn't even matter who is in those posts, at the end of the day, the only person that matters is President Trump when it comes to these policies in the executive branch.

BERMAN: But Scott Jennings is running the Nikki Haley for president campaign over here. And I make light of it, Scott, but it is an interesting point, right, because Nikki Haley did come out very strong against Russia yesterday. Rex Tillerson, you know, over the weekend, came out very strong against Russia. And as he was leaving this State Department yesterday, came out strong against Russia as well. The president himself, even though there has been a paper statement from the White House, the president himself, though, has not made a strong statement about what is happening between Russia and the UK. Does it need to come from his mouth or to what extent does it matter if it comes from his mouth?

JENNINGS: I would like to see him make a strong statement about this Russian issue, the way Nikki Haley did yesterday. I suspect that was first step in a big U.S. government response to this. I hope the president does address it. I think regarding Rex Tillerson and your national security apparatus as it relates to the State Department, I supported getting rid of Rex Tillerson for no other reason there can be no daylight between the president and the Secretary of State as has been pointed out. When the Secretary of State speaks, the world must know he speaks for the president that he clearly had broken down with Tillerson. We're now going to have that with Pompeo.

So I'm someone who actually believes that the viewpoints of the State Department need to have a bigger role in our national security apparatus, Pompeo is going to give it a bigger voice in the Oval Office. This is a net positive for the president to make that change. Now he's got the right team, Pompeo and Haley, two people that have his confidence.

BERMAN: I got one bit of breaking news as it comes to the cabinet makeup now. There has been some speculation that the VA Secretary David Shulkin may be on the way out, not by his choice. And that Secretary of Energy Rick Perry might be the replacement. Rick Perry is testifying on Capitol Hill and he just said he has no interest in becoming the Veterans Affairs secretary. Not sure that's a Shermanesque statement of denial, I will not take it if offered, but he has no interest in it. You know and I understand Rick Perry not wanting to play the speculation game. He's got absolutely nothing to gain there.

Robby, if I can shift to another person who will be up for Senate confirmation, and that's Gina Haspel, who is going to be the nominee to be the CIA director, there are Democrats and some Republicans expressing concern over her role in enhanced interrogation techniques back in 2002, waterboarding what some consider to be torture. Is this an area you think Democrats will fight on?

[10:25:06] MOOK: I think Democrats will want to give it a really close look. We have seen Senator John McCain tweeting about this. He's very concerned as well. I think other Republicans will. We forget how damaging those interrogation techniques were to our reputation around the world. Part of the reason that so much violent extremism arose in the Middle East and elsewhere was in part because of some of what was being done not just in interrogation, but also in the prisons that were set up. So this is a really serious issue. And she needs to be held accountable. We need to understand what her viewpoint on these policies is going to be moving forward. And I just hope there is a very full vetting of her decisions in the past and how she'll move forward.

BERMAN: All right. Robby Mook, Scott Jennings and Jackie Kucinich, who has never, condone lying in her entire life to be crystal clear. Guys, thank you so much for being with us. I appreciate it.

KUCINICH: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: The U.S. backing the British blaming Russia for an ex-spy's poisoning as tensions between the UK and Kremlin reach new levels. Stay with us.