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Update on Deadly Miami Bridge Collapse; Attorney: Stormy Daniels was Physically Threatened to Stay Silent; Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization in Russia Probe. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 10:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

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

The breaking news this morning out of Miami, any moment now we will get an update on the pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University. Six people are now confirmed dead, five of the bodies still trapped under the rubble. You can see them setting up for this press conference. We're expecting new information. We'll bring that to you live as soon as it happens.

But first, a new and significant allegation from the lawyer representing Stormy Daniels, Stephanie Clifford, he says the adult film actress was physically threatened, physically threatened, to keep quiet about her alleged affair with future President Trump.

At the White House, meanwhile, a growing sense that one or maybe two or maybe several top staff and/or cabinet members might not make it through the day. Our Abby Phillip is there. We're watching every sound, every whisper, every sign from the White House this morning. Abby, what are you hearing?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that change is coming, John. The question is really when. And that's one that is circulating inside this building and outside of it. No one really knows what's going to happen. The decisions are all in President Trump's hands. But what we do know is that the president wants to see his national security adviser H.R. McMaster gone and wants to replace him with someone else in part because those two have never really gelled on a personal level, the president has some issues with McMaster's style, the way he briefs him, for example. But the problem is who to replace him? There are some -- questions about whether McMaster might go back into the military service, perhaps get another star or perhaps go into the private sector and leave government altogether. --

BERMAN: Hey, Abby, I'm going to jump in here and take you down to Miami right now. We're hearing about the bridge collapse. Let's listen. DEPUTY MAYOR MAURICE KEMP, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: -- thoughts and prayers with the victims and their families. Late last night we transitioned from a search and rescue mission to one of recovery and investigation. With that transition, our police department, along with their investigative and law enforcement partners, are now in charge of the operation. Our primary focus is to remove all of the cars and all of the victims in a dignified manner, and not compromise the investigation in the process. The investigation is vital because we want to ensure that this type of accident doesn't happen again locally or anywhere in this country. With that, I'm going to turn the mike over to Juan Perez, the director of the Miami-Dade Police Department. Thank you.

JUAN PEREZ, DIRECTOR, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY POLICE: Good morning. I'm Juan Perez from the Miami-Dade Police Department. As you just heard, late last night, it was approximately 10:00 p.m. when the determination was made that this no longer was going to be search and rescue mission, and now it is a recovery and investigatory mission. So at that point we transitioned and we became incident commanders.

That means -- what that means is our priority, which is the most critical thing is to get to the victims, get to the remains of the people that are under beneath that bridge so that we can take them to a proper place so that their families can have the appropriate burial and ceremonies that they want to have, that last chance to have the opportunity to have with their family members. This is a tragedy that we do not want to reoccur anywhere in the United States.

So with us today here, actually, got here last night, it was OSHA, NTSB, who are going to assist us through this process and work with us and do the parallel investigation with our homicide investigators. And in addition to that, yesterday I had been in communication throughout the day with our state attorney, Kathy Fernandez Rundle. Today, she has a team of state attorneys here on the scene to help us move forward with the investigation. But please do not jump to any conclusions, OK. It is important that we understand. This is a homicide investigation.

That's all it is. That means that somebody died. That is it. It does not mean there is criminal charges looming or pending or anything like that. Is there a possibility for that? There is always a possibility for anything like that to occur. But it does not mean, because I already read some headlines, you know possible criminal charges. There could be possible criminal charges anywhere. So we're not there yet. We're not there yet. And we don't even know if that's going to lead to that.

Right now we just want to find out what occurred, what caused this collapse to occur, and people to die. We want to get to the bottom -- the bottom line of what occurred so that we can bring closure to the families, bring closure to the investigation, and so that doesn't happen again. That's the most important thing here.

[10:05:06] Now, if we find something on the way, that is why the state attorney is here with us, just -- that they are right now monitoring this investigation along with our investigators, just in case that occurs. That is it. So there are a lot of moving parts. We mentioned yesterday about the reunification center with our victim advocates. The key thing here is to provide as much comfort and show as much compassion to our victims which are also the family members that lost somebody.

So we have here with us our police chaplains that have come out here to provide some of that support for those family members. That's why it is also key and I keep reminding you to please, if you happen to find out names of victims, just because you guys are very good at what you do, please do not disclose that unless you know for a fact that we have notified next of kin, that to confirm that their loved ones are the ones that are in those vehicles.

We know that there are people missing. The family members know that they're missing. And what we can tell them is that we can assume that they're in there. But we cannot confirm identity of who's in there. So we're caught in a bad place right now. So the last thing we want to do is disclose names and all of that so that, you know, let us do that because we're trying to navigate through some difficult times, you know, that has -- that has arisen because of this tragic event. This is a tragedy. And there is nothing that we can probably do to fill the gap that has been created in the souls of the family members and friends. So it is very difficult for us to do that. So -

BERMAN: All right, you've been watching a news conference at Florida International University, the site of that bridge collapse. We believe six people dead. As of this morning, there are still five bodies believed to be trapped under the rubble. One thing we did learn today is overnight, this transferred from a search and rescue to recovery and investigation operation. The police, or law enforcement, now in charge, a homicide investigation, but we have been warned don't read too much into that. It is a homicide investigation because people have died. They say it is not at all clear at this point there will be any criminal charges for this, but that is what they are now investigating. We'll bring you more information from this news conference as it comes in.

There is more breaking news this morning. A very serious claim by the lawyer for adult film star Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, on "New Day" just about an hour ago, the attorney says that someone physically threatened Stephanie Clifford to stay quiet about her alleged relationship with Donald Trump.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The fact is that my client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump.


BERMAN: All right, joined now by CNN's MJ Lee who has been following this story from the beginning. First of all, that's a very serious claim from any attorney to make, and it's not the only one he made.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Extremely serious and also very new. You know up until now, Michael Avenatti has been saying that Stormy Daniels has received repeated threats from Michael Cohen and others. I mean, about legal threats, for example, a restraining order that was taken out against Stormy Daniels last month.

But this morning was the first time that Stormy Daniels' lawyer said that she had physical threats made against her. He doesn't say who made the threats or what kind of physical threats they were. But he did say in the "60 Minutes" interview with Anderson Cooper that he now says will air on March 25th. That she is willing to provide very specific details about what happened.

Now, the other thing that Michael Avenatti said this morning is that other women with similar stories have come to him to explore potential legal action against President Trump. Take a look at what he had to say.


AVENATTI: We have been approached by six separate women who claim to have similar stories to those or to that of my client. Two of those women, at least two, have NDAs. We're in the early stages of vetting those stories.

CHRIS CUOMO, HOST, "NEW DAY": Do these women know in terms of what their allegations are at this point before you vet them, do they all involve the president of the United States?



LEE: He's obviously being very careful here in saying that he hasn't vetted these stories, hasn't vetted the NDAs, the big question is going to be are these two NDAs going to be similar to the Michael Cohen-Stormy Daniels NDAs and were they part of a bigger hush agreement?

BERMAN: All right. MJ Lee, thank you very much for being with us. Again, these are significant new allegations developing just this morning. Here to discuss, CNN political analyst Matt Viser and CNN political commentators Alice Stewart and Brian Fallon.

You know, Matt, first to you, again, when we have been dealing with the Stormy Daniels story, for several months now, one of the very first questions is, well, why should people care if the president had a sexual relationship with someone before he was president, you know, nine, 10 years ago, why does it matter?

[10:10:00] Well, then there was the issue of was hush money paid the week before the election. And now, there is this allegation that physical threats have been made. This is a significant new development, Matt.

MATT VISER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is. And, you know, it is a cliche, but you know the cover-up is worse than the crime you know. And that seems to be the case a lot in this. There was a consensual affair according to Stormy Daniels, but a lot of what we're learning is about what was done to try to stifle her from telling her story in the lead up to the election.

And it has been, you know, should be said they have -- Stormy Daniels and her attorney have done quite a masterful job at keeping this story in the front and center. It has been you know two months now and we get drifts and drabs of new information, this latest being the most troubling, but we don't know the full story. You know we don't know, you know, what the allegations were, what the threat of violence was, who it was coming from, and those are important details that hopefully we learn more about in the next couple of days.

The other shocking thing here is President Trump's silence so far. Usually he pushes back very aggressively on allegations with these -- he's not gone to Twitter, he's not made threats himself. He's left most of that to his White House staff and his attorneys. And that is an unusual development and unusual reaction for President Trump.

BERMAN: You know, Alice Stewart, Brian Fallon, you guys are both communications experts. First to you, Alice, what we're seeing right now isn't just a legal battle being waged by Stormy Daniels' Attorney Michael Avenatti. You're seeing a political and communications battle being waged where every day there is a drip, drip, drip of new information all leading up to this "60 Minutes" interview which he indicates will air on March 25th. That's what CBS seems to be hinting at. Now, this is now becoming a major event. Not just, you know, politically, but also, again, communications wise.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Sure. And I think the problem here is that, look, as Matt said, the cover-up is worse than the crime here. Donald Trump in a situation like this will never admit it. He will never acknowledge that he engaged in this activity. He will deny it and try to denigrate the women.

The problem here is from a communications standpoint. If I were to offer my two cents, get it all out there, tell the whole story, get all the mess out there. Let's pray there are no photos for us to have to look at. But get it out there and get it over with and let's focus on the business of running this country because as it stands now, Avenatti, Stormy's attorney, is going to continue to try this case in the court of public opinion. As you say, drips and drabs.

They're not going to honor the NDA. They're going to talk about the details of this and throwing out that there are other women in this same situation that have approached him and now talk of physical violence that is going to be disturbing. And the best thing is to get it all out there, tell this story and let's get past that.

I don't care if he took her services 12 years ago with an adult film star, the problem is if he paid $130,000 to keep her silent, and during -- in the midst of a campaign, shortly before the election, and now we're hearing about threats of violence. That's the problem here. Let's just get it out there and get it behind us.

BERMAN: You keep on saying -- the fact of the matter that everyone agrees to is that the president's attorney, his personal attorney, Michael Cohen admits to paying her $130,000 a week before the election to keep her quiet. What is so fascinating is that's the one thing everyone agrees to. You say get it all out there.

You know Brian Fallon, the get it all out there part that is already out there is pretty significant.

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well that's the thing, John. You know, between his failed casinos in Atlantic City and Trump vodka, the Trump organization had a lot of failed ventures over the past few decades. This $130,000 that Michael Cohen paid to Stormy Daniels may be the most failed investment of all because it has not succeeded in buying her silence. As Alice was explaining, she's already telling her story. She's already sat down with Anderson Cooper in an interview that's going to air I guess on "60 Minutes" later this month.

There is a lawsuit. There's going to be a hearing on that lawsuit later this summer. Her attorney is wall to wall on cable. So at this point, the story is not contained. The NDA is worthless at this point in terms of trying to achieve some kind of silence from Stormy Daniels. So I totally agree with Alice.

At this point, you have to ask, what story does Stormy Daniels have to tell that Donald Trump is so intent on keeping her silent that they potentially broke election law with that $130,000 payment, that they're compounding the lies by continuing to insist that Donald Trump had no knowledge of this, that they're even potentially allies of the president resorting to threats of violence against Stormy Daniels. What possible texts, images or story can she tell that Donald Trump is continuing down this road because it is a very damaging path?

BERMAN: Tune in to the next episode. Guys, lightning round if I can on the other major story that I guess we should say we're expecting today, which is that something seems to be going on at the White House.

[10:15:07] Overnight, the reports that H.R. McMaster, the president decided to fire him, we just don't know when. John Kelly could be on the rocks. There are other cabinet secretaries. You know very quickly, to each of you. Matt Viser, what should we be watching for today?

VISER: I mean, I think, you know, even by Trump's governance by chaos it has been an extraordinary week. And there is not a cabinet member that seems safe. So I think watch for the next shoe to drop, who is the next to leave, and also the replacements. I think that's a key point of who is going to replace these people. Who does Trump have in mind?

BERMAN: You know, Alice, is there anything positive to be spun from the fact that I keep looking down at my computer to see if someone was honestly, literally just fired?

STEWART: Well, it can be positive, John. You can look at your phone and find out that you won't be fired on Twitter. So that's one good thing. In talking with people at the White House, they view this -- some people look at this as chaos in turn. They view this as synchronization and streamlining their team. That's how they look at this. The president emboldened with recent departures and firings. And - going it along with regard to tariffs as well as agreeing to the North Korea talks he feels emboldened. He's now going to bring in people that share his world view and are loyal to him and loyal to his policies. That's exactly what he's doing. And we know everyone is safe in their job security at the White House until they're not.

BERMAN: Until they're not. Very quickly, Brian Fallon, people are looking at this in some ways as a second presidential transition, except this time you're not coming off of an election with that post- election glow. In some ways you're coming off the post Pennsylvania election, where Democrats feel emboldened. Republicans feel threatened. What will happen to possible new nominees as they go to Congress?

FALLON: I think they're going to face a tough road. And I'm going to throw Game of Thrones reference at you, John. I think we're living through the era of the mad king. This president sees enemies all around him. He perceives slights everywhere. So there have been some attempts to spin it as this is empowering of Trump, because he's finally getting the team in place he wants. This is Trump unbridled Trump unchecked.

I think the president is isolated as a result of all of this. He's about to hit a really rocky patch where it is going to hit the fan with Bob Mueller and the people that have been around him the longest, his closest allies, they're all gone. I think this is a very isolating thing for the president and it is a horrible way for him to go into this critical period where he's going to be facing off with Bob Mueller.

BERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) always faces deaths. Brian Fallon, Matt Viser, Alice Stewart, thank you so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

STEWART: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: Still to come, Special Counsel Bob Mueller issues a subpoena to the Trump organization for documents in the Russia probe. Is this over the president's so-called red line in war of words?

Officials in the United Kingdom and Kremlin trading shots following the nerve agent attack and now British Foreign Minister claims is that Vladimir Putin himself was likely behind the order.


[10:22:05] BERMAN: This morning, a new chapter in the Russia investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued a subpoena to the Trump organization for documents including some related to Russia.

Our Shimon Prokupecz, live in Washington with the details here. Shimon, what are you learning?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, John. Well, what is really not clear is why the escalation by Robert Mueller and his team here and the issuing of this subpoena, which is quite frankly is a big deal. And though we know that many subpoenas have been issued in this investigation, this subpoena is quite different. And that it requests information from the Trump organization, which brings this investigation closer to the president's business dealings.

Now, "The New York Times" is reporting that the Mueller's team is asking for Russia-related documents and the Trump organization says they have been cooperating with Mueller's team voluntarily providing information. And one person close to the president is completely downplaying the issuance of this subpoena, calling it a cleanup subpoena. And John, this comes at a time when the president's lawyers are negotiating a sit-down interview with Mueller's team and as you recall, the president has said the investigation certainly of his personal finances would be a red line violation.

BERMAN: All right. Shimon Prokupecz in Washington with that. Thank you very, very much.

Joining me now, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah, a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, always a pleasure to see you, thanks so much for coming in.


BERMAN: Let me ask you about the sanctions that were issued by the Treasury Department yesterday. You came out in praise of them. But you actually used the word finally in your praise. Do you think the administration was slow to act and do these go far enough?

STEWART Yes, they have been slow to act. That's been frustrating to me. I mean Congress passed these sanctions several months ago and that was after a very deliberate and thoughtful debate. And I thought they should have been implemented very quickly.

Now I've talked to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and others. And I know they were trying to be thoughtful. They were trying to do this in a deliberate way, but I did reach a point where I was frustrated. But the good news is they have been implemented and after some of the activities that we have seen in England, some other places, I think we should look at other perhaps sanctions or other things we could do to say to Vladimir Putin the way you're acting on international stage is simply not acceptable.

BERMAN: What do you make of the fact that all of the entities listed in the indictments issued last month by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, all the entities and individuals in that indictment are now part of this sanctions list? What does that tell you?

STEWART Well, once again, it is appropriate. It shows that Mr. Mueller's doing a thorough investigation, that he is being thoughtful, it kind of coincides with Congress and our thinking and the targets we had. And once again, these people came to interfere. We have known that for a long time. And they shouldn't be able to do that with impunity. There should be some cost to not only these individuals, but more broadly as I said earlier to Vladimir Putin and his leadership that they just can't do this without some type of repercussions to them. [10:25:04] BERMAN: Very first entity listed in the sanctions yesterday was the Internet Research Agency, which is also the first entity listed in the indictment for this Special Counsel Robert Mueller. If you read that indictment, it says that the Internet Research Agency. Let me read this to you. I hope we can put it up.

"By early to mid-2016, defendants' operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (Trump campaign) and disparaging Hillary Clinton."

Those words were in the indictment. Do you have any reason to doubt that this was the case?

STEWART: No, not in this particular case. And you know, it is clear these 12 individuals that were around that particular activity that seems to be -- or to have been their focus. There, of course, were other individuals and other entities that weren't included in that indictment, that we're aware of. Mr. Mueller may eventually get to them as well. But they weren't the only ones doing that is what I'm saying. I mean Russia's activities were much more broad than just those individuals.

BERMAN: But I think you know the reason I'm asking here, because the indictment makes clear that ultimately by that date, mid-2016 that this group and others listed in the indictment were trying to help then-candidate Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. The House Intelligence Agency, Republicans just came out and said you see no evidence of that. So you say that Mueller's right, but you're right. How can both things be true?

STEWART: No and we don't say that we don't see evidence or we see no evidence of that. This is a very -- I hope you'll give me a moment to explain. This is really a bit -- I want to say complicated, but it is nuanced. I agree with you that these individuals and frankly as I said others wanted to hurt Hillary Clinton. There is no question about that. But by doing that, they end up helping Donald Trump and the question is what comes first. What is their primary motive? It is a little bit about, you know, can we climb into Vladimir Putin's mind and really understand what his motives here.

And my objection with the FBI and CIA saying so definitively, we say with a high degree of confidence that they were trying to help Donald Trump when I think they should have been more careful in that and said, perhaps with low degree of confidence or perhaps we speculate, because once again, if you're attacking Hillary Clinton, you are by extension helping Donald Trump but which was their primary motive? I just don't think that we know that.

BERMAN: Well, the statement you guys put out said you have seen no evidence that the Russians were trying to help Donald Trump. And, again, it is just spelled out clearly here in this indictment that the operations including supporting the presidential campaign and if you read through the indictment, you know it is all the hash tags, they're all pro Trump. It's setting up pro Trump rallies during the campaign, setting up anti-Hillary events during the campaign, putting Hillary, you know, in a cage there. It just says very specifically help Donald Trump, do you regret at this point that you guys came out with that declarative statement?

STEWART: No, I don't. Once again, earlier we said that these individuals were trying to hurt Hillary Clinton. And it comes to this degree, once again, I hate to repeat myself, I just think this is -- this is the key to this. And that is that statement of -- with high degree of confidence, that's the thing that we seem to IC in this case really miss. And that's to say declaratively with definitive, like we know this is true and I just don't think that we had that kind of clarity on this. I think there is much more ambiguity than they indicated.

BERMAN: And not to belabor the point, but I think it is great that you're getting your views out here right now. You know the standard for criminal charges is higher even than intelligence assessments. And the criminal charges here, the indictment here says that these operations including -- included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump. I mean that's a declarative statement from the special counsel. And you don't think that's wrong.

STEWART: Well, look, I'm not going to comment on the special counsel other than what I've said. I don't really know, I haven't been in his -- I haven't been in his offices. I have no idea what he and his prosecutors. The conversations they had. I don't even know the evidence necessarily that they looked at. It might be similar to ours. It might be identical. There might be some, some more or some less. I really don't know.

But, you know, something else you indicated about just again to show the ambiguity about this, you're right, they did organize some rallies to support Trump. We also know that they organized some rallies and there was social media against Trump.

BERMAN: Mostly after -- mostly after he was elected.

STEWART: But some before as well.

BERMAN: And also, just finally, just finally, when you say -- you're trying to differentiate hurt Hillary Clinton as being different than helping Donald Trump, it was pretty binary choice. They weren't trying to help Gary Johnson, you know by hurting Hillary Clinton or elect Jill Stein by hurting Hillary Clinton. I mean they were trying -

STEWART: But the counsel also says - the special counsel says they tried to help Bernie Sanders at some point. They did try to help other candidates. You bring up a question that I think is a great illustration. This thing just isn't one side of a coin. There are a lot of dimension to this.