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Stormy Daniels Threatened?; Trump's Chaos; Major Russian Hack. Aired. 3-3:30p ET
Aired March 16, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: But that doesn't necessarily settle rumbling about others, specifically National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
Here was Sarah Sanders just a moment ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: He said that this is something that the media wants to talk about right now.
But, frankly, it's the president who has repeatedly sort of stoked the speculation. Just yesterday, he said, "I think you want to see change." Earlier this week, he said, "I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want."
So, isn't it the president himself who is creating this aura of, some people use the chaos, but put simply, turmoil or a potential upheaval within the West Wing and, frankly, across the administration?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Taking two sentences out of the thousands of remarks that the president makes and trying to make it look like that's the entire focus of his administration is--
QUESTION: The president said: "I'm at a point where we're getting close to having the Cabinet and other things I want. There will always be change. I think you want to see change."
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes, and he just -- yes, he just nominated two new people to be part of his Cabinet.
So, we are getting close. We would like those two individuals to be quickly confirmed, quickly put through that process, so that they can take a seat at the table, so that they continue to engage with the president on big issues that actually matter to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Let's go the White House, to our reporter there, Kaitlan Collins.
And it seemed to me, listening to Sarah, it was almost like, all right, no immediate personnel changes, nothing to see here. Move along.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Brooke. She said not immediate, but she did not say that there would be no imminent changes here.
And this is just simply not what actually happened here this week at the White House. It was actually very likely that the president was looking to fire McMaster. But now, with all these reports, they've kind of tried to tamp down those concerns.
And Sarah Sanders said there that she spoke with President Trump last night and that he said McMaster's job is safe for now, and that she was the one who passed that message along to McMaster, which, interestingly enough, the president himself didn't tell McMaster that his job was safe, despite all of these reports.
But Peter Alexander of NBC News there is correct that this is the president who has contributed to a lot of the reports that there is going to be this big staff shakeup here, Brooke, because it's the president who openly questions and polls his friends and allies and advisers on who they think could be a good replacement for several positions here at the White House, including the chief of staff's job including the national security adviser's job.
And we also know that he met with John Bolton just here in the Oval Office less than two weeks ago. And that is someone that has been a favored contender for that position.
So, the president has a lot to do with this here, Brooke. So, though they're the media it's the media who is reporting on these staff shakeups, it's because the president is the one polling several people.
Now, another thing she said there is that the president and McMaster have a great working relationship. She said that they had several meetings together today. But based on CNN reporting, the president and McMaster actually have not gotten along during their time here together in the administration.
And the president actually chafes at the way that McMaster briefs him, because he feels that he's condescending when he speaks to him when he's briefing him on a daily basis on those things happening around the world.
And, instead, he prefers someone like the defense secretary, James Mattis. But, overall, Brooke, our reporting today has shown that actually the president is enjoying watching the media report on these shakeups. He kind of back and delights in the conflict.
And a lot of that conflict here, Brooke, comes from the top, comes the man at the top himself.
BALDWIN: What about, quickly, Stormy Daniels? The headline today from Stormy Daniels' attorney that she was physically threatened to stay silent, to sign that NDA.
Just listening to Sarah a second ago, she was basically just saying, I can't say much about it and I refer to you outside counsel.
Is that all we have gotten?
COLLINS: Yes. It's a very familiar tactic from this White House.
They do not elaborate when they come to these questions. It's not a surprise that Sarah Sanders did that there, because we know when she said the other week that the president had won arbitration against Stormy Daniels, it actually created a lot of problems in this White House, because it was the first time that the White House acknowledged any kind of relationship between the president and this woman.
It's not surprising that she instead today wasn't going to answer, wasn't go anywhere further on those, instead referring reporters to the president's outside lawyers here.
But this is continuing to be a story for this White House, as you see here, Brooke. It's still being brought up many weeks after it was first brought up.
And now that Stormy Daniels has done an interview with "60 Minutes," it's not likely that these questions are going to go away any time soon at this briefing.
And one thing I should note is Sarah Sanders did say there that she has not spoken with the president about these claims from Stormy Daniels' lawyers, which is much different than what we heard from her just last week, when she said that she had spoken to the president about these questions from the press on Stormy Daniels. It seems they're not bringing that up even with the president himself anymore before she comes out here to brief reporters.
BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. Kaitlan, thank you so much.
Let's talk more about the headlines that Kaitlan just perfectly laid out.
Gloria Borger is with me, our CNN chief political analyst.
And, Gloria, I just wanted to start with this whole H.R. McMaster bit, because you were the one last night reporting all this material out. And now you have Sarah Sanders a second ago saying that she talked to the president last night, that he asked me to pass along that McMaster's job is safe, and that she said that Trump was actually in a meeting today with McMaster. What was your reaction to hearing that?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it wasn't just me, Brooke.
It was me and my colleagues and people at other news organizations were all hearing the same things. And I think that, you know, she had to go in to the president. He put the kibosh on it, because he's the decider and he can say for whatever reason, OK, I'm not going to do that now.
And maybe it's because he doesn't because he doesn't have a replacement.
We were told it's also because McMaster doesn't have a place to land and they don't want to duplicate the sort of Tillerson fiasco and the way that he was fired.
But, look, everything is up to the president. So, every story is as hard as Jell-O until the president decides. And that is the way it is. We can report. And Kaitlan is absolutely right. We live in this kind of echo chamber where we talk to people inside the White House, people who were recently of the White House, but no longer, people who talk to the president who are friends of the president.
And he tends, himself, to muse aloud about, boy, I would really like to get rid of that one or who do you think could come in and be my new chief of staff and on and on.
BALDWIN: But he is enjoying this.
BORGER: Loves it. Loves it.
BALDWIN: According to our sources, he's sitting there like watching it all.
BORGER: I spoke to a source who said, look, the president is on cloud nine is the way he put it.
He likes this. People are paying attention to him. He looks like he is the man in charge, he thinks.
I don't -- I think what perhaps Kelly may be saying to him is, you know, we need to kind of let this settle a little bit, although we're also told that the president chafes when Kelly tells him he can't do things, although maybe have they settled that for now. We just don't know.
BALDWIN: We don't. Gloria, thank you.
BALDWIN: I have a really interesting voice I want to bring in.
Barbara Res is a former executive vice president of the Trump Organization who was first hired by Donald trump to build Trump Tower. She wrote the book "All Alone on the 68th Floor: How One Woman Changed the Face of Construction." So, it's a pleasure to have you back. Thank you so much for swinging back through CNN.
And, first, I just wanted to ask you, you chuckled a little when you heard Gloria mention every story is as hard as Jell-O.
BARBARA RES, FORMER TRUMP ORGANIZATION EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: That was a funny line.
BALDWIN: It was a funny line.
And when listen to all this reporting about Trump sitting back and enjoying watching all the conflict play out on all these different TV screens, does that sound like the Donald Trump you used to work for?
RES: Yes, absolutely. Yes. He loved conflict. He liked to pit people against each other.
BALDWIN: Why? Help us understand that.
RES: Well, from back in my time, I think the main reason for it was because he -- it was a divide and conquer kind of thing.
If people were fighting against each other, they were not getting together to oppose him on some of the crazy things he was doing. And he liked that. He also liked the fact that he wanted to see who would survive, survival of the fittest.
And he had some very strong people. I can think of two women that were both in residential sales and he had them at each other's back. And he loved it. He loved watching it.
BALDWIN: Why does he feel like that's good for business, AKA, why would that be good, translating it to the White House, good for the country?
RES: It certainly wasn't good for business, and it's not good for the country, and I can't imagine why he feels that.
I think that he puts his entertainment ahead of his logic, if he has any.
BALDWIN: But you knew him how many years going back? This is way pre-"Apprentice," Donald Trump as a businessman. You were brought in to help build Trump Tower.
I remember the line, he asked you if you liked candy.
RES: That was a lot later.
BALDWIN: That was a lot later?
BALDWIN: Not the nicest thing to say to a woman. But you have also said he is the most, what, non-sexist man you had ever worked for? RES: I said -- and I was misquoted.
BALDWIN: Let's set the record straight. What was he like?
What I said was, in terms of the way he treated me as a person in his employ, compared to the way he treated the men, there was no difference. So, in that, he was the least sexist boss.
Everyone I had always deferred to me. Donald did not defer to me. He did give me -- put me on a pedestal or anything else. He did not give me any particular respect. He put me down like -- well, he cursed me out like he did the other men. And he also took -- back then, when he listened to people, he listened to me and he took my advice on things.
So, he really treated me like he treated the men.
BALDWIN: When you say back then listened to people, are you inferring that he's not listening to people anymore?
RES: I'm absolutely saying that, yes.
I don't see him listening to people. And you could see that somebody will go out and say one thing and, two hours later, Trump has said something completely opposite to it.
BALDWIN: Are you following this whole Stormy Daniels saga?
RES: How can you not?
BALDWIN: What do you make of it?
RES: Well, Trump, in my time with him and in my experience with him and watching him, he loves intimidation.
While I was working for him, I saw him intimidate contractors by taking a picture of Roy Cohn out of his desk drawer and waving it and saying, he's going to sue you, he's going to sue. He loved to intimidate and scare people.
And after I left and I came out against him, I was threatened by his dog, Michael Cohen, for some kind of slander case. And I was threatened by his secretary, Rhona Graff, that she was going to release e-mails that I sent, as if I cared.
BALDWIN: When you say threatened, what kind of threatened?
RES: A threat like, this is a pending lawsuit, or I'm going to embarrass you, that kind of thing.
BALDWIN: But was it ever -- because the news today on Stormy Daniels is the fact that this attorney is saying that she felt like that she was threatened with physical violence if she talked. Did you ever experience or any hear of any of that sort of threat?
RES: Coming from Donald, no, not directly.
But, certainly, legal action, that, kind of thing, I have seen occur with people who worked for him, doing things that were not necessarily legal. I was just reading. I was checking a book this morning and I remember him asking somebody that was very important to him in the security would he kill for him and the man saying yes, Mr. Trump.
And Mr. Trump saying, again, would you kill for me? And he said yes.
So, there is nothing is off the plate here as far as I'm concerned. Anything is possible.
BALDWIN: What do you think of the news just in the last 24 hours that we've learned that the special counsel, Bob Mueller, is now officially looking into the Trump Organization? Wants to subpoena these documents? That's how far he has gone. Are you surprised?
RES: Not at all surprised, no.
I think that, you know, enough information has come out that interoffice communications, e-mails, that kind of thing, have been used. And I think that Mueller has every right to see what was going on inside the organization.
BALDWIN: When you watch the president on TV, do you recognize the man as the man you used to work for? How much has he changed from back in the day with you to now, leading the country?
RES: I definitely recognize his demeanor, the way he carries himself, his ego.
What's different for me -- and this sort of came out during the campaign -- was this abject sexism. I had not seen that firsthand. I had seen a womanizer. I had someone that sort of valued women by their appearances.
I never saw anything like what we saw on "Access Hollywood." And now with the Stormy Daniels and all the other stuff coming out, that was a little bit surprising to me.
BALDWIN: Last question. Do you think he loves being in the White House or do you, deep down, he's in over his head and he knows it?
RES: He's in over his head, he doesn't know it, and he probably does love it, yes.
BALDWIN: Barbara Res, thank you so much. Appreciate it.
RES: My pleasure.
BALDWIN: Coming up here, more on this Stormy Daniels scandal. My next guest suggests President Trump could be more worried about the financial impact of this story, not the political impact. We will discuss that.
Also, a stunning new security breach. The Department of Homeland Security says Russian hackers have gained access to American nuclear, electrical and water systems. It's a serious threat. We are going to take you live to the Pentagon.
Plus, we will play the remark that is causing all kinds of uproar today from this man, the interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, pretty cringe-worthy comments on Capitol Hill.
We will be right back.
BALDWIN: We are back with the bombshell allegation that the lawyer for Stormy Daniels is calling fact. The adult film star was apparently threatened with physical harm unless she stayed quiet about her alleged affair with Donald Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: I'm stating a fact.
And the fact is that my client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump.
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 very early stages of vetting those stories.
I want to preach caution and restraint. We are not vouching for these stories. We're investigating them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now, Rick Wilson, Republican strategist, and Paris Dennard, CNN political commentator, and member of the Trump advisory board.
Gentlemen, let's get to it, starting with all things Stormy.
Rick, you tweeted that Trump is worried about this whole Stormy scandal because of financial reasons and not political. Why?
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think he feels like his political base is secure. They have told us over and over they will tolerate any amorality, any scuzzy behavior.
He could be hitting it with her on the White House lawn, and they would be like, yay, go, MAGA.
But I do think he is worried now that, as the NDAs start to look a little more brittle, and as Stormy Daniels and other folks look at angles by which they could litigate on this, I think he knows it's going to cost him legally, it's going to cost him financially.
It's going to start eating up his bandwidth. He's going to have to actually pay lawyers. They're not all going to take out a home equity loan to cover up his dalliances with porn stars.
WILSON: So, he's going to end up with a lot of costs.
And also I think we have to also think about Melania's prenup with him. There may be a money equation there as well that puts him at some risk.
BALDWIN: Paris, if the president -- obviously, he is involved, two Trump attorneys connected to keeping Stormy quiet here.
If the president is innocent, why not say so publicly?
PARIS DENNARD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't think that the president wants to dignify this story, be it true or false, because it's something that's personal and has nothing to do with him as the president of the United States of America.
It didn't happen, if the allegations are true, while he was a candidate for president, didn't happen while he was sitting in the Oval Office. This is something that is just terribly embarrassing for the first lady.
That's what I think about every time I hear these stories.
BALDWIN: But it happened, Paris.
Let me just jump in, because it happened days before the election, and the president on his Twitter feed does seem to weigh in on everything else.
I think the payment from Michael Cohen, from his personal account, from the line of credit or whatever from his storm to Stormy Daniels did happen before the election.
But the alleged affair--
BALDWIN: You don't think that's a big deal, the timing?
WILSON: I feel you're struggling here. Let me help you out here.
DENNARD: No, no, I'm not struggling.
WILSON: Donald Trump has a long pattern of engagement with a variety of women to whom he is not married.
Michael Cohen has long been out there doing these NDAs for these various women that Trump was involved with sexually and in other capacities. This is something that is a long pattern of behavior.
Now, are you telling me that Republicans have never once brought up the fact that Bill Clinton screwed his way through Arkansas? No. They did it all the time. It wasn't because it was before he was president that makes a difference. It's that he did it at all.
DENNARD: It's different because,at the time, Bill Clinton was the attorney general and he was a sitting governor of Arkansas. And the claims came via someone who was a sitting elected official.
Donald Trump, these allegations--
DENNARD: These allegations took place before he was president and before he was a candidate. He was not a public official, and there's a different standard. It's totally different. You're comparing apples and oranges.
If, however, something happened to President Trump while he was in the Oval Office--
WILSON: If your standard is that low, if your standard is that low, and you're OK with him screwing porn stars, if you're OK with him screwing porn stars, just say the words, I'm OK with Donald Trump screwing porn stars.
Can you say that for me, Paris?
DENNARD: You know what I will say, is that you have no respect for Mrs. Trump, you have no respect for his children, you have no respect for his family.
WILSON: Oh, I'm sorry.
DENNARD: Because this has nothing to do with him as a candidate and it has nothing to do with him as the sitting president of the United States.
You can dig up dirty laundry. And I pray to God nobody goes back in your past and picks up something that has nothing to do with your present time sitting here as a commentator. But it's rude and it's offensive.
WILSON: -- across this country because of his behavior toward people.
Don't you dare talk about respect, when he insulted the family of Humayun Khan.
Don't you dare talk about respect, when Donald Trump insulted John McCain's war service. That is a man who has no respect for anyone on this earth. And the fact that you're defending him on that speaks much more about your character and the low standards you have.
DENNARD: Rick, I don't know you, but I would advise you to not question my character, because you don't know me.
But if you would like to talk to me about my character--
WILSON: Well, what are you going to do?
DENNARD: -- and what I believe, I can have that conversation separately.
But what I will say is, if you're going to impugn the integrity of the president, do so on things that are relevant to him as a candidate.
DENNARD: Not things that have nothing to do with his presidency. That's all I'm saying. Continue to rabble.
BALDWIN: Guys, no personal insults. No personal insults, please.
And let me just -- let me jump in, because, Paris, here is a question for you, as we are talking about the payment coming out just days before the presidential election.
Let me flip it around. If this was Hillary Clinton -- what would happen if Hillary Clinton's lawyer paid off an accuser days before the election? How do you think Trump would react? Fair question.
DENNARD: I think, on the issue of a payment by the lawyer, I think he would have a reaction, absolutely.
BALDWIN: And what kind of reaction do you think that would be?
DENNARD: It would be negative. I'm certain it would be negative.
But I'm also saying that that is a separate issue from if she did something while she was a candidate or if she something while she was the sitting secretary of state. That is what I'm -- all I'm saying is, let's separate apples from oranges.
If we're going to talk about the payment and the timing of that, that's fair. But to bring up the allegation that happened long before he was a candidate or president--
BALDWIN: But it's connected. Listen, I hear you loud and clear, because this happened -- it happened years and years ago. And I think you're absolutely right in pointing out he was private citizen Donald Trump at the time.
But it is entirely germane, because we're talking about the payment and this hush money days before everyone went to the polls to elect him as president of the United States. That is -- you are allowed to connect the two there.
DENNARD: You're allowed to raise the question as to why Michael Cohen did that on his personal capacity as his lawyer.
But at the end of the day, there's attorney-client privilege and that's not going to come out. And I think all of this extra comment about what Stormy has to say or what she doesn't have to say is just to embarrass the first lady, because her commentary has nothing to do with the presidency. Let's have a conversation and let the lawyers figure out if there's something untoward about the payment.
Did it come from the Trump Organization? Did it come from President Trump? Michael Cohen says it didn't. Michael Cohen said he took it out of his own line of credit from his mortgage to pay for it because he is someone who supports the president and didn't want this getting out.
That's on Michael Cohen, not on the president.
BALDWIN: Go ahead, Rick. I know you want to jump in. Go ahead.
WILSON: The argument that Donald Trump's lifelong pattern of infidelity, adultery, shattering every vow of every one of his marriages, by his own admission, and the fact that Donald Trump screwed a porn star, I don't think Melania Trump is going to be more embarrassed by what Michael Cohen or Stormy Daniels has to say than by the fact that, a few months after she had a kid, her husband was screwing a porn star.
And that's what you're saying is OK. I get it. You accept that. That's part of your moral framework. That's part of your moral landscape. Good for you.
DENNARD: I'm not going to tolerate that. You don't know my moral framework.
WILSON: You don't tell me what you're going to tolerate.
DENNARD: When it comes to me, you're not going to do it, Rick.
Brooke, I'm done here.
WILSON: You have said it's part of your moral landscape it's OK for Donald Trump to screw a porn star -- it's OK for Donald Trump to screw a porn star if he's just not the president.
DENNARD: Keep saying it more and more. Keep saying it more and more. Get it out. Get it out of your system. We all know that's what you want to say.
DENNARD: But at the end of the day, he's still the president and you should have a little bit more respect for Mrs. Trump than to continue to talk about this.
DENNARD: Have a decent conversation about the payment and Michael Cohen.
BALDWIN: OK. OK. Paris and Rick.
Wow. Wow. Thank you both for that conversation.
Ahead here: an alarming new security breach, Russian hackers gaining access to U.S. nuclear plants, and water and electrical systems -- details on the severity of that threat.