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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Fires Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; President Trump's Personal Attorney Calls for End to Mueller Investigation; President Trump's Lawyers Claim $20 Million in Damages from Stormy Daniels; March Madness 16 Seed Beats First Seed. Aired 2-2:30p

Aired March 17, 2018 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome back. And thanks so much for being with me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We are following breaking news. Just moments ago President Trump unloaded on the nation's top law enforcement, justice, and diplomatic agencies with a stunning tweet saying this, quoting now from the president, "As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded there was no collusion between Russia the Trump campaign. As many are now finding out now, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying, and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice and State."

Fired former FBI Director James Comey responding to the president via tweet, "Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon, and they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not."

All of this is hours now after former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was fire and the president's attorney calling for an end to the Russian investigation. According to sources, McCabe, the former deputy of the FBI, was accused of misleading internal investigators about his role in directing other FBI officials to speak to "The Wall Street Journal" about his involvement in a public corruption investigation into the Clinton Foundation. CNN has now learned that McCabe has memos documenting his conversations with the president. Sound familiar?

All right, joining me right now is CNN justice correspondent Laura Jarrett and White House correspondent Boris Sanchez. So Boris, you first. Tell us more about the response from the president, his attorney also weighing in, all of it.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred. The president taking to Twitter again pushing this idea that there is a deep state out there within the American government that is out to ruin his agenda and to somehow discredit him as president, suggesting that there are lies and corruption at some major agencies, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the State Department as well. It is a tune that the president has played before.

He also reiterated an idea that he had repeated earlier this week when he talked about the House Intelligence Committee determining that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He fails to mention in the tweet that it is only the Republicans who came to that consensus, outright contradicting some things that we have heard repeatedly from the intelligence community, I should add. Democrats on their end issued a dissenting opinion saying that they were frustrated, Adam Schiff and others, that they couldn't compel Steve Bannon, Hope Hicks, Donald Trump Jr. and a number of other characters connected with the Trump campaign to answer their questions. It is really telling that the president is again taking to Twitter the same way that he did to rail against Andrew McCabe who was fired late last night.

He did tweet about McCabe previously as well, saying that he was a crony and a liar, again more of the president trying to point the finger in the other direction, claiming that there was no collusion between his camp and Russia during the 2016 election, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then Laura, as far as Andrew McCabe, he came out with a statement following his firing, and then now today we also hear from him saying that he had memos taken about his meetings with the president. Is this in the same kind of the vein as the contemporaneous notes that the former FBI director Comey said he made with his -- after his meeting with the president?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, exactly, Fred. It appears McCabe has learned a lesson from his former boss -- document everything. CNN has been reporting McCabe had a number of interactions with President Trump when he briefly served as acting director of the FBI last May. Now, McCabe says that Trump repeatedly heckled him about his wife's failed Senate campaign, calling it a mistake and a problem because she accepted money from a Democratic super PAC of a Clinton ally, former governor Terry McAuliffe.

But we also learned today that he kept those contemporary memos about his conversations with President Trump among other things, according to a source. The significance of these additional memos cannot be overstated given that the memos that James Comey kept about his own interactions with the president have now been turned over to the special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russian investigation, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK, and then Boris, President Trump's personal attorney coming out with this statement essentially celebrating the firing, and then also hoping that Rod Rosenstein follows suit. But then he also says I'm speaking on behalf of myself, John Dowd, and not the president of the United States. So why is that important for John Dowd to say that, and who believes that?

SANCHEZ: Well, the president certainly believes that. We heard from a source close to the president saying that John Dowd was not authorized to make that statement in which he apparently suggests that Robert Mueller should be fired.

[14:05:07] He says that he is speaking for himself, this is what he told CNN when he first made the statement. He was speaking to "The Daily Beast," saying that he is doing it as the president's attorney. Essentially he is saying that he thinks that Jeff Sessions set an example that Rod Rosenstein should follow by firing Andrew McCabe, and suggesting that Rosenstein should get rid of the special counsel's probe. If you read between the lines that means that he is hoping that Robert Mueller gets fired.

Of course, it's not the first time that John Dowd has weighed into some controversy, going on his own and riffing. In you recall in December, he drafted a tweet suggesting that President Trump knew that Michael Flynn had lied to the FBI before Flynn was fired and before he allegedly told James Comey to lay off the former national security adviser.

Ultimately, though, what we are seeing is the White House distancing themselves from John Dowd. You get the sense that those close to the president are frustrated that he would go in this director because it contradicts so much of what the White House has previous said about the special counsel, that they would comply with the special investigation. The president, himself, had said that he would not fire Robert Mueller, and further that he would like to sit down with him.

Despite that this comment from John Dowd raising eyebrows and drawing the ire of lawmakers. Senator Chuck Schumer actually put out a statement suggesting that there would be consequences if in fact Mueller were fired. I'll read you part of that statement now. He writes, quote, "The president, the administration, and his legal team must not take any steps to curtail, interfere with, or end the special counsel's investigation or there will be severe consequences from both Democrats and Republicans."

We should note that there are a number of bills that have been drafted out there that would install safeguards to try to protect Robert Mueller, to give him some job security. Those ended up not getting anywhere. We'll see if this week with, this next week with a major spending bill potentially on the floor of both houses if lawmakers make a push for that language protecting Robert Mueller to be included in that, Fred.

WHITFIELD: And Laura, I mentioned there is a Twitter war or statement war taking place today with everyone getting the dibs in. And James Comey in his tweet saying you can judge for yourselves who was honorable and who was not, because people are going to hear his story. He is referring to his book?

JARRETT: Well, it appears that way. In a certain sense, you see he might be hyping a little bit of the excitement for his book that is set to come out in April. And he is going on a media tour, going on with George Stephanopoulos and "The View" and giving an interview to "The New Yorker." So he is clearly getting the excitement of surrounding that in the press.

But at the same time, it appears that he really is trying to defend his credibility here. The president has gone after him as well as his former colleague Andy McCabe pretty hard. And as former FBI officials, they are now free to speak out as public citizens, and so what you see them doing here, Fred, is really calling to the matt the president's integrity and credibility.

WHITFIELD: All right, Laura Jarrett, Boris Sanchez, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

Up next, the Stormy Daniels saga that continues to plague the White House. Now the president's attorneys are claiming the porn star could owe them $20 million.


[14:12:07] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. A porn star and the president now locked in a legal battle that could be heading to federal court. Attorneys for President Trump and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen claim Stormy Daniels violated her nondisclosure agreement and they're now seeking $20 million in damages.

Daniels' attorney reacting to the news, tweeting "The fact that a sitting president is pursuing over $20 million in bogus damages against a private citizen who is only trying to tell the public what really happened is remarkable, likely unprecedented in our history. We are not going away and we will not be intimidated."

CNN's Sara Sidner joining me right now. So why do Trump's attorneys what to move this case from the California court to a federal court?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They believe that is where this case belongs, partly because they would to do arbitration in the case. That is what actually the non-disparagement agreement calls for, that if there are any issues with the non-disparagement agreement that those things will be taken care of in arbitration. Arbitration is usually kept out of the public eye, and that is what Stormy Daniels' attorney is railing against, if you will. He has talked to several folks this morning, and of course CNN last night. Here is what he had to say about the move on Donald Trump's attorney's part.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: The reason why they have engaged in this tactic is pretty clear, and that is what they ultimately hope to do is to move this case to a private arbitration that's going to take place in an office building somewhere far out of view of the public, far out of view of any scrutiny, because they want to hide the facts from the American people, and they don't want the American people to learn the truth about what happened with my client, what happened with the cover-up, what happened with their efforts to intimidate her into remaining silent.


SIDNER: And we should also remember that Michael Cohen, who is the personal attorney for Donald Trump who is also a person who signed and was a party to that non-disparagement agreement, he has denied that the president knew anything about the money that Michael Cohen himself, the $130,000 that he paid to Stormy Daniels in a hush agreement, he has also said that Donald Trump knew nothing about the confidentiality agreement, and that he denies ever having an affair with Stormy Daniels.

We should also mention that it is significant and very new that this is the very first time that attorneys for Donald Trump, himself, have joined in this legal battle. All before it has been Michael Cohen or the company that Michael Cohen created to actually pay her, to funnel the money to Stormy Daniels. This is the first time that Donald Trump's own attorneys are putting themselves in the position of fighting against the lawsuit that Stormy Daniels filed just this month.

WHITFIELD: All right, Sara Sidner, thanks so much.

Joining me now to discuss all of this, criminal defense attorney and CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson.

[14:15:01] So what is your reaction to these developments? Why would Trump's attorneys now attach their names to this if the president has been saying there is no relationship?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that is somewhat the question of the day, right, because the president didn't sign it. The president is not aware of it. Michael Cohen is acting on his own accord to pay $130,000 that the president knew nothing about, and so now why is the president involved, and why does the removal petition to bring it to federal court from state court talk about Mr. Trump?

I guess the issue is because now there's an interview that is imminent, right? A couple of Sundays from now we will all be having our popcorn and watching the show involving Stormy Daniels and what she relates to the American people concerning what if any relationship they had. So I gather, Fredricka, that the president's lawyers felt that it was time to get involved in this, take some control over it, and bring it to private arbitration, which the agreement allows by the way, but will bring it out of the public view and into a forum that is away from any of us to see, participate, or to listen.

WHITFIELD: And largely it has been a futile effort to try to stop that "60 Minutes" episode, that interview from happening?

JACKSON: I really think so. The reality with that is that we have such a strong and free press, and as result of that this is what is called a prior restraint. You can't in anticipation of a press interview being aired to the American people decide, hey, I want to stop this.

There was a case a long time ago, Fredricka, you heard about the Pentagon Papers, and that involved national security secrets, right, and so that "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" were going to report back in 1971 involving Nixon. If the courts are not going to say, hey, stop, you can't print that, I highly doubt that the courts in any measure will say hey, it's Stormy Daniels, it involves salacious details, you better not do that. So I think any efforts to stop the interview will be futile.

WHITFIELD: So now how does this add to things, that Stormy Daniels' attorney says that she was now physically threatened? Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' LAWYER: 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 are in the very early stages of vetting those stories.


WHITFIELD: Has this further complicated things or dose it just add to the confusion, what?

JACKSON: I think it does all of the above, but in fairness, there was some debate about whether they're allegations, whether they're facts. No, they are allegations at this point, Fredricka, and allegations that anyone can make. What I am looking for is not only the assessment of her credibility, but something we lawyers call corroboration, and that is supporting proof. What were the threats? When were they made? By whom were they made? Where were they made? What was the purpose that they were made? If any threats were made at all, and was there any recent outcry, meaning after the threats were they reported anywhere, did you tell a friend, did anybody see them, were they over the phone, were they in a text message, were they in e- mail? I think you know what I'm getting at.

So therefore, if there were any threats they are criminal in nature, and so therefore police reports should be filed and they should be investigated. Absent that, it is hard for us to otherwise measure the credibility or reliability of the threats at all. So yes, it complicates things.

WHITFIELD: So could that potentially come out with the president now speaking to $20 million in damages against Stormy Daniels, it's $1 million for each time she has spoken out publicly about it. Has that perhaps, that legal challenge now means that evidence of the allegation, the personal threat would have to come out?

JACKSON: Without question. Whatever this litigation, Fredricka, there is testimony, right? And as a result of the testimony, certain things are stated, and then you ascertain, you discover what is factual and what's not factual.

A brief word about the $20 million, I just want to be very clear about that. There of course, as we all know, is a provision for $1 million per breach, that was put in the contract. It's called a liquidated damage provisions. I just want to be clear that although it's a liquidated damage prevention, which is $1 million, it doesn't mean that it would be sustainable or enforceable. Here is why. The courts don't like to impose penalties in contracts. They just want to make the parties whole. That means that if you put $1 million clause, you are anticipating what the liability would be or what the damages would be to the party who you damaged.

Mind you this is a president, of course, who has talked about his exploits with women, et cetera, et cetera, and so I'm not sure how he is damaged $20 million in the most objective measure, and I don't see that a court because of that would award, or arbitration would award $20 million at all.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. Joey Jackson, thank you so much.

JACKSON: Thank you, Fredricka.

[14:19:52] WHITFIELD: We will be right back.


WHITFIELD: All right, so it took 34 years and 136 tries, but a number 16 seed has finally beaten the number one seed in March Madness. Here's Coy Wire.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, thanks, Fred. The University of Maryland Baltimore County, a small school known for chess, not basketball, the Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess champions a record 10 times taking down the number overall seed in the March Madness tournament, Virginia.

[14:25:05] Two words describe this moment -- "historic" and "unbelievable." Unbelievable in many ways, including that UMBC coach Ryan Odom was a ball boy for Virginia the last time they were ranked number one way back in the '80s. And listen to this, the star player Jairus Lyles was raised by parents who were both attending UVA. What are the chances? Lyles led the Retrievers with 28 points, a 74-54 blowout. And from now on wherever they go, whatever they do in life, these Retrievers will forever be remembered as the underdogs who made history.

The other side of this incredible victory, of course, crushing defeat. Virginia players have probably already thought about what it will feel like to go back to campus, to have to walk in the class and sit with all of the people who believed in them to win it all. For the rest of their lives they will be remembered as that team that allowed one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

The greatness of March Madness is made even greater when there is a Cinderella team that inspires in stunning fashion. The kids from UMBC may have changed that acronym to stand for You Must Be Cinderella.




WIRE: UMBC beating number one overall seed will go down as a moment in American sports as one of the most historic ever, like a miracle on ice, a USA men's Olympic hockey-type victory. This is a moment that these young guys only ever dreamt about. Before the game, there were 25 perfect brackets left among the tens of million entries in the major website contest. Now there are none. That is how it goes. Fredricka, you are not doing so bad in your brackets. Job well tone.

WHITFIELD: I'm trying. I should have been routing for them, though. What am I talking -- I'm a Marylander. Oh, well. I love the underdog stories. Thanks so much, Coy.

Up next, "Vital Signs" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.