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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Maine Senator Angus King; Trump vs. Stormy. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 21, 2018 - 16:30   ET

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


[16:30:00]

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The president of the United States has no immunity and is subject to the laws for purely private acts, and that the case can go forward.

The legal challenges involving Trump and the stories of the woman who are suing continue to grow.

Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, who claims in a lawsuit she had a 10-month sexual relationship with the president, is now also going to court. In court papers, McDougal says she wants out of the deal she made with American Media, a company run by Trump's close friend, David Pecker.

She says she took $150,000 from AMI, which publishes "The National Enquirer," in exchange for the exclusive rights to her story. Her lawyer said the deal was not fair.

PETER STRIS, ATTORNEY FOR KAREN MCDOUGAL: But as far as why now, it's only recently come out through reporting and other sources that there was wholesale collusion between David Pecker's company, Karen's own lawyer and Michael Cohen, Donald Trump's fixer.

SIDNER: McDougal's lawyer says his client didn't know Cohen, the president's longtime personal attorney, was secretly involved in her deal.

AMI, Cohen, and the president have all previously denied the allegations, but none have gone on camera to answer questions, a point Daniels' lawyer made dramatically Tuesday night on "A.C. 360."

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY FOR STORMY DANIELS: Where is this guy? Why won't he come -- no, why won't you come and sit in this chair? Wait a minute. Let me finish.

DAVID SCHWARTZ, MICHAEL COHEN'S ATTORNEY: Believe me, he can't wait to come here and sit with you and talk about this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SIDNER: Now, in that lawsuit, a federal judge has been assigned.

But in the McDougal lawsuit, "The New York Times" reported that AMI has denied Cohen part of the deal and Cohen doesn't remember e-mails from the company. And then in a statement Tuesday, AMI said that its contract with Ms. McDougal was valid and that it looks forward to reaching an amicable resolution.

It added that while she had given the company editorial discretion to publish her life story, she had been free to respond to press inquiries about her relationship with President Trump since 2016 -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Sara Sidner, thanks.

My panel is back with me.

Ana, "Washington Post" columnist Richard Cohen thinks that President Trump might have met his match with Stormy Daniels.

He wrote -- quote -- "The saga of the adult film star and the juvenile president has become a rollicking affair. Each step of the way, Daniel has out-Trumped Trump. She is as shameless as he, a publicity hound who adheres to the secular American religion that to be famous even for nothing much is to be rich."

Do you think he's met his match?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's certainly somebody that's going at him either in an orthodox manner, right?

I mean, and he's met his match, in the sense that she is very media- savvy. She is very social-media-savvy. She knows how to deal with publicity.

Hell, she spells better than he does on Twitter. And it has got us all kind of fascinated, because can you imagine if a porn star, a Playboy bunny, a reality star and a guy named Pecker walk into a bar?

I mean, really, it is the beginning of some sort of raunchy joke, isn't it? And, look, if Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury" sold over two million copies and is based on nothing but innuendo and gossip, imagine this lady. She got pictures, she said.

Yes, she's trying to make a dying. And you know what? That really should not be a right solely reserved for people named Trump and Kushner.

TAPPER: So, Bakari Sellers, many women have come out and accused the president, President Trump, of affairs, sexual assault, of sexual harassment.

It didn't seem to matter to his voters during the campaign and he won and he's in the White House. Why should we think that Stormy Daniels or Summer Zervos or Karen McDougal, why would they be any different?

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I'm not sure they will be any different, to be honest with you.

But the first thing is, I think that we have gotten to the point where we have delegitimized and caricatured these women and treating them as something other than women. They're referred to as a porn star or reality TV show host or Playboy bunny, when they literally are women in this country.

They are mothers, they are sisters, they are daughters. And I think that's important to recognize first.

The second thing is -- and I do this quite often when it comes to the Trump administration out, because I sit here in South Carolina, the bastion of evangelicalism and Christianity. And all of these voters, they just turn a blind eye to Donald Trump and his behavior.

It amazes me that white evangelicals, specifically white male evangelicals in the South, seem to not care. Like, they had the courage to stand up against Barack Obama wearing a tan suit or him warning Dijon mustard. But let Barack Obama run around with -- cheat on his wife.

First of all, he probably would have been dead, because Michelle would have killed him. But, second, let him say that he wanted to be president of the United States of America.

[16:35:00]

White evangelical men would have marched to the White House like the March on Washington. I mean, it would have been amazing to see how angry they could get. And now they are silent as church mice.

So, no, his support is not going to go anywhere, because we're seeing the cowardice of our country shone through.

TAPPER: Do you think that any of this is something -- is Robert Mueller would be interested in? Is it anything -- would he look into it at all? Or is it just completely far afield?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You mean from a legal perspective, an investigative perspective?

TAPPER: From a legal perspective. The threatening, the alleged threatening and bullying and...

ROGERS: Well, from a decency perspective, we should all be concerned.

It's 4:30 in the afternoon. You got to cover your kids' eyes and ears and yank them out in front of the TV when you're trying to catch up on the news of the snowstorm. That's an unfortunate circumstance.

I used to look up to the presidency of the United States. And we have a whole generation of children looking at this and shrugging their shoulders.

But no -- here's where I think they're going to look at. They're going to look at the facts, were those payments connected to some campaign activity or -- I think this is a hard one for them to prove in the sense that I think the campaign can say, no, listen, I was just trying to protect my wife and my child during some really bad decisions and I'm going to -- I wanted these women to go away and not hurt them.

I think it's a hard legal case to make. I know that's where people are going with it. I think that's a pretty difficult case. But on the decency side, I think this is a slam dunk.

The very fact that you have a woman who is in the pornographic industry tweeting and fighting publicly with the president of the United States says more than any investigation needs to say.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: I'm sorry, Ana, we have to cut away, because it's a threat to the U.S. said to be nearly as dangerous as North Korea, so what is being done to confront it?

That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:40:58]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: With the possible exception of North Korea's nuclear weapons, this is the most serious threat that our country faces today. And we are not adequately dealing with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: That's Senator Angus King of Maine, warning about foreign powers, especially Russia, continuing to interfere in U.S. elections, which the independent senator, as well as Democrats and Republicans, argue is not being treated with the urgency it deserves by the Trump administration.

In a new report, the Senate Intelligence Committee is recommending that states purchase voting machines that produce paper ballots, so they can do their own audits. And they're urging the Trump administration to warn our adversaries that hacking our elections in any way would be considered a hostile act.

And Senator Angus King, independent of Maine, joins me now for more on that.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

You said today that your committee's classified report would -- quote -- "terrify" anyone who read it. Why?

KING: Because what it -- it sort of makes the point, Jake, that this was a very sophisticated, conscious, deliberate, persistent, comprehensive strategy to undermine our democracy.

I'm sort of in the process, after working on this for the better part of a year, of putting the dots together. And when you put -- you have the DNC hacking. You have the efforts to get into 21 different state election systems.

You have got the misinformation on Facebook. All of these things together come as a really serious threat. And I just don't think we're adequately dealing with it.

Here's the biggest problem that I see, Jake. We don't have any kind of announced doctrine or strategy or policy of responding to this kind of thing. The Russians and the Chinese, everyone else knows, if they send a missile into New York, they know what's going to happen as a result.

In this case, if they try to take down our democratic system through the Internet or through computer systems or even through people coming in, there's no consequence, there's no result, there's no punishment.

And one of our admirals testified the other day there's nothing that we're doing now that will make them change their calculus. So they will be back.

TAPPER: You referenced how in 2016 Russians tried to hack into election systems in 21 states. They succeeded in Illinois.

You said that seems like a test. Is the Russian capability to hack into those machines, as well as all the other things that they did in 2016 -- and there's no evidence that in 2016 they changed any voter tabulations -- but I'm wondering, is their capability greater now for the midterms and then for 2020?

KING: Well, what I keep saying is, they weren't doing it in 2016 for fun. It was -- they were -- it was a practice. It was a test.

And not only -- Jake, it's not necessarily voting machines. It's things like registration rolls. But it's also things like the communication links between the counting of the votes and putting them up on your network are on another network.

Imagine, for example, all the votes you have with John King and the magic board and everything turn out a day-and-a-half later to be all wrong. It would be chaos. And one of their purposes is to undermine the confidence of the American people in their election system.

And they're doing a pretty damn good job of it.

TAPPER: And so, Senator, you talk about how there's doctrine, no warning to China, Russia or others, if you do this, the United States will retaliate in such a way.

In fact, beyond that, when President Trump called Vladimir Putin yesterday, he either ignored or did not read an all-caps warning from his national security team telling him -- quote -- "Do not congratulate" -- unquote -- the Russian president on the election.

What message do you think President Trump sends by congratulating Putin?

KING: Well, I think the message was just what you said. It was a congratulations. And they talked about other things.

And I don't want to judge one phone call. But what bothers me is, I keep hearing that these meetings that we go to about a whole-of- government effort. And I'm tired of that term. I said today, I don't want to hear that anymore. Whole of government means none of government.

I want some specific leadership on forming a cyber doctrine or a strategy, so that our

[16:45:00] adversaries know if they strike us, they're going to be hit back. Because if we, all we're -- all of our hearing was about patching and protecting the state election systems. If all we're doing is trying to be defensive, it is like being in a boxing match with your hands behind you. You know, can bob and weave and duck but eventually, you're going to get knocked out. And we are -- the best way to protect ourselves is deterrence that people have to understand they're going to pay a price if they strike us.

Right now, we're a cheap date. There's no -- there are no consequences, there are no results and you know, I'm a sort of broken record on this. My poor colleagues on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committee are saying there goes King again about this doctrine but we've just got to do this otherwise they're going to keep hitting us and they'll always find a way to get in.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Senator Angus King of Maine, thank you so much, sir. I appreciate your time.

KING: Yes, sir.

TAPPER: The serial bomber may be dead so why is Austin, Texas, still on edge? The warning from police coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN "BREAKING NEWS."

TAPPER: Breaking news is in. ABC News is reporting that Andrew McCabe, the former FBI Deputy Director who was fired over the weekend by Attorney General Jeff Sessions previously oversaw a federal investigation of Jeff Sessions. The question was whether Sessions lacked candor in his testimony before Congress about his contacts with Russian operatives. That's according to ABC News reporting. I want to bring in CNN's Laura Jarrett now for more on this. And Laura, what can you tell us about this investigation?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, for over a year, Members of Congress, in particular Democrats, have raised questions about whether the Attorney General was forthcoming during his confirmation hearing when then-Senator Al Franken asked about contacts with the Russians. Now, of course, it has since come out that Jeff Sessions had two confirmed contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, one in July of 2016 and one in September in his office but he did not disclose those during his Senate confirmation in January of 2017. But his lawyer, Chuck Cooper, his private attorney, is now telling us this afternoon that he is not under investigation for perjury.

I want to read to you his statement in full, Jake. He says, "the Special Counsel's office has informed me that after interviewing the Attorney General and conducting additional investigation, the Attorney General is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in this confirmation hearing and testimony related witness -- related written submissions to Congress." That's Chuck Cooper in a statement to us. Now, of course, Sessions has denied all along that he lied under oath and that he gave any misleading testimony and a source close the Sessions tells us tonight, Jake, that he was not aware of any investigation when he fired McCabe last Friday. Of course, McCabe was fired also for lack of candor. But the source tells us that those are not related as ABC reports this evening, Jake. I also want to mention that a representative for McCabe declined to comment for this story.

TAPPER: Laura Jarrett, thank you so much. What investigators are learning about the Austin serial bomber after talking to his roommates? That story is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:55:00] TAPPER: We're back with our "NATIONAL LEAD." We're waiting for an update any minute from the authorities as there is fear lingering in Austin even after the bomber who killed two people, injured at least three and terrorized the area with explosive packages, blew himself up overnight. Now, police say they don't know if other devices are out there or if he acted alone. We now know that investigators have detained the bomber's two roommates. This development as the family of the bomber Mark Conditt is talking for the first time. CNN's Nick Watt joins me now from Austin. And Nick, you're near the bomber's house where investigators are still concerned about any remaining devices. Have they found anything?

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. The suspect's house is in the neighborhood behind me. We have just had confirmation from the FBI that right now they are working the remove explosive devices that were left inside that house. You mentioned the family has spoken for the first time. I just want to read a little bit of their written statement that they handed out. They say, "We had no idea over the darkness Mark must have been in. Our family is a normal family in every way. Right now our prayers are for those families who have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark." So, what do we know about this guy? Well, we knew he was a 23-year-old white male. He grew up in this neighborhood north of Austin.

Apparently, the family moved here 17 years ago and we now know that he constructed pipe bombs out of store-bought components and launched his bombing spree across this city beginning March 2nd and ending last night when he blew himself up, exploded one of his own devices as a SWAT team was closing in on him on the side of a road here if North Austin. Now, we've also spoken with his grandmother who lives in Colorado. She said she visited with the family not long ago, had lunch her grandson and she described him as a quiet kid and you know, she said like many 23-year-olds, he was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Sadly we now know what did he with the rest of his life but we still do not know why. And authorities are still trying to figure out what the motive here was.

He had no significant criminal record. I mean, we found one traffic ticket from last summer for a lapsed registration. That is it. So they have throughout this investigation been appealing to this man to come forward and speak with them. He never did. And of course, he detonated that explosive, blew himself up before authorities could speak with him. As you mention, Jake, two of his roommates were detained and questioned. We have to make it clear. They are not arrested and one of them has already been released. We're expecting any minute the press conference to get more details but right now, Jake, that's how it stands here in Austin. Back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt in Austin, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Be sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER or you can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. That's it for THE LEAD. I turn you over now to Wolf Blitzer, he's in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for watching. Stay warm.