Return to Transcripts main page

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Stormy Daniels' Attorney Demands Trump Preserve Documents; President Trump Announces Tariffs on China; Lead Trump Lawyer Quits; Interview with Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 22, 2018 - 16:00   ET

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


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, the president's lawyer walked into the oval office and says, I'm fired.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Law and disorder. The president's lead counsel in the Russia investigation abruptly stepped down just hours ago. So what happened to President Trump saying he's very happy with his legal team?

[16:00:00]

Stormy speaks. The adult performer expected to finally talk about her alleged affair with the president in the most anticipated interview in recent memory, as her lawyer joins me for reaction and news about documents he just filed.

Plus, police firing 20 shots and killing an unarmed African-American man. A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Except, by wrong place, I mean his grandmother's backyard?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. We're going to start breaking news.

Trade war fears rattling Wall Street today. The Dow is closing down more than 700 points right now after President Trump announced new tariffs on China. The makings of the worst day for the market since the turmoil of early February.

Let's get right to CNN's Cristina Alesci.

Cristina, what are you hearing from investors?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's fear, Jake, pure fear that the administration has unleashed the mother of all trade wars, announcing tariffs on $50 billion of goods with China.

This, of course, is sparking fear of retaliation from China, which holds a large portion of U.S. debt, so we are just talking about fear at this point.

Just to put this into context, if you look at the CNN Money fear and greed index, it has dropped to extreme fear at this point, and investors are worried more about this trade war than rising interest rates at this point, so this is this is the focus.

And the administration is going to be out there trying to settle the nerves out there, but all of this is based on perception, not reality. The market did not care about reality. It is sheer nervousness right now, and it might stick around for some time, not helped by the fact that the president's top lawyer quit today.

Also a lot of, you know, uncertainty over at the White House. That's what's going on here, Jake.

TAPPER: Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

Now to our politics lead. A major signal from President Trump that he will be more combative towards the law enforcement officials conducting the Russia investigation, as Cristina just mentioned.

John Dowd, President Trump's lead lawyer in the probe, has resigned in the face of a client who was not heeding his advice. Dowd, according to "The New York Times," which broke the news, felt that President Trump was not listening to his counsel.

Under Dowd's leadership, President Trump's lawyers had advised him to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, but as CNN reported last night, the president, according to multiple sources, is convinced that he -- he needs to take the reins of his own legal strategy.

This news comes as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly expressing concerns that the president will soon thrust the country into a constitutional crisis by soon ordering that Mueller be fired, perhaps as soon as sometime in the next couple weeks.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is at the White House for us today.

And, Ryan, we are still getting mixed messages from the president and his team whether he wants to sit down for an interview with Robert Mueller.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jake. But if you ask the president himself, as our Jeff Zeleny did today, the answer is yes.

In fact, every time the president has been asked that question publicly, he's said that he is interested in an interview with Robert Mueller, but it was John Dowd, a prominent member of his legal team, who had encouraged the president to steer away of an interview like that, and as of today, John Dowd is no longer representing the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much.

NOBLES (voice-over): On a day where President Trump is shaking up his legal team, he once again is claiming that he's open to speaking with special counsel Robert Mueller. QUESTION: Mr. President, could you still like to testify to special

counsel Robert Mueller, sir?

You would?

TRUMP: I would like to.

NOBLES: That sign of cooperation is most different from the approach Mr. Trump has shown publicly as of late, specifically calling out Mueller out by name on Twitter and continuing to label the same investigation as a witch-hunt.

This latest promise by the president to meet with Mueller comes on the same day that a key member of the Trump legal team, John Dowd, has left his post. Dowd has encouraged Mr. Trump to cooperate with the special counsel.

He released a statement last week calling for the investigation to end and then later claimed he was speaking on his own, not with the permission of the president. Today, Dowd said -- quote -- "I love the president and wish him well."

His exit comes as the Trump legal team has been aggressively recruiting high-powered D.C. attorneys. They recently added Joseph diGenova, a lawyer known for defending the president and attacking the special counsel investigation on cable news.

JOE DIGENOVA, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: There was a brazen plot to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton, and if she didn't win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.

NOBLES: While diGenova said yes, several prominent attorneys have said no, including former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, Emmet Flood, who represented Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceeding, and Robert Bennett, Clinton's attorney in the Paula Jones litigation.

But while the president is attempting to expand his legal representation, the loss of Dowd is significant and it comes despite his insistence that he's satisfied with his lawyers -- 11 days ago, Trump tweeted in all caps that he was very happy with the team, and mentioned Dowd by name.

[16:05:08]

Dowd was not happy with the addition of diGenova and multiple sources say the president has decided he should be the one to direct his legal strategy, which could be why he's become more aggressive and made changes to his personnel, all a sign of what could be to come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBLES: And Dowd served as the lead counsel on Trump's legal team. It's unclear who will take over that role now.

What is expected, though, is that it would be diGenova who will be the person that will be speaking in public on behalf of Donald Trump when it comes to his legal representation -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles at the White House, thank you.

My political panel is here with me to break it down.

Pamela, you cover the president at the White House. Before that, you covered him at the Justice Department. Is it fair to look what's going on, John Dowd, who expressed more of a conciliatory, collaborative, and cooperative approach with Robert Mueller, leaving, diGenova, who has alleged that the FBI and the Justice Department are framing President Trump for a fake crime -- is it fair to say, well, we know where this is going and it's more combative and, who knows, maybe even he will try to fire Mueller?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I have to say from sources that are familiar with the situation, the president has been growing increasingly frustrated by John Dowd's legal strategy, this whole notion of being cooperative with Robert Mueller's team, as it becomes more and more apparent to the president that this probe is not going to wrap up any time soon, even though he had been assured by his attorneys even late last year it would wrap up soon.

It was November, December. Here we are in mid-March, and the investigation is still very much under way, and so I have been told that their relationship has been strained as of late. In some ways, this is no surprise, and I think it is a signal, Jake, that you're going to see a more confrontational, perhaps more aggressive approach, not only from the president, who is already starting to go after Robert Mueller for the first time by name on Twitter, but also from his attorneys.

TAPPER: And, Josh, at least four attorneys of major law firms have been approached and rejected the desire for the president to have them on their legal team.

We have former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, Emmet Flood, who worked for multiple presidents, including Bill Clinton, Robert Bennett, Bill Clinton's in Paul Jones.

There's not a lot of lawyers who want to get involved with this because reportedly they don't think President Trump will take their advice necessarily.

JOSH HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, look, I don't know if we know exactly why it is.

TAPPER: Each one has a different reason.

HOLMES: Right. They're all sort of different.

And the bottom line is, this is a really tough job, right? It's an all-encompassing deal. If you have any bandwidth whatsoever for other clients, you have to clear the docket and take just one here, so I think there's probably a lot of reasons why this job is a tough one to fill. But, look, the president is entitled to representation of his choice and he's entitled to whatever strategy he thinks can -- and, Pam, I think you're absolutely right that in the end, his lawyers have been telling him, this is going to wrap up. We're going to get to the end of this. We feel like we are confident that we are going to be in the clear here shortly, and over and over and over again, it turns out not to be the case.

And so now you get into mid-March. He's frustrated, I think, in some ways, rightly frustrated, and we see a shakeup in the leading team.

TAPPER: And, Symone, Congress slated to leave on a two-week recess today even before the Dowd resignation. Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee sent a major warning to President Trump. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not meddle with the special counsel's investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is not a drill. This is a test of our institutions.

REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ (D), ILLINOIS: I will sleep with my cell phone right next to my ear, and if word comes down that Donald Trump is taking out Sessions, talking about Mueller, talking other actions to undermine the rule of law and obstruct justice, Jerry Nadler, I will be on the first plane back here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: And it's not just Democrats. Republicans have been sounding the alarm as well.

Do you think it's actually likely he's going to take an action?

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I don't put anything past President Trump.

I think that we have heard time and time again that President Trump is not going to do this, it's not on his radar to do this, whatever this may be, and then days later or weeks later, this happens. And then people are shocked that, oh, my goodness, I didn't see that could happen.

Donald Trump has a track record of doing exactly what it is that everyone says he won't do. I definitely think there's a possibility he might try to meddle with Mueller, with the investigation, try to fire him. I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility here.

I have heard some Republicans speak up and say the president should not do this, but I have heard many more Republicans couch their criticism, or if not criticism, as you will, as I don't think the president will do this. He's demonstrated at every level that this is something he will do,

and I think we need to hear more forceful language from Republicans on Capitol Hill. Congress is a co-equal branch of government. They are not just here to go kowtow to the will of the White House.

They are here to work with the White House where appropriate and hold White House accountable where they need to. And I have not seen Republicans on Capitol Hill do that.

[16:10:01]

TAPPER: Josh, Jeff Zeleny asked the president today, would you be willing to sit down for an interview with Mueller, and the president said he wanted to.

If you were advising President Trump -- I don't think you're a lawyer.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: I play one on TV.

(CROSSTALK)

SANDERS: Not just you, other people.

TAPPER: Knowing of the concerns that people around him have that he will commit perjury because he's not necessarily tethered to facts all that much, necessarily, would you tell him to do it or to not do it?

HOLMES: In this line of work, us non-lawyers have adopted a pretty simple principle, which is the court of the public opinion, it's OK to exaggerate and even sometimes stretch the truth a little bit.

In the court of law, it's not. Right? And what we know with the president is he has a tendency to exaggerate certain facts, or in fact in some cases have facts that simply don't fit.

And when you're doing that in front on Mueller's team, frankly, that is an entirely different situation than it is in the White House press room or in rallies across this country.

And so I think it is an exceedingly bad idea for the president to freewheel this. You know, I'm sure he's given it great thought. I'm his attorneys have given it great thought. But if you believe the reports, Mr. Dowd who quit advised against it, and he didn't like that was terrific advice.

TAPPER: Pamela, you broke the story yesterday according to two sources, the Mueller team has indicated four main areas they want to ask President Trump about.

The president's role in crafting that statement about the Trump Tower meeting that was not accurate, circumstances surrounding the June 16 Trump Tower meeting, the firing of James Comey and the firing of Michael Flynn.

What's the significance of those four topics?

BROWN: If look at those four topics, most of them resolve around the president's own actions, not only with the firing of James Comey, but also Michael Flynn, his national security adviser.

Mueller's team wants to know what the president knew in regards to Flynn's conversation with Sergey Kislyak about sanctions. This is about the president, what he knew, also the president's main role in crafting that statement aboard Air Force One, as you pointed out, that was inaccurate, that was misleading.

So I think as the president learns about this, as his lawyers tell him, this is what Mueller wants to focus on, it is sort of adding to the agitation from the president that there is focus on him and on his actions.

TAPPER: And, Symone, I wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to something President Trump said this afternoon.

He was at a forum, and he was asked what advice he would give his 25- year-old self. I want you to take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What advice would you give to the 25-year-old Donald Trump knowing what you know today?

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: Don't run for president.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: He went on to say that, before he ran for president, he got great publicity, not so much anymore.

SANDERS: Well, I think, look, I'm not surprised. I don't think Donald Trump enjoys being president.

I think he enjoys campaigning. That's why we often see him on the -- quote, unquote -- "proverbial campaign trail" at these rallies. That's why he stands up for rallies for two hours just saying whatever it is he likes because he likes the crowds and he likes campaigning.

I don't think he likes the art of being president and the art of governing. So, you know what? Don't run for president. If we could only go back in time.

TAPPER: Stick around, everyone.

Sticking with our politics lead, if the president does move to fire Mueller in the next couple weeks as Congress heads for recess, could Democrats do anything to stop it? We will talk to one top Democrat, Congressman Adam Schiff, next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:31] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And we're back with our politics lead.

And mounting concerns by Democrats that a newly emboldened President Trump might try to stop the special counsel's Russia investigation when Congress leaves town on a two-week recess. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are already accusing their counterparts of lacking courage as Republicans vote to close their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and, of course, any possible collusion by anyone affiliated with then candidate Donald Trump.

The ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California, joins me now.

Congressman, thanks for joining me.

The president's lead attorney in the Russia investigation, Russia probe, John Dowd, resigned today. He'd been urging the president, according to reports, to take a more cooperative approach and work with Bob Mueller and a source familiar with the matter told CNN the president has begun to really doubt that strategy.

What do you think of the shakeup of the legal team, not just Dowd leaving, but diGenova who is accusing the Justice Department and the FBI of conspiracy against the president coming on board?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, it's telling that when the moderate lawyer, the guy that's urging that they work with Bob Mueller is also the guy that just a week ago was saying that Sessions ought to basically fire Mueller, when he's considered the reasonable one just where the Trump team is headed, but bringing on this conspiracy theorist Joe diGenova who will just stoke the unreality of the White House that there's a secret cabal at the FBI, they're all conspiring to frame the president, you know, it's a destructive about for the country to bring on another voice like that, another person who apparently was auditioning on Fox News, brought in at the administration, I think it puts Mueller's investigation at even greater risk.

The fact that we see this escalation of Twitter attacks by the president, Mueller, bringing in lawyers, getting rid of lawyers that said, work with the special prosecutor, any Republican member or Democratic member that will later claim that if we're in a crisis that they didn't see it coming isn't being candid. The Republican members, in particular, need to speak out now, a few have, but even more important, they need to act now, and put their names on a bill and urge the passage of a bill that protects the Mueller investigation, otherwise if the crisis comes and looks more and more like it will, with this change in strategy and this new aggressiveness by the president, they will have to bear a significant part of responsibility that when they had a chance to push back and prevent the crisis, they didn't act.

TAPPER: Well, both Democrats and Republicans could have forced the manner by putting something into the omnibus spending bill, right? I mean, why didn't that happen?

[16:20:01] SCHIFF: Well, Democrats sought to. Republicans resisted it. They viewed it as basically an affront to the president, and they weren't willing to do it. They were more willing to risk a constitutional crisis than include this, so I think that's a terrible mistake, but they control both House and Senate at the moment, and at the moment, their priority seems to be protecting the president, not confronting him.

TAPPER: I want to ask you, you're the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. The Republicans on the committee put out a statement in a report, basically saying that they found no evidence of collusion between the Trump team and the Russian government. Have Democrats found any evidence of collusion?

SCHIFF: Yes, we have, and, you know, when you can see the flaws in the report and you'll see them more graphically when it's released, but just look at one piece of it. George Papadopoulos, this is someone the Russians approach in April 2016. They say they have stolen Clinton e-mails. They preview the dissemination. They want a relationship with the campaign.

Who does Papadopoulos share this with in the campaign? We don't know because they wouldn't bring Papadopoulos in, and them once the special prosecutor was involved with Papadopoulos, that made it more difficult. But we made a motion today to say, let's reach out to the special counsel, let's find out when we can bring Papadopoulos, he's under cooperation agreement with the counsel that should extend to us as well.

They voted us down. They are not interested in finding out who or who Don Jr. talked to about the meeting at Trump Tower. There's phone records that bear on whether the son talked to father, witnesses that came in and refused to tell us about the creation of the false statement that the president reportedly was involved in making about that meeting, they wouldn't insist on hearing from.

So, there is evidence of collusion. There's very well may be more evidence of collusion if the Republicans had been willing to try to find it, but their goal was different. Their goal was protect the president and that's where we are.

TAPPER: I want to turn to the scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The data of 50 million Americans on Facebook was mined during the presidential election by Cambridge Analytica, a data firm working for then-candidate Donald Trump. Last night on CNN, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that he was happy to testify in Capitol Hill if it's the right thing to do.

Do you think he needs to personally testify?

SCHIFF: I do. And this was another motion we made in our committee today to invite him to come testify, but our motion was defeated.

This is serious business. The personal data of tens of millions of American may have been misused, misappropriated, used to target them without their knowledge, and Facebook had embeds, their own people working in Cambridge Analytica with the Trump campaign. Were these embeds aware that this data had been used or made -- still have been used in the campaign or was used to create lookalikes for targeting other American voters?

So, yes, he should come in and testify not only to our committee about the Russia, misuse of their platform, but I think answer questions for other committees about the privacy of American's data, and, perhaps, most significant, as far as I'm concerned, is the impact that the algorithms that Facebook uses maybe having the effect of dividing us, balkanizing, causing us to live in information bubbles where we only hear the information their algorithms tell them we want to hear.

TAPPER: So, the Cambridge Analytica whistle blower who brought this whole story, Christopher Wylie, said that he was concerned that Cambridge Analytica made Russia aware of some of the programs that they were working on, and that that might have sparked the idea that eventually led to some of the disinformation programs and some of the interference that we've seen from Russia in the American elections.

Should Cambridge Analytica also be forced to testify in an open hearing about what exactly they shared with anyone other than the Trump campaign if they did so.

SCHIFF: I think they should. We had also made a motion today to bring Alexander Nix back before our committee. The GOP voted that down. I'm happy to say that Christopher Wylie, the whistle-blower, has accepted our invitation --

TAPPER: Just the Democrats though?

SCHIFF: Just the Democrats. And we invite the Republicans to participate. We would hope they would be interested, but we're going to continue to pursue this and try to find out when was this contractual relationship made with this researcher with links to St. Petersburg University, what about the relationship between Cambridge Analytica and Lukoil, why was a Russian oil company interested in the American voter data and voting patterns?

These are important questions that we hope to get answers to.

TAPPER: Congressman Adam Schiff, always good to see you. Thanks for being here. Really appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

TAPPER: With President Trump and former Vice President Biden exchanging fighting words, what might a Biden v. Trump match look like? Oh, wait, that reminds me of a cartoon I drew back in October of 2016.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some things in life you can really love doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:29:04] TAPPER: Just in case you thought 2018 was already too dignified, too classy with a lawsuit surrounding allegations that the president had an affair with the porn star Stormy Daniels, well, today came the prospect of two world leaders in their 70s get into a fistfight. In one corner, coming in at 6'3", 236 pounds, if you believe the White House physician, 71 years old, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump. In the other corner, the challenger coming in at 6'0", weight unknown, 75 years old, the former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden.

The president today tweeting that he can beat up the previous vice president. Biden started it all. He fantasized about beating up the president while on the campaign trail, campaigning for folks running in the midterms.

But as CNN's Joe Johns reports, it kind of sounds like Biden might be gearing up to fight the president except on the campaign trail in 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump escalating a fight with former Vice President Joe Biden today, tweeting: Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he's weak, both mentally and physically. He would go down fast and hard, crying all the way.